The Current Genshiken Club Members
The Hokuto Brothers (I think Toki turned out the best)
Yoshimori and Tokine from Kekkaishi
The Current Genshiken Club Members
The Hokuto Brothers (I think Toki turned out the best)
Yoshimori and Tokine from Kekkaishi
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.
Every so often, as I slowly swim through the vast expanses of anime and manga, I find characters who I think are just incredible. They’re not necessarily my absolute favorites, but they’re just such good characters that I hope that someone out there champions them the way I do with Ogiue. It’s not just about reveling in a favorite character, but feeling that the character is so well-developed and is portrayed so strongly that heaping praise upon them is the least you can do. I’m going to take this opportunity to list a few.
First is Koizumi Risa from Lovely Complex. In my review of the anime, I mentioned my hope someone out there considers her to be their favorite character. My statement still stands. Risa is an incredibly human character, a girl who isn’t exactly the best looking and who doesn’t possess the most attractive of personalities, but is so unique and full of energy and character that she stands out in more ways than just her height. Koizumi Risa is totally great and I hope you think so too. If you think her more attractive than what normally passes for attractive out there in anime land, then all the better.
Second is Adachi Hana from Yankee-kun to Megane-chan. On the surface she seems like any other glasses-wearing character, and that initial judgment certainly isn’t helped by the title of the manga itself, but almost immediately after you realize that Adachi Hana is a girl of comedic genius that few can live up to. Now the entire series itself is hilarious, but Adachi steals the show far more than anyone, and her blank, bespectacled stare the most killer punchline possible. But don’t think of her as a one-note gag. She’s a former delinquent who’s looking to turn her life around by acting the part of the responsible student in the hopes that she’ll actually become one. If you like Sakagami Tomoyo from Clannad but are looking for a more lighthearted character and story, then Adachi Hana might be right for you.
Third is Sumimura Toshimori from Kekkaishi. The youngest of the Sumimura siblings, with main character Yoshimori as the middle brother and redhat Masamori as the eldest, Toshimori has a long way to go before he can fight like the rest of his family. However, he’s in many ways the most responsible, and it’s especially refreshing to see a younger kid-type supporting character who is intelligent and capable and is able to remain primarily a side character. I look forward to where the story will take him, and how he will further distinguish himself from his brothers over time.
Last is perhaps the most deceptively awesome character of all. While Legend of the Galactic Heroes has the geniuses Yang Wen-Li and Reinhard Von Lohengramm at the forefront, Murai is almost equally deserving of praise, if not just as much. An officer in a galactic war, Murai doesn’t have matchlesss intellect, nor does he have youthful passion, and he isn’t even the most experienced veteran, but he makes up for it by being an incredibly good support person. Knowing how esoteric his leader Yang can be, Murai intentionally plays the straight man, asking the layman’s questions so that Yang can phrase his thoughts more clearly. He even makes a big move later on, but again masks it in simplicity. By being so lacking in immediate notoriety, Murai shows his true strengths.
Those are all the characters I’m listing for now. If you have characters who don’t rank in your top 10 but you think they deserve a place on someone’s, feel free to chime in.
See if the following descriptions sound familiar to you:
1) A young boy uses his mysterious abilities to fight against the forces of darkness alongside his close friends. Though he’s short on brains, he’s long on potential, and as the series progresses you see him gaining more and more power at incredible rates.
2) When a young girl meets an adorable magical creature, she is transformed into a beautiful and striking figure. Together with her friends, she fights the forces of darkness while still finding time to have fun with her friends and care for her parents’ shop.
Most likely, the two images that popped into your head were the most generic shounen fighting anime and generic mahou shoujo anime ever , respectively. However, the two shows I was actually describing are Kekkaishi and Heartcatch Precure.
Kekkaishi and Heartcatch Precure are both series that are firmly rooted in all the tropes one expects out of them. Kekkaishi involves fighting progressively more powerful opponents as our heroes improve their abilities to keep up. The male main character has a lot of “power” while the female protagonist has “finesse.” In Heartcatch, there’s bright pastels and an entire flower motif and transformation sequences. Both series involve Monsters of the Week. But while they are definitely “generic” in a sense, I really believe both to be pretty exceptional, and it mainly has to do with the way both series approach characterization.
In both cases, the strength of the characterization stems from the interaction between the central characters. For Kekkaishi, it’s the subdued and yet progressive romance of Yoshimori and Tokine. For Heartcatch, it’s the budding friendship between Tsubomi and Erika. And when you look at both, you see just how well one character complements the other, the way their similarities and differences provide sparks of clever interaction. It’s what sets them apart from other series in their respective genres; the characters feel significantly more fleshed out and three-dimensional than the usual fare, and in a way that I think people who don’t religiously follow shounen fighting or mahou shoujo can appreciate.
At the same time however, I think that for people who don’t really look for that sort of thing, both series can still come across as incredibly generic. And for people who outright despise the genres of shounen fighting and mahou shoujo, no amount of smart writing in these shows can make up for the fact that what aggravates them about shows like these are still present in full force. That is, unless the thing that aggravates them is a lack of good characterization.
Sometimes when discussing shounen fighting series, there are disagreements among fans as to what female characters are considered “strong” and which are considered “weak.” Someone will accuse one female character of being “useless,” while another will point out all that she’s done to help the good guys, and that she’s strong in her own way. While opinions may be opinions, I think that the nature of shounen fighting series makes it difficult for those types of characters.
Hokuto no Ken is a classic example of a series with female characters who are “strong-but-not-really.” Mamiya is a skilled fighter and trains hard to keep up in a world of mutant thugs armed with only a crossbow and some yo-yo’s, but she’s still a few tiers below Kenshiro and Friends. Yuria has great will and even greater compassion, but she’s not a fighter at all, and in this series, as strong as Kenshiro’s own compassion is, fist to face action is at the forefront.
And as much as I like Hyuuga Hinata from Naruto, and as much as I think she is an excellent character, I know that she is not meant to be one of those female characters who is actually able to keep up with the guys when the chips are down. And in fact, as far as I can tell, despite the fact that Naruto is full of skilled kunoichi, there are only two or three female characters in that series who can actually fight on an even keel with the guys: Tsunade, Temari, and maybe Kurenai. Sakura definitely had the potential, and was supposed to end up as being super strong and super determined, but she too has fallen victim to the Shounen Side Heroine Syndrome.
But being physically weaker or lacking in skills compared to the main hero and the guys doesn’t mean a female character will necessarily be “weak.” Nami and Nico Robin from One Piece are both excellent examples of characters who carry their own weight. And even before Nami gets the Clima-Tact and starts participating in battles, her skills are shown to be indispensable to the team. Another good example of a female character who uses the skills that she has and contributes immensely to the overall cause is Tokine from Kekkaishi. Tokine, while not capable of as much sheer “brute strength” as her male counterpart Yoshimori, is able to use her finesse to not only match him but often outperform him.
“But wait, weren’t you the one who talked about how great it is when characters accomplish things at their own pace? Isn’t that one of the great appeals of moe? And aren’t you a supporter of moe?” And you would be right on that, but again I must say that it has to do with the fact that shounen fighting series inevitably revolve around fighting or at the very least getting characters to a point at which they can fight. Basically, the moe series will define strength within the context of their series as overcoming a small adversity which is difficult for them in particular, while a shounen fighting series is all about displays of strength, even if they are fueled by friendship and honor.
The big, essential difference between the Sakura/Mamiya group and the Nami/Tokine group is “results.” Both groups of female characters might not have as much raw skill or ability or training or whatever as the guys do, but one of those groups gets things done. Nami and Tokine don’t just contribute to the overall goal by doing something like blocking the villain’s attack just that one vital moment so that the hero can get in the final shot, but instead actually accomplish significant goals, things that can move the story along. It’s not even that they simply defeat opponents that the others cannot, but that they will do what it takes to win.
This doesn’t even necessarily apply to female characters. All you need to to do is take a look at Usopp from One Piece as a good example of a character who fights with what he has. It’s just that this is often the situation in which female characters find themselves, and often it’s done so that the guys can come in and go, “Stand aside, ladies. It’s MAN TIME.”
…Which is not necessarily a bad thing either, as having the men be strongest in a series for boys makes all sorts of sense. It’s just that if someone’s looking for female characters who really pull their weight to accomplish an overall goal, they may end up disappointed as a result. Though not a shounen fighting series, Legend of the Galactic Heroes can often seem like a sausage fest despite a plethora of genuinely well-written, strong, and clever female characters because of the fact that none of them are out there commanding ships and fleets, i.e. the very activity that is at the absolute forefront of LoGH.
Again, I like a lot of female characters who might not be the best or the strongest but try their best to do what they can even if they can’t keep up with the boys, characters who do things their own way at their own pace. However, even if a series actually says explicity, “This girl is truly strong because she really tried and her help, however small, was essential for victory,” within the context of shounen fighting “strength” is more defined by the overall setup and themes of the story, and rarely is any amount of lip-service enough to make the readers truly think otherwise.
Lately I’ve been watching Kekkaishi on Hulu, courtesy of VIZ. Every week they release two new episodes and it’s been fun to keep up with Yoshimori and Tokine and all their wacky adventures. The show is fun and clever with remarkably good characterization for a shounen fighting series. And when an episode ends on a cliffhanger, there I am eagerly waiting for the next episode to appear the following Monday.
Here’s the thing, though. I am in no way against fansubs, and I am well aware that Kekkaishi has been fansubbed in its entirety. With a few clicks I could easily be watching the next episode and the next one after that, all the way until I finish the entire series. But still I refrain from grabbing those fansubs, and it’s not out of some sense of right and wrong or loyalty to the fine companies that license anime. And so I begin to wonder what the hell is up with me.
In his Macross 7 podcast, Andrew talks about how important he believes not marathoning Macross 7 is to enjoying the show more, and this may be affecting my thinking. Part of it may also be that I want to enjoy the experience of watching a series a little bit at a time and in a way where I can plan my schedule around it instead of squeezing it into every moment that I can. Monday is Kekkaishi day; it’s a nice way of approaching watching anime, and leans a little closer to the “passive” side of anime fandom.
But the more I think about it, the more I believe that this conscious self-restraint is just out of sheer stubbornness, like I’m daring myself to see just how long I can keep this up. I’m not only watching only an episode or two a week, but doing it on purpose when I could quite easily do otherwise. I’ve subconsciously thrown down the gauntlet at myself.
One thing I realized about myself is that I enjoy having “streaks.” When I exercise, it’s only partially to keep healthy, and much of it has to do with stubbornly seeing just how long I can do it. I also basically dared myself into making at least one post every day here on Ogiue Maniax, and the result is that, short or long, drawing or writing, I’ve posted 7 days a week for over two years. Granted, I no longer have that early blogger desire to make multiple posts in a day just because I can, but I think that’s more a matter of pacing myself.
So let’s see if I can finish Kekkaishi this way. Even if I fail, I think the experience will have been well worth it either way.