Introducing Unnecessary Terminology: Storytelling vs. Storycrafting

I had a thought the other day about types of fantasy that I thought I’d hash out and share. This is a bit on settings that applies more to short-form stories than it does to franchises. Examples are largely anime because, well, me.

Storycrafting is where the protagonists either are the most important people in their fictional world, or they have the ability to affect everything in it (even if they choose not to). Basically, the world is built around the exploits a character or group of characters have or will have accomplished. Think the Tales of _ games or Gurren Lagann, where the gods of the world themselves eventually come up as fightable bosses. Gambling Apocalypse Kaiji can also basically be labeled this way, thanks to the omnipresence of the main villain. Or, more subtly, Angel Beats, where despite the initially mysterious premise, all of the real problems in the series are eventually solved by the main character’s actions.

Storytelling is what happens there is clearly a world (size doesn’t matter), beyond what the main characters, and by extension the audience, see. While the main character may have an effect on places he/she sees, there are plenty of processes going on in the background that they can’t do jack about even past the end of the story. Kino’s Journey is the best anime example, but plenty of others fit this mold, including The Third: The Girl With the Blue Eye, Escaflowne, the Monogatari series, and, oddly enough, Redline.

Fullmetal Alchemist, interestingly enough, treads neatly between the two. While the Elric brothers and others do definitely influence the world to some degree, Amestria’s internal politics are shown to be only a small fraction of what moves that world, which clearly contains a number of other powerful nations which stay largely unaffected by the events of the story (Xing, the nation on the Briggs border). I’m sure I could think of others that people hear about less often.

Neither of the two approaches is really superior, they just give different aesthetics to the works they’re in. Storytold works tend to be more thought-provoking and evoke a sense of mystery and vastness, whereas storycrafted works tend to be more emotionally gripping and evoke a sense of importance beyond normal life. If a preference for one or the other exists for some people, it’s as personal as a preference can get. But the two are different, and it’s fairly easy to group anime based on those criteria, so it’s worth thinking about when watching a given show.

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