Alright, it’s time to start proving the Theory. Today, I’m going to be crossing over a couple of genres – because I think there’s a lot to be learned from the Sawano Drop.
Writing people who are not anime, let me first explain.
The Sawano Drop is named for the composer of many, many anime soundtracks – Sawano Hiroyuki. Sawano-sensei is known for creating–well, for lack of a better term, for creating epicness. Anime has always had the capacity to go over the top with things, but the Sawano Drop is a technique used to…create a moment where something in any given scene is just going to be all-out badass.
Here, let me give you an example, from the great Attack on Titan:
Now, the animation there is pretty epic anyways…anime is like that. But listen to the music behind the anime, and you’ll get a clear picture of how your emotions are being manipulated to understand not only what’s happening…but what’s about to happen next.
Want another one? Alright…here’s Guilty Crown:
My point here is that Sawano’s soundtrack does an exceptionally good job of creating this sense that something absolutely amazing his happening. It plays with the emotions in a very specific way, and it adds oh so very much hype to what’s happening.
Don’t believe me? Think it’s just the fact that the nerdy-looking boy is cleaving mechs with a giant sword he just yanked out of a pair of breasts? Well…let’s experiment with that, shall we?
That’s right…that’s just a game of Smash Bros with a Sawano Drop overlaid. But I’ve got more! Here’s two kids dinking around on a basketball court:
Still not convinced? Here’s a waffle falling over:
No way you’re not convinced there, right?
“But…wait, Frog! I thought this was going to be an article about writing techniques! Why in the hell are you talking about anime soundtracks?”
Because our basic goal as artists–be it visual, musical, or text-based–should be to manipulate emotions. And Sawano is an absolute master of hype. He’s a savant of the psychtitude. Nothing gets me more pumped than the Sawano Drop.
Which means I want to take the techniques he uses, and adapt them to my own art form.
Let’s break it down. I’m going to refer back to that Guilty Crown video in specific, though any of the Sawano Drops above will follow this pattern. Each Drop has three basic parts – the tension, the silent moment, and the hype. And each of these needs to be examined, because–and this is important–the Drop would not work nearly as well as it does if it was just the hype. It needs all three.
Section 1: The Tension
In Sawano terms, this typically means long chords played over gradually more sporadic imagery. Something is going to happen, but you do not know what. In that Guilty Crown video it’s everything that plays up until 0:52 in the video, and it’s there to build your emotional state.
In writing terms, we’re talking about a single scene. Usually we’re talking about a climactic scene in which your character is about to do something super-badass. But that badassery is almost always predicated by stress, desperation, rage…and this is the time to build that up. What has their adrenaline pumping? What’s pushing them to this extreme level? Go into detail on it.
Sawano uses long chords here for a reason. It’s OK to stretch this out, make it hurt a little bit. Don’t chop the action up, yet…these are the moments before the action. Maybe your character has just gotten flattened by an action scene, but for whatever reason that character isn’t sure if or how they can deal with a situation. They are in turmoil in a moment of stress. Sawano can use music to put his audience directly into that tense state…what we as authors need to do is put our character into that same tense state in order to get the reader empathizing.
Section 2: The Moment
This is super, super important. There’s always a point in a Sawano Drop when the music fades. When it becomes almost silent. Look at that Guilty Crown video again. Starting at 0:52, there is silence. For twelve seconds. And here is the thing: this silence is, in many ways, the climax.
In writing terms, I call this the Moment. All that emotional turmoil your character was feeling falls away, and their mind becomes clear. They know what they have to do, and they know how to do it. And they’re confident they can. The Tension has pushed them into this heightened state, but it’s not going to be just a rage-response. The Moment happens when your character seizes their destiny in their own hands. It’s the Moment when your character becomes the thing that happens to the world instead of vice versa.
Do not be afraid to draw this out. Do not be afraid to pause and take a breath. There has to be a reason for your character to be able to do it, but here’s where we have an actual advantage over Sawano: he’s writing for a visual medium, where something always needs to be on the screen. You’ll notice in the videos that often what’s on that screen during the Moment is an abstract representation of what’s happening inside the character’s head…because the moment is a split-second decision that’s getting extended in the medium.
It’s OK to have your character get calm. Resolute. Pause, go inside the character’s head, and watch all the pieces come together in this one moment. Take a deep, deep breath along with your reader. Because next up is screaming time when we hit:
Section 3: The Hype
Yeah. I don’t really need to point out in the videos above when the Hype Train hits you. You already know what I’m talking about, here.
So, here’s the thing about the Hype: you already know the outcome of what is going to happen. That kid with the sword is in no danger from those mechs whatsoever, and you know it. You know it because the Moment has come and gone…the decision point has been passed. If you find yourself asking, during the Hype section, whether or not your character has a chance of–anything–then you’re doing it wrong. The Sawano Drop does not get used for moments of tough conflict, of fights to the bitter end with no clear victor.
The Sawano Drop gets used for moments of badassery, and now is the time for that badassery. Your character should not be feeling any sense of peril – who or whatever they are up against is absolutely screwed, and your goal isn’t to hold tension, but to pay off your previous tension and allow yourself and your reader to bask and bathe in the absolute domination of your character over others.
Is this necessary for every action scene? Hell no. Don’t overuse it. But if you need to get your character on the hype train and demonstrate that they can, in the proper circumstance, kick some serious ass at something–one could do a lot worse than taking their emotional manipulation cues from Sawano-sensei.