I have a strange relationship with pop culture in that I hardly ever seem to follow something when it’s currently being released. I’ll generally get into it years after it’s already ended and the majority of discussion and fandom has dried up and moved onto something else. In a way this has an advantage as there’s plenty of fan content waiting for me, but it also has the disadvantage of feeling like a fandom of 1.
That’s what’s happening to me with Lost right now. Despite being one of the most watched and acclaimed shows ever, I only started watching it a few weeks ago. This wasn’t by choice, mind you. The show was so heavily promoted when it aired in 2004 that I was planning on watching it. But on the night the pilot aired in the UK, my family was going out somewhere so I only caught the first few minutes. Since this was before streaming services, I couldn’t exactly watch it when I got home like I would today. And since the show is so continuity heavy and plot driven, I couldn’t exactly jump in part way through either (and I did try). So, I ended up not watching a staple of modern pop culture for 18 years. I don’t want to be a ‘back in my day’ type of person, but I think a lot of people younger than my own generation don’t realise how lucky they are to live in an age of streaming and watching things whenever you want to.
But now I have started watching the show, I can understand the hype and see what I’ve been missing all these years. It’s incredibly addicting not only to follow the supernatural mystery, but also to see the character relationships develop and find out how they’re going to survive together.
In retrospect, I can now see that certain aspects of the show haven’t aged particularly well, or are a reflection of the time the show was made. And I’m not just talking about the special effects for the polar bear, which must have been bad even by 2004 standards. Sawyer represents the ‘troubled bad boy’ archtype which while still around today, has evolved somewhat from just being an arsehole for no particular reason. Some of the relationships seem to exist purely on the basis of having a man and a woman interacting on a 2000s show. And the less said about the love triangle the better. In a way, it does provide an eye-opening look into how media and representation has changed for the better in the space of 18 years.
The disadvantage of only getting into things super late is that it not only makes it easy to accidently stumble upon spoilers, I can find them without even needing to look. The show has been around for so long by now that many of the big twists are already common knowledge, even to people who have never watched the show. Plus, as engaged as I am with the show, I have heard more than a few rumours that it doesn’t stay this good for the entire run and the supernatural elements get super weird. I’m going into it aware that I could be setting myself up for disappointment.
Even so, I’m still excited to continue watching the show for the characters I’m growing to love so I can finally decide for myself if I agree with the popular opinion. One advantage of getting into things late is that I don’t have to wait for it to finish.
Newbie dragon hunter or ‘draker’ Takita has recently joined the crew of the airship Queen Zaza to work of her debt. But with the price of dragon oil dropping and drakers being treated with increased suspicion, the ship’s crew are barely skimming above the poverty line. Yet to Takita, it is worth it for a life of adventure, new-found friendship, and delicious dragon meat.
What drew me initially to this series was how similar it is to a steampunk series I’m currently writing, so I thought it would be useful research (that’s a good way of justifying procrastination). Yet even if I wasn’t writing steampunk, I would have been drawn to this series anyway by the gorgeous animation, exciting adventure, and the robust cast of amusing characters.
These characters are one of the main draws of the series, being well-rounded and highly likeable. It is almost a shame that the series only lasts for 12 episodes, meaning there isn’t enough time to flesh out all of them. I can only hope that a second season will give some of them more focus.
Food and cooking are a common theme throughout the series, and it is heartwarming to see how cooking up the dragon meat brings the cast together. Even as a vegetarian, a small part of me wants to try the dragon meat!
As a rookie, Takita helps to ease the audience into the world of draking. It also helps that there are several one-off episodes to ease the viewer in before the series gets to the darker and more dramatic multi-episode story arcs.
The stylish animation looks as if it came straight out of Studio Ghibli. The dragons each have unique designs and terrifying powers which sets them apart from the standard fantasy fare.
Although it is established that the dragons are a threat to humans in this world, the fact that they are hunted, butchered, and used as a commodity will put a bad taste in the mouths of some viewers. The parallels to real life whaling only make it more awkward. Yet even this establishes an interesting moral dynamic, as it is made abundantly clear how much the Queen Zaza is struggling for money and that the crew are only hunting dragons because it is their only means of survival in a harsh world which has all but rejected them.
For any viewers who can stomach it, Drifting Dragons is a great show for any fans of steampunk adventure or exciting fantasy.
I enjoy a wide range of books, tv shows, and films. I also
enjoy a wide variety of different types of food. Often the way we consume media
is similar to the way we eat. There are days when we want to eat a fine gourmet
meal or watch or read something deep and important. But there are also days
when we’re tired or stressed and just want to stop at Burger King or watch a
stupid movie. It isn’t the most nutritious food there is or the most
intellectually stimulating entertainment to choose from, but it’s comforting
and easy, and there are days when we need that. That’s why I call these types
of books, shows, and films ‘junk food media’.
It’s not as if these works never deal with tough themes or
have sadder moments. It’s just that they don’t make up the main bulk of the
story, and there are always plenty of uplifting moments to get you through
These are my personal favourite junk food pieces of pop
culture which never fail to cheer me up when I’m in a bad mood:
Not only is Sakura an adorable and perpetually cheerful little ball of funshine, the town she and her friends live in is essentially a utopia. The cast have an endless supply of lovely clothes, eat delicious dinners every night, and live in houses which are almost unaffordable in real-life Japan. Even most of the problems which Sakura faces are a mere apocalypse of mild peril (the threat in one episode was that their cakes were too sweet). Sakura and company do still go through the many perils of growing up and feeling their first heartbreak. The episodes dealing with Sakura’s dead mother are especially tear-jerking. Yet even while watching these moments, you always know they’re going to make it through, which is why the series is so endearing even over 20 years after its debut.
Yes, it’s basically the law that I have to include this on my list when I live in Finland. But there’s a reason why the show is so insanely popular in the country. Moominvalley is a throwback to a more rustic, relaxing time of countryside living. That and the cast of fun, quirky characters makes any variation of this massive franchise fun to watch. Again, there are sadder moments. The scene where Snufkin leaves for the winter could easily be symbolic of losing a loved one or having a friend move away (the author, Tove Jansson, seemingly based it upon her best friend fleeing the Nazis). My particular favourite is the UK-produced new version, mostly because it has prominent British comedians amongst the English cast, including Matt Berry as the voice of Moominpapa.
Maybe it’s because the show is ‘lifestyle porn’. Maybe it’s because I’ve seen it so many times that it is comfortable and familiar. Or maybe it just is that good. Whatever the reason, watching Friends feels like having coffee and cake in Central Perk. As much as I love the darker comedy of British shows or the more subtle humour of modern sit-coms, I will always have a soft spot for these cosy, found family, laugh-out-loud comedies.
It’s a children’s film about bees suing the human race for using their honey, and is apparently full of political symbolism. And a woman leaves her boyfriend for a bee. I have no idea if the writers intended for this film to be taken seriously or if they knew how absurd their premise was and made it silly on purpose, knowing that nobody would ever take it seriously. Either way, the film is unapologetically stupid, nonsensical, and completely lacking in morals and I couldn’t love it more.
Mystery Science Theatre 3000
One of the reasons I love Bee Movie so much is that it’s so bad that it lends itself to making jokes about it as you watch – also known as ‘riffing’. MST3K invented this concept and is still going strong with it 30 years later (in fact, the show is only slightly older than I am). Not only is it hilarious to hear riffs on terrible old movies, but the skits by the hosts and bots are insanely fun. It almost feels as if you’d like to hang out on the Satellite of Love. Well, almost…
What are your favourite pieces of ‘junk food media’ that never fail to cheer you up on a bad day? Tell me in the comments below!
Father Ted is a British sitcom about a trio of Catholic priests and their tea-obsessed housekeeper living on a remote Irish island and is genuinely one of the funniest shows ever made. Even more than two decades after it was made, the show is still repeated, quoted, and referenced by new generations of fans, and the entire series is now on Youtube.
It is clear that the reason why the priests have been forced
to the most remote parish in Ireland is as a punishment; Jack for being a perv,
Dougal for possibly killing an entire busload of nuns, and Ted for embezzling money
meant for a sick child. But my theory is that Craggy Island isn’t simply a
punishment given to Ted by Bishop Brennon, but by God himself.
Embezzlement may be a terrible crime, but it’s not exactly on the same level of evil as Hitler, Trump, or people who play loud music all night after a hockey game (yes, I’m bitter…). In fact, in many episodes, Ted is the only reasonable or brave person, such as when he climbs onto the wheel of a plane to fix the fuel line, saves Dougal from the bomb on the milk float, or rescues eight priests from the lingerie section (trust me, all of those make sense if you’ve watched the show). It’s not exactly the type of punishment which justifies demons sticking red hot pokers up your arse for all eternity. But perhaps God made Craggy Island as a punishment fitting for the crime – a hell made especially for Ted.
Ted is clearly miserable on Craggy Island and would much
rather be partying it up in Las Vegas than putting up with the island resident’s
daily weirdness. Yet despite his crimes, he is still a devout Catholic and
probably does still believe that he will go to heaven when he dies. That
thought is probably the only thing which keeps him going on Craggy Island.
Yet God has set up the punishment in a way in which Ted
doesn’t even realise that he is dead and in his own personal Hell. When you
think about it, believing you will eventually have the relief of heaven then
never getting it is in many ways a much worse punishment than the demons and
the red-hot pokers.
True there are many people in reality who are just as weird as the characters on the show, and remote places which are that backwards. Yet the general wackiness of Craggy Island and the people around Ted could prove that the entire place has been set up to punish Ted. There’s the Chinatown which appears as if from nowhere, the rabbit plague, and Jack’s hairy hands. Even characters such as Father Stone could really be demons sent to punish Ted further. Why else would anyone want to live on, or even visit, Craggy Island?
Every single time Ted gets a shot at something good or a way off the island, it is ruined in one way or another. When he falls in love with a beautiful novelist, she decides to become a nun. When he’s set to inherit a fortune from Father Jack, he mysteriously comes back to life. Even when he wins the Golden Cleric award, the victory is short lived.
The final episode of the series even sees Ted finally
getting a chance to move to a new parish in Beverly Hills and live his dream,
only to quit when he finds out it’s a parish rife with gun violence and gangs.
The final scene of the series shows him glumly realising he will be stuck on
Craggy Island with Jack, Dougal, and Mrs Doyle ‘forever and ever and ever and
Friends was the quintessential
90s sitcom about a group of inseparable pals struggling through their 20s and
30s together. Some parts of the show haven’t aged particularly well (there are
seriously so many homophobic jokes), but I still regularly give it a binge
watch for the nostalgic value and the hilarious performances (plus that one
episode about porn which was banned from Channel Four back in the day).
One common complaint is how unrealistically the show portrayed
life in New York City for a bunch of nearly-broke 20-somethings. Despite
spending most of their day at the coffee house instead of their jobs, the
Friends still somehow had huge apartments, nice clothes, and enough money to go
on impromptu trips whenever they felt like it.
Much of this was for practical reasons, such as the
apartments needing to be big to move the cameras around. The rest you can pass
off as indulging the viewer’s fantasies, something which I once heard somebody
describe as ‘lifestyle porn’. We watched the show, and still watch it 20 years
later, because we like to imagine ourselves having posh apartments in a glamorous
city with dream jobs we somehow never have to actually go to and a group of
friends who will always support us.
But what if the show wasn’t just a fantasy for the viewer?
What if the reason why the Friend’s lives were so unreasonably perfect is
because they were never real in the first place?
The Friends Asylum Theory
One theory I’ve seen floating around is that the entire show
was actually set in a mental health institution and the Friends were really
inmates either delusional or in-denial about where they really were. This would
explain a lot of things like the lack of work hours, the fact they were together
practically 24/7, and the characters like Gunther who existed only to take care
of them (why else would Gunther work a minimum wage job in a coffee shop for
ten years pre-recession?). Delusional thinking is common amongst mental health
patients and people who have experienced trauma, so it makes sense that the
Friends created a shared fantasy life to deal with this and their real lives in
Each of the Friends displayed symptoms of a serious mental
health condition which on the show were simply played off as adorable quirks. Rachel
exhibited narcissistic and sociopathic behaviour. Monica clearly had OCD and an
eating disorder. Phoebe was implied to have magical powers which were more
likely symptoms of schizophrenia. Joey was addicted to both food and sex and was
incredibly child-like. Chandler outright admitted to using his sarcastic humour
to mask his childhood trauma. Ross’ abandonment and anger issues were so bad
that he had an actual mental breakdown on the show (which again was played entirely
for laughs). Even many of the secondary and one-off characters could actually have
bene asylum patients (Ugly Naked Guy, Ross’ girlfriend who shaved her head, the
‘singing guy’ in the next building, etc).
The Friends Fantasy Life
You can take this theory even further and suggest that the
entire show isn’t just set in an asylum, but entirely in the head of one of the
characters. Phoebe is a regular target for this theory. Somebody on Twitter once
suggested that she is actually a homeless drug addict staring at a group of five
friends through the window of a coffee shop and imagining that she is one of
them. Her twin sister Ursula is just her reflection and the quirky hipster
songs she performs at Central Perk are really just her caterwauling on the
streets for change.
If you think about it hard enough, the entire show could be
the idealised fantasy lifestyle of any one of the characters. Monica liked
things to be clean, organised, and perfect so she could have fantased that her
tiny, dirty New York apartment was actually a personal pleasure palace. Rachel
may have actually married Barry in the first episode and was imagining what her
life could have been like while in reality she was stuck in a horrible marriage.
Joey could have been picturing how his struggles as an unemployed actor would
eventually end. Ross was actually a massive douche canoe in retrospect (there
have been A LOT
this) so maybe the show is his Nice Guy fantasy about Rachel falling
hopelessly in love with him. Or maybe Chandler…actually I don’t want to get
into what could be going on in Chandler’s head.
What do you think of this theory? Have I taken it too far
and ruined the show forever for you? Am I the only one who really wants a modern-day
remake of Friends with Joey and Phoebe as the main couple? Tell me your
thoughts in the comments below!
Warning – Major spoilers for the ending of Merlin (BBC series)
Welcome to a new section of my blog called Crazy Fan Theories. Here I will be sharing bizarre headcanons I have developed for my favourite pieces of pop culture and examining existing fan theories. I’m going to start off with one of my favourite tv shows- the BBC series Merlin– and one of the ongoing questions which fans have been asking since the show ended in 2012.
When will Arthur return?
Like all Arthurian legends, the show had a tragic ending. In the final episode, Arthur succumbed to war injuries and died in Merlin’s arms. Merlin gave him a Viking funeral to send him to the Isle of Avalon to await the predestined day that Arthur will return when Albion needs him most.
Plus he had to drag the body there himself
The show’s final scene is an epilogue of sorts in which we see Merlin as an old man in the modern-day walking past the Isle of Avalon, still keeping watch over it and awaiting Arthur’s return. Supposedly he has been waiting for over 1,000 years at this point, long after everyone he ever loved has died.
Good old family entertainment from the BBC
The more you think about it, the sadder it becomes. The entire series was focused upon Merlin restoring the ‘golden age of magic’ and ending Camelot’s persecution of magic users. Yet many fans felt cheated that they never got to see this happen. It becomes even sadder when you consider Britain’s long history of witch burnings and the fact that witchcraft didn’t become legal in the UK until 1951. Even today, neo-pagan religions such as Wicca and Druidism are incredibly obscure and are generally treated as strange and suspicious. The last time I checked, the UK isn’t full of magical creatures such as dragons and unicorns either, so all that trouble Merlin went through to save the last dragon egg was completely pointless.
Completely pointless baby dragon
So Merlin has basically failed in his lifelong quest of restoring magic, but he can still await Arthur, right? Except that Albion doesn’t need the two of them anymore. Despite what fearmongering tabloids will tell you, the UK, and the western world in general, is better and safer than it ever has been in history (so I really don’t know what I’m constantly complaining about…). Not that everything is great for everyone but people in the UK now live longer, have easy access to all necessities, and can freely practice magic (even if it isn’t the glowy eyes kind from the tv show). This article on Ranker points out that even people in the UK working minimum wage jobs still generally have more freedom and a better quality of life than Arthur had as a king in the Anglo-Saxon period. They aren’t being forced to marry their cousins at the age of 12, they aren’t at risk from dying from something as simple as an ear infection, and they don’t have to live in drafty stone castles. They also aren’t constantly at risk from invading armies or the occasional griffin attack.
Apparently this just used to happen all the time
But if modern-day Albion is doing so well, does that mean that Arthur will never need to come back? Will Merlin wait forever for a day that will never come? Or perhaps this golden age was possible because Arthur has already returned.
Arthur’s real return
Albion has seen a lot of war and strife in the thousand or so years since Arthur’s death, but not even those were enough to warrant Arthur’s return. The one time in this turbulent history when the people of Albion were in the most danger, when they needed Arthur more than ever, was during the blitz from 1940 to 1941. In all the wars in British history, this was the only time that civilians were in constant danger of attack. An estimated 43,000 civilians were killed during this short time and endless buildings were destroyed, taking decades to be restored.
Destruction during the blitz
It makes sense that this would be the time when Arthur returned from Avalon to defend the people of Albion with Merlin’s help. With 1,000 years to think it over, he would have come to terms with witchcraft and fighting alongside a wizard as well. Perhaps he took on a new persona as an army figurehead and might have even become a politician after the war. The timing of this coincides nicely with the repeal of the Witchcraft Act in 1951 and the emergence of neopagan religions in subsequent decades. Perhaps Arthur and Merlin were covertly working to gradually restore the Old Religion to Albion and accomplish what they weren’t able to in the age of Camelot. If anything they beat their predestined expectations since paganism is now more popular than ever and practised throughout the world.
Modern day druids at Stonehenge (which was built by Merlin, btw)
When we see Merlin as an old man in the final scene, it isn’t because he is an immortal stuck in that form forever. After Arthur returned to save Albion and their destiny was fulfilled, both of them were free to live their lives however they wanted and Merlin finally started to age naturally. By 2012, Arthur had passed away from old age after a long and fulfilling life. Old Merlin is not waiting for Arthur’s return – he’s waiting the day when he can finally move on to join Arthur and all of his loved ones in Avalon. They may not have been completely successful in restoring the old ways, but they can still rest knowing that magic users are safe from persecution and Albion will be just fine without them.
What do you think of my headcanon? What’s your crazy Merlin fan theory? Tell me in the comments below!
Have you ever found yourself getting really into a work of fiction – binge watching entire seasons at a time, buying all the merchandise, or gushing about it on social media – but later on you find yourself hating the work you used to love? Sometimes it is simply a case of our tastes changing naturally over time, or sometimes it’s a change in the writing staff or management. But often it is due to the writer making a bad decision which turns even the most loyal fans away. These are some of the biggest writing mistakes which ruin a good story which you should avoid in your own writing:
Abandoning the premise
While some bad stories fail to live up to their premise, others abandon theirs altogether and alienate their existing fanbase. For example, say you have a gritty, relatable drama about regular working-class characters but then halfway through the characters suddenly win the lottery and it turns into a comedic farce about living amongst the wealthy elite. Those are two excellent premises on their own but switching from one to another in the same continuity is just a slap in the face to any fans who enjoyed the original premise.
Forced romantic conflict
I love romance plots with a burning passion, but I completely despise those which are inserted into a story for the sake of it, or which rely upon outdated or unpopular plots such as a love triangle, affair, or misunderstanding. If you do want to include a romance plot or test the couple, at least make it meaningful and fitting with the story and characters.
A delve into darkness
It is beneficial for a story to become increasingly dark as it goes on, since it gradually ups the stakes and provides deeper conflict. Yet more writers seem to be under the impression that they need to make the story as dark and disturbing as possible early on, which only makes the characters unlikeable and the story too depressing to follow or finish. Game of Thrones is probably the main cause of this trend, yet what most people don’t realise is that despite the increasingly dark tone, there still remains an element of hope that our favourite characters may still survive and fix everything. That is what keeps us enthralled with the series, not the endless stream of blood, death, and rape.
Dragging out the drama
In a failed attempt to keep fans interested, some writers drag out their conflicts almost indefinitely, or at least way past the point when they should have been concluded. This can actually have the opposite effect in turning fans away from the plot, since they have little incentive to follow it if they don’t believe it will ever be solved. Similarly, if you introduce a mystery or burning question into the narrative, don’t drag it along further than it needs to, otherwise the fans will stop caring.
Hitting the reset button
Have you ever reached a satisfying conclusion for a season of a tv show or a book in a series, only for the author to suddenly undo it all at the very end, or set up yet another long string of incredibly similar challenges for the characters to face? It fails because it makes the entire journey you have just followed feel completely pointless, and hints that the next instalment will just be a rehash of the first. If you are writing a series, build upon each new instalment with something new and the fans will stay interested for as long as you write it.
Too many plot twists
Plot twists are like rollercoasters; exiting when ridden one at a time, but if you ride several one after another then you’re just going to feel sick. If you have too many plot twists or plot twists which are too close together, the fans will barely be able to catch their breath before the next one comes along. Generally, I would say limit yourself to only one or two plot twists per book or season and give the fans plenty of breathing room each time to process them.
An unsatisfactory ending
Whether the story ends with joy or tragedy, it at least needs to be satisfactory and fitting to what the rest of the story has been building up to. No matter how good the rest of the story is, a bad ending will taint the entire thing and leave fans raging.
Which writing mistakes do you think ruin a good story? What has made you hate a story that you used to love? Tell me in the comments below!
The stories which inspire you to write will largely depend upon the genre in which you write. However, I have found that stories about the journey of writers, or people of any creative discipline, are especially inspirational and motivating. Here are just a few of the top anime and manga which use this to inspire writers, or any creatives:
Have you ever had the feeling that your story is running wild and your characters are making decisions on their own? Well this is an anime in which that literally happens. It starts off as an enchantingly strange tale of a duck-turned-human at a ballet school who turns into a magical girl and uses complex ballet moves to save her beloved prince. It takes its fairy tale inspiration and parodies, subverts, twists, and turns it every possible way. The ballet and classical music references are so accurate that the anime is even used as a reference in university courses and has had academic papers written about it.
2. Whisper of the Heart
One of Studio Ghibli’s most understated films tells the simple story of a young writer working on her first story, adjusting to changes in her life, and finding her place in the world. Some write this film off as boring or lacking in conflict, especially compared to some other Ghibli films, but it is an often painfully honest portrayal of the process that writers go through in their early stages. Like Shizuka, many of us do like to believe that life is like a fairy tale and become sourly disappointed when it doesn’t turn out to be true. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t find great stories within our own lives.
All writers will know this feeling
3. Kiki’s Delivery Service
Another Ghibli film and another about a young person discovering their unique talents and forging their own life path. Again, Kiki’s Delivery Service can come across to some as slow and boring as it has no antagonist (outside of one little bitch who rejects her grandmother’s lovingly baked pie). The antagonistic force is actually Kiki’s lack of self-confidence as she goes through a period of transformation in finding her unique skill as a witch. There is also a lengthy portion about Kiki’s interaction with a young artist, which helps her to determine her reasons for doing what she does and gain her confidence back.
Ursula’s painting from Kiki’s Delivery Service
4. Sunshine Sketch
Also known as Hidamari Sketch, I have rambled on before about how this is one of my favourite anime and manga series, both for its lovable characters and how accurately it portrays the emergence of a trainee artist. The protagonist Yuno suffers disappointing setbacks and encouraging accomplishments as she tries to find out what she wants out of her artistic career, while also spending plenty of time having fun with her friends.
5. Kaleido Star
An anime about a girl training at a huge Cirque du Soleil style show, I love how this series portrays both the struggles of an emerging performer and of an established performer, almost in equal measure. It faces some tough issues that artists actually face at the beginning, such as becoming overly arrogant, wanting to hog the spotlight, and the balance between creating art and making revenue from it. It also subverts the recent American Idol idea that a positive attitude alone is enough to succeed, showing that setbacks can and do happen and can even cripple a career. Instead, the message is that consistent hard effort and learning from mistakes are the only way to succeed. The circus performances are also a tonne of fun to watch.
Back in the heyday of Tokyopop’s domination of the manga marketplace, they put out this three issue series by Russian-Canadian artist Svetlana Chmakova about a romance blooming at an anime convention. Not only is it a hilarious send up of fandom culture and the convention circuit, it also carries many lessons of becoming a creator, particularly of comics, such as accepting constructive criticism. The standard ‘fantasy forbidding parent’ plot is somewhat clichéd and the suffering artist plot is settled a little too easily, but it still alludes to several harsh truths about being a full time creator, presenting both the positive and negatives. There is an entire scene spelling out the multiple reasons not to be a creator and it is made clear that it is a large risk that requires a strong backbone even if you do become successful.
7. Love Live! School Idol Project
In this anime, a high school student starts up a school idol group as a way to drum up publicity for her school and prevent it from shutting down. Perhaps a somewhat naïve reason to get into the arts, but one which ultimately pays off and helps each of the group members to discover great things about themselves, which is why their group is fittingly named μ (muse). Plus there are more than enough musical numbers and cute outfits to entertain.
8. Full Moon Wo Sagashite
Another series about a wannabe singer, but one with a more rounded and tragic plot. In this case, the protagonist, Mizuki, loves to sing but has a malignant tumour in her throat that can only be cured by removing her vocal cords. She opts out of the surgery to achieve her dream of being a singer, even though it means she only has a year left to live. This is a rather tragic take on the ‘follow your dreams’ plot, but one that is subverted as the story goes on. Knowing that she only has a year left to live actually frees Mizuki from many of the pressures of the music industry and allows her to focus on her music rather than the industry drama.
9. Velvet Blue Rose
This obscure manga is hard to find in English, as unfortunately Tokyopop went bankrupt before the entire series could be translated. But if you can find it, it is both an entertaining story with vibrant characters and an inspiring tale on creating beautiful things for the happiness of others. The wedding dress makers in this manga frequently take on impossible jobs which keep them up multiple nights in a row, yet their passion for their work and the smile on the customer’s faces is what keeps them going. Yet there is also an underlying message about getting out of the studio once in a while to spend time with the people you love. Oh, and lots of lovely pictures of wedding dresses.
10. The Wind Rises
This one more than any other anime on this list will make you cry buckets, but in a good way. It is fitting that for Hayao Miyazaki’s final film he paid tribute to his hero, the real life plane engineer Jiro Horikoshi. The outbreak of World War Two means Jiro has to live with the fact that the planes he loves so much and works on so passionately are being used to kill people. And as we know from history, he was on the losing side of the war. Despite its highly controversial subject matter, it is a tragic yet also inspiring story, teaching us that we can’t control how our work will be used, critiqued, or interpreted, but that shouldn’t stop us from trying to make the world a better place. Watching this film actually taught me that the most important thing about being a creative is creating something that inspires others.
What anime and manga inspire you as a writer or creator? Tell me in the comments below!
I previously wrote about the villain redemption story and why it is such a great story to write about. But just like with every type of story, it can only work if it is done correctly. There are villain redemption stories which work and ones which don’t work. When is it right for a villain to be redeemed and when should they be left as they are? I’ve listed some examples of both to help identify when the right time to redeem a villain is:
The Comic Villain
Cartoonishly comic villains such as Discord, Gideon Gleeful, or Dr. Doofenshmirtz were all funny villain characters but they could also be genuine threats, and sometimes even outright terrifying. This type of villain can be redeemed since they are rarely the standard big bads so it is easier for readers to relate to and even sympathise with them. Funny villains are often much more incompetent compared to their darker counterparts so we can buy that they can be converted to the good side.
As I mentioned, there are countless numbers of stories you can have with a redeemed villain. It is often an ongoing process that can stretch over several books and provide your readers with many moral questions to mull over.
The Morality Pet
Ideally someone needs to show the villain the error of their ways and inspire them on the path to goodness. The morality pet trope is ideal for this, by providing the villain with a change in perspective, giving them something they can care for, and showing the readers their good side in how they protect and care for that person.
When not to redeem villains:
For the Sake of Drama
While the villain redemption story can increase drama, using it purely for the sake of increased drama rarely works well. There needs to be a reason for the drama to exist otherwise it will seem forced and unconvincing. Don’t shove in a redemption arc into your story just for the sake of it either. If you look at your story and find that a redemption arc doesn’t fit into it anywhere, then don’t feel as if you need to include one.
The Moral Guardian Ending
I call it this because a villain redeemed at the very end of the story with no build up feels like an ending suggested by a focus group or a concerned parent’s union and not by the author. If you have your villain change at the very end just for the sake of everyone feeling happy and getting along, the concerned parents may be happy but your readers won’t be. It is much better to redeem a villain with an ongoing story arc, and even with good characters struggling with viewing them as good, instead of at the last minute.
A common way that writers try to force in the Moral Guardian Ending is not by having the villain decide to change but for the heroes to turn them good by use of magic. This is problematic for two reasons. First of all, it is assuming that good and evil are easily identifiable, when as I discussed earlier they are in fact subjective and sometimes even ambiguous. Secondly, it doesn’t look too good when the hero essentially mind rapes the villain into thinking exactly as they do. If the villain did something like that then everybody would be saying how terrible it is.
The Care Bears were the real villains all along…
While many villains can be redeemed, there are others who can’t be redeemed and shouldn’t. These are characters who you want to see punished. In Disney’s adaptation of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Frollo spends the story as a murderous bigot so it is intensely satisfying when he is flung down to hell at the end. If a villain has no reason to be forgiven for something truly evil then they shouldn’t be, by either the characters or the author. Otherwise readers will be wondering why other characters are showing sympathy for a villain who doesn’t deserve it or why they should feel any sympathy themselves.
Next time I’ll be taking these last two posts together and detail fully how to write the villain redemption story.
A while ago I talked about the types of love story that turn my stomach. Today I’m going to talk about the types of love interest which make me throw a book into a fireplace, or throw the remote at the television. I’m not going to go on about Mary Sues or Manic Pixie Dream Girls because other people have already given hilarious parodies of those. These are the ones which I personally can’t stand.
The Plank of Wood.
A Plank of Wood appropriately named Rod.
This is when the love interest is so underdeveloped they could be replaced by a plank of wood and it wouldn’t make much difference to the story or romance arc. This can happen generally with poorly written characters but its even worse if that character is supposed to be a love interest. How are we supposed to buy that this person can be loved if they have virtually no personality or redeeming features?
The Karma Love Interest
Something which frequently appears in sitcoms with a ‘beauty and the geek’ romance. This is where the love interest, usually a female, is an embodiment of all the popular girls who refused to date the geeky guy in high school, making up for what horrible bitches all the girls were to him. Or perhaps it’s a girl who wouldn’t give him the time of day in high school but is now hopelessly in love with him, despite the fact that he hasn’t changed at all. I’m not the only one who felt that Ross and Rachael would just break up again a few years after the grand finale. I don’t even get why they would be interested in the type of girl who made their adolescence a living hell anyway.
It’s unfortunate because it almost implies that guys, no matter how horrible their personalities are, don’t have to try and change themselves but simply wait for girls to come around, stop being bitches, and fall in love with them. Yet if the genders are reversed, the girl will have to drastically change both inside and out to get the guy. Wow, I just made a horrifying revelation…
No amount of catchy pop tunes can save this romance.
Closely linked to the manic pixie dream girl who often has a bit of the muse within her. This is where Person A falls for Person B not so much for who they are but for how they inspire them to create their artworks. Again, it is unfortunate as it is clear there is little basis for the couple to form a relationship and once the artist has finished his project, he can just dump her and find a new muse.
Just as bad is when an artist falls in love with a literal muse, which has been overused to the point of tedium. In fact, while writing this post I got the idea for a short story about a human falling in love with a muse for who they are, not for their artistic inspiration.
‘I know I had a crush on The Doctor last week but this is totally fine.’
Often a form of lazy writing when a writer can’t think of what else to do with a character so they just shove in a new love interest for the sake of drama. The object of a character’s affections has just died or decided they’re not interested. What to do, show them getting on with their life? Think of an interesting new story for them? Nah, let’s shoe-horn in another love interest right away.
The Dumbass in Distress
We all know where this is going…
Another old trope which is still discussed a lot, Person A falls for Person B because he saves her, often repeatedly. But if it’s such an outdated story, why does it still keep appearing? Is it because we still see the person being rescued as the reward and believe they should fall in love with the rescuer as thanks? The whole concept of falling for someone because they saved your life makes no sense anyway. Sure they’re probably a good person if they saved someone, but they probably just did that because they saw that person in danger and natural instincts kicked in. It’s really not much to base an entire relationship upon.
The One That Got Away
Don’t do what Gatsby does…
This is when a would-be-couple is separated for many years then they re-enter each other’s lives again. Either Person A will suddenly fall in love with Person B again despite barely thinking about them for years or will still love them throughout the years not for who they are but for who they were years ago. People change a lot as time goes by so the person they are pining for has probably become a different person than the one they originally fell for. I think it can work if the characters get to know each other all over again and find that they still have things they like about each other, but I don’t think things that happened ten years ago should be the basis for an entire relationship.
The Love Interest…And Not Much Else
I actually love Ygritte but god damn it…
Sure writers often have to insert characters to serve the role of love interest, but there are too many characters who exist only to be a love interest and have no purpose to exist beyond that. They might not even like or even interact with any other characters in the story because they only have eyes for the protagonist. It is much better for this character to make an impact not only in the romance part of the story but some other aspect of it as well, which doesn’t mean being kidnapped by the villain and used as the reward. Not only will the readers like them much more but they will be a better-rounded and developed character.
Are there any other types of love interest which turn you off? What love interests do you want to see more of instead? List them in the comments below!
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