Understanding Storytelling: It’s Hard to do Well

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Do forgive the title for explaining the obvious.  For this post I’m mostly going to be talking about writing and storytelling and using anime examples to highlight what I mean rather than talking about anime in depth.  The exception to that is Kuzu no Honkai which I’ve more or less been dying to say something about for weeks, so this post will spoil the shit out of it if you not up to date with the latest episode.  In the event you’ve not seen any Kuzu no Honkai I highly recommend it, it’s already been one of the best romantic dramas I’ve ever seen as it immediately disregards the usual anime relationship bullshit and has the main duo get to second base in episode one.  Now into the abyss that is creativity.

Writing and storytelling are at their core made up of two things, ideas and structure.  I’m an ideas guy.  I’ve come up with a ton of characters, scenes, settings, game concepts and mechanics, fantasy creatures and even my own in-universe mythologies and histories.  But I’ve got no structure, or rather I just plain suck at it.  I can never take those characters from a starting point to the scenes I’ve pictured in my head for years, I’ve tried many times but the pacing seems too brisk, or I feel like I’ve crammed in too much crap in between and disrupted the emotions I want to convey, or I want to write a story with a certain tone to it’s overall themes but the tone I’m writing in doesn’t match up.  Point is, if I ever want to work creatively for a living I’d either have to learn a lot about video editing and make a YouTube channel or bust my ass getting good at forming structure competently.  But enough about me because this applies to a ton of creatives.  Part of the reason I’m bringing this up because I feel like Kuzu no Honkai has sort of the opposite problem, but I’ll get to that later, for now I want to address something that came up in a semi-recent PCP podcast.  Namely that some people don’t believe certain shows, or even anime in general can convey meaningful messages and themes and therefore be just as good and valid as more “normal” media.

Kill la Kill is a good example.  There are a ton of people who see, or least back when it was new a bunch of people saw, Kill la Kill as just fanservice and action, like a popcorn flick with no deeper meaning.  And I agree that on the surface Kill la Kill can look that way and it’s easy to enjoy that way.  But if you’re that hypothetical person who sees nothing else in Kill la Kill I want to ask you a few questions.  If Kill la Kill is just dumb action and tits, why is the main school Honnouji Gakuen named after a famous temple (or maybe castle I don’t remember for sure) that Oda Nobunaga built?  Is it just a fun reference?  If it’s just a reference why does the Tri-School Raid also mirror Oda Nobunaga’s conquests, why does Satsuki have (at least at first) the same goal of conquering Japan in her own way and reshaping the established order like Nobunaga?  Why does Sanageyama the strongest of the Elite Four get called monkey all the time like Nobunaga’s companion Hideyoshi? Because I find it odd that Kill la Kill would take a mere reference to a historical figure and run with it so far across the show.  To me it makes more sense that Kill la Kill is utilizing symbolism here to communicate certain themes rather than just make a reference.  There are plenty of other example but I think I’ve made one of my points.  The other main point is that, in case you don’t do much creative work, there’s a metric fuck ton of planning that goes into the creation of anything that isn’t memes.

I can’t tell how many times a story I want to write doesn’t even make it past the planning stage because I’ve got so much I want to do and so much I need to plan out in advance, that I never get around to writing anything but the planning before getting distracted and working on something else.  In the same vein, nothing is that happens by accident.  I mean people get some ideas on the fly and certain scenes or phrases come serendipitously, but everything that is put in a story was consciously put there on purpose.  For example towards the end of Kill la Kill’s Tri-School Raid there’s a scene where Jakuzure and Inumuta insult Sanageyama, by once again calling him monkey, while insulting each other for being snake-like or being unusually clever for a dog.  This scene only makes any sense because the Sa in Sanageyama is the same Sa in saru (monkey), the Ja in Jakuzure means serpent, and Inu, which starts off Inumuta, means dog.  And none of that was there on accident, the writers decided to make sure all of the Elite Four had characters in their names which correspond to animals on purpose, Gamagoori has gama, meaning toad, in the name of rounding out the group.  It honestly doesn’t matter why they put it there for the purpose of this particular paragraph, regardless of what meaning or theme the creators wanted to convey by naming the Elite Four like this the point is that they had to have done it on purpose.  So now that we’ve got the basics out of the way I’m going to praise and rant about Kuzu no Honkai at the same time because otherwise I’ll go insane talking to myself about the show.

Thus far probably my biggest issue is that Kuzu no Honkai has a very coherent narrative, i.e. good structure but some of the baseline ideas seem to be at odds with each other.  The “evil” teacher is the root cause of this.  On the one hand most of her traits, like how she’s totally narcissistic and takes great joy in attracting men because being an object of male affection makes her feel valuable, or how she seems to like being superior to other women by snatching up the men they like even if she doesn’t like the men at all, or how just incredibly shallow and superficial she is a person, are great, by which I means realistic and fine in the context of the story.  But she has an unusual antagonism for the main girl, Hanabi, that I just can’t wrap my head around.  Like if she was just a little spiteful to other women in general I sort of get it, but she goes way out of her way to antagonize Hanabi, to the point where she fucks Hanabi’s “oniichan” and tells her so in a hallway where anyone nearby could have heard her, not a smart move as there were in fact other people nearby.  This would make sense if Hanabi and the teacher were rivals or peers that didn’t see eye to eye, because one-upping a rival or peer you dislike is realistic behavior.  But how is Hanabi a rival or peer to the teacher?  They are least five years apart in age, and probably more, they have very different levels of sexual experience, Hanabi is still a virgin and the teacher will fuck just about anyone just to not be bored, and they’ve known each other for like 3 months tops, it’s not even clear if Hanabi is in this teacher’s music class, for all we know they’ve only talked like 3 or 4 times.  The only reference to them being rivals at all is the incredibly nebulous idea that they both take advantage of others to make themselves feel good and are therefore the same kind of woman, which I call bullshit on.  So why does the teacher go so far out of her way to antagonize Hanabi?

I mean the obvious answer is because it makes her a clear villain that Hanabi, the heroine, must defeat but they didn’t need to do that.  In Golden Time, I’ve written about before and it’s thus far my top anime romance, there’s a scene where Tada Banri and Linda find out that Linda’s older brother’s girlfriend or fiancee, not sure which stage the two were at, was cheating on him with a another man.  The two follow the girlfriend/fiancee the next time she cheats to get evidence, with Linda’s plan being that she would use the evidence to destroy the relationship and protect her brother from this unfaithful woman.  That’s all Kuzu no Honkai needs right there.  There’s even a brief moment where Hanabi mentions something along the lines of protecting her “oniichan” from this shallow bitch of a teacher, that’s plenty of reason for the two to be in conflict without turning the teacher into this cartoonishly petty and evil villain that Hanabi must defeat, there’s no need for the teacher to antagonize Hanabi the way she does to be the “bad guy”, Hanabi can just be in conflict with the teacher in the name of protecting “oniichan” and that would suffice.  This is what I mean by the ideas being at odds, it just seems off because the way the teacher treats Hanabi and the way all the other setting and character details are laid out feel like they’re telling two different stories, I’ll grant that the differences between these stories are subtle but they definitely are different and it just bugs me like an itch while I’m trying to enjoy all the shit I love above Kuzu no Honkai.

And last but not least, not every story is for everyone and Kuzu no Honaki is definitely not trying to appeal to me.  I’ve discussed how shows appeal to specific audiences before, and that’s ok but it does bring the show down for those not targeted, the fact that it’s still good enough for me to consider one of the best romances outright should speak to the strength of it’s writing and presentation.  Let me say this loud and clear, fuck incest.  Hanabi’s “oniichan” isn’t actually related to her at all, so that wouldn’t be incest if they fucked, but the fact she still wants to fuck her older brother figure means it’s the same kind of shit and it pisses me off.  I get that incest is taboo and some people like taboos so it sells but personally I give negative fucks whenever something vaguely incestuous is part of a show.  It’s such an automatic turn off that I almost skipped over Kuzu no Honkai for sounding like an incestuous version of Toradora from the plot synopsis.   Like if we’re be gifted with an anime where characters are actually fucking regularly and a fetish is being targeted to help sell the story can’t we get futas instead?  I’d much rather have a Kuzu no Honkai where Ecchan is a futa in love with Hanabi and how that would complicate their relationship than hear about how Hanabi wants to fuck her boring as shit “oniichan.”  Incidentally the scene where the “evil” teacher said Hanabi’s “oniichan” was so boring she couldn’t see why Hanabi liked him was amazing.  Hell even the “oniichan” himself only seems attracted to the “evil” teacher because she vaguely reminds him of the mother he hardly remembers, i.e. he has an Oedipus complex, another turn off for me.  Though if it ever comes out that and the “evil” teacher finds out “oniichan” only liked her because of the Oedipus complex and she either has a breakdown or throws a tantrum because of it I would love to see that.

Ultimately what I’ve been trying to tell you all is that good storytelling is really hard.  You can have great ideas but fail at structure and tell a mess of a story, you can have an excellent story structure warped by conflicting ideas, and regardless of how well either the structure or ideas are there will be some people that will think the story sucks because it doesn’t appeal to them and their tastes.  Storytelling is hard. You can do so much right and still bug the hell out of your audience by doing a few things wrong, like pandering to the incest fetish.  Seriously I’m sick to death of it, either it needs to go or I need some futa shows to balance things out, that’s only fair right?  Anyway, thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed it and I’ll see you in the next one.

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Raging Rant: We Need More Attractive Mature Women

So after a whole bunch of posts bitching about pandering body types, waifu bait, the need for strong women and the like, I feel it is finally time to argue in the opposite direction for once.  Anime needs more hot milfs.  Now I’m being facetious insofar as the milf moniker is concerned, but in all seriousness I do feel that having some more hot adult women is something anime could benefit from for a variety of reasons.  Let’s start with the basics of the situation.

Anime is incredibly high school-centric, we all know this.  Hell I’ve even bitched about it before.  We need more shows that go beyond high school, and by extension we need more attractive adult women to go with them.  Anime has a habit of filling as many shows as it can with as many cute, attractive characters as it can, and on the whole that’s fair enough.  I might disagree with the methods used sometimes but I’m not against a cast full of hot women.  But like many stereotypical anime Youtubers, I’m a twenty something white guy, and I think we need more attractive female characters in the 20s-30s and even 40s range, because frankly I’m starting to outgrow the high school bullshit and with every passing year I get more removed from teenage girls.  This is not to say no attractive adult women exist, they certainly do, it’s just that there are so few of them in comparison to their 15, 16 and 17 year old counterparts.  Now I’m not so “mature” that I can’t find fanservice shows full of hot young women appealing, I’ve yet to outgrow that appeal by any stretch of the imagination.  But while some new teenage fanservice romps do catch my eye every now and then, those kinds of shows just aren’t as appealing to me as they used to be.  Part of that is on me for watching a lot of those kinds of shows, but another is just that I’m ready for something new.  In my rant about the abundance of high schools shows, I mentioned that I thought Golden Time made Toradora unwatchable to me, not because Toradora was bad, but because I could better relate to the characters in Golden Time, having been a college student myself when it first aired, and as a bonus I didn’t have to put up with Taiga’s tsundere bullshit.  Sure Koko is her own mess of crazy like Taiga was, but shes a different and much less explored kind of crazy, which would make her more interesting by itself.  And like Koko, hot adult women are relatively fresh compared to high school girls.  Part of this ties into making anime for an older crowd to enjoy but I’ve explained that before.  The problem with a many of the hot older women anime already has is that they usually aren’t focused on at all.

In To Love-Ru and Monster Musume for example, Rito’s mom and Mrs. Smith are both fairly attractive but they aren’t given much focus, or in Mrs. Smith’s case much of the focus put on her paints her in a negative light that makes the overall character less attractive despite her physical appearance.  This is not to say I want to see older women objectified or being forced into moe roles for the sake of the audience though, I was inspired to write this after watching this random Rokka no Yuusha AMV like a hundred times and thinking to myself over and over “you know I vaguely noticed this back when I was watching the series, but goddamn Maura’s hot.”  In case you never saw Rokka no Yuusha or have since forgotten it here’s a reminder.  Maura is the oldest of the Six Braves, the one who often assumes the position of authority based on her age, I think she’s in her 30s, her status as the leader of All Heavens Temple, which makes her the leader of all the Saints, and her power as the Saint of the Mountains.  The point I’m getting at here is that Maura is not some objectified girl with cartoonishly big breasts (though she does have those) and some kind of stupid moe quirk, she arguably has more agency and decision-making power than anyone else in Rokka no Yuusha and is kind of a badass to boot.  Also she’s really hot.

Anyway besides me understanding how hot one particular character is, the important thing I realized while watching that AMV was just how few characters like Maura I knew about.  Off the top of my head the women closest to Maura (by which I mean older, has agency and someone I found attractive) I could think of are, Rin from Rin: Daughters of Mnemosyne, Tsuruga Meisai from Katanagatari, Kikyo from Inuyasha (she might be younger than I remember but either way she certainly seems older than Kagome or Sango so that counts in my book), Re-l from Ergo Proxy, Karula from Utawarerumono, Iga Oboro from Basilisk, Ren Hakuei from Magi, and Emma from Garo: Hono no Koukuin and that’s about all I’m coming up with at the moment, thought I’ve surely seen more.  I should also note this list is shrunken somewhat by my personal tastes, Balsa or Kusanagi fit a role similar to Mauras for example, I just don’t find those two attractive even if I love the characters because I am a flawed and shallow human being.  By comparison if I tried to list every attractive high school girl in the shows I’ve seen, even if all I did was list the name and show, that list would probably be one of the longest things I’ve ever written.  Incidentally most of those characters I just listed are the among the characters I find most interesting in their respective shows, and am interested in in general and there a few important reasons why.  Mature women have more going for them than just being fresh and new compared to the onslaught of high school moe girls.  See the thing about mature characters is that they tend to be a lot more complete, fully realized characters, hence the descriptor mature.  They also just usually have a more interesting life story by virtue of having lived longer and by having more interesting years of life to look at.

Society loves to romanticize the magic of youth and adolescence and that is totally fair, you really start to appreciate the freedom and fun of youth and adolescence after you start working 9-5, paying taxes, paying rent and dealing with all the other headaches of adulthood.  But this romantic portrayal forgets a couple of things.  For starters life before adulthood is far more uniform than life as an adult.  Sure there is a lot variety between individuals based on where they’re from, their race, religion, financial situation, interests, personalities and so on.  However, barring the difference between first and third world countries, we all follow the same basic template for the most part, we go to school from 8-3 five days a week and often do an extra-curricular activity like playing a sport or an instrument.  Within that broad generalization is plenty of potential for variety, but adulthood doesn’t even follow those same broad generalizations.  It’s expected for you to get a job in most places in the world, maybe you can still be a housewife if you’re a woman but women have been moving into the work force in growing numbers for decades, save when cultural and/or religious rules dictate otherwise.  But unlike kids, who are required to attend school or be home-schooled, adults don’t necessarily have to get a job, it just means you’ll likely end up homeless and will die sooner.  Likewise the idea of the 9-5 being the only job available is rapidly vanishing as Youtube and other internet related careers are providing people with all kinds of new job opportunities, in addition to more traditional non-9-5 jobs like self-employment and being an author.  More important than all of that though is agency.  In the real world children have limited agency in a strictly legal sense, whereas adults are allowed to do as they please within reason.  But what does all this have to do with anime?

One of the benefits of anime, for young people anyway, is that generally gives it’s high school characters the same kind of agency as adults and often removes adult oversight from the story by just having the kid live alone.  But even with that agency there are limits relative to adults, teenagers living on their own can’t legally walk into a bar and get wasted on sake for example.  Adults can do that kind of shit and that quite believably lends itself to character archetypes you can’t have in teenagers, like the alcoholic.  So adult characters can have a bit more variety without straining suspension of disbelief by mere virtue of being adults, this is a bonus.  However the true beauty of adult characters is the variety of life experiences I was describing in the above paragraph.  High school kids come with certain expectations that adults just don’t.  That’s why so many high school characters seem the exact fucking same, while adults can vary more.  Sure there are plenty of generic Caring Parent A type characters in anime, but get beyond those and you see a world of possibilities.  You can have literal hobos as main characters like in Tokyo Godfathers, you can have adults who feel lost and adrift despite having a normal job like the teacher from Kotonoha no Niwa (Garden of Words), you can have self-employed private detectives like Rin, you can have professional race car drivers, mad scientists, generals, fucking just about any kind of character and occupation you can think of.  This is half of what makes adult characters more interesting, their life stories can be totally different once they are out of school, hell even when they get out of school can be a difference between them.  But with high schoolers, even though they can have a lot of differences between each individual, they also have enough shared traits, activities and experiences that they can get stale faster.  And given just how many high school characters anime has already, for a lot of people, many kinds of high school kid characters are getting old and cliche.  By contrast adult characters have all the space in the world to be free and grow and we don’t have anywhere near enough of them.  But variety of characters is only half of the story.

More so than the variety of character types which adults can play, it’s the depth such characters can have that makes them truly appealing.  You can have some well realized and detailed high school kids too, but it doesn’t happen often.  But adult characters who do get a lot of focus usually are.  For example, earlier I mentioned a character called Tsuruga Meisai from Katanagatari.  Now I’m a huge fan of Katanagatari so it shouldn’t be big a surprise that I like a character from that show, but the reason I mentioned her specifically is because of her backstory.  Like many characters from Katanagatari, Tsuruga Meisai is only around for one episode but I found her to be the most interesting of Shichika’s (the main guy) opponents.  She practically radiated authority, had developed a strong philosophy that she dedicated herself to, ran a shrine that helped women who were victims of war and sexual assault, and had what I consider to be some of the most interesting conversations with Shichika in the entire show and it all came from her backstory.  Unlike the average high school character who has usually has one major event, person or hobby that defines most of their life and character, Meisai had a decades of experiences to draw from that turned into the person she is when Shichika meets her.  In fact, her story only really begins after she’s done being a “normal” teenager and starts living life with the agency and freedom of an adult.  When you put all of Meisai’s backstory under the spotlight and see how it weaves together and defines who she is in the story, what you have is a rich tapestry the likes of which a high school kid can’t really match up with.  Even the really cool and interesting teens like Layfon from Chrome Shell Regios or the Elric brothers from Full Metal Alchemist, just don’t come with the same kind of depth and detail that Meisai and characters like her have.

Look, the main reason I’m bringing this up is because to me, the ideal hot character is not someone who has a sexy design, huge boobs, moe or otherwise very feminine traits and  clothes that showcase her “assets.”  Now having any or all of those things can be a bonus and they can make a character look great, but for me the absolute priority is making the girl someone who I can appreciate as an individual, someone whose life, actions and relationships I can get invested in.  For me a truly gorgeous female character are the kind of women I was talking about in the long post about strong women, women who register to me as people first and foremost, and ideally as totally kick ass people.  Yes because I am a shallow and imperfect being (and therefore a normal human being), the trappings of big boobs, revealing outfits, and feminine traits do add to the appeal of characters.  There’s a reason I find someone like Maura a bit more attractive than someone like Balsa (you might be thinking it’s the difference in cup size and that is part of it, but it’s mainly the lips, I just can’t handle the Balsa-Kusanagi lips).  And the reason I want to talk about older women specifically in this this context is because I believe they have greater potential for being characters I can appreciate as people when compared to the average moe high school girl.  Not that high school aged characters can’t be drop dead gorgeous, I think Erza Scarlet pre-Fairy 2014 is one of the hottest anime women of all time for example.  But all the same I find myself impressed by adult women characters far more often than I do teenage girl characters despite their relative rarity.

So in conclusion, anime needs more hot milfs.  I think it would benefit the anime industry to be willing to try more original, nuanced, adult shows instead of making a SAO or AoT clone every season.  And in that same spirit I think we need attractive adult women to populate these new adult shows.  Or even if they just showed up in more traditional shows more often to shake things up, I think that would be good too.  I mean one of my favorite parts of Garo: Hono no Koukuin was when Leo and Emma hooked up after they both overcame their respective emotional traumas.  Even aside from the fact that we actually saw a show where the main character had sex, which happens way way WAY less than it should, it was just satisfying as fuck to see the two come together and heal each other’s emotional wounds.  And I think we can get more scenes and relationships like that, if we have more adult women involved.  It will be good for the medium from a creative standpoint, to work on new kinds of scenarios with a mostly untapped type of character.  It will be good for pandering fanservice too, I know I’m not the only twenty something anime fan wishing we had more hot adult women to appreciate.  And lastly, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say it will be good for anime’s image.  There are a lot of non-otaku people in the world who are uncomfortable with and/or look down anime’s apparent love of little girls, made worse by merch like seuxalized full body pillows of said girls.  And while I like to have a “I don’t give a flying fuck about what other people think about me or my hobbies” attitude,  couldn’t we maybe, just maybe get some people to change their minds from “anime is weird and perverted” to “anime isn’t that weird or bad” or even “hey maybe I want to check anime out” if we had more adult women characters involved in making up anime’s image?  But whatever, having more hot adult women will be good for anime as an art form and may even contribute to sales for a certain niche audience, and in my book that’s a win.  So let’s have more milfs please.  Thank you for reading and I hope to see you in the next one.