P.A. Works: My Favorite and Least Favorite Studio

There’s no easy way to start this given how much P.A. Works as a company has influenced me in this medium.  They’re a unique studio, a studio who’ve taken on quite literally whatever project they want to tackle.  If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be able to appreciate original anime.  But my love for their projects has also served as an unfortunate double-edged sword.

Warning: Story spoilers for various P.A. Works shows from 2010 onwards.

To understand P.A. Works is to start at the beginning with what was established with the company.  P.A. Works didn’t really start to pick up speed until 2008 where ‘True Tears’, an adaptation of the visual novel of the same name would be their first animation project.  Eventually, the company trudged through a few more projects, before the coveted year of 2010 where we begin with the company’s first smash hit, the ever beloved ‘Angel Beats’.

Now I remember Angel Beats for a lot of things when I was younger.  It was a popular show that no one back in the early 2010 era could forget.  Back then, Key had a massive foothold in the anime medium due to their trio of popular VN adaptations of: Air, Kanon, and Clannad, the last of which being one of the most influential anime of its era.  So it was really no wonder why Angel Beats ended up the way it was.  The popularity of Angel Beats essentially skyrocketed P.A. Works in success, as the show persists to this day with such a memorable opening that you’d be hard pressed to find any older fan who doesn’t recognize the song.  But when one gets down to brass tacks…what actually happened in Angel Beats?

Commercially, the show was a massive success, but the narrative was in laymen terms, a ‘clusterfuck’.  With such a massive cast of characters where almost all of them never got enough screentime, and many episodes featuring expanding world elements with questionable validity, my personal wonder was “what was going on in Jun Maeda’s head when the thing was being conceived?”  At best the show showcased a number of personal stories that led all of these children into this purgatory high school. At worst, the show continued at its own pace with continuous worldbuilding that seemed to retcon stuff that was presented just a few episodes earlier in the same series. Evidently, I think this is partly where the “P.A. Works” curse comes into play.

The ‘P.A. Works curse’ is the term I use to describe the consistent storytelling curve that almost every P.A. Works show seems to have. It starts with a genuinely interesting synopsis and a decently strong start. It could be the characters or the setting that contribute to the reasons why the show is interesting to begin with, but it almost always has a promising interest. Then it climbs and climbs. And then in the last third or so of the show’s runtime where the climax starts to happen, it runs itself off a cliff and we end up with a completely different plot thread, which may or may not be a bad move. If it is a bad move, then the show ends up being wasted potential. From my perspective, this has happened to most of their projects from Angel Beats! to Another, Nagi-Asu to Fairy Gone, Sirius the Jaegar, Charlotte, and most recently at the time of writing this, “The Day I became a God”.

Because of this, it’s gotten to a point that for me, while watching a P.A. Works show, I expect the show to end up falling on this curve. And when it doesn’t, it feels like either a miracle, or they’re strictly adapting something else for their seasonal project, which has happened a few times with Uchoten Kazoku I and II and Uma Musume just to name a few. And over the years I’ve lost a lot of faith in believing that I’ll be able to capture the magic that some of their few success stories like Hansaku Iroha and Sakura Quest were able to accomplish during my time of watching them. And instead I just cynically watch the new yearly show that they put out knowing for a fact that it’s gonna suck the moment I put up the first episode in my queue.

Seriously, after a record of having an entire class of children murdered in comical ways in Another, having us believe that weapons are made from the dirt in the ground in Angel Beats, and making the most complicated love web that’s vaguely incestuous in some fashion in Nagi no Asukara, never minding the fact that their most damning project was Glasslip an entire 13 episodes that amounted to literally nothing, the fact that me only being mostly cynical about watching the new show that comes my way is genuinely surprising to me.

Now you may be wondering, “If you think the show’s going to suck, why do you even bother watching anything this production studio makes?” To answer that…well I have a blood contract with the company that tells me that I have to watch everything they make. Yep, signed in my own blood and everything. Jokes aside, it’s because there really is nothing like P.A. Works out there. Most if not all other production companies produce manga or light novel adaptations. And the experience for those really end up being comparing the anime to the source material or being fanservice for fans of the original work because seeing your favorite fight scene animated with music and voice acting is just cool as shit. P.A. Works doesn’t do that.

About 80% of the company’s projects are strictly anime originals, so unless you watch the show, you factually cannot get the story elsewhere. Not only that, most if not all of their works have something to do with humanity or life in some way. I have a strong belief that the strongest stories are those that ones that can touch a person’s humanity. And themes of personal struggle, love, loss, and finding our way around the maze called ‘Life’ are omniprevalent in practically everything they make. A point that makes a lot more sense when writers like Mari Okada, responsible for scriptwriting “Anohana” and Jun Maeda, responsible for the aforementioned “Clannad” are the kinds of people that they bring in to write the shows they animate for.

I genuinely believe that given the right direction, all of these projects could’ve been truly amazing. Charlotte was about one boy’s shift from a pompous asshole to a more genuine person through the crazy curveballs that’ve been thrown at him. Nagi no Asukara was about how drastically life can change like the ocean’s waves. Angel Beats showed acceptance after death. And Irozuku was about a recluse girl’s introduction to color and companionship. But all of the shows mentioned above are ruined by some weird, awkward, or sometimes unintentionally hilarious twist that tries to make the series so much more than it really should be. With twists like “Around the world in 80 days in 24 minutes”, a convoluted love web, the aspect of love tying everyone down for some reason in one episode, and time-travel shenanigans respectively for all of the shows mentioned above. The amount of unnecessary fluff in these shows is staggering, and I think these are the things that hold these shows back. And it makes a greater majority of the company’s work difficult to recommend. Hell, my reviews for all of these shows pretty much only give green lights for the art and sound direction because without fail, these are consistently the best parts of P.A. Works’ catalog of work. Which is not something I will ever back down on because some of these shows are some of the most visually impressive pieces in the medium.

By all accounts, I criticize the company and their works because I truly love what they do. Uchoten Kazoku, Sakura Quest, Shirobako, Hanasaku Iroha, and hell, even Appare-Ranman are among the best things that the company has produced. And most of them are originals that’re drastically simpler than their siblings at the company with the same kind of heart and energy that I’ve come to expect and love from the company. Hell, my favorite show from them is Charlotte, a show I’ve detested the existence of simply because it started off so good with genuine character interaction and interesting lore only to throw the audience in for a loop with a murdered little sister as a plot twist and time travelling shenanigans because above all else, that was the thing the show needed.

Just from one fan’s perspective, I hope that some day we can stop filling the runtime up with clutter and subplots, and just focus on simple, meaningful stories full of emotion and passion with fun characters. It’s the reason why I ended up following the company’s works and why no nonsense characters like Tomori Nao and Ebisugawa Kaisei became some of my favorite characters. (Both conveniently voiced by the same VA) Because if there’s any we need more of, it’s stories that show us the goodness and compassion in people. Conceptually good worldbuilding like Fairy Gone and Maqia. And just good, quality fun show romps like Appare-Ranman! and Sirius the Jaegar.

And if there’s anything we need less of, it’s time travel plots, made up diseases, plot twists for cheap drama, and underage girls who fall in love with guys that have a significant age difference of five or more in between them. The fact that it’s happened once is a little surprising. The fact that it’s happened seven times though with one of them being a two generation gap is actually a little alarming.

Despite all of my criticisms, petty complaints, and everything else I’ve said about the studio up until this point, I don’t think I’ll ever stop watching P.A. Works shows or stop holding onto the hope on every new project that maybe this one will be ‘the one’. You’d be hard pressed to find a studio with the kind of library of original works that they have, and while I don’t agree with the kinds of narrative decisions they’ve decided on for a greater majority of their shows, when they do good, it becomes an instant favorite of mine. And until that day comes, I’ll be sitting here, watching with great intent and bated breath.

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