Type: Formula and Genre cliché
What made it popular: The success of Jun Maeda’s works and Key Visual Arts.
Cliché Level: Medium
Where can you find it: It is a cliché that appears in Romance-Drama anime, meaning you can see it in Clannad, Air, Kanon, Ef A Fairy Tale of the Two, Little Busters, Angel Beats, Anohana, Myself Yourself etc.
Nakige is a formula cliché that crossed over to anime from the visual novel industry, which is made all the obvious from it’s name as Nakige can be translated as Crying Game. Both in visual novels and in anime, Nakige are made with the purpose of creating an emotional impact within the viewer and making you cry. The reason for this is that they went with the logic that viewers are more likely to buy and get invested in something that has affected them on an emotional level. And business wise this is obviously a smart and successful strategy.
Since Nakige is a formula cliché it naturally means that it includes everything from the atmosphere, the pacing, the plot and even the execution. Because of this Nakige is a cliché that rules over the entire series from beginning to the end, affecting everything within it.
The Traditional Nakige Formula is as follows:
1 – Comedic First Half: This is the part where all the characters (Mostly girls) are introduced and presented to the viewer. For several episodes these characters will play out various hijinks and comedic moments as well as the occasional unsuccessful attempts from one of the girls to win the protagonist’s heart as it is standard from Anime Rom-Coms. The overall tone is light and easy going, this is used to make the viewer relax and be put into a sense of security. (Obviously so it will make the later dramatic turn more effective)
2 – Romantic Middle: After several episodes pass by, one of the girls is finally successful and manages to beat the competition and get together with the protagonist. Romantic episodes follow as the other characters accept their new relationship. The atmosphere is generally heart-warming as the two characters are having the best time of their lives so far.
3 – Separation: But like they say all good things must eventually come to an end. Due to the events of the story and plot, the main female lead and the protagonist are left unable to continue their romantic relationship. This is where the most variation occurs as the reason for the separation can be something like a terminal illness, the girl being forced to move away, the girl and the protagonist breaking up and even death itself can be a tool for separation.
4 – Reunion: However there is no reason to feel afraid or anxious for it is the trademark of Nakige that no bad ends ever occur. The writers will eventually reunite the pair even if they have to use an outright Deus Ex Machina or even a Time Reset to do so. The protagonist and the girl are reunited and they live happily ever after, you know the drill.
The crying (both in the viewer as well as the anime characters themselves) typically occurs in either part 3 or part 4, but usually in part 4 as crying in part 3 only occurs when a really tragic tool of separation is used such as death or some serious terminal illness.
Why its bad:
As I already mentioned and illustrated, this is a cliché that affects the entire of the anime it takes place in, which is bad. Earlier in my main cliché article I declared that clichés do not automatically make your anime bad unless there is an overabundance of clichés, meaning it is full of them.
However this is a cliché that is unfortunately exception to that rule as the usage of this cliché can easily ruin the show on its own. The reasons for that are simple, it is very formulaic. Once you recognize the pattern and signs of a Nakige, then you can predict everything else that happens within the show, simply because it follows the Nakige formula.
If you are aware of this cliché, you will know about the separation that will inevitably occur after the middle part, therefore it will not surprise or shock you in any way.
You will also know that in the end the characters will reunite anyway, no matter how bad the situation in the anime gets.
What this does is obviously the complete and utter removal of suspense from the anime, which is one of the worst things that you can do in a drama. If there is no suspense over what happens next, then the viewer won’t feel any excitement or anticipation and the emotional effects of the reunion will be completely negated.
Additionally its bad due to its overemotional, exaggerated and melodramatic type of story telling, which will leave the less emotional viewers like me completely uncaring and disinterested. Though this is hardly an issue as Nakige are typically aimed at emotional people.
And lastly I cannot forgive the fact Nakige will refuse to resort to bad or even some remotely sad ending, it is very restricted on how it can end and that ending is only reunion, even if it has to resort to the most sinful of techniques and methods such as the Deus Ex Machina or the Time Reset to achieve the reunion, which is something that I must condemn from a writing standpoint.
The Antithesis to Nakige: In visual novels there is a formula called Utsuge, which means depressing game. Unlike the Nakige the Utsuge are not afraid to end sad or even depressing, in fact that’s the only way Utsuges end. Because unlike the Nakige, the purpose of Utsuge is to depress the player, there is no hope in these stories and everything the characters do only delays the inevitable. One of the most iconic Utsuge in visual novels is Muv Luv Alternative.
However Utsuge does not really appear as a cliché in the anime industry, there are only a handful of titles that can be “kinda counted” as one, but even with that its still nowhere enough. I only mentioned them because it might be something interesting to hear about.