Character relatability in anime is sort of an awkward concept. When people talk about a character being relatable, it often means that character reminds them of themselves but not necessarily of how they actually are, but of how they see themselves. Thank goodness, cause a whole bunch of anime characters are really wackadoodle and it would be terrifying if most people were actually like that.
Can you imagine getting your teeth literally knocked out every time you tell a random girl at school that her dress is really nice or something?
This said, I always figured that relatability was not a big factor for me. I like myself just fine but I prefer watching characters that are different than me. I just find that more entertaining. I’m a bit too laid back to be a good protagonist. Or at least I use to be, work is wearing me way down lately.
Anyways, my point is that I was always fine with characters not being directly relatable to me as long as they are generally consistent, well written and interesting. And in my head relatability had no effect on my enjoyment. Or so I thought… Like I said, the people we think we are aren’t always the same as the people we actually are.
Lately, I once again started thinking a bit about the subject when trying to figure out what was wrong with the characters of a show I’m watching. I want to stress once again that a character who is relatable isn’t necessarily one that has the same “stats”, i.e. same gender, age, background, occupation…. but rather one that seems to think and act like we would.
This brings me to two generally similar KyoAni shows I have seen and that had a very different impact on me.
Sound Euphonium! is a coming of age drama with comedic elements. It stars a generally aimless young lady who has lost her passion for music but thanks to an enthusiastic friend rekindle her drive by joining the school club (orchestra) and starting to compete again. She has an emotionally charged relationship with another musician who is occasionally a friend and occasionally a rival. Through the shared experience she slowly learns to come out a bit of her shell and find her footing but she does remain ultimately herself.
Free! is a coming of age drama with comedic elements. It stars a generally aimless young man who has an enormous passion for swimming but has lost his passion for competitive swimming. Thanks to an enthusiastic friend he rekindles his drive, by forming joining the school swim club and starting to compete again. He has an emotionally charged relationship with another swimmer who is occasionally a friend and occasionally but mostly a rival. Through the shared experience he slowly learns to come out a bit of his shell and find his footing but he does remain ultimately himself.
Sure, there are differences in these two shows. Tons of differences in fact. But there is no denying that they also have a huge amount in common. On top of that having been made by the same studio, production values are more or less equivalent. And they just look alike. That makes these two shows perfect for comparison. Since I really loved one of them, I thought it was brilliant and find myself thinking back on it all the time whereas I liked the other one but I haven’t finished the last season.
When thinking about it, the deciding factor in this case really has a lot to do with relatability for me.
Now I know what I said earlier about stats and all that, this one time though, the characters I found most relatable also happen to objectively be a lot like me. I loved Sound Euphonium! whereas I liked Free! but prefer 50% off. And there’s no denying that the similarities between me Kumiko are rather striking.
I was in fact once a fairly aimless high school girl. I was introverted but not that shy and had some good friends around me. I was also part of the orchestra were I played (and still play) the Euphonium. No one knows what a Euphonium is. My spellcheck has it as an error. I have had to explain the instrument (like a small tuba but has more in common with a trombone…) for years. You have no clue how excited I was to find an anime on the subject. Unreasonably excited, that’s how!
And I also had those confusing and exciting rushes of feelings and attraction during those years that I wasn’t quite sure what to do with so I just sort of drifted along.
I get Kumiko. I’m not saying she’s best girl or even a great leading character, but I understand on a deeply personal level every decision she makes. It doesn’t matter if the show develops her enough for the audience to sympathize with her choice because I already know all the inherent reasoning behind those choices. I’ve made them. I get that sometimes you’re just sort of lame and lazy for no reason but other times you’re super productive and decide to practice for hours and you don’t even know why exactly. I get it because I’ve been there.
When Kumiko or any of her friends get all moody and down on themselves, I think yeah, I remember how that feels. Don’t worry girl, it’s gonna pass. I’m here for you. We’ll get through this together. You go, girlfriend!!!
When Haru and his friends get all emotional about some upcoming swim meet, I’m all like: you guys o.k.? Do you need a soda or something, get that blood sugar up a bit maybe?
This is of absolutely no fault of either show. I’m not exaggerating how similar they are and if anything Fee! is a bit more comical which makes it more likely to appeal to me under normal circumstances. It’s just that Sound Euphonium sort of felt like I was watching a dramatization of my own high school life and apparently, that’s much more of an appeal than I had realized.
It filled in character development and really sped up my attachment to those characters. It made me connect to the plot and the action. I felt those butterflies before the concert. I didn’t need any explanation for the flow of events or the turnarounds because I had lived them. I got it…
I’m not saying relatability is an essential factor in anime. Not at all. And I still don’t think it’s even an important one. What I hadn’t realized though, it’s that it can bolster other aspects quite a bit. And that’s a huge plus.
So do you have any shows you like because you find them relatable? Are characters you relate to like you in real life or do they just think like you? Did you know what a Euphonium was before the anime?