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.

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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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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.

The Opposer

I decided to write about and analyze the role of the Antagonists in various works of fiction due to the fact that having a well written antagonist can easily save your story, while having a badly written one can just as easily ruin it and make it boring.

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Antagonist comes from the greek word ἀνταγωνιστής, which means opponent, competitor, enemy or rival. The antagonist is the character within fiction who opposes and stands against the protagonist, his allies as well as his possible goals. Making a good protagonist is not that easy, but making a good antagonist is even harder, for it is very easy to overshoot the mark and get the opposite of the desired result when making them.

What do I mean by this? Many writers try to make their villains sympathetic and likeable to the audience by giving them goals, motivations and ideals, which is not inherently a bad idea as there is nothing less interesting than an one dimensionally evil antagonist who is evil for the sake of being evil. But more often than not, by doing this they end up creating an antagonist that is more sympathetic or likeable than the protagonist, which is rarely their desired result. Whenever I watch or read some kind of work, I find it hard not to agree agree or sympathize with the antagonist someway or another, as the only thing that separates them from the protagonist is how far they are willing to go for their goals and what methods they use.

And on a personal level, the thing that usually makes me like an antagonist is also whose absence makes me hate or dislike the protagonist, that quality is the willingness to go far for the achievement of one’s goals. Heroes usually want to save lives and protect the innocent, yet they rarely ever go to extreme’s in order to do this, in my opinion they simply lack the balls. Take for example Batman, or any other superhero that does not kill, Batman has been doing his vigilante job for decades, yet he still fails to realize that there is no redemption or possible cure for most of the psychos he captures and sends to Arkham Asylum. They are crazy, cannot be rehabilitated because of their craziness and will simply resume their heinous acts the moment they have a chance to break out, which they do have quite often.

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Batman should have realized ages ago that he achieves virtually nothing by locking these guys up, as he is doing nothing more but stalling the inevitable, the fact that they  eventually will get out, set loose and start rampaging in Gotham once more. Yet he never eliminates or permanently neutralizes any of the villains on his own volition because of some sort of idiotic logic that if he kills he will become the same as them. In reality one wouldn’t be able to protect anyone with such a weak resolve.

It is usually the villains, the antagonists who dare to stake everything for the success of their goals and plans and by therefore, to me at least, are much more admirable than most of the protagonist characters. The protagonist are this “He who defends everything…” type of character many times in fiction, which is a dangerous position to hold in reality as the saying goes: “He who defends everything, defends nothing.” Yet fiction rarely every punishes the protagonist of such arrogance due to the fact that they are idealized rather than realistic.

But let’s not get too far off from the main topic, and that topic is:

What makes a good antagonist?

The easiest way to decide this is by showing you what types of antagonist the writers commonly use from worst to best.

1 – Evil for the sake of being evil: Characters with negative moral standards, those who do not feel any remorse after killing or harming someone, instead they delight on it. Or those who would not mind killing you for your mobile-phone or for your wallet. They can also be characters who revel in the chaos and mayhem they cause, such as your average pyromaniac. Making a character like this in fiction does not result in an interesting antagonist, even though many of the real life murderers and criminals fit into this exact category. But let’s be honest, it’s not like you ever found random street stabber X to be interesting or intriguing.

The reason for them being bad as characters, is that their characterization is halted or always brought back to the fact that their character is evil, that is their primary defining feature/trait. In fiction this is the laziest method one can use to justify the existence of an antagonist since by making them evil, you do not need to give any complicated reason for why they are opposing the protagonist, they are simply evil and everything ends with that.

At worst they are your average street thug.

At best they are your enigmatic killers like the Zodiac killer.

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2 – The Insane: Little different from category 1, instead of opposing the protagonist due to being evil they do it due to their lack of sanity and overall craziness, which is just pretty much another way of justifying the actions of the antagonist and eliminates the need to write a proper character, seeing the author can make the crazy antagonist act however he wants to. It doesn’t matter what he does, he is crazy, no one will question it.

At worst they are your typical psycho.

At best their craziness have reached a level where they are no longer a mere crazy guy, they have become a walking embodiment of chaos and mayhem. (The Joker from Batman comics for example)

3 – The Monsters: With this category we are finally moving somewhere as monster antagonists do not oppose the protagonist out of being crazy or being evil. Instead they can do it to perpetuate their existence or because its natural of them to do so. But of course there are as many monsters in fictions and stories as there are trees in a forest, and some of them are little better than category 1 or 2. But again since they are monsters, the writer once more does not need justification for their actions as their existence itself is the justification, thus he can avoid proper characterization this way.

At worst: Zombies and other brainless human eaters.

At best: Monsters like Dracula who are intelligent enough to communicate, scheme and play with the protagonist before eating them.

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4 – The Oppressors: In the last few decades, depicting authority and the government as something evil, oppressive and corrupt has been quite common across a multitude of media, which is obviously in relation with the real life progressive movements that keep springing up. In fiction the oppressor antagonist can be anyone who is in an authority or power above the protagonist characters, let’s say he is a prison guard and the protagonist is a prisoner, or if protagonist is perhaps a land owner and the antagonist is a politician who wants to take away his lands.

The roles of the antagonist in this category can greatly vary, but the common link is that he is always above the protagonist, who is subjected to his whims and power, making it easy for the protagonist to be exploited or otherwise be harmed. I personally loathe this category, for it is nothing more than cheap emotional manipulation, it is extremely easy to make us feel sorry for the protagonist and sympathize with him when such an antagonist is present, as it immediately casts the protagonist into the role of the underdog.

Due to the fact that such stories are usually told from the protagonist’s viewpoint and perspective, we do not get the side of the antagonist, all we see is that he is an oppressive asshole towards the protagonist for virtually no reason, so it becomes next to impossible to like or sympathize with him, leading him to become an 1 dimensionally evil villain, and once more the writer avoids proper characterization as the oppressor simply oppresses because he can.

At worst they are your dickish cops and prison guards.

At best they are your shrewd and corrupt politicians.

5 – The Corrupted: Now we finally arrived at the categories that we can consider to be decent and perhaps even good. Corrupted antagonists are characters who were once good and perhaps even a friend or ally to the protagonist, but due to events that happened in the story or due to the corrupting influence of another antagonist, the character goes over to the antagonist’s side and starts opposing the protagonist.

The quality here largely depends on how well the corruption is done, if the corruption is instant then its shit and makes it look like bullshit. Good corruption are all gradual that start somewhere in the story and reach their peak as it continues, the more foreshadowing and implications of the corruption we are shown the better it is. Characters who were already corrupted at the start of the fiction are much harder to care about, as we did not see them fall and thus it is harder to sympathize with them.

The Corrupted Antagonist is rarely ever the main antagonist is in the fiction, as his corruption is most of the time the result of another antagonist’s actions and scheming, he usually serves as a secondary antagonist due to this, but on rare occasions the Corrupted Antagonist eliminates the main antagonist and becomes the primary villain that the protagonist must face. The possibility of redemption is a common theme with this type of antagonist.

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6 – Conflicting Personalities with the Protagonist:

Some people simply cannot get along, this can very well be the relationship between several protagonists and antagonists. Maybe they hated each other the moment they met, maybe the protagonist realized the true personality of the antagonist with a single glance, and was naturally repulsed by him. Or maybe this antagonist was once a not so willing ally or companion of the protagonist who finally had enough of the hero’s personality that always ticked him off and finally decided to shut his mouth.

These antagonist are more often not closer to a rival rather than an outright villain as they rarely have the desire to kill the protagonist for real, they just want to make him lose or perhaps beat him up. But in rare cases when their personalities are polar opposites, such as honourable vs dishonorable, deceiver vs honest, one can expect blood to be spilled. In this case antagonist antagonizes the protagonist simply because he does not like him, which I believe to be a far better reason than simply being crazy or being evil.

7 – Protagonist’s relation to the Antagonist

Not all antagonists appear out of random when the protagonist reached a certain point in his quest or goal. Indeed some of them may have come from the protagonist’s past or from his circle of acquaintances. Perhaps the protagonist have wronged them in the past, maybe the protagonist’s actions have caused some kind of misfortune to befall on the antagonist and his family members or anything that would make the antagonist hate or resent him and cause him to become his opposer.

And this is exactly why this is one of the best types of antagonist’s, because they have a proper reason for their antagonistic behaviour, or at the very least they themselves feel that they do, which immediately makes them a million times better than the psychotic characters who just delight in opposing our protagonist or the corrupted character who did not become the antagonist on his own will.

One of the best examples of this type of antagonist can be found within the Korean tragedy movie called Old Boy. In the film, the protagonist called Oh Dae Su is kidnapped at the start of the story, he spends 15 years in the antagonist’s captivity, not knowing the reasons or anything related to why he was kidnapped in the first place.

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Eventually Oh Dae Su is released and given a chance to find out why he was kidnapped. Throughout the course of the movie, our protagonist is forced to dig into his own past to find out the truth, while the antagonist is trying to make him remember as well as simultaneously torturing him. After a certain point he realizes that due to the fact that he started a nasty rumor in his highschool years, the antagonist’s sister had committed suicide, but because of the fact that he had transferred before the suicide he soon forgot about this rumor as it was completely trivial to him.

But it was certainly not trivial for our antagonist who was willing to plan and enact his revenge on our protagonist, even if it took decades of waiting and preparation to accomplish, as his revenge was quite complex, he did not simply want to kill Oh Dae Sue, no he had planned something far more sinister that I shall not spoil.

Another good example would be the Monster from Frankenstein as the Monster wasn’t something inherently evil, its original nature was actually quite good, but his good heart was corrupted by the treatment he received from humans and the rejection from his own creator, Doctor Frankenstein. The Monster’s revenge is highly justified yet also sad at the same time.

Giving the antagonist a proper and genuine reason is likely to set both characters into the grey area rather than dealing with everything as black and white, making them both sympathetic and somewhat relatable.

8 – Conflicting Ideals

The conflict between the antagonist and the protagonist can occur on the level of ideas, for example if the two of them represent fundamentally different and opposing ideals, it is only natural for them to eventually clash. The protagonist could be the living embodiment of progress and evolution, while the antagonist could embody backwardness and the past. There is a bit of a crossover with Category 6, but it is not the same as it deals far more with the characters ideals, goals and actions rather than just their personality.

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A clash of ideologies can occur when the protagonist and another do not agree upon some action or event, for example a honourable protagonist having different ideas in war and battle than a Machiavellian manipulator, this will easily turn the previously neutral character into the antagonist. Such clashes can also occur between politicians trying to run a country or various merchants trying to profit and screw each other over.

Since the conflict occurs in the realm of ideas rather than just the realm of characters, it is far deeper and more meaningful than any other type of antagonist and protagonist relationship, therefore I shall place it on the top.

Special Type of Antagonists that I will not number:

Fate: Rather than have the antagonist be a concrete person, some works may make something intangible or transcendent the antagonist of the story, one of these things can be fate. For example the protagonist is cursed and fated to die if he does not do X or Y. Or something terrible happen if the protagonist fails to arrive at a certain location at a certain time. In Prince of Persia the Warrior Within, the Prince is running from his inevitable fate and trying to fight off the manifestation of the said fate in the form of the creature known as Dahaka. While other antagonist arise within the game, his overall goal still remains to change his fate, this is an example of Fate itself being the antagonist.

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I have rather mixed feelings about this type of antagonist, since if Fate truly existed, then it is not something you could work against as a simple human being, it is not something you have power or control over. And many times because of these facts, such stories are usually revolved via the usage of Deus Ex Machina’s or something equally bullshit. On the other hand if the story is about the inevitability of Fate and how it is futile to try avoiding it, then it becomes an entirely different matter. Although very few stories ever go that way.

God: Yes, even God can be the antagonist, or any other godlike being in fiction. When God is the antagonist, he does not want to kill the protagonist, because if he wanted to do so, it would be very easy to just make him die with his omnipotent power. So instead what God does is test the protagonist and gives him challenges, if the protagonist can succeed, then he triumphed over god. Yet again, this scenario is bullshit because if God did not want the protagonist to win he would have simply designed an impossible challenge since due to his omniscience he would know what the protagonist can do and cannot do, therefore the protagonist only wins because God himself willed it so. And I don’t see much point in such a story.

Category 1, 2 and 3 make me seem like as if I hated horror stories, and that is actually very true but also highly unrelated to the matter at hand. Horror characters like Jason Voorhees or Michael Myers have literally no character as far as I’m concerned. But that is actually fine since characters barely matter in horror movies, as most of them exist only to suffer and be killed. Rather than relying on characters horror flicks make use of suspense, terror and shock factor in order to chill the audience, for those purposes Category 1, 2 and 3 are probably the best choices for obvious reasons.

Likewise the Joker is a perfect villain for the usually idealized world of superheroes, as he reminds us that not all humans are worth saving or preserving, that people like the Joker who exist only to sew chaos will never stop being what they are no matter how many times one jails or beats them. It is instead the superheroes reaction, or in this case, their lack of reaction that I am dissatisfied with.

What type of antagonist you need hugely depends on the genre you are writing in, category 8 despite being the best of the bunch, obviously wouldn’t work with your standard horror movie as it would slow it down and make it boring, nor would it be a proper situation or premise to explore a clash of ideologies.

But the more sophisticated work you are aiming for, the more obligatory it becomes to use one of the antagonist types from the higher categories, as usage of the lower categories in a work that presents itself in an intelligent light only worsens your quality, yet too many writers still make this mistake, there are far too many works across multiple mediums that try to be seen in a serious and realistic light yet they keep having 1 dimensional villains and antagonists, that you can do nothing with but hate or dislike, as they are characters who are made to be hated.

One common mistake that the writers usually make is that they create antagonist that do not fit with the theme or the setting of their work, this comes as a result of trying to make an antagonist interesting, but backfires on them, as it makes him strange and out of place instead. For example a mad scientist obviously doesn’t belong anywhere in the dark ages, nor does a knight or an inquisitor belong in our modern times, yet I see them done all the time.

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And this isn’t the only mistake that authors commit by trying to make their antagonist interesting, the second most common one happens by giving the antagonist some kind of power, and accidentally turning them too powerful, far too powerful for our protagonist to actually defeat by his own power. The creators typically don’t realize this fact until its too late, and thus they are forced to use some kind of bullshit or Deus Ex Machina to defeat the villain, which is something that you should always try to avoid or it will end up looking this stupid.

If you are in such a situation I would honestly just recommend to let the villain win rather than resorting to the sin of using a Deus Ex Machina, sure it will be shocking and might be even disappointing to your audience, but it is still far better than being known as a hack writer. Besides I don’t really understand this whole taboo against downer endings, they have a possibility of being good, especially due to the fact that rarely anyone does downer endings.

Third mistake that stems from trying to make an antagonist interesting is that they often end up doing nothing, like really, many writers create an antagonist and put him to the sidelines, and refuse to use him until the very last moments of their work. This is bad because the greatness of any antagonist comes from their interaction with the protagonist and his allies, if he only does something at the very last moment of the story, then it is quite hard to care about him.

But it’s not like its impossible to understand their logic. Their logic goes that if the antagonist appears too often it will cause him to become stale and boring. While true to a certain extent, not appearing and interacting frequently enough causes way worse problems. A good antagonist has a sense for timing, making him appear when one least expects it is a good idea for a shocking introduction or memorable appearance. Also if the protagonist had multiple interactions with the antagonist prior to the ending, then it makes all the more sense that he defeats him due to learning from his past experiences.

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I would like to draw the conclusion that a good antagonist is a character who antagonizes the protagonist regularly but not too often, has a relationship of mutual dislike throughout the story and is driven by something more than simply being crazy or evil, likewise he should also be someone that can be defeated by the power and efforts of the protagonist, otherwise what’s the point to an impossible challenge?