I’d suggest that those who haven’t watched Your Lie in April and haven’t read yet what happens, that you might want to try one of my other posts and come back after you’ve either watched the end or someone else has spoiled it for you.
It’s a common criticism of television shows, movies, and of course anime, that the storyline is old. We’ve seen that before. Oh, it’s just like such and such. However, is this a fair criticism? Depending on which theorist you’d like to believe there are only between 5 and 10 storylines in the entire world and we’ve just been recycling them and giving them make-overs for thousands of years. So should originality really be an issue when writing a story?
That said, the main purpose of most stories being made into television shows, movies and anime is to entertain (there are other purposes but that’s the main one – unless you are cynical enough to believe that the only purpose is making money) and in order to entertain there needs to be an element of novelty. Can you be novel and unoriginal at the same time?
And that’s where we have to start looking at the quality of the story telling and the way the elements have been combined. A simple fairytale can feel like a masterpiece in the hands of someone who knows how to weave it into something magical whereas an epic story might feel like the longest and most boring time of your life in the hands of someone who just doesn’t get how to tell a good story.
Let’s look at Your Lie In April. With 22 episodes to fill you would think we could cover a fairly complex plot in that time. Over the course of 22 episodes we meet and get to know four characters (and only two of them are really developed). We have the initial refusal by Kousei to accompany Kaori and then we see them getting closer and in the process we learn more about Kousei’s trauma, and then we have our hearts broken into tiny little pieces by a death that was incredibly foreshadowed and obvious but still emotionally crippling to watch. That’s it. They meet. She makes him face something he doesn’t want to face. They grow. She dies. The end. There’s some other moments with some of the support cast and while the characterisation of the main pair and emotional weight of the story is well developed, the story itself is that straight forward.
Do we have any other stories that follow this path? Well, lots if you really start looking but the one that immediately jumps out is Love Story from 1970. No, it isn’t exactly the same however the impact of two characters meeting and growing together before a death that leaves the survivor with a new direction is kind of the same. And no, I’m not suggesting that Your Lie in April is a rip-off of anything. But we have seen this pattern in stories before. The events themselves aren’t new.
So why is Your Lie in April effective as a story? (Okay some of you will say it isn’t but everyone has their own opinion and that’s fine.)
If you were to ask the viewers what they like about the story, you will get a whole range of different answers. The music and the way it perfectly complements the themes. The visuals and the way they show Kousei’s anxiety on the stage. The relationship between Kousei and Kaori. The connection they felt to the characters as the story played out. For me it was the connection between the character’s mental state and emotions and the sound of the music. It’s the way this story has been told and the way the different parts have been put together that draws the audience in. That said, all of these other elements could still be there and if the writers had decided not to let Kaori die (after all that foreshadowing) I’m pretty sure most people would have ended up feeling rather indifferent. Despite the ending being obvious fairly early on, and by the half-way point outright inevitable, the way this story is told makes the journey memorable even if it doesn’t pull a last minute twist of any kind or really seek to break new ground.
Then what if we consider something more complex like Baccano. You might argue that Baccano has a unique storyline and there isn’t anything else like it. And it is true that when you watch Baccano it certainly feels novel and different. But that isn’t because of the story. What Baccano does is combines multiple storylines together and then presents them in fragments with each story interconnecting with every other through either a character, object, or event. If we were to untangle each character’s story we actually get a whole lot of fairly simple plot lines. Again, this is not a criticism of Baccano. The presentation of the story (or stories) is really interesting and there is rewatch value in that some of the connections are missed the first time through.
What do you think? Are there new ideas for storylines or are there just new settings, new characters, and new ways to deliver the story? And does it even matter?
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22 thoughts on “Friday’s Feature: Are There No New Ideas?”
I feel most storylines have been done already. It’s tough to come up with something new, but as a writer, I try to all the time.
I believe there are no new storylines, but there can be new ways to present it through a variety of elements supporting it, like sounds, animation, and characters, if we’re talking about anime series. If it’s manga, I believe they are paneling, the characters, line strokes, and blacks and whites. I think it all comes down on how one is able to mix these elements well to make it interesting enough and to get to the fairly obvious ending that makes an enjoyable story.
Personally, I don’t mind a predictable story, so long as it’s able to captivate me because of the characters — their characterization, backstory, and interaction with others. Plus point if the plot is set in a well-built different world.
Thank you for this great post, Karandi! 🙂
Glad you liked it and thanks for commenting. World building is definitely a plus when done right.
I think it’s less that something needs to be novel or original, but rather that it needs to be different enough to the people familiar with, aside from the core limited types of stories, the conventional trappings of genres and franchises. Compare the first time someone watches an anime and witnesses the behaviour of a tsundere character.
Now while there are plenty of examples to draw from that actually manage to do something interesting with this archetype, generally they tend to be redone with little to no imagination (beyond character design; and even then that can be a bit too similar), and eventually you’ve seen it done the same way enough times to know how representative it can be of a show, and thus be a good indication not to continue with said show.
I’m not trying to say that this means a show having a generic tsundere character automatically makes it a bad show, but rather there are a lot of instances where its associated with other recycled archetypes and trappings that together paint a groan-worthy overly familiar picture to the experienced anime viewer. There reaches a point (sometimes fairly quickly) where the novelty of anime conventions wears off and becomes apparent to the viewer how same-y a lot of it is.
That’s where having eclectic tastes I believe is important. Many shrug off other genres, and that’s all well and good if it’s not their thing. But should those people feel like they’ve exhausted the genres they do like and aren’t finding anything “original” or different enough to be excited for the medium anymore, that’s where I’d recommend branching out and trying new genres. I think it helps broaden a better perspective of the medium and really makes you appreciate all sorts of nuances and stylings to the point where perhaps revisiting an old show has an added appreciation all of a sudden, because you’re now excited over the aspects you may have found boring before you tried the genre that aspect is a convention of.
Apologies for the long ramble. If it’s not clear enough I don’t mind discussing the idea further another time. I find it a fun and interesting thing to discuss after all.
Thanks for the thoughtful comment. I agree that branching into different genres is definitely a good idea. While shows outside of my preferred genre tend to get dropped faster, every now and then I come across something that really hooks me in. It might be pretty generic to someone who watches a lot in that genre but it feels different enough to me.
My biggest problem with Your Lie in April was from the first episode, as soon as I saw the female lead, I knew exactly how it was going to play and end. As soon as I saw her, my first thought was “oh boy, she’s so happy about life, as if she doesn’t have much time left… wait, that’s not the whole story is it?” And I felt that… that was about it.
I recently watched Moana, and I felt so hollow. It was not a bad film, but it was so predictable. It went exactly as expected. It had great visuals, character designs, and okay music, similar to Your Lie in April (Your lie in April had much better music). But it was predictable. You get everything you need to know about the series too soon.
By the end of YLIA, I was like “that went exactly as expected” but when I finished Baccano I was like “Whoah, that went completely a different route.” I think stories need to bring something to the table to set them apart, and while I did enjoy watching it, there was no x factor.
I don’t mind predictability as long as it feels like they are doing something worthwhile in the lead up to the inevitable. It is when they roll out an obvious conclusion like it is some sort of genius twist that I end up rolling my eyes. The Village suffered from this because it was so obvious but they just acted like we couldn’t have possibly realised where this was going.
Forgot to tell you, great post!
When I usually watch something, I ask myself what does it do to stand apart from the something similar. And I think this is more important than predictability. I don’t mind the predictability as long as it is good. But Your Lie in April only achieved okay for me, it did not reach good. The thing with his mother or his rivals would have been great if they were explored more, but it felt that they were put on the back burner for the more obvious tragedy and the love triangle.
I think it’s true that there are only a few basic narrative structures and that’s fine because it gives stories a backbone to play off of. Your Lie in April and other well respected series take that backbone and tweak them just enough into forgetting or not caring that the basic plot structure is there. Your assessment of what makes Your Lie in April is spot on especially with the characters and the atmosphere.
Audiences do like to feel they know what is coming to a point. Tell some on they are going to watch a romance and there are basic conventions they are going to want to see.
I think if you break any work down to its most basic parts you will find a simple story that is a repeat of those 5-10 story archetypes that you were referencing. I think human minds are simply like that, in that they comprehend things best when they’re able to see the building blocks.
One of the interesting things about the two examples you used though is the variance of the narrative structure.
Bacccano (which I haven’t seen, so I’m going off secondhand accounts) tells different parts of seemingly different stories until everything eventually comes together, breaking from the linear method of storytelling seen in the majority of other works.
Your lie in April does this with characters. Kousei’s development is still pretty linear, but Kaori’s is masked until the very end to deliver the theme of the story. The wave of realization hits you at the same time as the emotional punch which adds even more to that finale.
I’m sure these aren’t the only anime to do this, but the point is that just by manipulating the narrative structure they’re able to make the story feel fresh or unique.
Agreed if you break things down too much everything starts to look the same. I enjoy Baccano because of how it presents its narratives in a fragmented form before bringing things together. Other stories that try to do something similar however tend to end up a mess of disconnected ideas. It shows the skill in manipulating the story structure and knowing what the point of the story is.
These days pretty much everything is done in some way or another. Take the zombiegenre for instance. It is hard to find anything original for it , but honestly…it doesn;t really matter as long as it is done well. I don’t mind the fact that some things aren’t original anymore. But a show like Your Lie in April was just simply amazing. And it goes to show that a series doesn’t really have to be original, as long as it is a fun watch 😀 Then again, I always like it when originality comes to the front as well. Kado for instance was very unique (although the end ofcourse failed the series too). In the end for me there is only one thing important, is the show entertaining, and able to keep my attention throughout it’s runtime. If it is, I don’t mind if it isn’t original 😊
I will take entertainment over originality any day. Probably while I liked Chain Chronicles. There was nothing original in that series but it did fantasy well.
Everything is an iteration of some kind.
“There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations. We keep on turning and making new combinations indefinitely; but they are the same old pieces of colored glass that have been in use through all the ages.” -Mark Twain
Don’t think it really matters in the end though, so long as it is interesting and it works.
Go Mark Twain. I like the phrase ‘mental kaleidoscope’.
It is a good phrase, for sure. Interesting article, great work as always 🙂
In time order, I’d say Clannad was truly effective with the ‘they meet, they got close and she dies’ thing.
This writing really had me think hard at 6 a.m. geez~
Clannad really did do it well, or in a heart breaking manner.