What I've Learned from Animé/Manga 3: Outsider Main Character

>> Saturday, October 23, 2010

If you hate animé/manga or don't know what I'm talking about, see the intro or the disclaimer here.

This series is all about trying to figure out what is so appealing in animé/manga, given that they almost always have nonsensical premises and ridiculous storylines, yet they appeal to millions, including me. Why? Note, I'll use observer to refer to both an animé watcher or a manga reader.

Last time, I talked about how the main characters were frequently ordinary, but it's not the only key trait.

The story usually centers around someone who is, in some aspect, an outsider. It might seem that ordinary and ostracized are contradictory traits, but are they? Don't most people feel like outsiders, at least at some point in their lives? Even if they're part of a group, don't they, at times, feel outside it? I think many (if not most) people can identify with a character who either has to put on a show to fit in (but never really feels accepted) or is ostracized because they don't put on a show, with a character who either is or feels alone.

Admittedly, like much about animé/manga, they often take it to extremes. Main characters are often orphaned or far from home or otherwise alone. Though ordinary, they often have traits that make others shun or avoid them, something that sets them apart as other. They also frequently think of themselves as nothing special, as if they deserve to go unnoticed. So, why is this powerful? Because the observer can identify with the character? I think yes, but there's more.

Usually, very early in the story line, the main character is accepted, even embraced, by the strange/talented/beautiful/odd other character(s) and their equally eccentric friends, included by individuals who see the main character as he really is. That is a very compelling notion, the notion that people who seem so exceptional could look at someone normal and see what makes them special, appreciate it. It humanizes these over-the-top other characters and gives the main character a sense of belonging that, lets face it, most of us have longed for at some time or another. People who understand us. People who appreciate us. People who accept us as family.
It's a very satisfying notion.

But wait, there's more. Next time.

Examples of today's topic:

Sophy - convinced that she is plain and dull, Sophy doesn't participate in the frivolous enjoyment others do and, by a strange coincidence, is eventually spelled into a body as old and unappealing as she sees herself. (Howl's Moving Castle)

Misao Harada - can see spirits and ghosts and otherworldly demons. As a child, she was ridiculed for lying or treated as insane. As an young adult, she feels she has to hide it and her reactions to these things no one else sees still keeps people at arms length. (Black Bird)

Hibiki Tokai - a lower class citizen who is marginalized for his bravado so that he always feels he has something to prove to people who will never accept him anyway. It is only when he finds acceptance by those he never expected to accept him that he really finds his stride. (Vandread)

Kotobuki - rejection by a society that considers orphans effectively unpeople (nameless) leads to her life of crime, but someone else's belief in her as a person, first as a child, then as someone approaching adulthood, help her find her own strengths. (Tsubasa Those With Wings)

Tohru Honda - The name, Fruits Basket, refers to a game where children are assigned a fruit and will join in when called. Tohru was assigned rice ball as a joke only realizing after the fact that she would never be called since she wasn't a fruit. The analogy carried over to her sense that, with the strange and surreal Sohma clan, she was finally called. (Fruits Basket)


  • Shakespeare

    You describe a typical pattern for the hero, one that is as old as the epic itself. Consider Odysseus, who is both Greek and separate from all of the other Greeks in both Homeric texts.

    Yet King Arthur is the same, as is Lancelot--part of, yet separated from, all of the others.

    My film class right now is examining heroes, and exclusion is a common pattern, including most superheroes, Harry Potter, and so many others.

    Think about it, though. How many of us do not feel, to a degree, alone? Does anyone else truly grasp who we are inside? If we don't feel this way, the pattern won't resonate with us. It definitely resonates with me, though. That's why I adore heroic lit. And love anime.

  • The Mother

    I still don't have anything to add. But I did read it.

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