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FAN: Romantic Anime

FAN: Romantic Anime

Bren wants writers to start 2018 in a romantic mood, to inspire them to higher levels of creativity and originality, and we can’t get there by rewatching the latest big star-driven, derivative superhero spectacle or sequel.

Instead, feast on creative movies that haven’t gone through parody and cultural decline. Feast on tales unencumbered by formula and Hollywood committee: Anime!

No prior fandom required.

The following were selected for their varied approach to romance, involving young protagonists on the “cusp of an era,” moments of great change in their lives. Don’t miss the discussion!

The Girl Who Leapt Through Time

We began with this gem because of its charm, and its clever take on the time travel trope.  Unlike other time-twisting tales (Back to the Future, Terminator, X-Men something), this one keeps the jumps small, and allows our protagonist a Groundhog Day-like ability to make repeated, subtle changes to her life.

The Girl Who Leapt Through TimeMakoto is a likeable but unfocused senior in high school who pals around with two popular guys, Chiaki and Kosuke. While other girls wonder if she’s dating either or both of them, she enjoys playing baseball (catch, to be specific).

But as the note on the chalkboard says, “Time waits for no one.” Summer is coming, and the three will soon be separated.

Then Makoto falls on – let’s call it an acorn – which imprints something in her arm.  Then on the way home from school, her bike fails to break at the railroad crossing, and she’s killed.

Instead of dying, she leaps back to the beginning of the previous day. After several comic attempts,  she learns to stuff 11 hours of karaoke into one hour, get to time for class, ace that quiz she [recently?] failed, and so forth.

But as she changes her world, other people suffer. Makoto finds herself correcting gaffs while trying to dodge Chiaki asking her out, and setting up Kosuke with a junior who has a crush.

Then she realizes that she has a finite number of leaps, and she’s running out.

The FAN group loved the clever plotting and alternate take on the familiar time-travel conceit. What sold it was Makoto, her expressiveness, weaknesses, and her will to do the right thing.

The theme involves making the most of opportunities, because as everyone on the cusp of an era knows, time waits for no one.

Howl’s Moving Castle

If you love Pixar and always wanted to know where they get their inspiration, the short answer is: Hayao Miyazaki. Studio Ghibli is known for a number of gems, and Howl’s Moving Castle is among the best, bringing not only amazing animation, but romance (duh),and magic.

It’s the story of a young woman, Sophie, who is turned into an old woman by a witch and her only hope is Howl, a daring wizard on the run.

Howl's Moving Castle

Viewers immediately notice the intricate animation of the ornate walls and architecture, the tile on Howl’s side board, and the funny flying machines.  Billy Crystal’s delivery of the fire demon is an ingenious device that turns the story, and of course, the color dial over the door that serves as a portal for Howl and others.

These ideas themselves could decorate any number of magic movies, but then the writers layer them for impact:  Howl gives Sophie a guide ring to draw her back to Calcifer, which she uses to go through the portal into Howl’s past. Then as she reaches young Howl swallowing young Calcifer, the ring breaks, dropping Sophie back through time as she calls out: “I know how to help you now. Find me in the future!”

It’s height is Sophie growing younger as she stands up for Howl to his nemesis, Madame Suliman.

There are also some issues, like the reason why the Witch of the Waste turned Sophie into an old woman in the first place, and Howl’s girly tantrum: “I’m nothing if I can’t be beautiful.”

The two worst moments are the “hearts can change” comment tacked onto the end, along with Suliman canceling the war because Howl found his true love.

This last point brings up the perennial struggle for writers: how to resolve multiple story lines for the best impact.  For Howl, how would we resolve releasing the prince from his curse, ending the war, and restoring Howl’s heart?

I think a better ending would involve Sophie restoring Howl’s heart first, making him powerful enough to defeat Suliman (heroic ending), and in that grand scene, Sophie breaks the prince’s curse. Then Howl and Sophie rush into each other’s arms without the Witch of the Waste flirting with the lost prince.

That’s just me (Bren). We might also have Sophie break the prince’s curse first, whereby he can tell Suliman to call off the war while Sophie “wins Howl’s heart” for a final romantic punch.

We might carry that squabble through our Romantic Anime series.  But we all agree that Howl’s Moving Castle is rapturous entertainment for the whole family, and awe inspiring for storytellers.


Still to Come:

January 21: When Marnie Was There

When Marnie Was There

January 28: Ocean Waves

Ocean Waves

February 4: Whisper of the Heart

Whisper of the Heart

February 11: Your Name

Your Name

Join our ongoing FAN series and keep your creative fires burning un 2018!  Sunday nights at 7PM in the Epiphany Space co-working room.

Bren Smith story analyst in Los AngelesBren Smith is a story analyst and screenwriter in Hollywood. To share his story obsession, Bren taught workshops through the Haven in New York, the Act One Program in Los Angeles, and right here at Epiphany Space. Together with Peter Bishai, Bren co-wrote the award-winning comic adventure, The Dueling Accountant, and Rapid Eye Movement (now in post-production). To hire Bren as a script consultant, visit

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