Brilliance in Exposition: Martian Successor Nadesico Episode 05

I remember dropping an anime due to poor exposition (Yes To Aru Majutsu no Index, that would be you). I think about how different anime handle this feat:  Xam’d reveals its world and context carefully and with mystery in a very satisfying way; RideBack feels like there are two separate anime so far – the exciting mecha racing one, and the utterly boring political one.

In this post I break down an episode of Martian Successor Nadesico, a show I’ve been told that I was foolish for not watching. I find this episode as a very remarkable showcase of exposition powers. WARNING: This post is about awesome exposition, the expositional writing in this post IS NOT. Bullet points and image dumps ahead!I say it’s a showcase because there are OVER 9000 things going on in this episode and never did I feel overwhelmed by the information. Exposition is fiction-writing mode for conveying information. Having an omnipresent narrator is one way to do it, dialogue is another. It’s not just there is one way that is better over another, it’s just that there are ways to execute these techniques very well. Here’s where the story is so far (from the perspective of the lead female character):

capt-yuriko-questioning-everyone

The Nadesico continues her journey to Mars. The new pilots didn’t let us down, as they were complete fools, just like everyone else on this ship. And some people on board are getting all excited on their own.Do these people have any idea what they’re doing here?

In 20 or so minutes, the episode is able to communicate the following:

  • Characters question of purpose in life.
  • Shounen lead/ace pilot angst (Wryyy must I fight?!) His desire to be a cook represents his pacificsm; he has a near religious experience in the presence of the master chef and the Nadesico’s spice rack.
  • Captain of the ship examining her usefulness
  • A meditation on how technology has replaced human core functions of ship operation, resulting in boredom.
  • An analysis of the relevance/role of the Captain of the ship from WW2 to present. The decisions of the captain of the ship cannot elicit a reversal in the strategic flow of the battle anymore since combat has been fully worked into overall war strategy. The main duty of a captain then, is to be a figurehead for the warship who can comfortably absorb the frustrations and stresses that the combatants must contend with. The motivational aspect trumps the need for tactical mastery and explains the increase of handsome male and femaile captains of the ships. This is put to the test when the captain is faced with a mutiny: involving the contractual enforcement agains public displays of affection – rationalized by the complications of romantic relations both socially and economically.
  • A meta-analysis of the characterization (visual and personality) of starship captains from the 60s to the 90s (bishounen and bishoujo characters begin to dominate, so as to ‘motivate’ young viewers; is very much tied into the previous bullet point).
  • Consequences of wartime casualties. (Lots of funerals for lots of people)
  • Through showing the change of the work shift, a ‘realistic’ portrayal of corporate existence is provided.
  • Cultural diversity as a theme:
  • -In religions, specifically funeral rites
  • –Nergal Heavy Industries funeral benefits: since the bodies were lost in space, the actual funeral ceremonies are given more significance, going beyond the benefits of the armed services, fulfilling the last wishes of the deceased while in war time. They respect the religion and ideology of the individual.
  • -In cuisine, specifically ‘last meals’ and funeral receptions
  • –The Master Chef’s back story shows a deeply compassionate desire to fulfill last wishes re food and to provide a death with dignity.
  • Meditation as a means to shed worldly desires (Zen).
  • Harem hi-jinks
  • A mutiny! Some of the crew aren’t happy that fraternization among the crew is limited to ‘holding hands’.
  • Peter Pan reflections: I don’t want to grow up, I don’t trust the contracts grownups sign.
  • AAAAND, the start of the battle.

Show timeframe: 2 weeks

Template of how captains use to be like. Battle experience, wisdom is highly valued.

Template of how captains use to be like. Battle experience, wisdom is highly valued. I just started re-watching Yamato after 28 years or something. I lol'd when I saw this guy.

How captains look like with the new values.

How captains look like with the new values.

Nergal values the beliefs of individual employees and spend lavishly on their funerals.

Nergal values the beliefs of individual employees and spend lavishly on their funerals.

Since there was a battle with many casualties, the anime actually spends time dealing with it. This is not that common a thing.

Since there was a battle with many casualties, the anime actually spends time dealing with it. This is not that common a thing.

I wish to be bitten in the neck by the most beautiful woman on Earth while having a stake driven to my chest.

Gyappi Motoki's last wishes: 'I wish to be bitten in the neck by the most beautiful woman on Earth while having a stake driven to my chest.'

For lack of priests and ministers, it's the captain's duty to preside over funerals and weddings.

For lack of priests and ministers, it's the captain's duty to preside over funerals and weddings.

I lost count at the number of funerals shown and inferred in this episode,

I lost count at the number of funerals shown and inferred in this episode,

Like I said...

Like I said...

The show values diversity, and not just pays lip service to it.

The show values diversity, and not just pays lip service to it.

The value of diversity is also expressed in cuisine. Each funeral has a reception with food catered to the culture of the deceased.

The value of diversity is also expressed in cuisine. Each funeral has a reception with food catered to the culture of the deceased.

The Captain seeks enlightenment in the meditation chamber.

The Captain seeks enlightenment in the meditation chamber.

When one fails to let go of worldly desires, there are consequences.

When one fails to let go of worldly desires, there are consequences.

Just as the captain is coming to terms with her 'figurehead' role, her social justice function is called for.

Just as the captain is coming to terms with her 'figurehead' role, her social justice function is called for.

The lead-in to the next episode near the end of the show; remarkably, the fact that the ship is in war time never left me as a viewer. The Nadesico after all was subjected to pot-shot bombardment in the 2-week trip from Earth to Mars.

The lead-in to the next episode near the end of the show; remarkably, the fact that the ship is in war time never left me as a viewer. The Nadesico after all was subjected to pot-shot bombardment in the 2-week trip from Earth to Mars.

  • The lead male’s internal conflict regarding piloting mecha to fight and cooking for others is given depth. Cooking is not just jingoistic pacifism, but a calling he seeks to heed to provide human dignity in war time.
  • The Captain’s feeling of uselessness is set up quite nicely. I anticipate her to try of force herself to become more than just a figurehead – leading to possibly exorbitant consequences for the ship.
  • Nergal Heavy Industries’ integrity as a ‘corporation with a soul’ can be tested.
  • Related somewhat to the previous bullet, the mutiny sets up the love conflicts not only for the leads, but for many possible characters.

So many things happened.  So may balls juggling in the air and yet this episode delivered brilliantly. For me it is a feat enough that all these details, world views, contexts, and plot points are delivered in such a short time. However, the episode itself is funny! The humor is maintained throughout, in between laugh-out-loud moments. I think of the first episode of Xam’d, and the second episode of Kannagi as comparable examples though neither had this much information to present. Further examples escape me.

  1. What do you think are sterling examples of exposition? What episodes from what anime?
  2. What are examples of poor exposition? What episodes from what anime?

Do tell me why, because this is really interesting for me right now.

About ghostlightning

I entered the anime blogging sphere as a lurker around Spring 2008. We Remember Love is my first anime blog. Click here if this is your first time to visit WRL.
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13 Responses to Brilliance in Exposition: Martian Successor Nadesico Episode 05

  1. Haha! I’m glad you’re getting into Nadesico. Every episode is worthy of thesis upon thesis to be written about them. And it hasn’t even picked up yet! The early episodes are kinda boring IMO, it’s when you get to the teens that things really pick up.

    I expect a post on the recap episode when you get there.

  2. Emperor J says:

    Anyone who hates filler should be forced to watch this episode. Plot wise, it pretty much contributes nothing, but that in itself is the brilliance of it.

  3. mechafetish says:

    Hahaha!

    I remember this ep. One of my favorites in the series for sure!

  4. ghostlightning says:

    @ digiboy

    Yes, I intend to do a post on the recap episode when I get to it.

    @ Emperor J

    Gotcha, though I think its contribution to the plot is setting it up.

    @ mechafetish

    The subsequent 2 episodes got cruel reaaally quick. It’s cruelty is something ridiculous. I somehow feel uncomfortable laughing.

    Death, destruction, personal sacrifices and failures, then harem hijinks… it’s funny, but I’m getting disturbed.

  5. coburn says:

    This is definitely one of the memorable episodes from Nadesico, and plays a valuable role. I think good exposition is something that occurs on an episodic basis – a series can be poor at it one week and effective the next (I’m thinking of Claymore eps 1+2).

    i.e. I see the challenge as finding a 25 minute plot which works both ways. So the adoption of slice of (frantic) life here is the key to the sheer quantity of data dropped. Nadesico’s attitude to genre gives it certain advantages.

    My favourites tend to be of the famed ‘show not tell’ variety – because it feels more real. Darker Than Black springs to mind.

  6. ghostlightning says:

    @ coburn

    Re ‘show not tell’ it’s one of the reasons Fan Hulic of Tytania fails for me as a protagonist. The show tries to portray him as an unassuming genius, but all it gives us is the unassuming part. And yet, a whole bunch of characters major and minor keep yakking about how great he is. It’s so annoying that I dropped the show.

    Darker than Black was certainly quite interesting for its first half.

    The real thin and plenty slices of frantic life in this episode – yes, I think you nailed it. That’s how they served all that data onto our plate.

  7. There is no filler in Nadesico, by the way, so you can’t call anything a filler ep. Every single second of this show is monumentally important.

  8. otou-san says:

    Funny you’ve mentioned Xam’d and Darker Than Black now, because Bones’s original stories tend to be excellent examples of how to show not tell — not to mention how to leave just enough information out.

    There’s absolutely nothing enjoyable about watching an Index info dump, even if the hot girl with the half pants is delivering it. And what are you left with at the end of one? A complete knowledge of everything that’s going on, and no sense of the mystery that makes a show like Eureka 7 or Xam’d so intriguing.

    None of this has thing one to do with Nadesico, but after reading this post I realized that I have forgotten a lot of what went on in the series (I saw it probably around 8 years ago). It’s often pointed out what a brilliant satire of anime it is, but mad props to you for showing there’s a lot more to it.

  9. ghostlightning says:

    @ digiboy

    Good to know, though even filler can be done well (see Cowboy Bebop).

    @ otou-san

    Thanks man. I too look back at many of my favorite shows and realize how much of it I forgot. Working with Lbrevis on a Cowboy Bebop post shamed me on how much of the details I used to love so much I’ve forgotten. Surely I won’t be able to recall many little things that made my LoGH the way it is. 8 years is a long time.

    I look forward to catching up and completing Xam’d now that it’s complete. I haven’t written about it and perhaps ‘knowing what to leave out’ is the angle that’s best to explore given that so many good writers are blogging it. (but I do find it so mysterious as to be actually mystified, hence my reticence in writing a dedicated post on it).

  10. Sakura says:

    YES! You’re finally watching it 🙂

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