What’s with all the video game mechanics in anime?

There’s a lot to be said about the sheer amount of isekai being adapted into anime these past few years. Stories about normal neets/office workers getting bumped into by Truck-Kun and then waking up in a fantasy world. Sometimes with a ridiculous superpower, sometimes without. But almost always being overpowered through some kind of advantage, be it natural or not.

To the point that some non Isekai fantasy manga and anime have started taking elements often seen in those kinds of stories and implementing them into theirs. This quick and dirty approach to creating a power system in your fantasy anime usually comes in the form of using video game inspired mechanics, as opposed to coming up with and having to explain something original.

It got me wondering. Is this really a good thing? There certainly are pros and cons to doing something like this and at the end of the day it can be pretty inconsequential if the story being told around it is good enough. But I’ll be honest, I love a good power system in anime and going the video game route can feel like laziness at times.

I think like this because I spend way too much time thinking about how Quirks work in My Hero, how Nen powers work in Hunter X Hunter and how stands work in Jojo, as well as (embarrassingly) coming up with my own for OCs that could exist within the world while daydreaming during the slow nights at work.

When you’re in a story using pre-baked video game mechanics, you’re kind of robbed of that joy of creation when everything feels a little more prefab in its approach to the fantasy world. Not that there aren’t benefits to writing your story this way though. The benefit of doing something like this is that, generally, most anime fans are also video game fans and get the gist of a power system using video games as its basis pretty quickly.

Which means that, as a writer, if you don’t especially want to think too much about creating a complicated power/magic system, you don’t need to, and can just refer to the quick and easy shorthand version. An example of this that comes to mind is the light novel adaptation: Okay deep breath:

I was kicked out of the hero’s party because I wasn’t a true companion so I decided to have slow life at the frontier”.

Which is mostly a romantic slice of life about a former hero settling down and starting a drug store with another adventurer. While this isn’t an isekai, the characters pretty openly talk about concepts like level and special skills. It doesn’t go as far as having the characters being able to open up a stats/inventory menu.

But having all of the characters have a level and talk about gaining “skills” through levelling makes it very easy to understand why our main guy is super strong without having to really think about it too much.

It’s not always a narrative shorthand tool though. Some writers go real deep into the video game mechanic power system and lean real deep into it. The biggest of which I can think of is the Korean Manhwa Solo Levelling. The very base concept of this story is that the world is filled with people who gain superpowers akin to fantasy class archetypes.

The main character Sung Jin-woo, through some harrowing experience gains the ability to access the menus of this power system. Literal floating menus that display his stats, HP, inventory and skills and he gains the ability to level up and interact with the system as someone would in a video game. Solo Levelling does into real depth by showing Sung-Jin Woo’s growth throughout the story and how his individual stats increase as the story goes on, as well as the skills he gains.

It’s really interesting to a video game nerd like me and a good example of video game mechanics in manga being used really well.

But for these two examples there are probably 20 more where it just feels like a crutch, an excuse to justify why a character would be super powerful when transported to a new world in an isekai. As a rule, I probably would prefer manga to come up with their own power systems than lean on video game logic to carry their heroes.

Like Fire Force’s novel system of having everyone’s power being based around fire and/or heat in some way. Atusushi Okubo has done a fantastic job of coming up with an absolute ton of powers within that limitation. Or if you wanted to keep things more grounded in a low/none fantasy world you could just do something like Ascendance of a Bookworm or Dr. Stone (which as I’ve said before, is totally an iskeai).

Those characters might have absurd recall beyond that of a real human’s memory, but otherwise, everything they achieve is grounded in reality. And their advantage just comes from having a modern education in a more primitive culture.

The video game thing can absolutely be done well, as I mentioned with Solo Levelling. Or it can be a handy tool to give readers a quick understanding of a fantasy world without having to waste too much time explaining it. Like Fantasy manga Bishoujo Juniku Ojisan To; a fantastic comedic take on isekai in which the character’s video game overpoweredness is all a contributing factor to the joke that they both have absolutely no time or patience for the world they now find themselves in.

But like I said at the top, there are so many isekai coming out at the moment. I wouldn’t be surprised if almost all of them used this literal video game interpretation of being powered in the new world they find themselves in. I don’t know how much truth there is to that statement, because as all these stories look almost identical, I only have to imagine that they are both taking this quick and dirty approach to power systems rather than actually doing something original.

I suppose my issue with this whole idea comes down to the same reason that I don’t really gel with isekai as a genre either. It’s an avenue for the writers to make their characters really overpowered and explaining it as quickly and easily as they possibly can. It’s a narrative crutch that saves them the time and effort of coming up with and explain an original and novel system.

Which is fine if the power system is not an important part of the story you’re trying to tell. Not every manga/anime needs to be a Shonen battle series. But the draw/charm of the series around the power system needs to be good enough that the shorthand you are using becomes unimportant…. or a punchline.

In the end, the fact that it’s video game mechanics is just a sign of the times and just a shared knowledge that nerds like us all have within us. It’s just the unfortunate isekai infestation that makes this seem much more prevalent than it otherwise might have been. All I want to know is why haven’t we gotten the Monster Hunter isekai yet…

Huh? What movie? I’m sorry, but stop lying to me. There’s no such thing…

4 thoughts on “What’s with all the video game mechanics in anime?

  1. I kind of agree, a lot of times it feels like the writers are just being lazy and using pre-fab gaming tropes. I mean, I’m sure there are a lot of reasons why writers might be tempted to go the easy route, they have deadlines due, they have writer’s block, their original power system was widely unpopular by their readers. But, isn’t it part of a writer’s job to build their own world which includes a power system? I know I’m being harsh, but there’s no excuse for laziness! Well, unless your cat scratched your knee and it reeeeeeeally hurts so you don’t want to get up and do anything, so you blow off you whole days worth of plans. Then it’s totally okay to be a little lazy.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I’d say most times a writer does this, it’s because they don’t want to have to come up with a power system in their story. The problem is they also didn’t want to come up with any other original aspect of their manga either…

      Like

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