How many times have you watched a show where the main character was never fully developed or was never the selling point of that show? What about reading reviews about shows from other people that make a notation about this fact as well? And no, this isn’t just an anime or “in recent years” kind of thing. I’ve been watching Angelic Layer recently, which is from the early 2000’s, and the boring main character is biggest complaint with the show so far. Then there is the countless amount of harem anime that always seem to have this trope along with them, for obvious reasons of course. I also have a complaint about Frodo Baggins from Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter, because they are as bland hero characters as well. Shiro from Netflix’ Voltron fits this bill for me too. I wish that all writers had the capability to make main characters as interesting as the rest of cast and the adventures they go on, but I guess not a capability that everybody has.
The biggest thing that I’ve noticed is that the bland main character is centered around shows that either have large casts or the characters are not the main point of the show. When a show has a large cast, there is always going to be that main character that everything happens to or they are meant to fill in the role of the audience member. In a harem series, the main character is an unassuming boy who is as bland as possible, but has girls of various types of personalities tripping all over him or the other case, because the targeted audience member is supposes to imagine themselves in that slot. I guess you can just call it the wish fulfillment character, because a lot of mmo game anime feature the same kind of thing. How many times has it been said that Kirito is a bland protagonist? What about something like Grimgar, Overlord, or dot hack? Harem and mmo series do similar things sometimes, because the main character is only there to drive the story and have everything built around them. If the setting or other characters are just as bland, then what is the selling point of the show?
Then again, having a bland main character has its advantages too. Anime series like Kino’s Journey (2003) and Mushishi somehow make this whole thing work. (Though, I wouldn’t call Kino bland, she just isn’t the thing that developed) In those stories, Kino and Ginko (why do those names sound similar?) play the role of being the only familiar character in an environment that we don’t really know and understand. Either show is never fully about them, but this new and interesting country that Kino is going to explore or this unique mushi related case that Ginko hopefully finds a way to solve. The main two strengths of those series that the characters are written and act consistently, along with both shows being episodic in nature. If the settings and cases weren’t different every single time, then this kind of story telling wouldn’t work.
My complaint can also take form in a larger cast. A typical five-man band character troop is something that is incredibly popular, because each member of the group has their own set personality they always follow. There is the chick or young kid, who is the heart of the group and keeps the characters together, the smart person who does all the planning, the big/fat guy whose role is sort of obvious, the rival to the main character who tries pick a fight with the main character and/or fills in leadership gaps the main protagonist doesn’t have, and the main character who is only known as the main character. Maybe the main character can be charismatic or strategic, but will almost never be more than one dimensional. That’s my biggest complaint about Wolf’s Rain. As great as that series is, because it seriously is fantastic, Kiba is still a bland main character. Yes, he drives the story forward with those four other clowns behind him, but that doesn’t change the fact that he barely gets that much development and is the chosen one for some reason. Then there is the Majestic Prince series that does the similar kind of thing. While the other characters get more interesting as the show goes along, the main character is the one getting all the power ups like that is his character. It’s kind of annoying. Of course, the worst-case scenario for this set up is if all the main characters are bland and stay in their mold throughout the duration of a show. The five-man band is an easy way to start a story’s characters, but it’s up to the writers to decide how they are going to develop from that point.
A popular derivation from the five-man band is the unit of three. Kind of like Harry Potter with Harry, Ron, and Hermione or in Angelic Layer with Misaki, Tomoyo, and Kotaro. In both pairs, the main characters are the ones driving the story forward more than contributing to higher level. Yes, Misaki is good at Angelic Layer for a beginner and wins a lot of fights and is endlessly happy, but that’s about it for her. She is driving the story forward by winning fights with these vastly more interesting characters and providing many different settings to fight in with them. (So far, that’s my only complaint about the series). Meanwhile, you have this interesting relationship with Tomoyo constantly beating up Kotaro in some way in the background. Harry Potter is kind of similar here. Harry Potter is the chosen/not chosen one that is driving the story more, while Ron and Hermione’s relationship is giving the story it’s character. I may be completely wrong on this, but that’s just the way I see it.
Lastly, there are two things that I really want to emphasize here. These might be something a little different compared to the rest of this post, but I think they are related. Having a tragic backstory does not mean that a main character or any other character has a personality. Unless you can honestly feel how that specific backstory is driving them or has affected this particular character greatly through what actions they take, then it doesn’t mean anything in the greater context of a story. I am not sure how many times that I have seen any sort of media try to use a tragic backstory as an excuse or an anchor for us to somehow connect to a main character. This not any sort of lego piece that you can just connect to something. If you want to connect a tragic backstory to a character, then do something with it. The same can be said for this trope known as “the chosen one”. A sacred prophecy that says “this character” will do something “great” may show a path and/or storyline for a character, but it doesn’t do anything for that character specifically. Writers, please don’t use this aspect in trade for a character having a personality. The result in this equation equals blandness.
This was a post I was thinking about while watching the latest Dragon Ball Super episodes on Toonami. Can you believe that? I was more enamored with Dragon Ball Super then I have been with a lot of the Dragon Ball franchise in a long time? The reason why? Vegeta took the center scene. Vegeta is much more than a bland protagonist and he’s developed so much since the Saiyan Saga from Dragon Ball Z. While Goku has always been the main force of the story and power ups, for me he’s never been the most interesting character of the show. He’s been the shonen protagonist for so long and he has barely developed on a mental and character level. Even when he has kids and grandkids, they are only a few small things that stop him from doing what he wants to do and continue to train. Seeing Vegeta take more of the center stage in Dragon Ball Super is such a delight for me. Anyway, thank you for taking this annoying journey with me. I hope that I didn’t come off as too preachy in this post. Thank you for sticking with me and see you on my next post.