In a perfect world, anime would be all things. It would be beautiful to look at and mesmerizing to listen to. It would be deep, meaningful and incisive while relaxing and escapist and of course always interesting. It would be attractive but not creepy and just the right type of funny.
In a perfect world I would be paid to watch this flawless anime, at my own pace, without any expectation of follow through.
What I’m saying is that the world will be perfect as soon as I’m retired and too senile for standards…
In the meantime though, one must learn to make compromises. Writing this blog has been a great tool for getting to know myself and learning to accept my preferences. Some I already knew: I prefer a character with moral flaws to an unimpeachable good one. Some I’ve discovered with some shock; personality is in fact more important than appearance…who knew? Not in real life though, I’m still all about pretty on the outside when it comes to real life.
And if I absolutely have to choose, I would prefer complex interesting characters to a fascinating storyline.
Naturally there are limits, but I can easily accept a story that is either very cliched or barely there (I do enjoy slice of life quite a bit) if I have some interesting characters to share it with. Hey, I’ll vault over plot holes if my friends are waiting on the other side. But if the characters are weak, it will always be a sore point even in the grandest adventure.
I’ve come to understand that the skills needed to create a complete and compelling person, are a little different from those used when putting together a rich and detailed world, or those for stringing together events into a cohesive and exciting narrative. Just because you can do one of these things well, doesn’t mean you can do all of them.
Sadly, despite hearing people endlessly proclaim their love for complex and diverse characters, we sure put up with a lot of 2 dimensional, underdeveloped caricatures instead.
I’m not a fiction writer (some people argue I’m no writer at all, to them I say, gah can’t you just be supportive mom!), so I’m not going to pretend to know the secret to crafting a great character. But I am a sappy, oversimplifying and naive optimist. I like to think that part of the trick is to simply remind yourself that they are people rather than plot devices. A character needs to have a reason for being and a personality that goes beyond the story. If once you remove them from the confines of the narrative, you find you have no clue what they would do, then you haven’t fleshed them out enough.
I’ve also noticed that in real life, people have a whole range of emotions and reactions to different situations and that their reactions to any given event, isn’t always the same. Seeing entire casts always agree with each other or have essentially the same base personality with only a few quirks thrown in to differentiate one from another, is just plain lazy. I’m no fool. I’m not! Mom stop reading my blog… I can tell when you’ve only created one basic character and simply cloned it a bunch of times. Just because one is louder doesn’t make for a completely different person.
If you can describe someone with a single characteristic (the dumb one, the flirty one…) There may be some room for development there.
Why am I telling you all this? Mostly because I want to know I’m not alone in thinking great characters make for great stories. I could watch a good character quietly read for a while and be entertained. But also, because I’m afraid there may have been a slip in character quality.
Creating a great anime character is pretty difficult and not that obviously rewarding. There’s usually only room for one standout in a cast, two at most, while the rest fade into the crowd. Story can be greatly helped by animation and beautifully detailed backgrounds will go a long way towards world building. Character development often gets sacrificed to the plot and flashy or carefully market researched designs stand in for complex , established personalities.
It’s starting to feel like character creation is a relatively minor concern.
I’ve been watching a lot more seasonal anime. I haven’t come across any fantastic characters in a while. Likeable, sure. Pretty, definitely. Interesting???? Debatable. The story is interesting but the character is average. Characters who I am dying to know all about their thoughts and dreams? That keep me on my toes but still stay true to themselves? Characters that seem as 3d and nuanced as the fine readers and bloggers I’ve had the chance to chat with in passing? No more than a handful come to mind.
Don’t get me wrong, I have enjoyed shows with pleasant but harmless people in them. I’m currently devouring recovery of an MMO junkie. I love it but I have to admit these folks are not much more than slightly toned down collections of gamer tropes. And it does work well in that context. But for me heroes trump quests every time.
How about you guys? Are you more interested in action intensive shows or series that concentrate on deeply involved plotlines? Maybe you like a huge expansive universe to explore? If you had to choose, which would you lean towards?