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How Does Watching Anime Influence Your Writing Style?

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This post is dedicated to everyone who loves anime – and who loves writing their own stories just as much.

I’m interested in fiction. I’m really interested in fiction, both as a reader and as a writer. I find that the experience of trying to create something gives me greater appreciation of what others have produced. Most importantly, I think writing is hugely informative not just about their subject matter but also about the writers themselves. When I really want to get to know another person, I find myself desperately curious about what sort of stories they would write – if they write at all. In fact, this very blog post was born out of my curiosity about whether the other bloggers I know write fiction. By blogging about anime, we’re all engaging with the nuts and bolts of storytelling on a regular basis. Even if you don’t blog, I’d say most of you readers are quite adept at analysing stories and in finding meaning in them, just from discussing anime with others. It’s hard to imagine that all you fiction enthusiasts wouldn’t be out there having a go at writing stories yourselves, if that’s the case. I can’t be the only one here.

There’s another thing I’m curious about, you see. I really want to know how much influence anime has on fiction writers who regularly engage with the medium, like I do. Do people feel as if there is something intrinsically “anime-ish” about the stories they write, even if the nature of that influence is something they can’t put their finger on? If so, I’m going to try and break down what this influence could be and how it manifests in English prose writing, which is the main mode of fiction I’m going to be discussing in this post.

Firstly, a word about myself and my own history with writing. This very day actually marks the seventh year since I started writing anime fanfiction. Seven years. That’s a damn long time to be writing masturbatory drivel, right? Actually, I didn’t really see it that way. I retired from fanfiction earlier this year in order to take up blogging, but I still took the hobby really seriously and in my later years I endeavoured to see the artistic value in what I was doing. See, this fanfiction thing isn’t nearly as easy as it seems. You have to capture – with mere words – the intangible essence of the source material. To do that properly, you can’t just describe what people look like and the stuff they said. The ability to understand another writer’s vision with utmost clarity and to convey that vision in a completely different medium is a skill that needs to be developed consciously. You need to understand the composition of both anime and the literary form. I’ve been exposed to amateur writing of varying degrees of quality, all with strong anime influences because of the simple nature of their subject matter. So I can honestly claim that I know what I am talking about for this post.

Even if you don’t write fanfiction, it’s hard not to get influenced by anime if you watch a lot of it and if you really enjoy the storytelling style. Visual media in general has been shaping and redefining literary style for the last couple of generations. English prose has become more succinct and the accompanying narratives are often much more visual in their descriptions, with a greater emphasis on dialogue to carry the story along. Where the English novel was once seen as a form of painting but with words, the rise of visual media has taken the priority away from scene-setting and more towards conveying plot and personalities. In short, readers have lost their patience for the classic style of prose writing. Consciously or not, watching films and television has influenced the way we write. Anime is just another layer on top.

Is Anime a Good Influence?

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I’m ambivalent about this matter. Even though visual media has done an enormous amount of good for English, modern prose should not read like a script or as a written substitute for the visual format. It has emerged as a distinct form of art. Experimental prose, the type that explores the capabilities of the written form in conveying abstract ideas and emotions without relying purely on sensory description, became popular since the early twentieth century after the advent of film-making. Since then, the number of different styles for writing has expanded enormously. This isn’t a history lesson, so I’ll just say that today, English prose is quite a broad domain of study and there are an endless number of words and phrases that could be used to express the one idea. There is really no “correct” way of doing it. But this is also why being influenced by just one form of media does not utilise the power of words to its fullest potential – and this is why I believe that when applied the wrong way, anime can be a negative influence on one’s writing.

For example, phrases that convey just a visual image without its implicit meaning tend to feel awkward in English. So to write “John saw Mary undressing and blood came out of his nose” ala anime-style feels unnatural in English. Physical comedy, like slapstick, doesn’t translate well to writing either. This is because you are not engaging all the senses with your words and neither are you addressing the mental or the emotional dimensions of what is happening by using that phrase. To write the manzai routine into a story and have people yelling and hitting each other for comedy isn’t nearly as funny in words as it is to watch because you are limiting the effect of the words and merely relying on the image.

In other words: if you only watched anime and never studied books, you could never develop good English prose.

Besides Prose, How Else Does Watching Anime Influence Storytelling?

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Let’s say you’ve avoided writing your story like a script and you’ve developed your own individual prose style. Can an English story still feel anime-ish?

Sure it can. Anime is made up from a different cultural backdrop and with different priorities in storytelling in mind from most novels and Western fiction in general. If you write a story with no linear plot and it’s just cute girls acting innocent and saying cute things to each other, your story will feel like anime. The same deal if you try to write in the style of shojo or harem or a shonen battle story. All of anime’s iconic genres are iconic precisely because they are distinct from whatever literary equivalent they might have in the Western world.

What is interesting to think about is just how these particular influences show even with very good writers. The reason why English novels feel different from anime in this regard isn’t due to the intrinsic differences between written and visual media – it’s more of a cultural thing.

Of course, there are as many different types of anime as there are types of novels, so by speaking in generalisations, I know I can’t do justice in describing either. In general, though, anime is more character-driven than the average novel. It is more concerned with character establishment than with forward plot or character movement. The tendency in anime to divide its storylines into loosely connecting arcs rather than to progress in straightforward linear fashion works alongside that notion. Even light novels employ this same structure, which shows that it’s not just a thing that works for television or manga.

Then there are the implicit values held by anime characters, which you wouldn’t find to be nearly as common in Western fiction. Anime male protagonists are in general more placid and submissive, especially in their attitudes towards women. The characters usually show a certain sense of naivete about romantic relationships and attach an irrational sense of importance to things like kissing or holding hands. Big brothers want to have sex with their little sisters. (But of course.) Some of these character tropes are actually pretty subtle, like the mother who looks much too young for her age or the paternal, traditionalist father. The values of anime characters reflect the issues and concerns of contemporary Japanese society. A story will feel like anime if these kinds of characters worm their way into the story and it will also, in general, feel more Japanese.

The full extent of the differences between Western and Japanese culture is really a broad topic – much too broad for me to cover in a post like this. It’s just enough to know that the differences do exist and they’re noticeable if you read closely enough between the lines. If there’s any angle that anime influences would become noticeable in a foreigner’s writing, it would be in the cultural disparities that shouldn’t otherwise be present.

Final Thoughts

Personally, I think of anime as being an enormous influence over me as a writer. It’s defined much of the topics I’ve chosen to write about, for a start. Without it, I would not have pushed myself so rigorously to improve so that I could express my thoughts better.

As a storyteller, it’s harder to pin down what kind of influence anime has had over me. Through my fanfiction and original fiction, I’ve tried my hand at writing every major genre anime has to offer, including shonen, mecha, shojo, harem and even magical girls. Ultimately, I see myself as a bit of a chameleon. Anime has influenced my style, but so has nearly everything else I have ever read or watched.

I’m more interested now in you, the reader. There are a couple of questions I want to ask you. First of all, do you write fiction in your free time? If so, what kind of fiction? How much of an influence would you say anime has had over you as a storyteller and would you describe this as a good or bad influence?

I don’t think it’s too much to ask. I mean, writers love talking about their own stories, right? And I love reading, so I would love to hear about it. Don’t be afraid to speak up about yourself!

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Posted on July 4, 2013, in Editorials and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 30 Comments.

  1. If I was half as motivated with writing stories as I am writing reviews then I would’ve profit from it somehow by now.
    Also that GIF looks familiar. XD

  2. Writing like a script rather than prose is kinda why I never really got into writing fiction, as much as I’d love to. :(
    I read a crap ton of books before getting into anime though, and my writing’s still terrible, so I think I just lack talent.

    • Yeah, writing is one of those things that seems easy to other people… until you actually try it yourself. As long as you practise, though, it’s impossible NOT to get good. There’s no such thing as lacking talent. I think anyone could be a good writer if they put their mind to it.

    • @bobzilla21
      The more you read, the better idea you have of what you consider good writing. But this necessarily means that when you make your own attempts at writing, you are much better at noticing the perceived imperfections in your own style. Not a reason to get discouraged, though. With practice, you are sure to come closer to meeting your own expectations.

  3. While I’m not qualified to discuss the finer details of your post (the intricacies of prose and how anime affects it), I understand and somewhat agree with the observations you’ve made. Although, it wasn’t always that male characters in anime were passive people, I still have a lot of past male heroes who were assertive and decisive.

    I’ve written quite a bit in the recent years, after becoming an anime fan. I can say it has influenced my writing a lot–the Haruhi light novels influenced my clear, scant style, and I bought a lot of Haikasoru novels (a lot of which can be said to have been written with anime themes in mind–in fact some of them have been made into anime, like Rocket Girls)

    It also puts a limit on the characters and plots I can write. That’s why I read a lot of other stuff, fiction or non-fiction. When I see light novel fans talking, it makes me real sad because their perspectives are often too limited and they’re caught in a cramped box of light novel tropes. They’re unable to think outside of it.

    I mostly write science fiction and fantasy. All my “normal” fiction is moe high school girls or salary(wo)men because ANIME! Or whatever. I did Nanowrimo last year and I basically wrote moe-yuri Bakuman. If you’re interested, I keep a Tumblr: http://skullheart.tumblr.com

    • Consider it this way; anime is a visual medium as the article says. What I think is useful is thinking about what’s good about that – what it makes you feel – and trying to communicate that in a way appropriate to prose.

      Take trying to quantify the appeal of a show like Majestic Prince. It’s funny character driven military SF – something there’s good precedent for already in prose – so writing in its vein should look at what both the show does on a fundamental level and how attempts at a similar aim in prose have gone about it.

      Basically accept anime is a visual medium with transferable ideas, not that you can 1:1 adapt it!

    • I agree with ro42 – ideas and concepts are transferable between mediums, but you need to portray them using the genre’s strengths. It’s why adaptation is such a tricky business because you need to understand both the original medium and the one you’re portraying.

      I’ve had a similar experience with my friends, who very much enjoy light novels. When they write, their stories end up sounding identical to light novels, which on one hand might be good because that is precisely the effect they would be going for, but to me the prose feels awkward and the plots and characters feel constrained by tropes.

      I checked out your tumblr and I really like your short, succinct writings. I must confess when I heard the phrase ‘moe-yuri Bakuman’ I thought that was pretty much the most awesome thing ever? One complaint I have about your tumblr is that it’s not very well-organised so you might want to group entries under categories and make pages for that. But that’s no biggie and it doesn’t reflect on your writing to me. I could definitely see the anime influence for myself in the topics and types of characters you used to write.

  4. I’d definitely say anime influences my writing; my first novel, Absolute Liberation, was very much in debt to Ryosuke Takahashi’s mecha and SF anime (I think now it fell a little too far into that trap and wasn’t confident enough to do its own thing.)

    I’m currently proofing a second novel which began as a response in a way to Eureka 7 and ended up taking hints from sources like Aria, video games like Wipeout and – most crucially – my own student life and experience of being young. Inspiration is one thing – trying to express the BONES/Jet Set Radio/Macross Plus idyllic future “look” – but it’s not a good story in its own right. Perhaps most satisfyingly someone who read the first draft said what set it apart from the anime it was clearly inspired by was people acted like sensible humans.

    Other than those I really enjoy taking an aspect of an anime I like – perhaps Spirited Away’s endearing sense of discovery or the convincingly bureaucratic Gamilas Empire from Yamato 2199 – and rather than writing a fanfic seeing where the idea takes me.

    If anyone is interested I’ve got a couple of short stories along these lines on my various blogs:

    The Meravian Captain – http://r042.tumblr.com/post/54545485466/short-story-the-meravian-captain – inspired by Turn-A Gundam a story about small town soldiers.

    Five Hearts That Beat As One –
    https://ideaswithoutend.wordpress.com/2012/03/27/fiction-five-hearts-that-beat-as-one-long-post/ – A deconstruction of a popular anime genre.

    • I do a lot of the things you do: I take a small aspect I enjoyed from an anime I liked and build my own story around something similar. I’m often inspired by a particular character dynamic rather than a plot element or tonal style.

      Anyway, I read both your stories. It occurs to me that your anime influences aren’t titles that feel quintessentially like “anime”, so upon reading your stories, I got a stronger vibe of orthodox sci-fi influences than of anime in particular. Your second story was of course much more anime-oriented because of its deconstructive nature, but the narrative style and general tone of the story didn’t feel particularly like anime either. The influences are subtle in your work and I see you’ve done your best to adapt them to your prose style rather than the other way around.

      Thanks for commenting and for showing me your stories. Much appreciated!

      • I’m glad you liked them!

        I think not setting out to directly translate an anime to prose gives you a lot more space to take the ideas in – especially in the second piece where its more about what happens after a very formulaic story has ended, rather than telling that expected story.

  5. It was not until I read this post that I finally realized you are the Frog-kun I know from fanfiction.net ;).

    • Same to you! It took me way too long to connect your blog to your fanfiction! I had no idea there were other bloggers who wrote fanfiction. I was mostly just thinking about fiction in general. Awesome, we should be buddies.

  6. Great post! You make a lot of good points. In the end, anime is just a medium used to tell a story. Some anime can weave elaborate, vibrant, and engaging tales; others simply tape together a string of tired cliches. There’s plenty you can learn about storytelling from anime, just as you can learn a lot from any other medium. (And every writing convention I’ve ever been to has had panels that make most their points from movies, if that is any indication of TV/film’s influence on fiction in general.)
    I’ve loved good stories for as long as I can remember, and most of the time it’s been novels that I’ve focused on most. Speculative fiction and YA most of all, though I’ve generally enjoyed good literature in general. I had a couple anime I liked in high school, but it wasn’t until college that I came to realize there were hundreds of these shows that had actual storylines with a beginning, middle, and end (which to me seemed unheard of for television)–not to mention clever settings, unique characters, and all sorts of premises I had never seen before. I also grew to enjoy the fantastic variety of stories found in anime and manga.
    I’ve written about eight full novels since I became mildly serious about writing (in college), and for the most part I’d say anime has just been a small influence for most of them. YA speculative novels were always the biggest influence, since that was the type of book I was always writing. That’s changed recently though, and I suppose that’s because I went on a bit of a light novel-reading spree this past year. The story I’m writing now (which I do intend to actually release in some online form) is intended to read like one, and I do have someone working on the artwork that will accompany the text. It should be fun–or at least, I’m having fun with it. In the end, you need to write what you feel most passionate about, even if it sounds terrible to everyone else.
    Are you working on a story right now, Frog-kun? We may need to do a book critique exchange some day.

    • Thanks for the well thought out comment! It’s true that we can take a lot of lessons in storytelling from other mediums, but it’s equally true that we need to be aware of what works for a particular medium and what doesn’t.

      My taste in literature consists almost entirely of classics and adult fiction. Truth be told, I don’t like YA fiction or light novels very much. Nevertheless, what you say really piques my interest. In the hands of a really artistically driven writer, teen lit can be amazing. I definitely wouldn’t mind reading some of your stories – as long as you’re good. I hope you’re good! :)

      As for me, there’s nothing I’m working on at the moment. I tend to have phases of wanting to do only fiction and then only non-fiction, and right now I’m going through the latter. I just can’t stick to doing one thing in writing.

      • Agreed on some mediums being better-suited for some things than others. For novels a story is often told through the viewpoint of a specific character, which affects the entire presentation of the narrative (giving it a nice advantage when it comes to immersion). But on the other hand, as one of my writing teachers liked to point out, you’re just not going to be able to write a blow-by-blow Jackie Chan fight scene in a book. (Well, not without it taking twenty pages for a one-minute action sequence nobody will want to read through.) One storytelling medium that I think is currently finding its footing is the realm of video games, which has the interesting situation of the story being controlled to some degree by the reader. I’ll be curious to see where that will be ten years from now.
        Light novels are basically just young adult fiction, but with a few manga-style pictures thrown in. If anime adaptations are any indication, there’s certainly a lot of rather banal light novel series out there that don’t push the envelope in any way… But young adult fiction (and arguably any genre of fiction) also has its fair share of duds. You just have to dig a little to find the gems in the light novel realm–Kino’s Journey, for example, is quite wonderful (and I wish more books were officially released in English). My #1 favorite light novel series though is Book Girl (AKA Bungaku Shoujo), which I always suggest people give a try–though I believe it’s a series that will appeal most especially to book-lovers, writer types, and those who enjoy the more emotional or poignant variety of stories.
        As for other light novels, the likes of Kieli, Zaregoto, Boogiepop, Ballad of a Shinigami, Humanity Has Declined, Durarara, Gosick, and Ginban Kaleidoscope illustrates a nice variety of stories that are out there, at least. (Though sadly most don’t make it into English, or at least not for too many volumes–Yen Press releases being the much-appreciated exceptions.)
        I’m hoping to finish the first draft of my own work in progress this month, so if you’re still interested in taking a look at it at that time I’d be glad to send you a tweet and email you a copy. The story is essentially playing with tropes of traditional Japanese ghost stories, but in a more lighthearted manner than is typical. Can’t promise it will be good though! As is the case with every book I write, I start off thinking I’ve got something decent but by the end find the whole thing just terrible. I’ve committed myself to actually releasing something this time though, since I’m working with an artist on it.

        • Make sure you get that novel done! And yeah, feel free to email me a copy when you finish. It sounds very interesting.

          As for your recommendations, I’ll be sure to check them out when I have time. My backlog is freakishly long as it is but we’ll see :’)

  7. I tried writing some fantasy once when I was younger (say about 16). Got about 20 pages in with a cool idea, realized I couldn’t translate what was in my mind onto paper, and gave up. It was an incredibly frustrating experience, having this image that I just couldn’t get across the right way because I didn’t know how to write well. If I had been smarter, I probably would’ve taken that frustration and worked at improving my creative writing skills; instead, I stopped really trying and moved on to analysis and reviewing, which I found I could do better since it’s a bit more “academic”. I did manage to find an outlet in making quests for my D&D group though. The reason I think that worked moreso than just straight up writing was that the end result was much more centered on the ideas and characters than the quality of the writing itself, and the majority of energy and dialogue came from my players anyway.

    I still feel some of the same desires to write now, and I’d say that while some of my writing has improved, the gap between vision and execution still holds me back. I want to write a dense, multilayered, self-gratifying, self-aware, self-justifying while self-ridiculing, novel rather than shorter pieces of work. And attempting something on that scale (which of course assumes that I can even do it) takes time I’ve now invested in other things (e.g. blogging, research, watching anime, reading, etc.). It always remains on the backburner, irksome but never quite enough to motivate me to give it a try. Given that I had the same feelings concerning blogging for a while before I started, most likely I’m going to have 1) the itch become stronger and 2) my standards for my initial writing go down so that I can meet somewhere in the middle and start writing some prose.

    As for anime’s influence on my (theoretical) writing, I’ve already been very strongly affected by LN adaptations. More general tropes and such though I think I’ve managed to ward off.

    • It’s hard to get good at prose because a) it’s harder to find people willing to read an amateur’s fiction critically, and b) you end up critiquing yourself so harshly you end up not finishing at all. I’ve been friends with a lot of people who’ve professed to a similar problem that you have – having a vision but ultimately being unable to convey it in words.

      What you really need to do is just go for it. Just crank out the story. To hell with your own inner critic. But that’s hard to do, so you need to set aside time for it. Like anything, it just takes discipline to get any good. When it becomes another habit for you, you’ll know you’re on the fast track towards improvement.

      Also, why is it that this novel you want to write sounds oddly reminiscent of Bakemonogatari? heheheh.

  8. You coined it! But hey, what is your fanfiction.net account?

    I mostly write things that changed the foundation of the character from original source itself – A Code Geass which Suzaku was taken to Brittannia, or an Infinite Stratos where Ichika is a Shinonono and Charles is his adopted brother.

    What anime gave me is mostly the tropes. Other than that, not very much – I still see myself influenced by V. Hugo. It gave the fiction the much needed solid substance.

  9. Oh, what a surprise. So you’re that SAO writer who made the KiritoXSuguha story. You should consider make some more.

    I’ve got two accounts: The old one is Fireminer, and the new one is Illuminavit Passionis.

  10. I was googling ‘anime style fiction’ and that’s how i got here. And i found what i was looking for. I agree with you in 99% (sorry, there are one or two things i could argue about) and i can see how much anime influenced my own fiction. I’m rather traditional – i prefer writing on paper than computer – and before i got into anime i only read books (i mean – i read at least one a day so i had to go to library twice a weak) and i wrote a lot. Then i started to watch anime and read less books but started to read fanfiction, then i got into manga and completly stoped reading anything on paper. Not so long ago i wanted to write a fiction with my own characters and i didnt know how. I mean it. I was sitting two hours and tried do start but couldn’t.
    English is not my first language and my comment might have some mistakes. Sorry ;)

  11. I am currently writing a novel (getting close to the end) and yes I feel that it has a lot of anime influence, even just the character appearances. Initially I was thinking of self publishing it as two light novels (so far it is 80000 words) however I have been jaded by all the negative comments regarding a westerner publishing anime. So I may just try to publish it as a novel. Still debating–. Would really love to see the story as an anime but I don’t live in Japan…

  12. Ha! Just realized the date this was posted. :)

  13. I am usually writing fanfictions during free, extra-free time and mostly anything I write is fanfiction x) I literally learnt English by reading and writing fanfictions.

  1. Pingback: Anime And (Fan) Fiction | Yaranakya

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