The Story Must End

This week I said “good-bye” to an old friend. That is, I read issue 56 of

A Few Favorites

InuYasha, the final installment in a manga I’ve been following since 2004.

(For those of you who might worry about such things, there will be no spoilers in this piece. Also, if you’re not familiar with anime and manga, I discussed these forms in “Animated Enthusiasm,” my wandering for 3-10-10).

I’d been familiar with Rumiko Takahashi’s work long before I encountered InuYasha. I’d enjoyed some of her Urusei Yatsura and become quite involved with Ranma ½, but both of these series suffered from the same problem. They simply wouldn’t end. I gave up on Urusei Yatsura, but stuck with Ranma ½ until the distinctly unsatisfactory ending of the anime (at least as released in this country) and the slightly better ending of the manga. But in both cases, Takahashi-sensei seemed unable or unwilling to wrap up the story.

No spoilers, but I will say she did a better job with InuYasha.

The problem of series that won’t end is one that plagues anime and manga, yet there are series that have managed to do it quite well – and often in far fewer installments than it took for InuYasha.

In manga, I recommend Fruits Basket in manga form. (I haven’t watched the anime, but apparently the English release didn’t include the full story). It’s well worth the twenty-three densely packed issues. I stress “densely packed.” This is an illustrated story that uses both visual and text to their fullest advantage.

In anime, I’ve enjoyed the noir fantasy/ horror series Witch Hunter Robin. This one is a good example of a story that ends satisfactorily while leaving the viewer with a sense that there’s a lot more to come. I would have been happy with another season, but would rather have it end here, on a strong note, than trickle out.

In fact, one of my greatest dissatisfactions with what otherwise might be my favorite anime/ manga, SaiYuki, is the lack of a solid ending. The manga and anime version diverge widely about mid-way. However, both just trickle to an end. In fact, the ending of the final episode of the anime SaiYuki is so fragmented as to seem padded. An effort to start the story again in SaiYuki Reloaded was so bad that I couldn’t get past two episodes. The characters seemed parodies of themselves, without the “heart” that had drawn me in to their story originally.

Lighter, but still good, are the anime series Sorcerer Hunters and Orphen. Sorcerer Hunters consists of one season with a very solid – and surprisingly gripping – conclusion. Orphen is actually two inter-related seasons. The first might be somewhat stronger, but the second (if you can get through the first half-dozen or so highly comic installments) becomes quite good. Both contrast broad humor and high tragedy in a fashion that is rarely attempted in American writing.

I can’t end this wander without mentioning one truly remarkable anime series, the excellent (and highly deceptive) Princess Tutu. In Princess Tutu, the theme of the series is revealed to be “the story must end.” And the story does, but not at all in the manner you might expect. In fact, even within a medium that often takes real gambles with storytelling formats, Princess Tutu might well be classified as an example of “post-modern” storytelling.

I began this by stating I said “good-bye” to an old friend. Oddly, I meant that. For the last eight years, InuYasha, Kagome, Sango, Miroku, Shippo, and the rest have been the subject of numerous conversations in our house. We’ve speculated on what they’ll do, how they’ll get out of this or that scrape, whether some event is an indication of Things To Come or a red herring.

We’ve been frustrated when Takahashi-sensei seemed to lose track, rejoiced when she began to find her way again. We’re going to miss those characters and the sense of being part of an unfolding story, but I still hold to my belief that, as much as I’d like a tale I’ve come to love to go on, to be solid and satisfying The Story Must End.

What do you think? Even if you’re not familiar with anime and manga, how about unending novel series?


21 Responses to “The Story Must End”

  1. Alan Robson Says:

    Call me a philistine, but I never understood the attraction of manga and anime. Manga, being just another comic artform, leaves me cold (I really don’t like comics at all, not even when you call them graphic novels). And anime, with all the characters who have auto-self-extruding hairstyles never fails to make me giggle, which ruins the mood.

    Perhaps I’m just feeling curmudgeonly today…


  2. Thomas Says:

    Hey Jane,
    Yes, this is a very relevant post. I am not very familiar with the art form except for the occasional viewing on late night cable, such as Ghost In The Shell. But, I think it is a pertinent train of thought for writers. I suppose, especially, for the writer and creator of a popular series of tales,(two come to mind immediately), Conan Doyle and Holmes, and Moorcock and The Eternal Champion stuff, it must change from pleasure to burden at some point to go on and on and on with a character and or storyline. But, it’s a pretty subjective thing. In my mind there is a comparison with music. No matter how brilliant and entertaining a piece may be, by it’s very nature you are moved toward some form of resolution. But, that being said,( I’m such a hypocrite), we all have those certain heroes or villains, or bit players who we are reluctant to see go. I must confess, I was bitterly saddened with the death of Tom Hanks character in Saving Private Ryan, but from perspective of the storyteller, I knew it had to be to bring the tale to it’s resolution. This is a hard call to make. If Doyle would have had his way, would he have let Holmes stay lost in Reichenbach Falls? In the end, no matter how much hue and cry from the followers of your creation, it is your baby. I am reminded of the famous Twilight Zone episode where the writer can never keep the story going, so he is constantly starting over, thus condemning his characters to a eternal limbo of non-resolution.
    I don’t really know how to honestly answer your question. I suppose the more you love and identify with a character and his story, it then becomes a reflection of our concern with our own mortality. We all have our sacred cows, I suppose. If I had my druthers, Corwin, Merlin, Luke, and Ghostwheel, and of course, Master Dworkin would go on till the end of time. But cest la vie. I really don’t know. To be unchanging is to stagnate, and yet some sense of familiarity must exist as an anchor to keep you in the story, at least to it’s conclusion. What do you think?

  3. Nicholas Wells Says:

    Now you know how I felt at the end of the Firekeeper Series. 😀

    Wish I had more to add, but the only series that I’ve seen that never seem to end are TV shows. Though they too have this nasty tendency to lose their way after a while. They lose touch with their characters, and the show becomes the walking dead.

  4. Thomas Says:

    To Mr Wells,
    You are so right. The whole concept of it all has become so twisted with the idea of milking something to the not even bitter and pathetic ending, it almost makes one revolt against the idea to submit one’s creation for others to read and enjoy.

  5. Alan Robson Says:

    Actually, done well, a never ending series can be a brilliant thing. For me, the archetypal example is the Aubrey-Maturin series written by Patrick O’Brian. I’ve just completed my umpteenth re-read of it and I loved it all over again.

    O’Brian wrote 20 novels and was working on a 21st when he died. By coincidence, the last completed novel does bring a major story arc to a conclusion, but many plot threads are left dangling and the fact that O’Brian was working on another novel when he died suggests that he himself did not regard the story as complete.

    But it really doesn’t matter. The series is such an artistic (and very satisfying) triumph that it doesn’t need to end. And of course you could argue, somewhat pretentiously, that no proper ending, with lots of stuff left unfinished, is just an artistic reflection of real life. After all, when I die I’m sure I’ll leave heaps of unfinished business behind.

    On the other hand, there is an undeniable feeling of frustration if no plot threads are ever resolved at all, particularly if the characters never, ever change. TV is particularly notorious for this. Every week the same characters do the same things, they never learn from their mistakes and no progression is ever made. (Star Trek, I’m looking at you. But you aren’t alone). There are sound commercial reasons for this of course, not least of which is that the order in which the episodes are shown on repeat becomes irrelevant (and it doesn’t matter if some episodes are omitted). But it does make the whole thing much less interesting from the reader’s (or viewer’s) point of view. It’s all rather predictable; plotting by numbers if you like.

    The reason why I find the Aubrey-Maturin series so satisfying is that plot threads do get resolved (and new ones appear). Characters do change and they learn from their mistakes. And major characters die. Sometimes O’Brian can be quite ruthless.

    So, in summary, in my opinion, a never ending series that incorporates change and growth can be a truly marvellous thing. But a series that doesn’t do this simply stagnates and quickly becomes dull.


  6. Ann M Nalley Says:

    I don’t watch much TV and I have never read magna or watched anime, so I can’t contribute anything to that discussion. I am, however, conflicted about the topic of endings! My nine year old son received THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA as a Christmas present from his aunt, and these books have been our nightly companions each evening for bedtime reading the last two months. Last night we finished THE SILVER CHAIR and so we move on to THE LAST BATTLE, the final book in the series. This is a bitter-sweet time for me! In addition to being marvelous stories, these books have initiated, powerful, meaningful discussions between us about “magic” versus “reality,” the power of saying one is sorry, and the ongoing battle between good and evil. What a joy it has been to share these companions of my childhood with my own child! Yet even as we come to the “end,” I thank C.S. Lewis for closing these adventures in a natural way, with an ending that is somehow not the end. The characters live on; our parting on the page is merely temporary.

  7. Patrick Doris Says:

    I also do not read anime or manga but in term of long series I follow the Wheel of Time and the Honor Harrington series I see the Wheel of time coming to an end and I almost wish that it was left unfinished since the soul of the characters has been misplaced. On the other hand the Honor Harrington stories seem as strong and as interesting as ever. I am in the midst of re-reading the series. I think that spreading the thrust of the Honorverse into three arc was a sound move since in gave room for a lot of characters to grow. A good long series needs in my opinion a multitude of characters to stay fresh Eager Rice Burroughs succeeded in this with his Martian books and Kelley Armstrong is also doing this with her Women of the Otherworld series were a secondary character in none books trends to become the focus of sequential novel. As far as television series are concern Only the Wire, Buffy Lou Grant and MASH had the e sense to end in a logical and satisfactory way.

  8. Paul Says:

    I can only think of a couple authors I’ve read who have deliberately brought their characters to an end: Michael Moorcock (with Elric) and Agatha Christie (with Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot). And Asimov with R. Daneel and Elijah Baley. Conan Doyle and Ian Fleming tried to, but the public or publishers would have none of it (and now we have other writers carrying them on beyond the lives of their authors!). I guess the writer has done her/his job too well when he/she is eclipsed by her/his characters.
    P.S. I miss Firekeeper, too.

  9. debka_notion Says:

    I am not an anime reader, but am of mixed minds when it to long/unending series. Some seem to carry on with inspiration, and I love being able to come back, again and again, to the same characters/setting. Others, as one of the previous commentators mentioned, lose their souls. It strikes me as a hard call for an author, to know when to stop- I don’t know if I could figure it out cleanly, if I were in their shoes.

  10. Paul Says:

    This 56-installment manga brings to mind something I read about a silent movie serial called “The Hazards of Helen.” It ran for 119 weekly episodes, between 1914 and 1917. Talk about saying goodbye to long-time acquaintances…

  11. Rowan Says:

    Endings are important to me. They do not have to be earth-shattering, they do not always need to be complete. I don’t need every little piece wrapped up for me, because the sense of progression of time is important for my sense of story too. Endings that are too neat make me feel like it’s not just the end of the story, but the end of the world they’re taking place in.

    It isn’t just a matter of the worry that a neverending series will go stale, it’s also a matter for me of needing closure. Otherwise, it’s like losing touch entirely with a friend and never knowing what happened with their lives. Sure, you can imagine it, but you won’t KNOW (not everyone ends up on Facebook, after all).

    And… at the end of the day, everyone’s mileage may vary. I looked forward to seeing how Garth Nix finished up his interpretation of the Hero’s Journey in his Keys to the Kingdom series. I thought the end was nice; my mother didn’t care for it. So I figure that it’s probably best to have a mix of kinds of ending/not ending, anyway.

  12. janelindskold Says:

    Wow… I really don’t know where to start. Thanks for the great discussion — and feel free to keep the comments coming. I always check.

    Debka’s comment about it being a “hard call” for an author to know when to stop is so true. Jim just finished re-reading Frank Herbert’s DUNE. He liked it so much, he immediately grabbed DUNE MESSIAH and said he wished he’d never gone on.

    With the Firekeeper books… I could see a good stopping point that would not involve the “marry everyone off, provide an epilogue where you find out how many kids they have etc…” I hoped it would be a good compromise.

    Do I want to go back there? Maybe someday, but only if the right, exciting story hits.

    As a reader, I’m with Rowan. I was discussing with a friend just this week that neither of us will judge how a book ends until we get to the end. I remember one book in particular (I’ll be nice and not mention the title) that I was gushing about through the middle and really disliked by the end.

    I think I feel the same about series endings. Some are great. Some, like the end of the “Dark Materials Trilogy” by Pullman so ruin the series for me that I can’t even go back and read the first book, which I loved.

    Thanks again for all the thoughts… I really enjoy these discussions.

  13. Ann M Nalley Says:

    Dear Jane and ALL ~ This may sound “sappy,” but I wanted to second Jane’s comment about how much I enjoy these discussions. Unlike so many “electronic” meeting places, somehow there seems to be something interesting and significant ~ and certainly FRIENDLY ~ that is happening on Jane’s blog. I don’t mean to sound presumptuous, but I’m so happy and grateful for all the thought provoking and interesting and FUN things that I read when I come to Jane’s blog, both from her, most certainly, and from all of you. Thanks!

  14. Patrick Doris Says:

    Oh yes The Dark material saga is a perfect example of one the ran too long. to contrast and compare I feel Sue Grafton Kinsey Millhouse series ran too long I love it but the last book I read (T) I found that being struck in the 20th century was so inconvenient that I did not finish the book. On the other hand I find Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series to be as fresh as ever. I seem to be in a minority about that but I find Stephani’s in ability to totally commit resonates with me

  15. janelindskold Says:


    I’m familiar with both the Sue Grafton and Janet Evanovich series.

    Although superficially they have a similarity — in fact, I’ve often wondered if Evanovich started out deliberately riffing off Grafton — over time they hae really differed.

    I agree that Stephanie has changed, but I’m not certain it’s always for the better. For example, she still binge eats, but it’s been while since she sat on the sofa with her pants un-buttoned, suffering the consequences. She still relies far too much on Ranger and Joe, but at least others can rely on her.

    Kinsey is stuck in time and that means she’s also stuck in other ways. However, I do admire Grafton for not always telling the same sort of story. For me, her switching between “mystery” tropes has kept me interested, even as I wish Kinsey would change a bit more.

  16. Tom M. Says:

    Hi. Just wanted to toss in a remark or so, now that I have the chance. Endings are a hard thing for me. Once having found something/someone good, its hard to let go- from either side of the page. A lot depends on how things started, what story is being told. When that tale is finally told, then it’s done. Stringing it along just to sell more books or ad time is just cruel.
    Neverending? Some tales are large, complex, and take a long, long time to run their course. Longer than the teller, perhaps. Can one person see the full path of a redwood the way they can a tomato?
    It is a sad thing when the teller loses interest, (or is shut down) before the tale is fully told. Has happened in the TV medium all too often. But…the loose ends, the might-have-beens, what-ifs…these are the starting points for new tellers.
    Begin as fanfiction-then find their own tales.
    Endings are hard, but they open the way for new things. New projects from the original source, new voices around the circle.
    Still hard to reach, when you’ve come to love the journey so much.
    Stopping now.

  17. Jake King Says:

    I have been a long time watcher of anime. (started back when one VHS tape would set you back $40, and it contained 3 episodes of a many episode series) and in fact know exactly where Jane is coming from when talking about Rumiko Takahashi’s wandering problem. I have seen most of Urusei Yatsura, Ranma 1/2 and Inuyasha, and subsequently managed to not completely finish any of them. (Ranma I made it to the last season, Urusei Yatsura, though I have a copy of the entire series on DVD, I just couldn’t make it through, and Inuyasha was still on TV before I could finish it, and I tend to lost interest if I can’t watch it all at once. )

    I am actually a huge fan of ending a series before it ‘jumps the shark’ (Thanks happy days, for a good example). Though I miss the adventures of Firekeeper, I am glad Jane ended it when, and how she did. A good anime worth watching that has a great story, and is wrapped up well is Code geass: Lelouch of the revolution. The main character ends up with a power to implant 1 command in people, and they will follow it always, and instead of being overwhelmed with the burden of responsibility, he instead decides to take over the world. It’s actually a series that was only intended to last 1 seasons, and had such great public interest, that they changes the ending at the last second, and made it work into a second season, and did it really well.

    Another series that bothers me in it’s never ending-ness was MacGyver. Though it did eventually end, the overall story arc meanders, and in fact contradicts itself a lot (a problem that was very common in TV shows before late ’99, to now). I love to see the cleverness of a character (why I also like Sherlock Holmes, and House, and Burn Notice, etc) But at some point, the characters start to get stale in their static-ness, and they either need a massive change to keep them fresh (and the longer they stay static, the bigger the chance it needs to be, thus potentially making it show no longer interesting), or the show/book needs to end. I can’t think of a series that I needed to see ended honestly, but I usually stray away from stupidly large series. (I like to collect copies of book, and being poor often keeps me from investing in entire series if the series is long.) I’ve not read the wheel of time series because of the time sink involved. Dune the same way. I’ve not re-read the Asimov Foundation series since High School, and won’t read the Robot or Empire series because of how big it becomes (since they all became one series eventually).

    I will admit I have come to like the long, serial stories found on TV today (and in books, Manga, Comics, and Anime.) specifically because I enjoy the character development that ends up coming with it. Battlestart Galactica was one of my favorite series specifically because of that. Also, Avatar, the Last Airbender is another example of a series that ended when it should have.

    All in all, series have to end in some fashion. Some end with a resolution that makes it feel complete without completely closing the lives of the characters (like the Firekeeper books), some die because the audience/readers eventually lost interest due to over-reaching story (Ranma 1/2), or not enough interest, or bad decision making on marketing a series (Firefly and Star Trek are big showings of this.)

  18. Raye Says:

    I just came across this when surfing the web and I wanted to make sure to leave a comment even though it was written quite a number of years ago.

    I couldn’t agree more with the idea of never ending stories verses stories that reach a good conclusion, but I noticed something disheartening in your message. You brought up Saiyuki as an example of a never ending story that just needed to stop. I’d like to respectfully disagree and bring up the difference between the anime and the manga. The first season followed the manga till episode 25 or so, then had to diverge to a different path because the series had caught up with the manga. While I think the first season of the Saiyuki anime ended well, there was a lot left open because they most certainly wanted to continue following the story of Saiyuki when they had a chance. In the mix of this, the manga Saiyuki finished with the God Arc and moved onto the sequel, Saiyuki Reload. I must agree with you that the anime for Saiyuki Reload (which follows the story of Saiyuki, confusingly) is terrible art wise, along with the story until it gets to the God arc, though the art still suffers. The manga version of Saiyuki Reload is significantly better. The story is detailed and relevant and the characters continue to grow. I highly suggest reading the manga because it has been listed as one of the best series for a new manga artist to read considering it’s concise storytelling and plot. Now on the third installment of Saiyuki (Saiyuki Reload Blast. We won’t go into the sad excuse the anime version, Saiyuki Reload Gunlock, is), the manga is drawing to a close as the main characters make it to India to complete their mission, though the relevance of what they’ve been through in the last few installments is just as important and obviously necessary for proper storytelling. The manga is similar to that manga of Inuyasha, where there’s lengthy storytelling and character development, but it is all necessary for the conclusion of the story. Otherwise, it could be classified as a series that went on past its prime. These authors do a fantastic job of keeping the story interesting and relevant and I feel you didn’t give the manga version of Saiyuki Reload an honest try. Even Saiyuki Reload Blast is shaping up to be an excellent farewell to this series… but please, disregard the anime versions.

    I hope you’ll at least give it a look sometime. It’s really worth it.

    Oh, and one last thought, I completely agree about Orphen. A great series (the first season more so than the second) and it reached a satisfying conclusion (though, as with most series, I would always love to see more).

    • janelindskold Says:

      Hi Raye,

      I hope you see my reply!

      Last Christmas, I came across some copies of the manga of Sai Yuki Reload. I picked them up on impulse and promptly got hooked again. I’ve now read the manga of Reload, all but the last one (which apparently was never printed) and I agree with you about the story. It’s great. Ukoku is terrifying and at last we understand why Dr. Ni carries that bunny.

      My husband gave me some of the “Gunlock” anime for my birthday. I was horribly disappointed by episdoes 1 and 2, but liked those that followed. I especially felt they were pretty close to the manga about Hazel Bishop. They also went back and included one of the more moving stories from “Reload.” The art varies, but gets stronger as the series continues — or so I felt.

      I don’t read on-line, so I’m behind you on the rest of the story. Is anyone publishing “Gunlock” and “Blast” in print? I don’t enjoy reading off a screen. I do too much of that for work.

      I haven’t gotten to Reload Blast in any form, but I did love the anime Gaiden, even though you really needed to know the story to follow it at all.

      Have you seen “Gaiden”?

  19. janelindskold Says:

    Oh… I should note that since this was written, Inuyasha was also completed in anime form. I thought they did a good job and, thankfully, stayed close to the story in an manga.

    As Raye noted above, many anime become weak when they don’t have a manga to follow for the larger plot arc.

    I think Full Metal Alchemist may be the best illustration of this. Maybe writers do have a function after all.

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