Two notes before I begin:
- While the term “Hero” may imply the use of male characters as an archetype, I am using the term as a gender-neutral definition, such that this post can (and will) feature descriptions and characteristics applicable to both sexes.
- This post will be very similar in structure to a previous post about creating my perfect “waifu.” While that post was more of a Valentine-esque joke, this post will (generally) be serious.
Here is the template for the typical hero in a typical anime series about adventure or anything similar:
- Underdog (more recently)
- Mild-mannered or Cheerful
Assuming the particular series falls within the Shounen genre and not under Comedy or Parody, these qualities tend to be the make-up of the lead anime hero. Watching anime for nearly seven years now, with hundreds of titles seeped into the memory banks of my tired brain, I occasionally wonder if a change is necessary to liven up the expectations towards these series. (My expectations, anyway.) Why not make the hero character something a little different to add some intrigue to the focus of a series? Of course, with that mindset, one can then only ask, “What kind of changes?”
There are a gargantuan number of different quirks (pun not intended) that can be attributed to a character’s person, identity, or soul. Some work better within certain stories than others, such as the witty and observant type being better in a Comedy or Parody, while a serious and broody personality would work better in a Drama. For the sake of this post, I will document the type of qualities I would want in an ideal anime hero for a general purpose, to be able to use in most situations. Fluctuations will inevitably arise, but I won’t let that stop me from going through the things that I believe would make for a character worth cheering for. To begin, I’ll state something that’s already been in use for generations:
This is listed on a broader sense above as “Altruistic,” which is essentially putting the well-being of others over oneself. Various anime heroes occasionally take this too far (Goku comes to mind), but it’s an absolute necessity to have as a hero, as it usually drives the act of heroism in the first place. One can be a hero for their own purpose, but usually, heroes think of the majority as well as (if not more than) their own purposes.
The feeling of being able to connect with others gives rise to the desire to do good. It’s something that is taught to basically everyone at any early age and, in my experience, is more heavily emphasized in college-educated courses, when people are finally at the age where they form the identity they want to embody for the rest of their lives. To understand one another is to see the positive and negative aspects of everyday life that everyone shares, and to retrieve a sense of togetherness that’s exclusive to the intelligence that we humans muster. Of the general archetype of today’s anime hero, this is one aspect I think is rightfully overdone, though series could do better to showcase it.
My ideal anime hero should be willing to understand the perspective of others, if only to find the rise of heroism within themselves. Whether an entire planet is at the mercy of an evil dictator or a child lost their precious toy, a hero would do whatever they can to aid those in need.
Here’s an attribute that a lot of stories with heroes tend to neglect. The reason? Probably because the writers aren’t intelligent enough themselves to write an intelligent character. I jest, but it really is troubling that so many heroes are simply the “I’ll fight with all my strength and see where it gets me” kind of combatant. Doesn’t make them much to watch, either.
This is kind of an interesting personality trait as it also potentially alters a character’s outlook on life or towards a certain situation. When I think of an intelligent anime character, I tend to think of gloomy characters, or characters with a negative outlook in general. I see this as the idea that, as the saying goes, “ignorance is bliss,” and with the added context of seeing through the general bullshit of life, one grows more cynical and reserved. It’s a tragic concept, but one that I feel makes sense in the bigger picture of the human psyche.
For the purpose of this post, however, intelligence tends to make a character more witty in conversation and more cunning a character to follow into battle or tensile situations. I feel my ideal anime hero would be one to make general conversation a strategic battlefield, one that pits one character’s personality and perspective against another. Through these conversations, the two can pick up each other’s habits and quirks, such that they can learn and grow as people together, as well as build chemistry that could result in a lifelong friendship or romantic pairing. A lot of this was on display in Bunny-Senpai last anime season with the main couple, which was among the most charming scenes from the series. I think more series should strive for the type of conversations those two characters had.
This isn’t so much an aspect of personality as it is an outside factor in this case. Even so, I believe characters, particularly those within adventure-esque or competitive series, should have a goal to achieve. Not only should it be a long-term goal, but it should one that presents itself in the hero’s mind at almost every turn, continuing to serve as the driving force behind their efforts and work.
This is another aspect that many anime heroes still rightfully embody. Many heroes within the Shounen genre specifically are often introduced with their goals almost outright, building the foundation for the adventure that will inevitably ensue because of it. Naruto wants to be hokage, Luffy wants to be king of the pirates, Edward Elric wants his limbs back, his brother’s body back, and his mother revived. These are all things that drive the characters toward the unknown of the worlds they reside in, leading to anything and everything that may stand in their way.
These goals, from a narrative standpoint, could also be used to test the resolve of the heroes. How far will the heroes go to achieve these goals? How much do these goals really drive them? And the million-dollar question: What will they do when these goals have been achieved? The last question is usually served for the finale of any series, but I think it’d be intriguing to explore the kind of character behind the goal; to see what kind of character they are without the goal that eventually becomes their entire identity. My ideal anime hero should have a goal; whether achievable or not, it gives them a reason to exist within that stature of “hero.”
Oh, yeah. What we all look for in our heroes: problems. Clearly the anime medium has taken note, because the flaw of obliviousness has ensured that their male heroes will never enjoy the pleasures of having a girlfriend!
I mean it, though. My ideal anime hero should have flaws. They should go through the same insecurities, same doubts, same growing pains that come with being a human being, just like me, you, and anyone else. It’s one thing to idolize a character for everything they represent in one’s ideal self-image, but I find it much more rewarding to see these heroes upon an equal plain, whereas they always find reason to improve upon themselves. I believe heroes shouldn’t only think of others—they should think of themselves and what they can do to make themselves better in whatever capacity.
The “underdog” label somewhat covers this aspect, though in current reality, it’s typically relegated to power or position, wishing for bigger and better things. The flaws I’m more specifically referring to are of an introspective nature. Perhaps a character is too arrogant, too reserved, too caught up in their ways to empathize with others, or whatever else. To see how these heroes find it within themselves to look at themselves objectively, to put away their pride and face the issues that plague their person is something I find criminally underrepresented in the anime medium.
The image showcases a manner of physical flexibility. My intention with the term, however, is a lot more all-encompassing.
When I say “flexibility,” it could (and does) mean many things. It could mean a flexible personality, one that shapes itself to suit the mood of a situation (festive during celebrations, quiet during tragedies). It could mean a flexible mindset, which can adapt to situations quickly and sudden revelations in a flash. It could mean a flexible heart, which goes from one love to another, always finding new things to fawn over or people to be interested in. The standard rigidity of the typical anime hero makes series just a little dull, as one can always expect how the hero will react in given situations. Flexibility allows some suspense prior to various challenging situations.
My ideal anime hero should be as multi-faceted as a Swiss Army knife. Not back-and-forth, as many characters embody in fiction (typically between serious and goofy), but a directionless mass that could react to things seriously, or with a slice of sarcastic wit, or an astonished look of disbelief. They should be capable in a variety of fields, even if not a master at any of them. Each trait adds a little more intrigue into the blueprint of the character’s mental make-up, making the flexibility more effective throughout the course of, say, a long-running series.
God, I need to watch Ping Pong again.
If one is perceptive, they will notice that this is the only quality that was present on the cover image for this post. While all of those are good qualities to have, I think of all of them, courage is probably the most important one to have. Courage, as stated many times before in other stories, isn’t the lack of fear, but the push to continue forward despite present fear. I think that’s awesome.
My ideal hero should be courageous. They should have courage in every facet of their lives, whether with challenges in front of them or the inborn demons that embody their spirits. A hero, with the benefit of empathy and motivation, should inspire others to action with their courage, especially when all seems lost. This is done fairly well in current anime, as well, though without the presence of the miscellaneous circumstances that make one (generally) care for it.
If one were to ask me which of these aspects are most important for an anime hero, I would say
“Empathy,” before retreating back into the shroud of mystery and state, “They’re all important to have, as they work within one another.” The template for an anime hero is one that is ever-changing, swapping out various things that tend to work well within a popular genre and with the audience who watches it. While there will never be a perfect hero, we as humans can only manage to make heroes as honorable as our own perspective prioritizes. What one hero does well in one story, another will do something better in another, only to do worse in another area. This post was a means of communicating what I find important in a hero, in regards to the anime medium. Whether one agrees or not, I hope they were able to imagine the hero in my mind in a similar fashion.
What do you look for in an anime hero?
For more posts like this, feel free to browse the archive of anime/manga opinion pieces!
Thank you for your time. Have a great day.