In a recent post of his, Froggykun asks about the influence of anime on the writing style of its fans. He is right that writers love talking about their stories, so here I am, offering my two cents.
Going by my fanfiction.net registration date, I have been reading and writing fanfiction for over ten years. I am not a prolific writer and the time gaps between my releases tend to be long, but I do not think that matters much. Making up scenes and stories, reimagining them from different angles and exploring different possibilities has always been and will probably forever be a large part of my life. If even one in a thousand such images is persistent enough to make me put my pen to paper, I will consider myself a writer.
Getting to the meat of things, then, how do I think a background as an anime fan can affect an author’s writing?
This one is so fundamental it might be easy to miss, but anime and its fandom have their own language, subtly different from the standard variation. There are the obvious cases, like when the narration straight out accuses one of the characters as acting tsundere. But at times I forget that words like glomp do not show up in your standard dictionary, even if they have been a part of my internal dictionary for over a decade.
Because fanfiction authors write almost exclusively for a like-minded audience, they can allow themselves a high degree of freedom in using those specialized terms. But personally, I find that otaku-speak works best in light-hearted writing and comical scenes, whereas other kinds of narrative tend to be more immersive without it.
Froggykun mentions trying his hand at writing anime genres such as shounen, mecha, harem, or magical girls. I must say that this approach is alien to me. I will pluck characters and concepts out of works representing those genres, but once they enter the world of writing, they have to obey a new set of rules.
Genres such as action/thriller/romance replace the original’s former genre as the new base of the narrative. Hayate no Gotoku might be a harem romantic comedy with a penchant for ridiculous gags, but if I want it to be a fantasy story, then so be it. If I want it to be a political thriller, then so be it. I will look for every possible way to retain as much of the original character concepts as possible, but I will not feel guilty over shaking up the rules of the world that the characters have lived in so far. Because every story I write is mine mine mine. (muahahahaha)
Anime has long taken over how I imagine and visualize fictional things. Of course, anime as a medium has a near endless variety of styles, so when I imagine the action of Orson Scott Card’s Speaker for the Dead, I call to mind a tame and dark art style rather than painting everyone with pink hair and big round eyes. But this method of visualization does affect what I write.
While working on a recent chapter draft, I noticed that my characters do a lot of glaring, staring, widening and narrowing their eyes. That is not surprising, considering that the characters in my mind have the extremely expressive anime eyes that can show any emotion necessary, which I instinctively try to put into words. Watching out for this kind of tendency is important to avoid repetitive and boring descriptions.
Too often we see anime adaptations that forget that recreating the source material perfectly in a different medium is not possible if you do not use the strengths of the target medium to cover for the weaknesses that will inevitably become apparent in the adaptation. After all, if the source material was any good, it means the author of the original was using the strengths of their medium to their full advantage. The same principle applies to transferring the images in an author’s head to writing.
Just like otaku lingo finds its way into our writing, there are certain concepts that anime fans share and take for granted even if the average Joe has no idea what they are about.
In at least one battle scene I wrote, one of the decisive factors in the fight was that the main character could determine whether their opponent was dead or alive by sensing their powerful killing intent. I did not particularly go out of my way to explain what the killing intent, a mainstay in ninja and samurai stories, actually was. In a story aimed at a mainstream audience, a more careful introduction of the concept would be required.
Whenever our magical girls transform or mechas combine, an otaku audience immediately knows what the scene is supposed to look like, giving the author much more leeway in how to handle the narration and descriptions.
I do not think that most people like anime because it is Japanese in origin. Most accounts I hear point to the combination of the cartoon medium with stories that actually try to make full use of its potential. It so happened that the one country which produced a varied niche market for this kind of product was Japan.
But the final result is that all anime fans eventually come to deepen their understanding of the Japanese culture, society and language. This has its effect on the writing of fanfiction authors. Regardless of the language the story is written in, you can often see Japanese leaving its mark on the narrative. Terms like sempai/kouhai are left as is, characters address each other using honorifics, and some popular nouns like onigiri or bento slip into the text. None of this is particularly otaku in nature, but people will often feel this vocabulary and concepts necessary to represent the reality of a Japanese setting. (Those who have seen Shion no Ou might remember a scene where one of the characters delivers what amounts to a confession in front of a crowd and in the middle of a shougi match just by dropping a honorific, which goes to show that yes, those things are important.)
Unfortunately, it is much easier to abuse Japanese this way than enhance a story. Inserting whole phrases in Japanese in an otherwise English story can often be cringe-worthy, and filling an author’s note paragraph with “X means Y” does not help at all. While personally I cannot make do without honorifics in my Japanese-setting stories, I strongly suggest limiting the amount of Japanese in a story as much as possible. Even putting aside the fact that adding in Japanese often feels like the author is trying to show off for no reason, if the possibility of your reader not understanding the text is not zero, you have to make double sure that the whole passage still makes sense even if the reader fails to grasp the Japanese part. The payoff is usually not worth the cost.
Those were my general thoughts on how fandom affects a writer. Froggykun hopes to find fanfiction writers among the blogging community. I always thought there was a divide between fanfiction writers producing creative fiction (aka masturbatory drivel) and bloggers taking on editorial and other posts, and I suspect there is relatively little overlap between the two groups. But feel free to share your experiences and prove me wrong!