Kaminai, The Few Cool Ideas, and the Misery of Storywriting

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I was going to save this stuff for the eventual closing thoughts post on Kaminai but whatever. The Fairy has me by the balls, you know.

To tell the truth Kaminai immediately fascinated me and it sort of still does. It tickles me in a way that makes my imagination fly, and so over a day of cutting down brushes and letting my train of thought chug across the frozen plains of the Writer’s Block Plateau I reached an understanding on why. This of course was followed by a flurry of derivative thoughts because there are no breaks on the train of killing trees and chewing gum. And I’m all out of trees. Or something.

Now this may have sounded like endorsement but rest assured that I’m well aware of how sub-par the show is. It’s incoherent, introduces more mysteries without ever delving deep into anything, and has a range of characters who are completely uninteresting despite their colorful backgrounds. In other words it’s like any one of those shitty novels you wrote back in school because you thought you could be the next Tolkien or Asimov if you just wasted enough time on imagination you god damn nerrrrd. Wrote for a few hours, anyway, until the reality caught up to you. You realized that what you’re writing is pretty much utter shit, that you have no actual verbal prowess, and that above all the few cool ideas you came up with over the boring history class were the only damn things you had going for it.

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…and he was the only one who knew they were actually living in a time loop!

Those Few Cool Ideas are a constant occurrence that have plagued my mind since forever, and the reason I’ve ended up writing a whole bunch of ill-fated novels. Not complete, mind you – most stop after a few pages. The longest one went on for about 60 pages before I woke up to the realization of what I had just done. These ideas pop up every now and then and usually persist for several weeks during which I idly expand on them and construct some sort of a setting. Most of the time I end up eventually dismissing them, but sometimes they get obnoxious enough and force me to open a blank text document, taking my ability to focus on actually important things as a hostage. So I write maybe for a couple hours until I realize that the Few Cool Ideas aren’t actually enough to make a real story. In fact they aren’t even enough to make a background for it, or anything else aside from the few awesome scenes I can imagine constructing somewhere out there on page 29 or 186 or 5004. That’s when I realize that damn, just getting up to page 29 is going a whole shipping ton of effort, because a good story isn’t made out of the Few Cool Ideas but characters backed up by solid writing and lots – let me emphasize here – lots of narrative and dialogue. And unfortunately none of these have anything much to do with the awesome ideas your mind just fermented out of a week’s worth of brain farts.

You see, writing a great novel or any kind of story isn’t up to one’s ability to come up with Few Cool Ideas. In fact, Few Cool Ideas are as common as water. A world where god decided to ragequit? A world where nobody dies? A city that never ends? An invincible demon girl who travels the world? The average highschooler could come up with a dozen of these before hitting the lunchtime. Back in WWII some nasty guys initially used pigs to clear minefields but soon switched to people, because people were plentiful and inherently worthless, while pigs were not. Now imagine those people standing at the edge of a minefield, all unique yet holding no inherent value to buy them a better task than stepping on exploding jerry cans filled with ball bearings. Among them are your Few Cool Ideas. And nobody fucking cares, because that isn’t the sound of the minefield clearing itself, little Bobby, now is it?

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You probably appreciate Kongou more than all these pictures of disabled African children.

What sorts the novelists out of the neckbeards is the ability to write anything but the Few Cool Ideas. Because those ideas, as cool as they may be, hold no value by themselves. A good writer can construct characters with outstanding traits and personality that’s conveyed through the everyday dialogue they go through, and narrative that depicts them without being utterly silly. He is also able to lay down a plot and stretch it into a series of events that flow naturally and coherently without hopping from one funky occurrence to another like a god damn Duracell bunny on LiPo. And once I hit around the third page of my budding novel I realize that I can’t do any of that. Why? Because I don’t have the dedication to plow my way through pages upon pages of narrative, depicting people talking about shit I’m not even interested in myself. I just want to get to the juicy bits, damnit. But it’s like an MMO, there’s no other way but to grind it out. You want something, fine, we’ll see how hard you’re willing to whip yourself to get it.

Think Tolkien just decided to sit down and write something with elves and rings and shit, and out came The Lord of the Rings maybe a few months later? Well fuck you, because he spent over a decade writing it. During this time he meticulously went through the novel time and time again writing huge parts over because he just didn’t like them while completely disregarding publishing schedules. He also received continued support and feedback from fellow esteemed authors such a C.S. Lewis (Narnia, you uncultured swine) who wouldn’t even take a second look at your Hot Pocket-stuffed ass. And last but not least, Tolkien was also devoted to the point of insanity, perhaps because he was a devout Christian and believed that creating insanely detailed worlds was a way of getting closer to God. What’s the best you can muster? Shutting yourself in for a few weeks to write a 30-something document of “research” nobody will ever read anyway but you need to have one done because someone told you so?

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You’d make a great Christian, at least.

Now guess why nearly nobody thinks fanfics are worth jack shit. Ping pong! Because they are the easiest way to skipping over the tedious parts. You grab a setting, introductory narrative, and characters from someone else’s finished grind and run your own Few Cool Ideas on them. Writing the dialogue is suddenly a whole lot easier when you already have a good idea of how the characters interact instead of having to constantly agonize over such things as consistency or conveying unique personalities in a natural fashion without ever mixing them up. Wow! Now all you need is a suitable forum community where everybody will pat your ass as long as they can count on your patting theirs.

Back to Kaminai, it’s exactly like the product of Few Cool Ideas lumped together with nearly nothing else – it’s what I would expect to see if I ever actually completed a novel. It explores a fantastic setting with little introduction only to quickly abandon it because the author got tired of the idea and found something else to focus on like a magpie in a bead factory. It doesn’t even really bother with binding things together into a proper sequence of events. Characters and stages are thrown onto stage and promptly booted out the back to make room for the next setup.

But you know what, I’ve written some 1300 on this show that totally doesn’t even deserve it so let’s just call it quits now. Remember kids, just say no to the Fairy. Here, a double serving of Kongou.

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4 Comments

  1. Alterego 9
    Posted September 20, 2013 at 02:16 | Permalink

    “Now guess why nearly nobody thinks fanfics are worth jack shit. Ping pong! Because they are the easiest way to skipping over the tedious parts.”

    Nope.

    First of all, the same people who mock fanfiction, would still glorify plenty of the better pop-culture works that are also written by someone else then the original IP creator, not to mention the fancy “High Art” works that happen to use public domain characters.

    Fanfiction is defined not just by using pre-existing intellectual properties (which is otherwise accepted) , but by using them without permission. It’s more of a legal, than a creative description.

    Second, following from that, is the problem that a work can be called “original” as far as IP law is concerned, just by minimally twisting a few names and pictures, while it can possibly fail the same legal limit even if it has plenty of fresh narrative, even settings and characters, but it happens to take place in a pre-existing universe.

    Out of two fantasy new novels, the one which makes up random Old English location and race names will be called the “Original Work”, and the one which takes place in “Middle-Earth” will be called the fanfic, even if the latter has plenty of unique characters, plot points, and dialogues, while the former is pretty much a LoTR rehearsal.

    Fanfiction is mocked for the same reason as why weeaboos, or bronies are mocked, because it’s subculture is surrounded by a feeling of obsessively fannish, ugly, not-having-a-life behavior.

    The rest, about “inherent” unoriginality, or about the disproportionate percentage of unskilled creators, is just added rationalization for that, that isn’t even consistently followed up by the people speaking it.

  2. Andmeuths
    Posted September 20, 2013 at 04:01 | Permalink

    I think Kaminai is once again symptomatic of the Japanese LN phenomena. I am sure if Tolkien was forced to pump out book after book when he was in his 20’s, the quality wouldn’t be that high either (higher, probably, but we’d never know, since I can’t recall whether Tolkien has any surviving writings left over when he was in his early 20’s).

    Traditionally, most authors (in the west, especially for Fantasy until very recently) don’t even get their big break, until they write for a few decades. In the Japanese LN industry, you get your big break when you are in your late teens or early twenties. Naturally, you are going to write much worse than an author who got first published in his late thirties, after a decade or two of writing experience.

    Most LN authors aren’t so much as intrinsically talentless hacks, but rather, often pressed to pump out book after book, and turn their “few awesome ideas” into some kind of series. So, once the first wellspring of inspiration dries up in the first arc, the second, and perhaps the next few arcs sees the writing take a very sharp nosedive into oblivion.

    But I don’t think it’s unfair to say that there is no hope for LN authors, and that they are all universally bad. I think one of the reasons why some LNs like SAO get alot of defenders, from the LN readerbase (even if the said reader base read the series via translations) is because this reader base is taking later material, material that one cour can never hope to cover, as their base of reference. Some LN authors do improve over the course of the story – certainly, not up to truly good levels, but at least, increasingly competent.

    I think the true test of a LN authors potential is whether the Second season of the anime (if you can’t get the actual LN itself) is still bad, or whether it improves. I think Ore Imo probably fails the test, while Hagani passes it. And it’s unfortunate that we’d never get to see the Post-disappearance arcs of Haruhi animated, because the author’s writings actually get significantly better, although I’d say that the turning point is the Disappearance.

    Why is Monogatari considered better than your normal LN Fare? Because Nisio Isin has written and completed previous works before. He’s more experienced that the author of the likes of SAO, or indeed Kaminai, or even Haruhi.

    The thing is, we are reading the scribbling of very inexperienced authors, who, were they do get published in their late thirties might actually come off as good authors at the start. The only problem is, the LN industry realizes there’s money to be made in the scribbling of young, raw, inexperienced authors, and therefore, these authors get their break far earlier than they normally would have, in the past.

    One last thing: almost no LNs are faithful adaptations. If you were to read what LN readers are saying of Kaminai, it’s disappointment, to sum it up. There seems to be two cours worth of materials being crushed into a single cour, while arcs like the Birthplace of Graveyards are smashed to bits, because what you get is the hyper abridged version. I think you can see this is the last episodes of each arc – it’s always a trainwreck , and I think it’s because the producers realize they ran out of time.

    And that’s before we get into all the disadvantages anime has in adapting LNs, compared to manga – namely, LNs are a written medium, which allows things like internal thoughts and character PoVs to be vital story telling tools, that anime seems to have a great deal of difficulty developing.

    By the way, the same phenomena also extends to manga, both within the same manga, and between subsequent works. But I think the anime industry has managed to figure out adapting manga, very well, in a way that they haven’t really done so, barring a few exceptions, for LNs. Also, most mangakas have to publish quite a good deal of doujin, before they can even hope to get published. Most LN authors don’t have to write deacdes worth of fanfic or original web fiction, before a publisher snaps them up.

    LN anime is what happens, when you throw utterly raw authors into the meat grinder. It isn’t pretty, but it sells.

  3. Charizardpal
    Posted September 22, 2013 at 22:25 | Permalink

    I should point out that just because you’re older doesn’t mean you’ll have more to say, or even say it with the passion to reach your target audience of angsty teenagers. The real question of merit is what you have to say, and those kids growing up in Syria have a much more nuanced understanding of life thanks to the hardships than any young man going to college in the peaceful west, of which Japan is a part. I would like to read their light novels and fantasies.

  4. rinran
    Posted October 21, 2013 at 00:39 | Permalink

    In my humble opinion, Light novels are the worst source of ideas anime studios look to for anime production as what they contain can’t even be described as A Few Good Ideas.

    Everything from Kore wa Zombie (mazou shoujo hahaha, stupid joke stopped being funny the first time) to Monogatari (monster harem, wow, awesome idea) to A Certain Magical Index (the whole point of Index, the MC’s negating powers) were all anime I never completed because I couldn’t stop myself from thinking they were childish trash.

    The author of Bakemonogatari in particular I really hate his work. Medaka Box was bullshit , it’s change of tone so colossal I closed the episode page in disgust and searched for something else to watch.

    This show (Kaminai) has a lot in common with Attack on Titan: they’re both wasted opportunities in inexperienced hands

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