Western vs. Eastern Storytelling

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Western vs. Eastern Storytelling

#1 Post by pigionsdeliver » Sun Apr 30, 2017 10:51 am

Despite the title, this isn't so much a question on which is better but more about highlighting what difference there are [if any]. I've come across some discussion on the differences but thought I'd pose the question here.

I have my own idea on the subject but I wanted to hear from others and if you have some interesting sources I'd love to read them. My own opinion is the importance of setting/atmosphere over the importance of character is what sets eastern storytelling apart from western. The importance of character arises from the western world's focus on individuality and how we are creators of our own fate. That's what I think in a nutshell.

So, what are some of the difference and/or similarities you find in western and eastern storytelling?
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Re: Western vs. Eastern Storytelling

#2 Post by gekiganwing » Sun Apr 30, 2017 7:05 pm

Unfortunately, I don't especially like this comparison for a number of reasons...

* It can be too easy to make sweeping generalizations based on a handful of stories. This can be a problem if those stories were created in only one nation, or just one era. It's especially problematic if they were just pop culture trash entertainment. (I would be embarrassed if people associated the country where I live with the few things they remember from watching Silent Night Deadly Night Part 2 several years ago, or from occasionally glancing at a handful of Rob Liefeld comics covers.)

* How many stories represent an entire hemisphere? I can think of a few works of classic literature or theater which are still famous in many nations. Some have even influenced laws and the development of technology. The potential downside -- these classics are sometimes stories that gather dust on shelves, read maybe once and then gradually forgotten.

* I don't feel secure judging stories from a nation or a hemisphere because I know that my perspective is limited. Yes, I grew up reading books for school and for fun. Unfortunately, an awful lot of the entertainment that I've experienced has originated from just four or five countries. I have embarrassingly little experience with stories created in mainland Europe. My familiarity with Australia and New Zealand is limited to a few pop songs and comedy films.
pigionsdeliver wrote:So, what are some of the difference and/or similarities you find in western and eastern storytelling?
A couple of interesting alternatives to consider:

* "Two specific stories created during the same year." What do they have to say about life on earth during that year? It would be easier to make the comparison if the stories exist in the same medium.

* "Two adaptations of the same work." Compare and contrast two official adaptations of one intellectual property. There are examples which were made during the same time by different teams living in different nations. For instance, Capcom's 16-bit game based on Disney's Aladdin was different from the one that Virgin Games made during the same year.

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Re: Western vs. Eastern Storytelling

#3 Post by trooper6 » Sun Apr 30, 2017 9:57 pm

I think the idea that Japan doesn't care about individuals so they focus on setting and the West is obsessed about individuals and so they focus on individuals is more stereotyping than reality.

The Japanese manga "Sanctuary" by Ikegami and Fumimura is all about individuals. Lots and lots of 1950s US media were all about conformity.

There is a wide variety of different themes in media from a given country. I mean, Sanctuary is not the same as Yuri on Ice, which is different from Godzilla, which is different from Naomi, which is different from Kobayashi's "Harakiri (Seppuku)"

Similarly, Father Knows Best is different from Call of the Wild which different from Glass's Koyaanisqatsi, which is different from Scary Move, which is different from...etc.
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Re: Western vs. Eastern Storytelling

#4 Post by Limabaen » Mon May 01, 2017 4:00 am

I agree that it isn't really in our place to stereotype/generalise the differences between Western and Eastern storytelling, but from my (quite limited) perspective, they do exist. But these differences are definitely based in traditional differences in storytelling practices rather than perceived differences in social values.

I read in a post somewhere that traditionally, Western storytelling is more conflict focused than Eastern storytelling. I know in Australian schools, when we are taught to write creatively we are encouraged to follow the "orientation-> conflict (self conflict, external conflict) -> resolution" structure. We are taught to avoid writing stories that don't have some form of crisis or negative aspect to fight against, as they are "dull" and cannot be used to develop characters or the audience.
On the other hand, classic Japanese, Chinese and Korean literature used a four act structure that encouraged development, not through conflict, but through a "twist", or betrayal of expectations. So the structure goes something like this: orientation -> development -> twist -> conclusion.

I do think that there's still remnants of this difference in modern works. When I read Haruki Murakami's The Strange Library and Yasutaka Tsutsui's Rumors about Me, I was quite surprised about the absence of "conflict" the way its used in a lot of Western writing; as something that has to be subdued or overcome in order to achieve an ending. Doesn't mean there aren't difficulties in the stories, but they seem to be dealt with in a way that doesn't require a clash of opposing forces.

Also if you think about how jokes tend to be structured in anime, you can see the four act structure still used e.g. set up introduced (orientation) -> straight man makes ordinary comment about set up (development) -> funny guy does something out of the norm/says something ridiculous (the twist) -> straight man reacts angrily (conclusion). You can match virtually all modern comedy anime up with this particular set of joke delivery (not even a generalisation), but I have a harder time thinking of Western comedy which utilises this structure for its jokes (I'm aware most jokes regardless of culture hinge on providing a "twist" punchline, just eastern media tends to follow a specific structure for delivering this twist)

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Re: Western vs. Eastern Storytelling

#5 Post by Kuiper » Mon May 01, 2017 11:42 am

To get to the more general point about how western stories tend to be more conflict-driven than eastern stories (and the fact that eastern readers seem to have a greater appetite for "slice of life" stories), I think it's worth pointing out that even in eastern stories that are conflict driven, Japanese protagonists seem to be less proactive and more passive. One common complaint I see leveled at many anime is that the protagonist doesn't really do anything and is a person who is surrounded by more interesting characters and just getting dragged along for the ride. I think it could be the case that many eastern readers actually prefer reading about passive characters (what some western readers might refer to as "weak" characters), and based on my own experience with eastern cultures (I'm a Chinese immigrant living in the US), I think it is true that easterners in general tend to be more passive and unassuming than most Americans are.

This might seem a bit off-topic, but I think it's worth bringing up the topic of genre. One thing I've learned from booksellers, authors, literary agents, and folks within the publishing industry that different genres tend to do better in different regions/countries. For example, fantasy tends to do best in the UK and the US, while Japanese readers seem to have more of a taste for science fiction. Most magical realism comes from (and is sold in) Latin America.

On its face, this might not seem like a significant distinction. If you want to be reductionist about it, you could just say that Japan likes androids and space ships more than they like wizards and dragons. But I think that different genres tend to embody different themes, and can often stem from cultural differences.

Of course, it's not hard to find examples to make this point. For example, most dystopian novels are marketed to teens. Most romance novels target women. It seems pretty defensible to say this points towards different attitudes, values, and other differences between teens/adults or women/men.

The difference between fantasy and science fiction isn't as simple as swords versus lasers or elves vs aliens. For example, a lot of western fantasy tends to be heroic fantasy, which is often about morally righteous heroes who triumph over evil and are rewarded with adoration from society for their good deeds. Meanwhile, within science fiction you have genres like cyberpunk that tend to be about "anti-heroic" characters that are rebelling against a repressive society, and within cyberpunk you tend to see the idea that urban environment and city itself becomes a character. And though there are some optimistic/hopeful science fiction stories out there, science fiction has always been the frontier for cautionary tales about the role of technological development.

To look at a contemporary example, litRPG has grown in popularity in recent years with the success of works like Sword Art Online, Log Horizon, Accel World, and Konosuba. Notice how all of those examples are Japanese? It's hard to come up with "mainstream" examples of western litRPG, the closest thing would probably be Ready Player One (and some people dispute whether this belongs to the genre). LitRPG light novels have apparently found an audience in Japan, and the genre also seems to have quite a bit of traction in Russia, but the only American litRPG comes in the form of web serials or self-published ebooks. And when you consider that litRPG is a genre that would be mainly interesting to people who have more interest in spending time in a game world than they do in something that more closely resembles the "real world," I think it becomes easier to make sense of the fact that it tends to be most popular in Japan and Russia, and tends to be most popular among young adults. (It's the same reason YA readers in the west like dystopian fiction so much.)

I'm sure you could also make a not-too-subtle point about the role that a certain cutting-edge nuclear technology played in World War II, the impact that it had on the US and on Japan, and how it might affect the ethos, themes, and general tenor of those two cultures moving forward and their attitudes toward technology. (Other people have already written these essays, so I won't bother re-litigating the point here.)
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Re: Western vs. Eastern Storytelling

#6 Post by arisan » Tue May 02, 2017 10:22 pm

To add to what's already been said, it's worth considering that beyond "Eastern" and "Western" (terms broad enough to be of questionable merit) storytelling, you also have to consider paradigms or frameworks of criticism or, speaking more broadly, reading.

Taking Kuiper's response, for example, who is it that defines genres? Publishers establish them for marketing purposes; critics, for easier analysis. And yet the genre of magic realism is largely imposed by a Continental/American tradition that finds it difficult to reconcile belief in the supernatural with realism--in other words, magic realism may simply be another form of realism or another form of fantasy. However, because it varies from what is defined--by dominant discourses in literary criticism--as either of those two, a new genre is made for it. (As you might guess from my response, I don't put much stock in magic realism as a genre) (edited to add:) Which is not to say that genres themselves are unreliable, only that the ways they are established raise questions of their own.

You might also find success examining aesthetic movements. They'd likely be able to expose dominant discourses in both writing and reading literature and how these might influence the trends we later perceive. For instance, those strands of Naturalism that believed individuals were ultimately the product of their genes and environments: is this focusing on the individual? or focusing on setting as determining forces? When you consider the birth of Weird Fiction and H.P. Lovecraft's explicit emphasis on establishing atmosphere, on the moment of greatest detachment from reality, do you see that as an emphasis on setting? or an emphasis on the individual and its disturbed mind?

So in other words, I'd be wary of looking at those differences until one can properly examine one's own influences (biases?) when it comes to analysis and interpretation.
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Re: Western vs. Eastern Storytelling

#7 Post by pigionsdeliver » Thu May 04, 2017 8:07 am

Wow, theses are some excellent points you've made and are definitely food for thought.
I did keep the whole question pretty broad as people have a different experience with different types of literature from different places and I wanted to make sure to include those. As opposed to a more manageable but restrictive question.
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Re: Western vs. Eastern Storytelling

#8 Post by YaminoOkami » Sat Dec 30, 2017 1:06 pm

I am late to a party but I wanted to add some things in this topic witch nobody mentioned yet I think are some of more important differences.

If we are talking about modern storytelling such as modern Anime/VNs/Manga etc. VS Modern Hollywood movies, Western TV Shows etc. I would say main difference between western and eastern storytelling is that western tends to stick more to a realistic way of life and culture that people IRL live noways while eastern tried to make more idealistic culture, mentality of characters in stories etc.

I would also complicity disagree that western stories tend to put more importance on characters as I find it to actually be opposite, majority western stories tend to concentrate on setting and events happening in a story and and on the side of characters we usually get only as much is need to explain their situation and why did they do what they did. In other words characters are usually secondary to events that are happening and it is rarely the other way around on the other hand eastern stories tend to a be in reverse, to mainly concentrate on characters and their development and often events happening are there to push character development, their releashiships with other characters and learn more about them. Some proofs of this could be how much more stories that fully are about characters, characters development and interaction between characters with no big events happening around them are in eastern stories then in western, or how in fanbase of western stories people tend to discus more about what has happened while in eastern fanbase people tend to talk more about characters or how events impacted those characters.
I also think it is wrong idea that west is more about individuality but rather that it is more about expressing individuality. West supports expressing individuality but not as much thinking for yourself and is pretty opposed to individualism outside of a box while east is a lot less supportive about expressing individuality but is more supportive of thinking for yourself and is actually more open-minded and less judgmental of outside of box thinking. I would say western individualism is on the outside while eastern individualism is more on the inside and both are opposed to an other individualism.

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Re: Western vs. Eastern Storytelling

#9 Post by catgame21234 » Thu Jan 11, 2018 4:57 pm

I can offer an artist's perspective on the situation at hand. And focusing on how stories are told on the big screen might help give something more solid ground works and less about ideas and values that could be argued about. Starting with the animation,.

Disney was already making cartoons and animation before the first ever anime (Astroboy) was made. Snow-white and Pinokkio where out by the tame. And if you watch those films you see a lot of "advance" movements implied.

I cant find the full screenshots but the best way to describe this this is that Japetto and his puppet son fall into the whales mouth.
How then would you imagien them entering in the whale? They would have come from stage left to stage right. And the events before this image you see here have the both of them despretly trying to paddel away, going to stage left wile the whale is stage right.
Another grate example is this image gif i just found from petter pan.
Captain hook runs from stage right to stage left,
assumably then runs out the other end of the crock he just ran into going out his mouth and running offscreen from stage left to stage right.
Then the next sean over is this
Hook continuing that ark of motion from going from stage left to stage right.

Why am I bringing up this line of motion? This seems like second nature to have in film and visual story telling. It's because Japanes film development at the time lacked this very concept. Many films from black and white days didn't use these complexed camra tricks. For live action or animation. Many camras are just focused and pointed at the object of intress with no real dynamic in the lay out of the composision.

Astroboy the first anime ever invented took a much radical different approach to visual story telling. They esentualy had only "key frames" focusing on the individual poses looking good but having janky movements to get there. This is in contrast to Disney's fluid animation.

In a essence, it is a manga / comicbook panels given animation. and many comic panels have a very central focuse.
Which to me sounds exactly like a vertual noval. The same thing but in a videogame form.

I'm bringing all this up is because Japan, what we commonly look to at "eastern story telling" and many contries like it have been isolated for a large development of their existence from the western culture untill almost recently when we look at the existence of the human civilization.

heck this one influential nation is so isolated it became meme worthy. Just watch the video above untill you get to this part:
*Knock knock It's the United States*

And you'll get what I'm throwing at.

And it's because of this isolation they are able to develop their own styles and methods of doing "things" from art, to animation, to writing.
But what is that difference?

There is none.

Art is rarely made in a vacuum. Times changes, trends come and go, writing styles change. If lordof the rings was writen now it wouldn't sell due to its slow start.
The world is global now, and more and more culture that is sigular is being shared around the world as we speak.

And as different as I claimed Astro boy to be, and as infuenchal he is by odds are being the father son and holy spirit of everything anime and it's art style and story telling methods, and there for being one of the most modern and most important refrence to draw comparisons between story telling methods in Magna vs Comics. Cartoons vs Anime

People forget that the creator of Atro Boy was inspired by Scrooge Mcduck, whom was made in 1948 and made their first appearance in an American English published comic book.
What you see above is a letter sent by Astroboy's creator to Disney, a holiday card, honoring whom inspired him.
If this was Spined to our perspective, the creator of astroboy was such a mega weeb, learning english and drawing these big eyed human freaks because he loved that duck charactor so much, then all their weeb fans started to copy their style because it looked cool.

Akira Toriyama? creator of dragonball? HUGE starwars fan. I can't find the quote but I remember finding this sorce for a school paper that he listen to the imperial march when he was writing the fight scenes of the original dragonball z manga.
And if you don't believe me? Here's fan art for episode 1 done by him.

DAICON IV was an intro animation to 1983 Daicon IV Nihon SF Taikai conventions. Aka the biggest gathering of weebs of the early 80s in japan before the internet could really connect them all. An Intro made by geeks and nerds to all things writen for geeks and nerds.

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Listen to the song being played, it's English. Look who shows up Star Wars - superman and the gang.
You're telling me that they whern't influenced by amarica media? yeah most of animators for sure but some of them straight out new IP.
From Goku and Vegeta punching the hell out of one another with starwars banging in the background, to more recent anime like Allmight 500% being based off of superman and all things American from how he's writen to how he acts.

From the modern perspective, the storytelling is the same! So just write, and it will connect! Everyone is influenced off of everyone else!
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Re: Western vs. Eastern Storytelling

#10 Post by SundownKid » Fri Jan 12, 2018 11:10 am

In terms of what I've seen, Western storytelling tends to have more heroic protagonists who lead the charge of the story and their group, and unlock the strength within themselves. While Eastern storytelling has everyman type protagonists who get dragged into conflicts and only get through by trusting in things other than themselves. There is a lot of anime and games where the protagonist is basically the weakest of the group personality wise, whereas in western stories the main character is often the most interesting and everyone else is just a sidekick.

It could be because there is a lot more individualism in the West when we think about heroes. Basically, you should be independent and if you're strong and smart enough you'll win. Whereas in the East there is more of a pressure to fit in and work as a team.

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Re: Western vs. Eastern Storytelling

#11 Post by Dirtblast_McSass » Tue Jan 30, 2018 1:44 pm

@catgame21234 Awesome post!

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