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View Poll Results: What matters more to you: Foreshadowing or Surprise?
Surprises Galore! This is what makes Code Geass/Valvrave such wild memorable rides! 4 13.79%
Surprises. Little foreshadowing, *just* enough for plot twists to make sense after the fact 19 65.52%
Solid foreshadowing. One plot twist per show is fine, but more than that is pushing it. 5 17.24%
Much foreshadowing. I'm Keima Katsuragi! I want to see the ending from almost the very beginning! 1 3.45%
Voters: 29. You may not vote on this poll

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Old 2014-03-16, 21:01   Link #1
Triple_R
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Foreshadowing vs. "Surprise!" (Spoilers Ahead)

Every now and then you'll see anime fans debate over a particular plot twist in an anime show - Some may consider it an annoying asspull, others may view it as an exciting and welcome surprise, and another group may like it but wish it had more foreshadowing to set it up.

I think this may point to very different approaches to anime (and fiction in general) and what we hope to get out of plot-heavy anime shows.

I also think it's not always clear which is valued more in the fandom - foreshadowing or "surprise!"

I've seen A Pilot's Love Song get criticized for giving so much away in obvious foreshadowing and/or its episode previews. At the same time, I've seen Samurai Flamenco get criticized a lot for arguably being too surprising in certain parts. (For the record, I really like both shows, albeit for pretty different reasons - I'm not referencing them to pick on them, but just to have handy examples)


This leaves me wondering - What do anime fans value more: Good foreshadowing or nice surprises? With this in mind, there's a poll to vote on with this thread that I'm interested in seeing the results of, but I'd also love to hear people's various opinions on this.

What's the ideal mix of foreshadowing and "surprise!" for you? Do you want firm narrative cohesion where every plot/subplot builds up in such a sensible and thorough way that nothing surprises, or do you like often getting excitedly surprised by plot twists and/or cliffhangers in the show? Or is it something between these two?
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Old 2014-03-16, 21:29   Link #2
Marcus H.
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A surprise! should still be well foreshadowed, albeit more subtly. Ergo, we just can't have something happen just because, unless it has a reason that is proven plausible within the bounds of the settings and established facts in the series.

Fairy Tail is a big offender of sudden victories over seemingly undefeatable foes, but I guess it's understandable for FT because the mechanics of magic there are sometimes too complicated to just show and not tell. (Hell, even telling outright how it works doesn't help either.) On the other hand, there's C3-Bu, which you really have to experience without thinking too much about it because you'd just disappoint yourself.
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Old 2014-03-16, 21:55   Link #3
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It depends on what the specific foreshadowing or surprise! is supposed to do. Clannad After Story's second half can be seen coming from a mile away, but that added knowledge only adds to the dread and knowing what happens doesn't make it any easier on the viewer. Then there's Durarara!!, always full of surprises, but doesn't break the rules of its own setting, stretches of the imagination not withstanding.

When foreshadowing goes wrong, we end up with Another problem of characters freaking out over death, then being the next one to die, ruining any sense of tension. When surprises go wrong, we get Guilty Crown's "surprises" that are like telling Santa Claus to yell "Happy Halloween!" during August; nothing about it syncs.

But the best plot twist I've come across is from a game called Baten Kaitos. It's something RPG players have come to expect, and yet what actually happens is such a kick in the face that one would think it's an asspull until they read the one casual line that becomes meteor crater in hindsight. It's an example of how a plot twist can be a surprise while still being well foreshadowed, and at the top of my head nothing from anime has been both (that I know of, anyway).
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Old 2014-03-16, 22:43   Link #4
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Ideally a surprise should catch you off guard the first time you see it, yet when you go back and rewatch the events that led up to it you should catch all sorts of hints that you missed the first time through.

Mai-HiME was actually very good at building up to things and contained a fair bit of foreshadowing. Even the ending which seemed like such a cop out was set up in advance (though that didn't prevent it from clashing with the dramatic momentum the show had done such a good job of building up). It's unfortunate that some of the writer's newer shows seem to tend more towards the ass pull side of the spectrum (its possible I've just missed the foreshadowing in some of his newer shows, but I'm not that inclined to want to study them that closely either).
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Old 2014-03-17, 00:28   Link #5
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Well, as other before me have said, the foreshadowing ideally should be enough for the plot twist to make sense, and yet, not so obvious that hits you in the head with said plot twist (like, it should surprise you the first time around, and if you care enough to revisit the series, you should catch clues that were subtile but were there), and that balance is very difficult to achieve, that's why we have cases such as White Album 2, where even though for half the episodes you're going down one road, you just know you inevitably are gonna swich lanes, because from episode 1, you're hit in the head with clues so big Mr. Magoo would have a hard time missing them, and on the other hand, there are shows like Honey and Clover where the writer(s) set up a love triangle that looks like it could go either way, even for a while it seems it going one way, and then changes, and when you revisit the previous episodes, you start seeing why it went that particular way.
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Old 2014-03-17, 02:42   Link #6
Marcus H.
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^ And we have the Oreimo anime. I'm sure a lot of people know what I'm talking about. "Wait, why Kanako? Did they even get to the point that such a thing is plausible?"
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Old 2014-03-17, 02:59   Link #7
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Oreimo is that meta twist, where from the title alone you should have know what to expect, then the writer goes and creates characters and a pairing that goes beyond any expectation you originally had on the thing, and when the time for it to end comes you think it's impossible for the writer to be such an incredible ass to throw all the good characters to the crapper in favor of the reeeeally obvious ending you should expect from the title, and the writer just puts on his best trollface and does exactly that.
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Old 2014-03-17, 05:09   Link #8
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To be honest such things are hard for me to turn into a formula.

I enjoy either surprises or foreshadowing as long as they are done well, and it differs from series to series....
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Old 2014-03-17, 06:08   Link #9
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With Ore no Imouto, I think a lot of people started to figure that the title was ironic (not right away, but probably around the mid-to-later stages of Season 1). It's not like ironic titles are that rare (in fiction in general, I mean; I'm not so sure about anime and/or light novels in particular).

Keep in mind that for a lot of viewers, Kirino was not cute. Like... at all. So that alone made viewers see irony in the title.
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Old 2014-03-17, 06:27   Link #10
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And everyone asked why ClariS' title track was titled Irony.

Kirino wasn't meant to be cute, like you said. It's part of the meta stab at the series itself, but I do have to admit that I didn't think it would go THAT far at the beginning. I knew the two would get friendlier between each other, but that...
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Old 2014-03-17, 08:32   Link #11
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Neither.

The best foreshadowing are ones that surprises you and go "doh! of course! I never realized that was a foreshadowing!"

That moment when everything clicks together and leaves you in awe.
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Old 2014-03-17, 08:47   Link #12
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Life seldom comes with foreshadowing and neither should story twists. That's my general opinion. Having said that though I also enjoy being able to look back afterwards with 20/20 hindsight and see little signs that indicated the story might turn. Proof that the author knew in advance where he was going all along even if I didn't have a clue at the time.
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Old 2014-03-17, 08:52   Link #13
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Originally Posted by aohige View Post
Neither.

The best foreshadowing are ones that surprises you and go "doh! of course! I never realized that was a foreshadowing!"

That moment when everything clicks together and leaves you in awe.
This is why I absolutely loved Breaking Bad and liked Usual Suspects. Their "twists" could be treated as a magician's trick where the magician's hand deceives you with false leads and half-truths. And it's when you are before the fait accompli that you realize that you have been tricked as you click everything together.
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Old 2014-03-17, 10:52   Link #14
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The success of the "surprise" depends on how contrived it is. If it turns out to be unrealistic within the context of the setting or defies any of the logic established within the show then you're entering deus ex/arse pull territory. If the surprise makes some sense and doesn't leave you completely scratching your head, then that's fine, even if it wasn't foreshadowed.

As others have said, ideally surprises should be foreshadowed in such a way that isn't immediately noticeable the first time, but becomes obvious with hindsight. It needs to be noticeable enough that you begin to suspect something's going on, but not so blatant that you can easily guess what's going to happen. That would be my preference, anyway. I don't want to be kept in suspense all the time, so a surprise is welcome now and then, but at the same time I like to keep my suspension of disbelief intact.

I make exceptions if the surprise leads to a favourable result, though. Say, a character I dislike is put on the proverbial bus, for example.
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Old 2014-03-17, 11:01   Link #15
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Solid Foreshadowing for me. Putting it this way: Even if a Surprise shows up, I want the fact that a Surprise is showing up to be foreshadowed, even if the content of the Surprise isn't foreshadowed (that much). Erm, does that make sense?
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Old 2014-03-17, 11:58   Link #16
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Well, that's really hard to just pick, however some hint of foreshadowing tends to be nice. I must say most "surprises" tends to be shock value and just don't work, but it's hard to really come up with any criteria that's going to cover even a large amount of cases.

For example, episode 3 of Madoka, is a surprise but not mere shock value. Sure, it was shocking from a meta point of view from how we expect a main character should be handled, but given the context and nature of being a magi, the outcome is not that outlandish and could be understood as opposed to "where the fuck did that come from?"

On the other hand, a few occurrences near the end of Mai HiME and especially the ending itself, is put there solely as a surprise and has little meaning within the story.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Triple_R View Post
With Ore no Imouto, I think a lot of people started to figure that the title was ironic (not right away, but probably around the mid-to-later stages of Season 1). It's not like ironic titles are that rare (in fiction in general, I mean; I'm not so sure about anime and/or light novels in particular).

Keep in mind that for a lot of viewers, Kirino was not cute. Like... at all. So that alone made viewers see irony in the title.
It would be arguable that the title was at least, to some people, mildly accurate at the beginning as Kirino was not flanderized into some instrument of misery initially with occasional and ultimately meaningless aside from the very last moments of regret. The seemingly slightly maladjusted but sane Kirino that wasn't going to kick her brother in the balls on a whim is a distant memory, though I guess this is simply a matter of progression. Rather than having a more sensible return to reality to from the delusions of game fantasy to a more balanced view to incorporate both, the narrative decided to descend into the muck that it was playing around.

Spoiler:



Spoiler for Spoiler2:


In the end, this is sort of the poor side of "surprise" and irony, because the result is not of the revelation of the characters but simply the direction taken by the work. My disdain of the series is not really of the characters anymore, but the stage of which they were to express themselves was at best woefully inefficient and at worst patronizing.
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Old 2014-03-17, 14:08   Link #17
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In conclusion, Kuroneko is Oreimo's most popular character because the Internet fandom relates to her for being snarky when talking to online strangers and reduced to goop when watching a favorite Chinese cartoon or celebrating with like-minded fans. Now, if Kirino represents a different "direction," that must mean Kyousuke represents the show itself, because Ruri's disappointment in him sure matches a lot of viewer's disappointment with the show!

And that, I think, is Oreimo's real meta.
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Old 2014-03-17, 15:53   Link #18
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Foreshadowing has and always will be the proper way to go. It's difficult (and therefore rare) to write in a surprise that doesn't create problems. When things suddenly happen without warning, it raises a lot of questions. Without any foreshadowing, you typically end up with a situation where somebody had to have seen it coming. It gets even worse when a surprise is timed so very conveniently in the story (Euphemia and Lelouche in Code Geass is a great example of this. You know the scene).

A surprise can be done well though. It's rare, but it does happen. The aforementioned Euphemia and Lelouche moment is actually a good example of a surprise that was done right, ignoring the convenient timing of it all. Technically it was foreshadowed, but it also wasn't. It was an element of the story that had been previously established, but it wasn't a predictable event. As much as I have begun to detest Sunrise, I often find myself praising their writers because, as convoluted and nonsensical as their plots may be, they write said convolusion and nonsense in a proper and entertaining way. As stupid as we think space vampires are, it was certainly an interesting twist.

So 90% foreshadowing, 10% surprise. An unexpected plot twist from time to time is welcomed when written well. Otherwise, I enjoy predicting the events through foreshadowing.
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Old 2014-03-17, 20:13   Link #19
Marcus H.
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In conclusion, Kuroneko is Oreimo's most popular character because the Internet fandom relates to her for being snarky when talking to online strangers and reduced to goop when watching a favorite Chinese cartoon or celebrating with like-minded fans. Now, if Kirino represents a different "direction," that must mean Kyousuke represents the show itself, because Ruri's disappointment in him sure matches a lot of viewer's disappointment with the show!
Uh, no. They liked Ruri over Kirino because of the latter's bitchy side, and because Ruri's story arc was totally endearing. I mean, who wouldn't DAWWWWWWW seeing the two all squirming the day after their confession?
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Old 2014-03-17, 22:55   Link #20
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I've seen A Pilot's Love Song get criticized for giving so much away in obvious foreshadowing and/or its episode previews. At the same time, I've seen Samurai Flamenco get criticized a lot for arguably being too surprising in certain parts. (For the record, I really like both shows, albeit for pretty different reasons - I'm not referencing them to pick on them, but just to have handy examples)
I didn't answer the poll, because it's a non-issue for me. It depends on the story in question. Even the good old dective story has Columbo, where we always start with watching the murder; it's simply a different focus. A show must know where its interest comes from.

I'm watching both shows you mentioned above, and they're my two least-favourite this season. My problem with the writing in Pilot's Love Song is that comes across (to me) as sensationalist and shallow. Part of the problem is that the show softens its tragedies with (for me unpalatable) heroism. All the things that might cast a bad light on any of the characters are either obstacles to overcome or hidden in an indeterminate setting. There's a faceless enemy. There's a vengelful, unlikable protagonist. Foreshadowing (the literal foreshadowing by our first person narrator, here) is supposed to give me a sense of apprehension. I'm supposed to worry. Instead, I'm just exasperated and want to be done with it.

With Samurai Flamenco, the surprises themselves are fine for me. Actually, there's only one real surprise for me, and that was the first. Intellectually, I caught on pretty soon that they have a plan, even though I couldn't tell you what it is. Every step makes sense for me. The problem I have, though, is that I don't know how to watch that show. I need to switch frames, but the new frame doesn't fit what comes before. I don't get it. For me, the first twist negated the show, and I never found my way back in - even though I know why they did it, and I think it makes sense. When watching the show, I have two frames, but no master frame that unites them. As a result I feel mostly just confused.

Both shows have problems - in my case, they're severe problems. Pilot wouldn't be improved if you took out the foreshadowing. Samurai Flamenco might have profited from foreshadowing, but only if the way they employ it would have given me a perspective on the whole. For example, if we got first-person voice-over from post-story Flamenco, that would be a coherent perspective and might introduce the master frame I'm lacking.

The worst twist I remember in anime was in Blood C; I struggled caring for half the show, and then when they revealed their hand, I realised that this was sort of deliberate. Here playing for surprise was not very wise. I wouldn't have gone the foreshadowing route, though: I'd have made that show a multi-point-of-view thing, including points of view in the know. The story would have been a lot more interesting as a social set-up. (Do I really need the "for me" disclaimers, or is that understood?)

Basically, for me, either is fine. Good foreshadowing can create tension; good surprises are a delight. In the end, different shows require the reader to have different information for maximum effect. But if foreshadowing or surprises don't work, the problem might lie elsewhere.
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