Some of my favorite shows are ones with a large ensemble cast. Fullmetal Alchemsit. Attack on Titan. Katekyo Hitman Reborn. And Sailor Moon all come to mind and these shows have a very large cast of diverse characters that the author is intimately knowledgeable about. These characters are creations that have so much depth to them, in the voice actors we can hear the sorrow and joy expressed by dialogue. The artists knows all the reasons and motivation behind every action- and everything has a motivation.
Where other people may simply see “cartoons” but I see a beautifully crafted story with characters that I can relate to personally. The same things that draw people to a good book, television show, or comic.
Writers often struggle making characters as fleshed out as possible. But I think we can learn a lot from how anime and manga’s craft their characters in relation to the story. Here are some of the top things that cause me to love, mourn, and down right believe in characters. All from anime.
- Goals / Motivation
I will never forget the first time I watched Fullmetal Alchemst, the story of two brothers who are hell bent on reviving their dead mother only to result in the loss of their own limbs. The show then changes focus on their goals; reviving their mother turns into a quest to retrieve their lost bodies.
It is an up hill battle for the brothers, that’s for sure and we feel sympathy for them because they are SO YOUNG when this horrific event happens to them. But it is a story I remember clearly and every time the show comes on their journey drags me back in again.
Motivation is just as important as story, because your main character is nothing in a story if they don’t firmly believe in their goals. Eren (Attack on Titan) wants to kill all the Titans, that’s his goal and we can totally back him up on this after the viewer witnessed Eren’s mother being eaten alive in front of him. We easily understand what his goal is and his motivation behind it.
Good Goals = Good Motivation
But it’s not just the main character’s motivation that makes a good story. Every character needs something to achieve. Even if you give your side characters little goals (or big ones) you equip them with an extra layer of depth. In Anime and Manga the creator generally doesn’t introduce a character without a goal. One powerful enough to propel powerful actions.
Think of Sailor Uranus and Sailor Neptune (Sailor Moon) when we first meet them. They are Sailor Scouts but ones with their own agenda. Their motivations do not align with that of the Inner Senshi. For a long string of episodes Sailor Moon can’t understand why they can’t work together and even though the viewer knows there is more to it we also don’t know exactly what it is. It’s these little things that make extra character’s interesting. They draw the viewer to care about minor characters.
- Character Voice
How is it an anime cast of seven or eight characters still manages to give each one a unique voice? And No, I’m not just talking about voice acting.
Try This: Pop in your favorite anime and see how the the characters all talk to each other and how they talk to small side characters. The conversation is kept fresh by dialogue that is unique to the person talking.
Think of Avatar: The Last Airbender, where we have a gang of kids with unique abilities and personality. In one conversation we’ll see Aang being distracted, Soka concentrating (and failing), Toph hasty with her words, and Katara more considerate as they discuss the same topic. Their personalities, bring different voices and characteristics to the conversations.
Anime and manga are also very expressive with the emotions drawn out. They have to be. If the voice actor isn’t speaking these non verbal cues clue the viewer that something is up. Watch for these. A scowl. A narrow brow. These are cliché but what about how Ed (Fullmetal) will growl when someone calls him short or the lazy sing-song way Yao Ling (Fullmetal) talks.
We anime fans are extra susceptible to voices and sounds because we have opinions on Japanese and English voice actors. Which ones do you likes and don’t like? Why?
Remember how Naruto has that raspy English voice I don’t think anyone can stand? Give it to an annoying character in your book, other’s will despise him as well.
This is a key point of characterization for any writer. We’re told, “make sure you’re character is not the same person they are in the beginning of the story.” Sometimes this means they have overcome some fear or a large obstacle presented to them through conflict. The tool of growth means so much more than just an emotional change.
In Anime and Manga the viewer is treated when they can actually see the growth a character undergoes. Just compare Ed from the beginning of Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood to the end. He starts out a boy but ends a man; both in maturity and in physical looks. He fills out, grows taller, gets scars and changes looks. These are all physical growths that a author should incorporate to show the wear and tear your character undergoes.
Even Katniss and Peta leave the Arena with permanent injuries. The change they’ve undergone is not just an emotional one but is reflected on their bodies as well.
I’m not saying scar up your characters. What I’m trying to hit on is when your character goes through a journey like the one you are putting them on maybe their favorite article of clothing will change, maybe they decide to get a tattoo, or they’ve put on some extra weight. I know after a stressful week at work I gain a pound or two. When our character’s experience these changes- the good and the bad- we feel more connected to them.
- The “Aha” Moment
What’s an “Aha” moment? It’s that moment when you either make your readers love or hate your character. A defining moment for them and the story. Every character should have one, but not every character needs a “aha” moment in the same book. Make sense?
Eren from Attack on Titan has one of the best “Aha” moments in history. (Spoilers) When he gets gobbled up by a Titan only to reemerge later with mysterious circumstances, the audience cheers. When Jean (Attack on Titan), a character viewers are usually on the fence about, finally proves himself as a competent leader when no one else will- the audience cheers. When Trunks (Dragonballz) kills Freiza in those crucial first episodes when we meet him- we all cheered!
Aha! I love when Anime characters have these moments. In fact, I love when all characters have these moments. When side characters do something that makes me gasp I usually hug the book to my chest and either cry or smile.
These moments are great ones to exhibit a change in characterization, to reveal motives, or just make your character really really evil. A story with just action from the main character and villain are boring. Share the love. The more “Aha” moments the better.
I hope this helped. If I missed anything or there are more recommendations please suggest them in the comments below.