Sort of an ironic gif for my point…
I was recently speaking to someone about my love of anime. Incidentally this happens more and more lately. Talking to real life people about anime I mean. For the most part they nod and smile politely or they ask tons of questions so they can impress some guy they like. Still it’s progress. I realize how oddly sexist that last sentence sounded. Let me fix that, so they can impress soe person they like. Better!
And this brings us back to the subject at hand. Only you don’t know that because I haven’t gotten around to explaining it! I was trying to lay out what I like about anime and I said something to the effect that it’s often just as much (if not more) about the system as about the individual. This may have been a Friday after I watched the new Psycho Pass, which explains my use of “system”.
But what does that even mean? Anime has tons of singular “chosen one” stories, just like any medium. Except it presents them differently and there’s a different feel to it. Or I’m crazy. One doesn’t invalidate the other. When I watch Naruto or Deku strive towards their “destiny” there’s always this sense that they are in fact one among many. That the story happens to be following them around but it could go on without them if need be. If Deku is outright killed tomorrow, the fans may never get over it but narratively My Hero Academia could go on fairly easily. And that’s a litteral hero’s journey. I don’t think I could have said the same about Harry Potter for instance. I’m not watching Deku because he’s unique, he’s unique because it’s his story.
Anime has a much healthier representation of the everyman. Characters are rarely chosen, they have to earn their place and sometimes they fail. Narratives will openly admit that the main character isn’t that special, sometimes not even the most important in their own story.
When trying to figure out whether what I was saying was actually true or only reflective of my experience, My mind went to magical girls for instance. After all, if anyone is going to be a magical chosen one, it would be a magical girl. It holds somewhat true for classics like Sakura and Sailor Moon (mind you the latter is part of a fairly strong ensemble cast.) But more more modern takes usually tend to be, well, much grimmer, and the magical girls end up just as often victims of cruel fate as blessed by it. Of course Madoka is the prime example there and arguably the story was more concerned with Homura’s desperate and ill fated quest to save a friend rather than Madoka herself. So Madoka was both not chosen, not blessed and not necessarily the main character…
I don’t think I ve really explained it yet. How about this, I can’t really think of an anime that hinges on a single character because there is something only they can do. Maybe they’re the best option but not the only one. And more often than not they got in that position through practice and experience. It’s very easy to imagine that someone else could have done the same. What’s more, their goals are often shard. If it’s glory, it’s glory for their whole team, if it’s adventure, they have a party to look out for and people to help. Shared goals means that even if you remove the individual, the motive remains. Someone else will take up the mantle.
There are exceptions but those are exactly that, exceptions. Which makes them more special. In an odd way, I find individual anime characters more replaceable from a story perspective which is what makes them infinitely more special to me.
Maybe it’s because I just don’t relate to someone who is born to a fate. It might also be that it takes a truly talented writer to avoid having these types of characters warp your narrative and inject cintrivences to maintain their chosen status.
I’m not talking in absolutes here. There are definitely individualistic protagonists in anime just as there are communal protagonists in western fiction. It’s just that in my personal experience, I often take in western media as the sorry of a specific character or groups of characters, whereas I watch anime with the marked impression that I’m watching characters that just happen to be part of a story.
The distiction is very subtle. And this is not at all the same as a character driven vs plot driven narrative. You could say most slice of life is clearly character driven but also features almost exclusively unexceptional characters. Yes yes you are watching these schoolgirls in their club activities because they are the bestest, sweetest, cutest ever and no one could possibly take their place! But as a story, technically any school girl *could* have joined the club and had similar adventures.
Last attempt. Mob Psycho 100 is a show I discovered lately and promptly fell in love with. It is text book chosen one stuff. Young man born with incredible powers which allow him to do things no one else could even dream of. And yet Mob dedicates himself to doing normal things the way everyone else does them (and not as well half the time). And although the show does take advantage of his singular status to place him in extraordinary circumstances, it still emphasize and really values Mob’s mundane victories. As a viewer I came away not thinking Mob’s mid air high speed psychic showdown complete with throwing skyscrapers around was his biggest victory but the fact that he managed to talk to a girl and make an actual friend. And that’s the bit I tell people about.
I really wonder if I managed to explain myself here. The more I tried, the more the point sort of got away from me. Did you get it? If so do you feel it too?