When Mystery and Psychology fail: Heads

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Heads is a mystery and psychological manga heavily centered around the theme of insanity, multiple personalities and what makes us, “us”.

It was written by Higashino Keigo, who didn’t write a whole lot of manga, and most of what he wrote can be summed up as one-shots centered at the shoujo demographic. Heads is different in the sense that it targets a different demographic and is his longest manga with 4 volumes and 36 chapters.

Outside of his relatively small work in the manga department, Keigo Higashino according to this site:

“Is one of the most popular and biggest selling fiction authors in Japan—as well known as James Patterson, Dean Koontz or Tom Clancy are in the USA.

He won the Edogawa Rampo Prize, which is awarded annually to the finest mystery work, in 1985 for the novel Hōkago (After School) at age 27.

In 1999, he won the Mystery Writers of Japan Inc award for the novel Himitsu (The Secret), which was translated into English by Kerim Yasar and published by Vertical under the title of Naoko in 2004. In 2006, he won the 134th Naoki Prize for Yōgisha X no Kenshin.

The Devotion of Suspect X was the second highest selling book in all of Japan— fiction or nonfiction—the year it was published, with over 800,000 copies sold. It won the prestigious Naoki Prize for Best Novel— the Japanese equivalent of the National Book Award and the Man Booker Prize. Made into a motion picture in Japan, The Devotion of Suspect X spent 4 weeks at the top of the box office and was the third highest‐grossing film of the year.”

So as you can clearly see, Keigo is highly praised for his mystery writing skills in Japan, which came as a bit of a shock to me after I read the manga called Heads, which story he wrote. Because of the fact that the “mystery” aspect of Heads can only be described as highly predictable, obvious, generic and even bad.

The basic story is about a shy, weak and cowardly character called Jun Naruse, whose other primary traits include the fact that he likes to paint and is unable to disobey his superiors, he is generally a conformist person who doesn’t try to stick out like a sore thumb in the community he is in. Also despite being an overall Beta-male, Jun still has a girlfriend as well a job.

Everything seems to be going well for him, but then one day he was at the wrong place at the wrong time. A shooter arrives to rob the building he was in, and when the wannabe robber brandishes his gun at a little girl, Jun proceeds to jump in the way (contrary to his previously established cowardly personality, this is a drastically heroic act from him), the bullet hits him in the head and everything fades to black.

He awakens 4 weeks later from a comatose state only to learn that he is in a hospital and that they somehow managed to save him despite his injuries to the brain. At first the doctors tell him that his brain could be repaired because “science was on his side” and that he was very lucky. But it doesn’t even take a chapter for Jun to accidentally stumble across the freezer (talk about coincidence), which contained 2 damaged brains in a jar, one of them was labeled Host J.N. (Jun Naruse), while the other one was labeled the “Donor.”

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Naturally even our dumb protagonist manages to connect the dots and the next day he asks the doctor what really happened. The doctor proceeds to inform him that he is the first person to successfully receive a brain transplant. By brain transplant here I don’t mean full brain transplant, as only Jun’s left side of the brain was injured, they took the left side from the donor and did a “partial brain transplant.”

As you would expect, Jun immediately has worries about this alarming development, but the Doctor reassures him that everything is alright and that the operation went smoothly, so he has nothing to worry about (ha-ha). It becomes evident in the very next chapter that the partial brain matter from the Donor is influencing him anyway by “manifesting” the personality of the Donor.

Most of the “mystery” aspect of the manga is centered around this Donor as Jun tries to find the parents of the donor, learn about his personality and see how the changes in his persona are correlated to the persona of the donor, several important chapters are wasted on this.

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And I really mean wasted, because the identity of the donor was obvious to anyone who paid some attention in the first 3-4 chapters, where they mention that the shooter who shot Jun also died. It was honestly such an expected cliché move to fuse the shooter’s and victim’s brains together that anyone could see it coming the moment it was mentioned. Yet instead of averting this cliché, Mr. Keigo decided to play right into it.

This is arguably one of the worst mistakes made in this manga, because as I said Jun is sent on this wild goose chase where he chases after the donor and tries to rationalize his changes with what he finds. Only for him to eventually find out that the donor’s identity that the Doctor gave him was a fake who was actually a nice and friendly person, but they bribed his father to tell a complicated lie about how he was basically an unwanted devil child with a temper that no one liked.

Anyway, Jun only finds out about the “connection” with his brain and the shooter in the last 3/4 of the manga, which is in all honesty a waste of the reader’s time due to how obvious everything was.

The second worst mistake of the author was the fact that he didn’t restrict the narrative of the story to the protagonist’s perspective. What do I mean? Well many mystery maintain their mysterious atmosphere by only showing everything through the eye of the protagonist or what the protagonist sees, because of this, the reader knows only as much as the protagonist. This works quite well for any mystery series since the reader can figure out and notice things that the protagonist didn’t realize himself.

Meanwhile Heads is ruined by the fact that it makes use of two perspectives, the fact that it shows scenes without the protagonist being there, and most of these scenes are what lead to the ruin of the mystery. For example it becomes clear as early as chapter 4 that The Doctor and his two assistants are experimenting with Jun and toying with his life for their own benefit, we are shown this in scenes where they are talking to each other without the protagonist being present.

Again the whole “mystery” aspect is thrown out of the window as there is no anticipation, excitement or anything for the reader to uncover, we always know everything that the protagonist doesn’t, and this is a huge sin from a mystery writing standpoint. Jun Naruse only learns of The Doctor’s manipulation in the latter half of the manga. Once more the manga wastes a huge amount of time for things that the reader knows from the very beginning to be revealed to the protagonist via the story.

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Now that we thrashed the mystery lets turn our attention to the psychological aspect of the manga. If you expect some ground breaking or unique portrayal of character psyche change, then you will be in for a disappointment as Heads is very generic in this department.

All that really happens is that our protagonist Jun will start to suffer from paranoia and dual personality, the personality of his old self and the personality of the killer. And as you would expect it, the killer’s personality is the complete opposite of Jun’s, so our character that was previous gentle, shy and somebody who wouldn’t talk back no matter what, now became a character who would slit someone’s throat for the slightest insult.

He is the cliché 1 dimensionally evil second personality. I’m not even kidding, whenever the killer got “dominant” he always tried to kill someone to the point that he was willing to chase someone for several streets just so that he could light them on fire. There is nothing that would make the killer’s persona sympathetic since all we are shown is that he is arrogant, impatient and highly dangerous, a terrible combination of traits.

Well the manga tries to make him more sympathetic, but the word is really on the try here. They give him a bit of a back-story about how he was a victim of his father who abandoned him and his mother and all he did was just a revenge to get back on his father (by robbing his office). But none of that really makes him a better person.

Its hard to not see him as a psychotic killer as he:

  1. Attempted to shoot a little girl with a gun
  2. Attempted to light someone on fire for simply annoying him with loud talking
  3. Attempted to stab someone for being ungrateful to their parents
  4. Strangled the woman that comforted him because she lied to him.

The revenge on his father would have been relatively justified, but none of the things I mentioned had anything to do with that. So how is he not your average unrelatable killer who is devoid of empathy?

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The synopsis of the manga tried to make it seem as if the change in the protagonist’s character would be ambiguous, as if he was just potentially just imagining and deluding himself into being the shooter. So I logically expected something among those lines, but what I got was far worse.

There is no ambiguity here that the protagonist is going crazy, the manga makes it seem like its 100% certain that the brain is influencing him, this is all the more evident due to the fact that manga’s artist alters the eye design and switches to this “dramatic shading” whenever the two personas switch.

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The mere fact that the otherwise peaceful, quiet, cowardly protagonist turns into a complete maniac who is willing to kill someone for simply annoying him without any hesitation, makes the whole thing come off as cheap shock-factor.

What’s worse is that even though we have this obviously crazy protagonist present, the side characters do not react accordingly, meaning they do things that wouldn’t make sense in reality, which is a minus as the manga clearly tried to go for the “realistic appeal”.

What do I mean? For example: Jun Naruse frequently visits the hospital for checkups and regularly informs the doctors of his experiences and his mood and personality changes. Even when the changes become really drastic, the doctors still don’t do anything about it. They don’t give him any treatment, nor do they lock him up for his own safety, they just let him wander back into the city, where he might just murder someone at the given opportunity.

Or lets just look at the women. Jun Naruse has two love interests, one of them is the Doctor who the killer’s persona has fallen for, and the other is his old girlfriend before the accident. The doctor obviously knows about his unstable condition as she was one of the three doctors who were on his case, yet despite knowing about his condition, the female doctor still decides to feign a relationship with Jun and have sex with him on a regular basis in order to gain access to his diaries.

Needless to say, Jun eventually finds out and proceeds to strangle the female doctor, who honestly deserved it due to her stupidity. His other girlfriend, Megu, isn’t any better. She witnessed Jun’s deteriorating condition first hand (as they were living together), this escalated to the point where she left his home in fear of his behavior, up until this her actions were logical.

But then a few chapters later she decides to go back to him anyway. What happens you might ask? Well Jun’s condition has gotten to the point that he feels no remorse or shame whatsoever about telling her how he killed the Female Doctor and cut her up to tiny pieces (while presenting her with the bloody saw). Despite being told such a gruesome story and seeing the evidence, she barely shows any sign of shock and still decides to be with Jun Naruse.

In response Jun immediately proceeds to physically abuse her.

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She manages to avoid being beaten to death by uttering the following cliché lines:

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Its hard for me to emphasize just how utterly stupid and illogical this whole situation is. I get it that its supposed to be a “muh love” type of message, but its still retarded when you think about it from a logical perspective. First off, these characters weren’t together for years, they have only been together for a few months. Their relationship and love wasn’t particularly deep to begin with. If anything it was just a casual relationship between two young adults and it has always been presented like that.

Both of them were still young and it was their first relationship. Due to the fact that the relationship wasn’t that long to begin with, Megu should have been able to get over Jun and break up with him when she noticed that he was no longer “him”. Yet as you could see, she decides to risk dying for being able to stay together with the man that is no longer Jun Naruse, but the shooter. The said shooter who had no problems whatsoever in almost stomping her head in. You can’t tell me that this is how a twenty whatsoever year old girl would act like in the same situation.

Hilariously even after this the killer almost chokes her to death like he did with the doctor, as she is only saved by a sudden deus ex machina of the original Jun Naruse personality returning for a moment and saving her by preventing the killer from killing her.Which is utter bullshit, as the whole thing that was going on since the beginning of the manga was how the killer’s brain matter was eroding and slowly taking over Jun’s personality, not the other way around. This is not the first time the killer tried to kill someone, yet coincidentally for the plot, this is the only time Jun decided to take over. Why didn’t he save the Female Doctor? Because it was convenient for the plot, as it was the Female Doctor’s death that set the events into motion that would end this shitty manga.

In the latter half of the manga it is suddenly stated that Jun’s brain operation was actually an experiment approved by the Illuminati. Okay it doesn’t say Illuminati, but it says a group of old and very rich people, so its still the same thing. Basically the old, rich people wanted to prolong their existence on Earth by brain transferring their consciousness and Jun was just the unfortunate victim of this experiment.

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This wouldn’t even be such a bad plot twist, if everything else in the story were made to fit this narrative, but it doesn’t fit. As I said above, Jun was let to freely wander around and cause all kinds of havoc at his workplace, home and pretty much everywhere he goes. While it would have made much more sense for the Illuminati organization to just confine Jun to a hospital and don’t let him wander around freely.

They could have come up with a 1000 excuses to achieve this, yet they didn’t do this. Even though it would have allowed them to publicly notice any changes within his persona and experiment on him further accordingly to the abnormalities observed. Please note that the Female Doctor only died because Jun stopped coming to the hospital and the Illuminati ordered her to gather data from Jun personally. Her death obviously wouldn’t have happened if Jun was simply confined to the hospital.

Later the Illuminati tries to kill him after they learn of the Female Doctor’s death. But again why? Why would they want him dead? That is completely illogical from the men who apparently rule the world from the shadows. It was made quite clear by the old doctor in the initial chapters how much of a miracle the whole operation was and how lucky Jun was for coming out alive. Yet despite this, the Illuminati still tries to kill and eliminate their only successful and extremely rare sample, for simply killing an expendable doctor.

When they could have easily just kidnapped him and locked him up somewhere where escape was impossible. Jun was just one man, he couldn’t have possibly opposed a bunch of wealthy and powerful old men. Despite this the Illuminati still tries to kill him, but not even in a simple manner, but in the most contrived manner possible. First they kidnap him and knock him out, then they transport him to an abandoned warehouse, where they proceed to pour gasoline on him. After this they wake him up (????) just so the doctor can proceed to gloat about how he will kill him and what not in the most cliché manner possible.

And as you guessed, this cliché move is exactly what allows our protagonist to escape and survive this ordeal. After this the protagonist decides to finally end his life. (Because apparently burning to death wasn’t his preferred method of suicide.) He moves to the building where everything started, meaning the place that the killer originally tried to rob and where Jun was shot in the head.

He proceeds to rob the place, goes to the rooftop, scatters the money he stole, which the passing pedestrians immediately proceed to pick up. Then when the police arrive he proceeds to end his life in the most anti climactic suicide possible, by shooting himself in the head.

Rating: 5 Jekyll out of 10 Hyde

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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.

 

Anime Cliches 31: The Japanese Catholic Church

Type: Setting, premise and character cliché

What made it popular: Japanese interest and mystification of western culture/religion

Cliché Level: Low

Where can you find it: Hellsing, Toaru Majutsu Index, Chrono Crusade, Blue Exorcist, D Gray Man, Trinity Blood, Tsukihime, Fate/Stay Night, Fate/Zero etc, Highschool DxD. (Heavily confined to the genre of fantasy)

Description:

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In real life the Roman Catholic Church is a shadow of its former self, it is no longer one of the key balancers and powers in Europe as it used to be, and far too many of its followers claim to be Christian yet have never even read the Bible and they are losing the numbers of their actual faithful day to day to the Orthodox Church.

Not so much in anime however, as the Roman Catholic Church for some inexplicable reason remains a mystical and powerful faction, that influences and protects the world from the shadows. It’s priests and nuns are portrayed as exorcists, demon hunters, vampire hunters, healers and other miracle makers.

The Japanese Catholic Church cliché can manifest itself in a variety of ways such as the Catholic Church being an Illuminati-esque organization or something with its own private army, the individual characters within the church are also likely to be super powered badasses, immortals, non humans or even straight up psychopaths. It does not really matter what form this cliché takes, for the average western viewer can easily tell when the Japanese Catholic Church is in effect.

(It is made all the obvious by all the fancy dresses they wear and all the inexplicably complicated but stylish weapons they tend to wield.)

In a multitude of anime they frequently use self censoring to hide the fact that its about the Catholic Church, this includes such methods as simply calling the organization with the simple denomination of the “Church” or the outright removal of notable figures and icons such as Jesus Christ. But no matter what they change and remove, it is still quite obvious when a religious organization or a priest is based off on Christianity.

Why its bad:

 This cliché is primarily bad from the perspective of a Western person as even the most inexperienced and irreligious people can tell that their portrayal of the Catholic Church is faulty. And I’m not talking about the supernatural stuff or the Illuminati Church, no what I’m talking about is that the Japanese writers who write them, have zero to no idea how western churches work or operate, which is why they end up making a dozens of mistakes that blatantly stand out.

One of the easiest examples is that anime frequently has Priest characters that are teenagers or even actual children. Obviously forgetting the fact that the Catholic Church has an age restriction on priest, according to canon laws they need to be at least 25 years old in order to be one. It’s not like they cannot have a 25 year old bishounen as a priest, they are just pandering towards the teenage audience as usual or are simply unaware of this rule.

Second example is the case of Nuns. For some inexplicable reason the Japanese don’t understand how nuns work or what do they even do in the social hierarchy of the church and are apparently incompetent at doing basic google searches to find out that information. So what they do when making nuns is that they take ideas from something similar to nuns from their own culture that they are familiar with, in this case Shrine Maidens also known as Mikos.

Japanese Shrine Maidens and Nuns are only similar in the manner that both are women that are also religious figures who occasionally perform certain services, rituals and ceremonies, but that is where all the similarities end. Shrine Maidens have a relatively greater degree of freedom in their roles and movements compared to the western nuns, who usually live in closed off communities. And most importantly Mikos do not need to take vows of chastity, they can marry off and have children whenever they want. They are also commonly depicted as magicians, seers, diviners who use their magic to help Japanese lords and warriors in folklore.

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So what do you get when the Japanese writers makes a “western” nun based on the idea of the Japnese Shirne Maiden? She will become a powerful spellcaster, usually serving as the wizard type of character within the party and will also be prone to being perverted and sexualized just like Mikos in anime. The only thing that really defines them as Catholic is their outfit and the Christian stereotypes that they act out.

It must be understood that this type of cliché is invoked and used for the exact same reason western movies have occasional far eastern elements and characters. It evokes a sense of mystery and unknown in the viewer due to not being knowledgeable and familiar of the other land’s culture and religions. Adding the Catholic Church as an organization is a very easy tool for Japanese writers to create the image of a foreign and exotic faction from something already existing for the Japanese viewers.

(Kinda similar to how we use the Triads and Yakuza in western movies)

But just like the Chinese laugh or feel insulted when they see our portrayal of their culture in movies, so can this cliché make us laugh at the absurdity and the over the topness, which our western culture and religion has been presented with. This cliché is obviously not as damaging to the Japanese and other Asian people as to the westerners who are familiar with the Catholic Church. It also at certain times can be quite offensive if you are an actual religious person.

Anime Cliches 30: Nakige

Type: Formula and Genre cliché

What made it popular: The success of Jun Maeda’s works and Key Visual Arts.

Cliché Level: Medium

Where can you find it: It is a cliché that appears in Romance-Drama anime, meaning you can see it in Clannad, Air, Kanon, Ef A Fairy Tale of the Two, Little Busters, Angel Beats, Anohana, Myself Yourself etc.

Description:

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Nakige is a formula cliché that crossed over to anime from the visual novel industry, which is made all the obvious from it’s name as Nakige can be translated as Crying Game. Both in visual novels and in anime, Nakige are made with the purpose of creating an emotional impact within the viewer and making you cry. The reason for this is that they went with the logic that viewers are more likely to buy and get invested in something that has affected them on an emotional level. And business wise this is obviously a smart and successful strategy.

Since Nakige is a formula cliché it naturally means that it includes everything from the atmosphere, the pacing, the plot and even the execution. Because of this Nakige is a cliché that rules over the entire series from beginning to the end, affecting everything within it.

The Traditional Nakige Formula is as follows:

1 – Comedic First Half: This is the part where all the characters (Mostly girls) are introduced and presented to the viewer. For several episodes these characters will play out various hijinks and comedic moments as well as the occasional unsuccessful attempts from one of the girls to win the protagonist’s heart as it is standard from Anime Rom-Coms. The overall tone is light and easy going, this is used to make the viewer relax and be put into a sense of security. (Obviously so it will make the later dramatic turn more effective)

2 – Romantic Middle: After several episodes pass by, one of the girls is finally successful and manages to beat the competition and get together with the protagonist. Romantic episodes follow as the other characters accept their new relationship. The atmosphere is generally heart-warming as the two characters are having the best time of their lives so far.

3 – Separation: But like they say all good things must eventually come to an end. Due to the events of the story and plot, the main female lead and the protagonist are left unable to continue their romantic relationship. This is where the most variation occurs as the reason for the separation can be something like a terminal illness, the girl being forced to move away, the girl and the protagonist breaking up and even death itself can be a tool for separation.

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4 – Reunion: However there is no reason to feel afraid or anxious for it is the trademark of Nakige that no bad ends ever occur. The writers will eventually reunite the pair even if they have to use an outright Deus Ex Machina or even a Time Reset to do so. The protagonist and the girl are reunited and they live happily ever after, you know the drill.

The crying (both in the viewer as well as the anime characters themselves) typically occurs in either part 3 or part 4, but usually in part 4 as crying in part 3 only occurs when a really tragic tool of separation is used such as death or some serious terminal illness.

Why its bad:

As I already mentioned and illustrated, this is a cliché that affects the entire of the anime it takes place in, which is bad. Earlier in my main cliché article I declared that clichés do not automatically make your anime bad unless there is an overabundance of clichés, meaning it is full of them.

However this is a cliché that is unfortunately exception to that rule as the usage of this cliché can easily ruin the show on its own. The reasons for that are simple, it is very formulaic. Once you recognize the pattern and signs of a Nakige, then you can predict everything else that happens within the show, simply because it follows the Nakige formula.

If you are aware of this cliché, you will know about the separation that will inevitably occur after the middle part, therefore it will not surprise or shock you in any way.

You will also know that in the end the characters will reunite anyway, no matter how bad the situation in the anime gets.

What this does is obviously the complete and utter removal of suspense from the anime, which is one of the worst things that you can do in a drama. If there is no suspense over what happens next, then the viewer won’t feel any excitement or anticipation and the emotional effects of the reunion will be completely negated.

Additionally its bad due to its overemotional, exaggerated and melodramatic type of story telling, which will leave the less emotional viewers like me completely uncaring and disinterested. Though this is hardly an issue as Nakige are typically aimed at emotional people.

And lastly I cannot forgive the fact Nakige will refuse to resort to bad or even some remotely sad ending, it is very restricted on how it can end and that ending is only reunion, even if it has to resort to the most sinful of techniques and methods such as the Deus Ex Machina or the Time Reset to achieve the reunion, which is something that I must condemn from a writing standpoint.

The Antithesis to Nakige: In visual novels there is a formula called Utsuge, which means depressing game. Unlike the Nakige the Utsuge are not afraid to end sad or even depressing, in fact that’s the only way Utsuges end. Because unlike the Nakige, the purpose of Utsuge is to depress the player, there is no hope in these stories and everything the characters do only delays the inevitable. One of the most iconic Utsuge in visual novels is Muv Luv Alternative.

However Utsuge does not really appear as a cliché in the anime industry, there are only a handful of titles that can be “kinda counted” as one, but even with that its still nowhere enough. I only mentioned them because it might be something interesting to hear about.