Character Development is the Cancer That Is Killing Anime: A Book of Bantorra Post

If we don’t stop it soon, it will fester and swallow us whole until anime like this don’t exist.

Bantorra

Recently, I’ve been re-watching The Book of Bantorra and for some reason, I’m enjoying it a whole lot more than I did the first time to the point I think it’ll go on my favorites list once I’m done with it. Like most anime that have a hard time clicking with me despite doing so much right, this may be due to the fact that I’m not rushing it like last time and allowing everything to sink in. It easily surpasses Jojo in terms of David Production’s best anime in terms of enjoyable characters and fight choreography and is also quite frankly the best thing that Mari Okada has ever written. Aquarion EVOL never had the guts to go as crazy as this beauty.

But whilst there are a lot of things to like about Bantorra, what I like the most, and what I wish would happen in more anime nowadays, is how they don’t bother to really flesh out the characters beyond what’s required to understand the story. Hell, they never even really grow or change too much, living as they always have, detached from the audience just like they started. And that’s just how I like it. No making you get emotionally attached to the characters. No preachy messages attached to their personal journeys. Just entertaining ideals that do their job without going too far into the opposite direction like fucking Devil Survivor 2 did.

Screen Shot 2013-11-08 at 11.48.23 AM

Too often these days, it feels like anime need to develop their characters, sometimes excessively, to the point of tedium and it annoys me. Don’t get me wrong: character development is great and if it’s necessary to make the character interesting, then I say go for it. However, the big problem I have with a lot of anime that they tend to sacrifice the plot in order to make the development happen (oh hi there Kanon, Wolf’s Rain, and the more recent Galilei Donna), making me feel like nobody really cares about anything, and thus I see no reason why I should either. Maybe that’s fine if you’re a huge character person like Joey, but whilst I kind of was one in the past, those days are behind me now. When I watch anime or other fiction, I want things to feel like they’re going somewhere, whether it be by the writing or the characters themselves.

What makes it even worse is that the development usually either takes too long to happen when you could have easily done it in a quarter of the time or it doesn’t actually develop anything in the end. Did Renton really change in Eureka Seven? What the hell was up with all the character stories in Robotics;Notes? And do I even need to mention the KyoAni adaptation of Clannad? Seriously, what’s the point in devoting all that time to powerful character moments (that mostly fail with me) if you’re not going to make them important to what’s going on? It’s just a waste of my time and the animators’. Yes, I know that the episode limits being as strict as they are (13 or 26 episodes without anything in between) is a huge problem and not every anime can be Haibane Renmei in melding character moments and powerful themes with plot, but that’s no excuse to not use up your episodes effectively. You only need to look at the entire middle section of Occult Academy in order to get lessons regarding how to fill up time effectively (Shut up you haters. Those episodes were awesome and I will not hear anything to the contrary).

Madoka

Why is caring about a character a requirement in order to enjoy something anyways? I understand them detracting from the experience by being too annoying, especially when the plot relies on having to care about the cast (I couldn’t stand Princess Jellyfish because of how the story tried to make me sympathize with those awful Amars). And I understand having an emotional connection to characters you truly care for and how it helps ground you into fiction and all (main reason I love Hyouka). But it shouldn’t be required to actually care about a character in order to find them interesting. Especially when you look at how many people love anything by Urobuchi, who can’t write characters worth crap, or the praise regarding Tatami Galaxy despite the fact that the main protagonist is basically an unnamed entity.

Hell, my three favorite shows of the season so far are Kyousogiga, Samurai Flamenco, and Kill la Kill (as is most people’s) and aside from maybe the first one, I don’t really give too much of a damn about the cast in there other than to see what they do. Yes, I think they’re interesting, but certainly not because they speak to my heart or whatever. I think they’re interesting because of what they represent. And as long as they continue to keep on representing, my stance on them won’t change.

Book of Bantorra falls under the same vein as those shows. I want to see the plot control these characters and make them dance for me. If it makes me relate to them along the way, fine. If it kills them off to further the story, even better. But right now, it’s how mysteriously cryptic someone like Hamyuts Mesata is or how I don’t know the past of Millepoc and her real relationship with Volken that keeps me into the thing. And by not devoting much time to answering my questions regarding these individuals, the show is able to deliver impressive climaxes whilst keeping my attention far better than most of the stuff that comes out these days. Again, EVOL’s method is fine due to how it plays with the character formula and all, but Bantorra is where it’s at in the end.

Bantorra2

Yeah, let’s see your favorite anime pull off shit like this before you attempt to dissuade my stance on the matter.

27 responses to “Character Development is the Cancer That Is Killing Anime: A Book of Bantorra Post

    • It helps, but despite being more light-hearted than most, the constant meandering antics of stuff like E7 and Eccentric Family annoyed me more than the meandering in srs stuff like Rahxephon.

      • 1. I hate to bring up the old “someone points out a “trend in anime” and someone else loudly argues it’s always been there by citing a few specific examples” schtick, but I am pretty sure anime hasn’t gotten more or less inclined to character development. It was plenty there in the old stuff, and it’s plenty absent in new stuff.

        2. Can I speak for all Eureka Seven fans when I tell you that you are all kinds of wrong?

      • 1. I hate to bring up the old “someone points out a “trend in anime” and someone else loudly argues it’s always been there by citing a few specific examples” schtick, but I am pretty sure anime hasn’t gotten more or less inclined to character development. It was plenty there in the old stuff, and it’s plenty absent in new stuff.

        Regarding the old stuff, whilst I can’t say for sure since I’m not the biggest when it comes to the history of anime, we usually had episodic stuff that went on forever like Astro Boy and Galaxy Express 999 that were more focused on putting characters into different situations, or the ultraviolent OVAs that had no development whatsoever. Any character development back then like in Utena, Rose of Versailles, Trigun, or s-CRY-ed usually correspondeded with the plot or was irrelevant because episodic stuff like 999 or Urusei Yatsura is all about throwing characters into situations and seeing how they’d react. Not the same as Bantorra, but similar enough.

        It probably didn’t start the whole trend, but Rahxephon is the earliest anime I can remember where they started to really focus on putting character over plot (and not in a way I liked). That anime came out in 2002, which is not long enough from now to be considered a distant past (at least for me). It wasn’t the worst of the bunch, but damn was that thing trying too hard to be cryptic for my taste.

        And that trend hasn’t gone away. Gatchaman Crowds, Eccentric Family, and Monogatari S2 just came out last season. They all had concepts I liked, but they wasted them on boring character stuff that got in the way of the plot and annoyed me. Galilei Donna is the same and that’s this season. Gargantia suffered for similar reasons too and that was two seasons ago.

        Yes, it’s a minority compared to twenty-something other trashy anime a season that aren’t even worth recognizing and don’t even try to develop a goddamn thing like I’m sure that wrestling show does. But since they’re not worth recognizing, I’m ignoring them.

        2. Can I speak for all Eureka Seven fans when I tell you that you are all kinds of wrong?

        Renton never grew up or earned his right to whine until the very end, after 50 episodes. Most fans agree with me that he was a dull character whilst some will find his innocence relatable. I did not. Only thing I liked about him was when I put on the dub and could hear JYB speaking in my ears.

        As for the show itself, whilst the second and fourth arcs are debatable because cool stuff does happen in them, even if you could have made them shorter, the first and third arcs are boring and repetitive. I don’t care what anyone else says. The standouts of awfulness in my mind was Episode 4 with that awful “drunk Talho gets in trouble with thugs” story and whatever that episode was regarding the kids.

  1. I won’t try to change your opinion on what you do or don’t like, but I will say that I don’t think anime has changed that much over the past 10 years, at least not in approach to storytelling in any broad meaningful way anyway, it’s been in a state of technical change for about that length of time and that’s probably been most of what has changed in my opinion. Anime has been humanizing everything from day one(astro boy) which likely explains production studio’s inclination toward character driven storytelling I think.

    I’ve only just found your website recently, but I think I can already tell that you probably want very different things out of your anime than I do. I personally think it’s a valid stance for an anime to be about developing the characters. The focus on characterization is one of the reasons I tend to like anime and something I personally want. I can’t comment on Book of Bantora as I never watched it.(maybe I should? A few of my friends liked it early on, but they told me it ended poorly so I never gave it a shot. What should I expect if I ever do watch it?)

    I look at any story as an experience first and foremost. Sometimes that experience is character driven, sometimes it’s driven by the story and what character growth is between those two things can be very different. Sometimes the growth of an otherwise unimportant side character can be benefit the story as a whole if it fits the themes at work,(Mai from Kanon) sometimes character development comes in the form of overcoming things the world throws at the characters(Waiver from Fate/Zero) and sometimes it’s just about growing up and the whole plot could have happened without it.(Renton from E7) All of those have valid ways of telling a compelling story I think, they just require different levels of investment in different things.

    My favorite shows of the season are probably Golden Time > Outbreak Company > Galilei Donna though I am enjoying KLK and Kyousogiga as well. I’m on the opposite side of the spectrum I guess. I like to challenge myself with radically different opinions though so I hope you don’t mind my occasional presence.

    • My point isn’t that anime is “starting” to characterize its character, but that in the last ten years or so, they’ve been letting the characterization overwhelm the plot and cool concepts to the point of irritability. Eccentric Family and Gatchaman Crowds in particular recently disappointed me because they had the tools to be great, but they wasted them.

      I’ve only just found your website recently, but I think I can already tell that you probably want very different things out of your anime than I do.

      That’s pretty much what my blog is centered around on. I tried being more objective and elitist in the past, but it wasn’t doing much for my writing so I decided to just embrace my alien tastes. I’m fully aware that ppl like the whole “character over story” thing like Joey (linked above) as well as Emily from Atelier Emily and Natasha from Isn’t It Electrifying?. I don’t and expressed why I felt that way.

      I like to challenge myself with radically different opinions though so I hope you don’t mind my occasional presence.

      All my opinions are pure genuine, despite appearances. I don’t “try” for anything. I genuinely like what I like and dislike what I don’t.

      • “All my opinions are pure genuine, despite appearances. I don’t “try” for anything. I genuinely like what I like and dislike what I don’t.”

        I can appreciate that. A lot of elitist hipsters anibloggers are anything but objective and overuse ambiguous language. I think most of the internet doesn’t know what “objective” means actually… I can tell what you are talking about even when I disagree with it so I like reading your blog. 😉 That’s been my criteria for finding new blogs lately.

        “I’m fully aware that ppl like the whole “character over story” thing like Joey”

        I would argue that it’s more just a different focus for the story(or maybe a different story entirely depending) rather than characters > story, but I’m nitpicking at semantics. I do understand what you are saying. I guess I find this important because there is character driven storytelling(See Golden Time or Galilei Donna) and then there is character driven whatever the hell it wants to be at any given moment.(see K-On! or Minami-Kei) Character driven versus character milked maybe? Even KyoAni has been trying to stop all the mooing and become more focused lately…

        I will say it’s a shame you character driven storytelling so irritating since that is probably what most anime is bent toward. You probably hate a lot of my favorite things. >_> I see we both like Baccano at least! That’s one character driven show that nearly everyone likes I guess.(though I’ve met a few people who don’t as well)

    • Baccano may be character-driven, but the characters were driving the plot forward the entire time. It hardly took a stop at all, really.

      Golden Time sort of does that, but it tends to repeat the same story over and over throughout the six episodes I saw. To be fair, the reason I stopped with that was because the direction was too awful for me to get past. Pacing-wise, it isn’t that bad.

      I don’t dislike Galilei Donna because it’s character-driven. I dislike it because the thing the characters are driving isn’t the plot, or at least not a plot I care about.

      • Oh hey, I’ve been seeing lots of complaints aimed at Chiaki Kon over Golden Time, but they are all ambiguous. I’m honestly stumped over what people are complaining about. Could you tell me what the hate is all about? I actually think the directing has been pretty solid so far(so do most my friends) I’ve been thoroughly confused. The production values kind of blow at times, but it hardly seems fair to blame that entirely on the director. I don’t think it’s what people are complaining about though… Either way I’m confused because I honestly don’t know what they are complaining about and not because I disagree.

    • Some of the scenes have the characters are animated in terrible CG. Yesterday’s episode saw the return of the awful sound mixing. There are too many shots of talking heads and not enough dynamic directing. It’s like Shaft except without the budget-saving style that excuses them somewhat.

      • Ah, most of that sounds like typical JC Staff to me honestly. They are often guilty of making pretty anime that barely moves and instead relies on voice acting. I guess I am just somewhat okay with that at this point. (maybe I’ve become immune after watching tons of their anime?) I totally complained about that when it happened in Little Busters though, probably because they voice acting and dialog wasn’t able to carry the show in the least…

        I’ve heard the sound mixing complaint, but I’m not sure what it refers to. Would you mind pointing to an example?

        The CG crowds are totally awful. The alternative for JC Staff in the past has been to simply not show backgrounds at all though. What’s worse? Trying to keep up with modern standards and ending up with shit that needs to be fixed for the BD release or just plain looking out of touch? I prefer the former personally, provided they do in fact fix it before I buy the series.(provided it gets licensed at all.)

        Sakurasou didn’t sell very well which was their big push for this market. I guess it sold well enough to try a similar type show again. I can’t help wondering how much of the problems are due to limiting her budget and how much is because she is screwing the anime over?

        Thanks for explaining by the way. I’ve been asking for over a week now and all I ever get is -because she made series x-.(which is always something highly regarded and usually something I haven’t seen…)

  2. I’m like lifesongsoa above. I read blogs to challenge my own worldview, but I’m completely boggled now. There are times when I read your blog when I have physical difficulty wrapping my head around your opinions. I mean on a semantic level I understand what you are saying, but wow. Way to piss all over everything anime stands for in one post lol.

    At first I typed up this huge-ass response disagreeing with every single point you made, but then I realised I would sound like a hater of your blog, so I was like “fuck it”. Good job getting me riled up, at least. I usually consider myself a laid-back frog lol.

    • As I said, my point isn’t that shows shouldn’t have character development. I could have used some actual characterization in Free or Devil Survivor 2. My point is that you shouldn’t let the character development ruin the story. Here’s a quote from a post regarding the second episode of Un-Go from E. Minor’s blog that explains what I prefer in regards to characterization:

      Don’t get me wrong — character development’s great; I certainly want to understand how the characters onscreen tick. Too often, however, this comes at the cost of the mystery itself. The common result is that a case feels either rushed and underdeveloped or bogged down by superfluous slice-of-life elements. In Un-Go‘s latest episode, we immediately dove into a intriguing murder mystery. The only time the anime stopped to reveal an extra facet or two about its protagonists was the captivating exchange between adult Inga and Shinjuro. I don’t have a petulant, nasally voice whining about sweet buns or a bland shounen hero giving me a monologue about how his peaceful high school days are over. Un-Go cuts through the fat and gets right to the point.

      And like I said, I rarely “care” about characters in anime. I remember getting sad over Hughes’ death in FMA and Kamina’s death in Lagann, but for the most part, I’m the kind of guy who cheers when a character dies and am more concerned with how it affects the story.

      Part of the reason I love Book of Bantorra is because the characters are not made for the audience to sympathize with. They’re made to be awesome in their own right whilst being detached to the viewer. That’s probably why a lot of people couldn’t get into it, but I think that adds to the awesomeness of the show.

  3. You mention Clannad, which makes me think you don’t have an objection to the so-called “character-driven” way of storytelling, but more to disjointedness; Tomoya has things to learn along the way, but at the end of it all it stops being about his growth and turns into Noein with dead people showing up in other dimensions and what have you. As opposed to Kyousougiga, where Episode 0 makes it seem like what the story is building up to is engineered by everything the first 5 episodes have showed the characters going through.

    Then again, I could be wrong, since it’s been forever since I’ve seen Clannad and I haven’t seen your other example Uchoten Kazoku. This is a problem I kind of have difficulty with because there’s no particular style of storytelling I object to just because, but I do have a problem with when it chooses to fill time by changing the content on some weird tangent instead of just trying to do something entertaining.

    • I always preferred the Clannad movie to the series because despite its problems, it kept its focus tight and got rid of all that melodrama that Key is famous for. Series-wise, you could have cut out almost all the girls’ stories and it wouldn’t have changed a thing. They didn’t really develop and it was just wasting time in the end.

      The problem I had with Eccentric Family was that there was no actual story for more than half the show. And when it did show up, it was kind of shit.

  4. Well, obviously, there’s very little point in developing uninteresting characters. If there’s nothing to be developed from it, it would make sense to just drop it altogether.

    Character development should never be necessary to enjoy a show. I personally love Madoka, despite having such a weak cast. It all depends on what the show is going for. Certain shows like NHK and Hyouka thrive on it, but there are just as many shows (like Danganronpa) where it just comes off as superfluous.

    The problem with Eccentric Family was that it stuck too much to its introspective elements without adding anything new or interesting to the characters. That, and the ending utterly failed to tie up its character conflicts satisfactorily.

    • Well I think Danganronpa used character development quite effectively. It gave you the minimum needed to keep you into the story whilst giving the court cases some weight. It never took up more than half an episode at the most. The way Naegi changes from normal kid to delusional smart idealist is far more believable than most other shows. It’s the main reason why it rules and why Devil Survivor 2 drooled.

      • I didn’t mean my comment to be an attack against Danganronpa. I have no regrets designating it as my favorite Summer 2013 show. I simply meant that the use of character development in the show was mainly for the sake of keeping the characters consistent or to establish the necessary pathos whenever a character dies. The character development never had that meandering quality to it that I would associate with shows reliant on it. Its use struck me as simple, pragmatic, and effective in what the show set out to achieve.

        At the end of the day, Danganronpa was at its best being a show about ridiculous characters trying to kill each other off. I even have my doubts that Naegi developed at all. It’s a good example of a show the gets by without a well-developed cast.

  5. I continue to be entertained by how diametrically opposed our preferences tend to be. Pretty much the only shows I considered “very good” from the summer season were the ones you singled out here – Eccentric Family, Gatchaman Crowds, and Monogatari. Hell, my latest Kyousogiga post (which I actually did write before reading this) basically starts off with a love letter to the kind of storytelling you dislike.

    http://wrongeverytime.com/2013/11/10/kyousogiga-episode-5/

    • I said this to you on Twitter, but I like characters driving the plot a lot, hence why I love Kyousogiga as much as I do (although if it ends anticlimactically, I’m going to facepalm). My problem with the shows you mentioned are:

      Eccentric Family- I couldn’t see the plot the characters were driving because aside from the MAL summary, the show never really told the plot until around Episode 10. Kyousogiga’s first episode gave you an idea of what was up by the end (I initially missed it b/c I was tired when I first saw the episode and all): The parents are gone and Koto is on a quest, which is described in the second episode. Family had the father’s death, but it wasn’t being told in a way that felt purposeful. Plus, the ending was badly anticlimactic, and even the fans seem to agree with that. Lot of talent and great animated scenes, but not used in a way that I felt had urgency.

      Gatchaman Crowds- The problem I had was that the plot was being driven by ignoring the superhero stuff in order to focus on Internet activities that didn’t excite me. I’m not saying the activities have to give me a rush like Summer Wars did, but “using Twitter to search for spoiled milk?” I know there’s a point to that, but surely you could have thought of a more exciting scenario than that. Hajime and most of the other characters annoyed me of course, but I would have been more positive to the show if they were driving the plot through things I find cool on a surface level, as well as a thematic level, rather than just “characters dicking around, but it has a point, so that makes it okay”.

      Monogatari- My problem with this one is not only related to the plot meandering so much because Nisio Isin and all. My problem is how they turned down a good supernatural story for harem-pandering and such. The fanservice grates on me, I hate how Araragi is not really loyal to Senjougahara, and the dialogue really needed to be cut down.

      In short, I love characters driving the story and strong themes. They just have to be driving “the story” rather than wander off to look at the pretty butterflies or whatever, and expressing the themes in a way I find exciting. And if you do wander off, either be really funny, or expand on something in some sort of important manner. But like I said, that’s just me.

    • BTW, I read your post again and whilst I don’t like stories moving with empty characters (I mentioned Devil Survivor 2 in this, which was extremely boring despite moving things along), as I said on here, I would prefer the anime giving you the bare necessities to make the characters stand out somewhat whilst moving the plot, rather than focus too much time on character development at the expense of plot. Basically, a sort of middle ground with a slight preference to the plot. I’d LOVE it if you tied in both the story AND the characters at the same time, but that doesn’t often happen.

  6. The thing with Bantorra is that these characters have already experienced a hell of a lot of things before the story begins. Whatever “development” we get is largely there to explain their current motivations. Basically, they’re fully-realized and developed characters who have already made their major life choices. What we’re seeing in the series is those decisions making an impact on the fate of their world.

    What most people see as “development” is usually just an origin story. We’re seeing the events that lead to them becoming a person with life experiences, rather than seeing such an experienced person doing things based on their prior experiences. You mentioned Eureka 7. That takes Renton– a largely blank slate character– and has him experience things that turns him into a fleshed-out (if still pretty damn lame, in my opinion) character. Bantorra has a cast of characters who have already gone through those experiences and know EXACTLY what they want out of life.

    So I’d argue that Bantorra’s characters are usually MORE developed than the usual anime character. We just don’t spend 20+ episodes watching them become the people they grow into. We get to see them affect the world around them once they’ve finished that growth, learning what we need to know about them as plot dictates.

    • “Origin story”, huh? Never really thought of the whole “character development” story like that despite it being pretty obvious in hindsight. But that brings another thought in my mind that fiction also has a tendency to be problematic with and I didn’t address here: “how do you keep a character interesting AFTER they completed their development?” Bantorra obviously does it well (and Kyousogiga is doing a good job of it too), but I’ve seen a bunch of fiction where characters are interesting when their story is being told, but once it ends, they become really lame because the writer just doesn’t know what to do with them afterwards and yet still has more to his story.

      Edit: But regardless, the fact remains that Bantorra’s characters aren’t exactly made to be “relatable” the way that Eureka Seven wanted Renton to be relatable, development aside. And in addition to the complaints about “bad writing”, that’s one of the main reasons why Bantorra isn’t well-liked amongst the community. You think it’s awesome and I share similar sentiments, but there’s a bunch of people who prefer to relate or feel attached to characters. I do too, but as I said, I don’t think it’s a requirement to find a character interesting.

  7. You want bad character development as well as it being pointless and detrimental to the plot’s pace? Go read Akame ga Kiru. The fun(read:awful) thing about the development in that series is right before the character dies, which makes their end super predictable and super boring. Good lord is that manga awful(in my opinion).

    Also, Renton does mature. He is more determined and less hesitant as well as rather competent at piloting an LFO(versus him sucking at it). In fact, the whole point of the Ray and Charles arc was to make him realize what was important to him. Granted, it could have been done sooner.

    I actually prefer anime that have episodes that take a small break from the plot to develop the characters. Heck, I enjoy games that deal with the characters more than the plot. It’s why I freaking love Resonance of Fate, as it is very slice-of-life, and the plot is more subdued. I stopped caring about the plot in many ways, as it is the characters and their lives that tend to be more interesting. That’s not to say that plot isn’t important at all, but that I can’t care about the plot at all if I can’t care about the characters.

    • That Ray and Charles arc was like twenty episodes into the show. Yeah, it really should have happened a lot sooner.

      I like anime to take a break too. Just not a long one.

  8. My probem isn’t with character developpement. My problem is that in a lot of case, it’s forced, and just an excuse for angst. You do one or two episode full of angst and then the character arc finish anticlimatically and you never heard of it again.
    (Valvrave is the strongets contender by developping a full episode to a character to then have him die, for pure shock value.)
    They separate character developpement and story when the two should works together.
    Samurai Flamenco do character presentation pretty well. You have 2-3 key scenes that tells you everything you have to know about the characters, which let you all the time to let them interract and move the plot.

  9. Am i the only one put off by the idea of a plot that isn’t driven by round characters with motivations and depth? The best stories are character driven, and characters’ backgrounds shape their personalities, motivations, quirks, etc.
    Every moment a character is on screen should either back up who it is by showing how it acts, show another side of it, or show why it is the way it is. Characters aren’t just floating around in a story, characters are the story.