5 Worst “Leave You Hanging” Moments in Anime and Manga History

filler arcs

A series should never waste the fan’s time, and yet, they do it constantly. We can all think of examples: the comic story arc that just goes on and on and on for too long, the series finale that doesn’t provide any closure, the video game that has at least twenty hours worth of padding which makes no impact to the plot. And it’s always frustrating as a fan to be left hanging, either waiting for something, ANYTHING to happen, or wondering, “Wait, that’s IT???”

Anime and manga are both particularly susceptible to these kinds of dangling plot issues that are either left unresolved or not resolved well. In fact, I’d argue that they are MORE vulnerable to these issues than other geeky media, for two reasons:

A) Unlike most Western comics and TV shows, anime and manga usually have a definitive end. There are many exceptions to this, of course – Sailor Moon, Dragon Ball and Ranma 1/2 all lurched on for years before coming to a halt – but most anime and manga progress with a pretty self-contained story that will come to their projected ending in a nice neat 13/26/39 episodes, or 18 books, or what have you. Of course, this means that when they DON’T do this – when they draw out things forever and ever and ever or if they just never get to the end at all – it stings way, way worse than if Superman takes a few issues too long to punch Darkseid in the face.

B) Anime and manga are unique in that they are very interconnected. Many anime series are based off of a concurrently running manga serial. While the upside of this is having a lot of crosspollination of fandom – fans of the manga getting into the anime and vice versa – there is a very large downside: different pacing and production speeds. Manga takes longer to produce and release than anime; thus, even if the anime begins months after the manga was first release, it will usually “catch up” to the most recent manga releases and then have no material to work off of after that. It would be like if Warner Brothers had to make movies of all seven Harry Potter books but JK Rowling had only written three. Usually the only answers are to go on hiatus, come up with an alternate storyline/ending, or engage in the dreaded Filler Episodes until there’s enough manga to work off of again. And as this list (and your own) will prove, none of those are without their problems…

I’ve decided to, er, “celebrate” some of the most egregious cases of anime and manga fans being left hanging due to dragging plots, bad endings, or just no endings at all. Bear in mind that there are plenty of anime and manga out there which drag out too long; however, there’s a difference between a series being episodic and a bit dull or ending on a bit of a cliffhanger, and a series saying, “Hey, remember that ending this was all building towards and that you endured 200+ episodes of formulaic crap for? Well, joke’s on you!” As always, I’ll be tickled to hear your own lists! In the meantime, here are my top 5:

5. Battle Angel Alita – One Ending Just Isn’t Enough

This one’s a bit of an odd one because it actually already GOT an ending. Artist/writer Yukito Kishiro was forced to end the original series due to sickness, and as a result, we got an ending that was a bit rushed and incoherent… but still surprisingly effective! All but  a few plot threads were tied up, there was real pathos to the final scenes, and while it could have definitely used a bit of extra time and buildup to flesh out some of the concepts (what WAS up with that Yoko flashback?), it provided a pretty satisfying conclusion to an excellent story.

Quick, how can we mess that all up?

Five years after the original series finished, we got Battle Angel Alita: Last Order, which utterly ignores the original ending in favor of… well, I already talked at length about my issues about Last Order, but among its faults is a tendency to drag on… and on… and on… and on. How did it get from a bittersweet finale that draws the people of the Scrapyard and the world of Tiphares together to endless chapters of shonen-style tournament fighting over about three different plotlines, none of which seemed to be going anywhere fast? I mean, Last Order is already LONGER than the entirety of the original series! While recent issues are showcasing the final round of the tournament (which suggests the series might be wrapping up), this is one series that has outstayed its welcome. And the fact that this all ended once before, and at just the right moment in the story, means that Alita fans are left hanging in a particularly frustrating way.

 
4. Naruto – So this is FILLER, Filler Night…

Oh, Naruto. I remember when I used to love you with the burning fire of a thousand suns. And then it all went so terribly, horribly wrong.

If you want to discuss the potential pitfalls of having an anime series catch up to its manga, look no farther than this well-loved but maddening series, which could also be titled How NOT To Waste Your Fans’ Time. See, anime!Naruto was originally going at a respectable pace until the Sasuke Retrieval arc, at which point they had very little plot left to go before outpacing the manga. Like so many other series before and since, it decided to go the filler route and create some anime-only storylines that wouldn’t affect or progess the main plotline in any way.

Did I say some? What I meant was almost 100 episodes. Yes, that’s right, about 80 episodes of literally nothing happening, at least in terms of the larger story arc regarding Sasuke and Orochimaru. Fans who were tuning in eagerly to find out what would happen to Naruto and Sakura’s erstwhile friend and ally would instead be treated to trips to the Land of Vegetables, prison transfers gone awry and teambuilding exercises. Again, these might all be good plotlines in and of themselves (though many weren’t), but it still felt agonizing to be going through these small, self-contained arcs when the actual REAL plot was left to languish for a year. And even THAT could have been tolerated if the filler arcs felt organically integrated into the larger world; as it was, they were so clearly “tacked on” that it was almost painful to watch.

Eventually, the manga FINALLY pushed far enough ahead for the anime to start catching up, and it relaunched as Naruto Shippuden, but by that point the damage was done; many fans (myself included) had stopped watching during the long stretch of filler and lost any momentum or interest in continuing. In many ways, it might have been better to put the show on hiatus with the occasional OVA, movie or special to keep fans hooked until things got back to normal. Naruto is certainly not alone in using filler/padding to keep a show teetering onwards until the manga “catches up,” but it certainly is one of the more irritating examples.

 

3. InuYasha – I Stuck With This Series for 167 Episodes, and All I Got Was This Lousy Ending

Rumiko Takahashi has never been the world’s most, ah, “brief” author when it comes to her manga and the relationships therein, and the same is true of the anime based off her works. While enjoyable, the stories are usually pretty formulaic (“Ranma and Akane argue! Some incredible bizarre martial arts-related caper comes up! Gender-switching hijinks ensue!”) InuYasha certainly fell into this as well, providing 167 episodes of slow-moving plot that often boiled down to, “Naraku does evil things, our heroes stop him.” But hey, with such a clearly delineated Final Villain, at least there will be some payoff at the end where he’s finally defeated once and for all and the heroes can now settle down to the rewarding life they so richly deserve, right?

Ahaha, it is to laugh.

Instead, what fans got was the anime equivalent of the Scooby Doo cliche, “I’ll get you next time, pretties, and your little dog too!” Naraku gets clean away, Kagome and InuYasha say mushy stuff to each other, and… really, not much of anything happens, at least not out of the ordinary for the series. Where is the ultimate victory? Where is the long-awaited consummation of Kagome and InuYasha’s love? Where are those wasted years of watching episode after episode building up to what, in reality, is just ANOTHER episode? If I were an InuYasha fan, I’d have been PISSED. There may have even been letter writing.

Fortunately, there is a happy ending (ha!) to the story; five years after the original finale aired in Japan, a new 26 episode season came out, and this actually did end the series in a satisfactory way, with Naraku foiled and Kagome and InuYasha united. Which is more than I can say for our next suspect…

 

2. Kare Kano / His and Her Circumstances – Closure’s For Wimps

Kare Kano is held up as one of the better examples of the “high school romance” genre – partly because it answers the old “will they or won’t they” question after the second episode, thank God – and both the anime and manga are beloved by many. But while the manga offers a satisfying conclusion to the story, showing Yukino and Arima in their 30s and exploring how their friends and relationships have grown, the anime… did not end so satisfyingly.

In fact, it didn’t really “end” at all.

After setting up several important plot threads from the manga and just beginning a rather major storyline, the series just… stops. No sweeping roundup, no tying up of loose ends, not even a rushed and hurried attempt at making it the last huzzah. It just fizzles out like a balloon letting out air with a PHLLBLBLBT. To be fair, reports indicate that Gainax had intended to do a second season and only pulled out when the manga artist refused to work with them any more (she disliked the emphasis on comedy over romance). Still, that’s no excuse for such a meh season ender. Gainax should have either gone for something that closed off the current plot threads until the next season began, or they should have gone full out cliffhanger. As it is, it’s one big annoying question mark for anyone who can’t be bothered to read the manga and find out what happens next.

But at least Kare Kano fans HAVE a manga to consult…

 

1. X – 1999 Called, It Says to GET ON WITH IT

CLAMP, CLAMP, CLAMP. I love them to bits, but there is a smoldering coal in my heart that burns with resentment  towards them, all because of THIS. It has now been ten years since the latest chapter of X got released. TEN YEARS. I’ve had three new computers and two generations’ worth of game consoles in that time.

For those that don’t know the story, X (also known as X/1999) is an apocalyptic look at fate, man’s place on the Earth, and gorgeous men and women eviscerating the living crap out of each other. It married absolutely beautiful shoujo artwork with Go Nagai-style visceral combat and is probably one of CLAMP’s most famous manga. Unfortunately, its disturbing content also became its curse. Several of the disasters depicted resembled earthquakes and tsunamis, both of which were uncomfortably possible in Japan (as we now sadly know); other sequences involving high school students brutally killing each other called to mind real life juvenile murder cases in Japanese news. Due to the content issues, it was eventually dropped by the magazine which serialized it (at book 18 of a projected 21 book series), leaving CLAMP looking for another magazine to pick it up.

That was in 2003.

Since then, more recent events such as the tsunami and nuclear crisis in Fukushima have made X’s content even MORE uncomfortable to publishers in Japan… and for some reason, the idea of publishing the last few chapters on the web does not occur to CLAMP (who in the meantime have decided to go on and not!finish a gazillion other series) There was an animated movie which recast the plot as “rocks fall, everybody dies” and an anime series which, thankfully, did not go the filler route and instead came up with a semi-decent alternate ending to the whole thing. Apart from that, the only crumbs X fans have gotten have been from CLAMP’s current series Tsubasa… in which CLAMP parades around alternate versions of the X characters from entirely different dimensions. Fanservice is one thing – Tsubasa has that in spades – but after ten years of agonizing waiting for CLAMP to get back and finish the damn story, this feels more like trolling the fanbase. Sorry, CLAMP, but as much as I like AU fanfic, this one is just making me miss the source material.

What are your picks for most annoying examples of leaving fans dangling? Worst filler? Worst endings?

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