I really enjoy watching animated series that come from Japan. These animated series have a type of storytelling that I absolutely love and I wanted to be able to share a bit of that love with you today. Beside 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 write. 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 character 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 readers.
- They Fight For Something
Similar to backstory, anime characters also have a surplus of drive. They all have someting 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. 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 much 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.
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, Gray Fullbuster and Natsu Dragneel from Fairy Tail, Ichigo and Renji from Bleach. Less time rivalries would include Naruto vs Sasuke and Hinata vs Neji from Naruto. Each of these rivalries build on the character’s friendships and their bonds which can later influence plot development.
- Sometimes They Don’t Get Together
Love interest 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.
- 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 what not. Deaths in anime almost always come unexpectedly, and at the worst possible time. A prime example is one 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.
So how about that?
Never knew anime could teach you so much about memorable characters did you? Did I miss any lessons about awesome characters? What are some of your favorite animes?