Well look at that. An actual subject with some substance to it. Well potentially. As usual of course, I don’t have an actual answer here. However, this is a subject that I believe deserves some consideration. I know that this is a theme that has implications that reach well beyond the specific realm of anime, but as that’s my… I’m looking for a word like specialty but that doesn’t imply any actual knowledge of the material…. Let’s go with *thang*. What was I saying, oh yeah – let’s explore if character tropes be simultaneously exploitative and celebratory through anime for today!
At its core, endlessly repeated character tropes are essentially stereotyping. This is neither good nor bad in and of itself, and absolutely necessary to both quickly convey and assess information. Our brain is wired to make millions of assumptions in any given situation so that we can actually function. So, when we see a character that looks like a particular type, we immediately attribute a number of characteristics to it, which we then adjust if proven untrue. This instant context is the only way we can communicate more complicated thesis.
And this is where the tropes come in. If we see a trait always lumped together with other specific traits and physical characteristics, we start to expect it whenever any of the other markers are present.
I know it sounds like I’m explaining some pretty basic stuff here. It’s actually more for me then for you guys. I just want to lay out the basis here so that I can keep my thoughts more or less straight. I hope some of you are still awake.
So, here’s the actual meat of what I’m trying to get to. Once a trope has become prevalent enough to seep into the general consciousness as a stereotype, it usually takes on a number of connotations. A lot of tropes are simply quirky and generally neutral in nature but occasionally, some can be quite polarizing and have actual implications. Dumb blondes for instance. But can a single trope be both a celebration of what would be consider a strength of a particular archetype, as well as an exploitation of the character at the same time.
For instance, we see a lot of selfless mothers in anime. A whole lot. To the point that an alarming percentage are dead. The trope is that mothers are caring, responsible and loving people who sacrifice everything for their children. This is fiction guys, we all know that reality can be a little different. Except in my case – I love you mommy…. Phew, close one.
These tropes are unquestionably positive. They exist as a shorthand to show how wonderful the characters are. The simple presence of these nurturing archetypes brings comfort to both characters and audience. There’s an understated grace and strength that prevails at the mere idea of the mother character, without need for exposition or establishment. Of course, there are exceptions – the cruel abusive mother is also a trope but if it is not established early on that e are dealing with the *bad* type, most mothers fall into the former category.
Even more questionably responsible moms, in shows like let’s say Toradora or Madoka, still bring a sense of security and solace to the story. It’s who the main characters go to when they need help and guidance. It’s who makes everything ok. Clearly these tropes are a celebration of everything that makes mothers wonderful.
But they are also exploitative. Not necessarily in the traditional sense of the word but at the very least they are limiting. In anime, a mother character exists for and is defined by her children. The plot rarely has much need for her beyond that. They can be given their own backgrounds and motivations, but these are usually simply a way to flesh out the character and have no bearing on the narrative.
Because these characters are caring, responsible and loving people, they are the types that will naturally set aside personal ambitions in favour of their kids. They will pour their time and thoughts in the service of others, and more particularly their kids. The plot doesn’t need to contrive them into being self-effacing supporting characters, it’s naturally built into their personalities, and even that doesn’t need to be established anymore as it’s all implied by the mere fact that they are “mothers”.
While the traits themselves are positive and great traits for any character to have, the plot often uses them to corner the characters into limited roles and often murder them. Am I the only one that’s a little concerned by how casually anime dispatches moms?
This is just one particular example of course. It can apply to boys being perseverant, or girls being modest or quiet, calm studious types being rational.
Like I said, the fact that stereotypes exist isn’t a bad thing at all. It allows us to craft stories without painstakingly establishing every character every single time, which would be unbearably tedious. Their very existence means that we can subvert them, often to entertaining ends.
However, the plot does also wield them against the very characters they are building. As in all things, balance if key.
Have you guys noticed any tropes that serve to both built up and tear down characters at the same time?