By Jenny Hor
Anime, or Japanese animation, is one of my main useful resources when constructing conflicts, characterisation, and emotional appeal in a story. Below are a few of my personal picks that show helpful writing techniques.
Please note there might be minor spoilers in the blog. Nonetheless, these are crucial in discussing writing techniques.
Violet Evergarden (2018)
Violet Evergarden has been my long-time favourite anime series. The titular heroine, Violet, is a child soldier who has lost her purpose of life after an international conflict. She works in a postal company as a ghostwriter, while learning the meaning of an alien word called ‘love’. Each individual episode explores an aspect of ‘love’, ranging from the budding romance of young lovers to agonizing grief of a family’s death. Some might not be a fan of the story’s slow pacing, but I think this builds up to the emotional beats which make the audience shedding buckets of tears.
There are two unforgettable episodes from this series that had me cry a river: Episode 10 and Episode 11. These episodes deal with the character’s growth throughout the story, enabling the audience to resonate with her emotions.
Banana Fish (2018)
Adapted from an 80s manga (Japanese comics), Banana Fish depicts the sinister side of New York City involving gangs, drugs, and sex trafficking. The story revolves around two protagonists, Ash and Eiji, and their investigation of a drug called ‘banana fish’.
I adore this anime for its complex characterisation and dynamics. Ash is an American teen and a gang leader who is smart and swift in action, but who also shows his vulnerable side towards the people he cares about. On the other hand, Eiji is introduced as an innocent Japanese youth who is naïve about gangsters and violence. Although being involuntarily involved in a series of conflicts, Eiji proves to be calm and vigilant to counter any adversary.
This anime has many Easter eggs for Salinger and Hemmingway fans. Fun fact: the title is a reference to a J.D.Salinger’s short story A Perfect Day for Bananafish.
Attack on Titan (2013-2023)
Many die-hard anime fans would agree that this anime (or the manga source) has the best storytelling. After watching one season, fathomed the hype and recommendations.
The series creator, Isayama Hajime, created the series based on Norse Mythology. This manga/anime opens its chapter by introducing the three great walls, Maria, Rose, and Sina, that protected humans from the cannibalistic Titans. The setting introduces the conflicts between the helpless humans living within the walls and the gigantic titans roaming beyond. As the story progresses, a deeper history of the walls and Titans are revealed to illustrate a more complex hostility outside of the confined space.
Another feature of the series is the character development of the protagonist, Eren Yeager. Instead of following the classic heroic journey, Eren’s experience echoes the Negative Character Arc. His heroic journey begins as an ambitious youth who wishes to avenge his mother’s death by eliminating the Titans. After the time skip in Season 4 (Chapter 91 for the manga), Eren’s morality has shifted to the point that he considers killing innocent civilians as a small price to achieve his goal. However, his character development is still a huge debate on internet forums.
Madoka Magica (2011)
Do you like cute magical girls in adorable outfits? This anime will change your view on this genre.
The first two episodes of Madoka Magica trail the first quarter of the Hero’s Journey structure. The protagonist, Madoka, meets Mami, an experienced magical girl, who introduces her to the magic system and the witches’ threat. The show’s tone remains bright and upbeat until Episode 3, when Mami faces her demise in a gruesome manner. This unexpected plot twist shocks the audience as their expectations for the show have been subverted. As the tone shifts, more sinister details emerge.
The concept of heroism in Madoka Magica is explored in different ways, which also contributes to the story’s tragedy. Madoka’s friend, Sayaka is the embodiment of the tragic hero that has a fatal flaw leading to her death. The antagonist Homura acts as an anti-hero to prevent Madoka from becoming a magical girl, regardless of what method she employs. Madoka herself is the embodiment of the saviour-type hero because she saves other magical girls from falling into despair. In the end, her omnipotence costs herself to be erased from almost everyone else’s memory.
Link Click (2021)
Although this is a donghua (Chinese animation), I feel like it deserves to be included in this list. The story revolves around a photography studio run by the protagonists Cheng Xiaoshi and Lu Guang. Both protagonists have the supernatural ability to travel back to a photograph’s exact location and time without altering the events. Along the way, they try to unravel a murder mystery.
Link Click’s first episode is a perfect example of the classic ‘show, don’t tell’ rule. The episode does not explain the characters’ relationship or how they obtain their powers. Rather, it showcases how the characters conduct a time travelling commission. Despite being an introductory episode, it also piques the audience’s interest by ending on a cliffhanger.
This series avoided a common characterisation pitfall of making the characters too similar: the main characters have contrasting personalities, with Cheng Xiaoshi being more emotional and empathetic than the rational and serious Lu Guang. This personality clash often causes disagreements and conflicts between the characters.
For me, anime is a visual textbook in learning character dynamics, internal and external conflict, and setting mood. I have cultivated better writing techniques by simply watching my favourite shows.
Do you have an anime series that influences your writing? Kindly share them in the comment section.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Hailing from Malaysia, Jenny Hor is currently studying MA in Creative Writing at the University of Surrey. Her works reflect on her knowledge, observations, and reflections, especially when it comes to society’s flaws and human experiences. ‘Laksa Uncle’ marked her debut as a published writer in Asian Anthology: New Writings Vol. 1. She also runs the travel blog Jenny’s Binoculars, trying her best to update it as frequently as possible.
One thought on “Animes with Good Writing Techniques”
Fascinating read 🌟