That title is too fancy for me. It sounds like a research paper. This is not going to be anything close to a research paper. If you print it out I guess it could technically qualify as “paper”, that’s as close as we’re going to get.
Some of my readers may know that I am a fan of “characters”. I generally tend to enjoy character-driven stories more than plot-driven ones (although a good plot will easily win me over). I will happily put up with a stupid or even boring premise of it comes with good characters. I generally enjoy when a narrative can use characters to make its point rather than exposition or events.
As such I will occasionally gush and praise character development or fault characters for lack thereof. It’s not an uncommon practice. Using how well a character is developed throughout a series of how established their character arcs are to review them is something most critics (and lowly reviewers) do at some point.
There’s nothing wrong with this. Seeing a character grow and learn before our eyes can be very rewarding and certainly encourages viewers to get attached. But I personally don’t think it’s absolutely necessary. What I mean is that you can have great characters that remain completely consistent, never-changing much at all throughout a series as long as they are properly established.
One of the mistakes I constantly make is to use the expression “a character is not developed enough” when I really mean that they are not “defined” or “established” clearly enough. I don’t actually mean they haven’t grown emotionally or intellectually enough, I simply mean that we either don’t know enough about them, or the information we get is too inconsistent for me to get a complete mental image of who the character is as a person. Which makes me less likely to sympathize with them.
That’s something I’m going to try to fix. I know I can be imprecise in my reviews but I am learning, slowly. Hah! Character development!
It took me a while to come up with a proper example of a good static character. I thought of Izaya from Durarara or Hisoka from Hunter x Hunter. These characters are sensibly the same at the *end* of their respective series as they were at the beginning. Both are fan favourites, both are well defined and unusual characters and both are antagonists with limited screen time so I felt that it may not illustrate my point as well.
We don’t expect the same things from casual antagonists since their plot role is so precise. Generally, as long as they serve their function well, the rest is easy to overlook.
After some searching which consisted of me staring at my bookcases (my books and manga are all mixed together), I came up with a decent answer. L from Death Note.
I have researched popular opinion on anime characters before. L was consistently in the top 3 and usually at the top of “best” character lists. He and the franchise he belongs to is well-known enough to have spurred a variety of adaptations (I have only seen the Japanese movies) and the common measure of success is how well did the adaptation manages to capture L’s character. For the record, I’m also full of affection for the selfish weirdo.
However, L is in most ways a “static” character. He remains very true to who he is at the core and events around him have very little sway. It’s part of his character in fact. If you’ve ever sought out spin-offs that feature L’s adventures before Hyuk decided he needed a little more excitement in his life, you may have noticed that L is pretty much “L”. His is largely the exact same person with the same priorities, beliefs and reactions that he had in Death Note.
Basically, L doesn’t change but everything else changes around him. Rapidly and drastically, which forces our unchanging L to adjust and survive in new circumstances. The beauty of the character is not is seeing him come into his own or slowly become something else. It’s in getting to know a fully realized character, that happens to be very quirky and interesting, and seeing that character react in all sorts of circumstances while remaining perfectly realized.
I would have a very had time telling you which I like best. Learning and changing alongside a protagonist or discovering them thoroughly and seeing what they would do in all sorts of instances. From my highly unscientific looking at my shelves research, I would say characters with strong arcs seem more common but that can also be a factor of the types of stories I personally enjoy. I have a lot of hero’s journey narratives and they almost impose character evolution.
The only thing I know for sure is that I really enjoy it when a character has a satisfying arc but I don’t need one to enjoy the character. How about you?