You know, out of all the anime I’ve covered, Punch Line has definitely been the craziest when it comes to quality shifts. Yes, even more than Saekano and SAO II. Trying to explain all of the emotions I felt while watching this trainwreck masterpiece is challenging. I’ve hated the show, liked it, it’s annoyed me, and left me sad and intrigued, but by the finale it ended up being, well… Fun. Just a fun, crazy rollercoaster full of twist and turns, strange ideas, and heart; and I love it for that.
When I started it though, my opinions were not as positive. In my first post, I lamented the wasted potential and over abundance of loose threads left dangling without reason in the first four episodes, and I stand by those statements. Those episodes are kind of slog to get through, and considering they were supposed to be the series’ hook I wasn’t looking forward to what the rest of show had to offer. This sense of dread continued into episodes 5 and 6, which were marginally better in execution than the first four, but still lacked the narrative punch I wanted. Sure, the narrative was really driving in some dramatic hooks, both with Ito’s surprisingly effective, albeit temporary death, and a lot of nice scenes that helped develop a stronger bond between the members of the Korai House. But overall, it felt kind of lopsided (This probably wasn’t helped by the twist that Mikatan and Yuta were childhood mutant buddies).
And then the ending of episode 6 happened. The world ends, major plot points are finally explained, time resets. and it all starts to come together. As it turns out, like I suspected all along, the main reason the first half was unsatisfying was because it was all setup. AND I MEAN ALL OF IT! The entire second half revolves around not only answering questions raised in the first half, but having Yuta react and change events that occurred within the first six episodes. Because of this, the second half is extremely enjoyable! Of course the story still has plenty of new twists and weird digressions, but they actually help explain the plot rather than muddle it. For example, in episode 9 it turns out Gleise, the man who was trying to date Rabura, is secretly Yuta’s other childhood friend Guriko. However, instead of this being another pointless bit of shock value, it finally brings almost all of the pieces together. We know what happened to Yuta and his childhood friends, we finally understand the stakes, and the previously confusing addition of the experiment children starts to make sense.
Another thing that makes this half of the show awesome is how it plays with expectations and character relationships. You see, despite the fact Yuta knows everything that’s going to happen and has formed a genuine connection with all the house members, none of the girls remember the past timeline. This means that things don’t go as well as he would suspect, Ito begins to think he’s a pervert, Rabura is annoyed by him, and Meika is sort of confused as to how he knows all these secrets about her. However, the real cherry on top of this is how his relationship with Mikatan completely changes. Since he now knows about their past childhood experiences together, they become very close and it’s heartwarming to see how they interact. In spite of all my complaints about the writing in the first few episodes, somehow the show got me to care about all of the main characters by the end. Their emotional scenes actually hit me pretty hard, and I was totally rooting for them during the climax.
In fact, the final three episodes of Punch Line were pretty great. After all the confusion is gone, the show turns into one big battle of characters triumphantly fighting against all odds to finally save the world from destruction. There are almost too many fist pumping moments here to count: Ito destroying helicopters and tanks with a giant mech, ghost Yuta possessing the body of Rabura for one final act of support, everything was just a splurge of fun colorful action. And when those episodes go for the tears, it almost succeeds. The result is a finale that is incredibly satisfying, and makes the previously rough experience of watching the show feel totally worth it.
Even with all these compliments though, Punch Line still doesn’t completely escape my criticism. After all this time, I still have no clue what the show was trying to do. What was the point of it all? Now don’t get me wrong, I really don’t regret watching Punch Line at all, but even here at the end I struggle to see what the purpose of this show was. Like I said in my previous post, an anime doesn’t have to be deep and thematically complex to be good, but in the case of Punch Line I still think that the production and story could have really benefited from a good central message.
Themes and symbolism can do many things for a story, some of them not necessarily good, but at their best they can create a very solid and cohesive work. A simpler story can be made poignant through the placement of a fun moral (Gurren Lagann), and a complex one can be made easier to understand by having a clear idea to latch onto (Serial Experiments Lain). Punch Line doesn’t have that, and while it’s not like it really needed a thematic core to begin with, having a main message would have made the build up in episodes 1-6 a lot easier to sit through. It could have tightened up the plot a little bit, and made the core appeal of this show go in a different direction that would make the little annoying details of the premise feel a lot less aggravating. As it stands though, some parts of Punch Line feel a little hollow, and by the end it’s hard to really know what the punchline was. Was it that there wasn’t one to begin with? Or maybe it was that it took an initially terrible idea and made into a solid show?
Either way, that didn’t completely stop Punch Line from being an enjoyable anime. What it lacked in thematic ideas it made up for in pure passion on the part of the creators. It’s clear the production team here had a great time creating this thing, and while the final product is stupid in some ways, it still has enough charm and entertainment to make the whole package feel worthwhile. Punch Line isn’t a great show, some people probably won’t even think it’s a good show, but by the end I was completely content with it. It may be goofy and ridiculous, but after I got past the admittedly messy build up, the show really became something I truly cherished. I’m going to miss its crazy antics and adorable characters, even though the fanservice was annoying, Punch Line is the kind of show I’ll never forget.