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…

Image result for boku no hero academia gran torino
I’m looking forward to it

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.

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feels like somethings missing

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.

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just get the a sandwich or somthing

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.

Image result for recovery of a mmo junkie
that’s a viable strategy too

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?

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Lightning is 3d…

49 thoughts

  1. “can’t you be supportive, mom?” 😂😂😂😂😂😆 that KILLED ME!! 💖
    I go back and forth on what type of anime I want, depending on my mood. I definitely want interesting characters though! (… Or at least likeable. I do want to check out MMO Junkie, I don’t expect depth and Shakespeare. But, sometimes I just want pure fun!)
    Sometimes it’s nice to just watch a shallow anime that is what it is and doesn’t require hours of debate and deep thought. 😉

  2. If the characterization is good and they develop believably as the arc goes along, I’d be willing to put up with mediocre art.

    Action? It is nice if it is an action type anime. Action, without believable characters one grows to care about, isn’t worth the bandwidth the time or even the electricity to watch it.

    You can have a marvelous anime that is almost entirely character driven and doesn’t have a shred of “action”. The reverse is not true.

    1. I’m not sure about that. If you think about a show like death note, the characters are very much in service to the plot and only developed as much as needed for the narrative to make sense but I still love that manga (haven’t seen the show…) They’re not bad characters but they are primarily plot devices. Great story though

      1. An acting coach once told me that there are only four plots in the world.

        Ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances
        Extraordinary people in ordinary circumstances
        Ordinary people in ordinary circumstances
        Extraordinary people in extraordinary circumstances

        I think that is a variation of a Stephen King quote which itself is a variation of some quote by a classic playwright.

        Most of anime is the fourth option. Virtually all action/adventure is the fourth option. It is difficult to focus on characterization in an action flick but it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t at least pay it lip service.

        Throughout the history of literature, heroes have typically been one dimensional – but well done heroic fiction has a character arc to it. The hero’s understanding of the world changes. If that doesn’t happen, the work tastes flat to me. Even an action/adventure work needs to have downtime. It needs introspection, self-doubt, and contemplation of one’s navel. The Hero’s external quest is just a mechanism for driving the quest within. Once the hero conquers himself, the monster becomes doable.

        In my personal opinion – and it is just an opinion – if you don’t care about the characters, you’ve just stepped into an animated horse race or a boxing match. There is no reason to have a preference as to who wins. A winner emerges merely because the author said so.

        Of course, it is possible to enjoy the fight just for the techniques. You can develop a preference during the fight based on fighting styles, who displays more heart, who displays more mercy, who displays superior tactics and strategy, and what their underlying motives are. (Or maybe just who is more kawaii?) Those are actually character traits coming out in the form of a fight, where the conversation is expressed in blows rather than words. It takes a LOT of skill to do that well.

        You can also enjoy the fight for the sheer artistic power of the animation. I don’t belittle that at all either. If I can gaze at a lovely picture for minutes at a time, I ought to be able to enjoy one in motion just as well.

        I’m sorry if I came out dissing anyone’s preferences. There are my preferences and are no more or less valid than anyone else’s Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and all that.

        On a completely different note, I think you would love to read the works of Joseph Campbell. The Power of Myth and The Hero with a Thousand Faces are his two best known. The first is a study of comparative mythology for its most ancient origins to modern day and why it still matters. The second does the same thing for the concept of the hero in popular culture. Many, MANY, fiction and fantasy writers have credited him for the inspiration for their work. They were required reading in my college lit class.

        Here is a link to see if it piques your interest.

        You can catch the complete series on Netflix.

        And from The Hero with a Thousand Faces.


        1. Awesome comment, I’ll check Mr. Campbell out.
          Personally I stay away from any Most Anime statements cause there’s just sooo much. I mean the anime I remember most from the last 12 months is all of Natsume, Time of Eve, Humanity has Declined and the Eccentric Family. Not sure all of them put together amount to a single episode of GoT action wise but I love them.
          Well Maybe Eccentric Family…

  3. What I found most interesting in this article was how the ideas in it apply not only to anime – but to books. I consume books even more gluttonously than I do anime – and I am a writer as well. So I’m rather picky about books – probably rather more so than I am about anime. Everything you say about character is something I think every writer should read and consider.

    One thing I feel I’ve got to get off my chest immediately is the question of action. I have noted of late that many movies are so involved with being action intense that there is little or no character development, and minimal plot and/or plot holes that could devour the entire Universe. I hate that. Action, fast action, constant action, OMiGod what is coming next action does not replace memorable characters or actual REASONS behind all the dashing around and shooting. At least, not for me.

    As an artist, I am always drawn to very pretty anime. I can put up with a lot if I’m too busy admiring the pretty, detailed backgrounds and settings. I have chucked some supposedly great series off my queue in the first episode because I found the artwork too ugly to bear. So I have to list the artwork as very high in my list of priorities. I can imagine other people find that questionable! But it is what it is. A great example of this is my love for Gosick. Plot? Story? Never noticed, too busy being gobsmacked every time we see that victorian conservatory garden setting.

    That said, I am another one who loves slice of life, and that is all about character. Gentle, damaged Natsume. Kyo in Fruits Basket, and Tohru who’s gentle, unconditional acceptance is based in true humility and heals everyone in the damaged Souma family. Light-hearted Yasaburo in Eccentric Family, who everyone in his circle actually more or less depends on as their anchor in a confusing world.

    At the same time, I also love anime for the detailed, deep, intricate plots that make you think in works like Psycho Pass and Kado: The Right Answer, In fact, it seems to me that modern SciFi has forgotten that it was once called “speculative fiction” and lost itself in action and witty reparte – but anime has picked up that banner with thoughtful plots and stories set in “what if” universes.

    I have nearly written an entire blog post myself here. And now you’ve got me thinking that maybe it would behoove me to do a little series of blog posts about favorite anime characters as a sort of exploration experiment that could improve the characters in my own writing…

    Thank you, always, for making me THINK

    1. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again – I have the most wonderful readers in the world who regularly make my comments section the most interesting art of my posts.
      Movies probably sacrifice character development even more given the limited time in which they need to develop a story. It makes creating a true ensemble piece almost impossible unless you dedicate the entire time to character building and development.
      As I side note – have I bugged you about watching Time of Eve yet? One of the best pieces of speculative fiction I’ve seen in recent years.

  4. I always find one or two characters in a series that are what makes the series for me (like K Project’s characters), even if it means they make the series bad (looking King’s Game). Personally, I need a combo of factors to really enjoy something such as a intersting plot of some sort. Doesn’t need to be a perfect plot or one without holes but there should be some driving force to some sort of goal. Which is probably why I like Sport’s anime a lot, they always have a clear-cut goal even if it’s repetitive. Similarly that’s why I hate anime without clear cut goals like BLEACH (what was even Ichigo’s goal beyond rescuring Rukia?!) or One Piece (I get that it takes awhile to find a treasure… but like really?).

    Having character that support this goal, or at least cause tension. Which again, is why Sport’s Anime tends to be my favorite genre. Always someone there to sabotage a goal, or rivals, and always teammates that either support the dream or quit. Again, it gets repetitive though in sport’s anime so I almost always get bored, like you do, when the character is the same character slightly modified each time.

    Both are important to me I guess. Sometimes the characters being more developed verses their plot helps, other times the opposite. You know it’s bad when both are terrible and neither shine lol.

    1. This i actually interesting. I also love sorts anime for several reasons but I had never considered that there is an inherent built in clear narrative direction in a tournament arc.
      That’s a great point!
      I always get the best comments

  5. I tend to watch show only for my own entertainment, I mean if I’m enjoying the series not matter the lack of decent plot or interesting character I’m okay with it…I’m a simply girl with simple need I guess.
    But if I’m watching a series and the character doesn’t seem to belong to the series (if that make sense) not sure I will enjoy it as much as other series where we have well written character that doesn’t look out of place.

  6. This is the trope disease that guys like me complain about. Anime used to be more risky, with more challenging plots and actual stories with characters they bothered to flesh out. If Cowboy Bebop had a trope version of Spike, nobody would have watched it again, and it wouldn’t be one of the most famous anime in the world. Moe sells reliably, so they make moe and chuuni anime. They are good risks, but boring and forgetable too.

    1. I can’t wait to watch last seasons Ramens and this season’s Hinamatsuri. Apparently they both have fantastic characters.

      1. Hinamatsuri is a funny show, with a dry anti-moe character with telekinesis she rarely uses. Her guardian is a low level Yakuza with a high rise apartment and a taste for art-pottery plate collections. Most of the characters are memorable and the show has genuine humor. Its like Alice and Zoroku without the excuse of Wonderland screwing up their daily life humor.

  7. What a great post! I think I’d have to agree and pick great characters over a great plot–mostly because I think interesting characters automatically result in an inserting plot. If I adore–or at least are intrigued by–a character, whatever struggles that character goes through become automatically interesting to me. However, if a show has a truly phenomenal plot but some not-so-great characters, I have a bit more trouble getting invested in the action.

  8. Certainly different skills required for story and characters. Case in point, Okada Mari is master of both lifelike characters and unresolved plot points.

    Though selling characters is a doubly difficult task because the people thinking up the character and the people executing the character are different (and many!), yet all have to share vision and a level of ability to bring the character to life. Note how Ero-manga sensei went as far as deciding on a “Sagiri animator” just to make sure the character didn’t get lost in uneven execution. But there is no way every series can do that, much less for all characters.

    Btw, for this kind of entry, I would like to hear at least a short reference to the great characters that did satisfy you in the past. Any kind of “it was good once but is getting worse now” post should provide examples so that the reader can judge how much they can relate.

    1. I post character studies every week if you’re interested.
      Obviously this is base on my experience but it seems that the last 2 season favor atmospheric or plot driven narrative or er character driven ones.
      For instance, I loved the layered personalities in Durarara and the rather surprisingly incisive turns Dragonmaid could take with Thoru and Kobe. Demi-chan seemed to be a moe show that preoccupied itself more with the personalities of the cute girls than the actions. I really enjoyed the understated complexity of most of the glimpsed at charas in Time of eve.
      By contrast, last season I watched Grancrest, Sanrio Boys, Idolish, Yuru Camp and I couldn’t really find a character that I personally could properly sink my teeth into.
      This season I’m finishing up Grancrest, watching Megalo Box which is fantastic but has clearly sacrificed character development in favor of plot progression and world building, Steins;Gate which relies on the character development done in the original and is now dedicating itself to weaving a complex narrative web and Pretty Derby. The last big chara driven show I watched was Natsume roku.
      Of course this is just my personal experience.

    2. I forgot Noragami. Noragami had great charas and the plot what in service to them rather than using them as devices. I probably just missed out on the chara riven shows of the last few seasons

  9. I’m personally more of a character guy. You can have the most intricate plot or the most creative world, but if there are no interesting or relatable characters, then things can fall flat for me.

    1. I agree…then again I love Death Note. Those characters aren’t bad but they are a bit caricatures – the strength of that series really is the intricacies of the plot…

      1. I see. Some of the characters were caricatures, which I do agree with you over there. At least the characters weren’t boring and there was some effort in the plotting.

  10. For me, usually the easiest way to have a good character is to have them capable of doubt and introspection. If I have to question whether or not a character has a brain, then I’m not having a good time. At the same time, Mary Sues suck. Not having the main character basically be Jesus is pretty endearing…

      1. It’s weird to me that people prioritize likeability over depth. For me, depth leads to long term attachment-
        Which is way better than seasonal waifu wars. (I’m looking at you, Sagiri)

  11. I am the same. Great characters trump all other aspects of an anime for me. This is why I love so many different genres, because I like the character interaction and development more than I do action stuff. My Hero Academia is a shounen that fixed all of my issues with most shounen, which was shallow characters. This is despite the fact that it doesn’t even have a particularly original story or even setting. It’s strongest asset is character development.

    It’s also why I prefer the more intimate and realistic insanity of Perfect Blue compared to Paprika. Characters are important.

  12. I like a story with good characters, given that the plotline is average or above. I’m not sure how this translated into my own stories, but hopefully you liked the characters I made?
    ….and that my plotlines are not bad? xd

    1. Your charas are mysterious as in you reveal them slowly. I would say your story was more plot driven but that’s not a bad thing

  13. I have no clear preference. There’s got to be something that catches my interest and then everything has to balance out. What this means in detail? Beats me.

    Also: Joshiraku header!!!! Now, here’s one show that works because all the characters are one-trick ponies (but they get to wear a new casual outfit each episode, which is unusual in anime – sort of like a dress-up game).

  14. I really depends on what i’m doing at the time. As it stands, if I want something to chill out to, then I want picturesque backdrops and characters that are at the very least likeable. If I want something to really draw me in, then an expansive world with plenty of twists and turns is key. If I want excitement, then top quality action is the main point. Ideally, I’d get something that combines elements of all the above at appropriate times. I can enjoy shows that don’t fit those criteria too though, as long as there’s something to keep my interest.

    1. You are a fan of context. I can appreciate that and it’s nice to hear from someone with a different perspective

  15. I think the anime and manga that have protagonists with very little character are trying to have their characters as a ‘blank slate’ so the viewers can imagine themselves in the protagonists position and therefore sympathise with the character’s plight easier, after a lot of people only care about themselves. I personally think this is a terrible strategy for writing, but then again it is a lot easier and probably very profitable.

    Also if we’re talking currently airing anime with REALLY interesting characters you need to watch Hinamatsuri. I know you’re waiting til the season is over to binge it but that show is just wall to wall interesting, complex and well-developed characters.

    1. I honestly can’t wait! Audience surrogates are a bit different and they at least occasionally surrounded by more interesting charas.

  16. For me, character is key. Setting is important but the details of that can be anything within reason and context of the overall story. Characters drive the plot in that setting. The world just exists, as the creator sees fit. I want to see characters and how that world shapped them, guides them, and how their choices shape the world as the story continues. Yikes: rambling on.

    I also wish my Dad supported my creative endevors. He still loves me so that’s a great consolation. 👍😀

  17. If I had to choose I would prefer deeper plotlines / fleshed out characters to action intense anime – action is great but I think that characters / plot are more memorable on good anime.
    That being said I’m all about fantasy anime, as well as high school slice of life. So I guess I don’t really know what I want till I see it haha

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