Monday, January 4, 2010

Mastering the Medium

I originally wrote OVA to be friendly to anime fans. Considering that it is an anime RPG, that made a good deal of sense. However, I think I made the errant assumption that someone who likes anime will automatically know how to create a story that conveys the same flair and oomph of the medium.

I plan to rectify that with an expanded Game Master's Section. While the same advice for running RPGs will remain, expect to see a lengthy discussion of common anime tropes and plot devices, along with a crash course on some of the more pervasive elements of Japanese culture. It's not an exhaustive discourse, but it should serve as a sufficient introduction, as well as a useful quick-reference for ideas. More in-depth discussion of specific genres will be left for the (eventually) forthcoming Genre Books.

So Readers, is there any information you feel is essential for a proper anime campaign? I hope the New Year is treating you well so far!

Saspar is a master of one thing, and that's the use of his magical gun. Despite his blindness, he is an unparalleled marksman, and his spell-powered ammunition makes him a fearsome foe. But at heart, Saspar is a sad and indifferent man, following orders only because that's all he knows how to do. His narrow focus also makes him oblivious to the affections of his partner Acacia...


  1. As you touch upon in your description of Saspar, a core allure of anime is its multifaceted characters. Characters don't exist as one persona; they have very different (and sometimes conflicting) sides to their personality and experience, making them more like people and less like flat representatives of all-that-is-Good and all-that-is-Evil.

    That brings me to the second point: anime is less about Good and Evil; it is about being human. As such, characters each have some problem or question in themselves in addition to outside pressures. How they address this traumatic past, personal goal, or moral question is often the focus of the plot that surrounds them; the outer forces thrown against them merely make the characters face their inner questions. Both antagonists and protagonists have this, such that many anime stories are about different approaches to life's questions (as symbolized by the different characters' personal approaches or paths). An antagonist may just be a character whose personal flaws send his or her quest awry.

    Well-done characters each have some aspect with which the audience can identify. The antagonist will more likely come off as a tragic version of the protagonist than as someone to be hated. The audience will identify with some good or merely familiar aspect of the antagonist even as the audience disapproves of how the antagonist pursues that aspect (or has repressed it).

    Two examples:
    1. Naruto, on his quest to become ninja commander, meets and many times fights several different people that touch on the cautions of his own quest: the Bridge arc (manga volumes 3-4) is a good example: Haku's path to become the ultimate shinobi illustrates the conflict of ideals inherent in Naruto's own goal, while Zabuza illustrates the danger of becoming that "ultimate shinobi."

    2. Cowboy Bebop's Spike Spiegel is chained to a past he cannot leave behind. While his nemesis and erstwhile partner Vicious is the human representation of what he willingly left behind, his former love Julia is a human representation of what he could NOT leave behind. How he faces this conundrum is one of the climaxes of the series.

  2. Nature vs. technology is a constant theme. Origin, Princess Mononoke, Blue Seed. All are examples of the "old ways" being lost to "science", and spiritual mysticism and respect for nature being dismissed in favor of bigger and better.

    Also, though prevalent on other mediums, the "Hero who does things different but still does them right in the end" trope is common. Rune Soldier Louie is a good mainly comedic example, while Trigun is a more serious one. They both contain main characters that go against the grain, that choose not to act like a wizard would act, or that choose not to kill, even with their extraordinary ability to do so.

    And for more anime tropes, everyone should watch Excel Saga. Sure, it's all parody, but parody ends up really getting the point across. :)

  3. Clay,
    To me, the real issues GMs seem to have with the anime genre is power creep. They really want to limit the amount of power PCs have access to. Especially in anime, I think this is one genre where this is a bad idea. I mean, the hallmarks of the genre Naruto, Bleach, DBZ are chock full of characters with seemingly unlimited power. I think the system has to emulate this and suppoirt this. As well as get the GM on board.
    Dave M

  4. Well - have to keep true to your vision. Is OVA just for anime style settings? I plan to use it for many things from fantasy to suvival horror - a section on Japanese culture (for background) might be useful - I know I often do research before my games, but anime is such a broad medium -

    In other words - I wouldn't kill yourself beyond putting down basics and just give people a primer to conduct their own research.

  5. So far the main thing I've noticed about anime is that most of the ones that deal with serious issues also have a lighter side. Generally it's inherent in the characters themselves and GMs shouldn't be afraid to prompt players to build in elements like that. Bleach and Fullmetal Alchemist both have elements like that where the characters get intensely disturbed by size references or someone's artistic ability, etc.

    I'm not sure if you're interested in lists of common subthemes or not but in many cases where westerners would pit good versus evil an anime will instead pit order versus chaos. Either one of those sides might be the "good guys" in any given story. Sometimes neither of them are, they're both more neutral-ish as in Scryed.