Writing Anime: An Interview

Today, instead of lecturing you on what to cherry-pick from certain animes, I’ve met with and interviewed an individual who knows his stuff. Cuchallain has a long career of analysing and reviewing anime, manga and video games. So much so in fact that I greatly respect his opinions on most of the review videos I’ve watched. He also happens to have my favorite Let’s Play of Tales of Zestiria on the entirety of the internet, so let’s put that out there too.

As the first interview I ever conducted, Cu and I started with just a few questions, and while he didn’t exactly consider himself an expert to start with, it quickly became apparent to me that he was, in fact, quite knowledgeable. An avid anime fan since the age of ten years old, a convention-goer on the regular, and now the personality behind a youtube channel with over five thousand subscribers, Cu is also incredibly humble.

When asked what goes into his writing for his typical reviews, he explained that he’s actually very unscripted with them. At most, he takes a few notes, generally about the speech of the characters and the themes behind the videos. He in fact, doesn’t even script his theory videos. Then, unfortunately, we devolved into a discussion about his online name, and then that devolved into a conversation on fanfiction and the wonders of Inuyasha as a gateway drug.

Me: Can you give me an idea of what your first anime was?

Cu: Well, like anyone from our generation, it was either like dragon ball, or sailor moon, or digimon that came on all at the same time.


Me: I figured it was one of those, but what drew you into our sordid existence, though?

Cu: […] I think it was the artstyle? Like, I really loved the artstyle. I REALLY got into it, and the way that it was a cartoon, but it was still so grown up and mature compared to other things. That was something that we didn’t really have at that time.

Me: I completely agree, we were usually stuck with things like CatDog. 

Cu: Yeah, if you saw a cartoon it was just cute and cuddly, and there were jokes that were over your head? But they never really tried to give you a proper, in depth story to go along with that.

Me: […] What do you consider essential in a plot, for a story?

Cu: […] I think there needs to be some sort of conflict, and there needs to be really good  characters. […] As long as there are good characters, I can get into it. […]

Me: Can you give us an example of maybe your top five anime, plot-wise? Storywise?

Cu: Storywise…? Number one, definitely Shin Sekai Yori. […] It gets so much deeper [after one of the characters is killed], and [the rat-people war] becomes a major plot. […] Everything that has to do with the Minoshiro, after it tells them about humanity? That all comes majorly into play. […] It’s really well writ.

Me: See, now I have to go back and watch that anime, and I really don’t want to. So, that’s your top one?

Cu: Yes, and the rest of them, I don’t have in any particular order. Fullmetal alchemist brotherhood is really, really good. It had really strong themes throughout it.

Me: I have to disagree with you, sorry, but original FMA for the win!

Cu: Oh, I love the original FMA, I just feel like Brotherhood really connected better with the end. I especially don’t like what they did with Hohenheim in the original. […] y’see, one of my favorite stories is Mushishi? But, plotwise, that’s more just a series of interconnected stories more than anything else.

Me: Well, even that can be useful to us writerly types.

Cu: yeah, that’s what I would say. Individual episodes of [Mushishi] have definitive themes, and the episodes individually can be creepy or they can be funny or silly, but yeah, I would say that one is probably on the top. God, this is hurting my brain… Can I put a movie on this list?

Me: Yes, absolutely!

Cu: Oh that makes this so much easier then, Millenium Actress! […] [Satoshi Kon] has done so many good movies, and Millenium Actress is my absolute favorite. 

Me: Have you read his Opus?

Cu: I have not! I got really sad, because somebody sent that to Chibi Reviews a couple of months ago, and I was like, ‘awwww!’ Because he was like, “I have no idea who this guy is?” and a little piece of me died inside. […] he’s like the biggest episodic reviewers, he’s got like, 120 thousand subscribers.

Me: Holy shit.

Cu: Yeahhhh, he’s been doing it for going on, like, four years, now.

Me: […] Okay, back to the original question, you’ve still got one anime, movie, video game, anything like that to, kinda, plug here.

Cu: I’m gonna say, there are two I’m thinking of. Death Parade and Parasyte.

Me: […] Okay, so what about them makes them worthy of sharing a spot on your top five?

Cu: Death parade, again, it’s the characters and the themes. I haven’t really thought about it before, but that’s what really draws me into things. The characters are really strong, and there’s a current theme going through the whole series of death and retribution, reincarnation, and in between that, there’s lots of episodic stories being told. But, at the same time, we’re constantly getting more and more about the two main characters.

Cu: Where as with Parasyte, again, more of the same overarching plot about good and evil, and is it right for man to judge other species by their own standards. And at the same time, a very shonen story that goes on in the forefront, drawing people in, while really it’s all these themes in the background that really draw me in more than anything else. A very human story.

Me: So it could be easily said you greatly enjoy sneaky themes.

Cu: Oh yes. in fact, oh god. Madoka. Madoka Magica, one of my favorites of all time.

Me: I was gonna say, Madoka’s gotta be on the top ten list for you, if you like sneaky themes.

Cu: I love it when they pretend something’s gonna be super generic, and then pull the rug out from over your eyes. it’s amazing. did you ever see Ore Gairu? […] That’s another one where it feels like a typical harem [anime] before you realize, over time, that every one of the characters is just putting on a facade and pretending to be what they’re not. And it slowly reveals why they’re so damaged and putting on an act that way.

Me: I might have to look into it! I have a special loathing for any kind of harem anime?

Cu: Oh yeah, me too! That’s why I love Ore Gairu, it started off that way for the first 2-3 episodes. It started off [making you think you knew the characters, making you sick of them], and it started to show who they REALLY are, and it was like, Oh damn! This is so good!

Me: Yeah, see, now I’m gonna have to watch that one too. Why do you keep DOING this to me?

It’s inevitable, you know, get two geeks in a room, and they’re going to tell each other what their favorites are. Cu has the uncanny ability to pick out my new favorites, and honestly, I really do appreciate it. Cu kept torturing me for a little bit with recommendations, and I ended up going on a rant about Homestuck.  After that, we began to get into the more deep aspects of crafting, rather than trading around anime recommendations.

Me: Now, between more western centric literature and writing vs. the more [asian], what do you feel the main thematic differences are?

Cu: hmmm… In literature?

Me: Now, to clarify a little bit, I am considering anime and manga a type of literature in and of itself.

Cu: Oh, okay. Japanese literature does tend to kind of embrace tropes a lot more. Whereas [in] western literature, there are certain tropes, like vampires, wizards and zombies, all of that. Japanese style, they really, really like certain types of characters, certain situations, and they’ll continuously  bring them up again and again. It never seems to get boring to them, and it really surprised me!

Cu: I’m sure you’re the same way, and that’s why I hate harems, because you always get the exact same characters, the exact same scenes of the guy falling over on the girl[..]

Me: Or the girl falling over, and suddenly EVERYTHING is on display? Like Tsumiki [from the Dangan Ronpa series]

Cu: Oh man, yeah!

Me: Her type of ‘putting it out there‘ is a special type. I honestly think it was put into the games to make fun of that particular trope.

Cu: Yeah, exactly. Just like Peko Pekoyama’s moments are meant to take the piss out of Sailor Moon. They even have the same voice actress for her.

Me: […] Next question! You obviously script your videos, the big ones anyway, can you describe that process for me?

Cu: …frustration?

Me: Don’t I know it!

Cu: A lot of the time, I uh, while I’m thinking of the video idea, I’ll go over it in my head over and over again, until I’ve got a good, solid idea of what I want the video to be about, and then I’ll start writing down bullet points. For like, the different topics I want to go through, and then I’ll try to order and structure them in a way that they can link in with each other? And then I’ll try and expand them into paragraphs and that’s when it all gets messy. I start writing paragraphs of what I want to say at that moment, and literally I’ll be thinking about bits that I want to link to other bits of the video, and so I’ll be slowly adding bits to other pieces and adding more dialogue to each video. Normally it goes on for a good hour and a half, and then when I’m done, I mostly ignore the script anyway!

Me: So mostly you would say, it’s probably a lot of Brain Webbing?

Cu: Yeah, for me anyway, there’s definitely a lot of going through the different ideas time and time again, and putting them on paper. And then, when I’m able to see them, there’s definitely a lot of brain webbing going on.

Me: And now for the more technical aspects, if someone were to make videos the way you do, what softwares, would you recommend?

Cu: I recommend the ones that I use, because personally I don’t know how to use any of the other ones? Sony Vegas Pro and just anything that you can use to record your voice. Oh, and any kind of software you can use to take screenshots very quickly. That’s what I tend to do when I’m watching an episode, I’ll take lots of screenshots and when I’m done with it, I’ll record everything and add the audio and the video on top of each other, y’know, my videos are very simple.

Me: Okay! Well, that is the end of my prepared questions, is there anything you feel that you can share on the topic of writing books and things like stories in the same kind of format or with the same sort of feeling that japanese anime and manga comes across?

Cu: um… I feel like japanese anime and manga tends to pander quite a bit to the audience. So what they tend to do is give the audience some kind of self-insert character that they will start off very generic and normal. Maybe you’ll feel like you know them, and then they’ll give them the call-to-action, and then they’ll become whatever they were meant to become. Sometimes they want them to build up a harem and be surrounded by women, sometimes they want them to become a hero and save everyone.

Cu: I think it’s that feeling that really brings all the audiences to anime and manga as well. Same thing with video games, like with Legend of Zelda, you feel like you ARE that character and you’re going through that journey with them. You understand how they’re getting stronger along the way, and that’s something everyone likes, to feel like they’re going along on the journey along with them, and supporting them.

Me: So, to summarize just a tiny bit, you feel it’s important to allow a character, or even the main character, to be kind of an audience insert?

Cu: Yeah, it sounds bad when you say it that way. But yeah, I feel like that’s something anime and manga do that western literature doesn’t.

To complete the thought, he really does have a point. We as american authors often don’t pander to our audience, and when we do, we consider it one of the greatest mistakes a writer can make, really. Why is that? True they’re different mediums, and that can make it very difficult, of course, for it to turn out correctly. However, when you look at it differently, aren’t ALL main characters in literature made to be audience inserts?

Think of the heroines from Jane Austen’s novels, or the everymen in Steven King’s horror novels. I know when I read, I tend to end up thinking of myself as the person I’m reading about, whether I want to or not. So of course, it may seem like we’re offering different things, anime versus books, but it’s really not that simple. 

Instead of thinking of Manga and Anime as a separate genre, take from them instead what you can learn. Because if there’s one thing that fuels writing, no matter what sort, it’s cribbing from our betters.

To summarize what we can learn from Cu’s expertise, it comes down to a few major points.

  1. Have a good cast of characters.
  2. Leave room for the audience to be involved too.
  3. Make your themes sneaky.
  4. Avoid harems. No one likes them. (except for the people that do.)
  5. Whatever you’re doing? Have fun  with it. Someone else will too.


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