Today in “Shows That Criminally Haven’t Gotten Another Season…”
Medaka Box is weird. It’s an oddity and I find it kind of fascinating, in a way. But what is it that makes it so intriguing? Well… the first season, anyway. Well, there are a few things to keep in mind about its choices in storytelling. But we’ll get into that after the housekeeping bits and pieces.
First of all, the studios. Now, I’m not particularly versed in anything from Asahi Production. Only Shuumatsu no Izetta, which… doesn’t have the best reputation? I never watched it, so I can’t really comment on that. But Gainax is a studio that needs absolutely no introduction. I’m sure I’ve made it fairly obvious that I don’t really hold most (any, really…) shows they produce upon nearly as high a pedestal as I see many others do. I’m largely lukewarm to them. I don’t like “Gainax Endings,” nor their tendency to full tilt into trying to be insightful and intelligent. I don’t want to use the word “pretentious” because it’s a tad overused, but… that basically is what it is, a lot of the time. I’m sure I’ll talk at length about this, some other time. But for now, what does this have to do with Medaka Box?
Well, for one thing, it’s not an original project. So, save for straying from the source material (Mahoromatic…), they literally can’t pull their usual tricks. But another amusing thing? I honestly had no idea this was Gainax until I rewatched this to cover it.
So. “Why are you only covering the first season?” Because, my friends, it is virtually impossible to talk about the first season of this show and the second season of this show in the same space. Why? Did you happen to catch the genre tags, up above? In the entirety of season 1, you would only be able to tell maybe half of that until episode 8 or 9. Dominantly because… well… the first two-thirds of the show play it like a particularly rowdy High School Comedy, and nothing more. But after that? Hoo boy. And it only gets wilder.
So, for now, let’s just talk about the first season. First up, the visual style. Medaka Box is really in-your-face with its visuals. And that’s not really a bad thing. I’m sure there are a lot of complicated artistic terms and techniques in play, or whatever, but the point is that it’s got a really cool art style. The animation, especially for the “action” scenes, is also nothing to sneeze at.
What makes the show’s initial season sorta stand out, though, is the humor. Since it’s basically just a High School show and Medaka is really the only character that even slightly hints at what’s to come, the show has to rely on being witty. Medaka’s own superhuman feats factor into this surprisingly well. Because they never really waste time explaining why she’s so superhumanly good at everything, she comes across as just another energetic anime protagonist whose actions are exaggerated for the sake of humor. But just as well, the show also has a very keen understanding of tropes – those of its own genre and beyond – which leads to some great meta-humor. But even more than that, the show just has a great understanding of comedic setup and nails those punchlines.
And this emphasis on humor, early on, is something that’s played to great effect, come that last four episodes, as the show prepares to undergo its genre shift. When the entire student body is completely unbothered by everything going on around them because “Oh, that darn Medaka. She’s at it again.” Given the context of what was actually going on, that moment when everyone just has a typical comedy series reaction to something genuinely dire is perfect. But we’ll talk more about the actual genre shift whenever I get around to covering Medaka Box: Abnormal.
What else does this show do well? “Well, what can it do? Until the genre shift, it’s just a quirky slice-of-life, right?” Weeell, partial credit. The show has a simple initial premise – a student council that performs duties based on requests and suggestions submitted to a box. Focusing on that, though, there’s not a great deal to unpack as this season is basically an extended exercise in setup. Everything is to set up Kurokami, Medaka as a character. And here’s how that works. It actually quite brilliantly works around storytelling concepts – The Hero, the Main Character, and the Protagonist. For this season of the anime, specifically, Medaka is two of these things, but doesn’t quite breach into the territory of the other.
The Hero is the character you want to see win. The Main Character is the one who the story’s dominantly about. And the Protagonist is the character that we follow the transformative journey of as viewers. Or, put more plainly, they’re the character who changes. In these first twelve episodes, Medaka is not the protagonist. She’s definitely the Main Character (the show is named after her, after all…) but the title of Hero is actually one that’s shared across the collective of the Student Council. Hence their getting an entire episode to themselves at the end of the season. But Medaka, herself, doesn’t change at all. The seeds of that transformative journey are planted at the end of the season, but they won’t take bloom until later. The actual protagonist of this story is Zenkichi (also the PoV character, but that’s its own archetype, altogether). His arc isn’t especially complicated, either. It comes from accepting his role in the student council. It’s set up from Episode 1.
What the arc does do for Medaka’s character, however, is do an excellent job of using her in another capacity. Medaka doesn’t change at all in this first season. Because she, as a character, doesn’t have to. That isn’t to say she has no goals or desires of her own. She isn’t without problems. But what the story does with Medaka while preparing for her transformative journey, is show off how she affects the world around her. How her actions and personality impact the students in the academy. Medaka is a character with a flat arc. And no. That is not the same thing as a flat character. A flat character is a character without nuance. Flat characters are (typically) a bad thing. But a flat arc can be a very, very good thing. And while unimaginably blunt in how it’s presented, I think Medaka is an excellent example of a character with a Flat Arc.
Sidenote: For an excellent analysis of the nature of a Flat Character Arc, Totally Not Mark did TWO great Dragon Ball breakdowns of Goku and Frieza, respectively, using these terms. He explains it probably better than I could. So check those out when you can. Even if you don’t like Dragon Ball, it’s worth the watch.
Medaka is a force of personality and drags the world along, kicking and screaming, into her reality. And the story lampshades this. Heavily. Zenkichi frequently refers to her as a tyrant, and she doesn’t even disagree with this. She even admits to being such, late in the show. And while that terminology is probably not the best way to describe it, what they’re ultimately saying is that she changes the world around her. Narratively speaking, this is for the better. She does it with the Kendo club, she does it when she recruits the remaining members of the Student Council, and – spoiler alert – she’s going to do it several more times. It gets to the point where, simply following her example while she’s gone, the rest of the student council even does it, themselves, in the final episode of the season. That is her effect on people, and it’s marvelously handled.
Ah, but what belief is it that drives her so? Simply put, Medaka believes it’s her purpose to bring happiness to those around her. And, true to form, she achieves this in various, admittedly heavyhanded ways. But what makes it so brilliant is that we’re later going to get to see this character go through several other kinds of arcs as well. And that’s what has me so enamored with the series, overall. It’s just a good exercise in storytelling, using a lot of awesome writing tricks that get me to geek out and remind everyone how much of a nerd I am.
There’s honestly a lot more to unpack here, but I’m planning to save it for later. For now, you have a bit of a tease as to exactly how much I adore this series. I honestly think it’s slept on, a lot, and it makes me sad. I understand people’s reasons for not taking to it. And even for me, it’s not perfect and has its flaws. The main characters aside from Medaka and Zenkichi do kinda feel like they exist to fill space, a lot of the time. Most side characters feel like they’re just thinly veiled caricatures, at best. But, to be fair… they are. That’s kinda the point. And I find the majority of them to be a lot of fun, regardless. I just understand how it wouldn’t be that appealing to a person. Either way, I thoroughly enjoy it as a crystal clear example of how to hit my World’s Finest rating. Is it flawless? Absolutely not. Does it exceed expectations? Oh my, yes. And I’m really looking forward to getting into why at a later date.
For now, that’s it from me. What are your thoughts on Medaka Box? Do you think it’ll ever get a third season? Let me know, down below. That’s all I’ve got for ya here. As always, thanks for reading, folks. Keep up the Awesome.