What is with the lack of "show, don't tell" in anime?

 Pages 1 2 NEXT
 

For those of you who don't know "show, don't tell" is a term used in television and film script writing. To put it simply, it means that you should always try to show your audience what is happening through actions rather than have your characters spell everything out.

A very simple example would be if you wanted to communicate that one of your characters is a drunk, rather than have the character say "I drink a lot!" or someone say "Bob is always drinking, he is a drunk!" you would instead write scenes were we see Bob drinking or stumbling around drunk.

Now I've only really just got into anime but I have noticed that in quite a few series, including ones which are highly regarded as being well written, that a lot of the characters seem to break this rule.

A good example of this is in Death Note. When she expresses interest in the Kira case Naomi's fiancée says something to her along the lines of:

"I know you used to work for L and were a top agent in the FBI, but you are retired now and we are getting married soon."

It's clunky and makes no sense. She knows these things why is he telling her them? He probably found out all this information from her.

And this is in both subs and dubs so it can't just be bad translations.

Is this just an accepted quirk of the medium or does it bug others as well?

I think it's bad writing, and it's by no means limited to anime.

I think there could be situations where that kind of statement is needed to avoid confusion, or if the event in question couldn't be shown (for whatever reason), or if the statement of the event carries some plot point by itself (examples: characters getting choked up talking about events that occurred decades ago, questions raised through the dialogue as to how the character knew the facts, etc.)

Well this is just a theory but anime is supposed to be a cartoonish performance. The Japanese are a restrained people so exaggerating the explanations for everything seems like the way to go to emphasise that anime is fantasy.

I think part of it comes from the fact that they tend to be based around comic books as well, where a flashback is harder to convey and filler is more frowned upon.

And, y'know, bad writing.

I can't say I've ever really experienced what you've described very often in anime. Death Note, probably due to it's long, twisty, complex story, needs a bit of exposition every now an again. But when you compare anime to a lot of American films, there seems to be more unspoken exchanges in anime. Like, a character will answer another character's question with just a facial expression, rather than actually answering.

To give an example, take the end of episode one of Kino's Journey. The setup is that Kino arrives at a country that has developed telepathy, with the intent to making communication between people clearer, since words can't express everything. This results in people avoiding each other, since people can hear the slightest dislike you have for someone. Kino meets a man, who is divorced from his wife, due to their lack of common interests. The husband liked listening to music, and the wife liked gardening, but neither shared each others interests. At the end of the episode, as Kino is leaving, Kino glances over at the man's backyard, and notices he's growing flowers. Kino and the man share a silent exchange via a few facial expressions, that results in Kino understanding why the husband has suddenly taken an interest in gardening, much like telepathy, despite Kino not having that ability.

fapper plain:
I think it's bad writing, and it's by no means limited to anime.

This. It's due to bad writing, something you see often in Bad Anime, which is most of anime. Sturgeon's law, you know.

At a guess I'd say because they assume we have no idea what's going on.
A good example would be Naruto or Bleach, were every enemy ALWAYS EXPLAIN HOW THEY DID WHAT THEY DID. Something magical happens where either the hero or the villain gets the upper and bam, exposition. Might just be the their style though.

sextus the crazy:

fapper plain:
I think it's bad writing, and it's by no means limited to anime.

This. It's due to bad writing, something you see often in Bad Anime, which is most of anime. Sturgeon's law, you know.

I think it's partly this.

But another thing to keep in mind is the rules for what should make up writing are different between cultures. So the "Show, don't tell" rule is not a universal of good writing, but a Western cultural expectation.

There are many expectations of Japanese writing that differ from what Westerners take for granted. For example, it's often considered good style in Japanese writing to begin with a reference to the season. A good Japanese essay doesn't lay out it's reasoning in a clear point-by-point manner, but rather seeks to imply it's intention and trust the audience to be able to put things together on their own. A Japanese essay is expected to end on a note that prompts contemplation.

Now, I'm not saying that this is an explanation for the lack of "show, don't tell". I've never spoken with Japanese screen writers so I don't know what is expected of Japanese script writing. But it's likely that something is different. I do know though that there's a strong tendency for dramas to save the scene where the characters finally reveal their true feelings until the final episode, which is likely to be spoken rather than acted out (so as to clearly show that the characters have feelings.) So in that case, it seems that there might be a preference for telling over showing.

Also, a lot of anime is governed by money-saving techniques. Letting the characters talk about stuff rather than making animators draw it is a good way to save money.

1. The industry isn't your high-school creative writing class
2. It forms part of Japanese humour. Whether you think that's funny is irrelevant (I think it's boring)

Animating moving mouths is cheap.

Animating anything else is not so cheap.

Lack of show, don't tell? There are anime that do that; the most recent one that comes to my mind is Darker than Black. Maybe you just need to open your eyes a little more and see the others that are out there.

It's called padding. Why show someone being drunk and wasting all those precious dollars in your shoestring budget when you can have someone take five minutes of an episode narrating that the person is drunk while flashing still images?

Most anime have no real pension for subtlety. It's kind of the Japanese mindset.

Same as why you hardly ever see an anime with sarcasm.

DarkRyter:
Animating moving mouths is cheap.

Animating anything else is not so cheap.

Also this.

Having one of the voice actors do a voice over while the camera pans across a still background, is cheaper than animating actions displaying the emotion of the moment.

In addition to what has already been said, a lot of times it has to do with relation to the plot. A lot of TV shows have "previously on X" to show you some important things you should remember from previous episodes to know what is going on in the current episode, Anime does not do this.

So, long exposition takes the place of the "previously on the show" segments at the beginning.

The best Anime in which this is not the case is the movie "Skycrawlers".

An absolute masterpiece of a movie has the characters being introduced, and interacting, but they hardly ever talk about the kildren, or the war, and when they do it's about them, and not the world.

There is heaps of implied things, like how the kildren are reborn, and who the enemy is, or why they are fighting the war at all.

FelixG:
In addition to what has already been said, a lot of times it has to do with relation to the plot. A lot of TV shows have "previously on X" to show you some important things you should remember from previous episodes to know what is going on in the current episode, Anime does not do this.

So, long exposition takes the place of the "previously on the show" segments at the beginning.

Last time on "Dragonball Z!!!"

Good question, I would like to say it's either because the writers don't trust viewers to connect dots, but that would be such a dumbass response so I won't say it. Maybe its a writing technique originally used by kid show writers, the writers of today grew up shows with those same writing techniques and adapted it into their writing styles. Or maybe it's just a rule in anime to always keep the audience informed.

Maybe its just an anime thing like how characters repeat other characters names in any sceneraio.

"Kotomine Kirei...- Emiya Shirou..." (tense showdown)
"SNAKE!" (panicked)
"Shiki..." (love stricken)

While it's true that exposition is one of the laziest ways to convey information, it can also be an easthetic choice. Anime like Kaiji or Jojo's Bizarre Adventure rely heavily on a lot of narrator and character exposition to create tension and highlight information not visually apparent. Show, don't tell becomes a much more glaring problem when you are attempting naturalism which western culture is obsessed with and I honestly think is restrictive and unimaginative.

tl;dr Hollywood rules often don't apply elsewhere.

Because it's a show about Death Gods and their books which can kill people in various ways (ok that was a little too nut shell) and not about an FBI agent.

But i know what you're getting at. Doesn't really bother me though, as I've never noticed it taking away from the main story (or from anything). Then again I probably have and just forgot.

It's probably because almost all anime is based on a comic book and implying things in comic books is pretty difficult. They can't go into endless verbal detail and nuance like a book and they don't have motion and voice to imply things like in movies. So they're caught between the limited narrative of the medium and that just saying something is faster, easier, and cheaper than trying to imply it with still images.

LoFr3Eq:
The best Anime in which this is not the case is the movie "Skycrawlers".

An absolute masterpiece of a movie has the characters being introduced, and interacting, but they hardly ever talk about the kildren, or the war, and when they do it's about them, and not the world.

There is heaps of implied things, like how the kildren are reborn, and who the enemy is, or why they are fighting the war at all.

FelixG:
In addition to what has already been said, a lot of times it has to do with relation to the plot. A lot of TV shows have "previously on X" to show you some important things you should remember from previous episodes to know what is going on in the current episode, Anime does not do this.

So, long exposition takes the place of the "previously on the show" segments at the beginning.

Last time on "Dragonball Z!!!"

I saw Sky Crawlers on the Netflix lists today and passed it over! Think I'm gonna go watch it now.

At exactly 1:44 is the complete explanation

Basically because as others have mentioned, budget. Though I imagine the fact that they're based on manga books, which sometimes rely on lengthy dialogue to help the reader keep track of what is going on, is part of the reason too.

Casual Shinji:
Most anime have no real pension for subtlety. It's kind of the Japanese mindset.

What, really?

That's kind of strange to hear.

I don't have much experience in Japanese media and I wouldn't know a Japanese mindset if it got stuck up my nose and died there, but I usually hear fans describing it as all super deep and symbolic and introspective.

Zhukov:

Casual Shinji:
Most anime have no real pension for subtlety. It's kind of the Japanese mindset.

What, really?

That's kind of strange to hear.

I don't have much experience in Japanese media and I wouldn't know a Japanese mindset if it got stuck up my nose and died there, but I usually hear fans describing it as all super deep and symbolic and introspective.

Most who do say that are the ones who are already taking Anime a little too seriously.

Zhukov:

Casual Shinji:
Most anime have no real pension for subtlety. It's kind of the Japanese mindset.

What, really?

That's kind of strange to hear.

I don't have much experience in Japanese media and I wouldn't know a Japanese mindset if it got stuck up my nose and died there, but I usually hear fans describing it as all super deep and symbolic and introspective.

Symbolic/deep != Subtle. For instance, Neon Genesis Evangelion is symbolic as all hell and deals with a number of interesting themes, but instead of letting them sit in the background, it constantly shoves both in your face. Hell, the last two episodes are purely symbolic and are nothing but deep introspection about the main characters various psychoses. :P

OT: Probably some combination of bad writing, bad translation, and cultural differences, I think. At least, that is what I usually chalk it up to.

DarkRyter:
Animating moving mouths is cheap.

Animating anything else is not so cheap.

This is probably incredibly relevant. Despite some animes having great looking and very fluid motions, they are most likely not very high budget. Very few animes are. The animator's get the pay of a mcdonalds worker, and because of the high piracy rates in the west, they have to depend on getting most of their sales from the home country. This most likely is also a reason why anime is seen as very convervative to a lot of people. Since the sales are mostly in japan, they cater it only to what the japanese people want, since very few in the west put the money where their mouth is.

Rossco64:
For those of you who don't know "show, don't tell" is a term used in television and film script writing. To put it simply, it means that you should always try to show your audience what is happening through actions rather than have your characters spell everything out.

A very simple example would be if you wanted to communicate that one of your characters is a drunk, rather than have the character say "I drink a lot!" or someone say "Bob is always drinking, he is a drunk!" you would instead write scenes were we see Bob drinking or stumbling around drunk.

Now I've only really just got into anime but I have noticed that in quite a few series, including ones which are highly regarded as being well written, that a lot of the characters seem to break this rule.

A good example of this is in Death Note. When she expresses interest in the Kira case Naomi's fiancée says something to her along the lines of:

"I know you used to work for L and were a top agent in the FBI, but you are retired now and we are getting married soon."

It's clunky and makes no sense. She knows these things why is he telling her them? He probably found out all this information from her.

And this is in both subs and dubs so it can't just be bad translations.

Is this just an accepted quirk of the medium or does it bug others as well?

While I see your point, Death Note was probably the worst anime to use as an example, it is like an Aaron Sorkin film.... The dialogue is why you are watching, the visuals just supplement. Case and point, the car chase, EVERYONE remembers being pissed off about the car chase scene because of the lack of dialogue....

As for the reason, generally budget cuts..... A lot of anime start out great and come to the end they suffer, but that is largely a project management issue, in that whoever was in charge blew all the money they had for animation in the beginning and forgot to leave some funds for episodes 9-12, so dialouge that shouldn't be there IS in order to compensate.... This is PAINFULLY obvious with Neon Genesis Evangelion.... Some regard it as the best anime ever, others HATE it because of the ending... Either way it has been established as a must see for any anime fan, simply so that when someone references it you know what they are talking about... And in anime conversations IT GETS REFERENCED A LOT!

Well, I think by watching some anime TV shows and some movies, I thing it is very simple:

They want to "guide" any kind of audience as well as they can and make more interesting the things the audience see.
Lets take for example the TV anime show "Bleach". I read the manga and watched the anime at the very start, but then I stopped because it was very uninteresting at some point....
Anyway, in Bleach every single time a character pull something powerful weapon or use a strong attack, they must explain to the audience the details of this new and unknown attack/weapon.

These details have two profits:
1. The audience love this kind of things. The fans always want to learn every single detail for everything for a show they love. Plus when they know these specific details, they feel more emerge to the universe of this anime.
2. They make the episodes mmmmmmmmmmmmmmooooooooooooooorrrrrrrrrrrreeeeeeeeeeeeeee bigger. This is a bad thing about the fans cause sometimes it is boring as f*ck, but the producers it is a giant for their own profits. They can drag every single episode with characters explaining a lot of sh*t happening [which of course the audience must learn, so they can follow], so a fight in Bleach can last 3-4 episodes maximum.....it is ridiculous...

And this is my opinion why the producers don't use the "show, don't tell" method.

it's not only limited to anime you see it alot in movies and tv as well where someone will say something completely unnecessary that you would never say in real life

e.g
ring ring
"hey jane it's you sister on the line. you know the lesbian one that works at the soft toy company"
"oh yeah jenny the one with the 2 kids whos husband just left her"

it's a way of quickly getting out backstory without tons of flashbacks or long conversations although since most anime is usually 90% back story i'm gonna go with others in this thread and just say they are cheaping out

Because Anime 9/10 has terrible dialogue and exposition.

Also:

Soviet Heavy:

Zhukov:
I usually hear fans describing it as all super deep and symbolic and introspective.

Most who do say that are the ones who are already taking Anime a little too seriously.

It is the true shame of the genre that so much artistic talent and tackling of very mature scenarios/concepts is undermined by terrible, inorganic dialogue and narration.

Oh, and women resorting to incredible violence against men for peeking at them naked by accident.

Zhukov:

Casual Shinji:
Most anime have no real pension for subtlety. It's kind of the Japanese mindset.

What, really?

That's kind of strange to hear.

I don't have much experience in Japanese media and I wouldn't know a Japanese mindset if it got stuck up my nose and died there, but I usually hear fans describing it as all super deep and symbolic and introspective.

Things can still be deep and symbolic without being subtle. As a matter of fact, it's very hard to to pull off symbolism with any real subtlety. Or at least I've seen very few media pull it off.

You may not be experienced with Japanese media, but I'm sure you're well aware that Japan is a country of extremes. Same applies to most of their storytelling. They tend to leave very little to the imagination. Not when it regards anime anyway.

It may also be because anime voice acting is performed very similar to that of a Japanese radio drama.

There is some anime with decent subtlety though, like Paranoia Agent and Princess Mononoke. And I haven't read a lot of manga, but the ones I have tend to be more subtle then the animated counterpart.

TBH i only have short here-and-there experiences with out outside of the mainstream, but yeah, characters seem prone to spit out exposition like crazy. Characters also seem to do things that make absolutely no fucking sense by human being logic all the time, so arguably the two balance each other out.

...I'm just not going to be the one to take the legitimate stance of that argument.

Keep in mind guys you're talking about an entire medium here. It would be like saying American live-action films have too many explosions when your only experience with American live-action films are Michael Bay's Transformers and a few other blockbuster action movies.

First of all, "show, don't tell" is a trait of good screenwriting, and its not exclusive to anime to fall flat on it.

With that said, anime is based on manga (Japanese comic), where exposition is rampant and inner monologues a common tool. Some adaptations are just more "literal" than others.

Also, if things like JRPGs and MGS are any guide, Japanese do love long and exhausting exposition; there is no point in saying something once when it can be said dozens of times by different people. Maybe its a cultural difference, and the reason "show, don't tell" is not so common on them.

I think it's more often than not the Japanese language structure. Many terms are indefinite, thus things are explained in a concrete tone to avoid confusion.

Probably because they're not a main character, or even much of a secondary character. Why waste time trying to show all this stuff that would build up a character if they aren't all that important or worth spending so much time on? It isn't really their story, it's the main characters, and secondary main characters stories. that other stuff is just fluff to try and hint at deeper worlds/characters that aren't always relevant enough to spend more time on.

Rossco64:
A good example of this is in Death Note. When she expresses interest in the Kira case Naomi's fiancée says something to her along the lines of:

"I know you used to work for L and were a top agent in the FBI, but you are retired now and we are getting married soon."

Money, not much else.

Animated frames are expensive, most anime uses reduced motion, where either single frames are used multiple times (as in 11-22-33 instead of 123456 like a movie uses) or a frame is mostly static and only elements of it are animated as overlays (such as the character's mouth). Backgrounds and sets tend to get re-used a lot too, so almost any exposition has to take place in a setting that will be either used a lot of have a great deal of importance to the plot. Hence a lot of characters sitting or standing still having conversations.

Most animes are made to tiny budgets, even the big ones have the kind of resources you'd equate to a middling a soap-opera in the US. Twenty minutes to explain a character's history and motivations is normally impractical, that's thousands of frames and tens of thousands of man hours.

 Pages 1 2 NEXT

Reply to Thread

Log in or Register to Comment
Have an account? Login below:
With Facebook:Login With Facebook
or
Username:  
Password:  
  
Not registered? To sign up for an account with The Escapist:
Register With Facebook
Register With Facebook
or
Registered for a free account here