Friday, July 26, 2013

Ideas for Anime, Manga and Stories from Japanese Folklore

Article by Ty Hulse

"There is an indigenous Japan, and elements of that are what I`m trying to capture in my work."
Hayao Miyazaki

All stories come out of a culture, out of the ideas of a people. So anime and manga grew in part out of Japan's existing folkloric and traditional roots.

Of course not all anime or manga is based on folktales, but such stories are useful when coming up with ideas for an anime or manga because there are so many amazing tales and elements within them. This is why Hayao Miyazaki is able to create such great films, because he has a great framework to start with in the folktales of Japan.

I'm hoping to help you to build your own framework for great stories using Japanese folktales.

1-Look at Settings

Much of what defines a person and a culture comes out of the setting they find themselves in. This is why looking through potential settings first can be a great place to begin coming up with story ideas. Start by looking through Japan's prefectures, pick one and read about it. Learn about its cities, its food and its folktales. Each of these regions has a hundreds if not thousands of ideas associated with it.

An example I've already used in another article is the Niigata Prefecture of Japan, in which

"there is the sense of peaceful villages surrounded by an often treacherous wilderness, connected by precarious and often dangerous paths for most of these stories feature travelers seeking shelter or people spirited away while traveling from one village to another. More than simply a wilderness than, the people of the Niigata prefecture were surrounded in folklore by a spirit world filled with snow women, oni, kami and more. This of course is true of Japan which had innumerable isolated villages."

By looking at the setting we start to form an emotional picture while also developing ideas for our characters.

Sado Island within the Niigata prefecture for example was a place in which monks were banished into exile by the Emperial Court, the city of Agato within the Niigata prefecture of Japan is the wintering ground for hundreds of swans, in the south one of the most popular dishes is a monk fish and mushroom hot pot. There
is a lake in the Niigata prefecture that is the winter home for thousands of swans so is filled at Christmas time and new Years with flocks of the beautiful white birds.. This would be the perfect place for a romantic moment, an odd fight scene (swans can become very violent), or many other events within a story.

The point is that if you have no Idea what to do at all beginning by reading about a specific setting will help you come up with ideas.

2-Read Japanese Tales and Lore

Japan has one of the richest and most complex sets of folklore and folk religions in the the world so it can take a long time to fully understand them. That said you can still gain a lot by reading a few bits and pieces of lore. In the spirit of traveling through this with you let me point you to some interesting folktales and snippets of lore.

"The Laughing Dumpling"
I like this story both for the character, a poor old lady who is obsessed with making the perfect rice ball, and because the plot isn't about some epic battle, rather its about how a cooks skill leads her to become a servant to an oni in a castle in the spirit world.

"The Bear Guardian" 
The story itself is fairly simple and straight forward, but it's not the story that interests me in this tale. Rather what's interesting to me about this story is that it shows how an animals spirit can become a tutelary kami of a village, a common theme in traditional Japan where an enshrined cow becomes a kami that heals skin disorders, a white deer becomes a kami of a mountain, etc.

"The Snow Woman"
A common story in Niigata involves snow spirits (sometimes as a woman or a little boy) seeking shelter and or food on cold winter nights. One family shares a bowl of miso with wild boar soup with a snow boy, another farmer gives shelter to a snow woman during a particularly bad story. In the story I linked to a snow woman marries a woodsman.

"The Cat Guardian"
Another short story that's full of possibilities for something longer. In this story a magical cat is sent by some kami to protect a young girl from evil spirits. With the right setting and unique characters this story could be a winner.

I'm continually adding more bits of lore on Niigata which you can see here.

3-Write down a List of Characters

By now you should have a number of story ideas and perhaps even a character in mind. If not, however, one should hopefully form as you begin to write down some potential characters.

As you make a list of possible characters think of how each one would fit into the setting you have chosen.

For example you may have noticed form watching anime's that the stories often include the polite friendly hero, Fairy Tale Archetypes. That is characters who find success, despite being weak, because they make friends with others.

In Niigata such a character might have the advantage of being able to make friends with a number of different creatures seeking shelter from the snow. Kitsune, snow woman, tanuki, have all in folk tales sought the warmth of a hearth and each of these beings would interact with the character differently.

4-Put Together Moments

Life is made up of a series of fleeting moments, each one beautiful because it is temporary, because it fades. In Japanese Mythology the First Emperor, an immortal kami, chose to marry someone who would die and so who was beautiful, rather than marry a less attractive woman who would never die.

The moral of the story is in essence that beauty comes from fleeting moments. Start thinking about these moments, read over the setting again to get ideas, think about how your character would interact with this setting.

Most of all become aware of the moments within your own life. Think about going to your favorite restaurant, about staying up too late, about looking at a giant moon, about feeling afraid as you trip your way to the bathroom in the dark. Any of these moments can become a scene in your story, a way to develop your characters.

With the Idea Done the Hard work Begins

As the final steps you need to put together a plot for your story, and than of course begin the long struggle of writing your story out. Still I'm hopeful that you'll be aided in this process with the use of the folktales and the setting you choose.