Anime Geography: Ferris wheel in the sky, keep on turning

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While the hot springs and the beach are more well-known destinations for anime filler episodes, the amusement park is one of the harem / romance genre's best kept secrets; at least, by 'best kept' I mean you don't see a lot of other shows at theme parks (next on Kaiji: Restricted Whack-a-Mole).

However, despite being built around fun, amusement, cheap montages, and general lightheartedness, theme parks in anime are actually quite intriguing places to be; for some reason, they always show up at Plot O' Clock (i.e. late) in the storyline. In fact, sometimes entire stories take place there (note that I have not actually played Ever17 yet).

Part of this can be attested to an entertaining, occasionally ironic contrast between a jovial, carefree atmosphere and a deeper conflict or drama between characters. Said tension is usually romantic, especially since amusement parks seem to be the Place to Go on dates in anime.

And the ace in the hole for said amusement park dates is the Ferris wheel. Quite possible the slowest moving vehicle since Aria (not an insult!), the Ferris wheel is a nice, relaxing ride for little children, sightseers, and if Completely Realistic Fiction is anything to go by, people who are long overdue for a confession.

Simply put the Ferris wheel offers the best - and worst - aspects of the genre shows, in that it's an easy way to build romantic tension between characters by shutting them in a sealed environment with no escape, and that it's equally easy to break said tension at the most critical moment when the ride ends.

And so seeing the amusement park trope used again and again in shows is something that brings a sort of hushed anticipation to me, in that while a few incredibly interesting things have happened, there have been equal amounts of predictable, cop-out tripe of the "failed confession version #494" variety.

Perhaps this whole post is representative of the Amusement Park Episode concept; I hope for it to raise a few eyebrows and crack a few smiles, but in the end it's still mostly filler. That said, let's commence plot advancement and take a look at some of the reasons I think the Ferris wheel is one of the more noteworthy places to be...

(Featuring spoiler-related stuff regards Cardcaptor Sakura, Shuffle, Myself;Yourself, and DNAngel - yes, that manga - so move cautiously)

Cardcaptor Sakura (Movie 2: The Sealed Card)
Once again everyone's most loved magical girl show comes to the rescue, as the series's final moments featured not one but two Ferris wheel moments.

This time it was Sakura's turn to play the role of the incredibly nervous romantic person - although not before a heart-wrenchingly-adorable blush over Tomoyo's typically unsubtle role of matchmaker ("I'll ride with Meilin, Sakura, you go with Syaoran"). In this regard Sakura does everything you've ever seen before, except cute, by spending just enough time stammering so that when she works up enough resolve to confess, plot intervenes.

But the real reason I bring up this movie is for one of its most adrenaline-inducing scenes near the end, where the quickly-dwindling group fights through the deserted theme park (one of my favorite settings: the strangely desolate place). Syaoran takes lead stage in a rocking battle as he battles the sealed card on top of the Ferris wheel, leaping from carriage to carriage in something that feels in place in a Bond movie.

Perhaps Sakura-colored-glasses kicking in again, but it's really a memorable scene, if only because we don't get enough guitar-backed manly fight scenes in magical girl anime (I still listen to that tune today), as well as the fact that it's the penultimate battle leading up to Sakura's emotional final confrontation.

Not to mention, the fact that neither time did we actually go the full way around the Ferris wheel.

Shakugan no Shana II 07
This one you've seen before and will see again, in all likelihood, but you've got to give a hand to Ike for trying and failing in a completely different manner.

Ike, the side character who wants a piece of the main relationship pie, turned out to be a meticulously planning character who set up the group's Day Out with Hecate Konoe with the full intentions of getting his relationship story with Yoshida into gear with a confession on the Ferris wheel.

Predictably, it all fell to pieces long before then and Ike was just beginning to put things back together when his master plan was failed not by shyness, but by motion sickness, for once.

In the end, like a lot of the early Shana II "plot" it's something we've seen before, yet is still unexpected for one reason or the other. Certainly I've got a new level of sympathy for Ike, if only because of his intriguing Overly Planning Glasses Guy side.

DNAngel (manga) Volume 11
Somehow Ferris wheels never seem to go well. Risa, finally on a dream date with Dark (or is that the other way around? It's been a while), manages to get kidnapped by some new all-encompassing villain character.

You thought Ferris wheels were safe? You've never been on one in anime.

Myself; Yourself 09
One of the things that inspired this post, naturally, and another double-part Ferris wheel adventure.

While it may have been a bit strange how the show made the quick transition from Sad Nanaka Plot Time to...uh...Animenger and the amusement park segment, it proved as always that Myself;Yourself has the power to make quite ordinary things come together quite well.

And in that regard while we had the typical pairings of lead couple in one car and the rest in the other, we still got an interesting focus on both of them, and both rides defied, at least, the bare-bones cliches of the amusement park.

Nanaka and Sana definitely have had some underlying issues between them for almost the entire show, and their ride together managed to advance their plot in a relatively non-tacky, workable way. Nanaka played her part with the apology we were waiting an episode for, while Sana proved to be a rather classy guy with his subtle but very appropriate almost-a-confession line of "we'll always be together from now on."

Meanwhile in the other car(s) we got some great camera work as Shuri's guard began to drop right in front of Asami's eyes (while Aoi and Hinako are busy playing sadly irrelevant side characters). The closed space, so to speak, that was afforded to the Wakatsuki twins really allowed their family plot to show more hints at upcoming development (especially with the facade Shuri puts up for her friends), and hopefully will allow for Asami's plot to be tied into all this as well. Cheers all around.

Shuffle! 18
One of the most predictable rides turns out to be one of the most awe-inspiring ones, if only because of the circumstances surrounding this one.

Like many others, the entire theme park episode was a Set-Up Date for the purposes of putting together the main couple. And like many other rides, the Ferris wheel was meant as a confession vehicle. And like many other shows, the plan falls to pieces.

But very rarely have we seen the plan be physically smashed to pieces by the girl on the other side. After seeing Rin fail at saying what even to her is are obvious (enhanced by a subtle map reading "Confess to her at the Ferris wheel!") words, despite her best encouragment, Asa tears him and his very-poorly-disguised friends a new one as she shows the world that yeah, there are some characters out there who aren't content with episode upon episode of stammering and blushing.

It's really a powerful scene, especially since it's one that's completely unexpected. Shuffle!, to me, is a great example of a harem/VN show that isn't afraid to do things differently; it blended plot and fanservice, it pioneered, before all this boat stuff, the epic character conflict and the yandere, and it wasn't afraid to throw some relationship twists as well. And this episode is just one that proves it, showcasing Asa's unique personality and strong backbone.

Five examples of, at least, mildly innovative implementations of one of anime's fallback locations, one that a lot of shows couldn't do wrong without, if at least for a little bit of impetus to the story. What of the possibilities?

Kanon: Sad girls in theme parks; watch insurance companies go broke as the main cast of girls collects millions off of claims of crippling injuries, terminal illness, and spontaneous metamorphoses into foxes on a day where nothing in the theme park works in the way it should.

School Days: Two paths here - 1) Makoto's adventure to do it with girls on as many rides as possible, or 2) The rest of the cast's adventure to bloody as many rides as possible.

The Theme Park of Haruhi Suzumiya: Which is most amusing - Kyon and tsundere Haruhi in Ferris-wheel-space, Mikuru on the tea cups, Ryoko in the haunted house, just about anything involving Nagato, or Itsuki and Kyon in the tunnel of love? There are infinite possibilities...

Lucky Star: "Hey, Tsukasa. Which end of the roller coaster do you ride?"

Tsukihime: Wait, this one actually happened.

Or did it, Tsukihime fans?



You know, I hadn't noticed the use of the theme park in anime. I've obviously been watching the wrong series.

It's impossible, though, to pass up a chance to mention the menacing Ferris Wheel scene in The Third Man, however off-topic it may be.

Hm a theme park event in Tsuihime MIGHT be intresting if they pulled it off correctly and advanced the plot. Well, it never happend so who knows.

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