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?
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?
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.
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!