I have been reading a lot of anime reviews lately. Usually, I read various reviews around WordPress and get my info from there. However, through researching a few posts (I know!) I managed to go through a large amount of shorter reviews on sites such as MAL and AniList. One very common statement is that characters are either “relatable” or “not relatable”. Relatable in this case means good!
I don’t know about you, but the majority of humanity confounds me. Not in a bad way but I know I’m a weirdo. I don’t relate much to most people. And the people I do relate to tend to be unusual as well. I’m sure the feeling is mutual.
Maybe this is an issue of vocabulary again. There’s a difference between having a few tastes and experiences in common (Certain things are almost universal) and actually feeling a kinship. Being able to predict someone’s reactions because they are the same as your own and so forth. People I can truly call soulmates (non romantically) I can count on one hand. And I know a LOT of people.
The inverse is also true. I saw so many reviews calling characters badly crafted because the reviewer could not relate to them. I’m assuming here. What I actually saw was reviews giving characters low marks like 3/10 for character conception in an anime because they found them “unrelatable”. Is that fair?
About a year ago, there were these posts going around about the wording we use in reviews. More specifically, they were stating that terms like dark and pacing were either so overused in reviews or were so vague to begin with, that they had become more or less meaningless. I believe there’s a similar argument to be made for “relatable”.
First the word relatable is entirely subjective in nature. In essence, it means a character reminds the writer of themselves in some way. If the writer has had a wide range of experiences and is the type to empathize with others and see situations from many perspectives then, in theory, they would find a lot more characters relatable than someone who has had a very unique upbringing and background.
This is where things get tricky. I am an adult woman without kids, as a base demographic, I rarely see characters that represent me in anime and when I do they are way awesome than me (or completely insignificant). Am I going to relate to Major from GITs or Hawkeye from FMA? I **wish**!!! But no, I am a completely different type of person. A nowhere near as awesome type. Maybe if I work hard I can someday relate just a tiny bit to either of these characters but I’m not there yet. I still think both are amazing, though. The fact that they are nothing like me or anyone I know, to be honest, is not a drawback in any way. You could even argue that unique and unusual personalities that most people won’t relate to are interesting in fiction.
Ironically I will occasionally relate to characters that I normally wouldn’t relate to. For instance Ray in the Promised Neverland. A boy, growing up constantly surrounded by peers with a hopeless pessimistic view of life. We have nothing in common. Yet his almost ruthless pragmatic approach feels familiar. I can instinctively recognize it. I’m not so full of myself to think I would be like him in similar circumstances. I would probably have shut off and been mindlessly going through the motions. But I do relate on a general level to his reactions.
For the record, the anime character I relate to most of all is Kobayashi from Dragonmaid. She’s also the one I find least interesting in that show. Why would I want to watch someone who is just like me? I do still like her though😊
You see, when I tell you Kobayashi is a relatable character, it tells you a lot more about me than about the character. But only if you’re already familiar with Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid. Otherwise, it doesn’t tell you much at all. It certainly won’t let you know if the character is well developed, complex, annoying…ok, maybe it will give you a clue on that last one. When I read a random review from someone who’s profile says they’re a 20-year-old man and they think a 13-year-old high school girl is super relatable, I really can’t tell what to expect. Heck even if the review was written by a 13-year-old girl I wouldn’t be able to tell what to expect but at least I can remember when I was 13 and base myself on that.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t use relatability as a criterion in reviews. If seeing yourself in a character was material to your enjoyment of a series that’s great. But by itself, it’s not a very objective measure of quality character craftsmanship. As an aside, have you noticed that we generally never describe people we know in real life as “relatable”? I have no point here, it’s just a random thought.
One thing I really enjoyed in the multitude of reviews I read is when writers explained how a character was relatable. That completely changed the way the qualifier was used and gave readers a little personal peek at where the reviewer was coming from. I noticed that in those cases the relatability factor of a character wasn’t so much used to define a character as “good” or “bad”, so much as to describe them and explain the writer’s personal experience with a show.
So in that spirit, I would love to know who you find relatable in anime and mostly why. Also, do you enjoy characters you relate to more than others, or are the two unrelated?