Posts Tagged ‘anime’

So this past week, I watched an anime series that turned out to be pretty bad (I swear, this is related to writing and isn’t another anime-themed post). There were several reasons why it was terrible, but a major reason was that the main character was the reincarnation of a guy who died in our world and was reborn into a fantasy world with most of his knowledge and memories intact.

As we’ve discussed on this blog before, anime where characters from our world end up in fantasy worlds are called isekai anime. Because the main character(s) are from our world, that usually plays a large part in their character. The audience can’t watch the show without remembering that this character is from another world and the original world influences their personality and decisions in a hundred different ways.

And this anime…didn’t really do that. Like, the protagonist used some of his scientific knowledge from his previous life to make his magic stronger and invent new devices. But other than that, I often forgot he was from another world. At one point, I found myself thinking, “You know, they’ve already established this guy as a quirky magic genius. They could have written out the isekai element, attributed his knowledge of oxygen and the theory of folding space to his unusual brain, and the show would have one less problem. It wouldn’t be great, but it would have one less problem.”

And that long-winded intro leads into the subject of today’s post. How do you find a story element that’s actually hampering the story rather than improving it? What prevents a writer from creating the sort of pitfalls, be it an unnecessary character or adding an isekai aspect to the story when it serves no purpose? Or if they do, how do they find it and get it out before the story is published?

I had to make a lot of these decisions during the editing of “Rose.”

Well, part of it is experience. Namely, as we become more experienced writers, we get used to figuring out what elements work and what don’t. It’s like a voice in the back of our heads is asking, “Does this work? What does it bring to the story? Would the story suffer if I removed it?” This happened a lot when I was doing major rewrites of Rose. Rose’s fiancĂ© Mark had a slightly larger role in earlier drafts, but during the rewrites, when I was taking the plot in a different direction, I realized that Mark couldn’t fulfill that role anymore. He still had a part to play, but the part he’d played previously made no sense in the new direction. If I kept it, it would have not served the story. Thus, Mark’s role was reduced to what it is in Rose now.

Something similar happened while writing The Pure World Comes, but that will have to wait till it’s published.

But if you do miss something, that’s where beta readers and editors come in (and why it’s important to use them before you try submitting/publishing a story). Back to Rose, while I was rewriting the book, my publisher recommended I cut out the flashbacks, which were about a third of the book. I was confused and a little upset, as I was very proud of those scenes. However, I realized that flashbacks need to connect to the main events of the story. And while the flashbacks did explain plenty about Rose‘s character in earlier drafts, it didn’t connect much to the current events, so I nixed them and started rewriting.

See? Editors and beta readers do help.

But what if you really like an element in a story and there’s a strong indication you need to nix it? Well, then you have a choice to make as the creator. In the case of the anime I mentioned, the creator, if confronted with this choice, could have either made the fact that the protagonist was from another world more essential to his character or the plot. Or, like I suggested, he could have nixed it.

You may not like it, but sometimes you have to throw out problematic elements if you can’t find a way to make them work. Photo by Steve Johnson on Pexels.com

And that’s what it often boils down to. Authors can either cultivate those elements so that they actually matter and don’t bring down the story, or they can “kill their darlings” and nix the elements. This can be hard to do, as we may love those elements as much as we love the very stories we write.* However, it’s a decision we eventually have to make with our stories if we want to not only continue with these stories, but share them with as many people as possible.

No author likes to hear that they need to nix something from their story because it adds nothing or brings the story down. However, it’s important to hear and learn to deal with them, as in the end, it helps to improve the story and maybe even get it into the hands of many readers. And besides, it’s better than having a lot of people complaining about the problem elements after release, right?

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I have a busy week ahead of me, but I’ll be back before too long. Until next time, stay safe, pleasant nightmares, and if you’re looking for a good isekai anime, let me know. I have recommendations.

*Though I think the creator of the source material for the anime, he did it because isekai stories are hot right now, to the point that they’re inundating the market. It’s a problem we anime fans both joke and groan about.

In my last post, I mentioned that I was prepping to move into a bigger apartment and was getting ready to do so. While going through some stuff, seeing what I wanted to keep and what I wanted to donate, I was surprised by what I found hidden at the bottom of a box: my three contributor copies of the Winter 2011 issue of TEA, A Magazine. This is significant because this was the first time I was paid for a published story!

While my memory can be very unreliable sometimes, I remember that story, and that magazine, so well. I was still in high school then, and I was just starting to try and get into the short story market. In those days, I was regularly borrowing these annual guides on the short story market, reading the articles for anything I could use to improve my own storytelling techniques and looking at the listings of magazines and small presses I could submit my work to. One of the listings was for TEA, A Magazine. You can guess what it was focused on. Articles, ads, recipes, and even fiction centering on tea.

I was a big tea drinker even then, so I was intrigued. And I thought, Why not try to write a short story about tea and send it their way? And I did, a short story called “Summers with Grandmother Fumika.” And as you can tell from that title, I was a huge nerd for anime, manga, and Japanese culture back then. In fact, I was crazier about it then than I am now! But back to the short story. “Summers with Grandmother Fumika” was about a young Japanese-American girl who stays with her grandmother during the summers, and one summer, they perform a tea ceremony for a kitsune, a multitailed fox spirit.

Definitely more fantasy-based than Rose was, though they both drew upon Japanese culture. And it had a happier ending.

I don’t think I really expected TEA to accept my work, but to my surprise, the editor actually enjoyed the story and wanted to work with me on it. A couple of months of edits, and they sent me a contract. Not too long after, they sent me a $100 check for the story, as well as my contributor copies.

My short story in the issue, “Summers with Grandmother Fumika.”

Edgar Rice Burroughs, the creator of Tarzan, once said that he could make a million dollars in his lifetime, but he would never feel richer than he did the moment he received a $400 check for his first story, A Princess of Mars. For me, I have the same feeling about that $100. Not because I grew older and $100 didn’t seem like such a big deal as it did in high school. But because that check came with more than just monetary meaning. It came with validation.

Imagine, only 17 and someone thought that something you had written was not only good, but they wanted to pay money for it! To include it in a magazine read by hundreds, maybe even thousands of people! “Intoxicating” doesn’t even begin to cover the feeling I had then. And I’ve been chasing that feeling ever since, trying to replicate it.

Of course, like any addiction, nothing ever compares to that first high. Thankfully, with this addiction, there are plenty of other perks when I manage to publish something people enjoy. You can probably guess what they are.

I’m glad I was able to rediscover that story and those contributor copies. It’s been so long, I’d forgotten that I even had them. And with it being around ten years since that issue of TEA was released, it feels almost timely. Makes me want to do something with “Summers with Grandmother Fumika.” Maybe a reading on a YouTube video? It’d be more fantasy than horror, but I’m sure there would be some people interested in hearing me read it. We’ll see after the move.

Anyway, thanks for strolling down memory lane with me, my Followers of Fear. It was a nice, warm, nostalgic moment in my day and I wanted to share it with you. And it reminds me that, even though it’s been awhile since I’ve had an acceptance, it doesn’t mean it won’t happen in the future. Hell, if I can do it at 17, then I can do it at 27. Just a matter of time, work and finding the right publication.

Until next time, my Followers of Fear, good night, Shabbat Shalom, have a good weekend, and pleasant nightmares.

My friend Kat Impossible over on Life and Other Disasters did her rendition of this tag, and it looked fun. So, let’s pretend it’s Halloween year-round and answer some spooky questions about a WIP (as well as general questions on writing)! And since last time I did Toyland, I think this time around I’ll talk about The Pure World Comes, my Victorian Gothic novel that I wrote earlier this year.

But I’m going to need a blurb first. Hmm…how about this:

Shirley Dobbins has very few wants in life: to be able to become the head housekeeper of a great house someday; to not think on her life before she started working; and to earn a reputation as a reliable maid. So when she is hired by the enigmatic baronet and scientist Sir Joseph Hunting to work at his estate after the sudden death of her employers, she can’t believe her luck.
However, things at the “Hunting Lodge,” as Sir Joseph’s home is known, are far from the ideal position she hoped for. Not only is there barely any staff at the crumbling mansion, but terrifying visions oppress those within at random moments. Those Shirley sees bear resemblances to her past. As she becomes more wrapped in the secrets of Hunting Lodge and Sir Joseph’s scientific work, she unearths a terrible threat not only after her life, but the lives of all those around her.

How’s that? Intriguing enough? Anyway, onto the questions.

GHOST: Have you ever originally put a character/scene/theme in the book and then later taken it out?

  • Character – Yes
  • Scene – kind of
  • Theme – No

I originally had this character, the eldest son of an up-and-coming merchant family, whom Shirley would have feelings for despite her practical, no-nonsense self. However, when I finally started plotting this story, I couldn’t find a place for him in the story, so I axed him out. His disappearance from the story led to some scenes that I’d originally had in mind being axed as well, but I wasn’t that fond of them to begin with, so it worked out.

BAT: Most misunderstood character in your WIP?

I had a bit of a debate on this, considering that we see things through Shirley’s eyes and once she sees someone a certain way, it can take a while for her to see them in a different light. But then I remembered that Sir Joseph Hunting is, without a doubt, the most misunderstood character. He’s not a fan of normal Victorian pastimes or conventions, and he’s squandered his family fortune in pursuit of his scientific research. And Victorians, particularly those of the noble and almost-noble classes, placed a lot of emphasis on appearances, so Sir Joseph’s anathema to them.
It doesn’t help that he’s a bit of a jerk.
That being said, once you get to know him a bit, he’s actually a very sympathetic character. You also see why he devotes himself to his research, and maybe even believe in what he’s doing. If that’s not misunderstood, I don’t know what is.

JACK-O-LANTERN: What is your most common source of inspiration to write?

Is it a law that writers get asked that question at least several times in their careers?
The obvious answer is everything. Stories I’ve read, places I’ve been, people I’ve met, conversations I’ve had, subjects I’ve researched. All these and more combine in my weird head to create stories for me. Some of them are even good and border on original. Those are the ones I try to write into something worth reading.

ZOMBIE: What is your preferred form of writerly fuel? Coffee, tea, etc.

Tea most of the time, though if it’s early in the day, I may have a diet soda. On weekends or certain occasions, I may have something alcoholic, but I’m not able to write as well as I would like when even a little buzzed, so I avoid it.

Photo by Lisa Fotios on Pexels.com

VAMPIRE: Cheesiest trope that made it into your novel?

Okay, you know that trope where two people who don’t like each other spend more and more time together and then they fall in love? It was really popular in movies and a few TV shows back in the 1990s? I may have included that one in this story, though I tried to put an original spin on it.
I’ll leave it for the critics to tell me if I succeeded.

Yeah, the trope from 10 Things I Hate About You. I used a version of it. Hopefully I used it well.

SPIDER: What’s a character in your WIP that’s fine from afar, but you would NOT want to interact with if they ever got close?

I’ve mentioned before that I worked my theory of who Jack the Ripper really is into this story. Well, that’d be my answer. And I’m not saying any more on that until this book comes out!

Famous illustration of Jack the Ripper from Punch Magazine. He figures into my story, but not in a way you might expect.

FRANKENSTEIN’S MONSTER: Ever split one character into two/combine two characters into one?

Maybe? I can’t recall! I’ve written so many characters over the years, I’ve kind of lost track.

SKELETON: Best advice for adding character baggage without info-dumping?

Ooh, that’s a tough one, especially because it’s a tough subject. I try to spread my characters’ baggage and backstories throughout the story. Think of it like walking on a path, and you find puzzle pieces every now and then. Some are big, some are small, but they fit together perfectly. As you gather the pieces, a picture starts to form. And somewhere along the way, all the pieces come together to form a full picture. That’s how I try to spread character baggage and backstory.
That being said, sometimes I drop very big pieces sometimes if the story calls for it. Not ideal, but it’s necessary. And when that happens, if I’m able to, I at least try to just drop a big chunk here and there, rather than just a whole picture. That way, the information is palatable, rather than an info-dump.

CAT: What’s a polarizing writing/book-related opinion you have?

Why cats? Most of the writers I know are cat people! Often their cats are as sweet as their owners! I plan to get cats as soon as I have a bigger space. Preferably a three-bedroom house with a nice front and backyard and an attached garage.
Never mind. I don’t really have any opinions like that. At least, I don’t think I do. I could tell you about some books I didn’t care for, but they’re the kind of books either people like or they don’t. Sorry I don’t have a scandalous answer. You’d get a better answer with my controversial movie opinion, so I’ll tell you that: I enjoyed The Last Jedi, problems and all. There, I said it. What are you going to do about it?

DEMON: Most frequent writing distraction?

Anime and TV shows. Once I get started on a binge, it’s hard to stop. Either that or my cell phone.


Well, what did you think of my answers? Do you want to read The Pure World Comes now? Let’s discuss.

Now for this tag, tagging isn’t necessary. So if you want to do it, all the power to you. I hope you have fun and make sure to link back to me so I can read it.

That’s all for now. If anyone needs me, I’ll be casting magic to save this country. Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

My friend and fellow blogger Kat Impossible did this tag over on her blog (you can check the post out here). It’s just the kind of thing that’s write up my alley, so of course, I’m doing it as well. And hell, it gives me a good opportunity to talk about my current project, the second draft of Toyland, so why not?

Rules

  • Provide a short description of your story.
    Mason Prather has lived at Auckland Academy with his stepmother, the headmistress of the school, for years and has always thought of it as his home. However, at the beginning of his sophomore year, strange and disturbing events begin to plague the student body. Eventually, Mason and his friends trace it back to a spirit, a ghost with a long history with the school and an obsession with a children’s book. They decide to stand up against the ghost, but with the supernatural, nothing is ever as it seems. Especially at Auckland Academy, where its sordid history is very much alive today.
    Okay, that wasn’t very short. But it’s a decent first draft for a blurb, so I’ll go with it.
  • Don’t use the same character for more than 3 answers.
    I will try my best.

Questions and Answers

It’s Halloween night! What’s your protagonist dressed up as?
Mason’s a nut for anime and manga like me, so his first choice would be to put together some sort of cosplay from one of his favorite shows. That being said, cosplay can be expensive and there’s only a few other anime fans at Auckland, so he’d likely pick something more mainstream. Perhaps a vampire, or some sort of sorcerer.
Though if he were to do the anime character, it would probably be Rimuru Tempest from That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime.

Rimuru Tempest (human form) from That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime.

Who in your cast refuses to dress up and shows up at the Halloween party without a costume?
My first thought was Emily Fasko, a friend of Mason’s. She’s very religious and would be very conflicted about wearing a costume for a holiday with pagan roots.
However, I feel more like David Simple, an acquaintance of Mason’s, would be less likely to dress up. He’s a bit more introverted and private, so he wouldn’t want to put himself out there in a silly costume.

Which character wears the most outrageous costume, and what would it be?
Probably Abra Brashear, Emily’s roommate and another friend of Mason’s. She’d enjoy putting on a costume, something flashy, and being the center of attention. Maybe a popstar or a vampire queen. As long as the costume has a lot of sparkle to it.

On Halloween, werewolves, vampires and zombies are on the prowl. Which of your characters get caught in their clutches, and which creature do they subsequently turn into?
Well, if I told you that, it might be considered a spoiler. So, unfortunately, I’m going to have to pass.

Who wins the contest for best costume?
Annabelle the ghost. Her powers would easily allow her to put on any sort of costume, but especially one that would win a contest.
And yes, Annabelle was named after the famously haunted doll, made famous and more terrifying by the Conjuring movies.

The namesake for the character of Annabelle in Toyland.

Who hands out toothbrushes to the trick or treaters?
Theresa Auckland, the founder of Auckland Academy. That’s the sort of thing she would do.

Which two of your characters decide to pair up and do an angel/devil costume together?
I can’t really see any of my characters doing that. Emily might like dressing up as an angel, but she would object to going with anyone dressed as a devil. Like I said, religious.

Someone is too scared to even attend the Halloween party. Who is it?
I can’t think of any of my characters being too scared to go. Some, like Carter Kennedy, the class hothead, or Sarah Lewer, Mason’s best friend, might not attend. But more like they’re too cool for the party (though I think Sarah would go with enough prodding).

Who overdoses on candy and gets sick?
Max and Elle, Mason’s younger half-sisters. Yeah, Mason’s dad and stepmom would try to monitor those kids’ candy, but those two are a wily pair. Afterwards, they’d learn their lesson and never do it again, but it would make for a memorable Halloween experience.

Which character is most likely to put a hex/curse on someone and who would they put it on?
That one’s definitely a spoiler, so I refuse to answer that one.

I Tag You!

If you want to try this tag, then please do. But I’m tagging these individuals. By the dark powers of October, I command you to do this tag! Mwa ha ha ha!

  • Priscilla Bettis
  • Iseult Murphy
  • Joleene Naylor
  • Ruth Ann Nordin
  • Matt Williams
  • Angela Misri

How did you like my answers? Did the blurb above get you more interested in maybe reading Toyland someday? Let’s discuss.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. If anyone needs me, I’ll be ghost hunting. Expect a whole lot of posts after I get back. Believe me, I’ll have plenty to talk about. Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

My friend and fellow blogger whose tastes are way different than mine, Kat Impossible, tagged anyone who was interested in doing this tag. It sounded fun and informative, so I thought I would give it a try. It took me a while to get around to writing my own version and answering the questions–Kat’s post came out right after I got back from my trip, and I had a few posts to write before this one–but it’s finally out.

All credit goes to The Long Voyage for the original version of this tag. You can read it here.

NEVER HAVE I EVER…

…started a novel that I did not finish.

Before age 12 or 13? All the time. I wrote maybe five or six novels (which probably had word counts of short stories or novelettes at most) that didn’t get finished. There was a pirate story, a Frankenstein story, a caveman story, and a few zombie stories. Finally started getting some vampire stories to completion in middle school. I think it was a problem of focus and interest, rather than the story themselves. Then again, I was so young. Youngsters aren’t very good at staying focused on goals without seeing immediate gains from all their hard work.

More recently, I have some short stories and novelettes that I started in the past two years and stopped working on after awhile. Still figuring out why, but I think they may have leaned a little too far from horror and into dark fantasy to keep my interest. It’s sad, but what are you going to do?

…written a story completely by hand.

I did once! And it wasn’t one of those cute, two or three-page school assignments, either. One of my teenage attempts at novel-writing, a vampire novel called Mahiro, was written entirely by hand for its first draft. I had, like, seven notebooks filled with vampire fighting. And subconscious exploration of my sexuality through homage to Anne Rice and the movie Van Helsing, but that only occurred to me after I realized my sexuality.

…changed tenses in the middle of a story.

I think the first couple of attempts at Rose were in the past tense. But on advice from my thesis advisor, I changed to present tense. It worked out in the end.

…not researched anything before starting a story.

Most of my earliest stories started out that way. It wasn’t until maybe high school that I started to do research, and I only got good at it around college, when research became important for passing classes and getting my degree.

…changed a protagonist’s name halfway through a draft.

I don’t think I have, actually. Maybe the surname of a minor character, but never a protagonist’s name, personal or surname.

…written a story in less than a month.

Several times. Especially this past year or so.

…fallen asleep while writing.

Never. When I get tired, I’ll just go to bed.

…corrected someone’s grammar in real life or online.

Too many times to count. It’s a bad habit of mine.

…yelled in all caps at myself in the middle of a novel.

Um…I don’t think so. Is that something people do?

…used “I’m writing” as an excuse.

I think so. I didn’t want to go somewhere with my dad and sisters, even though a friend of mine would’ve been there to play. I just had to write that day. I hope the friend didn’t take it personally!

…killed a character based on someone I know in real life.

More than once. In fact, it’s something I warn people I’ll do if they get on my bad side. In fact, there are two people on there now. I just have to find the right stories to place them in…

Don’t ever mess with me.

…used pop culture references in a story.

Oh, all the time! Game of Thrones was mentioned once or twice in Rose, the 1960s Batman TV show gets a mention in River of Wrath, and I include so many references to some of my favorite anime in Toyland. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

…written between 1 AM and 6 AM.

Plenty of times. I’m actually thinking of changing my sleep schedule so I could do it more often (like Franz Kafka did), but I worry about the effects on my health should I need to get back on a normal schedule.

…drank an entire pot of coffee while writing.

I hate coffee, so that’s a no. I’ll usually have tea or, if it’s a weekend, beer or wine.

German wheat beers are my favorite kind of beer.

…written down dreams to use in potential plots.

Yes. One early story from college, Daisy, was inspired by a dream. And I think a couple more have been, but I can’t think of any off the top of my head.

…published an unedited story online/Wattpad/blog.

Oh hell no! I know the importance of editing. It can literally save a story from being thrown into the trash.

…procrastinated on homework because I wanted to write.

I don’t think so. I’m pretty good about getting that stuff done so I have time to write later. Besides, that stuff can creep up on you if you’re not careful.

…typed so long my wrists hurt.

Only if I’m wearing my watch. Which is why I normally type with it off.

…spilled a drink on my laptop while writing.

Not while writing, but once. I aim to never let it happen again.

…forgot to save my work/draft.

Never! How dare you insinuate I have!

…laughed like an evil villain while writing a scene.

Um, yeah! All the time! And sometimes when I’m not writing. It’s me, come on!

…cried while writing a scene.

Not my thing.

…created maps of my fictional worlds.

No, because more often than not, my stories take place in this world. All I need is a Google search and I’m good.

FOLLOWERS OF FEAR, I TAG YOU!!!

If you want to try this, go right ahead. Just make sure to link back to me and to The Long Voyage. And, as always, have fun with it!

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I hope you’re having a good weekend so far. If I got at least twelve hours of sleep, I know I did. If you need me, I’ll be doing what I do best on weekends…whatever that is. Until next time, stay safe and pleasant nightmares!

After the failure that was the Grudge reboot earlier this year (see my review here), I was hopeful after learning a television series based on the original Ju-On movies was going to be released in Japan. And it was being brought to America through Netflix. And as soon as I could, I sat down to watch all six episodes of JU-ON: Origins. After all, it was guaranteed to be better than the Grudge reboot, but would it be legitimately scary?

JU-ON: Origins begins with a paranormal researcher named Odajima appearing on a talk show with an idol who experienced supernatural happenings at her apartment after her boyfriend goes house-hunting for them. At the same time, a troubled high schooler named Kiyomi becomes involved with a mysterious house near her school. This and other events leads to many people’s lives becoming involved with the house, a house whose history is alive and kicking, and in the worst possible way.

While this series bears very little resemblance to the original story of the movies beyond a cursed house and several men questioning if they’re the father of the children they’re raising, it’s definitely a better horror story than the Grudge reboot. And even better, it’s freaking scary.

First off, the show does a great job of setting up a mystery. The characters spend their time running down multiple leads, each one leading to a new aspect of the haunting. And each new aspect seems to add more questions than it answers. But even better, there are a number of terrifying moments. There were quite a few moments, especially in the later episodes, where I was squirming in my seat. Anyone who gets to episode five will shiver every time they think of it.

I also liked how they incorporated famous tragedies from Japan’s recent history into the story. A lot of the major events of the story occur around the same time as the murder of Junko Furuta, the sarin gas attacks, and the Kobe child murders (which, by the way, are terrifying in their own rights). Almost as if to say the house’s evil has some sort of connection to those events.

And if you don’t like subtitles, there’s an English dub on Netflix, and it’s decent. The English dialogue matches very well with the Japanese lip movements, and there are some well-known anime voice actors in the series (I had a lot of fun making jokes about that in the calmer moments of the show). Though I am sad to say, that’s not Nicholas Cage voicing the main character Odajima, but a guy named Brock Powell doing a really good Nicholas Cage impression.

This scene! Oh God, I’m shivering again.

If there’s one thing I didn’t care for, it was that I would’ve liked to see more from the original films incorporated into the story. I’m not asking for a direct based-on-the-movie or Kayako and her son to fully appear on screen, but I would’ve enjoyed more references or incorporation of the original story that’s become so beloved by fans.

And just a trigger warning: this series delves into subjects such as domestic violence and sexual assault. So if that’s a turn-off, maybe don’t watch this one.

For everyone else, however, JU-ON: Origins is a terrifying TV show that will satisfy anyone else bored with more recent entries into the Ju-On and Grudge franchises. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving this show a 4.5. Head on home and settle in to watch it. Just make sure to watch with the lights on.

Also, if you go house hunting and the house has a history, make sure that it hasn’t harmed anyone in at least a decade before deciding it’s your dream home!

I normally don’t review non-horror media on this blog. I stopped doing that at some point in college, when I decided to focus more to better appeal to my audience (I’ll do an anime recommendation post every now and then, but only because that stuff helps my craft). That being said, I feel compelled to review this film for a number of reasons:

One, this is an anime movie about Anne Frank. Yeah, you read that right, an anime movie about Anne Frank. Second, it was released free of charge to watch on YouTube last month, and so far as I can tell, this was done legally by its American distributor, not by a random person hoping to make a quick buck off ad revenue or who feels media should be free on an accessible platform. And three, even my parents, neither of whom are anime fans, are curious about this film! Given all that, I decided to watch it and see if it’s any good. And given what I saw, I felt a review on the blog was necessary.

Anne no Nikki, or Anne Frank’s Diary, follows the life of Anne Frank as she, her family, and four others go into hiding during the Nazi occupation of Holland in a tiny apartment above her father’s former workplace. Based on the diary she kept during the war (something people who complain that the lockdown and social distancing restrictions are too onerous need to reread), the film starts right before her family goes into hiding, and ends right as they are discovered and sent off to the camps.

This film…is a bit of a hot mess.

For starters, let’s talk about the animation. While the backgrounds are lovely enough to make me nostalgic enough for the short period of time I lived in Europe, the characters look flat, grey and unrealized. I think the animators were going for realism rather than stereotypical anime style character designs. However, when you compare it to the characters of Perfect Blue two years after this was released, or films like My Neighbor Totoro or Grave of the Fireflies, both released in 1988, and all three aiming for realism in the character design, it just pales in comparison.*

And at times, the movement is really weird, like they had to cut frames or the characters’ mouths don’t match what’s being said. It’s hard to believe this film was animated by Studio Madhouse, responsible for some of the best anime ever made, including the above-mentioned Perfect Blue, one of my favorite films ever, and my personal favorite anime, the isekai fantasy epic Overlord. What the hell?!

How the hell did the studio that produced Perfect Blue (lower) produce Anne no Nikki (upper) two years prior?

As for the plot, you have to wonder about a lot of decisions. Trying to fit this story into ninety minutes, a lot of material is skipped over, truncated or changed. Much of what allowed us to get to know and love Anne is rushed through, and perhaps a little too much time is spent on Anne’s romance with Peter.

I think the film’s worst sin, however, is that it doesn’t carry the message of Anne’s diary very well. While making us experience the darkest moments of Nazi occupation and living in hiding, Anne is still able to show us how life can go on and even be filled with hope for the future and human kindness. The film tries, but it can’t bring about that message. At least not in a way that feels authentic and powerful.

On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving Anne Frank’s Diary a 1.7. If you want to experience the story of Anne Frank–I mean really experience it–read the actual book. Watch one of the film adaptations (I hear the 1959 one is really good), or see if there are any recordings of the play available to stream (I saw it several years ago and highly recommend it).

Just don’t watch this movie. It was released on YouTube for free because the distributor knew they could make more money from YouTube ad revenue than if they put it on DVD/Blu-Ray or to rent on another site. I’m convinced of that after wasting my evening with it.

This has been Rami Ungar, wishing I had watched something else instead. Good night!

 

*For non-anime fans, think of a beautifully drawn Disney character, and then compare it to a character from a Saturday morning cartoon with a low budget. It’s close to that.

The Witcher books by Andrezj Sapkowski are a prime example of dark fantasy.

You’ve probably heard the term “dark fantasy” thrown around to describe different kinds of stories, and the simple definition given when asked what constitutes dark fantasy is “fantasy but darker or grimmer.” And yet, that doesn’t seem to fully encompass the subgenre or quell debate on what dark fantasy is. I’ve heard people say all horror that has to do with the supernatural as a kind of dark fantasy, or that the line between the two is very thin. Even authors who are known as dark fantasy writers have trouble pinning down a definition.

So while I’m no expert myself, I thought I would ask, “What is dark fantasy?” Especially since depending on the definition, my stories could fall into this genre on occasion.

And in the course of my research, I did come across some things. While an exact definition isn’t agreed upon, there are some things that fans and writers can agree upon. For example, both TV Tropes.org and Fantasy Book Fanatic.com agree that dark fantasy is fantasy (no duh), but unlike high fantasy or swords-and-sorcery fantasy, there is a much grimmer, more ominous tone to the stories. While in other subgenres of fantasy, gods can be clearly defined as good or evil or maybe just neutral, gods can be very evil or at best cruelly ambivalent to humans. If they show up in the story at all, that is.

Likewise, magic is a neutral force at best, unlike magic in Harry Potter or the Force in Star Wars (which is a fantasy element in science fiction). Magic may even be the source of corruption that creates the villains in the stories, and could be considered a necessary evil or even the source of evil itself, needing to be rid from the world. As for heroes, there are a distinct lack of heroes in the world, and at best you get anti-heroes or mercenaries. Anyone who could be defined as a “hero” may be filling the role reluctantly. They’re doing this not for some noble goal like saving the world or defeating an evil warlord, but for revenge, their own goals, for profit or because they haven’t been given a choice in the matter and are really bitter about that.

Based on these definitions, the Overlord novels by Kugane Maruyama and their adaptations (which I recommend) count as dark fantasy as well as isekai fantasy.

And finally, there’s a good chance evil can win. Bad politicians can stay in power while good ones may lose their heads. The Demon King can take over the continent and establish an empire. The witch may kill the princess and release the plague upon the land before getting slaughtered by the princess’s lover. Things may just go to shit.

Yeah, bleak. And under these parameters, series like The Witcher novels or some of my favorite isekai fantasy series from Japan, such as Overlord, The Rising of the Shield Hero, or Arifureta,* count as dark fantasy.

But given those parameters, doesn’t that make supernatural horror dark fantasy after all? Not necessarily. While some might prefer to use the term “dark fantasy” for their stories to avoid horror’s negative connotations in society, and the two genres do overlap, there are key differences. Namely, dark fantasy focuses on the monster and fantasy elements while horror uses the monster and fantasy elements.

Look at my own novel Rose, for example. The protagonist Rose Taggert is transformed into a plant/human hybrid by a magical book given to mortals by a nature god. Sounds very fantasy-esque. And if Rose was a dark fantasy story, it would follow Rose Taggert’s attempts to live a life and understand her place in the world now that she’s changed, as well as to understand this new magic dimension in the world around her. But it doesn’t. Instead, the magic is a means by which to place Rose in the power of the antagonist, Paris Kuyper. It’s a means to create the terror of not knowing how dangerous Paris is, nor knowing what he’ll do to her if she doesn’t respond to his desires as he wants her to. That’s why Rose is a fantasy-horror novel rather than a dark fantasy novel.

Similarly, Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles can be considered dark fantasy because they use the state of vampirism to explore psychological and philosophical truths and beliefs among the characters. If they were full-on horror, the vampires would be the means to terrify the readers. You know, like Salem’s Lot (which I need to reread, with a new adaptation on the way and all).

While some might categorize “Rose” as dark fantasy, how those fantasy elements are used distinguishes it as a horror novel.

And while we’re distinguishing between genres and subgenres, let’s talk about the difference between dark fantasy and grimdark. Grimdark is another subgenre of fantasy, characterized by apocalyptic, dystopian or hellish settings and a very bleak atmosphere, but still containing all those fantasy elements. So, what makes it different from dark fantasy, when both can contain those settings and atmosphere? According to Fantasy Book Fanatic.com, the difference is in hope:

“The concept of hope seems to be the primary differentiating factor between dark fantasy and grimdark. Hope is still able to be an integral theme in dark fantasy narratives. In contrast, the central theme of grimdark almost never entertains the possibility of hope. The central theme revolves around cynicism instead. This differentiation is vague at best, which is why many of the works of dark fantasy and grimdark are so easily confused.”

So what is dark fantasy? Well, by this definition, it is fantasy with darker or horror overtones. However, it distinguishes itself from horror by using the fantasy elements as a means to tell the story, rather than as a means to terrify the reader. Think vampires as tortured souls rather than vampires as supernatural man-eating monsters. And, unlike grimdark, there is still an element of hope in the story. Things may go to shit, but people are still allowed to hope.

My name is Rami Ungar, thank you for coming to my TED talk.

*Which, unlike the other two I just mentioned, will not appear on any of my anime recommendations lists. The anime did the original novels a poor service, which is a shame, because I devoured the first four books in a week, they’re that good. Check them out if you’re interested.

 

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. If you’re interested, I’m still taking orders for signed copies of Rose. Send an email to ramiungar@ramiungarthewriter.com for details. Or you can check it out on Amazon and Audible. And if you do check the book out, let me know what you think. In the meantime, I’ll be neck deep in Victorian England again, but I hope to put out another post very soon.

Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

2020 has gotten off to a rocky start, to put it mildly. Threat of war with Iran, fires in Australia, and now the coronavirus, or COVID-19, has gone from an abstract threat we nervously made jokes about to a terrifying pandemic. It’s caused a lot of anxiety and terrified reactions, with people rushing to the store to grab supplies, turning to every supposed cure or preventive measure out there, and being afraid to go outside their homes.

And I know, the last thing you want to see is me talking about the virus. But you have to understand: I’m doing this for me. As many of you know, I have an anxiety disorder. And as much as I keep an upbeat attitude, wonder what everyone needs that much toilet paper for, and what we’re going to get for April (I’m hoping Cthulhu rises up from the Pacific), I have been feeling anxious over this virus. So anxious, in fact, that last night, instead of editing a short story like I’d meant to, I ended up binge-watching an entire series of anime till two in the morning. Escapism!

So what’s a guy to do? Well, in my case, I have to exorcise myself. Not literally, that’s a Friday night thing. No, I need to get my feelings out on COVID-19. Because I conquer what scares me, and in this case, this is how I do it.

Strap in, kids. This might be a long one.

My thoughts

What are my thoughts on this pandemic? Well, it’s almost Lovecraftian in how it’s inserted itself into our lives. First it’s this abstract and undefinable threat that we can’t imagine touching our lives. We even laugh at it. But pretty quickly, it becomes this thing that could not only affect us, but kill us. And our own species–loved ones, coworkers, the passerby on the street–are how it extends its invisible tentacles into the world.

The only thing to do is isolate ourselves, but that’s scary in and of itself. Even our most curmudgeonly need human contact of some sort. Can we survive without that human contact? And then there’s the economic toll, as people who rely on their jobs find themselves out of work or unable to make ends meet, relying on their dwindling savings to get by. It’ll be worse in more expensive cities to live in.

This pandemic can be likened to a Lovecraftian entity. And it’s just as ugly.

And depending on where you live, your leaders may be doing a great job at fending off the horror, or an inept one.

This may be the closest we get to actually experiencing a Great Old One invading our reality. And God, is it terrifying.

Good thing I have my collection of HP Lovecraft stories, plus four or five cosmic horror films on DVD and Blu-Ray in my collection. They’ll make great therapy. I should also see the movie Contagion again. It practically predicted this entire pandemic, so it’s worth another watch.

Anyway, there is a silver lining (and no, not the silver solution that con artist preacher is selling! That’s more likely to lead to heavy metal poisoning, the prick). Unlike Cthulhu or Nyarlathotep, there is a way to fight against this monster. As hard as it is, social distancing can limit infection and prevent further cases. So does extensive handwashing (no duh!) and other hygiene practices. And to avoid fake cures, keep this in mind: make sure to check with reputable sources like the CDC or National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. And if you don’t trust bureaucrats, remember this rule: if it sounds miraculous or too good to be true, IT PROBABLY IS TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE!!!! Any fix to a medical problem always required hard work to achieve. Even aspirin took forty years to get from the labs to the pharmacy. Don’t go for the quick “cure” just because it seems Heaven-sent.

This virus is going to change things, and possibly have lasting effects on society. I hope that it teaches people to at least be more considerate of others. Because right now, that’s what we need to do in order to make it out of this pandemic with a minimal death toll.

Speaking of considerate…

Support your authors if possible

As I said, this pandemic is effecting a lot of people’s jobs and livelihoods. This includes authors. They rely on bookstores, conventions and in-person events to sell their books and support themselves. Those places are either closing down or cancelling, which is huge slash in revenue. I’m extremely lucky, even if I don’t write full-time: my job allows me to make a good living and put away savings. Other writers aren’t so lucky. This virus is going to bite into them pretty deeply.

Care about authors? Consider supporting their work during these difficult times, if you’re able.

Now, I’m aware not everyone can do this, and I completely understand and sympathize. However, if you are in a position to help your fellow writers, please do so. Buy copies of their books in your favorite format, tell people about their work in reviews or tweets or whatever. Especially if you enjoy their work. It might be small gestures, but for the writers you’ll be helping, it’ll mean the moon and stars.

And it will give us time to come up with some decent stories involving COVID-19. I’ve already had one or two.

Final thoughts

Thanks for reading this post. I needed to get this off my chest. And I think, once I’ve taken care of myself a bit, I’ll be able to get back to writing and scaring people like I normally do. As for the rest of you, remember that everyone else is in the same boat as you. They’re as scared as you, but they can also be as brave as you. And if you’re a Follower of Fear, you’re likely very brave.

This too shall pass. And we’ll make it pass faster by keeping each other safe.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’m off to set up and test my at-home workstation. Until next time, good night, pleasant nightmares, and REMEMBER, SWALLOWING OR GARGLING BLEACH IS GOING TO KILL YOU! Why would you think it would help you? It’s corrosive!

Okay, not actually in 3D, this is a blog, after all. However, I need to give these posts a snappy title if I’m going to keep recommending them, so here we go. Anyway, I’ve got some new anime I’d like to recommend to you, so let’s get to it.

And if you would like to read my previous two recommendation posts, here’s Post Number One and Post Number Two.

Astra: Lost in Space

Set in the far future, when humanity has started exploring other planets, a bunch of teenagers and one ten-year-old are sent on a survival retreat to an uninhabited planet. Unfortunately, their camping trip goes awry when a portal appears out of nowhere and sends them millions of light years across the galaxy, into the vast reaches of space. Luckily though, they find a spaceship that they can navigate back home. Along the way, they explore strange planets, grow as people and as a family, and try to find out how they ended up transported across space in the first place.

So yeah, this is kind of like Lost in Space, but animated and with teenagers. Hell, the show’s in the title! The balance between humor, mystery, and storytelling is a little off at times, but the characters are lovable and the mystery elements to the story are compelling. If you’re looking for sci-fi with characters you want to hug and a bit of suspense to boot, this might be up your alley.

 

Serial Experiments Lain

After one of her classmates commits suicide, fourteen-year-old Lain Iwakura finds out said classmate has since been sending messages to others in her class over the Wired, a super-advanced version of the Internet that uses virtual reality. She starts exploring the Wired, and finds herself going down the rabbit hole as she deals with secret societies, and an entity claiming to be the God of the Wired. But the greatest mystery of all may be Lain herself…

Released in 1998, Serial Experiments Lain has become something of a cult phenomenon in the anime community, noted for its uncanny predictions of how the Internet would develop in the next twenty years or so and exploration of Internet culture, as well as the nature of consciousness, God, and so much more. It’s a story more focused on philosophical/psychological exploration rather than traditional storytelling, so its slow pace might turn off some viewers. But if you stick with it, you may find yourself having your mind blown by this hard-to-define series.

 

Fruits Basket (2019)

Technically speaking, there are two adaptations of this award-winning manga, one from 2001 and one from last year. However, the more recent version has gorgeous animation, adheres more closely to the original manga, and plans to tell the whole story.

Fruits Basket follows Tohru Honda, a cheerful girl who finds herself homeless after her mother’s death. She ends up moving in with the Sohmas, a large and influential family whose members Tohru is classmates with. However, she finds something crazy out about her new home: certain members of the Sohma family can turn into animals of the Chinese zodiac when hugged by a member of the opposite sex or under great stress. Thus Tohru’s life becomes more wonderful and stranger than she ever dreamed.

So while the premise sounds whimsical enough, and there are plenty of sweet and funny moments, this series can get really dark. A lot of the characters have suffered from their ability to transform into animals, and there’s a lot of exploration of social isolation, anxiety and depression, self-loathing and self-fulfilling prophecies, broken homes and gang violence, and more. How the show balances all that so well with humor and lighter moments, I have no idea, but there you go.

Anyway, this is a great series to make you laugh and cry, with a literal menagerie of characters for you to fall in love with. The second season is due out next month, so I hope you’ll check it out in the meantime.

Overlord

This one’s become my new favorite anime, and I’ve watched it five or six times since I first watched it back in September. Yeah, you read that right. And I’m about to tell you why.

A gamer’s favorite virtual reality game is about to shut down forever. Having met all his friends and received his best memories in that game, he decides to stay in the game until the servers shut down. However, when the game shuts down, he finds himself transported to a world where magic and monsters exists. As his video game avatar. Which so happens to be a powerful undead skeleton and commander of an entire monstrous army, the great Ainz Ooal Gown. Wanting to understand his new world and find out how he got there, Ainz embraces his new form and sets out on a conquest of this strange new world.

Considered one of the best isekai stories out there,* Overlord has a lot to offer. Not only is it the sort of story where you get to root for a super-powerful villain, but the ensemble cast are a lot of fun and the story manages to keep you interested by flipping point of views and coming up with new scenarios to challenge the main character Ainz, who’s basically an office drone who’s suddenly found himself in the position of a god-king and is basically just trying to fake it till he makes it. And let’s face it, it’s just awesome to see an overpowered character as an antihero sometimes (check out this clip if you don’t believe me).

Ascendance of a Bookworm

A young woman gets her dream job of becoming a librarian and getting to read books all day. But then she dies and gets reincarnated into a fantasy universe. Cool, right? Wrong. First off, she’s now a sickly little girl named Myne, and can’t walk down a set of stairs without getting a fever. Second, she lives in a world where books are expensive and are usually the property of the nobility, which she is not. Despite all that, Myne is determined to get books one way or another, and she won’t let small things like illiteracy or a frail body get in her way!

As far as isekai anime go, this is a bit of an outlier. Normally, isekai protagonists have some great advantage and go out to do amazing things. However, Myne’s only advantages are her own brains and experience, and it’s a story about an ordinary girl (sort of) trying to live an ordinary life with her friends and new family, not anything like saving the world or conquering nations. Add in a mellow pace and beloved characters, and you find yourself falling in love with these characters. If you want a fantasy story not focused on anything major like politics or war and lovable characters just trying to eke out a normal life, this might be the anime for you.

My Bride is a Mermaid

Nagasumi Michishio nearly drowns, but is saved by a mermaid. But now, by mermaid law, he has to marry the mermaid, a girl his own age named Sun Seto. Whose overprotective father is the head of a merfolk yakuza family. And he’s not ready for his little girl to go off and marry, let alone marry a weak human. Hijinks ensue.

This beloved romantic comedy is sure to make anyone laugh. It brings together a whole bunch of kooky characters with a zany concept, and makes the most of it. For a while, it was my favorite anime in high school, and there’s a reason it’s endured for over ten years since it aired. If you want a zany comedy with endearing characters and the ability to surprise you at least once or twice an episode, this may be the anime for you.

 

Welcome to Demon School, Iruma-kun!

Iruma Suzuki is a 14-year-old pushover who’s been forced to work since he was a small child in order to get by. One day, his scumbag parents sell his soul to a demon. The demon, Sullivan, takes Iruma to the nether realms…and adopts him as his grandson! He then enrolls in the elite demon school, Babyls, where if he’s discovered to be human, he’ll be eaten. Hijinks ensue.

This is one of my new favorite anime. It oozes year-round Halloween spirit in every frame of animation, with eyeballs and skulls and spider webs (oh my!) everywhere. Not only that, but these characters are lovable and quirky in their own way, from sweet and pure but easily swayed Iruma, to the beloved and adoring Asmodeus Alice, and the hilarious Clara Valac (think me, but a demoness with twice as much energy and randomness as me). Watching them grow and become friends in a strange world is a lot of fun, as well as hella funny. If you want a series full of demons, Halloween, and utter hilarity and fun, I can’t recommend this one enough.

Toilet-Bound Hanako-kun

A high schooler goes into a bathroom to summon the spirit Hanako-san,** who is supposed to grant a wish to anyone who summons them. Instead of a little girl in a red dress, she gets a devilish boy in an old boy’s uniform, Hanako-kun. He’ll grant her wish…but in exchange, she’ll have to be his assistant in keeping her school’s spirits in line. Hijinks ensue.

With a unique animation style like a webcomic and a great balance of silly humor and intrigue, Toilet-Bound Hanako-kun is one of the breakout hits of Winter 2020. If you’d like a series with funny characters, stellar animation and a bit of supernatural fun, you might enjoy this one. New episodes are airing right now, so why not go ahead and check it out?

Which anime whets your appetite? Have you seen any of these? What did you think? Let’s discuss.

That’s all for now, Followers of Fear. I hope to have another post or two out this week. Also, wanted to let you know I’m writing like crazy these days. I should have an announcement of a new first draft before too long.

Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

*If you don’t remember from my first anime recommendation post, isekai is a subgenre of fantasy anime in which a normal person is transported to a magical world resembling fantasy worlds out of novels and video games, and may have features from the latter. The transported average Joe often ends up becoming some sort of hero or adventurer, going on quests and fighting monsters or exploring unknown regions. It’s a popular genre of anime right now, to the point that half the new series that came out last year seemed to be isekai anime. Thankfully, I can point out some of the good ones.

**Yes, the same spirit from Japanese folklore that inspired my short story “Hannah.”