Failure is important (in anime and life)

If there is something that needs to happen a lot more in anime, it’s shows giving their characters a chance to fail more. I don’t mean that these characters shouldn’t reach their final goal, I mean that they should constantly be met with challenges beyond them along the way. Through these challenges, these characters work hard and can either succeed overwhelmingly or end up losing. Most anime take the second route, which I find rather boring. Failure is a part of life. We either learn from the mistakes that we have made or learn from the mistakes that other people have made. In that later case, we travel through the many failures of people before us in history in hopes that we as a society don’t make those mistakes again. That doesn’t always work, but what can we say? It’s humanity. We fail a lot of times in order to achieve our goal once and those achievements stick with us forever.

I am about to ask a lot of obvious questions, but this is going somewhere. Trust me. How often have you failed at something? Is there a class that you needed help in because you couldn’t accomplish something yourself? Is there a hobby that you need a lot of work to get better at? What about a video game were you died again and again at the same spot for different reasons? Maybe something else that doesn’t fit any of these categories and you didn’t achieve the first time you tried? What did you learn from those failures to make you better at something or finally allow you to achieve the goal you wanted for so long? I’ll tell you what, a lot of ways on how not to do something. This reminds me of a line from National Treasure about Thomas Edison and his invention with the light bulb. I’m not going to quote here directly because I don’t remember it, but it’s about how he found a lot of ways of how not to make a light bulb, but he only needed one way to make it work. All those failures eventually go somewhere and lead to a success. It works for the same way it works for anime characters.

Even though I try hard not to have a favorite anime series, I do like some shows more than others. I think of the shows that I like in a dart board scenario so I don’t have to compare something beyond the level I like them. Shows l like the most are in the center circle and then the rings are shows with a decreasing level of quality. My favorite shows are filled with characters that have constantly hit a low point on their way to growing in order to become what they are supposed to be later on in life. The major reason is that seeing them fail makes them more relatable. Why? Because seeing characters at their low points not only makes characters feel relatable, but it also makes them feel grounded. These aren’t the kind of characters that only win one hundred percent of the time. There is a flaw or chink in their armor that makes them a great character. My favorite shows have tons and tons of characters like this.

Lately, I’ve been getting tired of invincible heroes. Goku has become boringly invincible recently, Kira Yamato from Gundam SEED is too much of a Gary Stue after the first half, Saitama from One Punch Man is so blah,  Ichigo from Bleach has the traits and genes of every single villain he faced so he has all the abilities, and I can probably think of more if I was given the time. A year and a half ago, you could easily hear me something along the lines of One Punch Man being one of my favorite shows of the season. Right now, I can’t say that anymore. Saitama is a boring invincible hero whose only flaw is that he isn’t recognized by anyone. That was funny at first, but once the show goes through the same routine again and again and again, it becomes so boring and tedious. Many people call it a comedy or a deconstruction, but all One Punch Man is just a shonen series that has its arcs highly compressed like a zip file. Many people compare OPM and MHA, but I consider My Hero Academia a better show in this regard. While it is a shonen series, all of its characters are at least emotionally grounded, given weaknesses that makes you care for them more, and any character can fail at any point. My Hero Academia’s tournament arc has shown us all the strength that the series has to show us. It’s been great and has done a lot for me then One Punch Man has ever done and My Hero Academia hasn’t completed its current run yet.

Lastly, I think that episodes following failure are the best written. My favorite Days episode took place after Seiseki lost their first bid to go to nationals. Every single character felt the grief of this loss in their own way which allowed their characters to shine through. Seeing our protagonist, Tsukamoto, gain the inner strength to keep going after fighting his self-doubt and being talked into fighting for what he wants to do is extremely inspiring and powerful.  For me, seeing characters find the strength to continue after a loss is always the most emotionally resonant and best written moment that an author can write. This is probably because they’ve felt this moment themselves and they know how to write it. I don’t know about any of you, but I never get tired of seeing the hero character, or whatever our protagonist is, gain the mental fortitude to fight again or continue their initial goal all the way to the end. It’s always a strong emotional message that needs to be said and felt more often than it is.

Characters experiencing failure is incredibly important for their own personal journey. This isn’t only because it’s incredibly relatable and the audience can get a quick connection to them. How else will a character know what the extreme high of victory is like without experiencing the low of defeat a few times before? It shows that they worked hard for every inch of ground they fought for. It also makes victory feel even more sweeter, because it is something that has eluded our characters until the moment they break through and gain it. Every single day that they worked hard straining their minds or bodies to the limit is worth it for this single moment. It may provide a character with a long story arc, but it’s usually an incredibly well developed, highly emotional, and interesting character arc that is fully realized. Thank you for reading.

What do you guys think? Is failure important to you guys? What concept or idea allows you to connect a show’s characters more than anything else?

10 Comments Add yours

  1. Karandi says:

    I agree that failure is really important to characters and to people. That said, Pet Girl kind of pushed it a little too far and the main character suffered so many set-backs it started to get a bit depressing. Maybe a balance? And My Hero Academia seems to understand that. Midoriya has his triumphs and his set backs and even when he fails it is framed with the what can be learned or what was gained from the experience mindset rather than that of simply failing to achieve. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Scott says:

      I know nothing about the anime you mentioned, but a balance is a good thing.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. TheWarner says:

    Nice post. One of the things that bugs me about DBZ is as you said, Goku IS invincible. Even though Beerus and Whis are both currently stronger than him in DB Super, you know that Goku will, of course, surpass them. Also, character deaths in the Dragon Ball world have zero impact because you know they’ll just find some way to revive them.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Scott says:

      Yeah, I’m surprised Shenron hasn’t gone “you guys again, who do you really to be revived today? Why can’t anyone else find these damn things?”

      Liked by 1 person

      1. TheWarner says:

        😁 Yes, it’s completely unfair that the Z warriors have pretty much monopolized the Dragonballs.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. otakumarie24 says:

    I think the quote is “I have not failed, I have just found ____ ways that will not work,” (I don’t remember the number)

    Like

    1. Scott says:

      Yes, something like that. Haven’t watched it in a while.

      Like

  4. Grimsabr says:

    Interesting post Scott! I agree, there is a certain satisfaction you can only get from victory after repeated failure. Im a big fan of the Monster Hunter games for this reason. When you eventually slay that hunt that is kicking your arse, it is the best feeling! Same with raiding in MMO’s. When you finally clear that raid you’ve been struggling with, the feeling of euphoria is overwhelming and it makes you super happy!

    I think this translates well into a visual representation of these feelings in Anime. When i see someone succeed after so many failures i cant help but feel ecstatic!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Scott says:

      Yes! Exactly how it works!

      Thank you for reading.

      Liked by 1 person

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