A protagonist you can relate to or one you could look up to?
I have asked my Twitter followers this same question: Would they rather pick a main character that is relatable or someone who they could look up to as a role model? I got mixed responses but it leaned towards the main character they can have a personal connection with. Even though only some people had preferred a protagonist that they could idolize, I don’t blame any of them for what they chose; It is the viewer’s preference at the end of the day.
This will be a two-part post but for now, let’s talk about what makes both types of characters likable and unlikable; starting off with the protagonist people can relate to.
Your typical relatable protagonist:
There is a lot of archetypes that a main character could fall under. For example, “The Hero” being the most prominent one in which most literature depicts the story of a nobody becoming a somebody, hence the term “Zero to Hero”. This consistently appeals to the audience as the hero starts off weak, relatable, or maybe even a mix of the two traits.
As viewers make stronger personal connections with these characters, they can’t help but root for them to someday become successful. Witnessing the protagonist overcome obstacles and struggles never fails to captivate the hearts of the fans. The traits developed along the way also adds to the fact that the “hero” of the story is worthy of fulfilling their ultimate dream, whether it be to become the King, Hokage, or the greatest hero in the world.
This trope is prominent in all types of mediums and shounen anime/manga are no exception when things like this are being considered. In fact, it serves as a blueprint for easy success because one of the main reasons is that it capitalizes on the fantasies or aspirations of teenage boys. They need someone that they can see themselves in, someone that could beat the overwhelming odds and still be able to come out in top despite what they had gone through previously.. Every young man has always dreamed of becoming the hero that saves the day, it is something that helps inspires people to achieve or do things they once thought was impossible.
The bad side of this?
However, this trope is very predictable and as most know, towards the story’s end, the protagonist will become the person or the thing who he had always wanted to be. I don’t see anything wrong with it as it satisfies the viewers’ needs or desires, knowing that their favorite character accomplished their lifetime goal.
But personally, I have grown tired of this trope. Maybe it’s just me growing up, that I don’t need to see a wimpy or lackluster character become the greatest or be number one anymore. Or maybe it’s just that I have seen and read way too many of these “hero’s journey” type stories to the point where it has become redundant and uninteresting.
However, there are exceptions to this, in my opinion.
One of which is that relatable protagonists work better in the slice of life genre of anime. Viewers can connect to any of the characters in these type of anime and by then they will most likely get hooked. As this genre of anime is more grounded towards reality, one couldn’t help but think that maybe someday these scenarios would happen to them in actuality.
The protagonists usually have the same traits as the main characters of shounen action anime/manga minus the overwhelming optimism and charisma. They don’t have any traits that stand out and are usually portrayed as very normal. Their perspective on life is more realistic and their flaws are also obvious since it is a bit easier to point them out due to being average. Character development to fix these flaws is minimal unless a significant catalyst triggers the development or change within that character in which their life at that point could be altered.
As someone who will never go on a hero’s journey, characters like Hotaro Oreki (Hyouka) or Ohana Matsumae (Hanasaku Iroha) usually appeal to me more. Hotaro Oreki was someone who was content with life just passing him by. He merely observed things while other people around him enjoyed life. Ohana Matsumae, on the other hand, was just someone who wanted to find herself. She came to a conclusion that she was still very naive and needed to accumulate more experience in order to become just like her grandmother that she had idolized.
For me, there are times when a relatable protagonist is needed. I become more invested in the slice of life genre when I have a personal connection with the characters within the series. Their traits, motives, and actions are based closer to reality which makes it easier for someone to see themselves in these protagonist’s or other character’s shoes.
When it comes to action/adventure anime though, a relatable main character is overused. I’ve seen numerous anime where the protagonist started out as a regular person, just like the audience, who coincidentally or conveniently was granted a power that could save the world or do something on a greater scale.
My fantasies of becoming a hero have long ended, but I’m not saying that this trope should stop either. After all, there are people that went through that stage where they encounter a fictional character that spoke to their soul and became a guiding light for them in the real world.
The world could always use more heroes but unfortunately, they have become too generic for me.