Whether you understand the term or not, you have indeed run across this little plot vortex at some point. Everyone has. And there are few things as frustrating as coming face to face with it after battling through a long show, filled with hope that the script writers won’t stab you in the back. Unfortunately for you, we writers aren’t as put together as we seem. And there are times when we write ourselves into a deep, dark, hole. And when that happens, when the characters are too weak, the enemies too strong and the deadline is sharpening his scythe, we resort to deus ex machina.
So, just to be clear, what is deus ex machina? It’s Latin for “god in the machine.” Wow, so that doesn’t really help much either, does it? Well, if you know your literature history, it does. Way back in the day, books were really expensive. There was no printing press. Books were written by hand. Only the rich could afford books. Thus stories were told verbally, or in their most popular form: theater. Plays were open to all walks of life for many decades and the most popular topic for some time was mythology. People loved seeing the epics of Hercules and the wit and brawn of Athena. Of course, as newer works were made or old stories adjusted, playwrights kept running into problems. What does one do when the mortal hero can’t defeat the immortal enemy? And that is where the “god” comes in. Literally. A god would suddenly descend from the sky via a “machine” of some kind (often a pulley system) and they would right all the wrongs and reward the hero and such. Because, obviously, a mortal is no match for a divine.
Today, we use this phrase to describe when a writer clearly wrote themselves into a hole and thus used some form of mythology, magic or other rather unbelievable plot devise, to get out.
Unfortunately, this happens a lot in the world of anime. Shows like No. 6 even utilize it so brazenly, it’s downright laughable. Other shows wisely use it for comedic purposes, such as seen in School Rumble. But trust me when I say that regardless of its form, you do know of this god in the machine. And unless it’s used for comedy, you’re probably readying your rotten vegetables for trowing as soon as it shows up.