A kid arrives at the top of a mountain to take an exam.
Not a pencil and paper exam, of course, cause this is anime.
No, our protagonist is taking an [insert made-up anime profession here] exam. Ninja? Hunter? Pokemon Master? Doesn’t matter.
All that matters: it’s an exam designed to be harder than any other exam ever. Cause, of course it is.
Without a doubt, there will be a physical portion to the exam. It’s going to be ridiculous, but that’s fine; it’s anime, so you have to expect the kid to pass the test by roundhouse kicking a crab monster into the stratosphere. Sure.
However . . . there’s also going to be a mental side of the exam–some kind of insane logic problem–and that’s where things get dicey. Not for the general public–there’s no danger in most people enjoying it.
But for writers . . . eh. We can be extremely impressionable when we’re young. I’m sure there’s the odd writer out there who wasn’t, but most of us decide we want to write and then spend years aping our favorite stories and writers–the beginnings of developing our own voices. Not a bad thing . . .
. . . unless our favorite stories and writers employee really, really bad writing habits that we pick up from them. Habits that ruin our writing for years.
Habits . . . like writing a mental test for a young boy’s Spelunker Exam (it’s probably been done) and filling it with as much completely backwards, nonsense anime logic as you can because . . . you grew up with anime logic and genuinely think it’s cool.
I’m not here to roast you. I’m just here to warn you.
What is anime logic and why shouldn’t anyone write it ever?
To break it down as simply as I can, anime logic is the Rule of Cool applied to human rationale.
The Rule of Cool, if you’re not familiar, is the rule dictating that any elements of a story (characters, settings, etc.) need to be cool first and foremost.
When the Rule of Cool is applied to anime action, it’s absolutely ridiculous, but enjoyable to watch for a lot of people.
But when the Rule of Cool is applied to logic . . . it’s hell.
Example: Two protagonists are in a killer’s dungeon. The killer has sent them through a series of rooms that test different abilities, like strength, speed, endurance. Now, they’re up to the intelligence test, which is a man holding up a piece of paper. The challenge: they have to predict what’s written on the side of the paper that they can’t see.
Whoa-a-a-a-a-a. There’s no fucking way they could ever do that.
The characters spend an entire episode fretting to each other (and in internal monologue) about what’s on the far side of that piece of paper. There’s a bunch of anime gasping when they realize there’s no mirror on the back wall, that the paper is totally opaque, and that, even if it wasn’t, there wouldn’t be enough light in the dungeon to see through it anyway.
Maybe you think, “Literally just run up to the fucking guy, take the piece of paper, and read it. Who fucking cares? This is a stupid test.”
But, ah-ha! The writer thought of that too! And pretty much at the same moment in this scene that you thought of it, because now the killer is on the loud speaker saying, “And don’t even think about running up and taking that piece of paper, because,” and you can almost hear the writer stammering, “uh, because there’s a fucking bomb on this guy’s back! Ha! If you move even an inch closer, it’ll set off the detonator!”
And, maybe now you think, “The paper’s blank. It doesn’t say anything on the back of it, and there’s no bomb.” It probably popped into your mind super lazily.
But, if it’s a really bad anime, the same solution will have occurred to the writer–again, at the same time it occurred to you–only the writer thought it was the coolest, most genius thing ever, and they’re going with it.
Now the writer’s concern is getting the characters to figure it out. Only the writer is convinced that the paper being blank is genius-level logic that a normal person couldn’t possibly fathom, so you get a monologue like this:
“There can’t possibly be anything on the other side of the piece of paper, because the killer knows that there’s absolutely no way for us to see it. The killer just wants to make us afraid, because, when people experience fear, they make random choices. Fight or flight dictates that we scramble to escape a dangerous situation, but if we master our fear, and calmly assess our surroundings, then we’re able to think outside of the box. To see the game the way he sees it. To understand that he just wants us to think we can’t win . . . Isn’t that right?”
And, of-fucking-course, the loud speaker crackles on. “Hmph. How very astute of you,” the killer says, cause the writer is either totally gassed about this genius puzzle he made, or he/she is literally trying to tell you, “Wow. That character is smart,” or, “That puzzle really did make sense.” Characters say shit like that all the time in anime; I watched the anime where one character’s accidental catchphrase was, “That makes sense,” because he was the brainy character and the writer used him to sell faulty logic constantly.
I mean, you literally just described an anime scene. Seriously, what was wrong with it?
Man, so many things.
First, the logic is completely backwards. The writer sat down with the intent to write a cool, impossible puzzle without considering what its solution would be, or even why the killer would present this puzzle. The solution came after, and, just like the puzzle, the solution also had to be really cool. With cool puzzle and cool solution in hand, the writer then had to retrofit everyone’s logic–and parts of the situation itself–to work with what was already there.
It is . . . the worst way to write a human logic puzzle, because human logic is not involved at all.
Second, as often happens with anime logic, the bullshit solution is 100% interchangeable with other bullshit solutions.
“There’s nothing written on the back of the paper . . . because there’s a drawing on it. When I was studying this killer’s file, I read that he used to make drawings in the psychiatric ward–one for every one of his victims.” I mean, sure. “It stands to reason that for this test, when he was so sure we’d fail, he’d kill us . . . with a drawing of our own. Isn’t that right?”
“Hmph. How very astute of you.”
Or . . .
“There’s . . . the number 43. Back when I was in a mental institution with the killer,” ?, “all of the inmates wore numbered straight jackets.” And, because it’s anime, “Those numbers were a warning of how dangerous each inmate was. Our killer . . . was number 99.” This anime is probably called BloodGeiss:99, btw. “It was a badge of honor for him, and he used to lord it over the rest of us. Used to call me number 43 to taunt me, but blah blah blah, I wanted to become the very best Killer Hunter, blah blah, he’s taunting us, blah blah, you get it.”
And, just to clarify here, the problem isn’t that the solution is unpredictable. Again, it’s that the puzzle makes so little sense, and was crafted with so little consideration for the logic behind it, that its solution is completely interchangeable with other solutions. Which means . . .
Third, it has nothing to do with the person presenting the logic test. I wrote up that puzzle and its three potential solutions in ten minutes. It was so easy because, from the start, it had nothing to do with the killer’s character beyond some surface-level, tag-number bullshit; with bad anime logic, the puzzle-provider’s character is never, ever the starting point. The Rule of Cool always dictates that the starting point is “What would be really cool here?”
Fourth, that makes it . . . completely pointless to engage with anime logic puzzles, because they ultimately mean and say nothing. They often are, at best, a way to extend a plot as easily as possible.
But, fifth–and most important, by far–anime logic is bad, because, if you use it in your manuscript . . . there’s a really good chance it’s just going to make you look like an idiot to other writers, agents, and editors. Again, it’s fine to enjoy anime logic if you aren’t a writer.
But, if you are, anime logic is a fucking death sentence. It’s embarrassing, it cheapens your work, and it’s going to make you look lazy and pompous at the same time.
Wow. Someone just vented.
Yeah. No kidding. I’ll totally own that. I just really hate this writing habit. I hate a lot of them, but I was just sick for four days straight, stuck inside with anime logic for hours.
Actually, let me explain–and get out of the frame of some bullshit dungeon puzzle scene I made up.
Hunter X Hunter is terrible. I usually don’t call out a specific writer or piece of media on here anymore, but while I was sick, I decided to give it a watch because a friend recommended it months ago.
And I absolutely despise that show, because it is almost exclusively anime logic mindfucks so pointless that, after binging a few episodes, nothing mattered anymore.
The Show: The protagonists have to run really far because a butler with no mouth told them to, but it’s actually a really smart test, cause, like, how far they gotta run though?
Me: Uh . . . Whatever. Continue.
Show: Omfg, dude, how they gonna get down from this tower?
Me: I dunno. Run down?
Show: There’re man-eating demon babies though.
Me: Oh, for fuck’s–I don’t know. Catch one of the babies?
Show: There’s a trap door.
Me: Wha–That’s the laziest . . . Whatever. Fucking–I don’t care. Good.
Show: Oh shit. There’s a scary Frankenstein-man they gotta fight.
Me: Aren’t they all ridiculously strong except for the comic relief? Why is this even a–
Show: Frankenstein-man ain’t strong though–he lyin’.
Me: I– . . . Oh my God! Holy shit, dude, I don’t care!
Show: Oh shit though; here comes a man with candles. Should the protagonist take the long one, or the short–
Me: AHHH!! Just . . . Why are you so determined to gotcha me with total fucking nonsense!? Why is this exam so goddamn long!? I just want to see what the writer does after it’s done! Wait–the entire first season is the exam? Well then, how many episodes are there in this seas–52!?
. . . Yeah, I completely gave up on Hunter X Hunter about two hours ago. I started this post two days ago though, after I started watching it, because I could not get over the thought that there’s a writer out there who grew up on a show like this. A writer . . . who still hasn’t shaken anime logic.
That idea made me really, really upset, because I grew up on video games and wasted . . . –ugh, I just did the math–I wasted . . . eleven years drafting and redrafting a novel that was so heavily steeped in stupid video game ideas that I didn’t pay attention to the emotional heart of the story at all. The novel, War of Exiles (which even sounds like the title of a bad mobile game), said nothing. It made no arguments, presented no emotional challenges to the characters, the reader, or anyone else, because I didn’t think about any of that; I didn’t even consider that it could say or do something important, cause all I cared about was making my characters look cool.
I’m not saying that making your characters look cool is bad–I’m not even saying that the Rule of Cool is bad (the entire anime genre is built around it, and there’s some anime that I absolutely love.) However, I’m pretty confident in saying that when logic takes center stage in anime . . . it is almost always bad.
And when that anime logic appears in other places, it’s worse. I’ve read another writer’s work that was full of anime logic. I’ve even seen it in published works; my favorite example was from a horrible Romance novel, in which the protagonist avoided being kidnapped in a store . . . by stabbing herself with her kidnapper’s knife, to which the kidnapper said, “Hmph. Pretty clever,” cause of course.
I am not a pro by any means. I’ve only been published once, and I’m neither an agent nor an editor. I am on the same level as any aspiring writer out there.
But, as a writer, I know that the most valuable thing any of us can get is honest feedback.
And I’m telling you, with absolute honesty, that if you’ve used anime logic in anything you’ve written, getting rid of it–replacing it with genuine, human, character-motivated logic–will only make your work stronger.
Thanks for reading this absolute rant.
I’m currently trying to work my way out of the end-of-year funk I always fall into (starts in October and runs all the way to the start of the new year).
I’m in a strange position where I have a ton of projects I’m working on at the same time, meaning none of them are progressing quickly enough. On one hand, I’m grateful to have so many ideas that I feel deserve attention, but on the other, I’m massively stressed out about how slowly things are moving.
Contributing to that is the fact that I sent out one story in April and the magazine I sent it to still has not replied about it, even after I queried them two months ago, and they answered saying I would get a verdict “very soon.” I mean, you know things are bad when you’re genuinely like, “A rejection would be nice right now.”
Anyway, as always, thank you for passing by. If you like what you read here, feel free to give me a follow. I always want to post more frequently on here, but I’m a single man in his late 30’s who currently has two jobs, 8 WIP’s, and a board game he’s juggling; I’ll be completely honest this time and say I probably won’t be posting here again for another month or two.
And that’s why I extra appreciate everyone who sticks around. Thank you guys for the continued support! I hope you have a good holiday season, and, until next time, take care!
2 thoughts on “Anime Logic – A Warning”
I love this post…because I’ve been catching up on a lot of anime and Japanese video games that run on “rule of cool.” And everything you said about writing has been making me scrutinize my ideas folder. I’ve gone through so many ideas where I’m like “Man, this sounds cool…but what’s the point? If this story were an essay, what is its thesis? What do the characters represent?”
What I found and continue finding is that there is a lot of cool aesthetics but little under the surface. Style but no substance. Which made me reflect: it’s easy to imitate and work on style. I’ve beaten myself up so much on how I could spit out stories and story ideas like nothing as a youth. But all I was doing was synthesizing what I was watching on Toonami and reading in the contemporary/urban fantasy sections of Borders and Barnes and Noble.
Now I’m, as ever, reasoning with myself what is the happy middle ground. You can’t over-plan a novel and end up never writing it; but you also can’t live on style alone without becoming a vapid creator. It’s alluring because so many creative pieces survive on style and formula alone: without it, we wouldn’t have our Rob Liefelds, Mark Millars, Zack Synders and perhaps James Pattersons. A quick easy dollar cranking out something brief and cool (and multiple times) may be more worthwhile for many than taking time to hope to create the “next Great American novel” once. I saw it in some of my students for writing and art.
The best way I’ve reasoned with it is that working with the “Rule of Cool” means you’re defining yourself by an aesthetic that may be fleeting and possibly passe by the time you create it. It also may not be sustainable, even for the audience it suits. So I’m trying to make fantasy that has a deeper meaning but also has some flashy moments. And while I haven’t been in a place where I’m okay with churning out quick, easy, low-grade fiction, I need to keep myself from over-planning and being too judgemental of my own work.
Anyways, great post. Can’t wait to read your next piece!
Dude, thank you for the comment.
And, yeah, the most important thing is finding that happy medium no matter what way you lean. Basing stories on the Rule of Cool or tight logic are both fine as long as you find the right balance. Or, I guess I really should be saying “if the writer finds the right balance for themselves and their story.” Cause of course the balance here is totally reliant on the message you want to send.
That said, I’m really glad to hear you’re thinking about what you want your stories to say. Coming to that realization–that my stories weren’t saying anything (which happened really, really recently for me)–at least felt like a huge step. Now everything’s really personal, like American Made, and it all feels way, way better than the work I used to put out. Are you thinking of reworking any ideas? Focusing on a new project?