Hello everyone. I've decided to start a blog, partly because it sounds amusing, and partly because I want to remind myself of everything I should be doing while writing. This blog will dispense whatever sage advice I happen to have to offer, along with the side tangents and other thoughts that come to mind while writing these things. I will have space at the end of each blog for a more condensed version of the advice, for the sake of clarity and really making sure I get all this stuff. I'm still working on making it look pretty, and I probably won't have it super fancy until sometime in January. Let's face it, I'm never going to get around to it.
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How To Fix Juuni Taisen

Posted January 5th, 2018 at 9:51 AM by Bardothren

Hello everyone, first blog post out of me for 2018. I have recently finished Juuni Taisen, an anime about twelve warriors of the zodiac in a free-for-all to the death for one rules-free wish. I enjoyed it enough to see it through to the end, but after a few episodes, I noticed numerous glaring flaws with its storytelling. This won't be covering animation or voice acting, just the show's story.

A typical Juuni Taisen episode goes something like this:

Step 1: show character doing something cool in the present
Step 2: stop all action in the present for a 10 minute flashback to build backstory
Step 3: go back to present and promptly kill off said character

The whole anime washes, rinses, and repeats until there's only one warrior left. Which warrior it was came as no surprise for me... I had them pegged as the winner since the third episode thanks to sloppy foreshadowing and the laughable attempt to make them appear both important and not worth noticing.

The first problem is its attempt to constantly surprise you the same way. Putting it in baseball context, they're a pitcher that only throws a single curveball. It surprises you at first, but after a few times, you know exactly where the ball is going to go.

Problem number two, all the flashbacks kill the pacing of the show. There's nothing remotely exciting about the backstory, and it distracts from the big, flashy fights in the present.

The biggest problem is the fact that it's impossible to get attached to any character in the show. The moment a character gets fleshed out, they're gone, and in the end, all you have are characters that have had little screentime and less development. The ultimate winner, Nezumi, only says cryptic, vague, and emotionally empty lines a few times and shows up in random places until they cram his backstory into the final two episodes.

At first, my solution would have been to make Juuni Taisen into a two-cour anime. Devote the first episodes to each warrior's past and make those situations more interesting and better developed. It's not a perfect way to lead into a deathmatch, but it at least improves pacing and character development.

However, after the last episode, I had an epiphany. Why leave Nezumi's ninety-nine other attempts to win the contest as rushed-over flashbacks when the entire show can take place in them?

Here's how I would write Juuni Taisen:

The show starts with Nezumi walking into the building. The Rabbit is in the lobby, waiting for the elevator. They talk briefly, the Rabbit says his usual creepy spiel, and he stabs Nezumi.

Then everything rewinds. This time, Nezumi waits another five minutes and goes up the stairs. This introduces the audience to the mechanic of do-overs right off the bat, allowing you to build your narrative around it, and it establishes a sense of ever-present danger.

The rest of the series has Nezumi pair up with and/or gets killed by each of the contestants, where he gets flashes of their backstory and pieces together the way to win. This can more naturally explain how the heck Nezumi knew to get his hands on Sheep's bomb and where his body would be, and it could also give him information on everyone's abilities that he can sell to gain leverage with other contestants (such as the Rabbit). In this manner, you can touch on a bit of backstory without cutting out the present, have characters die without losing the development that goes into them, and it can deliver surprises without making those surprises dull and repetitive.

The ending can be left much the same, with Nezumi returning to normal life but scarred by all the deaths he suffered and pressured to make the most of his wish. This can make the ending, in which he chooses to forget everything, hit far harder than it did in the anime.

So, what can be learned from Juuni Taisen? Trying to wrench feelings out of your audience by developing and then killing characters constantly will come off as shallow. To make death impactful, it's important not just to have a well-developed character die, but to have a well-developed cast respond to the death. I've covered that topic before, and here's a spot where you can see how flawed execution of character death weakens a story. It also shows how simple changes to perspective and story structure can make a plot fundamentally broken or very thrilling.

So, for anyone reading this, does anyone else have an experience of watching/reading a story and thinking "this story would be so much better if they did X?" Let me know wherever, and have a good one.
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