Stand Aside, Book Smarts: The “Knowledgeable Girl”

While reading the Drops of God recently. I took notice of the supporting character Miyabi, a sommeliere-hopeful who assists the hero Shizuku, bolstering his seemingly supernatural sense of taste (literally tasting things with his mouth) with a larger knowledge of the wine world. In this setting, Shizuku’s genius, though achieved through years of work and forced training, comes across as of a deeper quality than Miyabi’s superior book smarts.

Miyabi falls into a character type I might refer to as the “Knowledgeable Girl,” a trope I see most often in shounen manga. This character is different from someone who’s simply smart or studious or is a bookworm. Instead, it is the character who seems to play two roles: the first is to have a solid foundation of knowledge so as to be useful when exposition is necessary, and the second is to have that knowledge contrasted with the hero’s more impressive abilities, as if to say that, while the hero lacks conventional knowledge, he is such a radical that he can overcome it, or that it’s only a matter of time before he picks up that knowledge as well. In a way, she is meant to be surpassed.

Probably the most prominent example I can think of is Sakura from Naruto, who, like Miyabi, criticizes the male hero for not knowing the basics, and whose book smarts are ultimately shown to be less powerful and important than the unique flavors Naruto himself provides. I bet you can think of many others as well.

I don’t think this is a character type doomed to mediocrity, as the key, I feel, is to actually give a true advantage to book smarts, something that just isn’t waiting to be trivialized. Female coach Riko from Kuroko’s Basketball (AKA THE BASKETBALL WHICH KUROKO PLAYS), for example, while very much in that supporting role, at least shows a strategic knack owing to her intense study lacking in the players. Tokine in Kekkaishi, more knowledgeable than her counterpart Yoshimori, is better at refining her abilities than at simply making things bigger and more powerful.

I wonder if it’s possible to argue that no character type is truly terrible and that it’s all in the execution? I’m sure I’ll be corrected rather immediately.

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5 thoughts on “Stand Aside, Book Smarts: The “Knowledgeable Girl”

  1. I see this as kind of an extension of the classic shonen rivalry between the character with natural talent but no formal training and the one with no natural talent but a strong work ethic. Except, instead of them being rivals, they’re teammates, so the conflict plays out through the main character surpassing the “knowledgable girl” rather than straight-up defeating her.

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  2. I believe that success and failure of any character depends on how well it’s made. Characterization and character types can be positive or negative, but if the writer makes them entertaining, then the writer did a great job. You might want to have a look at TV Tropes for their list of character types.

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  3. I frequently describe Drops of God as “Naruto, only with wine instead of ninja and possibly more gay innuendo as a result,” and your astute observation that Miyabi’s purpose in the story is basically akin to Sakura’s only helps strengthen my claim.

    I think the archetype works somewhat better if the knowledgeable character is NOT rendered unneeded by the eccentric naturally gifted hero. But for stories like these, where the hero’s power must increase and there must be landmarks to demonstrate this progression, such an outcome is virtually guaranteed. Perhaps that’s why so many of these characters often become redefined as romantic interests over time, as their original purpose fades away.

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  4. I find the smart girl character is most often included because you need someone to explain to the reader what’s happening, she needs to be a girl (a noncombatant) in order to explain why she’s not fighting, and she’s smart because you need a reasonable excuse as to why she knows all this stuff. Man, bad memories of Samurai Deeper Kyo.

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  5. Almost every story has its Mr/Ms Exposition. With Miyabi, for once I feel like she is an equal partner: in wine-tasting, book smarts are important; they both work together and have a professional relationship; and most unusual of all Shizuku listens to her. He respects her opinion. This may change once he gains in knowledge, (Daryl and Spore are correct in her role) but for now (the first volume) it’s refreshingly balanced.

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