Tag Archives: anime

Q&A: Style and Your Audience

In the first episode of Cowboy Bebop, Spike throws a vial into the air and shoots it to break it. Is this possible? Probably not, but I’m just curious. Do you have advice for making stylized, unrealistic fights in written works without the sound and visual cues highly stylized TV shows have to let the audience know it’s meant to stylized and not just a mistake? Love the blog by the way.

Without finding and checking the scene, possible but not plausible. Professional trick shooters can do some pretty amazing things as part of their routine. Ironically, shooting a small thrown object is one of the easier things you’ll see professional trick shooters do. So, within that skillset, this isn’t that impressive. That said, trick shooting has nothing to do with combat, so while there’s a little overlap in basic marksmanship and weapons handling, being good at one will not make you good at the other.

There’s nothing realistic about it, but we’re literally talking about a sci-fi/western anime; realism was never a serious consideration in framing the material.

As for stylistic touches in your fight scenes, I feel like I’m covering material again. Style changes with the media. You’ll never convey a dayglow color pallet in text. Fully conveying state of mind is much harder in a visual media. You simply can’t put music into prose.

You can drive yourself insane looking at an image and saying, “I want that.” That’s fine, that’s part of your job as a writer. The other part is taking that, and telling your audience what it means. Telling them what you feel. You can’t share the image, but you can share the image’s impact. No other form of media allows you to do that.

The closest would be graphic novels, but those are a strange limbo, because in handing the audience your picture, you’re ceding control over how it affects them. You can talk about the picture with them in narration, but they control the image’s image. In prose, you control that moment.

Stylistic approaches in prose rely on finding a style for your own writing and blowing that out. As with any stylistic choices, this can be subtle or it can be heavy handed. The key here is the words chosen, sentence structure, and overall approach to violence.

Michi and I both have some pretty pronounced styles when it comes to writing violence. As in, the actual fight scenes themselves. Some of this comes from the way we write normally, and it’s even apparent on this blog.

Asking how to write stylistically requires you have some confidence in your own tone, your style of writing, and the willingness to put that in front of everyone. You, probably already have a style; if you somehow don’t, it will develop as you practice. Just remember, stylistic writing is not the same as snazzy visuals.

All of this said, that’s not exactly what you asked for. You’re also looking for how to present an over-the-top sequence. I know that’s not how you phrased it. When you look at stylish violence in media, it tends to be over-the-top. (Not always.)

As an artist, you need to earn that from your audience. You need to sell them on the idea that you’re going to do something that directly challenges their suspension of disbelief.

So, let’s talk about this using a transactional model: Everything you do, in your story, has a cost. Your goal is to keep the audience reading. This means you need to quickly hook the reader. Ideally in the first or second sentence. From there, you need to continue to earn that engagement, or they will leave. You do this by gradually taking larger risks. As you build your story and world, you run the risk that some detail will alienate your audience. There’s an implicit factor here, you can risk as much as you want early on, but the more you risk, the better the immediate and long term payoffs need to be.

This is where younger writers often run into trouble, setting up characters. It’s easy to, “over spend,” trying to create pre-made badasses, when you can’t back that up in the material that follows.

In this model, authorial style is, “free money.” If someone digs the style of your work, they’ll stay invested longer; it can provide an enormous cushion for you and your writing.

Ever wonder why some people absolutely loathe anime, regardless of context? If the style doesn’t appeal at all, there’s not a lot of reason to hang around. Also part of why pre-made badasses can be so hard to write; In film, you have actors and visuals to sell you on the characters. In prose, it’s just you. The stylistic cushion you’re perceiving just isn’t there. Instead you need to make the character interesting, and you need to do so, immediately.

Now, what I just described would indicate that all narratives need to build towards a larger climax. Which precludes stories that break from normal narrative structures, and tragedies. With that in mind, I did say, everything has a cost. You’re using this to measure your audience’s connection to the material, not a systemic, “oh, it’s bigger and more dangerous, it must be more expensive.” That logic dies every time someone decides that destroying the planet must be the highest possible stakes. So what? It’s not my world, if I’m not invested in it, I really don’t care if you blow the thing to pieces.

Sometimes, the most intense moments can be deeply personal. You can earn far more audience engagement in a single dialog sequence than a massive battle between thousands. It depends on how well you can write it.

You want a story with over-the-top anime inspired violence? Write it. Find a style that fits you, and what you’re trying to do. I can’t give you that. Create characters and a world that readers will care about. If they’re already hooked, they’re not going to have a problem when you occasionally bend the rules a little.

-Starke

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Q&A: Yes, Kicks are a Thing

My cousin is a fan of the character Archer from the series ‘Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works’. He was curious if Archer’s habit of kicking a foe away from him to gain distance in a close-combat fight with weapons is something belonging to a particular martial arts style. Do you know if this is the case? How reliable would that tactic be in real life? Seems to me that there’s a big chance of your opponent grabbing your leg, after all.

It’s not a specific martial art, because nearly every martial art has their own variation on this one. Martial arts have a concept called distance, or range, which governs the ranges one can fight at with different weapon types. This runs from swords to knives to kicks to hands and then to grappling, and after grappling we’re on the ground. Unless specifically attempted to alter, combat invariably moves inwards from your feet to your hands to grappling and then the ground. Now, this means you have specific techniques which can be used at specific ranges and once you get too close or too far away those techniques become significantly less useful.

So, if you’re a warrior like Archer who relies on specific ranges in order to be effective then what do you do? You’ve got to find a way to get your enemy back into the range you want, which is away from you. Now, under normal circumstances, one would most likely consider using their hands. This is what most non-combatants are going to gravitate towards, because kicks require training to be able to pull off in combat. They’re powerful, but they’re also high risk. However, Archer needs his legs. He dual wields his blades in close quarters, he can’t use his hands without sacrificing one or both of his blades. Those blades cost mana to resummon, over time this will become costly to his reserves and takes time. He won’t drop them unless the situation requires it. So, he falls back to a secondary option by utilizing his legs and feet for defense/control.

Hence that specific kick. In Taekwondo, we call it the push kick. It isn’t about damaging your opponent so much as pushing them back. This kick is specifically utilized in getting your opponent into the range you want them, i.e. the range where you are more effective. For Archer, this means getting a melee enemy away from him and back into a better range for his weapons.

Here’s the thing to understand about kicks:

Strike to strike they are incredibly powerful. Power comes from your body’s momentum. Momentum is gained by torque, or twisting your body and joints in order to gain power to strike. The whole body moves. For a punch, this means using your shoulders and hips together at the same moment with your arm in order to connect. Kicks involve one of your legs taking flight, they’re heavier, stronger, faster, and utilize greater rotation than you will ever get off your hands and arms. They are a martial arts mainstay for this reason, even in the disciplines where they are not the specialty. If you ever wind up facing someone with a kicking specialty that knows how to properly utilize their legs, watch out.

You can catch a kick, you can block a kick, and they are riskier because they require more motion which is easier to see coming. If your opponent manages to capture your leg, then the fight is over for all intents in purposes. For this reason, a kick is often part of a finisher or at the end of a combination. They distract your attention with other techniques, and then the kick comes. Blocking a kick is also risky, not just because their powerful but catching a kick requires you be able to preempt it and catch it before  the leg enters extension. This means you have to stop the kick while its still in chamber stage, and you need to guess that they’ll be committing to risky business or else you just lost your defense to a feint. Blocking a kick rather than dodging a kick requires you move your hands or a leg to stop the kick. A push kick cranks all the way into the chest before it extends and acts as a shove outward, which means it can be done in tight confines like when in the hand range where most of the general kicks (in disciplines other than Muay Thai) become useless. You can also grab your opponent at that distance and crank your leg right into their stomach/chest. They can’t go anywhere and they’re forced to take the full blow rather than absorbing some into the stumble/fall. Take a roundhouse to your forearm and you’ll walk around with a bruise the size of your forearm for several weeks, at least. Time your block wrong, and that can easily translate into broken bones.

It’s easy to discount kicks if you’ve never seen them in action, and most self-defense experts will say you shouldn’t use them. This is because they take longer to master, are more dangerous, and have greater requirements in overall flexibility in order to be used effectively. You can’t effectively learn the sidekick in a two week crash course. However, the kicks are a defined pillar in the four pillars of martial arts. (Fists, Feet, Ground Fighting, Standing Grappling/Joint Locks.) Sometimes, it can be broken into five. If kicks were totally useless, or too risky, they wouldn’t exist as a focus.

  Kicks are powerful enough as techniques to be worth the risk.

For writers, especially writers without a martial arts background, this is going to be difficult. You’re not used to thinking with your feet, or utilizing the wide array of options which come with footwork and kicks. The key to understanding the utility of kicks lies in the if,  if they can catch your leg. If they can stop you. If they see it coming. If you miss.  But, what if you don’t?

The reward you gain in success runs about equal to the chance of failure. These techniques are high risk, high reward.

Now, envisioning this is going to be where most writers will run into problems. Hands are easy, you can wrap your mind around them as a basic concept. The strengths and weaknesses of the leg are similar, but its too easy to start seeing catching a leg coming at you full speed to be easy as catching a hand.

It isn’t.

A foot buried in your stomach in full extension is much more dangerous than a sucker punch, even if you tense your abdominal muscles a large portion of that force is going to go right through you. The timing risks are higher in failure with a leg than they are with the hands.

Archer is essentially performing a sucker punch with his leg on an incoming enemy, and then he’s saying, “get away from me.” He does this without ever having to lose hold of or sacrifice his weapons in a situation where he very well might have to. This is why warriors carry somewhere around two to four weapons on their person at all times. Total specialization in archery makes you next to useless when knocked into sword range, short sword range, or knife range. If you’re in a situation where someone else can hit you, they’re too close and you’ve ceded your advantage. You want to not be there anymore, or you want them to not be there anymore. Either way, you need the ability to either switch to a different weapon, or force them to be somewhere else. This kick is the definition of, “be somewhere else.” It creates the needed opportunity to move someone from standing grappling to kick range. Which is why lots of martial arts actually do use some variation of it or keep it in their back pocket as part of a larger tactical approach.

The one thing I can give the Fate/Stay Night anime series is that they excel at showing ranges for weapons and incorporating them into the different character’s combat styles. I mean, it is very Japanese, but studying up on Lancer versus Archer versus Berserker versus Saber is not a bad place to start if you’re looking to grasp how different weapon types can function when dialed to eleven. The characters do utilize strategies and tactics when fighting each other, which is nice. They’re usually, loosely, working off some real world combat concepts in the way the weaponry pairs off. The series is pretty good about balancing out the strengths and weaknesses against each other to create tension in the fights. Saber having trouble closing on Lancer is a real problem someone with a sword will face against a spear. I mean, the setting is war games with heroes from history in a battle royal martial arts competition.

-Michi

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