Monday, June 8, 2015

What Anime taught me about Memorable Characters

I may have mentioned it once or twice before. I have this thing going on with Anime. What that basically means is I really enjoy watching animated series that come from Japan. (And yes, I watch them all in English Sub. No Dub for me.) These animated series have a type of storytelling that I absoulutely love and I wanted to be able to share a bit of that love with you today.

(Two Disclaimers: Just before we get started. One is that not all anime are created equal. I'm not reccomending anime to younger audiences. I'll save was constitutes good and bad anime for another article. Two is that, besides the header, none of the images included in this article are mine. I got them all off my Anime Board on my Pinterest.)

Besides the fact that I love anime for the unique storytelling style and the awesome fight sequences, I love anime for the memorable characters. A lot of these characters have made me laugh and have even made me cry. (I ain't afraid to admit it) I've noticed over the course of watching all these series that there are certain things within the Japanese style of storytelling that makes this characters memorable. Now not all of these are directly applicable to writing. However, I think the basic concepts could be useful when creating your own memorable characters. So let's get started!


Backstory Effects Everything

Anime has this bad habit of dedicating long stints of episodes to backstory. Sometimes it can get a bit annoying, but honestly, after watching those episodes you gain a whole new perspective of the characters. A good example of backstory in anime would be Naruto. I'm pretty sure if you cut that series into parts a whole two thirds of it would be backstory. The other third is simply the awesome action the backstory put into motion. Spending time on the backstory filled up the somewhat flat characters we "liked" into massive, dynamic characters that we Loved.

Now in a book it is not always the wisest choice to spend so much time walking your reader through the backstory. In fact most experts would tell you not to spell out your backstory at all. However, I would suggest that you as the writer go through all those backstory "episodes" in your head. Imagine them or write them down. If you know everywhere and everything your character has been before they appear in your story then they will naturally have that mass that makes them memorable to your reader.

They Fight For Something

Similar to backstory, anime characters also have a surplus of drive. They all have something they are fighting for. It could be acing that test in school or getting the attention of their crush. It could be protecting their family or becoming a stronger ninja.

I find this aspect of memorable characters in almost every anime I've ever watched. But if I had to pick one that stood out as the best possible example, that would be Fullmetal Alchemist. The drive behind the Elric Brothers' quest is rooted in the desire to restore the other to the way they were before the accident that claimed Al's body and Edward's arm and leg. Ultimately this stems from a theme of redemption, restoration, and the cost of one mistake. But you get what I'm saying, right?

This element of memorable characters is rooted in the backstory and fleshed out through the plot. Make sure you have a drive that characterizes your character's journey from their backstory and through their plot.

Diversity Is Possible

When I think of diverse characters in anime, I think of the Squad Captains in Bleach. These guys were packed with individual physical qualities, backstories, and layers of intricacies for how they related to each other and the world around them. They taught me that diversity is possible with a set of characters. The work just needs to be put in to develop each individual until they feel that real in a story.

Bonds Build Plot

I'm constantly amazed by how musch emphasis is put on friendship and family in Anime shows. I think it's a fundamental part of the Japanese culture to be an individual who draws strength from a group. Whereas in America the ideal is to be an individual who draws strength from their individuality. From what I have observed of Anime the strongest characters are those who value the family/friends/tribe more than they value themselves.

What does this have to do with memorable characters? Think of the power of bonds when it comes to plot. I like to think of Avatar: The Last Airbender for this area. In such an epic journey every person Aang and the gang meet along the way has the possibility to become a pivotol player later on in the series. Like Suki and the Kyoshi warriors for example. The bonds built over one tiny episode served as a building block for the plot later on.

Nothing happens by accident. Keep that in mind when your character bumps into someone and makes a bond of some sort. That bond does not have to become pivotol right away either. But when danger comes the character will remember his friends, and they will remember him. Dedicated friends make some of the most memorable characters.

Rivals Build on Each Other

Every Anime has a rival situation. A rival is like the Japanese version of frenemies. Two people who know each other, maybe even respect each other, but they clash against one another to see who is stronger. Why this makes memorable characters is because it is literally iron sharpening iron. Through the rivalry both characters develop physically, mentally, and emotionally.

A rivalry can be over something as petty as who gets the girl, like between Inuyasha and Koga over Kagome. Another simple rivalry can be who has the stronger powers, like Gray Fullbuster and Natsu Dragneel from Fairy Tail. There's the competitive sort of rivalry of who can get stronger faster, like with Ichigo and Renji from Bleach. Each of these rivalries build on the character's friendships and their bonds which can later influence plot development.

Less tame rivalries would include Naruto vs. Sasuke and Hinata vs. Neji from Naruto. What started as a tame rivalry between Naruto and Sasuke evolved into Naruto's determination to save his friend from himself. All the while each was trying to surpass the other. What resulted (besides awesomeness) was incredible character development. Hinata and Neji's rivalry spawned from political roots. One was born to power and the other was born to servitude. One was weak and the other was physically powerful. Their rivalry on such strangely equal ground changed both of them and contributed greatly to the plot.

So, is your character trying to become better? Are they fighting for something? Try giving them a rival who will challenge, teach, and give your character the oppurtunity to grow.

Sometimes They Don't Get Together

(WARNING: Possible Spoilers from here on out)

"Just kiss, darn it all!" I cannot tell you how many times I've shouted that at my screen whilst watching anime. Anime just loves to draaaaaggggg it out as much as they can! These characters really have no luck in the love department sometimes. They're too busy being awesome ninjas, saving the fuedal era, or being totally oblivious to get this whole love thing right. But this irritating part of Anime is a good lesson in what makes a memorable character. Sometimes love interests just don't get together.

Love interests might never have time to get together. One might die before they can get together. Or, they could both be so awful at communication that you as the audience never get to see them get their act together before the story ends! I really hate that last one. The trick for us, the writers, is to make whatever happens realistic.

My best examples in this department come from Naruto. The debate rages as to whether Sasuke deserves Sakura because she's had a crush on him forever. But Naruto has had a crush on Sakura forever too! While in the background Hinata harbors feelings for the oblivious Naruto. What is that? A love square? I have no idea. Anyway, no one expresses their feelings verbally. It's all through actions and that's what makes it real for the viewer. I don't even think I've heard an anime character say, "I love you." It would be weird if they did.

Sometimes love interests are never resolved. Even if they aren't, they have got to feel real. None of the gushy words of devotion. Try some acts of devotion instead.

Real Love is Possible

YES! Yes, it exists! Thank you, thank you to whoever created Kirito and Asuna! *gestures wildly to Sword Art Online* Still a better love story than Twlight. Sorry, I couldn't resist that one. Anime has taught me that real love in possible in traditional and unexpected ways between characters. Those two ways might seem simple, but they make for really memorable characters.

The first example is obviousble Kirito and Asuna. First off: They're Mature. They don't beat around the bush. They acknowledge their feelings and move ahead. Second reason: They Get Married. (Sort of) They actually make it official and it happens at the midpoint in the story as opposed to the end. Kirito is dependable and Asuna is a strong woman without being unfeminine. Win-Win! This taught me that it's okay to make characters that can actually make mature decisions. Two well-developed characters can actually get married in the middle of a story and the story still be awesome.

Real love can come out in ways that are not common in our literature today. Memorable characters often have that quality.


Death is Where Your Character Teaches Their Lesson

We really need to stop killing off characters just for the fun of it. The same goes for killing off a character because their death is the only thing to jar your protagonist into doing the right things or whatnot. Deaths in anime almost always come unexpectedly, and at the worst possible time. A prime example is once again Naruto. Granted, the ninja in this series expect to have short lives and sudden deaths, but that's not the point!

The character deaths in Naruto (I'll try not to spoil things) are used as the pivotal point in the character's development where they can finally pass along the lesson they have been trying to live out throughout the ups and downs of their life. The characters are at their most transparent at the moment of death. Anime has this bad habit of monologing but in the case of character deaths it's worth it. I learned that if I am going to kill a character in one of my stories then they had better be passing on a lesson/truth that will alter the other character's paths for good or evil.


So how about that? Never knew anime could teach you so much about memorable characters did you? What do y'all think? Did I miss any lessons about awesome characters? What are some of your favorite animes? Any other hints for making memorable characters? If you have any questions or comments feel free to post below!











  1. Love love love this post! I did one on anime characters a while back. It's neat to know I'm not the only one who realizes the awesomeness of anime! Kirito and Asuna all the way! :D :D :D Anime has some of the best storytelling. I prefer it over a lot of American media personally.

    1. Yay!! Another Anime fan! I'll have to try and find that article on your blog and read it. SAO was so amazing, and Kirito and Asuna were perfect! The second one is pretty good too but not as awesome as the original. I'm so glad you liked this, thanks for stopping by!


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