We’re fans of anime. We don’t like to say it, but we usually ignore or rationalize plot holes, loopholes, and other inconsistencies in anime, because we don’t want to admit the thing we like so much is inherently flawed. Maybe, we’re just blinded by fan-love to even see the plot offender. Perhaps, because we’re so emotionally attached to Goku, we’re perfectly fine with the idea that he will survive anything but still be at death’s door for any given battle. My friends, today we are going to take off the rose-colored glasses and make a confession: We know anime has plot issues.
As anime, once a quick and dirty method to sell manga, is becoming more and more important in the otaku influence, are we really fine with overlooking bad writing, just because the characters are great, the original idea is terrific, or that it is pretty? Maybe if we finally decide to reject a sloppy storyline, anime will finally evolve out of mass-spread plot holes.
You need to know your enemy to conquer it, so let’s take this moment on this fine day to get real with the plot holes in our anime lives. With this knowledge, hopefully, as a fan base, our reviews and criticisms of anime will be able to squeeze out the bad plot seeds for good.
Adaptation-induced plot hole
An anime usually starts while the manga is still being produced. This is for a number of reasons, including riding the coattails of the manga’s popularity; and also, the anime should provide a marketing benefit to the original manga’s creator. Although they have that mutual agreement, generally, the anime and manga production are done with very little mutual oversight.
Anime productions studios need to deal with this problem, usually by slowing down the progression of the story or just inserting a filler arc. Fillers can be a good way to give screen time to minor characters or flesh out canon relationships, but they can also produce inconsistencies.
In Bleach, Ichigo will attain immense power to defeat an extremely powerful enemy, sometimes killing them with no ethical remorse. The filler arc ends. The power, the victory, and the ethically unsound behavior are never to be seen or mentioned ever again. Instead, we return to general assumptions of Ichigo being generally good guy, second-class pseudo-shinigami, despite everything that happens in the filler arc.
Many fans are accepting of filler as an inevitable consequence of production timing, but ideal timing isn’t something of fantasy. In the case of ERASED (Boku dake ga Inai Machi), the anime and the manga came to their conclusions at about the same time, with the conclusion to the manga being in print just before the conclusion of the anime would air. Although very tight, the author agreed to work with the animators and let them in on the ending in advance. Thus, ERASED was safeguarded from an adaptation-induced plot hole, avoided a potentially angry fandom, and was rewarded with a generally positive reception.
Fullmetal Alchemist (Hagane no Renkijutsushi)
- Episodes: 51
- Aired: Oct. 2003 – Oct 2004
It’s nothing new that some series will jump to an alternative timeline in order to deal with overtaking the manga’s timeline. Naruto and Dragonball Z did it, and everything ended up being okay and even enjoyable! Fullmetal Alchemist did it, and it ended up being fantastic! In fact, we could call Fullmetal Alchemist a glowing success! That is, until we compare it with its newer, manga-faithful series Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood (2009). The 2003 series is an enjoyable experience for a shounen battle anime, plot holes and all. The 2009 adaptation, however, is much more solid in its storytelling. If the 2003 series is a great shounen anime, the 2009 series is its much better masterful twin sans plot holes.
Because the 2003 anime adaptation switches storylines before we got to the mythos of the Homunculi, the anime creators were left to make their own rules, leading to a particularly confusing “rule” that the Homunculi can be killed if they are near a part of their remains. Call it the “Sin of Pride,” but keeping around the thing that kills you seems like he shouldn’t exist even for as long as he did. As for Gluttony, was he even human? Is the “rule” just one quick and dirty way to kill a Homunculus, or did a new way to kill Homunculi suddenly pop up in The Conqueror of Shamballa (2005)? These types of inconsistencies were easily identifiable when the 2009 series treated Homunculi in a completely manner.
No explanation necessary, except when it is.
Speaking of The Conqueror of Shamballa, this and many anime just need more explanation or at least a tiny bit of reasoning to keep us from having to figure it out all on our own. We could use a little more explaining with the Gates in Darker than Black. We’re still waiting for answers in Attack on Titan, but maybe they will come. Then, there are the character questions. If Shiba Tatsuya doesn’t want to be noticed, why does he go out of his way to prove to everyone he is OP in The Irregular at Magic High School? Also, in Beyond the Boundary, the contradictions in Kuriyama’s motivations and actions make the plot twist hard to swallow.
Creators appear too lazy or disdainful of restrictions to give a proper explanation, and then the plot goes in way too many directions, simply because there’s nothing canon to contradict what’s going on. These aren’t necessarily plot holes, but unanswered questions hurt all the same and represent shoddy storytelling that veteran anime watchers have come to ignore or despise.
We’re not saying we always need an explanation. As long as the story can stay within its own rules and logic, regardless of how fantastical that world may be, we can accept the fact that Satoru slips in time in ERASED. Hypothetically, suddenly revealing, “It was all a dream” could very well ruin the whole story for an anime like Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash. Sora and Shiro are transported to a world of games in No Game No Life? Cool, no problem. What’s going on in Paprika? Never mind. It’s cool. Detailed explanations in these situations could be disappointing and more confusing than without them. Nonetheless, some series need a little more explanation, especially when the plot points start to become too confusing for enjoyment.
Valvrave the Liberator 2nd Season (Kakumeiki Valvrave 2nd Season)
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: Oct. 2013 – Dec. 2013
Valvrave is an interesting watch with mecha battles and a school setting that will remind you of Code Gaess. There’s a lot of good in the anime: great animation and bold plot points. Valvrave mixes hard science fiction with fantasy elements and a whole lot of melodrama. The stars of the show become immortal mecha pilots. The main protagonist Haruto even has cravings characteristic of a vampire. For probably xenophobic reasons, one of the ruling political blocks decides they want to kill all of the immortal students. That alone should let you know what kind of unanswered questions we’re dealing with. While the second season gave a little enlightenment, we are still left with a lot of explaining that was not addressed. Unfortunately, the most problematic issue can only be explained with anime logic: Haruto is the best because he is the protagonist of the anime.
Someone got hit with the stupid stick.
There’s a convention in anime, when someone conveniently forgets something to make an episode or a scene more powerful. In Dragonball, Goku hesitates of fight Piccolo, because Piccolo’s death would mean the death of Kami. He only fights him under the assumption that Kami can be revived with the dragonballs. Later, Goku insists not to kill Piccolo, because if Kami dies as a result of Piccolo dying, the dragonballs will disappear. Wait, so Goku knew all along and fought him anyway. That’s brutal. What was the initial hesitation about? Well, in this case, Goku forgot something extremely important, i.e. he got hit with the stupid stick.
Although rampant in shounen anime, romance anime has its share of characters suddenly losing the ability to remember important things, particularly, if a person likes them or not. In Wolf Girl and Black Prince, even though Erika got the Christmas present from the guy she likes, she still backtracks to, “Does he still like me?” Forgetting stuff sure does help the emotions stay high and tight. In a combination with filler-caused inconsistencies, in the second season of Noragami, when Hiyori promises Yato that she will never forget him, we cough-laughed thinking back to the Rabo Arc, a.k.a. season one filler, when she totally forgot his existence.
Seraph of the End: Battle in Nagoya (Owari no Seraph: Nagoya Kessen-hen)
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: Oct. 2015 – Dec. 2015
Similar to Valvrave, Seraph of the End involves vampire elements, but again, the vampire part is not the main issue. Seraph of the End is a pretty great anime, mixing different folklores and pulling out some great themes about family and friendship. As the protagonist Yuuichiro finds himself on the opposing side of his orphan brother Mikaela, the line separating good and evil blurs. Now, we know from Episode 1 of the first season that Yuuichiro is supposed to be a huge idiot, but this something that even time can’t fix for this character. With near zero character development for Yuuichiro, we’re left with repeating dialogs in near identical scenes. Then, there are unfortunate ethical conflicts that aren’t even addressed when Yuuichiro suddenly decides to prioritize his “new family” above his real family Mikaela, while still spouting how important family is to him. A stupid character can really keep the anime ball rolling, but all those repetitive plot points are really annoying.
When it comes to science fiction, it’s pretty acceptable that the fiction part can play a big role in any given part. Nonetheless, despite how inspiring some inventions can be or how much you love science, it’s a stretch to say “science” when you actually mean “magic.” For the most part, we can be fairly forgiving about this issue. Anti-gravity boots in Ao no Kanata no Four Rhythm seem great! We all get that Gundams are inefficient, but giant humanoid robots are a win! Considering we don’t fully understand black holes, sure, Steins;Gate, no problem! Still, when we get a person solving 512-bit encryption with the pure brainpower in Summer Wars, we’re pretty sure that’s most likely not scientifically possible. Then, when a company can somehow make very lifelike emotion androids but can’t seem to find one of a thousand plausible measures to make them not berserk in Plastic Memories, it’s hard to say if that’s really advanced technology or just trying to implant the science trend into an otherwise good idea.
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: Jan. 2016 – Mar. 2016
Dimension W is a pretty and enticing science fiction anime filled with very cute human-like robots and multiple timelines, or dimensions. It appears to be a science fiction fan’s dream. Unfortunately, it wants to explain everything with, “A coil went haywire,” even when it involves ghastly hauntings in a hotel in Episodes 4 and 5. Despite the nonspecific explanation of dimension w before every episode, it would be a stretch to say that anything scientific is at work in an alternate holographic world that seems to be most powered by remnants of memories and regret, oh, and a haywire Numbers coil. For an anime that looked like it was taking the science part of science fiction seriously, it was a harsh and slow-rolling surprise as the season fully panned out, and fans learned the science therein hardly makes any sense.
Because fan service!
Fan service doesn’t always cause plot holes, but it does sometimes in a number of genres. Forced injections of head crashing into a girl’s chest aside, outrageous situations in ecchi anime that would normally induce a least a little interaction or relationship development are usually just thrown to the wayside as if they never happened. In coordination with the stupid stick issue, princely interaction fan service can easily cause repetitive situations, seen throughout Kamisama Kiss. Even in military “tankery” fan service anime, Girls und Panzer, the harsh reality is that some of these tanks wouldn’t even be able to put up a decent fight against the more sophisticated tanks. If this was a really a sport, all the teams would probably be using the same tanks, you know, the best ones.
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: Jan. 2011 – Apr. 2011
In semi-coordination with adaptation-induced flaws, Freezing seems more focused on creating fan service moments than progressing the story or developing its characters. Even certain plot points that appeared to be a part of an actual story end up just being another set up for fan service. The anime doesn’t even have enough time to explain powers held by this or that Pandora, and the story itself feels brutally unfinished. What we are left with is very little story progression, underdeveloped characters, and a lot of questions. The basis of the story seems like an interesting future dystopia with possible plot shock value that could rival Puella Magi Madoka Magica, but fan service ruled this anime, making us wonder if there was a story at all.
We still love anime.
We all have that one plot hole or loophole that bothers the bonkers out of us. What are some plot holes you think are the most aggravating? How about a plot hole that could have been easily remedied but wasn’t? If wishes could materialize, we would wish for one of these great anime to be rid of their plot problems.
As with Fullmetal Alchemist and similarly with Hunter x Hunter, we are lucky to have a later reincarnation with less plot issues. These are rare blessings. It’s also a bit of a double-edged sword for shining a discerning light on the older adaptation, but in the end, we are thankful for a good story for our favorite anime.
Finally, the anime chosen for this article wasn’t meant to ruffle feathers. They were chosen, because they are or could be wonderful anime, but they are plagued by plot issues. Just like these examples, there are many anime with so much to love, but a disappointing story with questionable characterization can easily become a major flaw for an anime looking to gain a good fan base. An anime may find itself with time and production constraints and unable to properly flesh out a story. Regardless, a plot issue is a plot issue, and we certainly would appreciate a lot less of them in anime in the future!