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Liking main characters — the myth of personality. September 1, 2007

Posted by bettynoire in anime, community, lucky star, miscellaneous, moe, ranting.

Speaking of personality, some biatch is stealing my bit of being the crazed lolicon bisexual chick! I’m being single white female’d! Though, I’m not really single… or white, persay… The way she writes is how I speak — unfortunately being an English major, the way I write is quite different than that, and this being the internet, the only thing you see is how I write. Blast!

To be honest, she’s quite an amusing read, but it’s unnerving realizing how much my personality — at least, the immediately recognizable traits my friends in real life consider to be mine — are easily replicated by someone else, completely naturally.

Though kudos to her for being able to stomach School Days at all — I couldn’t even handle KimiNozo’s horrible male lead for more than one episode. I kept skipping his scenes in the other episodes I tried to watch before I was forced to acknowledge that it’s kind of impossible to watch a show when you dodge every scene with the main character. It’s gotta take a special kind of lady to handle 8 episodes of some dude worse than that.

Actually, all this blah blah about the startling replication of personality bring me to today’s rant.

In Hidoshi‘s recent post on Lucky Star, he points out his tendency to relate to side characters more than the main ones. One of my favorite rules when I meet people — hmm perhaps I should back track to explain myself.

I have a few rules that determine how I feel about someone’s existence. Not a whole lot, and many of them are silly. Stuff like, if someone thinks Firefly is an awesome show, I form a better opinion of them. Hell, if they have even managed to hear of Firefly I form a better opinion of them. However, if they have heard of Firefly, have watched it, and don’t like it, my opinion of them is a bit less than it was previously. Stuff like that.

A few things cause immediate dislike. For instance — being an Orange Girl. This generation’s non-hipster ‘everygirl’, to be more general. If you are female, and are the cardboard cutout of what you think a girl should be (probably dye your hair blonde, or at least get highlights, have a horribly dark fake OR real tan, tie your hair up into absurdly high headache-inducing ponytails, and/or wear gobs upon gobs of makeup. May like Laguna Beach, Grey’s Anatomy, and only votes in American Idol based on the ‘hawtness’ of the male singers)… yeah, I don’t like you. If you however, are an Orange Girl, and once speaking to you I find you prefer Robert Browning to Walt Whitman, or happen to prefer House M.D. over Grey’s Anatomy, then my opinion of you improves.

Everyone has unconscious rules like these, and one of mine is that if someone’s favorite character in something is the main character, my opinion is lessened considerably. This isn’t necessarily always the case, but it’s definitely a ‘usually’. My reasoning behind this rule is this: in all my time spent in literary analysis courses and general observation of the things I have read or watched or even played — narrative structure dictates that the main character be bland, boring, a blank slate. A few defining traits, sure, here and there. But nothing that could majorly alienate the main character from the work’s target audience. Say we’re talking about an action game, where the main character’s goal is to save the earth from aliens that plan to kill all women on the planet, thus preventing the human race from continuing to exist. The main character will likely be: totally buff, with a ridiculous arsenal of weaponry and skill, or maybe just plain old average build, maybe his first time picking up a gun. Maybe it’s a hot half vampire chick with crazy blades attached to her arms for no reason, but by no means will the main character be a fugly skinny nerdy dude with anemia, or a crack addict, or a wimpy cheerleader bitch (unless her name is Buffy). Not only is it illogical, but it totally kills the largest possible audience for who you’re trying to sell this game to. This, of course, changes according to who you’re selling to — what your ‘product’ is. A parody, say, would be the perfect medium for Mr. Fugly Anemia saving the world.

Most main characters are blank slates, largely defined by what they do, who they associate with. The way I think of a story is that the main character is the Body, but the side characters are the Brain. The main character creates the vehicle for the other characters’ existences (at least in terms of the reader) but the other characters form the purpose to that existence. The Body is useless without the Brain, and vice versa. Main characters exist so that people can project themselves easily into them, and thus they generally have the least amount of defining traits out of any of the cast, because that way more people can “be” them.

In my opinion, people who’s favorite character is the main character, are basically saying their favorite character, the character that reflects them best, is the character that is meant to reflect pretty much everyone possible. How boring is that?

Which brings me to my current rage. The large majority of the otaku community who loves Lucky Star are all a flutter about how Konata is the ‘best character evar.’ No, she’s not. Konata has little personality on her own that isn’t defined by her hobbies. In fact, the only bits of her personality that break the standard otaku mold are things that make her appealing to the general audience expected for the show. On top of being a female otaku who likes stereotypical male otaku things (note that she is NOT a yaoi fangirl), she’s an excellent cook, she has a great sense of teasing type humor, and she has close female friends (*cough*Kagami*cough*wink wink). She’s pretty much what every otaku dude would want in their imagined otaku girlfriend.

Which means, I guess, that my beef isn’t really with Konata so much as the blatant fanservice character she is. And I don’t mean in the sexy sense, I mean in the imaginary and ego sense. She’s an otaku, and yet she has friends who aren’t otaku AND are cute AND aren’t bothered immensely by her constant weird otaku references. She’s an otaku and yet does fine in school without too much effort. Ad nauseum. You get my point I imagine. It just seems such a waste to have Konata be your favorite character in Lucky Star when Konata is meant to be us. I already have me to be me, so why should I have my favorite character being me in a show? She’s awesome yeah, she’s a lot of the things I find amusing in myself, but… I mean. I’m used to that kind of awesome. I do that on a daily basis.

But then again, liking a side character is also just finding a reflection of yourself as well, so the question really is why does having the main character be someone’s favorite seem so much more egotistical to me? Both are just finding something to relate to in a fictional character, but I guess it might be because the side character’s range in a story is more limited, and therefore it seems less selfish? It’s an odd conundrum.

As a little side note: The main character rule doesn’t work as well with foreign products because different cultures have a different expected audience. It’s that whole deal of one person’s everyday boring is another person’s fascinating and new. Thus, the main character rule often doesn’t work with anime from my own personal standpoint, just because even if a main character in a shounen anime is a typical Japanese shounen type character, that is still different than what the American equivalent to that type of character would be, and is thus more interesting to me, purely as a result of my background. This is pretty much the major flaw that I can see in applying this rule to Americans or other non-Japanese foreigners who like watching anime. It’s really only applicable in this case if the character is an obvious foil for the audience, or if that person’s entire list of favorite characters are all main characters.



1. Martin - September 2, 2007

There’s something about rooting for the underdog and connecting with supporting characters – if I were to name my favourite Family Guy character for instance, I’d go for Brian every time. He’s intelligent, articulate and quite a complex character for that kind of show. Besides, I would feel a bit egotistical if I said that I could relate to the central hero figure…most of us aren’t the big hero anyway. We’re the ordinary Joe and Jane averages who make a smaller difference in the background.

I think I missed the boat with Lucky Star though – I must be the only person in the blogsphere who hasn’t expressed an interest in it either…I really need to be convinced of its greatness since it’s never really screamed “watch me!” at all.

On a totally unrelated note, this post was really insightful amd Firefly does indeed rule. Good work! :)

2. bettynoire - September 3, 2007

It’s very true. The issue is that we do want to be the hero in some fashion, but I guess maybe on some level not only does it feel like it’s selfish to relate to them most, but also a lie — most people will never have the chance to prove to themselves or anyone else they’re like that.

Or maybe I’m just a weirdo that has a popularity complex, lol, I dunno.

Lucky Star wasn’t one of those shows that really grabbed me at all, for a while of watching it. It’s definitely a show that needed to grow on me through getting to know the characters. In my opinion, the true enjoyment from the show comes from how those characters interact, and since the audience doesn’t know the characters so well in the beginning the jokes aren’t as funny. You have no expectations so they can’t be met in a humorous fashion. And in any case, I doubt any slice of life show will ever provoke a “need to watch!” reaction from anyone — and this comes from someone who really likes slice of life :-p

Thanks for the compliment! ^.^ I noticed you added me to your links section too — I’m glad you think I’m worth the linkage. :-p

3. Maximus - December 20, 2007

I would like to see a continuation of the topic

4. jtstellar - February 10, 2008

Actually if you judge a character through the eyes of the creator, you can definitively decide whether a character is “good” or “bad”–if somebody does a terrible job demonstrating a personality he/she wants to present, I think it’s safe to just say it’s a terrible character, and no one else can really argue against that if you have an objective analysis.
You simply first determine why a character is made in a story, and then evaluate the various decisions/actions that character undertakes for that significance. in the case where a character is successful, the actions that character takes will all have significance and plot contribution.
Then there’s character depth. Sometimes the best way to avoid mistakes is to not do anything. It is certainly true here.. some designers simply avoid character depth in order to make their own job easier, and that of course has to be taken into consideration when you judge a character, since those who are willing to take the risk and be successful should be rewarded.
On that note, I think the male lead in School Days is extremely successful. The story writer didn’t hesitate one bit to exploit the “ugly” aspect of people. I think it’s a daring experiment he took. He took it to the extreme in order to make his point, and he was successful at it. The fact that you could not finish the series without watching his part is another evidence of the character’s significance in the story.
Many anime artists nowadays try to follow the hit characters and not do anything new.. I think series like School Days deserve the credit for making a story that actually “uses” its characters, instead of the other way around. I also think that when people put too many subjective opinions and unfounded likes/dislikes into a character, they just worsen the situation. That is one, if not the only, of the reasons why the writers overuse successful personalities. Most people simply don’t know a good work when they see it, which is kinda sad.

5. bettynoire - February 11, 2008

For like the first two paragraphs of this, I had no idea what you were talking about, and then I realized you were addressing my throwaway comment on School Days.

To make it clear, when I referred to the leads of KimiNozo and School Days as being “bad” I didn’t mean that they were bad in terms of execution, but rather that I found it impossible to watch the shows because I disliked the main characters so much. Though I can see why you misinterpreted my meaning, considering the content of this post.

I agree that disregarding one’s personal like/dislikes when determining whether a character is good/bad is a necessity if you want to achieve an objective analysis of the quality of a show. However, despite how it came off, I wasn’t really trying to comment on the quality of those characters or the shows they were in. I only meant to give props to a fellow blogger for having a strong enough stomach/constitution to deal withcharacters that inspire such bile.

While many people enjoy shows like School Days, and while I’m sure School Days has it’s merits as a show, I simply couldnt watch it because I don’t like watching anime that causes me severe discomfort, and nothing hurts me worse than seeing a douchebag get away with being a douchebag to nice but incredibly naive girls who just want the best for him. Though I hear Makoto didn’t really “get away” with it, in the end, lol.

Anyways, I wasn’t bashing on the show, just mentioning on the side that it ain’t my thing cuz the lead dude is an asshole, and that hurt my soul to watch. Sorry it came off like that. :-p

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