What I've Learned from Animé/Manga 2: Grounded Main Character

>> Friday, October 22, 2010

Disclaimer: Animé and manga are not for everyone. I'm not trying to push it on the uninterested. However - and I was surprised as anyone - I've been intrigued and entranced by certain shows/books. I also know that there are, literally, millions of fans world-wide. Given that, and my tendency to try to understand anything that draws me in, I'm trying to pinpoint why it appeals to me (and, perhaps, why it appeals to others). I also must point out that I'm hardly hard-core. I've watched a limited number of animé, read a limited number of manga, and I've enjoyed only a subset of them. And I've mostly been entranced by shojo manga, a small subset of what's out there. Also note, I'm not a teenager, not a comic book fan, and not a gamer.

So, I was thinking about what common threads I find in my favorites, what I notice and why I think it appeals. I'll list those common threads and why I think they work. Today, I'm going to focus on main characters. I'll use observer to denote both an animé watcher and a manga reader.

They usually center around someone comparatively ordinary. Although animé/manga frequently explore truly fantastic notions, the main character is often comparatively mundane, a foil for the extremes around them They are rarely the smartest or most beautiful, usually not the most (overtly) magical if magical at all. Frequently, there is every appearance that their involvement in the whole thing is some strange coincidence. And yet, they end up being pivotal, either the central focus of the story or the catalyst that makes things happen.

There are many reasons why this is powerful. First, it's easy for observers to identify with this main character, an easy transition from this character the the observer to imagine his or her self in the story. The character's absolute acceptance of the most extreme magic, whimsical technological notions or the otherworldliness around him or her makes the world more believable.

More than that, though, the MC frequently becomes the focus for the most extreme characters, who turn out to be devoted to the main character, even obsessed. Usually, this focus seems misplaced, a strange quirk of fate, pity, confusion, something, that makes this humdrum individual the center of the universe for people/beings who seems so much more fantastic, talented, beautiful or whatever.

But, over time, it stop seeming so odd or unnatural and begins to makes sense as the observer (us) learns to appreciate what the other characters are fascinated by, learn to acknowledge the strengths and spirit that makes the main character treasured by individuals who seem like they'd never give a second thought to ordinary people. Whether the main character turns out to have hidden talents or capabilities or whether it's just the value of her personality, character and spirit, her value and contribution to the greatness around her eventually makes sense. Finally, her treasured status seem natural for the observer. That's a great way for the observers to feel empowered, to feel like there's more to themselves than most people see and appreciate. Like they might be worthy of more than the normal people appreciate.

More on this next time.

Examples of this:

Tohru Honda, a normal girl surrounded and cherished by shape-shifting wealthy people conditioned to feeling under someone else's control. Their protection of her starts out as a rebellion and turns into a revolution and revelation for them all. Her nature is her magic. (Fruits Basket)

Kotobuki, a "nameless" (orphan) and unsuccessful thief, beloved by the hopelessly overtalented and brilliant Raimon who was entranced by her drive to live when he had no will to do so himself. She changed that just by existing. (Tsubasa Those With Wings)

Carrot, a seemingly talentless man surrounded by talented sorcerers, obsessed over by the female contingents of his team, seemingly crass and crude. But he is filled with heart and a generous spirit and turns out to be the strongest of them all in a very unique way. (Sorcerer Hunters)

Soah, a human girl sacrificed to the Water God who ends up the focus of a complex world of deities. (Bride of the Water God - technically a manhwa, a Korean version of the manga)

Haruhi Fujioka - smart but normal, Haruhi is completely focused scholarly success. She is not charismatic and lives fairly oblivious to the people around here until she's "adopted" into the Ouran High School Host Club, a group of charismatic super-rich stunningly handsome teenagers who have a few issues of their own. And learns about all those important aspects lost in the gloss of their high profile lives. I know how it sounds, but I love this one. It's funny, too. (Ouran High School Host Club)


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