This post has really been something that I’ve only had the thought processes to think about and write recently. You know, despite the fact that I’ve been a shonen battle fan for a long time. Like a lot of people, I’ve been a shonen battle fan for a very long time. I feel like that is a truth for everyone really. You can tell what era a person started into the anime fandom by what shonen series they’ve watched in the beginning of their early anime fan years. I am a mecha fan for sure, but I’ve watched tons and tons of shonen battle anime series too. I think I should point how dumb I am that I finally realized I came up with an answer to some people’s, including my own questions.
Why Are Shonen Protagonists Boring and Unrelatable?
Well, isn’t that something that you’ve all thought about quite a few times? I know that this question isn’t true for every single shonen protagonist that exists because there are very well written and thoughtfully written ones out there in the void. Yusuke from Yu Yu Hakusho, Maka from Soul Eater, and Kenshin from Rurouni Kenshin are some that I can easily say are some of the best written anime characters ever. Still, I feel like there is a common response to when one has to choose a favorite character from an anime series. How often would your answer be the protagonist themselves?
Is Luffy your favorite character in One Piece? What about in Bleach or any other show that you can think of? I’m going to take some very wild and probably very invalid claims here, but I’m going to guess that most of the time everyone’s answer is always going to be some important side character. You know, unless you are an action junky only and just want to see your protagonist fight. Then yeah, I can see why you would answer that. In general, shonen battle protagonists are very similar to each other and fulfill a role that no one in that show can. Cutting through the crap, getting you through the story, and joining unlikely people together for a similar cause.
Traits of a Main Character
When you think of a shonen protagonist, who do you think of first? Who do you first think of when it comes to a simple example of a shonen protagonist? I think of Goku myself DB and DBZ because were the defining shonen series on Toonami for me. It doesn’t matter though, they are all very similar to each other. Simple, have a singular goal, open minded despite the personality they’ve shown before hand, and have an endless potential to become stronger then everyone around them. That last one depends on the series they are in, but there is a guarantee that they will be there for the final fight on screen for one reason or another. No doubt about that.
Before anyone asks, simple doesn’t mean stupid. A person can be very intelligent, but simple. That’s what we call naïve. Anyone can be simple. A person be like how a person can be a war veteran who has a past that goes beyond explanation and tragic, but be simple. You can say that they are new to a world without war and don’t understand it yet. There is a lot of ways you can interpret a simple character to make a story work. Being stupid and being simple aren’t the same thing, though they do align a lot in this particular genre of anime. Or anime in general honestly.
They Are the Ideal and Inspiration
This is the true message that I wanted to get across here. There is a reason why people like superman and a reason why people don’t get him. Superman is an ideal. A living and breathing being that people can look up to in any sort of crisis. I feel like people saying or writing him in an over powered way just don’t get what his character is going for. Yes, I am a Superman fan ok? This is also the same way I feel shonen protagonists work. They may not be the Man of Steel, but they work in the same vein on a functionality and story telling level. There is a reason why these characters are given power to handle most situations when it’s needed. A protagonist’s purity of mind and thought is an appeal to side characters.
The shonen protagonist is the ideal form or type of person that side characters want to be. Side characters have traumas, wants, have the desire to be powerful, and who knows how many traits. These are the relatable characters in the show you are watching. People that have to get through drama in order to live their superior sorts of life. These characters see someone like a shonen hero and not let those issues weigh them down because they don’t think of them. At least, that’s what the side characters think. Each one is different and thinks different thinks towards the protagonists. Some are jealous.
It was my reading One Piece that finally got this idea in my head. Seeing the straight forward Luffy cutting through other people’s problems is at least a quarter of One Piece’s content. Whatever the problem is, Luffy is always there to answer a future crew mate’s problem. He doesn’t judge, he just does. At the moment I am writing this, I am in the Alabasta arc and he’s become a light for so many people. People that are crew members on the Merry Go seeking to achieve something major to shake the world apart. All of that happened because of Luffy. A guiding light that got this group of weirdos together to seek out each of their dreams together. That’s how shonen series have always worked and it’s interesting seeing this happen in it’s purest form after so many years.
Who do you look for in a time of need? An inspiration. A person who can see you for who you can be, not for who you are. A person with the motivation and power to back up what they are saying and can prove your own abilities to you. If you ever wondered why people appreciate these types of characters or himbos, that’s the reason why. These characters are usually so genuine and kind, there is no choice to buy into the situation here. Have an ideal person around is good for your health. Whether they are good or bad character themselves, what they mean for the series are usually good things.