To Be the Hero

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I’m a fan of characters who support. Whether it’s Dominic Sorel in Eureka Seven, who stands by the long-suffering Anemone or Aida Riko in Kuroko’s Basketball, who coaches and manages the Seirin High School Basketball Team, often times my favorite characters are those who care less for being the “hero,” and who try to make a difference in their own way. Generally speaking, I’m of the belief that there are many ways to make a difference, and that you don’t need to be the one chopping the monster’s head off, nor should we fault others for not aspiring to be that mighty warrior. Indeed, even more recent main characters like Kuroko Tetsuya in Kuroko’s Basketball and Onoda Sakamichi in Yowamushi Pedal are protagonists whose powers are primarily based on “support.”

However, I find that, as much as I enjoy that character type, they potentially are a source of complacency, and one might even argue that they teach people to settle for less. Case in point, while I think Riko does a lot for her team and is just a great character in general, she derives from an archetype that is basically a sideline cheerleader. They’ll either be the newbie who needs things to be explained, or the informative expert who does the explaining, but when the chips are down their purpose in the story is to stare longingly as the hero goes into action. There’s some sexism historically at work here, with female characters being created to serve the male leads, but I don’t want to make the issue purely about sex and gender, especially given all of the work that’s been done to play with and expose those tropes, like how Witch Craft Works essentially genderswaps the typical shoujo heroine and shoujo ideal love interest. I also don’t want to deny the ability for a “sideline cheerleader” to be an interesting character in their own right. Rather, it’s more about the idea that “everyone is the hero of their own story,” and how there are positives and negatives to it.

On the one hand, the notion that everyone is the main character in their own lives, be it reality or fiction, can be a self-fulfilling prophecy of confidence, where one imbues oneself with agency and ambition, and accomplishes their goals. At the same time, it might cause people to seek out “glory” without necessarily finding their own definition for the word, instead conforming to what their society (or what readers supposedly think) are parameters for success.

On the other hand, if one believes in supporting others, this might afford them a point of view that could go unnoticed otherwise. Glory for oneself is unimportant, because what really matters is doing what one can. However, this same mindset carries the risk of encouraging passivity to the point that people might inadvertently lose opportunities to better themselves. Perhaps it even becomes an excuse for why they remain in their rut.

Obviously these are in a way two extremes, and that there is a full spectrum between light and shadow, to borrow a phrase from Kuroko’s Basketball. Characters like Riko and Dominic essentially work in opposite directions towards a center, with Riko coming from the manager character and Dominic defying what it means to “rescue the girl.” There’s a lot of interplay and room for interpretation, and it opens up paths for artists, be they professional, amateur, and/or fan, to explore and defy what they’re told is “normal.” I just find myself thinking about how simply saying that I prefer support characters can carry a lot of implicit meaning.

The last thing I want to leave off with is a scene from Game of Thrones, when Tywin Lannister, the patriarch of the powerful House Lannister, asks his grandson what makes a good king. When the grandson replies correctly with “wisdom,” Tywin is ecstatic and explains that wisdom comes in part from knowing what you don’t know, and heeding your advisers who are experts in their fields. In this case, though the king is supposed to be the one with all of the glory, is it the case that being a king is perhaps the biggest support position of all?

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3 thoughts on “To Be the Hero

  1. Just a jab to that final line:

    A King is a classic leader role, but by one thing so far: He resolves, and cuts the hurdle down by voicing his command. In the classic oriental myth, he is a head of state, almost out of reach to the common voice, with heaps of advisers, and skilled warriors and generals. In the classical occident image of old, he is a ruler who uses charisma (like the Capeto dinasty in France), is extremely good at organizing and making decisions on the go (Alexander the Greek), and also is confident in his military prowess (Charlemagne). They had advisors, and good ones. But in the end, the final vision of the task at hand was upon the king´s leadership, at least in the Occident. Upon He, wisdom was not always expected, but decision and charisma. In fact, the King solidifies on his persona, both the State, the Realm and utmosly, the promise of prosperity and peace (in the occidental tradition, mostly) under the gods. In the West, a King was supposed to be a person of action, giving example and taking command, well supported by his generals and ministers. Power had to be visible and well-shown to the masses, in the face of the king. In the Far East, that wasn´t so neccesary due to a different code of values and traditions. Power, in this case, was more of a veil (mistery, fear, respect?) between the King and the people.

    Yeah, that was the “would-be” Historian on me. :P Tywin Lannister isn´t wrong. But also, he isn´t a King exactly, but more of a Senescal or Prime Minister. A surrogate taking the power, without the charisma of Robert Baratheon. And, lo, here I go again. Sorry for the chunk of text. Other than that, I enjoyed your article!

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    • All fine points. In the end Tywin as a character is enormously wise and clever, but also short-sighted in certain degrees. You could say that in part he was pushing his own values onto Tommen.

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  2. Pingback: Plain 90s Anime Beauties | OGIUE MANIAX

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