Anime has good storylines…but terrible story telling. There are 6 pacing problems that are unfortunately common in anime. These problems sometimes even turn me off to anime. It is sad that anime is plagued by problem conventions. The medium could achieve much more if it could cast them away and tell a story properly. There are a lot of anime that do; they tend to be considered the best the genre has to offer. What if all anime did that?
Blathering During Fights
Most anime fights are more gums flapping than action. So many hours of my life disappeared into the dark maul of boasting about prowess and how their opponent isn’t as powerful. Bleach and Dragonball are especially bad at this. It just hurts the flow of the story. When characters fight, they should fight. Jawing about this or that attack, outfit, or (even worse) explaining a ponderous attack just kills the suspense. Violence must be swift, brutal, and decisive for it to have impact.
If an attack takes an entire episode to explain and perform something is wrong with the storytelling. An attack should take no more than 1 minute. Seriously, charging up for an attack and blathering about how long it took to train for 5 minutes while the enemy just stands there and watches is simply terrible. Suspense bleeds by the second. Boasting just makes characters look like buffoons, and even makes the viewer want that boasting ass to be kicked (hero or not).
Not every freakin’ character needs an extensive backstory. Even worse, telling a backstory during a dramatic final fight. Nothing kills the mood faster than a villain and hero yammering about what happened in the distant (or not so distant) past when they should be brutalizing each other. We should know what a villain is about long before we get to the final conflict.
Oh, I forgot to mention…Really, most viewers don’t care; we just want to see the action or drama resolve.
I don’t care if the character’s momma made him want to kill hundreds of people with a spoon. Villains are supposed to be mysterious. Jumping into a backstory right before the villain dies doesn’t make me feel sympathy…it only makes me feel annoyed.
It is unacceptable in a novel to jump into a backstory during final scenes, yet in anime it’s the norm. Villains and heroes must be developed before the final conflict. It makes the conflict more dramatic if we know the jist of who the villain is. Again, we don’t need to know EVERY LITTLE detail from childhood.
If a character doesn’t contribute to the story, he/she should be expunged from the record. So many anime are weighed down by a HUGE cast of characters (all with extensive backstories I might add) that do nothing to push the plot forward. Bleach, I’m looking at you. It gives the viewer whiplash to zip between this and that character’s small, unrelated and unimportant, side story or fight. Sure the character was cool…at first, but get back to the damn story.
The main character only appears to shove the story forward before being buried under various unnecessary subplots again. The main characters should be, well, the MAIN focus of the story.
Sure, every fan has their favorite sub-character, but that doesn’t mean you have to dedicate significant time on each of them. Briefly mention what they are doing in the dialogue. Let the fan fiction flesh out their story. Or do a movie that stars them. Just don’t let them take over the story. Also, don’t make the characters tedious when they do contribute to the plot. Gosh, some minor characters slow already slow stories to a snail’s pace.
If a subcharacter isn’t necessary, kill ’em. At least you can add a twist to the story and up the suspense and risk if done right. “Oh, WOW! They actually let ________ die after being so important…I wonder what will happen to the main characters now?” If pseudo-imporant “good guys” don’t die, there isn’t any risk to the main characters. No risk means no suspense.
The mecha genre is notorious for thinking too much of itself. They try to get too deep in philosophy and questions of life when the story just involves big-ass robots fighting each other. Most mecha involves teenagers trying to understand a life they haven’t lived yet. They just come off as emo. After awhile the viewer wants to cut their own wrist; it might just make the story seem a more exciting. Leave the life philosophizing to adults.
It doesn’t help that everyone waxes philosophical when they supposed to be fighting or doing something important in the plot. It doesn’t help these philosophical musings tend to be enormous diatribes.
Deus Ex Machina
Anime uses “god out of the machine” to wrap up their plot lines. Miraculously an item arrives or a latent ability is discovered that gets the character out of an otherwise hopeless situation. Usually this happens when the author doesn’t have the balls to let one of their many unneeded characters die. No hints or foreshadowing. The character can just immediately do this “cool” move that completely nullifies the vector of the story. Latent abilities only work if they are foreshadowed properly.
I always get my hopes up. “Hey! Maybe they will finally knock off this sub-character….Nope, didn’t think so.”
Whenever deus ex machina is employed, it’s obvious the author has no clue how to end the current plot line (*cough* let the character die *cough*). It really hurts an otherwise good plot, and makes the viewer trip in their suspension of disbelief.
No Ending in Mind
Anime is full of fillers and padding. Often it feels like that publishers and authosr just seek to milk a franchise for all its worth. It is okay for a series to go off air until the storyline is completely finished instead of filling it with unrelated and (even more) poorly paced plots. Even better, wait to produce the anime until the story is completely finished.
Some anime just feels like it is done by the seat-of-the-pants with how the story meanders aimlessly. Fights are especially prone to needless padding, like all the boasting and other yammering I mentioned.
Anime like Samurai Champloo, Cowboy Bebop, Fullmetal Alchemist, and Eureka Seven drew me into the art form. Each have a set length of episodes. They had an end in mind. Every anime could benefit from this. Knowing there are only 52 episodes to tell the whole story helps the pacing considerably. It slices out all the problems I mentioned in this article and gives the anime a trajectory.
Anime is a rich medium for storytelling. Storytelling needs to remain the focus. Anime often has sweeping, ambitious ideas. It often tries to do too much. Good storytelling requires a focus in characters and a set beginning and ending. Shows like Dragonball Z and Bleach are enjoyable up to a point. After awhile they just become too bloated and tedious. Both could be slashed down to just 150 episodes or less if they would just focus on the main story. Anime needs to stop trying to do so much.