With Dyskami dropping Anime 5E on us around June 1, it’s time to briefly discuss Anime as attitude and game system.
Btw, if I haven’t mentioned it yet, I’m a bit biased toward this particular genre and anything Big Eyes, Small Mouth in general and have been for many years. I actually had the privilege of going to a Gen Con seminar with Mark MacKinnon all those years ago. I learned a lot about RPGs in general and anime/manga games in particular. I also think Lemmings in Space would be a hilarious but short-lived RPG. Mark and the team at Dyskami have delivered a wonderful new spin on this genre, attitude and rules.
*Note, if fantasy is less your jam and you want more cyberpunk/mecha/space anime action, I highly recommend BESM Fourth Edition from Dyskami. Anime 5E is very much fantasy genre oriented, being based on the 5E D&D rules. All of the races, classes, monsters, magic and other tropes are based around fantasy stuff.
But enough shameless promotion, on with the show!
Just as a writer can pick up different tones and perspectives while writing, RPGs can come with differing attitudes for GMs and players. If a writer is working on a horror novel, for example, the tone might be dark, gritty, and have almost a feeling of hopelessness hanging in the air. Where as a horror RPG might have rules for insanity; penalties for PCs casting dark, creepy ritual spells; and foreboding, unfathomable, undefeatable old gods and monsters.
What does one think of when we hear the term “anime” or “manga?” It’s a pretty broad genre. Japanese animation and comics cover a pretty large spectrum of subgenres such as horror, science fiction, fantasy and cyberpunk to name a few. Personally I think of giant robots and cyborgs followed by high flying fantasy martial arts and determined samurai. It’s a different flavor of roleplaying gaming all together.
If it’s an attitude, won’t any old RPG system work?
The short answer to this is: I guess. Mileage may vary.
The long, complicated answer is: Nope. Don’t do it. You’re trying to force a square peg into a triangular hole. There’s an easier way.
I love a lot of basic European style medieval fantasy RPGs. Pathfinder 2E, D&D, ICRPG, DCC, and dozens more. Orcs, elves, dragons and labyrinthine death dungeons are the order of the day for me. Good stuff. I can certainly approach those with the anime/manga mindframe. But, then the rules fall a lot short of the mark.
How do you pull off a 50′ anime character leap while wielding a Bisento as an unarmored samurai? How do we set the scene for a brief chibi moment during a long rest? What do you mean I can’t play a cat girl ninja? It’s just not in the rules. (In fairness, I did stat out cat folk and ninjas for ICRPG, but…) If you want anime rules for a “classic” game, it’s going to end up being heavily homebrewed.
If I’ve learned anything from being a GM/writer over the years, it’s don’t try to reinvent the wheel. If someone else has done the legwork for you in terms of an RPG system, by all means- beg, borrow, or steal as much as you can for your game. If another system does something better than the one you’re currently using it’s not like you’re married. Switch to what works or adapt bits as needed. If that means switching to a new ruleset, then by all means.
The question is always how far to go.
If your D&D game is running just fine with a few anime moments, then maybe stick to D&D proper. If you’re just borrowing a few tropes here and there with the Monk, Fighter (Samurai) and Rogue (Ninja) characters and the players are cool, stick with it. Maybe the characters yell a lot. There are some chibi character moments that don’t detract. Dragons are worshipped as gods in the campaign setting. Certain weapons and armor are re-skinned. Maybe add some homebrew rules for unarmored defense?
OR- things are crazy overly stiff an rule dependent and you’re dying to be able to do more cool stuff. Try an actual anime RPG and setting! As a GM, boot whatever seems too outrageous or unreasonable. It’s still your game!
The main thing is do what you, as a GM, and the players will have the most fun with. Typical fantasy settings don’t do mecha and/or firearms at all. Anime games have to such restrictions depending on the GM. Giant leaps are very possible in anime. Ninjas are more Naruto and Ninja Scroll than historical black pajama party. Stuff blows up more in anime games. Trust me.
Another advantage to anime games is the amount of character drama. I once drew a very complicated flow chart for myself to map out all of the very complicated relationships in an anime supers game I was working on. This person has a crush on this person, but is secretly liked by this other person who they want nothing to do with and so on. It ate a couple of entire pages of my notebook and looked like one of those crazy conspiracy theory board memes by the time I was done. It ended up being useful for dealing with specific character interactions, though. It made for a fun game, despite over 20 pages of NPC backstories. I might have overdone it a little.
Anime fits in with so many other tropes and themes.
Anime does very well with several subgenres either as a separate game or as part of a preexisting one. Many anime videos exemplify this.
Horror- easy. I’m sorry, have you seen some of the scarier anime? Eesh. I don’t want to give video examples. Just… it’s the internet. Feel free to explore, okay?
Supers- Sentai, giant robots, psychic cops even four color heroes. Again, it’s an easy catch. Power Rangers, Patlabor, Witch Hunter Robin and Tiger & Bunny are great examples of video anime supers. In fairness, I have to mention Sailor Moon, which is the premiere magical girl supers anime. It’s also one of the older anime RPGs.
Fantasy- Such a broad category by itself. Fantasy anime covers things such as Record of the Lodoss Wars. (Fantasy anime emulating a fantasy rpg emulating Tolkien. Mind bending.) Ninja Scroll is serious fantasy anime, and brutal. Rurouni Kenshin is great fantasy samurai anime. One of my personal favorites, which is also sorta shoujo, Inu Yasha makes for amazing rpg fodder. I also highly recommend Princess Mononoke. I should also mention Full Metal Alchemist, too. Again, they’re all fantasy anime, each with its own unique angle.
Mecha and cyberpunk are more or less ready made for anime games. These two subgenres pretty much started out as anime. Masamune Shirow was a pioneer in both genres with Appleseed, Dominion Tank Police, Black Magic M-66, and Ghost in the Shell. Mecha anime would not be complete without a mention of Macross/Robotech just to start. I should also mention Gundam in all of the many series on video. There are a lot of other cyberpunk anime on video, many are ultra violent in nature. Likewise, I’ve barely scratched the surface of mecha anime on video. The RPG potential is almost unfathomably deep for both subgenres.
Action- Last is all of the action anime. This would work with any modern type RPG. It could be martial arts, detectives, pirates, demon hunters, or any other number of action tropes. There are more anime video examples than I could list. I would recommend Gunsmith Cats if you get a chance.
I realized I barely dove into inspirational videos.
I’m probably going to write more articles in the coming weeks/months about anime RPGs. I didn’t even mention many of the anime I’ve taken inspiration from over the years.
I’m a huge fan of Neon Genesis Evangelion, but I’m not sure how it would float as an RPG? I’d also recommend Big O and Giant Robo as both mecha and superhero anime. There’s also A.D. Police Files, Bubblegum Crisis and Bubblegum Crash. These series were all a mix of police, mecha, supers, and cyberpunk anime with a tiny bit of psychic stuff thrown in. Last, Starfinder fans especially would benefit from watching Iria: Zeiram the Animation.
Like many otaku, I could go on for hours mentioning tasty videos to watch. Bringing character concepts and tropes over to RPGs is a subject to approach with your GM. Likewise, GMs probably shouldn’t expect players to just jump blindly into an anime series if it’s not what they’re expecting.
More, much more to come. Thanks for stopping by. I appreciate you. Thanks.