In My View: What the heck is a “trainwreck?”

Okay, I’m confused.

I’ll freely admit I don’t have taste and there’s a lot of people in the Otakusphere who are smarter than me, so maybe I’m just not bright enough to get it.

But what the heck is a “trainwreck” and how do people figure out what constitutes one?

First, let me give you some background. I’ve read a lot of fantasy novels, but there are a few novels which have defined my reading experiences. One of those was a book I read back when I was in high school called “The Little Country” by Charles DeLint. It was set somewhere in England. (I think it was either northern England or maybe Wales, but I know it was England.) It contained two plots revolving around a magic book. Both stories were drastically different in tone, setting, structure and plot, but they each shared a common element.

They were set in a “real” world and contained magic.

It was my first encounter with genre blending and I loved it. The setting didn’t hurt the story. It enhanced it. It was a fantasy less about elves, knights, kings and the sinister evil living in Mount Doom, and more of a fantasy about love, laundry, dinner and sinister cats. I was so enraptured with this idea about fantasy happening in the real world; I started hunting all over for books like it.

As it turns out, I was about 10 years ahead of my time.

Now genre blended fantasy is the norm and I still feel the same about it. I like the idea of a wizard in Chicago who solves crimes, while dealing with wizardly politics. I like the idea of a vampire hunter in St. Louis (even if the execution of that idea isn’t really all that good.) It’s interesting to see these genres juxtaposed and see what comes out.

It’s not horribly surprising I like the same thing when anime does it. To be honest, I like “Full Metal Panic” because of the combination of Mecha with wacky high school hijinks. It makes the hijinks more meaningful when you know a secret agent might be right around the corner and it makes the battles more meaningful when there’s something to return to.

I like the first season of Code Geass because of the interplay between what was happening in the war and what was happening at the high school. It brings in dramatic irony, which raises the tension. In fact, I’d go so far as to say Code Geass wouldn’t have been nearly as good without it.

I’ll admit, I’m biased, so maybe that’s why I don’t understand it. Is it a difference in tone? Is it a difference in style? What is it about these genre-blended shows makes them so offensive?

And even more importantly, how is a genre supposed to grow if it doesn’t experiment? I’ll admit I’m all for a well-told genre story even if it’s essentially the same as other genre stories, but I also think this experimentation is good for any type of fiction.

But maybe I’m just crazy.



  1. I’ve encountered the TRAINWRECK meme a lot when commenters talk about plot holes that they see all over the place (e.g. Code Geass, particularly R2). Surprisingly, in the plot holes entry of the TV Tropes wiki, there are hardly any documented.

    I feel like plot holes have become contingent to the tastes and intelligence of the commenter presenting them.

  2. A trainwreck is a show/book/etc… that at some point forgets what made itself good.

    Just throwing it out there. I have no intention of defending it.

  3. The way I see trainwreck is a serious drop in quality in a TV show. People had high regards to Code Geass and thought the second season was horrible and so it was a trainwreck(I disagree but that’s another story. Something that is horrible off the bat like Akikan is just regarded as trash and moved on.

    Plot holes regarding characters is much harder as you have to personally decide if a that character would do a smart action in the situation or just display common sense. This is why something that might be viewed as a plot hole, technically isn’t. An example would be letting a villain go after he tried to kill you three times in your sleep, most people would end up killing him or letting him die. However the main character in the anime lets them go. This is a term I like to use as “character plothole”. The main character lacks the common sense or intelligence to do what is necessary, even though they have displayed it in the past.

  4. From my POV, people use trainwreck to mean “clearly going somewhere disastrous in terms of writing quality, but hasn’t reached that point yet.” (for ongoing shows) Code Geass was a lot like that because few people had any idea of how a show with a coherent plot AND a radical and frequently bizarre plot twist EVERY EPISODE was going to end satisfactorily, and predicted that it would just completely spin out of control and crash into a heap of failure.

    It ended up, IMO, averting that, but I could definitely see the argument at the time!

  5. I’m going to agree with Shiri on this one.

  6. @ ghostlightning – Yeah, I’ll admit I’m really not good at seeing plot holes unless they’re glaringly obvious. Well except for the end of Trigun, that was a major plot hole. So I’d have to agree it’s contingent on the tastes of people.

    @ Baka-Raptor – Well, it doesn’t look like you need to, looks like everyone else did it for you. Oh yeah, thanks for turning me onto Gai-Rei Zero that show is awesome.

    @ Jarmel – Yeah, I’ve got mixed feelings about the second season of Code Geass. I still haven’t finished it, but it felt like they nerfed Lelouch, but on the other hand, I really like some of the things they did with Kallen and some of the things they did in China, so… I have mixed feelings about it. What I was confused about is a lot of people called the first season a trainwreck before the second season ever came out, so I didn’t really understand (and still don’t.)

    That’s an interesting idea about “character plot holes.” I’m a bit torn on that myself. If having a plot hole mean, the action doesn’t make sense given the character, the situation and the setting, then I can see what people mean in regards to shows like Saikano.

    @Shiri – I can understand that. Although, it does seem odd to slap a label on something that hasn’t ended unless there’s something actually wrong with it. Granted that’s just me.

  7. Ha! I was not aware that you are back!

    If one is to state the meaning of “trainwreck” based on how it has been applied to Code Geass sentiments, then a “trainwreck” would be something that is disturbingly horrendous yet one is ironically unable to avert one’s eyes from viewing it.


  8. “Trainwreck” is a bulls*** term that people use to flame a show.

    I think it originated from Jason Miao, but don’t hold me to that. It fits his style and works with his shtick. Then, the blogosphere at large picked it up. Whatever meaning it originally had has been lost as of late. Anything a blogger wants to hate-on can be termed a “trainwreck.”

    As you can tell, I’m not a huge fan of the meme.

    On a different note, let me second your comments on Code Geass. To accentuate dramatic lows, having the characters (and viewer) first experience frivolous fun highs sets that up nicely. A lot of people didn’t seem to key in on that, apparently.

  9. I’m not sure I’d describe Code Geass as trainwreck.

    To abuse the word/analogy further, I guess when a show has derailed from its path and is coming down to some kind of “mess” you can call it a trainwreck. Perhaps a good example of this is School Days. Or Da Capo (the first series).

  10. I’ve never considered Code Geass to be a trainwreck. R2 had some issues and frustrated me immensely at times (lalala episode 18), but it never hit “trainwreck” level for me. (Gundam 00 S2 on the other hand…)

    I think everyone’s definition of “trainwreck” is going to be different just like everyone’s definition of “SUPERAWESOME AMAAAAAAZING” is going to be different. The general consensus seems to be that trainwrecks occur when huge, gaping plot holes occur as well as an obvious straying from the initial themes of a series. For Code Geass, I really just think that someone thought the term was fun and everyone else ran with it. Code Geass is fun to make fun of, but that was part of what made it so entertaining. I mean, I love Code Geass — R2 and all — but I had fun laughing at its poor points too.

  11. iniksbane: you’re right and it does seem odd, but sometimes I just feel SURE something took a wrong turn and can’t be going anywhere good. (Rie Kugimiya as Al Elric!? *flips out*) In CG’s case it seems like more caution was warranted -because- of how crazy and twisting it was, but some people evidently didn’t feel that way! See also: Higurashi. Was used there too. (Side note, I actually played a bit of the games recently and now I can see where the fans saying that were coming from, it made like zero sense at the time of watching the anime but a lot more playing the game.)

    As for Jason Miao’s blog, I don’t know about originating there but it sure sees a lot of use there.

    • That’s more because Jason Miao is incapable of writing an article that doesn’t contain certain words because a) he needs them to jack up his google hits and b) he’s such a panderer and a total hack that he’s incapable of coming up with anything else to say anyway. Guy can almost be said to have written the same basic blog article with the same old one liners for the past 4 years now at the very least. It’s honestly the worst blog I’ve ever read, but it never stop being fun to make fun of because frankly Jason does everything to deserve it.

  12. “Although, it does seem odd to slap a label on something that hasn’t ended unless there’s something actually wrong with it. Granted that’s just me.”

    It isn’t just you. Maybe we’re too optimistic?

    I don’t usually think of shows as trainwrecks, but to me, calling a show one only works when all is said and done. When the wreckage actually occurs. You know, at the end after all the damage is done. P

  13. @The Sojourner – I may have had that experience, but not really with anime. Sometimes with books, but generally with anime I either like it or don’t. But more than likely, I tend to like a lot of stuff (or at the very least can find something I like about it.)

    @Michael – Although it seems like a lot of people agree on what it’s supposed to mean. Granted, I’ve seen it used a lot of different ways.

    Yeah I actually don’t read Miao’s blog. Not because of any hatred, but I tend to have a selection of blogs I like to read and that’s that. Although, I did notice you watched (and liked) Index. So you’re ok in my book.

    @omo – Yeah, I suppose my problem with it from what I’m seeing is that it’s kind of shorthand, but it doesn’t really explain what the problem with the show is.

    @Shiri – Funny, I actually liked both seasons of Higurashi (although I wasn’t a fan of the anime only arc. It seemed like a lot of unneccesary exposition.) Granted, I haven’t played the games. I’ll have to see if they sell them over here in the States.

    @TheBigN – Yeah. If there’s something specific I don’t like in a series (or a place where I felt like the series made a wrong turn) I might complain about that specifically, but I’ve never used the term. Just seen it thrown around a lot.

  14. I liked higurashi (first season) too! I’m just commenting on what seemed to be public perception at the time.

    As for the games, they don’t sell them here. Your only recourse seems to be to buy a Japanese copy from wherever people buy this stuff (play-asia?), then get a fanmade patch. Sonozaki Futagotachi (google them I guess) did a patch for the first arc, Onikakushi-hen. Oh yeah, and there’s a free demo of that arc which they also did a patch for. I don’t think any further than that is patched though, nor has it been for years and years, so.

    A much more active group, witch hunt, is doing umineko no naku koro ni though, so you might want to look into that instead. Same authors, slightly different tone, better art, and I just generally prefer it. Your mileage may vary.

  15. Well, I think Michael hit the nail on the head about how everyone overuses the term as they please. But on the whole, people here seem to agree that “trainwreck” is a sense of a story making a sudden development or turn in direction that wasn’t expected, but is expected to be “for the worse” in the end. So yea, maybe trainwreck isn’t the proper term, but looks-like-it’s-going-to-be-a-trainwreck doesn’t quite roll off the tongue.

    There’s also the bit about subjectivity. I mean, what someone wants to happen in their animus will probably be different of someone else’s ideal story, thus the greater confusion about to be or not to be a trainwreck.

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