Setting the tone of your TV show, movie, Anime etc. is one of the most important things you have to do in order to make it good. Setting the tone is a foundational tool from which the rest of your show is built off. Setting the tone was something the show World’s End from last season did very well and very poorly. Let me explain.
Setting the tone is important because it provides the basis for what can be considered abnormal and shocking in the context of a show for the audience. If the tone is lighthearted then any moments of darkness would provide juxtaposition, in a dark show any jokes would provide that same sort of contrast.
Having the audience know when moments are meant to be juxtaposing is crucially important and thus one wants to try and set the tone as early as possible. In TV shows I tend to find that most shows set their tone in either the first episode or over the course of the first 3 episodes.
Think of Attack On Titan, it’s tone is set from the get go, the colossal titan destroying wall Maria and the numerous deaths paint a very bleak picture. This is so that when Eren plugs up the hole in wall Rose later on it runs counter to the general hopeless tone.
Then take Madoka, it takes 3 episodes to establish it’s tone. It begins off lighthearted but unnerving becoming increasingly so until *slight spoiler* the death of that character in episode 3. That death confirms to us that that uneasy feeling lining the show was not just in our imagination, that the show is actually much darker than it may have first seemed.
It can be difficult for Anime to set a tone so early on because of the limited runtime, 3 episodes of Anime = about 1 of Game of Thrones for instance. I think this may be part of the reason so much importance is placed on Anime OP’s you can set a shows tone through them without having to do it straight away in the show itself. It allows time for other things to be focused on like character introductions or world building, whilst assuring the audience of how the show will eventually feel. A cold open will do the same sort of thing.
So this is why World’s End surprises me. It sets it’s tone fantastically in it’s premiere, it felt grandiose and cinematic in a way to me. Even though I didn’t really know what was going on the show felt like it had something going on. And thus I continued to watch it, when something feels like it’s meant to be good I find one is usually more receptive to the idea that it actually is.
The show then proceeded to jump all over the place tonally. Often jovial and often serious with plenty of fanservice in between. It left me very confused, what was the show meant to be? A drama with lighthearted moments? A comedy that would get serious and dark on occasion? A fanservice show with a plot? I had no idea.
And this is a problem because it takes away from anything the show does well. Whenever something serious happened (like that little girl hitting her head) it was often not too far removed from a scene of Wilhelm giving a girl a naked massage. I was always thinking how poorly the scenes fit together even if individually there was nothing wrong with them.
Look end of the day, tone is bloody important, without tonal consistency your show can become a mess.