Friday, April 1, 2011

A: Anime and D&D

A dreaded word in some gaming circles, to be sure; and one welcomed with open arms by others, my own included. We're all a great pile of anime fans and there's seldom a game that goes by that doesn't draw on an easter-egg or three buried into a scenario. (perhaps mercifully for all involved, said easter-eggs are seldom quite as blatant as this unless we've chosen to do so quite deliberately ...) If we ever managed to get a mecha -- or any kind of scifi -- game off the ground it would be even more prevalent, because we're like that.

Taken all together this is why there's two shelves of Exalted and one of Dream Pod 9-published books here in the hamster lair. Oh and Shadowrun, because Shadowrun can be very scifi anime-ish if you pick the right series as inspiration. (we like Gundam Wing, go figure.)

What I don't quite understand is the almost knee-jerk reaction against anime and manga influence that can sometimes be encountered, especially as that reaction has in my experience almost always been wrapped up in a complaint that 3.x D&D is "anime".

Um, what?

Ten years on and then some and that's one label I still cannot understand for the life of me. Because there's ... well frankly, even ignoring that there's no one "anime" genre, there's not really anything in 3.x that screams "anime" to me. If you want that, go look for Exalted as an example; there's umpteen different flavours to choose from in that kitchen sink of a game. But 3.x is pretty fairly "anime"-less, and not even the infamous big swords really changes that, big swords not being unknown otherwise, and all. The aesthetic at work reminded and reminds me more of Western video games and modern fantasy, but one's mileage may vary.

On the other hand there have been a few series which have their roots in roleplaying games and D&D in particular, the most well-known of which is surely the novel series-turned-manga-and-anime Record of Lodoss War -- which originally stemmed from play transcripts of a 1e AD&D group. One of these days I'll actually go digging around and see how many series I like have roots in roleplaying games; it would likely be an entertaining little experiment.

... and then there's that little itch at the back of my head that says I'd love to run a game even tangentially based on Bastard!!, which would kind of bring things full circle --


Michael S/Chgowiz said...

Lodoss Wars is a series I wish I had the entire DVD of, as I started to collect the VHS tapes WBW and never finished. Good story and great art.

Chris said...

D&D is "anime".

Modern D&D; oh inarguably. Gygaxian D&D, less obviously so. Not even Zeb Cook's OA was as hard gay for anime tropes like calling your attacks as was 3E's Book of Nine Swords.

(*blinks, rolls up trolling cape apologetically*)

I think the reaction against animu is against certain elements associated with the animu fandom, rather than against anime itself.

Annoying fat teen girls in bad cosplay squeaking "Kawaii!" and weenieboys with katana lurve are the anime equivalent of catpissmen and neckbeards: both are mythic exemplars of the very worst in the fandoms who drag the reputation of the whole scene down with them.

It's mainly just strawmanning people do to differentiate themselves from what they don't want to be associated with.

As a huge fan of both Studio Ghibli, Bobobo-bo Bobobo and Final Fantasy XII (Balthier <3) I have no problem with animu in my fantasy.

taichara said...


I know there was a dvd release for Lodoss, but it might well be out of circulation now; possibly findable on Ebay or via Amazon sellers ...?


Alas your trolling attempt fails in any case, as a single book from the tail end of the 3e line -- noted for its departure from the norm and bringer of flamewars due to that very departure -- hardly proves an intrinsic nature of the basic 3.x design ;3

(*tucks away pointless rebuttal likewise ~*)

Oh, there's no doubt that it's strawmanning of the worst kind, but I was trying to avoid just out and out making that comment in my initial post. And as someone who has been interested in wide swathes of manga and anime both since long before it became popular and easily accessible, the less-appealing aspects of the current fandom are just as irksome over here.

I think the katana fetishizing well pre-dates it, though, and can be blamed much more firmly on Highlander ;3

Anonymous said...

Read Kentaro Miura's 'Berserk' if you haven't already. It is published in English by Dark Horse, so that should give you a hint of how good it is. Starts off as a typical anime + D&D story of a giant broadsword wielding mercenary named Gutz (I know, sounds terrible, but read on...) who gradually finds himself thrust into the role of cursed slayer of the otherworldly gods who enslave mankind by promising them power at their moments of great despair.

Lodoss is the Hello Kitty of D&D inspired manga by comparison.

taichara said...


Actually I am quite familiar with Berserk, and I find it frankly boring as all hell. Bastard!! is much more entertaining.

Timothy S. Brannan said...

I always felt there was a strong connection between anime and 4e. Maybe because I never play MMORPGs I never saw that connection.

I was thinking just the other day that an Elric anime would be awesome.

trollsmyth said...

Re: Bastard! I've long been tempted to rename as many D&D spells after heavy metal bands ever since I first saw this series. Is there a manga for it, and is it any good?

Nope said...

Great post!

We mainly played 4e as if it were anime, it was fun as hell since for my generation and island shows like Records of Lodoss War, and Vampire Hunter were old school. The newer shows like Claymore, and Fullmetal Alchemist were also heavy influences.

And then there were the jrpgs...

Zak Sabbath said...

Speaking as somebody who likes anime and also likes not-anime (as a genre) I can see the RELATIVE anime-ness of 3e from the grognards POV.

I boils down to:

-the more "actiony" big-hands, big feet, clean-line, sharp haircut look of Wayne Reynolds and some other WOTC-era artists.

-the slow increase in power levels. The stereotypical anime character has lots of attacks with names and even fighters do things that look like magic.

-an overall (and sometimes subtle) emphasis on heroic kineticism and motion over medieval grime and difficulty in both the rules and art.

-Paragons: acrobatics of all kinds is more "anime" (anime's visual), simple brutality is considered more the Other Thing (Conan, literary, historical models)

3e is not very anime, but if you compare it to Tolkien or Moorcock, it has more of all of these things.

It's telling that Chris of Vaults of Nagoh--a tireless crusader for more shit and grime and historical-based filthiness in D&D was the first one to agree with the 3e-is-anime-ish thesis.

Aeon said...

For some reason,(most likely due to never having been to an anime convention) I never picked up on the negative stereotypes that afflicted people's perceptions of anime fans, so those sentiments mystify me.

Mothman's Dog said...

Porco Rosso inspired the ornithopters-with-pontoons in the maritime AD&D campaign I ran ten years ago... which collapsed the week 3e was released, due to every gamer I know abandoning a dozen different campaigns in half-a-dozen different RPGs to all play 3e

NaldoDrinan said...

I think the inverse is true - I'd actually argue a lot of anime has D&D in it.

I actually started getting to manga/anime around the same time as D&D. When I was a youngster in the 90's, it seemed like all the good fantasy/sci-fi stuff was Japanese, Lodoss War just screams BECMI/RC to me, for example. The lead even becomes a Paladin! (Sort of. I don't think he had a high enough wisdom for Cleric Spells)

taichara said...

@Tim Brannan:

Having had little exposure to 4e I can't really speculate there, alas. Elric as an anime could be interesting, though ...


There is indeed a manga for Bastard!!, but unfortunately Viz stopped translating it at vol. 19 (it is currently at 26 volumes and counting) and the books can be annoying to find.

I quite like it, but it's definitely more raw than the OAVs.

@Aberrant Hive Mind:

4e? Yourself and Tim Brannan above may have some interesting anecdotes to share ~

@Zak S:

Eh. I could take all of those criteria and just as easily say that 3.x is more comic-book-y.

I think it would be more accurate to say that 3.x is simply more modern, speaking in terms of popular culture, in its portrayals.


I am willing to bet that most of those holding the stereotypes have never been to an anime con either ...

@Mothman's Dog:

Well hell, that must have been annoying --


That would be why I discussed Lodoss above, yes. ;P It's based on AD&D, though, not Mentzer D&D.

Aeon said...

Actually now that I think about it, there's one avenue other than Lodoss war for fantasy adventure and that was Dragon Quest, which is derived from The Black Onyx( Black Onyx which was derived from the PC RPGs at the time which were in turn derived from DnD.

Zak Sabbath said...


Well, yes, but due to the relative unpopularity of fantasy compared to superhero or sci fi (outside Jacksons LOTR) in popular culture those elements of "modernity" were rarely seen in fantasy outside anime simply because there were few other modern fantasy thingamobobs to look at when 3e came out.

And, artwise, it's even more direct. Many of the tropes that we call "modern" in comic book art can be traced directly to anime.

NaldoDrinan said...


Sorry about that - I was trying to support your comment, as opposed to simply reiterate it...

And really, I should expand. Final Fantasy started out pretty D&D-ish, with a fire and forget spell system and all. The Slayers (Novels and Anime) both strike me as what many D&D games end up like, against the intentions of the dungeon master...