When I see average characters in anime that suddenly become heroes and gain praise and attention through no effort of their own, I am always reminded of two things: the ending song to Chaos;Head “Super Special” by Seira Kagami, and Shinji Ikari from Neon Genesis Evangelion. There always seems to be more “average” heroes in anime (characters that are indecisive, emotional, self-conscious, and don’t do anything) and fewer traditional or “real” heroes such as Spike from Cowboy Bebop and Kenshin from Rurouni Kenshin. Are average characters really preferred by anime fans, or are real heroes making a comeback?
While there are still real heroes in anime (i.e. Steins;Gate, Fate/Zero), there are many more examples of average characters. Did Madoka in Puella Magi Madoka Magica do anything except sulk and make a wish? Did Shu from Guilty Crown actually do anything except go with the flow? How did Haruyuki from Accel World net the hottest girl in school? All of these characters had everything just fall into place on their laps.
Madoka had nothing special about her, but after she signed a contract with Kyubey, she became the strongest magical girl in the universe and the world’s savior. Shu was just a regular teenager that had a genomic weapon pushed onto him, not to mention the leadership position of a rebel group. You can’t exactly say no to that. Haruyuki impressed Kuroyukihime with his high score and shiny new avatar. If girls were actually impressed by that, why doesn’t every guy with a high Xbox gamer score or lots of PS3 trophies have a girls fighting over him?
Chaos;Head was a horrible anime, but it answers an important question. Why was Takumi so popular? because he was super special. The main character in Chaos;Head, Takumi Nishijo, was utterly pathetic and boring, yet because he was special he ended up saving the world and getting a harem. Shinji Ikari, probably the most famous “average” hero, was just a regular teenager and the position of savior of the world fell onto his lap because he just happened to sync with Unit-01 better than anyone else. For most of the series, he just cried and whined.
So why are these characters so prevalent in anime? I think the answer to that can be solved by taking a good look at yourself. Despite what you might think, you’re probably just like me and everyone else: an average person with nothing special about them. Wouldn’t it be great if you were super special and could pilot an Eva, use di-swords, make a contract with Kyubey, acquire a genomic weapon, or go out with the hottest person in school? Anime is a world of fiction that allows people to imagine what it would be like to live out their fantasies.
I haven’t had a problem with average characters before and actually found them to be a nice break from work-horse main characters. Take Hiroyuki from To Heart, for example, who works his butt off to impress all the ladies, and compare him to Keitaro from Love Hina, who does nothing but still has good things happen. Whose shoes would you rather be in? While I liked average characters in the past, I think I’ve overdosed on them. I miss having heroes I could admire, ones that know what it means to work, struggle, and earn the right to be the main character. After all, do you really want to watch a story about someone who’s less interesting than you but has some suddenly obtained ability that automatically makes them special? Perhaps that explains the rising popularity of characters like Okabe from Steins;Gate and Kiritsugu from Fate/Zero.
Despite Okabe’s talk about Steins Gate and his Reading Steiner, it was really through his own suffering and determination that he was able to restore the world line. While Kiritsugu did obtain arguably the strongest servant, he rarely depended on her, instead using his own skills and wit to get through the Holy Grail War. With the general negativity towards characters like Shu from Guilty Crown and Haruyuki from Accel World, I think real heroes are set to make a comeback and it’s about time.
What do you guys think? Do you prefer the average guy, the battle-hardened fighter, or a mix of both?