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.

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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 aniime

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.

anime thinking
the realization hit me hard!

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 wish my hair was this cool 

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?

Haru eating
carbs are good too

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?

sounds eupho promo

23 thoughts

  1. For me I am drawn to characters for two reasons, the first is relatability (having a similar trait or experience). I love the characters of shows like Fairy Tail who are loyal to those around them above all else. I sympathize with Mikoto from Railgun because she blames herself for things that weren’t her fault and has a hard time asking for help. The second type are the characters having a personality or traits that I respect. A bunch of characters are the type of people that I wish I was honestly. Yeah it’s a bit of wish fulfillment but it is also fascinating to watch and study characters that are not like myself. And sometimes I like characters because they are both- they are like me in some ways but vastly different in others.

  2. I knew what an Euphonium was, mostly because my wife was in band (she played bassoon). My daughter, too, was in band. In fact, she’s teaching music now. I asked both of them to watch Sound Euphonium and tell me how realistic the concerts were.

    Both of them gave it a thumbs up!

    I think you might be on to something. I usually don’t give relatability a second thought. But if I look at the series that are the most precious to me, I absolutely can see myself as some of the main characters.

    Look at Re:CREATORS. There’s no series I like more. It’s head and shoulders above the rest, and now that you’ve shared your perspective on the impact of relatability, I think my affection for the series centers on three characters. I strongly relate to Marine’s insecurities. She doesn’t think she can draw; I hate every word I’ve ever written. Takashi Matsubara tries to slog his way through a plot; that’s me every weekend. Most of all, there’s Shunma Suruga. She literally took a bullet to write a better scene. She’s who I aspire to be.

    So, yeah. I think you’re right. I don’t need relatability. But it can take a series that might otherwise just be good and make it my absolute favorite.

    1. The bassoon is beautiful. I love the sound of double reed instruments so much!

      I added Re:Creators to my list entirely based on your comments.

  3. We had bass and treble clef baritones in our band.

    If I see an anime with a character I identify with, I generally stop watching. By the time I start to identify, I’ve become depressed. Fortunately few anime remind me of me.

    An example is “3 Gatsu no Lion.” By the second episode I was already feeling down. Rei is depressed, certainly displays many Aspie traits, can’t deal with his family and spent his school years alone and friendless. I saw so much of myself there! He had shogi to keep him going while I had my love of science. So I dropped it.

    Later I picked it up again because of all the rave reviews. Things happened and his situation improved. His sister shows up and did not remind me of mine in the slightest. He meets Akari and her family who provide the warm and loving place he never had. It no longer reminds me of myself or my life and becomes one of the best anime I’ve ever seen.

    For me to identify with a character is a bad omen.

  4. I agree with you. Relatability helps me get into a story and connect to a character, but it’s not necessary for me to do so. It’s probably the reason I got into that Nagatoro manga (and why I’m looking forward to the anime — hoping they do it justice!) Even so, I don’t always or even usually like to relive my school days; Nagatoro is a special case because I think it does a good job, but I’d rather usually watch something more fantastic.

  5. I really liked Kumiko, both as a protagonist and as a window on the story. I didn’t know what an euphonium was, before that show either. Meahnwhile I dropped Free during the frist season; the cliffhanger at the (first?) seaside episode was the nail in the coffin of the show. I fastforwarded through the next episode, mainly because I wasn’t quite ready to drop it yet, but saw nothing to change my mind.

    I don’t think I’ve ever completely identified with a character, but Kuronoma Sawako in Kimi ni Todoke, and Yumura Kirika in Noir were relatable in important aspects (slowly coming out of your shell when you’ve actually pretty much accepted your loner status, or doing things you’re good at even though you’d rather not).

    And then there’s the Eccentric Family. I do to some degree identify with a certain frog in a well, but what I can relate to most of all is the entire show. It’s as if the author had me in mind when writing it (I’m probably conveniently ignoring some aspects to be able to say this, but that’s how I instinctively feel). “What is fun is good,” and “Always remember to cause trouble,” simply has a different feel when it comes from a timid animal. You can’t let trouble scare you too much, and life’s to short to waste on grudges. I can spout a few more clichés, but they don’t really get to bottom of it. It’s just that special a show for me.

    1. Relating to a show as a whole happens a lot to me. Right now the one that comes to mind most though is Kyousougiga. I sort of think in a lot of ways the big things in life are disappointing yet the whole is beautiful.

  6. I knew what it a Euphonium was, but I’m a fellow brass player and it would be a crime if I didn’t include l know. I’m glad you still play too 🙂.

    Hmm, I just relate to Hiyori from Noragami a lot. She acts a lot like I do in regards to other people or trying to find a place where I belong.

  7. I don’t like anything because of relatability (mostly because I don’t like myself lol). I also read your older post on this topic and I pretty much agree; relatability should not be the end-all-be-all of a character.

    However, there was ONE time where relatability did effect my decision, but it was a negative effect: the light novel series, Bottom-Tier Character Tomozaki. I gave it the benefit of the doubt in my review, but to be honest, I hated it with every fiber of my being. I’m an introverted young man who’s been content with having no relationships, and I never wanted to see a character die more than the female lead who “saves” the MC by forcing him to learn human relationships. Other than the “you gain more XP from losing” line, everything in it is BS. She literally makes him ask a strange girl in his class out on a date… I could barely finish the first volume. And according to a review I read on MAL, the next volume apparently has her teaching him HOW TO MANIPULATE HUMANS ON AN EMOTIONAL LEVEL. But no, because all people care about is “Oh the cute girl is teaching him how to have relationships! I can’t comprehend the idea of not having a human relationship, therefore this is objectively good!” I always joke about Kimetsu no Yaiba being trash, but I find Tomozaki to be REAL trash.

    So yeah, I never let relatability effect me. Or else rants like that previous paragraph will happen.

    1. It sounds like you don’t think you’re that similar to the character on a core level since you wouldn’t go along with it. The premise also sounds a bit like The World God Only Knows (which really liked…)

      1. The reason I dislike Bottom-Tier Character Tomozaki so much is that the girl isn’t teaching the MC how to be a better person, but how to be the person SHE WANTS him to be, and it’s all construed as an objectively good thing in context. As an introvert myself, I can’t stand these stories where introverted characters get “fixed” because society doesn’t understand us.

  8. I haven’t heard of Sound Euphonium before this post and I also had to google it🙈🙈
    To answer your question, yeah I really liked a show called Orange, because the main character Naho was the female version of me when I was in school. Even though the anime itself was very beautiful (I’m currently reading the manga which is even better) it become even more so because I really could relate so much to Naho’s behaviour. In the end that’s what made the show for me at least even more enjoyable😊

  9. It’s natural right? We connect to stories we feel as though we have had similar experiences too, and often they can hit hard emotionally because we relate to that feeling. It is perhaps part of why I often view and enjoy shows and films on adolescence and growing up, as I feel there is so much going on in that part of life – so many emotions!

    1. Well yes and no in my case. There are plenty of stories that are deeply representative of my experience that I don’t care for or find rather boring. I assume it sort of depends on how we connect with our everyday experience in the first place. A lot of people prefer escapist entertainment that is purposefully different from what they know or go through.

  10. …I thought a Euphonium was a type of musical performance until I Googled it 5 seconds ago. Sorry. -_-

    There are a few anime characters I relate to a lot *ideologically*, but, as you mentioned, are so over-the-top in the shows they’re in that I’d most certainly be a danger to society if I physically acted that way IRL! I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a character I could relate to on the same level as you w/ the main character of Hibike (a show I still need to watch, thanks for reminding me). Hikigaya from OreGairu was pretty close to how I acted for a bit during late high school/early post secondary, but still quite different, in that he was more proactive, and (if you can believe it) much nicer than I was. I mostly just daydreamed, and when I wasn’t daydreaming, I was irrationally angry at the world for not letting me daydream. All this made even worse by the fact that I was quite often strung out on my ADHD meds against my will. You miiight be able to make an anime out of that… but I’m not sure anyone would watch it!

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