What I've Learned from Animé/Manga 5: Nobody's Perfect

>> Thursday, October 28, 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.

One of the things I like about the animés/mangas I "observe" is that even the most extreme or obvious character, the most beautiful, talented or smart character, has darkness behind them, has flaws and room to grow.

It sounds obvious, yet I'm often amazed how frequently a story, novel, even series of novels have a character that doesn't evolve or have any real depth. For some reason, animé/manga (at least the stuff I like) takes this sort of thing very seriously. Tragedy and darkness are frequently significant aspects of his past or his present. That means issues they have to overcome, angst that might not be obvious or perspectives that might take the observer by surprise.

With magic and whatnot often an element (again of the kind I like), it would be easy to make someone too "perfect," but I don't run into them in the ones I like. No matter how "perfect" or powerful a character is, he or she has flaws or weaknesses or vulnerabilities. These weaknesses not only allow growth and change, but also play into the interdependence that is so much a part of these stories. There is not one hero saving all, but a number little victories by different protagonists depending on each other to lead to eventual success. (Animés/mangas frequently feature ensemble casts, which I like.) Or that interdependency, that selfless love for another, can be the vulnerability.

These weaknesses and vulnerabilities also make the characters more approachable, less obnoxious, more readily identified with. They can add charm to someone otherwise cold or humor to someone otherwise polished.

And they are not always successful. One thing I admire is that frequently animés/mangas will encompass tragedy, embrace unthinkable failure. Such things can be depressing or sad, but they also add interest. A story centered on a character that never fails, no matter who he (or she) faces, can get old and hackneyed. Failure and setbacks not only contribute to growth, they add interest and uncertainty that can keep the observer involved.

This tendency is hardly animés/manga specific, but it seems universal to the genre. However, it also gives emotional over-the-top would-be caricatures amazing depth and complexity.


Raimon Shiragi - Raimon could readily become the too-good-to-be-true type. He's a genius, can subvert any computer, invents, and fights like a demon. However, his single-minded devotion to Kotobuki leaves him vicious, callous and suicidal if she is "lost." He also is put into danger on her behalf (many times giving himself up so she would not be harmed) and ultimately is captured and apparently destroyed for no greater reason than his refusal to break his word to Kotobuki. (Tsubasa, Those With Wings)

Habaek/Mui - A Water God of surpassing power, he suffers for love of a mortal (who tried to betray him) and has been cursed by the Emperor of the Gods (because the latter feared his power) so that he lives his days as a child and is only an adult at night. When he falls in love with another mortal, most of the story surrounds his wooing of his suspicious bride (who thinks she's married to the child Habaek not the would-be lover adult Mui) while protecting this great vulnerability from the machinations of the immortals around him who want any leverage possible against him. And not with particular success so far.

Kyoya Otori - Cold, talented, brilliant, rich, powerful, ruthless. His interactions and interdependence with the flighty extravagant Tamaki can be hard to appreciate until you realize that Tamaki's encouragement (no slouch in the perception department) has enabled him to break away from the mold of the dutiful third son and strike out for his own interests, going so far as to find his own fortune and destiny.


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