Posts Tagged ‘Supernatural (TV series)’

Recently, someone familiar with my writing compared some aspects of my story with anime. This, for me, was a huge compliment, because I am a hee-yuge fan of anime and manga. I’ve read and watched more series than I can count, and I consider some of the stories I’ve read over the years as having a very beneficial influence on my writing style, allowing for better storytelling and characterization. And I believe wholeheartedly that anime and manga can up the game of other fiction writers out there, even experienced ones with plenty of novels or short stories under their belts.

“But wait,” I hear my readers saying, “how can silly Japanese cartoons up my writing game?” Well, my dear Followers of Fear, just like Harry Potter is more than just children’s fantasy stories, and just like I’m more than a dude who enjoys scaring people silly (I actually have a growing doll/figurine collection and enjoy the ballet and the theater), don’t let first impressions about the media get in the way of looking a bit deeper. Anime and manga have so much more to them than meets the eye:

1. It’s an art form. We see literature as important creative works that are a reflection of and an influence on society. So is painting and illustration. But for some reason, the combination of the two mediums are never treated as highly, even when they lead to huge box office and critical success with movie adaptations. And in my opinion, that’s just wrong. Creating decent literature or decent art is extremely difficult, no matter the genre or what is being portrayed. Imagine what must go into doing both well at the same time! If one is good but the other is bad, the series, comic book or animation, will suffer, so these artists are basically combining the two art forms in order to create something appealing to audiences. That is worthy of respect (especially when you consider that manga and anime don’t always get to rely on characters that have lasted 80+ years and have established fanbases).

That being said…

2. There are a multitude of stories to choose from. Despite often going into very deep subject matter, comic books and animation have this reputation for being more family or child-oriented than adult-oriented. And although comic books have been recognized for their serious and mature themes and content, for the most part it’s hard to find animation that, even when aimed at adults, isn’t comedy or relies a lot on comedy. I can only think of one or two off the top of my head.

Anime and manga, on the other hand, span a wide multitude of genres and age ranges. Yes, some are comedic or have lots of comedy elements, but there are plenty of stories that are extremely serious or even plain portrayals of normal lives. Death Note (not the crappy American version) goes deeply into questions of whether the ends justify the means, especially in terms of curing societal ills, all while presented as a psychological cat-and-mouse thriller. Great Detective Conan (or Case Closed, as it’s known in the US), has nearly a thousand chapters/episodes focusing on a kid solving murders a la Sherlock Holmes observation and deduction. With the Light tells the story of a family raising a child with autism. Tell me if any of that sounds like silly cartoons for children.

And that’s just the tip of a very big iceberg. There are all sorts of stories out there, romantic to comedic to scary to inspirational to musical to educational to even some where you wonder who was mad or indecent enough to make them (I’m looking at Makura no Danshi for the former and Kodomo no Jikan for the latter. Google at your own risk). If you can think of it, there’s a chance there’s an anime or manga based around it.

So if you’re looking for inspiration for a new story, try the Japanese. Chances are, there’s a story that could inspire your next work.

3. Characterization. In Western stories, characters are often pretty much defined from the moment you meet them as good or bad guys. Within a few minutes, you not only have a pretty good idea of where they align, but how you feel about them: love, hate, support, fear, root for them to get the girl. This doesn’t usually change, except perhaps if they’re a twist villain revealed in the third act. Rarely do you see a character whom you aren’t sure whether to love or hate, whether they’re good or bad. A character who straddles the fence, in other words, and you’re never sure where they stand until near the end.

If a medium can make me wear this sweatshirt 25 years after a show’s premiere, shouldn’t you at least consider checking it out?

Anime and manga, however, do this very well. They’re very good at telling stories about characters whom you’re not sure how to feel about them, because they’re able to take the time with these characters and show various sides of them over the course of the episodes or chapters. Sasuke Uchiha from Naruto is a prime example: at various points he’s a hero, a villain, a tragic antihero, etc. And you’re never sure whether to hate him or cry for him or what (generally I don’t like him, but that’s just me). And even when a character isn’t given this treatment, they’re often given great character development. Often characters are all good with a few flaws, or all evil with a few good qualities, but anime tends to branch out. You’ve got protagonists who are defined by their anxieties, or heroes who do horrible things but are doing it for good reasons you even sympathize with.  It ranges quite a bit, and it’s done quite well.

4. And finally, it’s entertaining. We all write stories for a variety of reasons, but at the core of it, we want to engage and show people a character worth following, a story worth getting into. And anime and manga do that a majority of the time. Sure, some stories do fail in that regard (looking at you, Clannad), but the vast majority have been tales that have endured the test of time and continue to pull in new audiences. Pokemon is twenty years old and Sailor Moon is twenty-five, but they still continue to entertain and even produce new content. Clearly, there’s something about these mediums that pull people from around the world in far past childhood.

And any medium that can have that sort of influence is worth checking out, if you ask me. Even if it’s not normally up your alley.

 

And that’s just a few of the reasons writers should check out anime (there may be a Part 2 someday). But tell me, were there any reasons I missed? What series do you find entertaining or influential? Or do you need a recommendation on where to enter the medium? Let’s discuss in the comments below.

Until next time, my Followers of Fear, pleasant nightmares.

Advertisements

I found out about this novel on Facebook, which was billed as a Lovecraft/Cthulhu Mythos-meets-YA sort of story, and wondered how that would work. When the opportunity came, I downloaded it onto my Kindle and started reading. And my, I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it.

Awoken follows Andromeda “Andi” Slate, an average teenager who isn’t to thrilled about living in Portsmouth, New Hampshire but deals with it with the help of her good friends. One night, she has a dream about seeing a giant tentacled monster and being rescued by a handsome youth. The next day, she and her friends get their hands on an infamous book of eldritch magic known as the Necronomicon, and do some reading from it. Within a day, a new teacher arrives at Andi’s school, as well as a strange new student who looks like the handsome youth she dreamed about. What happens next will not only change her life, but will decide the fate of the universe.

So if the handsome youth bit didn’t clue you in at all, yeah, there’s a pretty big romance aspect to this story, bigger than what I’m used to reading (especially in a Lovecraft-themed story). However, it’s a romance story between a human girl and a Great Old One (basically an ancient demon-god, if you don’t speak Lovecraft), one trying to balance the desire for the end of the world with his newborn desire for a human girl! I’ve never seen that before!* Romance isn’t something you normally associate with the Great Old Ones, who are notorious for seeing humans only as snacks (when they see them at all). It’s so weird, it kept me interested even though I don’t usually go for romance! Definitely one of the good points of the story.

So what were the other good points? Well, I liked Andi for the most part. Besides one or two problems, she was a very likable character, even when in the middle of an annoying teenage mood. The story was also very well-written, with very few typos and a distinct voice for Andi that kept me wanting to keep reading. I also liked how Elinsen made the works of Lovecraft accessible for her audience, who probably wouldn’t be big fans of Lovecraft and his Victorian-era speech patterns, though she manages to slip some of those words in, like cliquant and voltaic. Despite a few changes here and there, the Cthulhu Mythos is pretty much intact and treated with reverence, and the usual tropes that Lovecraft fans enjoy are there: cults, ancient beings, the idea that certain truths cause madness, Azathoth threatening to wake up, etc. The author also manages to slip in references to HP Lovecraft and his works (Portsmouth is secretly Innsmouth, Andi fears water, a reference to a racist writer from Rhode Island, Cthulhu’s relationships with the opposite godly sex, a cat, etc.), as well as references to Stephen King and even one reference to Supernatural that made me laugh out loud.

However, I did have some problems with the story. A major one was the male lead Riley (name based on a famous underwater city), and his relationship with Andi. Look, I know that in romance the asshole with a secret heart of gold is a popular trope (I’ve seen it in a few manga), but Riley is super-unlikable. And yeah, he’s secretly a terrible god who sees most humans as ants, but I can’t help but hate him as a protagonist. And his relationship with Andi is so abusive for a good chunk of the book. It’s supposed to come off that he’s protective of her, but doing things like commanding Andi to do things and intimidating her with his mood shifts just scream abusive creeper. What’s even worse is that Andi, once she falls for the guy, can’t extricate herself from him. It’s like an unhealthy obsession, to the point where she’d rather die or go completely mad rather than live without him (and that’s not teenage histrionics, she really feels that way at one point). It’s almost like she’s the ultimate worshipper for a Great Old One, and I just want to tell her that even taking out the god part, her relationship isn’t normal or healthy! How crazy is that?

I also wanted more from the main antagonist. We only see what she does in the name of her apocalypse, but I could’ve used more from her. Who was she really? Why did she do what she did? How did she become a worshipper of the Great Old Ones? I would have loved to see that explored a bit more in the story, and sadly we didn’t get that.

Ultimately though, Awoken is a different take on the Cthulhu Mythos, and I enjoyed myself despite the issues I had with the story. On a scale of 1 to 5, I give the novel a 3.2. If there was a sequel, I’d consider reading it (though four years after publication and no updates from the author on her social media since October 2013, I’d say that’s not going to happen). If this sounds like your sort of thing, take a dip into the madness and see for yourself.

Now if you need me, I’ll be playing Hide n Seek Across the Dimensions with Nyarlathotep. Hail Cthulhu, and I’ll see you around.

*Please be aware, I haven’t read all of Lovecraft’s bibliography, so if this does happen somewhere in his stories, I haven’t gotten to it yet. So don’t spoil it for me, okay?

Well, we’re back to count down my top five villains of the past year. And what really surprised me about the top five was that while #10-6 came from ll sorts of different franchises and series, the top five came from only two franchises/series. That’s right, this year only two properties hold sway over the top five. And you can contribute that to a number of things, but I think with these franchises, they’ve been running a very long time and the writers and directors and other behind-the-scenes folks who run these franchises want to keep them running a very long time So what do they do? They come up with compelling storylines with great villains to set up against great heroes.

So what are they? Let’s find out. Remember, no villain of my creation is on this list, and no actual person is on this list either. It’s all fictional. And as always, SPOILERS!

#5: Kaecillius (Doctor Strange)

You know, this is the third time a Mads Mikkelsen character has appeared on this list (his portrayal of Hannibal Lecter were in the top five back in 2013 and 2014). Not surprising, considering that he’s not only a great actor, but he’s given great characters. Kaecillius is a former student of the Ancient One who finds out things about his master he doesn’t like and who falls under the sway of the demon-god Dormammu. His goal is to allow Dormammu’s Dark Dimension into this world, thus absorbing our universe into his. Why does he want to do this?

Well, the answer is much more sympathetic than you might expect: Kaecillius sees the world as an endless cycle of suffering and death, and wants to free the world of it, which he feels integrating our world into the Dark Dimension can do. And this is actually an admirable goal, to free the world of suffering and death. It’s the very notion that Buddhism, one of the world’s major religions, is founded upon! It’s just that Kaecillius believes wholeheartedly that by making us one with the Dark Dimension is the way to do that (believe me, it’s not), and that’s what makes him a villain. Add in his gravitas, stoic manner, and occasional one-liners, and you’ve got yourself an A-class villain with some aspects you can actually sympathize with.

#4: Lucifer (Supernatural)

Over the past two years, I’ve really become a huge fan of Supernatural, and over the past year, I’ve taken in the ten most recent seasons. And even when he’s not the main villain of a season, guess who’s a powerful influence over the series as a whole? Yep, Lucifer, the Devil himself. He’s powerful enough that even when he’s locked in a cage in Hell, he’s still capable of manipulating and directing events on Earth, which is how brothers Sam and Dean Winchester became wrapped up in monster hunting. And when he’s out of the cage, God help you. He could be following the script of the Apocalypse, or he could be making it up as he goes along, he doesn’t care. As long as he’s able to make a few quips, make someone’s life literal torture, and even kill a few people, he’s happy. The destruction he caused in Season 12 alone, and the events he set in motion with some of his actions, earn him a spot in the top five (though because most of his horrors are caused by his daddy issues, he’s a bit lower than he could be).

#3: Amara/The Darkness (Supernatural)

What’s scarier than one of God’s angelic sons? Why, God’s older sister, and the embodiment of destruction! Introduced in late Season 10 and the main villain of Season 11, The Darkness is a primordial force that God and the Archangels locked away so that the universe could exist. Freed at the end of Season 10, she possesses a baby named Amara and soon becomes a full-grown woman with a simple goal: to find her brother and settle some long overdue family business with him. That, and maybe entice Dean Winchester, with whom she shares a special connection, to join her at her side.

What puts her higher than Lucifer on this list? Well, she’s much more powerful, for one thing. And in a way, she actually caused Lucifer’s fall from grace. In her way, she’s the true cause of many of the horrors in Supernatural. Not to mention that she somehow makes fish out of water moments scary: having never lived in the human world, she’s uneducated about a lot of what goes on there, and it shows. And even when we’re laughing at how inept she is as a human, we know that she’s going to do something horrible soon. And then she does it.

If that’s not deserving of the Number 3 spot, then I’m Harry Potter (and I’m not).

#2: A.I.D.A. (Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD)

This time from the MCU’s TV universe, we have A.I.D.A, a cyborg originally designed by her creator Holden Radcliffe as a literal shield for SHIELD agents, and later a major part of Radcliffe’s plan to create a world free of suffering and death for humans…which she later subverts in order to gain freedom from her rigid programming and become a full human with emotions. And superpowers.

Honestly, watching A.I.D.A.’s arc from naive robot woman to calculating assistant, to calculating supervillainness, to a powerful human woman with strong powers and emotions like storms, was one of the most fascinating things in this season. It kept you on the edge of your seat, wondering what she was going to do next as she pursued her goals of humanity, freedom, and even the love of one of the main cast! That, and her ruthlessness in accomplishing those goals, whether she was doing so under programming driven by twisted logic or spurred on by her newfound feelings, made the story all the more gripping. She’s definitely one of the show’s best villains, and deserving of the second-highest spot on this list.

#1: The Leviathans (Supernatural)

The Leviathans were a thing introduced in Season 7 five years ago, but I just met them this past fall. And my God, were they the best villains on the show! Primordial beings that are older than most of the angels, they were God’s first creations in His new universe. Ultimately, they proved too hungry to be controlled and God put them away in Purgatory lest they eat the universe to bits. Released back into our world at the beginning of Season 7, they quickly possess humans in order to inhabit physical form again, with one goal in mind: feed. At first they’re just looking for a quick fix in the short term to get their sustenance, but as time goes on and their king possesses the body and memories of billionaire businessman Dick Roman, they start organizing. What’s their grand plan? Simply to feed.

There’s something kind of scary of an old and powerful race of beings whose sole goal is to satisfy their hunger, and the best way to do that is to feed on humanity. And they do it with businesslike precision, coming up with this whole five-year plan for turning America into their personal McDonald’s (I’m assuming the rest of the world would follow in time). It’s this precision, along with their difficulty in being killed, that made them stand out to me as villains not only on Supernatural, but through the whole year. Lucifer and Amara may be looking for revenge on their mutual family member, but when it comes to beasts that just want to feed, they just can’t be beat.

 

So that’s this year’s list, my Followers of Fear. But tell me, who were your favorite villains this past year? Do you have any critiques of my choices? Let’s discuss in the comments below.

And expect another blog post from me either later today or at some point tomorrow, my Followers of Fear. I’ve got a new review, and I hope you’ll want to read it.

So I’ve been working on the outline for a new novel that I plan to write for National Novel Writing Month in November (I know, it’s early for that, but I need to work on something original because I’ve been doing nonstop editing since last NaNoWriMo, and if I don’t work on something new before I work on Rose I’m going to scream). And while I’ve been working on it, building the story chapter by chapter, I had the feeling that there was something missing from the story.

About two nights ago, I hit across what was missing. It was personal problems! Good horror stories often deal with issues that the characters are dealing with both internally and in their own lives! In great horror stories like Cujo and the novel I read and reviewed the other day, the main characters are trying to keep their families alive in some state and not lose their livelihoods in addition to trying to survive rabid dogs or a haunted house. In the TV series Supernatural (which I’ve been binging on lately, it’s so good!), in addition to dealing with evil entities and the oncoming Apocalypse, the protagonists Sam and Dean Winchester have to deal with the fact that they’re brothers, with all the issues that family can have when living and working in proximity, and then some.

And I don’t do enough of that exploring–or indicate that I will be doing that sort of exploring–in the outline for this new project. Which is actually a very big issue if I think about it.

There are several reasons why this is. One is having these personal issues helps the audience identify with the characters. Everybody has problems, and seeing people with relatable issues in their life–recent loss, money troubles, relationship issues, addiction, etc.–even if they’re just characters in a story, make people feel for them. In American Horror Story: Asylum, the character of Lana Winters is thrown into Briarcliff as a patient because she’s a lesbian. We of the present day know she was born that way and there’s nothing wrong with her, but back then, the LGBT community was seen by many as immoral or insane, and faced all sorts of discrimination. This immediately makes her a lot more sympathetic to us than if she was just a regular ambitious reporter, and helps draw us into the story as well as makes us identify with the characters.

Another reason creators explore these deep, personal issues in horror fiction, even when you’ve got everything from ghosts to serial killers to aliens to vampires and everything in-between, is that it keeps the characters interesting and the audience interested. Going back to Supernatural, what would the show be like if each episode was about the Winchester brothers facing a new monster and defeating it, plus a few quips? Well sure, it’d be entertaining for a while, but with no change in that formula things would’ve gotten stale probably ten seasons ago. Part of the draw is seeing these two very-different brothers go through ups and downs in their relationships, figuring out right and wrong in a world full of grey areas and just trying to be good people and good to each other at the end of the day, in addition to stopping the end of the world and all the things that go bump in the night.

And third, we writers like to explore these characters, their problems and traumas, and how the characters deal with them over the course of the story. Some good examples of this come from my own work. If you’ve read Reborn City, you know that protgonist Zahara Bakur doesn’t really start out as heroine material. She’s as far from a Wonder Woman as you cn get. But through the story, I explore both the problems she deals with as a Muslim gangster in an environment that isn’t very nice to Muslims and Zahara’s doubts and fears. And I love doing that, I love watching characters like Zahara grow from someone whom you’d never expect to be a hero to someone whom you’d willingly follow into a tricky situation.

So yeah, exploring personal problems with our characters, whatever those problems are, is definitely something we authors do a lot of. And I need to do it more with this new project I’m working on, even if I’m not picking it up again until September or October. Actually,I’m a little surprised I’m not doing more exploration. There’s a whole big problem with the protagonist’s relationship with another character–let’s just say they shouldn’t be an item for a very good reason–and I’m so not exploiting that enough. I really have to explore how this relationship could mess with the characters while at the same time something evil is attacking the town.

In fact, I’m going to get on that right now. Wish me luck, my Followers of Fear. Hopefully by the time I’m done going over this outline, it’ll be as good as it needs to be for November.