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Fantasy, Anime, and Character Ideals

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Devor, Dec 10, 2015.

  1. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    Over the past year I've started watching a few anime series, and I now follow a manga. This is new for me.

    One of the things I've noticed about the animes I follow is that many of the characters have a firm, single "ideal" about the way life should be lived, and they use the fantasy elements to explore what happens if one person had the power to push their ideals onto everyone else. Many of the stories are about a main character who has to figure out their own ideal while confronting all the crazy ones.

    The character arcs tend to focus heavily on these ideals.

    Is this something anyone here has toyed around with? Does that happen a lot in western books that I'm just not seeing?

    I think it's really cool the way they can make these ideals compelling, although it does feel formulaic. In one story one character flatly asks another, "I forgot to ask, but what is your ideal?" and they have the inevitable philosophical chat. I guess they need to be sure and cover every last character.

    But it's something I've been thinking about lately. What do all of you think?
     
  2. Codey Amprim

    Codey Amprim Staff Article Team

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    That was one of the things that hooked me into anime as a kid. The individuality really strikes into younger people who are more impressionable than adults. Now that I've grown out of anime, I've noticed that formulaic trend they have.

    Sure, the whole "I believe in this, therefore this makes who me I am and you can't take it away from me" thing can flesh out a character, it only goes so far until it seems like you're beating a dead horse. To me, it starts to get irritating. I need more than a strong conviction to make a character memorable.
     
  3. Telcontar

    Telcontar Staff Moderator

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    Can't think of offhand examples where a character has conscious ideology and sticks strictly to it, really. Seems similar to the (few) animes I know which generally have each character with a distinct technique, or style (martial arts kind of style). In turn, the phenomenon seems similar to concepts of character archetypes, which western storytelling is rife with. Just that the archetype is a deliberate philosophy instead of the character's innate personality.

    Don't know enough anime and manga to compare the two from my own experience, though.
     
  4. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

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    To me this sounds like it's similar to how unchanging characters are dealt with.

    Characters that don't change in stories should have their beliefs challenged. They should question these beliefs and in the end, through the way the story plays out, come to the conclusion they are right to believe the way they do. The story should strengthen their belief.

    I think in a lot of TV shows with the unchanging characters, episodes tend to deal with ideals/themes, like honesty is the best policy, people who cheat only cheat themselves, or it's impossible for a male and a female to be friends without one developing feelings for the other. The ideal is explored and a conclusion is come to at the end of the episode.
     
  5. WooHooMan

    WooHooMan Auror

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    I've noticed this too and I've tried looking into it. I think it is the result of several factors. I'll try to explain them.

    First off, the anime industry has a lot of executive control - lots of marketing business. Producers very strongly enforce the idea that shows are supposed to teach kids/viewers life lessons to the point where some series have been heavily rewritten or cancelled for not being "moral" enough.

    Second, Japanese fiction has a concept that's called "flavorless but pure" (which is a loose translation of an actual Japanese term). It basically means that if characters have too many unique traits, you might alienate or drive away people. So, the fewer traits a character has, the more broadly they'll be liked as long as they're moral.
    Basically, Japanese fiction prefers simple and idealized characters whereas Westerns (sometime after the Middle Ages) latch onto to naturalistic characterization. Very generally speaking, Japanese writers restrict complexity to villains and morally ambiguous characters - characters the audience doesn't need to like.

    Third, Japanese culture has something they call "the Japanese Resolve" (or something like that). It basically means that once you've found your niche, you stick with it. If you stand for something, it's really looked down upon to turn away from it or try to compromise. This mostly, I suspect, comes from a Confucian viewpoint.

    Fourth, anime has its root in Wuxia which is a genre that often deals with philosophical and ideological conflicts (because Chinese society has often outwardly dealt with philosophical conflicts).

    So, there's some possibilities.
     
    Last edited: Dec 10, 2015
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  6. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    Wow, thanks for that.
     
  7. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

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    Hmmm... I'm heavily into anime and manga. I've watched about 150 anime and am actively watching another 15 this season. I'm newer to manga, but I'm currently reading 7 different manga (having just finished one that was excellent). As a 33 year old woman, wife, mother, I honestly find that anime and manga appeals to me more than any other type of media right now. I can't imagine going back to any "western" tv shows and haven't watched any new "western" movies in a very long time. And I mostly read older works of literature. The newest fantasy books I've read and loved were Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell (from 2004) and The Emperor's Edge, an indie published book from 2010. As it stands, I'd rather watch anime and read manga than consume any "Western" media.

    So this subject is kinda close to me.

    There is certainly a lot about anime that is formulaic. It's riddled with tropes and many shows seem to go out of their way to check off the whole list. And yes, this is about marketing. It's about targeting a particular audience and giving them exactly what they expect and want. But it's also because Japanese marketing is not about "genre" as we define it, but about age group. Anime and manga target specific age groups (and gender, but let's not get into that) which means that they're always dealing with an audience that is at once always changing and never changing. There are always new individuals coming into the audience and old one leaving, but the audience is always made up of individuals in a certain age group. So they can get away with making what seems like the same formula over and over again because the shonen watching it this season haven't seen it a million times yet. In Japan they don't think, "well, the kids that grew up with Naruto are getting older so let's start making something similar but more mature for them now". They think, "there's a whole new crop of kids coming into the Naruto audience, so let's keep this sucker going as long as possible without changing anything, more filler arcs now! And start looking for the next Naruto." (Incidentally, I'm like 95% certain that's exactly what the makers of the Naruto Shippuden anime are thinking. The manga has ended but the anime is still no where near over because of the ridiculous amounts of filler.)

    Ok so that's the marketing aspect of it. Another thing is that it can be really difficult to translate meaning from Japanese to English. A lot of their concepts, we don't have words for, which ends up making a lot of translations inaccurate because there's only so much room in the speech bubble or so many mouth flaps to match, etc. to try to convey what the story means. I used to be a lot more confused about the themes various anime explored because of this. The more I watch/read the more familiar I become with the ideas expressed and the easier it is to understand the thematic content of various stories. Take for example the word "kami", which is just translated straight as "god" the majority of the time, but in Japanese it's a very versatile word that can be used when expressing all sorts of nuanced concepts. The Japanese don't really have a straightforward conception of "god" as we do in the west, but translators often treat it that way nonetheless. So a lot of the time worldviews that seem very simple to us after translation are much more nuanced in the Japanese.

    Personally, as a part of the anime/manga audience in the west, I really love when anime and manga gets philosophical. It's one of the reasons I prefer it to western media. The reason is that the way anime characters search for and stand by their "ideals" or "worldview" or "moral code" is the direct opposite of the west's obsession with "grey morality". Here in the west, most characters these days are "grey" meaning that they have little to no moral code at all and tend to be conflicted and/or wishy washy about their worldview. They basically do whatever seems to them like a good idea at the time and no one is allowed to disagree with their personal desires. I hate this more than words can say. To me, the approach of Japanese media is a cool, refreshing breeze in a smog filled city. Japanese characters are like a brilliant rainbow suddenly appearing out of a dull grey sky.

    In my experience, it's common in anime for different characters to have very different "ideals" and that when those differing ideals come into contact (or conflict) both characters usually go away with their ideals a little refined. I can't think of an anime where the characters' ideals never changed at all over the course of the story. It's even common enough for antagonists and villains to have their ideals tested and changed over the course of the story. And of course, it's refreshing that almost all anime antagonists do have their own ideals and this is usually the source of the conflict. Even in shonen anime it's very common for the main characters' ideals to mature over the course of the story. And I like that so many anime are so straightforward about having ideals. There's this assumption that everyone should have a good reason for their actions and if you do have an understandable reason then you can't be a truly bad person. It's only when their ideals go against all reason that a character appears truly villainous, in my experience. And there's no wishy washy sort of "I just do what I want" justification. When a character does express something like this, it's usually because the story is about the character being challenged to develop his ideals/worldview/morality.

    This kind of storytelling really appeals to me. I wish there were more of it over here.
     
  8. Tom

    Tom Istar

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    Huh. Maybe that's the reason I don't really enjoy anime and manga. (Please don't hurt me...)

    I prefer characters with multiple ideals that conflict, forcing the character into an existential crisis where they have to choose which of their ideals they want realized more. Or characters whose ideals are murky and are gradually revealed as the story goes on. Or characters with an established ideal who are forced to give it up and adopt a new one. Or...well, you get the gist.

    Maybe it's the formulaic approach that turns me off. I like my stories tangled into giant knots where it's unclear who holds the end of the string.
     
  9. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

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    Not all anime is formulaic. There is A LOT of anime that doesn't follow formula. And not all of it has characters who have a clear ideal/worldview. There's quite a lot of it that has characters in conflict within themselves. Cowboy Bebop's Spike Spiegel is a famous example or Vash from Trigun. But, just like with any media, the less accessible is it to a general audience the less mainstream it is. You have to look a little harder to find the great stuff.
     
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  10. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    I think that in the West, wild experimentation and variety–the so-called "melting pot" and "idea market"–lead to the notion that everything is up for debate and no ideas (or few ideas) are set in stone, particularly concerning ideals, aesthetic standards, philosophies.

    I can't count the number of times I've run across a comment on some of the wilder sites, like YouTube, to the effect that, "HEY, I have a RIGHT to have my opinion! You can't tell me I'm wrong!" There is the philosophy that every opinion is equally valid, equally intrinsically worthy. But no matter how strongly one might feel that way, this doesn't prevent one from seeking to alter the opinions of those around us! I don't know, but this sounds like a paradox to me, where ideals are simultaneously protected (especially if they are your own) and attacked (not your own.) This is of course not restricted to the West. But the soupiness of the West, if I might call it that, probably tends to produce a suspicion that ideals are ultimately quite mutable, less certain, and so forth. And I myself suspect that the hunger for greyness in the West is a desire to see a character wrestling with that soupiness trying to find some solid purchase. With so many alternatives available, one might be more prone to question one's own set of ideas and standards.

    My own impression of anime is a little different than that expressed in the OP. I think the unchanging aspect in many anime characters has more to do with general personality types than with the ideals held by those characters. It is really as if personality archetypes are being personified. There are, however, some recognizable ideals often at play, although those ideals are frequently challenged.
     
  11. WooHooMan

    WooHooMan Auror

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    But those shows were very Western-influenced. Though, I guess Spike himself draws more from modern Chinese fiction.
    And that brings-up the whole notion of international influences which makes this discussion much more difficult.

    I don't see this at all. I think it's more accurate to say that a Japanese character is like a puddle of red or blue on a white canvas. Sure, it sticks out, it's accessible but sometimes simple and pleasant isn't always the way to go with art.
    Western characters are like, I don't know, when you mix a bunch of random paints together until they create a blue-ish/green-ish/purple-ish blur. And then you're like, "what good could this color be on a painting" and then you realize that it makes for a good lake color.
    (I've been watching Bob Ross so paintings of lakes are on my mind)

    Oh yeah, this is worth mentioning too. The different cultures have different archetypes. Western archetypes are mostly taken from oral myths while Japanese archetypes tend to come from theater.
     
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  12. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

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    More like when you mix a bunch of random colors together and it comes out as an icky brownish grey. :p
     
  13. DanJames

    DanJames Scribe

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    Characters having defining ideals is certain a popular Eastern trope, I don't know exactly how it compares to Western usage, off the top of my head there are more examples of it being used with anime and manga.

    It certainly doesn't have to be formulaic, ideals can be pretty accurate portrayed without anyone stating it, Batman's ideals about not killing people because it makes him as bad as the bad guys, that's shown pretty accurately throughout the comics, movies, cartoons and games (for the most part, some examples withstanding of course).

    Ideals are great to convey an character's entire motivation, but ideals can't replace personality. Likes, dislikes, hates, loves, habits, etc. These can shape a single character's ideal to make them 3 dimensional.

    Like, for example, if it was a black guy that killed Batman's parents. He becomes Batman, fights crime and doesn't kill. But because his younger self grew up with a hatred for this one black guy in particular, he subconsciously tars them all with the same brush. He doesn't have to be 'I won't kill criminals, unless they're black', but could be less inclined to help black people in need, or 'accidentally' more reckless when beating on any black criminals he comes across.

    Obviously something like wouldn't make Batman a better hero, but serves to make the character more complex. He's supposed to be a paragon of justice, but this defining flaw in his personality would make him more villainous, and could also serve as a sub-plot to the character, a part of himself he has to over come.

    tl'dr, basically, ideals are good, but coupled with fleshed-out personalities they are invaluably great.
     
  14. NerdyCavegirl

    NerdyCavegirl Sage

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    I grew up watching Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh before I even knew what anime was (hell I'd say before I could talk, but I think I started talking when I was 6 months old and I'm not sure those shows were out yet), went through a huge anime phase when I was 8-14 like many other kids I knew, then stopped having the patience to sit down and watch TV in high school. The only anime I've stuck with are classic Yu-Gi-Oh, Yu Yu Hakusho, Attack On Titan, and Inuyasha. I'm still in love with Pokemon, but not so much the anime, and I don't read much manga because I can't afford it or stare at screens too long. The only idealized characters I really see are for the younger age range, like Pokemon or Yu-Gi-Oh (though that one is for an older age range than the average American thinks), but even those have quite a few gray characters. I see little idealization in the material for teens and adults, the gray morality is part of what drew me in. Sure there's always that good-hearted/or not zealot in every anime, but I don't think it's disproportionate to other media or real life.
     
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  15. JCFarnham

    JCFarnham Auror

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    If got to say that I disagree with some of the ideas being put forth in favour of western storytelling being better for its greyness.

    Japanese storytelling is very much about archetypes and philosophy, I will concede to that, but to imply that this makes it simplistic, childish or somehow less developed even is probably a little ott or generalist.

    Cliches aren't shunned as much for example. And I totally get why that pisses of us westerners. But I've found that Japanese media, more than Western, seems to use this as an advantage. It's the new combinations of old ideas that gives them the oft-mentioned creative edge (also known wrongly by some as "Japanese people are weird"). The only western writer I can think of off the top of my head who has done this well was Jim Butcher in "that fantasy series what isn't the Dresden Files", taking two ideas widely touted at the time as lame and turning it into something fairly damn successful. That's definitely a strength I see more often in anime than in analogous media over here.

    It isn't all ideals and one track minded characters either (there are elements of that, granted), as quite often characters ARE challenged in their beliefs. Quite seriously in some anime and manga. Sometimes the entire point of the series is this questioning. Putting two people together who shouldn't work, and stating that they end up together, and then seeing the journey from a to b. That kind of thing.

    All in all, popular Japanese media (the stuff we get here) can seem quite childish and overtly simplistic, but that could equally be because someone has decided that's what we westerners need? I've lost count of the people I know who've started off hating anime, then after a few realise how much variety there actually is once you get used to say the subtitles or the often exaggerated idealised body types. Not sure that's a good thing as such (for us writer's grabbing an audience immediately is no doubt better, it shouldn't need to be said), but in all honesty there's a lot more similarities to western storytelling than you first imagine. Like NerdyCavegirl said, it's not too disproportionate under the surface level dross.

    I guess I'm defending a little too strongly now haha
     
    Last edited: Dec 17, 2015
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  16. Tom

    Tom Istar

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    Obviously, nobody's going to come to a compromise anytime soon. :D

    In my personal opinion, it appears the two kinds of character types presented in this thread--anime's ideal archetype character, and the more gray Western character--appeal to different kinds of people.

    I can see how the anime type appeals to Mythopoet, for example, when I take into account her character type and personal beliefs. On the other hand, the gray type appeals to me, and that is also in line with my character and beliefs. Mytho is much more of an essentialist than I am, and has a much more established worldview. I am more changeable and subversive, with a worldview that shifts arbitrarily. I can see why the anime character type fits Mytho, and the Western type fits me.

    That being said, I also think both character types are very different but equally valid. Each brings to the table something the other doesn't, and as such they compliment each other.

    Anime character types are "pure", in a way, and that serve as a reminder that great things don't have to be complicated, that a simple design is sometimes more efficient and elegant than a complex one. Anime is less about reflecting the real world and more about creating an essential version of the world (i.e. a world composed of essential qualities, unmixed). Unlike western types, anime types don't get lost in the murkiness that clouds real life. They are defined by a few strong qualities that aren't drowned out by numerous others. Anime stories are mythic, in the truest sense of the word--usually exhibiting the strong juxtaposition of two extremes that often comes up in epics and other mythological works.

    Western types, on the other hand, are more...mixed. Many Western characters exhibit a range of ideals and traits as varied as a real person's, with all the contradictions and faults you'd expect to find there. I have a definite bias towards this type, because I enjoy the twists and turns a character this complex takes on their journey. A Western character, unlike an anime character, isn't representative of one main ideal. They aren't composed of essential elements. This means any journey undertaken by this character is going to have to represent that level of complexity and that layering of contradictory traits, which leads to a strong, fascinating, complex story.

    See? I had good things to say about each! I think they both have their strengths and weaknesses, and while I'm sure I'll still mostly stick to my favored type, I believe we can benefit from understanding, appreciating, and utilizing both.
     
  17. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    Right, I don't find it necessarily simplistic, so much as it uses simplicity in one area to focus on more complex storytelling in another. And while it does feel a little formulaic sometimes, I didn't mean to imply that I found it more formulaic than western media can be. I also don't find it to be childish. And many of the philosophical ideals that characters pursue are downright evil - I wasn't referring to shows like Pokemon or Yu-gi-oh.




    Funny, that used to be the technical term for it.
    :wink: In all seriousness, Japanese culture is definitely the one most unlike the others when you look at the developed world. Would that we could all be so different and still be as cool as Japan.
     
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  18. Tom

    Tom Istar

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    Re-read my post above, and god, it sounds like I was writing a paper or something. Maybe with this semester coming to a close I'll be able to escape the academia that seems to have infected my writing.
     
  19. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

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    Well, The Furies of Calerdon (the Butcher book) did not work for me on any level, but I do love the unusual mixing of tropes and cliches in anime and manga.

    For instance, there was a summer season anime called School-Live! which mixed moe school girl tropes with zombie apocalypse tropes. It sounds crazy, but it was easily one of the best shows of the summer in my opinion (and I was watching about 20 summer shows). It was brutal and heartbreaking and often violent (trust me, they did NOT shy away from the horror aspects) and also cute and fun and emotional on all sorts of levels.

    Every season there are some really great, creative anime that stand out from the pack. But a lot of the time those anime are good precisely because they aren't trying to be the most original thing you've ever seen. They're just trying to tell a good story in an entertaining way.

    Also, I hate to be that person, but if all you've seen of anime is the big, mainstream series that are dubbed and broadcast over here (like Dragonball or Sailor Moon) then you don't really have an opinion on anime. You only have an opinion on a handful of shows hand picked to be marketing to English speaking audiences. I watched a lot of series of all different kinds before I started watching simulcast anime (anime streaming online at the same time it's being originally broadcast in Japan) about a 1 1/2 years ago and I am still constantly amazed by how many great series are produced every year, how many amazing shows you can find if you're looking for them.

    I have yet to experience anything similar in western entertainment. Mostly I find stuff I hate. Something about Japanese storytelling clearly appeals to me more than western storytelling. I prefer Japanese characters, plots and settings. I prefer their characterization and their thematic content. I don't know why. I'm always trying to distill what it is so that I can learn from it and incorporate it into my own stories. In the meantime, I'm enjoying a constant stream of high quality entertainment.
     
  20. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

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    I don't think I agree with your assessment of anime. Though your assessment of me is more or less correct. The only inconsistency is that it's not as if I was born with my current worldview. And my worldview has gone through quite a lot of change over the years to become what it is today... much like many an anime character.

    I think in anime there's such a huge range and variety of character types and character journeys that it looks like a beautiful rainbow. They are the opposite of western "gray" characterization, but NOT because they are "pure" or "archetypal". But because they are carefully drawn and distinct and nuanced in a way "gray" characters never can be.
     
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