When Kirito Met Marcus Fenix

When looking at the generic male protagonist found in light novels, one finds that he usually has some combination of the following traits. First, he’s a guy. Second, he’s Japanese. Third, he has short hair. Fourth, he has a fairly slender figure. Fifth, he has either minor or major otaku vibes. Sixth, he has some trait that speaks towards passiveness, whether it’s an aspect of his personality or some sort of special ability that emphasizes defense or neutralization. Titles that fall along this criteria include Sword Art Online, Ore Imo, A Certain Magical Index, Baka Test, Re:Zero, Rise of the Shield HeroBakemonogatari, and so on. In effect, the Light Novel Protagonist plays a similar role to the “gruff brown-haired white guy,” an archetype that has populated mainstream video games over the past ten years.

The Light Novel Protagonist’s appearance renders him the “everyman,” but taken to a kind of extreme mediocrity. His appearance is roughly that of a teenager or early 20s adult who could probably pass for a salaryman if not for his clothing and lack of a stable job. Even though he’s often a “failure” in the eyes of society, he’s ready to show himself as capable if given the right (often nerdy) circumstances. In this way, the Light Novel Protagonist resembles the Video Game Hero in that both reinforce a rough image of masculinity. Where they differ is that the Light Novel Protagonist is often a kind of “bare minimum” of manhood, while the thick-necked rugged white guys of video games are the apex of masculinity in that arena.

This difference is evident when looking at how generic light novels and generic mainstream video games approach the topic of homosexuality. Putting aside a few exceptions from both sides, the protagonists of light novels are more willing than their angry, shooting counterparts in games to dance the line when it comes to gender. Kirito’s video game avatar gets long hair in later parts of Sword Art Online. Hachiman in My Youth Romantic Comedy and Akihisa in Baka Test find themselves attracted to extremely effeminate male characters. However, not only is the possibility of a homosexual ending unlikely, but the sheer femininity of those ambiguous characters’ appearances renders them essentially girls in all but name. As a result, masculinity and heterosexuality are preserved.

Nevertheless, that difference between portraying a masculine world versus a hyper-masculine world seems to be what allows light novels to attract a female audience a little more easily. This is actually something girls have learned to do for a long time, navigate the “boys’ world of entertainment” and carve out their own spaces, but games like Gears of War seem to actively reject any notion of appealing to people beyond their assumed young, male, heterosexual audience. In contrast, light novels pull from the many tropes of anime, manga, and Japanese games, which exist in a complex relationship of pulling aspects of girl-oriented titles toward male audiences and vice versa (e.g. shounen sports being made for girls, magical girls being made for guys).

The irony might be that, while both the Very Japanese Light Novel Protagonist and the Gruff White Video Game Hero are all about protecting their audiences’ masculinity, the two archetypes probably would not get along if they had to interact with each other. The video game hero is an embracing of old ideals of manliness, while the light novel protagonist tends to be a partial rejection of the former. The Light Novel Protagonist is often a “loser,” while the Video Game Hero is more frequently a “winner,” and the active acknowledgement of both might just be two different approaches to dealing with male insecurity.

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The Man in the Moe

“If the emphasis in moe anime is on the female characters, where does that leave the male characters?”

I asked myself that question, and after some deliberation it turned into, “What do you look for in male characters in moe anime?” I want to turn the question to you the reader as well, provided you’re someone who has enjoyed moe anime in the past, even if you’re not necessarily a fan. Keep in mind that I don’t mean that the male characters themselves have to be “moe,” but just that they exist within those types of anime. If you want to extend the question to yuri shows as well, that is also okay.

For me, the first thing that popped into my head was Maria-sama ga Miteru, namely the all-male student council that exists outside of the all-girl school where Marimite primarily takes place. Marimite has a heavy emphasis on female characters, so when one of those male council members, Takada Megane, talks about how he loves to work out and eat meat all while flexing at the girls, it really stands out. It’s as if Takada and his muscles are inadvertently shattering the yuri-heavy atmosphere of Marimite, and the first time I saw him I thought, “Yes, you are the best male character in this show.” Applying that back to my own question, it makes me think that while I definitely enjoy Marimite for what it is (and own almost all of it on DVD), I like the idea that there exists something a little beyond the world of the girls, even if it’s not that far removed, and male characters who act kind of contrary to that setting actually serve to emphasize the feel of Marimite.

One concern I have is a possible philosophy that the male characters in such series don’t matter, as I feel that even if they’re out of the spotlight they can have a huge impact on the work itself.

So what do you think?

The Rational Male Companion

Few characters can impress me as much as the Rational Male Companion. These are the characters who are frequently well-acquainted with headstrong women, and though they may not have the guts or the power to rescue damsels in distress, they seek to provide understanding and kindness for the women they hold dear.

When Yoko finds herself stranded in the land of the Twelve Kingdoms, betrayed by everyone she ever trusted, It is the half-man/half-rat/non-ninja Rakushun who proves to her through his gentle and inquisitive nature that there are still good people in the world. Linn Jinto is not the brightest or the strongest man in the Abh empire, but his close friendship with Lafiel exhibits his sincerity and empathy, as well as his subdued sense of humor. Dominic Soleil does not even have the benefit of an entirely sane love interest, but his persistence and use of his own personal strengths (intelligence-gathering as opposed to Giant Robot Fighting) are indicative of his complete devotion to Anemone.

It really doesn’t have to do with the Rational Male as much as it has to do with the fact that he is someone’s Companion. They forge deep bonds with their friends and lovers, a bond tempered by the kind of self-confidence one can only find by being comfortable with oneself, accepting one’s own strengths and weaknesses.