I prefer Character-Driven Narratives

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!

20 Comments Add yours

  1. Auri says:

    Hooray for second Blogiversary!!!

    I too prefer character-driven narratives for all the reasons you’ve mentioned Scott-san.
    I suppose asking for a story with equal focus on both is asking for a bit too much, right?

    Your post reminds me to go check out Shin Sekai Yori soon.^^

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Scott says:

      Yay, thank you Auri!

      Yeah, an equal focus might be difficult…

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Scott says:

      Oh, and you totally should check it out soon 😁

      Liked by 1 person

  2. kingdylbag13 says:

    Wow, that was a great non-anime post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Scott says:

      Hey, I referenced anime in this do it totally counts 😛

      Like

      1. Scott says:

        That’s ok, I already have more anime focused stuff in progress for next week.

        Like

  3. ospreyshire says:

    I’m more of a character driven guy myself, too. In my opinion, you can have a very intricate story, but if you don’t have interesting characters to go along with it, then it doesn’t always work.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. ospreyshire says:

        I’m glad you agree. I felt that way about character driven shows like Haibane Renmei for example.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Karandi says:

    Congratulations on the blogiversary.
    For me it depends on genre. Some genres, like action, I’ll happily go with story driven, whereas other genres, such as romance, I need to be character driven. Basically either the story has to be interesting enough that I don’t care whether the characters developed or not, or the characters need to be compelling enough to convince me watch them and wait for them to act.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Scott says:

      Thank you, though the actual day is on Friday which I already have a long post for.

      I can’t really agree when it comes to your thoughts on action shows.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Karandi says:

        That’s fine. When I watch action I’m looking to turn my brain off and I don’t want to think things through. So basic guys running and blowing stuff up works just fine for me to do that. I don’t really want anything else from an action movie. Whereas, other genres I do want a bit more and that’s where I need the characters to step up.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Scott says:

        I wish I could turn my brain off and do that, but my brain always remains on. There is no off switch…

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Karandi says:

        Too much work and not enough sleep will usually get me to that state by Friday night. Perfect night for a bad horror or action film to just watch and relax my head.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. magicconan14 says:

    For me, it doesn’t really matter so long as the story competently delivers on whatever narrative it gives (e.g. Saiyuki is my biggest example of “turn off the brain” entertainment, while for Land of the Lustrous it’s the character-driven narrative I care about and so on).

    I tried the first volume of the Arslan Senki manga (the Hiromu Arakawa one) and didn’t really like it. Note that I am overall very iffy on war stories or stories that have heavy war implications in general, with the one exception being Concrete Revolutio (which is set in an alternate dimension’s Showa era).

    Haven’t watched Shin Sekai Yori yet, but it’s on the plan to watch list…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Scott says:

      See, like I told Karandi, I can’t do that. I can’t do the turn off brain entertainment things.

      I do like war stories on a fictional level, because I’m definitely not a fan of war stories in real life. I guess that’s part of what makes me a Gundam fan.

      Good, you should definitely get strong to watching it eventually.

      Like

  6. animesunday says:

    I love a show about the peeps as much as I love a show about the plot narrative, BUT, the masterpieces are when the two come together to form an inimitable amalgamation of people we care about in a world where they have agency.

    Berserk, Evangelion, Your Name, Perfect Blue, Akira, Cowboy Bebop, Samurai Champloo, Spice and Wolf, Attack on Titan, Full Metal Alchemist…

    All of these anime are largely great diverse casts of characters that we recognize taking part in a world that directly influences their actions with consequences that matter.

    There is that fantastic synergy, as opposed to a show like Nichijou which is entirely character centric or boys on the slope or anything else where the plot is relationship dynamics and does not include nor is affected by the state of the world, the characters aren’t moving toward a palpable goal and obstacle that can be over come.

    And then you have shows where the characters are only a vehicle to move along an interesting narrative in the world with real obstacles. Like Parasyte which is all about the narrative or High School of the Dead with an interesting idea and usually at least satisfactory if not superficial characters.

    Very thought provoking post! Got my own juices flowing and fantastic content as per usual.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Scott says:

      Yay, thank you for sharing you views. It’s always interesting to read what other people have to say. On a whole, a mix is good, but I would definitely prefer character over plot if I had to pick the two.

      And glad you got a lot out of this. Thank you for reading!

      Like

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