How Important Is Relatability in Anime?

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!

ttack on titan relatable

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?

bad translation meme

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.

Riza meme

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.

schoolgirl-2-horizontal-large-gallery

oh, well this explains it

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?

Tired but Happy Rini

watched anime till 2 a.m. – happy about it!

Irina

I'm much nicer than I seem, we should be friends!

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60 Responses

  1. Lobbyist says:

    Thank you <3

  2. What an interesting point. With any kind of medium, I like it when the characters act within their universe and of their own volition. If I can relate to them, that’s just a bonus for me.

    • Irina says:

      I think I am interested in internal consistency. A lot of my favourite characters have fairly extreme personalities that don’t really exist in every day society but if they act in a way that works with their established character, I’m good with it

  3. crazyidiot78 says:

    Been meaning to comment on this one for a while. This post was much more interesting that I expected it to be. Additionally relatability is not something I often think about when watching anime. I also think it is like you said it’s variable and depends on the characters and plot in quesiton. I might identify with an aspect of a character, but not the character in it’s entirety. If I did have to name one anime character it would be Onizuka from GTO because when I first started teaching I had classes like that.

  4. foovay says:

    So what you are saying is “relatable is relative” and you are correct.

    Like you, I’m a weirdo so anyone I really relate to is probably weird as well, and often annoying (at least to other people). When I see “relatable” in a character description it almost turns me off, as I assume it means boring, stereotypical, the “good” kid or person. Snore. I am interested in all kinds of people, I find people really interesting and also, something of a mystery. I suspect I watch (and read) entertainment about people in pretty much the same way I watch documentaries about sharks or the wilds of africa.

    If I relate to anyone… maybe Natsume. And I’m not just saying that so you will love me. I had a lonely and abusive childhood without love. I see and experience things other people don’t and was ridiculed for it. And yet I find beauty and love in life and I have been blessed in my later years with real people who do love me. I relate, too, to Watanabe in XXXholic because I get a blast out of his overreaction to everything – and I’ve been prone to that myself. Then again, someday when I grow up I’d like to be Yuko. I think there are a few people in my life who see me as Yuko-like, but I don’t think I’m really quite up to her level. Except possibly in alcohol consumption. 😀

    • Irina says:

      I already love you so joke’s on you!

      • foovay says:

        Awwww blush blush blush thank you. I love you to my sister in anime 😀 I imagine we could sit for days watching animes we both like our tastes are so similar. And drinking. HHHH.

        • Irina says:

          Sounds like a wonderful plan there

          • foovay says:

            I was about to say that all we have to do is get you to Las Vegas or me to Canada, but now that I think about it – there must be some way to figure out how to do it with cyberspace.

            • Irina says:

              Las Vegas doesn’t sound half bad though

            • foovay says:

              Well let’s see, we MUST visit the Tokyo Store at the Mall, catch an anime movie at Sam’s Town and get something good to eat, and wander among various gift shops and toy/hobby shops generous with anime gear, walk down Fremont Street, then stock up on booze and rent a smanzy room to watch anime all night. You’re welcome at my home, but it’s a 26′ foot Rv so… bit small. If you’re FRIENDLY….chuckle….

            • Irina says:

              This trip is sounding better & better

            • foovay says:

              Face it girl, it’s Las Vegas. The whole town has no purpose but to entertain. In addition, it is currently one of THE most diverse cities in the United States. Several of the casinos are very obviously intended to appeal to the Asian tourist. We have a China Town here, and a Korea Town, and even enough of a Hawaiian population that there were actual demonstrations of support here for the latest tribal clash with scientists wanting to plant a new telescope on one of the islands. It isn’t anime oriented, but it is certainly an Asian friendly city for the U.S. Time your trip for Chinese New Year celebrations… and you’ll find them here!

            • Irina says:

              Sounds awesome. Though Montreal is pretty decent in diversity. Not that many towns but if you pick any random person on the street, odds are they’re immigrants

            • foovay says:

              That’s cool. I find I’m more comfortable in a city or town that has some diversity. For a couple of years I lived in Lincoln, NE. I just feel “weird” although I had a pretty good life at the time. I met a new friend at work and it suddenly clicked… she was pretty much the first African American I had met in over a year – or even SEEN. Basically, if you meet anyone in that city that is NOT lily white, they are probably there going to the college. I started paying attention and yep, that was it. It made me uncomfortable to be in a society that was so uniformly …uniform. No one was like hateful or anything, it’s just for some reason how it is there. Seems like Vegas is heavy on people who moved here from elsewhere to work, too. Elsewhere being anywhere from other states in the U.S. to other countries. And there is a college – a good one. Anyhow, I prefer a pretty diverse place to live. I suppose I might find Japan a little uncomfortable on that basis!

  5. matija says:

    Relatable for me could mean similar personality traits, way of thinking or interacting with people, or it could even mean a similar backstory or things happening to the character that are similar to my own experiences. But probably the better way to describe the latter is a relatable story? I guess

    As for who is my most relatable character right now i think its chihaya ayase from chihayafuru because she has a one-track mind full of dedication to her passion and i believe i tend to act the same way a lot of the time. And some people around me have confirmed that is how i am so i guess its like that lol

  6. The ability to relate to a character is not as important as the ability to understand that character, and while relatability may play a role in that regard, i have never faced a problem enjoying any sort of absurd, unrelatable premise as long as it’s entertaining.

  7. For me it is not just the relatability but the main catch that the writer wants to portray despite of the twists and turns of the story.

  8. I think the best thing if I don’t actually relate to a character is to feel “That would be an interesting person to know.”

    I relate to Sawako. They don’t have a lot of Sawako characters out there and none of them have realistic character arcs. If I can fall in love with them, that’s pretty good. Falling in love requires a little bit of vulnerability a fair amount of intelligence and a lot of goodness. Next is the character that I’d love to have as a companion. someone with an interesting personality whose 6 I could watch.

    A good villain with intelligence and depth and humor is fantastic, even if the good guys are dull as bricks.

    • Irina says:

      In time I’ve grown to appreciate a good foil. A boring character that evens out the cast but no one really notices

  9. Dawnstorm says:

    As it happens, relateability can be risky, too. You almost never relate completely to a character, it’s almost always some sort of element that stands out (there are exceptions, of course). And those elements tend to be important, but then the character may suddenly do things or react in ways that you wouldn’t have done, and if your enjoyment has come from the show’s relatability, this can ruin a show. An example for me is Orange, where the depection of depression and scuidal thoughts is very relatable, but the cured through the power of friendship feels like off-putting tripe in comparison. As a result, Orange is one of the shows I most viscerally dislike (it’s far from the worst thing I’ve seen, but the dissonance I experienced was very unpleasant, in a way that fiction rarely is).

    Like you, I don’t relate to characters much, so my character categories tend to be “interesting” or “likable”. I think those are the words I use most (and they’re equally subjective and useless if I don’t tell people what’s interesting or likable about those characters).

    The characters I relate to the most are rarely my favourites in the show, so I tend to use them more as point-of-view characters than focal characters. Come to think of it, relatability for point-of-view characters seems to be a common literary technique: Moby Dick (Ishmael more relatable than Ahab; Ahab more interesting than Ishmael), Sherlock Holmes (Watson more relatable than Holmes, Holmes more interesting than Watson), and so on. I suppose the theory is that avarage people are more relatable than geniuses or psychopaths?)

  10. Relatable, to me, doesn’t always equal the character I like the most and likewise, a husbando (or husbando candidate) is not always relatable. I mention this because my designated husbando is normally (but not always) my favourite character.

    For instance, Zenitsu (Demon Slayer) I found relatable after ep. 17 because he chose to persist despite his negative thinking about himself, but I generally find him annoying otherwise. Tanjiro is the closest thing I have to a husbando in that show because overall, I see some of his sibling-oriented thought processes in my own, plus he also looks the most attractive on a regular basis (I’d claim Giyu but he doesn’t appear much, plus Inosuke doesn’t take that boar’s head off much) – but I’d be lying if I said selling coal, having my family killed and fighting demons is relatable, same with his generally happy disposition. (Ukogi is my favourite character.)

  11. Cytrus says:

    There are two levels of relatable that people use.

    1 – similar in personality/way of thinking to the speaker. That’s the one you talk about here.

    2 – understandable/relatable as a thinking human being.

    The second one is a necessity if the story hinges on an emotional connection with the character, hence why people take it as a condition for being good.

    Riko from Made in Abyss is close to being my antithesis as a person, and I can rarely ever find myself in agreement with the choices she makes. Still, I find her relatable because of how convincingly the show sells her love and devotion to the unknown, which I can recalculate with my own passions in mind. Still, her personal logic and values stay consistent throughout the show, preventing emotional disconnect down the road. Many shounen protagonists and the like are super-optimistic and whatnot, for example, and no explanation is ever given for why they are completely unaffected by darkness, preventing readers from forming even a tenuous emotional connection. Thus non-relatable.

    • Irina says:

      When a character remains consistent with their own logic and mindset, it becomes a lot easier to see them as actual people. I think you nailed it there

  12. Karandi says:

    I tend to find characters who are emotionally stunted in some way or at least finding dealing with other people difficult fairly relatable. When done well these characters really speak to me and I love watching them grow and find ways to grow throughout their stories. And yeah, these characters tend to more memorable and interesting to me then your standard shounen protagonist because they are generally brimming with overconfidence and walk up to and talk to literally anyone and solve most problems with brute force. I can’t really connect with that (even if some of them are pretty cool to see in action). But I agree it isn’t really a measure of whether the character is well written or well developed but it is still a factor that comes down to personal enjoyment. Connecting with a character can elevate a mediocre show to something life changing and missing a connection between viewer and characters can make something that would otherwise be fairly compelling just become noise on the screen. Still, explaining why a reviewer related or didn’t to a character is a fairly good idea because sometimes you can relate to just one part of that character and it might be an odd connection that your reader doesn’t immediately pick up on unless you spell it out.

    • Irina says:

      I notice characters I relate to tend to be overlooked or even disliked by fans…

    • I think of a relatable character as one who shares enough flaws as well as strengths with me that I really feel for him. The older shogi player looking for his tenth win to become the Eternal Kishou in 3gatsu really struck me deeply.

      At the other end of the spectrum was Sawako in Kimi me Todoke. When she found her place in her world it left me blubbering like a baby with a glass of rum in my hand. And there are others.

      Most of the time the characters I enjoy the most are the ones I’d like to be. I don’t see that as relating to them. I see it as wanting to be a different person. Fiction is how I can do that briefly.

  13. 7mononoke says:

    Wonderful topic, and what a great post you wrote about it! I like a wide variety of anime characters, which I’m sure is true of most people who watch a shit ton of anime. But in general, I do think of the ones I like in two main categories: the ones I understand and like because they’re like me in some way, and the ones I don’t understand but still respect and/or love. An example of the first would be Shun from Shin Sekai Yori, or from a more popular anime, Armin Arlert. Two examples of the second type are Yuri from Angel Beats and Satsuki from Kill la Kill.

    A character’s story, personality, specific reactions or actions might make me relate to them. Mostly, though, I connect to these characters on a deep level because I’m symbolically similar to them in a way that stands out to me. For instance, I’m like Sayaka from Madoka Magica in that I had ridiculous expectations of myself and the world, and when those expectations and my ideals weren’t met, I shut down emotionally and changed on a fundamental level. However, I’m unlike her in *what* my ideals were and the *way* I changed. Or I’m similar to Lain from Serial Experiments Lain because I don’t have the clearest idea of who or what I really am. But I’m very different from Lain because I’m clearly a human with a beginning and an end instead of some vague godlike existence lol.

  14. Elyan White says:

    I hadn’t really thought of it until you mentioned it, but there definitely does seem to be a divide based on reviews of how well viewers relate to a character.

    I’m seeing other commenters getting at the same point, but in terms of relatability, I guess the easy example is Deku from “Boku no Hero Academia.” While I’ve had friends comment he isn’t “relatable” because his story would never happen to us, I define character relatability by the personal relationship the audience forms with characters like Deku. We see the character act, make decisions, and interact with the story, but we additionally are allowed see that he has doubts and second guesses inside his head running simultaneously. This feels very authentic to what an actual person would do, no matter how confident or heroic they were.

    It feels like something any kind of person would do–a natural function of the human mind, which is never perfectly still and decided. A person would never really stop thinking or reacting, no matter how certain they were of themselves, and frequently mercuriality is innate. Moods fluctuate, and perception differs from moment to moment. This identifies as relatability to me. That Deku is also awkward and trying his best is more a specific kind of relatability, based on personality. (“Oh, I do that! He’s just like me! I’ve been there before!”)

    So, by my definition, any character who an audience can recognize as someone who might actually exist, regardless similarities or dissimilarities to a viewer, is “relatable,” but a character whose traits you recognize is individually relatable.

    And that’s it, really. *Steps off soap box* Of course, I might just as well have paradoxed myself into the “I relate to this character so they must be universally relatable” trap. Curses!

  15. ospreyshire says:

    Very good write-up. I do admit that there are characters I like who aren’t like me, but I can find one thing about them that I can relate to or at least see why someone else could relate to them.

  16. Lumi says:

    Relatability is a slippery slope. It could really, REALLY easily fall into self-insert territory if it pertains to stereotypes usually associated with its intended core audience. Especially if characters are generically relatable as opposed to being their own person.

    Personally, I like characters that I can only relate to on CERTAIN things, not ALL the things. Joseph Joestar is FAR from being relatable, but he’s still a fun character because he has his own personality and quirks.

  17. Scott says:

    I guess I’ve never liked characters directly aimed at me because it feels so cheap to me. I can’t say that I care much about relatability, I just want chargers to be good and well established.

  18. wingking78 says:

    I’ve always said that I need a show to have at least one character who’s compelling enough to make me care about what happens to them – that’s more important to me than being relatable. I don’t care if it’s an entertaining hero, a supporting character with a mysterious backstory, or even a villain that I can’t wait to see get their comeuppance. Just give me someone who grabs my attention and makes me feel like it’s worth my time to keep watching them. Now “compelling” is subjective in its own way, just like “relatable” is (I mean a character who fascinates me might bore the pants off you), but I also think it’s a little easier to explain in a review format why a character is compelling, because that’s at least partly influenced by the quality of the writing and plotting and how that character is developed within the story context. OTOH a purely personal perspective like “I could relate to Hiro because he reminded me of my best friend in high school” is really telling the reader more about you the reviewer than about the anime or the character.

    As for me, if there’s any anime character I’ve ever felt like I could relate to, it’s Oreki from Hyouka. And yet he’s not even my favorite character from that series, Chitanda is.

    • Irina says:

      Creating and interesting and compelling character is a real art and it always makes a show worth while to me. But it’s not that frequent. I admit i also get attached to shallow characters fairly often for somewhat random reasons that could be called relatability

  19. GeatsxShogun says:

    There are three factors of relatability that I can see without too much thought into the matter, relating to a persons situation, relating to a persons personality, and relating to a persons decision. I am sure there are plenty more.

    In general I wouldn’t say relatability is important to the overall entertainment value an anime can provide. While relatability can maybe heighten a sense of enjoyment or connection with a particular show there are plenty of other factors that should be considered. Relatability shouldn’t determine whether or not a show is good or bad.

    There is a stronger argument to be made for relatability if relatability is about making a decision that I can understand or relate with given circumstances. However that is also flimsy ground to make a stand on, because it still is subjective to my experiences and decision making process.

    The sentiment of relatability may be due to the fact that I want to have a deeper connection with a show that I may be watching. I do enjoy a show more if I feel I can relate with , but if its still poorly written then it is a bad show that I can relate with. At the end of the day I would never base whether or not I enjoyed something based on its relatability.

    • Irina says:

      I do as well then again I enjoy discovering characters I would never have dreamed of myself. Hmm I guess I’m just not picky

  20. raistlin0903 says:

    Hmm…leave it you to come up with yet another thought provoking post 🤔😊😊 Well done! I have to say that I think I don’t really know if I have ever used the term relatable to a character in a review🤔 I do know that there are certainly situations that crop up in anime that I find relatable. But thinking harder on it now, I think back to one of my very first anime reviews I wrote for my blog: Orange. The character of Naho was one I could relate to very much, because I felt she was kind of a female version of me. So many things she did, were things that have happened to me too. I also am very awkward at times😅
    As for using the term in a review, I guess it depends on the situation. If you use the term to get a point across, or maybe you liked the anime more because you could relate to a character or certain situation, I guess that’s something which could make your review more personal😊 And I tend to honestly love the more personal reviews (well most of the times anyways! 😅😊).

    • Irina says:

      I also like the personal reviews. They seem like something more unique. That only one oerson could have written

  21. You’ve got me wondering how many times I’ve described a character as relatable now, though I tend to use it to mean that a character is more realistic, which I suppose is a better word, and more likely for people to see a bit of themselves in.

    As for characters that I personally relate to, on a deep level, the one that springs to mind is Kumiko from Sound Euphonium. Now I’m neither a japanese school girl nor have I ever taken part in any kind of band, but her whole ‘go with the flow, let’s not make waves’ attitude was me in school and still is, to a degree.

  22. Pete Davison says:

    I tend to use the term “relatable” not necessarily in the sense of being directly comparable to my own life in some way, but in the sense of a character having realistic traits (often flaws) rather than the overexaggeration that typifies a lot of anime characterisation. And it tends not to be the character themselves being “relatable”, but rather just some of those traits.

    In some instances, a character can have both relatable and exaggerated elements, and those characters tend to be the ones that are most interesting to me. Senran Kagura, which I’m about to spend some time covering in detail on my site, is full of characters like this; most of the cast have multiple layers to them that combine more realistic, relatable elements with heavily exaggerated aspects.

    Someone like Katsuragi is a great example. Katsuragi, on the surface, seems like a slutty, perverted onee-chan type who delights in sexually harassing her classmates and wearing gravity-defying shirts that are apparently attached to her nipples. Exaggerated.

    However, take the time to get to know her a bit, and it’s clear that she’s 1) actually gay and 2) eminently comfortable with this fact without making a big deal out of it, harassment aside. There’s no agonising over “b-but we’re both girls!” with Katsuragi, she owns her sexuality and, although she pushes the line pretty much to breaking point with the more exaggerated aspects of her personality, she never actually crosses it and does something she knows will upset or hurt someone. Relatable.

    It goes deeper than that, too; over the course of the series, we learn that Katsuragi suffered greatly from the loss of her parents at a young age, and everything she has done since then is in the name of trying to better herself and prevent such a tragedy from occurring again. Her exaggerated perversion is a front she puts up to hide her pain, and the fact she is a highly skilled shinobi reflects the fact that she is, despite appearances, serious and passionate about what she does. Exaggerated *and* relatable!

    I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with using “relatable” as a descriptor, but you *do* need to define exactly what it is that makes the character relatable — and to whom they are relatable! As you say, the word by itself is meaningless as it implies something unique to the writer, but if that writer takes the time to explain exactly what it was about that character that they found relevant, interesting and realistic, then we’re all good, I’d say.

    • Irina says:

      Well that still hinges on what the individual author or reviewer considers realistic for a given character which is often based on personal observation. I think this 40 year old business tycoon is relatable because I have seen 40 year old business tycoons react is such a way. Ultimately it’s still dependent on the authors particular reality. Not that it’s a bad thing mind you. After reading roughly 25 reviews in a row where the only information I had on characters were whether they were relatable or not, it did feel like a bit of a random qualifier though.
      I agree that relatability may be linked to realism but the two aren’t the same. Exaggerated characters or even caricatures can still have elements to them that people relate to. In fact, it may be easier to relate to them as the exaggeration makes traits really obvious!

      • Pete Davison says:

        This is why I say the writer needs to explain what they mean. It’s not enough to say “this is relatable”, just as it’s not enough to say “this has issues” or “this has flaws” (a particular bugbear of mine!)

        A good general rule to follow is to assume that you’re writing for someone who has absolutely *none* of the knowledge you have, but who is not an idiot. Explain without talking down… but don’t forget the “explain” bit.

        As my old English teacher used to say, PEE all over your work. Make a Point, give an Example, Explain how it’s relevant.

  23. Tiger says:

    Nice! I can totally see where you’re coming from. I guess I’m somewhat guilty of this as well ahaha… It would totally be really cool to see how a character who you can relate to play out his story in an anime though!

  1. August 18, 2019

    […] on her blog, asks How Important Is Relatability in Anime. If you’ve ever reviewed an anime or a character and expressed that you found the characters […]

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