How to create a shitty death battle (illustrated through Mahou Shoujo Ikusei Keikaku)

Death battles are one of those genres that are good because of how simple they are, since all you need to create a decent death battle is a proper place to fight, a reason for the death battle, the means of fighting, and the characters that are to be killed, beyond that, everything is up to the execution and the skill of the creators. Despite its simplicity, death battles rarely ever go right in the medium of anime, mainly because of how incompetent the creators are. While in the medium of manga, you got plenty of good death battles such as the manga adaptation of the famous japanese novel, Battle Royale, in anime, the studios time and time again have demonstrated that they are unable to create anything decent out of the formula with such titles as Btooom!, Mirai Nikki, Mai-Hime, and Fate/Stay Night.

But I shall not illustrate the non existent quality of death battles in the four anime I mentioned above, instead I will be using a fairly recent example, namely Mahou Shoujo Ikusei Keikaku or Magical Girl Raising Project in English, which is a 2016 winter season anime. It is an excellent example of incompetence, because everything that could have gone wrong, went wrong.

Let us start with the basics I mentioned in the first paragraph. The setting for the anime is a modern japanese urban city, the justification for the death battle are the sick desires of two sadists, the means of the fighting is magic, and we have sixteen characters with totally different powers and personalities (more or less as you will see below). Now let us examine the problems with each of these.

1. The setting

Mahou Shoujo Ikusei Keikaku pretty much has the same problems that arise from an urban environment that was present in the more famous Fate/Stay Night. Given the flashy, destructive and explosive battles that result from the usage of powerful magic, and considering how much surveillance and population a modern city has, it is essentially a miracle (read: shitty writing) that the existence of magic does not get discovered. Fate/Stay Night justified it via hypnosis, off screen manipulation and bribery, and conveniently never having any people around to witness the death battles, despite the fact that Fuyuki City is by no means a small town.

Magical Girl Raising Project does an even worse job than Fate/Stay Night, one of the rules of the anime was that if the identity of the magical girls were discovered, they would die and that humans cannot be allowed to know the existence of magic. How does the show accomplish that humans do not become aware? It does not, from the very first minutes of the initial episode humans are discussing magical girls in their daily life like it was the most ordinary thing ever. It is also further explained to us that there are entire sites on the internet dedicated to collecting pictures and videos of the magical girls in the city. So much for keeping the existence of magic hidden.

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The only effort that the administrators of the death battle make to contain information is automatically blurring out any pictures and videos (via some super convenient magic) that are taken of the magical girls, as well as memory wiping the characters who came into contact with the girls, which does not seem to work, considering the fact that the humans are clearly talking about the magical girls and how they were helped by them, therefore they were obviously not memory wiped. As for blurring out the pictures, why not just delete them entirely? If you can blur every picture and video automatically via magic, then there is nothing keeping you from outright deletion. Not to mention that the administrators are too stupid to realize that even pictures of bad quality can create endless discussions and theories, if they did not, then people would not be talking about the Big Foot or Loch Ness monster pictures even to this day. And despite the pictures being blurred, it is still very obvious that they have humanoid shapes and are flying through the sky. Good job! The creators of this anime have managed to create an even lazier excuse than Fate/Stay Night.

But allow me to be fair for a second, let us assume that the human population of this particular city are just dumb enough to fall for this trick and that nobody bothered to investigate all the rumors of magical girls helping people, due to some supreme disinterest and being busy with Japanese work life. Even if we accept that particular hypothesis, it all comes crumbling down around episode 8, when one of the magical girls, Calamity Mary, begins killing innocent civilians, blowing up cars on the motorway, and then a few more magical girls appear on the scene to try and help the civilians all the while some others try to kill the ones busy with the helping. There are obvious onlookers and witnesses to all of this. Are there any consequences to this turn of events? Do the humans find out about the existence of magic and magical girls? No they do not, the very next episode after the incident, the whole event is brushed off as ‘terrorism’ and everybody goes back to their life as if nothing happened, there are no repercussions at all.

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You can only suspend the disbelief of the viewer so far, before he calls you out on your bullshit. The truth of the matter is, there was really no reason for this anime to be set in an urban city in the first place, it could have been set in a more rural area or a secluded place far away from human population, but no the setting was made to be an urban city just so the author could torture schoolgirls, which is a subject that I will touch more later on.

In conclusion of this section, I can confidently make the declaration that the anime did not even try to follow its own established rules and laws from the very first episode, and it lacked consistency because of this.

2. The justification for the death battle

Everything in the anime happens because of the machinations of two unambiguously evil characters. Musician of the Forest, Cranberry and the familiar responsible for magical girl examinations called Fav are united, because the former wants to fight strong opponents and the latter wants to have interesting (read: edgy and violent) magical girl exams. That is all fine and dandy, but the way they go about accomplishing those goals is extremely convoluted, illogical and badly written.

First they develop an android game called Magical Girl Raising Project and start advertising it with the slogan that a select few players will be able to become real magical girls (which will totally not become suspicious when magical girls start appearing all over the city). Then they proceed to select 16 humans over the course of some months, which is a process that I cannot fathom why it was not instantaneous, considering the fact that there was no apparent qualification whatsoever to be drafted, as evidenced by the 16 characters who were selected by them. The selected range from alcoholic housewives, poor girls, psychopaths, university students, an office worker, bullied girls, a girl who just wants to help people, and even a boy. Clearly anyone could become a magical girl in this anime, so there was really no excuse as to why it took weeks for all the victims to be gathered.

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Anyway, after their unfortunate victims were selected, they were lead on a wild goose chase that made them believe they were proper magical girls who were meant to help people and not just victims of a death tournament, for what I can presume to be weeks or probably a month. The time of events is not exactly specified within the show, but it has to fall within that time frame considering the activities of the magical girls went on for long enough to develop rumors and urban legends within the city.

There was really no logic behind this wild goose chase and it also conflicts with the motives of the villains, due to the fact I said above, Cranberry wanted strong opponents while Fav wanted interesting exams, but despite these desires, Cranberry lets worthless characters become magical girls, who couldn’t have possibly served as a strong opponent against her, namely the main character, Koyuki and Nemurin, both of whom have meek and weak personalities, and weren’t given any combat oriented powers (again why?), unlike the other magical girls who are mostly combat oriented. And Fav lets this boring game of pretend go on for months without any objection, despite him seeking amusement, which was the motive established for him. The actions and the motives of the villains are clearly in contradiction.

Furthermore, the only reason that the magical girls even realized they were in a death battle is because they figured it out own their own rather than being told that they were participants, which gives us plenty of problems. The only reason they could put two and two together was because they checked the backlog of their chat room where Fav pretends to reveal to Cranberry that magical girls who lose the candy collecting contest end up dying for real rather than just cease being magical girls. This information was obviously purposely left there by the culprits so that our characters could find it, which is clearly retarded, because if the characters did not think of checking the backlog, they would not have realized their situation, which is again counterproductive to Cranberry’s and Fav’s goals, as magical girls would have kept dying without any battles. This retarded plan further depended on the fact that the first magical girl to die, Nemurin’s real name was Nemu, so they were able to confirm her death when the news announced it. If the first death was not Nemurin, but a character who did not morph her nickname from her real name, someone like Magicaloid, then our characters would have been left in the dark.

In the first place the antagonists had no need for any of this, neither the lying nor the pretending, because as it was shown in the anime, they had the power to make characters turn into magical girls without the consent of those characters, and they also had the power to just kill them in an omnipotent manner like they did with Nemurin in episode 2, so there really was no reason for all of this. They could have just forced a couple of girls to become the participants and then forced them to fight against each other to the death by demonstrating their ability to kill them instantly if they do not comply. They did not do it, because the antagonists of this anime are fucking stupid. And this is important because 2 episodes were essentially wasted on nothing happening, which is a lot in a 12 episode anime, especially one that has 16 characters.

It is clear to me that there was no deeper thought put into the setup and construction of this death battle whatsoever, otherwise the author would have been able to detect the same flaws and problems that I did in this section.

3. The means of fighting

The means of fighting in this anime are magic, which brings the typical power levels into play and a whole lot of inconsistencies. The problem with magic in general is that it rarely ever adheres to an objective standard, as opposed to firearms, explosives, melee weapons etc., which all adhere to the standards of our reality. And if something does not adhere to an objective standard, it must then logically follow that it rests solely upon the author’s arbitrary whims. Indeed we can say that whether magic kills somebody or does not, depends entirely on the author’s decision, after all magic is his imaginary invention, unlike with firearms, where members of the audience with basic anatomical knowledge can easily tell when the author made a mistake or is bullshitting us.

In this anime this arbitrariness is best exemplified by the character La Pucelle, who had the power to change the length and size of her sword to ridiculous extents, and due to the super strength that all magical girls within the show possess, she had no problem whatsoever using the sword. In episode 4 her competence and skill with magic fighting was shown when she managed to achieve victory despite being pitted against 3 other magical girls at the same time. Then in episode 6 when she is fighting Cranberry, the author decides to forget all her skill and competence, and makes her act like a total retard by having her move close in on Cranberry who was suffering from a reach disadvantage (her only melee weapons were her fists), and because the author made La Pucelle forfeit her superior reach, Cranberry easily grabbed La Pucelle by the throat and pummeled hear to near-death.

Again, had La Pucelle not forfeited her superior range, she could have easily won, or at the very least, she could have lasted longer, but in spite of being horribly wounded, the injured La Pucelle still manages to inflict a mortal wound on Cranberry by slashing her front open with her sword.

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Except Cranberry does not die to the injury, she shrugs it off like it is nothing, keeps on fighting without any hindrance to her movement, and finishes La Pucelle off. Why? Because the author did not want one of the main antagonist to die so early, so he simply had La Pucelle die instead out of convenience to the story. Also while magical girls have all been specified to possess superhuman strength, they do not all possess regenerative abilities (as evidenced by the fact that regeneration was actually the special power of Hardgore Alice, one of the magical girls), so by not having Cranberry die despite such a mortal wound, the author is bullshitting his audience and treating them as if they were stupid, especially because in later episodes magical girls are killed by similar slash attacks, showing that such a wound is more than enough to kill a magical girl. Therefore Cranberry only managed to gain the upper hand because the author on some kind of whim decided to dumb La Pucelle down into an idiot, and also on another whim decided to ignore Cranberry’s mortal wound and treat it as if it was nothing.

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The conclusion that can be easily drawn from this, is that all the battles are essentially meaningless to watch since they do not obey the laws of consistency and logic, it comes down entirely to the author’s whims at that particular moment, which lets be honest, is just shit writing, and shit writing does not make for good battle scenes.

4. The Characters

Easily the worst category in this anime, it is its final nail in the coffin, as decent characters could have been the only thing to make this shit show bearable. There are 16 magical girls in total, and all of them are shit. None of them are complex or even relatable, and all of them can be essentially described with a few words. Don’t believe me? Here let me do it:

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  1. La Pucelle – Genderbent Knight Magical Girl
  2. Nemurin – NEET Magical Girl
  3. Cranberry – Typical Bloodknight
  4. Calamity Mary – Psychopath Outlaw Magical Girl
  5. Minael – Psycho Twin Angel
  6. Yunael – Psycho Twin Angel 2
  7. Swim Swim – Emotionless 7-Year Old Psychopath
  8. Tama – Weak willed girl who tags along with the Psychopaths
  9. Magicalroid – Robot Magical Girl who scams people
  10. Ripple – Tsundere Ninja
  11. Top Speed – Overly Cheerful Witch, Kirisame Marisa edition
  12. Snow White, the main character – Madoka Clone
  13. Sister Nana – Lesbian Nun Magical Girl
  14. Weiss Winterprison – Lesbian Boyish Magical Girl
  15. Ruler – Smart, but arrogant leader
  16. Hardgore Alice – Insane X-Year Old Gothic Lolita

This is really all there is to their ‘character’, they are all extremely one dimensional and their personality can be summed up in their quirks and degree of sanity.

I  have to comment on the fact that there are obviously too many characters for a 12 episode show, if 5 magical girls were too many in Madoka for the same length, then imagine how shitty the situation is in this anime with 16 magical girls in play. The more characters there are in any given story the more screen time they steal away from every other character, as a result they receive less development than if there had been fewer characters, which is why books with numerous characters typically have larger lengths in order to compensate for this effect, but in anime, where typically an one cour seasonal anime has 12 episodes, each compromising 24 minutes, the studios are vastly limited as to what they can do with the materials given to them.

Still common sense would dictate to restrict the focus onto 1-3 characters only, but this anime did not do that unfortunately. There is no focal point to begin with, the anime literally always tries to show what each of the sixteen magical girls are doing in an episode. Pretty much no one dies off screen, the anime always makes sure to show their downfall just so it can shock the watcher. It is also extremely formulaic in the manner it does things, because whenever a character is about to die at the end of an episode, they will play her backstory in the form of a flashbacks in the earlier scenes pretty much always. After 2-3 deaths, the watcher can easily predict who will die in an episode and who will not based on the flashbacks that are shown to us, which is obviously a bad thing since it leads to predictability, which is one of the worst things that can happen to a death battle, because it will result in the elimination of suspense. (Also, flashbacks are one of the laziest ways to flesh out characters, especially if it is overused like in this anime.)

Overall it is impossible to care about anyone in the anime, because of how little time is given to any character, and how lazily and cheaply the anime tries to make the audience shed some pity for them in their last seconds with its emotion-filled flashbacks that constitute as little more than worthless melodrama. This is not what you want in a Death Battle, if the audience cannot find anyone to root for, then it loses its point, because whether a character lives or dies, will make absolutely no difference to the watcher if he/she cannot connect with them.

Another reason why it is so hard to connect with the characters is because of how psychopathic and abnormal they are. Bear with me please dear reader, because the following will be some really cringe-worthy material that really illustrates just how awful this garbage anime is.

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Pictured above is the magical girl called Swim Swim, who in the anime was the magical girl with the highest kill count and served as a villain for most of the anime, she was also the youngest member of the cast with just 7 years to her age. So how come that a child was able to effortlessly kill magical girls older and more experienced than her? The show justifies it by saying “she is not right the head”, meaning that she is a sociopath. Indeed, the 7 year old Swim Swim commits heinous atrocities without any hesitation, murders characters without a shred of emotion, and does not feel guilt nor remorse afterwards.

Everything about Swim Swim is pure cancer, and clearly the worst character within the entire anime. To begin with, why is she even sociopath? It is never explained nor justified. Whenever her human life was show, there was nothing out of the ordinary, all the while many other characters had actual troubling backgrounds yet were far more sane than Swim Swim was. And it cannot even be said that the death battle broke her psyche and made her this way, because Swim Swim was the very first magical girl to consciously kill another magical girl, she was one to start the whole bloodshed by claiming first blood ( Nemurin’s death does not count because it was done by the administrators rather than the participants).

So what is the deal with this character? Why did a seven year old little girl start a killing spree? What is her motivation? Surely there is a reason for all of this? Unfortunately there is no valid reason other than shit writing.

The whole deal with Swim Swim was that she admired her superior Magical Girl, Ruler, who she viewed as a princess and felt a deep admiration for her. Then one day Swim Swim has a dream, and in that dream Nemurin (who had the power to enter dreams) tells her that she can be a princess too. So what is the logical thing that Swim Swim does after this dream? Try to be like Ruler? No. At the very first opportunity she backstabs and murders Ruler in cold blood and usurps her “throne”. That’s right, a 7 year old little girl starts committing vicious murders because of a vague dream she had, that is her sole motivation. (Talk about cancerous writing)

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I might be able to look the other way regarding the existence of a single psychopathic character, but the truth of the matter is, about half the cast have psychopathic tendencies for no reason whatsoever. They were not broken by the death battle or traumatized by it, no these characters are often the initiators, meaning they were like this from the very beginning, and do not react like normal people would do in their situation, which is just shit writing and bad characterization.

As I pointed out above when I was listing the characters, Swim Swim, Minael, Yunael, Calamity Mary and Hardgore Alice are all equally wrong in the head for no reason whatsoever. I am under the impression that the author was simply too incompetent to progress the death battle without making half the cast psychopathic murderers.

5. Overuse of Shock Factor

I am a man of principles, so I always try to make a distinction between genuine drama and what is nothing more than cheap shock factor. Unfortunately this anime has only the latter, as it constantly tries to shock the viewer (quite weakly I might add) every episode to substitute for its non existent drama and generate some tension. And like many other shock factor anime (read: edgy) before it, Mahou Shoujo Ikusei Keikaku falls into the typical pitfalls of shock factor. I shall elaborate below what I mean by this:

The typical problem with any show that relies on shock factor is that it needs to keep escalating the shock factor in order to retain the effect in the long term, because the more you shock the viewer the more desensitized he becomes to the shock, what shocked or surprised him previously will be far less likely to shock for the second or the third time due to the fact that it has lost its effect. Once this point arrives, stories that want to keep relying on shock factor typically have only one option, and that is the escalation of the shock factor, meaning to show the viewer even more shocking material than previously. For example compare simple murder to something like torture or rape, it is obvious that the latter are usually more shocking than the former, and many edgy stories, such as Mirai Nikki typically tap into this in order to sustain their view/readership.

As murders are a very common thing in Magical Girl Raising Project, it quickly falls into the aforementioned trap and escalates itself to ridiculous proportions. This is how we go from murders to betrayals to torture to increasingly violent ways of murder (such as burning somebody alive or burying them in concrete and throwing them into the ocean) to suicides to the murder of a pregnant woman to the murder of children. Yes you read that right, this anime kills a pregnant mother (done by the 7 year old Swim Swim no less) just to shock its viewer, if that is not cheap then I do not know what is.

Now do not misunderstand me here, Alma Elma is not arguing from the position of a moralist, I am not saying that it is evil or anything similar. In fiction anything can go as long as it is done right, but this is cheap and disgusting, because it was done for the sole reason of eliciting an emotional response from the audience for views, it is emotional manipulation, pure and simple, and therefore I must condemn it harshly, just as I condemned every other shitty aspect of this garbage of an anime.

In the first place there was absolutely no reason for this particular character to be a pregnant mother, it added nothing to the story, meaning that she was a pregnant woman just solely that her eventual death could shock the viewer harder than any previous death. This is yet another story that was written by a butcher who created characters solely that they could suffer and shock the viewer with their deaths.

The anime ends with Swim Swim’s karma catching up to her, as Ripple (Ninja Girl) does not intend to forgive her and goes to take revenge. There is no talk of redemption or anything meaningful, it is yet another edgy fight that there was so many of in the anime, and it ends with the death of the 7 year old Swim Swim, which is only more shock factor on the pile. By the way, our supposed “main character”, Koyuki also survives the whole current of events, by doing nothing at all throughout the entire anime. She managed to be even more useless than Kaname Madoka, the character who she was a clone of. To add salt to injury, this anime ends with an ending that is clearly baiting for a sequel, which it obviously does not deserve.

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Conclusion

Let us sum up what we have learned here today.

If you want to create a shitty death battle, then follow the steps below:

A, Have a setting that actually works against the concept of the death battle (in this case urban environment vs magic)

B,  Have shitty motivations for your villains.

C, Have your villains’ motivations conflict with their actual actions.

D, Establish rules for your story, only to break them later.

E, Do not obey the laws of consistency. Have every battle be decided based on your own arbitrary whim.

F, Have too many characters for the length and scope of your story. Bonus: Make all of them generic archetypes.

G, Have no focal point, and give screen time to each and every character equally.

H, Make your characters sociopaths and psychopaths, instead of real people that can be related to and have genuine motivation for their actions.

I, Overdose your story on shock factor.

J, Escalate your shock factor the point that you need to kill pregnant women and children to shock your viewer.

K, And on top of all of this, have a shitty ending that is nothing more than a sequel bait.

And if you want to create an actually good death battle, then just do the opposite of these guidelines.

 

 

Why Time Travel = Escapism

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Time Travel and Time Resets are things that I avoid like the plague, if a story makes use of these two things, then it is very likely that I will never watch it or even come near it, but much to my annoyance, I have been put into a position where I’m forced to write about time travel and why it makes any fiction it is included in, worse.

Why am I forced to write about something I don’t like?

Its very simple and if you happen to be an avid consumer of anime who follows the current trends across the medium, then you will already know my answer. The fact that in the last few seasons we have had the pleasure of having several anime released that make use of either time-travel, time-reset or both. And because of the fact that these shows were financially successful, it would be wise of me to write about it now, because in the future there will be even more titles coming out, which feature this cancer.

Yes, Re:Zero and Erased has unleashed time-travel and time-reset like Sword Art Online popularized the trapped in the video game scenario.

My hatred might seem unreasonable to you, as many people have no problem whatsoever with stories involving time-travel, in fact your average person is far more likely to find them cool and entertaining than the opposite. So why do I possess such intense dislike towards it?

To explain that, I must first show you the difference between passive time-travel and active time-travel. Time-Travel in fiction can be primarily divided into two categories, the one where time-travel only occurs once or twice within the story is called passive time-travel, while the other one where time-travel is a regular occurrence that happens almost every episode or multiple times an episode, is called active time-travel.

Passive Time-Travel usually happens at the beginning and the end of a series where time-travel is by no means the main focus, but simply a means of getting from point A to point B. The Typical scenario is that the protagonist gets sucked through time in the beginning of the fiction and arrives in either the past or the future and gets sent back at the end of the series through the same means. This is the lesser evil of the two time-travels because passive time-travel is rarely ruinous to the writing since it only occurs at the beginning and the ending and the characters have little to no control over it. As a result, passive time-travel is something that can be easily ignored and forgotten. Although if it the writer decides to use it in the middle ( like for example suddenly reset something), then its effects can be just as devastating as active time-travel.

Examples of Passive Time- Travel in anime: Oda Nobuna na Yabou, Nobunaga Concerto, Sengoku Otome etc.

Active Time Travel on the other hand is what I actually have problems with and also what kind of time-travel these recent anime like Re:Zero have employed in their story. Like the name implies, active time-travel is time-travel that happens frequently and unlike the Passive Time-Travel, the characters themselves are not just ‘victim’s of random time-travel phenomena but users of it, as they can either influence it or activate it someway or another, allowing themselves to affect the world they live in far more ways and grandeur than characters who merely happened to passively time-travel due to some accident. The characters themselves are active users of time-travel and time-reset and it is one of the reason why it causes so much problems as I will explain below.

Examples include: Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica, Re:Zero, Erased and Steins Gate.

I, as well as anyone with an ounce of critical thinking absolutely loathes this for the single reason that it ruins the story, the character development, the character relationships as well as the pacing in any work it is used in. A work that was defiled by active time-travel is pretty much unsalvageable as far as I’m concerned, as it becomes complete and utter trash from the writing standpoint.

You might accuse me of exaggerating, but I’m not. Once time-travel is used all the character development, the relationships that the characters have formed over the episodes as well as the progression made within the story can be erased and reset as if they never happened. How is this good writing? It’s not consistent, it wrecks up the pacing and creates an abomination. Not to mention that it essentially makes everything meaningless and superficial due to the fact that there is no permanency anymore. Nothing matters and nothing has a lasting impact because it can just be done away with time-travel and time-reset.

Did the story perhaps take a bad turn, something that would have put the protagonist to a disadvantage? No problem! Just rewind time and make it so that this pesky incident never happens by simply having the protagonist avoid it next time!

Did the protagonist do something bad, a crime or some heinous act perhaps? No problem! Just use the powers of time and make him avoid all the consequences! There is no need to bear your sins, just runaway from them like a pussy!

Is the protagonist forced to face an enemy that cannot be possibly defeated without prior knowledge and preparation? No problem! Just have him die the first couple of times for drama, then allow him to gain victory after you got bored of torturing him! It doesn’t matter how strong a foe is, if he only has a single life, while the protagonist he is against has an infinite number of them due to his retarded time-travel powers! Nobody can win against an unlimited number of retries.

Did someone die? No problem! Just go back in time and prevent their death! With time-travel death doesn’t have any meaning nor does it matter, anything can be undone!

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The point I’m trying to make is that it is vital for almost every fictional story that certain actions have permanent consequences, because that is exactly what leads to plot-twists, character developments and tragedies. Time Travel removes the consequences and therefore everything that would have been organic in the story. In the first place, bearing your problems and living with them is the mature thing to do, but instead these shows much like their juvenile characters escape from responsibility in the most immature fashion possible, by undoing the present and seeking refuge in the past.

We might as well call time-travel what it actually is, a form of escapism. It is really just a reflection of the people who watch anime, as the audience is filled with people who can’t and don’t want to handle responsibility and those who seek an escape from their boring everyday life, I’m of course talking about NEETs and hikikomoris who still live with their parents as well as your typical disillusioned japanese salary-men. This current rise in the fad of time-travel and time-resets is merely a reflection of their hearts, any medium driven by money will always mirror whats its audience is like. And modern anime certainly doesn’t give us a positive picture about the average anime fan.

With this I have concluded my main point regarding Time-Travel and Time-Resets, but there are still 2 things that I would like to talk about below, these are of course also about time-travel, so stick around and keep reading if you are interested.

  1. Learning from experiences and mistakes Character Development.

The first additional thing that I would like to talk about is the fact that the use of time travel can create the illusion of character development and that many people are stupid enough to fall for it and call it as such. How does it create such an illusion? Simple, by making the protagonist learn from his time-travel experiences and not repeat the same mistake twice.

Now learning is obviously not character development nor is avoiding making the same mistakes twice, if it were then you could easily say about any domesticated and trained animal that they have very good character development. The people who confuse these things with character development either have no idea what constitutes as character development or are purposely lying in order to press some point, either way I shall dispel those falsehoods now.

Character development is the change in the personality as well as the views and ideas held by a dynamic character, it can manifest itself in a number of ways, such as an evil character redeeming himself and becoming good, a coward gaining bravery and boldness or a lone wolf opening up and becoming more social throughout the course of the story. In fact having character development means that these people are no longer the same characters that they were at the beginning of the story, since they no longer hold the same views, ideals and traits that they did at first. Character development is of course a long and continuous process, not something that happens overnight or instantly. It is directly caused by the accumulated experiences and misfortunes that a character went through and his reactions to those experiences. Learning can also lead to character development, but we must not confuse cause with effect.

This point had to be addressed, because many idiots were claiming that Natsuki Subaru, protagonist and time-traveler of Re:Zero was actually going through character development, which is obviously a bullshit claim as Subaru never changed his views or ideals throughout the course of the anime, he only avoided making the same mistakes in order to avoid his previous bad ends. He is essentially the same childish and naive brat (albeit with more experience) at episode 25 that he was at episode 1, who wishes to help Emilia, but at the same time doesn’t want to let anyone die or sacrifice anything for that goal, and he of course gets away with it, because he has an unlimited number of retries.

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2. That time-travel involving parallel worlds likewise makes everything meaningless

My second minor topic relates to the time travel stories, where rather than just jumping between past and future, the character jumps between parallel worlds or world lines, so Steins;Gate. They suffer from numerous problems as one would expect, but the one I’m concerned with is the fact that it is also just escapism like any other form of time-travel mentioned earlier, but even more meaningless.

Just think about it and my reasoning will make sense. If the character is moving between parallel worlds by time traveling then he is just escaping from the consequences of his past world where something bad or unfortunate would happen to him, but since we have now divided the universe into multiple segments called parallel worlds, even if a character escapes from parallel world A to parallel world B, it will still mean that the characters remaining in parallel world A will die or be stricken with the misfortune, as that world itself wasn’t changed, the same events will occur there, our protagonist just won’t be there to witness it due to the fact that he moved himself to parallel world B.

And in the case of Steins;Gate it is only the memories of Okabe Rintaro that actually travel between the worlds as explained within the anime, so his real self will still remain in the Parallel World A and still die or experience the inevitable misfortune no matter what his other self in World B infused with the memories of himself from World A does. And this is why Steins;Gate is shit and why its hard to care about anything that happens in it once you realize this fact. The only thing he managed to save was his own consciousness, he and others involved with him will still die in all the countless parallel worlds, so what was the fucking point? This is just escaping from the problem instead of solving it.

Summer Death Frenzy

The Protagonist always wins in the end.

That is an unwritten rule in fiction that most people unconsciously accept.

For if the protagonist died or suffered some major harm, the story would simply end and could not continue any longer.

The few fictions where the protagonist do suffer death or loss, only serve to highlight the truth of the above statement.

For if The Protagonist didn’t win or achieve success in the majority of cases, then in those few instances where he doesn’t, wouldn’t feel half as shocking or effective as they do.

Therefore, exceptions only serve to prove the rule true.

Once this rule is consciously acknowledged, any battle or struggle in any kind of fiction can become predictable and thus boring via predictability.

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The Nature of the Protagonist: A self fulfilling prophecy.

Movies like The Matrix, Star Wars or Dune 1984 make it quite clear that the protagonist is going to succeed quite early, by simply dubbing them as the “chosen one”, who are destined or fated to perform some kind of task in their life. Such protagonist are the worst type of protagonist in my personal opinion, as they do not really have to struggle to achieve something, since they are simply fated for it, the events will all fall into place as if ordered by some higher power.

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Nor do these characters have much of a choice in things, after all, man is not in control of his own fate, they will walk their fated path whether they want it or not. Battles and Fight scenes with such protagonists are entirely pointless most of the time, as by fate itself they are unable to truly perish before they accomplish their destiny, thus fight scenes with “chosen one” type of protagonist are most predictable and dull.

One would think that this predictability would end with the chosen one protagonist, but they would be wrong, as by simply being the protagonist, a character is by default a chosen one. The only difference is that in works like The Matrix, the creators outright tell you that the protagonist is a chosen one, making it obvious. But in reality all protagonists are equally chosen by their creator.

They are chosen for the role of a protagonist, which is probably the most restricted role in fiction. The Protagonist cannot be put the sidelines, nor can he be allowed to die before the story comes to completion, those are just a few of the many restrictions placed upon the role of the protagonist. The fact that most writers try to keep their protagonist alive until the end of the story, is exactly what makes fights and battles with the protagonist so boring, as the outcome is irrelevant, seeing the protagonist will manage to live to the end anyway.

In short all protagonists by default of being the protagonist have some degree of plot armour.

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But I must remark that even though the fight scenes are completely predictable, movies like The Matrix are still good, due to the fact that they are carried by the other elements, such as the story and plot.

However there is a genre within the medium of anime where this cannot apply, as this particular genre is entirely about mindless battles upon mindless battles, yes I am talking about the battle-shounen genre. It is a genre where if the battles fail to be interesting or exciting then the whole show will fail as there is nothing that can carry it. And this already mentioned predictability is exactly what makes them boring and uninteresting. Yes, sadly 90% of the battle-shounens are extremely predictable and obvious right from the beginning.

So now that I prepared the subject, its time for me to introduce what I actually wanted to talk about in this article.

Learning from the Anime called Shigurui:

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There is a relatively unnoticed but not completely obscure anime called Shigurui. The anime itself is not really that great in the departments of story and characters, as it is really just your standard revenge story except this one is about samurai and there are multiple revenge lines going on at the same time. But what Shigurui actually does right are battles and fight scenes. In fact I would say that it represents what should be the ideal in a battle oriented anime.

The first thing that Shigurui does right is that there is no protagonist. Instead of having a single protagonist that the story would center around, we instead follow the events that unfold at Iwamoto Kogan’s dojo and its several main characters whose fates are entwined. The main characters in the anime include Irako Seigen, Fujiki Gennosuke and Iwamoto Kogan. Each of them are equally important to the story.

Since there is no single protagonist, each of the three main characters get equal amounts of development. Additionally this takes out the so called plot armour out of the equation since these characters fight against characters of equal importance, therefore as a result the whole predictability is thrown out of the window. You don’t know whats going to happen, and you don’t know who will die if these characters face off against each other.

There is no real moral high ground here either, which would allow one character to shine as an example of good virtues and morality. No, in Shigurui all characters are equally gray and full of human faults. Shigurui itself is unique in the manner that it doesn’t portray samurai and swordsmen in the romanticized and honourable fashion. Shigurui instead is the portrayal of samurai who cut down the peasants they came across as a method of testing their techniques. Most of the characters are ‘monsters’ in the sense that the average guy fears them and their terrifying techniques as well as methods and strange rites.

Albeit personally I would say that Irako Seigen is the most ‘relatable’ of the bunch as he loses his entire future and career as a samurai when Iwamoto Kogan blinds him, which is a shame as he was a really talented swordsman. This is what sets Irako on his path of revenge, but again this doesn’t make him any better of a human than the mad Kogan and Gennosuke who commits evil out of loyalty to the Kogan school, as Irako happily sacrifices anyone for his ambition and revenge.

Defeat itself is actually a thing here for our main characters, but this anime wisely realizes that defeat itself doesn’t necessarily have to lead to death. As Irako Seigen despite being blinded does not give up the path of the sword, as he learns a strange, new technique that allows even a blind man to triumph over skilled samurai, and thus he comes back to take his revenge on Kogan and his dojo.

Likewise Fujiki Gennosuke survives a number of defeats and he comes back to take revenge on Irako even after losing his arm.

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This is in contrast with the usual battle oriented anime where the protagonist and his sidekicks never suffer any kind of serious defeat or loss. (for example Katekyo Hitman Reborn.) And also the other end of the spectrum like Akame ga Kill where characters are dying in droves.

By being in the middle, Shigurui manages to be better than the fiction where the protagonist never loses and better than the fiction where everyone dies. This is because if a character never loses then that character doesn’t change, there is no reason for him to change. He is just like a man who has fallen into a successful method, he has no reason to act any differently as long as doing the same thing grants him victory. Because of this, characters who never lose also remain static in their personality, since nothing traumatic happens that would influence their behavior and persona.

The other end of the spectrum, where characters constantly die is even worse. For the simple fact that if a character dies, then that character naturally cannot progress or evolve into anything, since dead characters obviously cannot receive character development. Shows like Akame ga Kill and Attack on Titan constantly kill underdeveloped characters in order to create drama, but in reality all they achieve by doing this is making death seem meaningless and trivial.

Now look at Shigurui, characters actively suffer defeat and also change as a result of their defeats.Both Fujiki and Irako were influenced and affected by the defeats they suffered in episode 2, which had an effect on their character. And I already mentioned how characters came back even after receiving some horrifying injuries. Despite being a violent and overly gory anime, death itself is strangely used sparingly, as no one from the Kogan dojo dies until the latter half of the anime. Death holds some meaning here, especially when one of the “monster-like” characters is finally killed despite his incredible strength and skill. The anime manages to make the viewers feel as if something really powerful has just been defeated, which is rare.

Now that we seen how Shigurui established the ideal conditions for battles to be unpredictable, we should now look at the battles themselves. While the average anime battle across the medium is loud, flashy and overly exaggerated, Shigurui is the exact opposite. Since we are talking about fight scenes, it is fair easier for me to just show you a segment from Shigurui rather than talk about it:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bEyQ0AjggLk

 But in case you cannot watch the video at the moment or wish to avoid spoilers, allow me to explain what techniques Shigurui makes use of in words as well. If you had watched the video, you would have noticed that despite the scene being a fight, the two samurai are barely duking it out with each other, they don’t make clashes like it is common in fighting anime.

Instead the fight is slowed down to the extreme, this is done so the viewers can see every precious moment that will eventually lead up to the kill, this is also done as a means of fueling the viewer’s anticipation for the said kill. The two swordsman instead of charging right at each others throat, calmly wait in their stances and measure their opponent as they try to gain the utmost advantage over the other warrior. They know that if they make the slightest mistake their opponent will simply use that opportunity to kill them.

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In the video, to regain his advantage and equalize the field, the blind swordsman Irako jumps out off the closed and narrow room they occupied in order to give himself more space for fighting, but also to eliminate the elements that obstructed his senses, namely the blood trickling down from the ceiling and the smell of the said blood, which together would make it harder for him to locate his opponent.

He just barely manages to avoid a fatal strike from Kogan as he is doing the said maneuver, but still ends up injuring his feet in the process by cutting during the landing. Obviously this means that his mobility has been vastly reduced and that he wouldn’t be able to repeat the jumping maneuver he did earlier. It becomes clear to him that he has to commit himself to the battle or he will die, so he enters his stance.

But by taking the fight outside, another advantage tips the scale into Irako’s favour, the simple fact that its night outside and thus its harder to see. This eliminates the vision advantage that Kogan had earlier in the previously relatively lit room, now his previous advantage of having functioning eyes turns into his disadvantage, as unlike Irako, he isn’t as proficient with his other senses.

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It is rare in anime for the environment to actually influence the battle, as most of the time the only thing that matters is the power, equipment, willpower, skill and plot armour of the characters. Meanwhile in Shigurui, the “fighting arena” can equally bring advantage and disadvantage to the characters.

The way the fight scenes in Shigurui are extremely slowed down perfectly correlates with the fighting style of the characters. For all of the 3 main characters of Shigurui mastered a deadly technique that can kill in a single strike, they aren’t the type to fight prolonged battles. If the fights were processed in real time, they wouldn’t even last a minute as the fight is usually over the moment the blades leave their owner’s hands. Needless to say showing instantaneous kills in real time wouldn’t be really exciting or enjoyable, so by slowing down time, anticipation can be built up for that single killing strike, and it can make us admire the ridiculous but feasible techniques these characters have come up with.

Most of the characters themselves understand that they can die in an instant, but Shigurui’s brilliance lies in the manner how it makes use of this fact to further enhance and build up anticipation. For example in this video we suddenly hear a cutting sound, the screen turns to white, and we see the heads of Irako Seigan, and his mistress, Iku’s head depart from their neck, slightly flying upwards.

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Kogan seemingly ended the match in an instant, and the viewer is shocked into thinking that Kogan won just like that, but it isn’t unfeasible to think that way, as the previous events of the story all laid down the fact of how much of a monster Kogan was, so his victory was completely believable to the audience.

But then the screen cuts back to normal, the two character’s still have their heads intact, and Iku winces and closes her eyes. The viewer then realizes that it was all an illusion of Iku, produced by the deep fear and terror she feels towards Kogan. The tension was already high before this moment, but it skyrockets after this, this was only another preparation for the moment when the strike will come for real.

Illusions like this aren’t limited only to this particular fight, they generally happen throughout the course of the anime, especially whenever the blind swordsman, Irako fights. For despite the fact that his 4 senses are much more accurate than a normal human’s, they still deceive him on numerous occasions. He can experience illusions that come from having his eye-sight deprived, especially when things don’t go his way and paranoia creeps into his heart.

Anyway, after the sufficient anticipation has been built up, the two techniques eventually clash, Irako’s technique which slew so many members of the Kogan dojo, and Kogan’s technique, which blinded the young Irako. We see the sword of Kogan draw blood from Irako first, but it is not a fatal wound, then we see Irako’s sword cut into Kogan’s chin, as he is having flashbacks of all the people he murdered this way.

Irako falls to the ground with a thud, and while he could not see it, he felt that his sword bit into the Kogan. He eagerly awaits the signs of his victory, and raises his head, waiting for the sound of Kogan’s body falling down. But as the sound of Kogan falling never comes, terror soon comes to Irako, as all the fear that he had bottled up regarding his old master comes back to him in an instant.

His fear was justified though, as he had little to no means of defending himself now that he was on the ground, while Kogan was still standing. He succumbs to cowardice and starts crawling away in cold sweat. Once more we are put into a situation where the outcome of things become unclear, it is hard to tell who would die after such an exchange. The tense situation is only broken up with the arrival of Mie, the daughter of Kogan.

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She presents herself to her father, which makes him turn his back on Irako, he then speaks some words to her, and the next thing we hear is Irako’s sword piercing his chest, who could now locate Kogan due to the usage of his voice. Kogan falls forward, and it is only then revealed that Irako’s previous strike was also successful, as 1/3 of Kogan’s face was cut off. As he is falling forward, his brain flows out of the wound he received from Irako, he uselessly slumps to the ground at last.

The Monster has been defeated.

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Anime Cliches 34: Flying Mechas

Type: Battle cliché, Mecha cliché

What made it popular: Even the earliest of mecha anime already had flying mechas, newer mecha anime are simply continuing this trend.

Cliché Level: High (Within the Mecha Genre of course)

Where can you find it: Code Geass R2, Majestic Prince, Kakumeiki Valvrave, Zegapain, Susei no Gargantia, Gundam 00, Gundam Wing, Gundam Seed, any Gundam except MS Team really. Macross Frontier, Macross Zero etc.

Description:

This cliché refers to the ability of mechanized mobile suits to fly for long distances. Whether this is done via technology, magic, wings, jets, anti gravitation or any other means couldn’t matter any less to this cliché as long as they can fly for longer periods of time to enable aerial combat, then they apply here.

Why its bad:

Now you might be wondering what this is even doing in my cliché list, and it does seem like a strange pick from a certain perspective. But before you leave, allow me to explain: I have watched several dozen mecha anime, and if I had to draw up a general list of problems within the genre itself, then the fact that mechas can fly would make it into the top 5 problems of the mecha genre.

Like all other clichés, flying mechas are overused and do nothing but harm the show that they are in. In fact aside from a mere “rule of cool” effect, nothing positive comes to the anime by having mechas fly, while it brings a lot of negatives with it.

But why is this? Whats so bad about them being able to fly?

Everything.

To understand why they are bad, we must first go back to the very concept of mechas. And by mechas here I do not mean mechas from the super robot genre, but mechas from the real robot genre. This cliché couldn’t matter any less in the Super Robot Genre due to the fact that they are over-the-top to begin with, so adding flying is actually beneficial to that particular genre since it only adds to the “cool-factor” aspect of those anime.

But this is not the case with the Real Robot Genre, where this is actually a huge drawback. The reason being is that them being able to fly is against the very idea of realistic mechas.

What do I mean?

Mechas are essentially humanoid robots that can be piloted or remote controlled, the idea with them is that since they are shaped like a humanoid, you can do whatever you could do as a human soldier also with the humanoid mecha. Meaning for example if you produced large enough guns, then your mecha could wield it like a human soldier and fire it. Hell if you designed any equipment large enough, then the mecha could very well make use of it.

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And this isn’t just limited to equipment but also tactics. A mecha can execute the same moves and maneuvers that a human soldiers on the ground could do, meaning they can crouch, hide, climb, pick up objects or anything you could think of. They are extremely versatile in what they can do compared to tanks or armoured vehicles. Because of this they are actually semi-viable and believable machines of war, since they can fulfill a role on the battlefield that tanks and other vehicles can’t.

And you can bring this to a whole new level by simply putting mechas into a squad or a team. Do this and they will be immediately able to execute complex and cooperative maneuvers and tactics that a human squad could do. However this is limited to tactics that are constrained to the ground, mechas will always be only capable of field-tactics due to their design and very concept.

The moment you put mechas into the air, you essentially throw out all manner of strategy out the window. The reason for this is also due to the very concept of real robot mechas. These mechas are meant to mimic humans in their capabilities and movements, but naturally humans themselves cannot fly, by nature we are grounded beings, not airborne ones. So the moment you put a mecha, which was based on the earth-bound humans, you get a complete cluster fuck that is present in almost every mecha anime that allows flying.

Mechas are actually feasible as ground war machines, but they are not feasible in the least as flying ones. But of course your average mecha show always manages to make them fly via some utterly bullshit engine, method or outright magic. So now your mecha can fly, but so what? Why would you ever use a mecha over a fighter jet? Not only a fighter jet would be infinitely better for that purpose, the very design of mechas becomes a hindrance when taken to the air. How is having 4 limbs or having a head for that matter, useful for the purpose of flying? It isn’t useful in the slightest, it only makes the mech less aerodynamic than a plane, which will obviously make them slower as a result.

But then comes the typical defense of “muh super special engine which allows them to move at impossible speeds”. That various anime use to justify their flying mechas. The answer to that is that they could simply equip that same engine to a jet, or design one around it, and get a far, far better result than when that same engine strapped into a humanoid mech.

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Flying mechas are incapable of tactics, and following this statement, naturally comes the fact that then that any anime, which only employs flying mechas is also devoid of any tactic or logical thought in its battles. It’s not that the creators don’t want to mix tactics with flying mechas, but rather that they are incapable of knowing what kind of tactics would even be feasible for a flying mecha. Unlike grounded mechs, where the creators can always turn to human soldiers and squads and take inspiration there, they cannot do the same with flying mechas for obvious reasons.

We have no idea how a human could fight in midair, because humans themselves are incapable of fight. Therefore most of us also cannot imagine realistic ways of how a humanoid shaped mecha would fight in midair. Because of this anime with flying mecha typically lack intelligence in their battles.

Yes, this cliché is terrible because it essentially eliminates the possibility of employing tactics and thinking into the fights, which honestly makes the battles uninteresting to watch, as they are nothing but rule of cool and flashy showoffs (like firing ginormous lasers or dueling with swords [really?] in midair), case in point Gundam 00 is one the worst examples of this: https://youtu.be/KBDDhd4L-IQ?t=2m20s

And no. Before anyone would defend this, mindlessly zigg-zagging around your enemy’s mech doesn’t constitute much in the tactical department. Mecha anime typically try to trick you into thinking that there are tactics in their fights with such methods, when there is really none. Not to mention its horrible for the viewer’s eye due to the stupidly fast movement that is usually present in these scenes.

This “lack of any real tactic” is especially obvious when a mecha anime, shifts from ground-based mechas to flying mechas, like Code Geass did from season to season 2. Sure even Code Geass season 1 had two flying mechas (Gawaiin and Siegfried) as well, but they still only showed up at the very end of the anime so they weren’t that bothersome. Before that Code Geass was actually utilizing legitimate, and sometimes even smart tactics during battles, but the usage of these tactics and their overall smartness decreased as we were approaching the ending, and in season 2 tactics were non existent thanks to the introduction of overpowered flying Knightmare frames.

I found it hard to ignore how the anime went from utilizing squads of mechs for various goals and tactics, to dick measuring contests based on who has the better and more advanced avant garde robot, all the while constantly powering these said mecha up under the guise of “upgrades” every few episodes. Code Geass devolved into a state where these new flying mecha could easily eliminate a hundred other mecha by themselves. The Soldiers themselves lost their meaning as a result, and became little more than mooks for the slaughter. With the only pilots that actually mattered now, were the so called “aces.”

A counter example to this whole cliché would be: Gundam The 08 MS-Team, which is perhaps the only Gundam that has actual field tactics as all the gundams are strictly restricted to the ground and unable to fly, except during the first episode when they are still in space. Particular thing to note is how due to being grounded, in Gundam MS-Team, the mech pilots do not only have to fight the enemy pilots, but also the environment, which is something that would never be present in air combat.

One of the better solutions to this problem, is when they combine a mecha and a jet into one machine. This is usually done by making the pilot be able to switch between the two forms at will via transformation, this is the ancient gimmick of the Macross series. But it actually works since by turning into a jet, the pilot can now actually use the same aerial tactics and maneuvers that are used by real life jet pilots. And when he needs to be on the ground he can just turn back into a humanoid mecha and use ground tactics.

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But unfortunately the large majority of mecha anime don’t make use of such a method, despite the fact that it would also be a completely logical way of enabling the mecha, the ability of flight. The typical mecha anime instead just attaches a set wings or some bullshit anti-gravity device to the mech and calls it a day, which leads to the clusterfuck that I detailed above.( Not to mention that wings generally look absolutely retarded on mechas)

Anime Cliches 33: Absent Parents

Type: Premise and situational cliché

What made it popular: Another cliché that has became popular simply because of the amount of conveniences it gives to the creators. No concrete originator.

Cliché Level: High

Where can you find it: To Love Ru, Fate/Stay Night, Myself Yourself, Charlotte, Noucome, Hyouka, Binbougami Ga!, Bakemonogatari, Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai, Date a Live, etc. Commonly used cliché in slice of life, romance and harem anime.

Description:

If you have been watching anime for a long time, particularly anime in the slice of life and harem genres, then you may have noticed how despite the protagonist usually being a teenager, he lives in a large family house, all by himself (or with his sister) without any mention or sight of the parents. This is an obviously odd scenario, as most parents wouldn’t allow their kid to live in a family house by himself without any supervision.

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But fortunately for our protagonist in such anime, the parents might as well not exist, as they never appear in the story or take any role in it, so to the story of the anime they are dead and of no importance.

So any anime where the parents do not appear or are absent from the story belong to this cliché. This mainly refers in relation to parents of the protagonist as he is the one we are following as the viewer most of time, but it can also occasionally refer to the side characters in scenarios where their parents should logically be present or do something yet they are nowhere to be seen.

Obviously this cliché only refers to settings that are either set in our modern era, or based off on our modern era. Parents being absent in lets say a medieval setting isn’t out of place at all, as they could have easily died to the high mortality rate, leaving their child alone. But this obviously is not the case in the modern world where mortality rate is the lowest in history and people live up to their 70’s or 80’s on average.

Because of the above, justifying the lack of parental presence is hard. (Well its hard in the more advanced societies like Japan. I guess you could have an anime set in Africa and say that the parents died of Malaria, wild gorillas or anything, but really everyone knows that 90% of anime are either set in Japan or in some fictional world, so its irrelevant to take it into consideration when measuring clichés.) But many anime don’t even care to justify the usage of this cliché.

Why its bad: 

First off, lets examine the question: Why would writers purposefully exclude the parents? And what would they gain by doing this?

There are two answers to that question:

First is that some writers believe that if a teenager lives by himself, then it will cause him to have a more independent and mature character compared to regular teenagers who live with their parents/relatives. Basically this is a shitty attempt to make a character more interesting or cool by the usage of the basic situation alone.

It is a shitty attempt because it never succeeds. And it doesn’t succeed because the setting alone is not enough to define a character, so if the character is an 1-dimensional nobody for example then this didn’t achieve anything good, but it made the protagonist “special” by making him live by himself in a setting where most other teenagers don’t. And characters that are special within their own setting are always faulty due to the “protagonist syndrome”.

(Protagonist Syndrome: When writers try to make you care about the main character by giving him particular back-stories or define him in the setting in a way that would potentially make you relate to him. But usually because of the writer’s incompetence, these things that were made so you would like the protagonist, achieve the opposite of the desired result. This mainly happens because it caused them to feel “too special” in the given setting or in comparison to the other characters. Or because it made the protagonist feel cliché.)

While it is true in real life that a teenager being left to his own devices can build him some character. In anime this does not apply due to the reason that the average anime protagonist of today is your typical independent and self supportive teenager, so instead of building them character it turns them into just another cliché by following the established trends in the medium. The uniqueness and originality of a character is always compared to the average, and in this case, teenage independent/loner protagonist are the average.

Being overused to the point of staleness isn’t the worst part of this cliché though, but the amount of conveniences it gives to the author. Just think about how harder it would be for any harem/ecchi/fanservice shenanigans to occur if the protagonist parents were at home to cockblock him. Harem anime like To Love-Ru allow the events and characters to run wild by taking out the parents and making the protagonist live by themselves (in this case with his sister who is also part of his harem).

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But removing the parents isn’t convenient for the harem and ecchi genres only, its also convenient for various action themed shows that are set in a modern era. Like the typical battle-shounens (Katekyo Hitman Reborn and History Strongest Disciple Kenichi for example) where various teenage characters go out to fight and endanger their lives by fighting other characters on a daily/nightly basis, yet the parents are once more nowhere to be seen.

If the parents were present in those anime they would obviously try to stop their kids from putting themselves into danger, so removing them essentially means that the fight fest can continue on without any interruption or complication whatsoever. It is typical of battle shounens that the story and the settings only exits to give an excuse for the characters to fight each other.

A large number of anime would end way earlier if the parents were present, this has to do with the fact that in many anime the teenage characters have no one to depend on but themselves to solve whatever problems or hardships they might be facing, which might be difficult to solve with the strength and capabilities of a teenager alone. But if you were to add in a parent character who has the capabilities and resources of an adult and can help our teenage characters out, the problems would be solved much easier.

(Well even when the parents are actually present the characters frequently refuse to seek their help for illogical reasons.)

Drama involving teenagers would be vastly simplified and shortened if the parents were allowed to step in as they generally involve petty stuff like bullying. So it is convenient for highschool dramas to not to have the parents present all the same.

Of course if the parents are not present at all, then the show should provide some kind of logical explanation for it, a justification for the absence of parents if you will. Many anime that make use of the absent parent cliché, actually do try to justify its usage, but most of the time they are just terrible excuses.

This is how we get to the parents that constantly travel the globe because of their work, single parents who constantly work overtime and never return home, not even to sleep, or straight out dead parents. But as I said, all of these are really just excuses that are meant to mask the laziness and how they sacrificed something for the sake of convenience. Still it is better than not receiving an explanation at all, which is the worse case with anime involving this cliché.

Hilariously as a result of this cliché, when parents do actually appear in an anime and do actually take part in the story, then they will feel all the more significant and noticeable. Since its usual for an anime to include the parents, its all the more easy for the few parental characters that do actually make into an anime to stand out. As it was shown by Parasyte recently.

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To conclude: As usual writers erase a potential obstacle (the parents) to their stories, instead of working around it. And unfortunately for them erasing is not always the best or the most entertaining alternative. Imagine for example how much more exciting your harem anime would be if the characters had to try and seduce the protagonist while their parents were at home instead of just letting them run wild like usual. That way at least there would be some kind of tension of the “what if they find out or notice” kind. And that was just one of the many examples that I could provide on how the presence of parents could potentially make an anime better.

 

The Lost Art of Visual Storytelling

There are many sins that the medium of anime committed over the course of its lifespan, but today I’m going to talk about one that barely anyone seems to notice within the community and in the industry.

That is how 99% of anime utterly lacks what is known as Visual Story Telling.

What is Visual Story Telling? You might ask

Visual Story Telling is a method of story telling available to writers and creators that is used to tell a story with the usage of images, camera angles, colours, visual symbols and effects. Unlike the tool of narration, which tells the viewer the events and the story, visual storytelling shows the audience the story. This is an important point that I will return to multiple times in this article.

This is very relevant today because anime as a medium tells you everything, yet shows you nothing.

No matter what type of story, genre or demographic we are talking about, the primary method of telling a story to the viewer is done through directly feeding the information to him via the characters talking or having a narrator speak.

Just look at the simple matter of how modern anime tend to start themselves. If its a fantasy or scifi world then the audience is given a quick narrative summary of the world and introduce some of its basic mechanics and concepts. Just look at any of the Gundam series, they are usually 50 episodes long each, and for like 25 episodes they keep retelling the premise of the story at the start of every goddamn episode, as if the audience just suddenly forgot about it.

And if its not a fantasy or a scifi anime, then it will most likely start with the protagonist introducing himself within the first 5 minutes of the story as the average student, telling us his likes, hobbies and maybe a few notable elements of his life. Or he can be introduced in a darkened room where he immediately explains to us that he is some kind of NEET teenager who likes to play video games and watch anime and how he is generally an useless member of society.

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But from a writing standpoint there is absolutely no reason to do this, as it only serves to break the immersion and the pacing of the story. The starting monologue of the protagonists make little no sense as they have no reason to suddenly start speaking and recount their lives so far, it is obviously done for the sake of filling the audience in, but the protagonist is obviously not aware of the audience, so he has no reason to tell us his life story.

Likewise it is highly annoying in series like Gundam how I have to skip the 5 minute long exposition and episodely recap each time I start watching a new episode, I can’t even imagine how annoying it would have been to watch that anime on Live Television.

All of these problems could easily be avoided if anime used visual storytelling rather than narrating and explaining everything.

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In the live action movie ‘They Live‘ by John Carpenter the protagonist does not need to make a self introduction. For the first 5 or so minutes of the film we are just shown him silently walking the road, carrying a large bag on his back, looking for a job. No words need to be spoken, to tell the obvious that this man is a drifter, someone without a place. The audience can deduce his initial characters just from looking at him and from what he is doing on the screen. This is a much better method of introducing a character as it also makes the audience think about them rather than being told everything in the form of narration, which leaves no room for interpretations.

Likewise it would be much more sophisticated and also better if anime didn’t use any words for its introduction sequences when it is highly evident as to what the characters are just from their appearance and context within the show.  Like it is obvious when a character is a highschooler from their school uniform and age, and it is also equally obvious when someone is a NEET from their behavior and lifestyle, they are things that can be easily told via visual clues alone, so no need to involve words.

In Scifi and Fantasy anime, pretty much all the mystery, suspense, intrigue and the joy of discovery are lost if everything is just told to the audience, because it will end up feeling like a documentary rather than a form of entertainment, especially if the anime is infodump heavy. (And don’t be mistaken, I’m not saying that world building is bad here. In fact I love world building. All I’m saying is that there are right and sophisticated ways to do world building, and then there are bad and lazy ways of doing world building.)

Speaking of infodumping, anime generally makes use of it in a really retarded fashion. Like explaining what was already shown to the audience and was obvious even before the infodumping. Or when they have a character explain everything about their world to another character living in the same world as if it wasn’t common knowledge to them. Why the hell do you need to explain science and technology to someone living in a world of science and technology?  Why the hell do you need to explain fantasy and mystery to someone who is living in a world of fantasy and mystery?

It is really apparent and blatant when infodumping is done for the sake of the audience as it completely breaks the immersion as well as the pacing. Infodumps that start with words like “As you already know……” are a sign of bad writing.

Or lets just look at how almost every anime character in action shows either outright tells us what their attacks and techniques do while performing the said attack, or directly explain to their opponent right after finishing it. I’m sure everyone is already aware of this as its something that easily reached the levels of a cliché by now. Anime characters talk far too much during fights when they absolutely have no reason to.

Just think about how the entire combat slows down just so that a character can explain the method or logic behind their attack/power/technique etc. It breaks the pacing and adds absolutely nothing in return.They should just show the combat without any interruption, because what is simple can easily be understood with the viewer’s eye, and what is complicated and impossible does not need any explanation as it probably borders on the level of magic anyway. And there is no reason for magic to be explained, because no matter how much detail you put into it, it will always remain just that, magic.

Or lets just talk about how facial expressions and gestures in anime are either nonexistent or overly exaggerated. Facial expressions, body positioning and gestures are a very good way of showing us a characters current emotion, agendas, relationship to another character and what they are thinking about. Yet anime once more makes no use of any of this, everything is simply told to us. In anime we know that a character is angry not from the visuals but primarily from their change in the tone of their voice and the manner which they address the other character.

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Far too many modern anime use basically two frames in order to animate characters talking, one frame of the mouth open, one frame of the mouth closed. They repeat using these two frames until the character finishes talking. This was originally intended as a method of saving budget, since they can keep reusing those two frames for however long they want and they don’t need to bother animating complex facial expressions. But nowadays even high budget anime refuse to animated facial expressions and stick to the 2 frame method.

And when they actually do make use of facial expressions, they heavily exaggerate it to the point where it becomes over the top, obvious and because of that also blatantly bad.

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Movies do it objectively much better, due to the fact that the facial expressions are there, but the emotions and thoughts that they show are not always completely obvious and thus the reader can actually start thinking about what the character could be thinking about. While in anime there is obviously no need to do that due to the exaggerated facial expressions, which will always tell you exactly how a character feels or what she is thinking about. There is unfortunately no elegance in the storytelling of anime.

Let me show you an example of how facial expressions and gestures can also be used to tell a story. For this example I have chosen the De Niro movie known as Taxi Driver.

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There is this scene in the movie where De Niro’s character known as Travis goes to the adult movie theater to watch a pornographic movie and while watching it, the movie shows us how Travis constantly raises and lowers his finger before his eyes during this scene. He acts as if he doesn’t want to see the dirtiness of the movie, yet forces himself to watch anyway. This is a seemingly insignificant detail, while in reality it is highly symbolic to what Travis was doing throughout the entire course of the movie.

And the thing that he was doing, was forcing himself to look at the ugliness and the filth of the world everyday, which is exactly why he choose the job of a late night taxi driver, just so he can watch the scum of the world from an even better position. He hated this side of the world and the people that inhabited it. So naturally the viewer would come to question as to why he was doing it in the first place if he hated it so much. But that isn’t something directly told in the movie, instead it was shown via this subtle and short moment during the porno theater scene, using nothing but the tools of the visual storytelling.

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Another usage of Visual Storytelling from the same movie occurs at the ending of Taxi Driver. It is when Travis looks into the mirror and sees his own eyes, only for him to turn the mirror away a second later and continue driving.

The character spent much of the movie in his cab, watching his dirty passengers from the mirror as if he was a 3rd party observer and he judged them as he did so. And so when in the ending he finally gazes upon himself through the mirror, he pushes it away because he does not like what he sees. He realized in a glimpse just how he was exactly the same as the scum that he hated. It is really subtle to the point you might not even notice while watching the movie. Anime in comparison never use subtlety in their storytelling, everything is exaggerated and openly told to the viewer.

(Which is why I find it hilarious that so many people still manage to get lost or confused when watching them.)

I will give a third example from another movie called Schindler’s List, which is a famous holocaust story. Schindler’s List was made in 1993, but despite being made in such a modern age, it was shot in almost entirely black and white. It was purposely made that way because it makes the few instances when colour appears on the screen all the more noticeable, striking and significant. One of the times when we see some actual colour in the movie is when the National Socialists are herding the Jews, a child in red coat being escorted along with them.

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This same red coat in a world of black and white reappears later in the film in such a manner as it is depicted below.

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No words need to be spoken, it is obvious what happened.

I highly dislike the movie itself, but even I have to admit that the usage of the few instances of colour and the general lack of colour was clever. In Live Action movies colour is a frequently used tool and device that is used to draw the viewer’s attention to a particular object/person or to evoke a certain emotions/feelings in them. Blue usually calms the viewer but it can also be a symbol of cold, red can be the colour of anger, passion and love etc. You might have already heard about this, so I’m not going to needlessly list everything. The point that I want to make is that anime, despite having far more liberty and freedom than live action shows, refuses to use them. Like out of the several hundred anime that I have watched, I can only think 1 or 2 shows that actually used colour in some way or another.

In the anime community there are a number of anime that are acknowledged to be visually “superior” or even the best amongst anime. These anime include Kotonoha no Niwa, 5cm per second and Fate/Stay Night Unlimited Blade Works, just to name a few. They are widely regarded by the average anime to be the best that anime has to offer in the visual department. I can only disagree with them unfortunately, for a variety of reasons.

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I’m not going to deny that they look good, indeed they look far better than the average anime, I will give credits where it is due. But looking good is all that they are good for, even in these aesthetically beautiful anime, there is zero artistic talent and zero visual storytelling, they don’t use any of that stuff. The reason for that? They don’t want to use them nor do they need to make use of them.

Anime studios always think in terms of profit, mostly the matter of how to get the most possible amount of profit with the least possible amount of money and effort spent. They are about business first and foremost, their objective is to sell, not to make good anime. And unfortunately the two cannot be combined for good anime tend to sell very badly according to statistics.

Studios have found out quite early on that one of the easiest method to gain and keep viewers around is to have above average animation and art style. The logic behind this process is very simple, if a viewer finds something to be visually appealing or entertaining he is far less likely to stop watching as he is constantly entertained by all the pretty colours and effects. Similar to how in Hollywood blockbusters like Avatar and Transformer all the explosions and spectacular effects only exist to keep the audience glued to the screen and perpetually excited.

Art and animation in such works don’t actually exist to make the work better, it exists for the sake of reaping a profit. It isn’t connected to the work as a whole and does nothing to benefit it aside from wrapping it up like a nice present box. The difference is made all the more obvious when one watches a show that actually makes use of the full potential of visual storytelling and art direction.

Earlier I said that 99% of anime do not use visual storytelling in any form or manner. Well now it is finally time to take a look at the 1% that do make us of it.

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The first anime that I’m going to mention that makes use of Visual Storytelling is none other than Ef Tale of Melodies, second installment in the Ef series. Ef is an interesting series for a number of reasons like the fact that it tells 2 stories at once that are loosely connected in an achronological manner, but that isn’t what I want to talk about now. Instead I would like to focus on the Art and more importantly, the usage of Art in Ef.

The art by itself during the usual scenes is nothing special for its time, it may be a bit above average in visuals, but the real change comes when the characters start their dialogues and monologues, which are objectively the best parts of Ef. I’m not exaggerating when I say that Ef Tale of Melodies has some of the best monologues in the entire anime industry. Like very few come even close to it, and this is purely because of the usage of visual storytelling.

In this show when a character starts talking, it is not unusual for quick images to flash by that you might even notice if you aren’t paying attention, these can range from just showing a character’s eyes and nothing more, or showing batches of text and words. Things become surreal in the background and the visual distort as the characters keep talking in the dramatic moments of the show.

Their emotions, feelings, sanity and state of mind is reflected back to us from the change in their surroundings and from the usage of various visual effects. These look especially good and distinct in comparison to the usual art style that Ef has in its non dramatic, peaceful moments. It is really nice to see the art being used to its fullest potential in order to serve the anime as a whole.

Any words I would say on this matter would not do it real justice, so I would prefer if you could just watch them for yourself. I’ll provide a few links below, please check them out.

Ef Monologue 1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MwqHbasN3oM

Ef 2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9m_OJPdS8_U

Ef 3: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yoLOXOkSqyk&nohtml5

I honestly think that these scenes speak for themselves. The Ef series didn’t have an extraordinary budget by any means. Imagine if these same scenes were done with the budget that was wasted on Unlimited Blade Works and similar anime, it could produce a spectacular artistic result.

There is another anime called Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei that uses the same techniques as effects that are found within Ef, which is hardly surprising considering they are both made by Studio Shaft. Zetsubou Sensei is a comedy while Ef is a romance-drama series, so the same techniques are used for vastly different purposes in these two works. In Zetsubou Sensei various texts would often flash quickly or be written onto the background (usually on the chalkboard) that frequently make sarcastic remarks regarding the anime industry, Japanese society or what is going on within the show itself.

Sayonara Zetsubo Sensei was made in 2007, while Ef Tale of Melodies was made in 2008. Now what has Studio Shaft done after these two works? Pretty much nothing of value. In 2009 Shaft released Bakemonogatari, which is a harem/fanservice show with supernatural elements. In Bakemonogatari they used the same effects and techniques that they used in Ef and Zetsubou Sensei….for fanservice. Talk about degradation.

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Bakemonogatari brought success to Shaft and made them famous, which is why they are still milking this fame while it lasts by pumping out more and more monogatari shows every year or so. Zetsubou and the Ef series never sold much on the other hand and as of 2016, pretty much no one talks about them. Remember earlier in the article when I said good anime don’t sell? Then consider it repeated just now.

Imagine if either Zetsubou or Ef were successful instead of Bakemonogatari. We would have more shows like them made by Shaft instead of cheap, pretentious harems that pander to the otaku audience.

The most hilarious thing about Bakemonogatari though, is how it managed to convince hundred-thousands of people that it is something more than a mere harem. Anyone who has ever interacted with the rabid fanbase of the Monogatari series knows what I’m talking about. They will go to extreme lengths just to argue that their favourite harem/fanservice is actually some deep and mature show that you just don’t get. No it isn’t, it is generic harem and everyone was deceived into thinking it is something more due to the usage of visual effects and techniques that are almost never used in anime. Like really, other than Shaft no one really seems to use it, thus they don’t have much in terms of competition. Still the current state of the Monogatari fanbase is only more evidence to the effectiveness of visual storytelling.

Ahem. Before this becomes a Shaft and Monogatari fanbase rant, allow me to re-divert myself back to the original topic. One more anime that I would like to talk about is Texhnolyze. (Mostly just so I can name a non Shaft example of visual storytelling being used in anime.) And no, I won’t be repeating myself, because Texhnolyze uses completely different visual storytelling methods compared to the anime made by Shaft.

If your usual anime fan goes to watch Texhnolyze, then he will most likely feel bored out of his mind, eventually lose track of things, which will most likely result in him dropping the show. I’m not kidding, Texhnolyze is widely regarded as a sleep-fest by many who have attempted completing it.

This however is not because of Texhnolyze being bad or boring. It is because this show is vastly different from your average anime, which can cause some discomfort to the average anime fans who attempts to bite this piece. I would say that it is actually more similar to western movies like Taxi Driver.

The difference is that Texhnolyze does not care about entertaining its viewers, nor does it care about keeping the viewers attention, it is work that obviously exists for its own sake. Texhnolyze doesn’t hold your hand like most anime do, there is zero narration and even dialogues are rare. Indeed, if one watches the first episode of this anime, he will immediately notice a strange thing, that no words were uttered until the very end of the episode.

In your average anime, I would say that more than half of the words that are said only exists for the sake of the viewer, words for introducing the world to the viewer, words to introduce the characters, words to tell the plot, words to make sure the viewer does not get confused etc. Texhnolyze is what you get when you remove all those useless words.

This anime does not tell us about its world or characters, it simply shows us instead.

In the first few minutes we are shown our silent main character, Ichise as he is taking a shower with his bloodied fists, we see him fighting another man in a tournament in the form of a flashback, he has a sadistic smile on his face as he draws blood from his opponent. A bit later a woman enters the shower and tries to exploit Ichise, she takes him to bed and Ichise is unresponsive until the woman tries to pluck out his eye. Ichise beats the woman up, unknowingly starting a sequence of events with this.

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In these few minutes we get a glimpse into Ichise’s personality and we learn his characteristics without any words being uttered. Those characteristics being his fighting spirit, his will to life, blood lust, his inability to hold back, the fact that he flows with the events of the story (like how he let the woman to take advantage of him), but he does not like it when the events fuck with him (how the woman tried to pluck out his eye), Ichise generally beats everyone who fucks with him. These characteristics remain consistent for the rest of the anime.

Simultaneously we are shown another character called Yoshi, who is descending down on an incredibly lengthy set of stairs, wearing a gas mask and carrying a backpack on his shoulders. Through this, it becomes obvious that wherever this place called Lux is, it is deep below underground and it also established Yoshi’s character as the newcomer to Lux who will disturb the order of this place. It is also because of the fact of him being a newcomer and his curious nature that he is one of the most talkative characters in the first half of the anime, which is in stark contrast with the silent nature of our protagonist, Ichise.

And since the story mostly follows the character of Ichise, this anime isn’t really dialogue heavy, even when other characters are talking to him, Ichise rarely responds. He is a quite basic and simple character that some of the more intelligent people in the anime rightfully called a beast. It is always apparent what Ichise thinks and feels not based on what he says, but based on what he does. You will always know when Ichise does not like something or someone, since as I said, he isn’t the type to restrain himself.

Ichise’s behavior is in contrast with everyone else in the show, as they are habitual liars, schemers and manipulators. There are several conspiracy and scheme subplots going on in this anime, with characters constantly trying to backstab and screw each other, Ichise is one of the few, if not the only honest character in this anime, a beast does not need to lie after all. The liars are also great because the anime frequently makes use of facial expressions and gestures. A character might be saying one thing, but his emotions and body language might be saying something completely different. This is something rarely used in anime.

The anime does “ease up” on the silence and adds more dialogue starting the second half, but the show overall still maintains the “showing” over “telling” approach. The saying that goes “a single picture tells more than a hundred words” is completely applicable here.

One of the most frequent complaints regarding Texhnolyze is that the story is too “deep” or too “complicated”. While in reality Texhnolyze is actually really simple, it just seems complicated because the show does not explain itself to the viewer at all, it only shows things. There is no narrator to help you out here like most anime. You simply get what you are shown.

To understand the story of Texhnolyze the viewer must simply realize 2 facts regarding the show. The first thing to realize is that Texhnolyze is thematically about humanity’s end, a time and place where scientific, technological, cultural and evolutionary progress have come to a halt. The second thing is that each major character represents a particular concept or idea, that is bigger than themselves. And whenever these characters are killed or die, it is not only they themselves that perish as a person, but also the ideas and concepts that they represented.

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The concept behind each character is conveyed through their actions, through visual storytelling once more, no narrator comes along to tell you that X character represents Y.

For example Onishi who constantly tries to keep things under control, guess what, represents order. When he dies so does order cease to exist.

Ran who can see the future and hides her emotions behind a mask, represents humanity’s future. When she dies so does the future of humanity.

Ichise our protagonist represents humanity’s most basic and primal emotion, the will to live, which is exemplified by pretty much all of his actions and him surviving many fatal situations thanks to his willpower alone.

It’s all really simple.

Alright, I could write more and list even more examples, but I think you get my point by now, and if you still don’t, then no amount of examples would convince you otherwise, so its pointless to drag this on as I’m already at 4k words. Time to wrap this up.

Conclusion:

Anime as a whole fails to use one of the most basic and useful tools at its disposal. Anime is a visual medium, far more than live action movies are. Yet it completely fails in utilizing the tools of visual storytelling. There is no usage of symbolism, colour, proper facial expressions, body language etc. in your average anime. It relies too heavily on talking, whether in the form of the characters or the form of a narrator, there is always someone in anime who is just there to explain stuff to you.

Not only does this mean that anime treats its audience as if they were idiot who need to be spoonfed every minute, but it also makes it as bad as someone explaining their own joke. Anime don’t need to explain themselves, they shouldn’t do it, all they would need to do is to present themselves via showing things and let the viewer think and have his interpretations instead of forcing the information down his throat.

I’m not saying here that anime should be a medium where no one talks. Nor am I saying that every anime should be a symbolic and artistic masterpiece,  all I’m saying is that anime directors should really just fucking learn to use the tools that are available on them and stop solely relying on narration and dialogues to tell a goddamn story.

But of course none of that will ever happen as long as anime remains a profiting industry in its current format. As long as it keeps making money, there is no need for creators to be innovative and experimental and anime fans most certainly do not care about them not utilizing these tools. Unless the industry collapses, anime will remain a medium where visual storytelling remains unused.

Anime Cliches 32: Yamato Nadeshiko

Type: Character Cliché

What made it popular: Japanese Culture

Cliché Level: Extremely High

Where can you find it: Shuffle, School Days, Naruto, Ranma 1/2, Gundam Seed, Highschool of the Dead, Bleach, Highschool DxD, Toradora, Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei, Sekirei, Inuyasha, Mai Hime etc.

Description:

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Yamato is a poetic way of referring to Japan, while Nadeshiko is a flower that grows in the Japanese highlands. Yamato Nadeshiko together can mean “Flower of Japan” in loose, lazy translation, but what it really refers to is the ideal woman, the epitome of feminine beauty and grace. Yes, as you may have heard already, Yamato Nadeshiko is the idealized Japanese woman that was established around the Meiji Restoration, meaning 19th century Japan.

The Yamato Nadeshiko appearance wise generally have long, black hair styled into a Hime cut (see picture above), but in anime the hair colour can also be shades of blue. They should be of medium height, pale-skinned, modestly endowed, beautiful but not unrealistic or lewd,  they also should have clear and calming voices. The Yamato Nadeshiko ideally dresses in adult, traditional fashion, preferably in a Kimono.

Personality wise the Yamato Nadeshiko heavily draws from Confucian woman ideal. In case you don’t know anything about Confucianism, let me give you a quick summary. Confucianism is philosophy/religion that originated from China from the ancient philosopher known in the West simply as Confucius who lived around 500 B.C.

Confucianism, along with Taoism and Buddhism are one of the 3 biggest cultural and religious influences on the Islands of Japan, which affects their culture and behavior even to this day. (Reading up on these 3 philosophies/religions will help you see anime and Asian media in a completely new light, and generally give you a lot of meta knowledge and additional understanding.)

Anyway Confucianism is a very traditional and conservative philosophy, that stems from the fact that Confucius believed that humanity’s golden age, was in the past, and seeking to return to the past is the only way to stop the process of human degradation. Confucius emphasized the duties within the unit of the family, the duty of the father, the mother, the son etc. Each having their unique roles and duties.

The most important personality traits of the Yamato Nadeshiko is her unwavering loyalty, sense of duty and caring, motherly nature. The ideal Japanese Woman places the well being of her family, husband and children over her own interests and generally respects authority figures, be that the government, or the husband in the family. Other virtues include domestic ability, humility, maturity and wisdom.

In anime this typically makes the Yamato Nadeshiko a submissive character, especially towards her love interest and her family.

But this by no means mean that the Yamato Nadeshiko must be a weak character. In fact a good Yamato Nadeshiko should be like a fierce bear mother who will protect and defend her family at all costs should danger arise, even if she has to commit crimes or other heinous acts to fulfill that goal.

You might be wondering how a Yamato Nadeshiko would protect anyone, seeing I didn’t describe her as the most menacing character type. The answer to that is that Yamato Nadeshiko are also usually Onna Bugeisha (Female Weapons Master), who have more than enough training and weapons to protect the ones they care about. The reasons for this combination is also cultural. Before the feudal caste system was abolished, Yamato Nadeshiko were typically daughters of samurai caste, who were taught in the arts of war, literature and martial arts, most commonly trained in the mastery of a Naginata or a Bow.

After the feudal classes were dissolved, the samurai families essentially became middle class rich people, but their daughters retained the same skills, charm, elegance and virtues that they were taught in the old era. And when these daughters would marry a man, tales of the Yamato Nadeshiko would spread far and wide.

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However please note that this combination is not always used, the Yamato Nadeshiko doesn’t necessarily have to be an Ojou-sama or an Onna Bugeisha, this cliché mostly refers to personality, virtues and behavior more than anything else.

Why its bad:

I have the same problems with the Yamato Nadeshiko as with the DereDere. Meaning she is certainly excellent wife material, but that does not make her an interesting or even well written character in fiction, as they are rarely done right. Unfortunately due to their passive and submissive nature, they rarely ever influence or change the story by themselves, instead they just follow after the love interest or whoever is in charge/authority. It is also not uncommon for Yamato Nadeshiko to “get left behind” as the story spirals out of control and the focus is placed on the more active characters.

This cliché is easily in the top 5 of the most frequently used female character types, as you can easily find her in several hundred anime, across multiple time periods. It is only outdone in cliché levels by character types like the Tsundere and the Dandere. In harem and fanservice anime, it is very common, and even obligatory to have a Yamato Nadeshiko present, making her sort of token character on the harem check list. Outside of harems the Yamato Nadeshiko are one the most frequent “winners” of love triangles in romance anime.

If the Yamato Nadeshiko is the main heroine/love interest: Due to her nature and personality, more often than not, the Yamato Nadeshiko is a target of some drama or victimization, which you can see coming from miles away simply due to her being what she is in a given setting and theme. This drama is usually a choice type where for example she would have to disobey her father or family in order to get together with her love interest or ordeals such as choosing duty over love, or love over duty.

This would be fine by itself, if it were not for the fact that the Yamato Nadeshiko simply cannot choose due to the conflicting emotions and ideas in such matters since both of those things are to be valued to the archetypical Yamato Nadeshiko. So what they tend to do is simply sit in the house, depressed and wait for the protagonist to do something, which usually equates to him confronting her father and similar actions that move the plot forward. Yeah, not very exciting.

And another thing to note is that if they fail to add in the steel and willpower that is usually present in Onna Bugeisha, then the Yamato Nadeshiko becomes little more than a Yes (Wo)Man to her love interest, father, family or authority figure.

Also I personally don’t really find her to be that interesting or even relatable, as she is generally rigid, silent and way too well mannered and proper, which is also something that can frequently make her feel highly out of place depending on the setting. For example Yamato Nadeshiko are always this ‘alien’ or ‘outsider’ type of character in High School Settings that everyone just admires from a distance and few can get close to.