I kind of have to laugh because both of this discussion post and the last one are influenced by things that are not anime. The last one was influenced by Star Wars: The Last Jedi and this one influenced by Stranger Things Season 2. Yes, I finally finished it! I can see why a lot of other people love it, but it doesn’t wow me that much for some reason.
Without spoiling anything, the reason why revolves around how the series is constructed. Stranger Things is a story-driven narrative. While Stranger Things’ story and plot are very good, the characters suffer during it’s narrative. It jumps from one plot point to another without much breathing room left for the characters. I do admit that a couple minutes here and there are left for them, but the plot elements and problem solutions appearing out of nowhere doesn’t do any of them favors. Because of this fact, a lot of Stranger Things’ characters never stop being stereotypes. I should move on from this, right? You are here for anime stuff, not Scott’s hot takes on Stranger Things.
By my first two paragraphs, you probably get what the difference is between a character-driven and a story-driven narrative right? Let’s go through a re-cap anyway. A character-driven narrative’s story is based around its characters. The medium in question focuses on developing its characters at the expense of its story. The change of a character’s personality from good to evil or the reverse change the direction of the story itself. A story-driven narrative is the exact opposite. The story and plot take center focus in exchange for having its characters just being things that the story uses. Maybe they get developed, but most of the time they have a cheap and plastic feel that doesn’t make them feel genuine to me. I may be a little biased though.
If there is one thing that I’ve proven is that I am a very character focused person. I leave a few hints and sprinkles of that fact throughout a lot of my writing. You can tell that when my reviews that I write more about characters than anything else. Still, I think my largest example comes with my writing on how to make action scenes appeal to me or something along the lines. The first point I make on it is making the characters interesting. If the action scene revolves around characters that I don’t care about or fighting for a cause that I don’t care about, then what is the point of fluid animation and amazing choreography? In a nutshell, this is my philosophy for everything. If I don’t care about the characters, then why should I care about anything else? Characters are what anchor us to the story and should make us feel for what is going on. If there isn’a good anchor, the whole boat floats away.
More on Character-Driven Narratives
Good characters can make anything interesting without any major plots around them. A couple good examples that can think of, with my subjective opinion, are Land of the Lustrous and Trigun. Two very different kinds of anime, but anime that do the same kinds of things. For one, Phos and Vash are amazingly well-developed characters that have some episodic stories in their first halves that sell us on who they are. For another, the mood of the story changes with their moods. Once the “midway” point hits each of their series, both of these characters are transformed and in a sadder state of mind. The anime does the same thing in kind by being a little more moody and mysterious. All fantastic things.
Sometimes the plot can be completely pulled away from Character focused thing and still be excellent. Of course, these are mostly skit comedies and slice of life series. Series that only have episode length and an episode number to limit them. Now, I may not have a complete fondness for all of these because I like my stories to be driven forward by something, but I can’t help but admit that I love quite a few of them. Especially series like Nichijou, School Rumble, Azumanga Daioh, and Sakamoto. Comedies that rely on relatable yet insane characters (side characters in Sakamoto’s case), and situations that are relatable and obscured. My perfect kind of comedy stuff. For slice of life, how about My Love Story, Tsuki ga Kirei, and Just Because. Shows that rely more on character interactions then anything else. I like all of three of these for that reason.
Preferring character-driven shows doesn’t mean that I think that they are all perfect. It’s just that I couldn’t think of any bad ones at the time of writing this. Maybe those moe slice of life things that I am not a fan of like K-On and the various clones of it. Especially New Game, I do not get the appeal of that show for some reason.
Story-Driven Narratives I do like
I may prefer character-driven narratives, but I do like some story-driven ones. Especially fantasy series like Arslan Senki. Arslan is a pretty decent fantasy series that has an interesting world that I want to see more of, but it still suffers from dry characters joining Arslan’s party that stay the same and never get much development. It also suffers from character story telling that goes something along the lines of “first go here and do this, then go to another place and do that” and so on so forth. Yet, the story itself is interesting. I want to see this kind prince become the king of the land. It’s a fantasy series that explores its characters and countries just enough to get them to either be likeable or hateable or be able to switch from one to another and that is enough for me. I just wanted some spectacle, good world building, and large battles from that series and I got it.
There is a story-driven series that I absolutely love too. It’s Shin Sekai Yori. This is a series that has everything going for it, but it’s characters. Most of those are bland. Still, I can’t help but have 100% positive thoughts on it. All the character positives are replaced by great world building things. There is great lore, intrigue, mysticism, and the interesting way the world changes through the lenses of age. Shin Sekai Yori takes place in a dystopia after all, it has to be interesting and realistic to sell if off. Then there is the story connected to the world building. I won’t spoil it, but there are a lot of interesting twists and turns that will leave you surprised in a good way. That’s it. WATCH IT IF YOU HAVEN’T. PLEASE.
Bringing this back to Stranger Things, I don’t think it’s the fact that its story-driven that takes my attention away from it. That aspect doesn’t help Stranger Things that much, but it’s the fact that Stranger Things has a story that I not one hundred percent interested in. Horror movies, even older ones, are not something that I am completely interested in because horror is far from being one of my favorite genres of anything. Maybe I would find it a lot more interesting characters that felt more then being “that one guy who does those things”, then I could like it a little more.
So what about you? How do you feel about this topic? Do you prefer one more then the other or is there a sweet spot that you like? Hooray for a second post on my 2nd Blogiversy week!