I have made no secret of my soft spot for horrible deplorable morally challenged and occasionally despicable characters. This expands beyond anime by the way. It really goes for my tastes in fiction in general. And it seems instinctive. If I have an early liking on a minor character no one pays attention to, 9 times out of 10 they’ll pull a heel turn or at least turn out to have some pretty serious closet skeletons.
I would really like to emphasize that this isn’t the case in real life though. Nice guys are best guys as far as I’m concerned and I grow more impatient with casual jerks with every passing day.
As you may know, I have a favourite character line at the end of all of my reviews. As a huge fan of characters this is information that really speaks to me and I love finding out who other people’s favourites are. This said, it’s not infrequent for one of my readers to be completely horrified by my very questionable taste in any people. How can you like so and so, they’re terrible is a question that comes up.
I usually explain my reasoning best I can but I often have to concede that those characters are in fact terrible people. Except here’s the thing, I personally believe that awful people can still make for wonderful characters. I can love a character an hate the person they are represented as.
Let me try to explain this. A character can completely clash with my admittedly liberal minded values. They can be a sexist, racist, aggressive predator and still be well written. None come to mind that embody all three but take any one of those and I have tons of examples.
I may dislike the person, wish for them to get their come comeuppance, be disgusted by most of what they do or say and still think they make the narrative of the story better. In fact if they are getting all those reactions from me, there’s a good chance they are complex and fascinating to me on some level. I’m pretty desensitized to shock value.
I want to point out that a show having an openly sexist character even if they are among the protagonists, doesn’t immediately make that show sexist. The overall narrative won’t necessarily frame that trait as a quality and just depicting something in fiction isn’t the same as endorsing it. Because I think a character was more interested and integral to the narrative than others, of I enjoyed watching them because of they way they were constructed, doesn’t mean I agree with that character’s point of view and morals.
I just happen to like good conflict in a story and sometimes that comes in the form of good but “bad” characters.
I’m not sure if any of this make much sense. Let me try to find an example. Hisoka is my favourite Hunter x Hunter character (despite not appearing in my favourite arc…) He’s a monster and the way he looks at children makes my stomach churn. I would never want to meet him, in fact I would pay money to avoid meeting him. But boy was he fun to watch. His every screen presence was entertaining and injected both fun and thrill into the series. He’s a complex character whose personality is a carefully balance and unusual array of subversion and exaggerations that kept me guessing but nevertheless fit together logically. And the show had the wisdom to use him sparingly for maximum impact. Hunter x Hunter has some fantastic characters all around and when you take a step back, you realize they are all not great people.
I can make similar statements of Durarara’s Izaya or Bungo Stray Dog’s Mori. Isabella from the Promised Neverland is one of the most interesting and effective characters I have seen in a very long time. Arguably though, all those examples are antagonists. It’s easier to accept morally flawed bad guys, they’re supposed to be that way. So how about we stick to the Promised Neverland and look at the heroes.
Out of those three kids, my favourite character is the antisocial, cowardly, selfish, willing to sacrifice all other children for a chance to help his own friends: Ray. I love Ray as a character and finding out his twisted past was just a cherry on top. He’s the most realistic, the most likely to betray and the most difficult of the three to deal with. His very existence injects extra conflict into an already very tense story. He is the perfect foil for the other two. I honestly believe the story would suffer drastically if he wasn’t there. Perhaps more so than if any of the other two were missing as they resemble each other more and could therefore fill the void a bit better. (This said they are great as a trio…)
Ray is my favourite character and when the narrative wanders away from him, I can’t help but want to know what he’s up to.
But Emma is my favourite person. If I could chose a bestie that’s who I would want it to be. I feel like this doesn’t need explaining for anyone who’s seen the show but for the rest of you out there, here’s the short of it: Emma is awesome! She’s a great friend, she’s inspiring, she’s always positive. Having someone like that in your life is the best. I would like to watch Ray in with her.
She’s a predictably good person. Those are the type of people I like. Kind, reliable, fairly calm… And can you imagine a show full of them? Just peacefully reading stuff or watching t.v. Not bothering anyone and being contempt with life… actually that sounds kind of great. Never mind, forget that last bit.
What I want to say is that the function of a character in a story is not always to make the audience fall in love with them. As such, I don’t think a good character necessarily has to be likeable. Of course a great person could make for a great character, but so could an awful person in my opinion. Or maybe I just have horrible horrible tastes in anime people and should just accept that already…
Are you like me? Are there terrible people you like as characters? If so, who?