There are certain drawbacks to being a writer. It lends a certain amount of genre savviness that makes it that much harder to sit down and be surprised as the plot unfolds. It’s why I’ve enjoyed anime so much since it allows me to sit back and focus on the art. By doing that, I have a better chance of experiencing the plot.
But that art is still only a skin to the story, which stands as foundational bones of any anime. And anime loves to bend the rules of plot-normalcy all the time, allowing for plot twists I hadn’t seen before. Or, if I could see it coming, some have the amazing ability to engross you so completely that it doesn’t even matter. There are valuable lessons to be had within anime when it comes to telling a story and drawing an audience, and you can bet I’ve been taking notes.
Try Everything; They Will Come
I’ve said it so much now it may as well be my tagline: anime are the kings and queens of weird and unusual.
The beauty of the medium is that, as a tool, it gives creators the ability to try everything and anything when it comes to a story. Wanna make a computer that looks like a moe woman? Wanna create a squid that can walk on land as a human? Or how about giant monsters that eat humans for seemingly no reason? However strange and unusual you can go, anime lets you go there. And, what’s more, almost every time it has “gone there,” people have come in droves to see it.
Case in point: Space Dandy
Anime taught me not to be afraid of putting out content that may stray from the norm or be perceived as “weird.” The worry about who will read your work, who will watch your work, or who will take any kind of liking to it is strong within writers; it’s debilitating in a few cases. But anime makes it very clear that the key to most successes is just to create what works for you and others like you will follow.
You Can Tell a Great Story With or Without Stretching It
For some shows, the phrase “cash-cow” gets tossed around a lot. For others, they were here, then gone, leaving behind an underwhelmed audience who could have used more content. But the golden place to be is that story that’s either so large it needs a long time to explain itself or so tight and succinct it can give you a full range in sixty-four episodes.
The Brotherhood version of FMA has some of the tightest writing I’ve ever seen, so much so that any changes would hurt the plot overall. Brava, Arakawa-san.
The problem comes in when you try to tell a story beyond its natural stopping point. Naruto has been guilty of this since the end of the Akatsuki arc, and Bleach took its sweet time coming to an end long after anybody cared about its ginormous amount of characters. When you stretch a show past where it should have ended, and start putting in more filler than anyone wanted, you lose what drew people to the show in the first place in favor of a cash-grab. Or, worse yet, you stave off the ending with useless back and forth that doesn’t accomplish anything… Inuyasha.
“I seem to have lost the Shikon shards for the UMPTEENTH MILLION TIME.”
Balance is key, this I have learned. Take only as long as you need to tell your story, and no more. Because when you stretch the patience of your audience, they start looking for more entertaining places to be.
Anyone Can Be a Hero
Boy, shonen sure loves its underdog. And so does shojo, in a way.
Basically, anime loves to tell stories of strange heroes from improbable places, lifting up ragamuffins to badass levels in the blink of an eye, etc. Be it a little boy from a secluded island or a frightened and selfish crybaby schoolgirl, anime will find a way to turn them into the hero all of us secretly wish we could be. It is, in short, that which allows us to fantasize about being a badass despite our many issues.
But it isn’t always the underdog. Sometimes our hero is the supporting character who has been a minor liability. Sometimes it’s a scraggly looking insomniac already at the top of his game, or a greedy, perverted jerk who discovers the horror of the Japanese School system. Literally, any kind of character within anime can rise up to become a protagonist with the right writing. The many shows I’ve seen taught me that, with a flick of my pen, I can tell the story of anyone I see fit. There’s no need to sculpt a character that’s traditionally heroic when literally anyone can be in the spotlight.
But Everyone Can Be the Villain
Since I dropped a picture of everyone’s favorite, scraggly detective, that brings me nicely to my final point: He may be an unlikely hero, but no one is safe from being the villain. They can literally come from anywhere.
Like one of my favorite books has always said, it only takes one bad day. Then, any and all kinds of people can go from your average citizen to a complete monster. Take, for example, the ever infamous Light Yagami from the awesome show, Death Note. While there are some that still argue whether or not he’s a “villain” there’s no mistaking his one event requirement – the falling of the death note – to start the change from grade-A student to master manipulator/chess player with a messiah complex.
Complete with evil laugh.
And so, in keeping the theme with the rest of the post, my final lesson was that I can make anyone my antagonist, be they self-righteous or loved by everyone around them. The most unlikely specimen can become the most feared character in the entire story.
In short, anime has taught me to go for it when it comes to telling a narrative. In a medium where anything can be good if handled with care, writers would take care to take notes from it. They know how to sell the strange and unusual, a solid skill for storytellers worldwide.