The Idiotic Protagonist

I’ve been taught that the most dramatic stories come from having protagonists who have to do what comes most difficult to them with a fervent desire to accomplish their goals, and lacking intelligence is one way to stack the deck against the main character. You want your hero to struggle, to earn his progress. Protagonists in manga, particularly shounen manga, are often designed to not be the sharpest tool around. Be it Naruto, Goku, or any number of heroes who act before they think (or omit the second part of that combo altogether), the reason why they’re made to be dumb is to make them more of an everyman, to tell its readers, “Hey, this could be you.” However, with some readers an opposite effect occurs, and you’ll often see people gravitate to the supporting characters on account of the heroes being, at least in their eyes, bland or possessing little merit as characters.

In trying to make the hero an everyman, authors run the potential risk of making their hero a no-man, someone to whom the reader simply cannot relate, but I don’t think that’s the problem at hand. I have this feeling that some readers do not wish to see certain negative traits in a story’s most important characters. Sometimes it’s because they’re passive, other times because they’re idiots, and other times because they are totally moe.

There’s a division of sorts when it comes to making this kind of shounen-esque protagonist. Should you have a protagonist that acts as a stand-in for the reader, to allow the reader to be immersed in the world, to feel as if he or she is the one saving the day? Or is it more important that the hero be someone who is already skilled, someone the reader can look up to? Both are paths for readers to live out their fantasies through protagonists, both are forms of wish-fulfillment, but each is different in the types of interaction required by the reader, and people may prioritize one over the other.

I have to wonder if age of the reader factors into this division of stand-in protagonist vs larger-than-life protagonist. The stand-in protagonist is something that I think appeals more to that crowd of boys 12 and under who run around in the school playground pretending they can fire lasers. Meanwhile, the larger-than-life protagonist seems to appeal more to the rebellious teenage crowd. A magazine like Shounen Jump has readers well beyond its originally intended audience of young boys, and disagreements as to what makes a good main character in a shounen series may simply be a result of different groups reading the same story.

Let’s Generate a Fetish

In Defense of Naruto

Naruto is a shounen manga like so many others, yet it still holds a special place in my spiritual pantheon of anime that I’ve watched heart, and out of the more modern fare it still remains my overall favorite shounen manga. It can be very easy to dismiss the entirety of Naruto on some lackluster parts, but the other day I was reminded about why I liked Naruto in the first place.

I was taking the bus home, and I began to think back to when I was more of a Naruto fan, when I kept up with it fairly religiously, when I looked at the forums to see what people thought of the latest chapter/episode. Naturally, there are scenes in Naruto which stuck out in my mind, and chief among them was the battle between Naruto and Gaara during the invasion of Konoha. And as I thought about it, I felt myself almost moved to tears by the themes of that encounter, by the sheer emotion of it all built upon the past histories of their two characters.

During the fight, Naruto looks into Gaara’s eyes, but where all others see only murder and insanity, Naruto sees past the surface and comes to the realization that Gaara’s eyes are those of crippling loneliness. More importantly, those eyes were an all too familiar sight to Naruto, who saw them in the mirror every day while growing up. In this one moment, Naruto displays an incredible sense of empathy, and his mission, his purpose changes, from simply defeating Gaara to save the village, to defeating him in order to prove that a solitary life ridden by overwhelming loneliness can only get you so far. Gaara was no longer simply an enemy, but rather the person who understood Naruto the most.

Naruto is an easy character to criticize with all of his hollering and frequent displays of incompetence. I can find myelf doing it sometimes too, but then I think back to the core of his character, that of the boy shunned by everyone around him for reasons out of his control, who desired above all else to be noticed and to be respected. While things have come a long way and Naruto has become a valued member of his own village, it’s still easy to see how this struggle still informs his character.

Ogiue’s Saimoe 2008 Second Preliminaries: August 1st

Ogiue is among the many characters in the first round of second preliminaries for Anime Saimoe 2008. She has some stiff competition ahead of her, so if you truly believe Ogiue to be the Moest then you should take some time out of your day to vote for her on AUGUST 1st, 2008 which to many of you will be JULY 31st, 2008 because Japan is in its own timezone.

The official voting area is located on 2channel on its Voting Board, usually labeled something like アニメ最萌トーナメント2008 投票スレRound##.

The threads close automatically at 1000 posts or if they exceeed I believe 512kb so watch out.

To learn how to participate, please consult this earlier post detailing the steps needed in order to cast your vote in Saimoe.

Oh, and for those of you who are waiting for the main tournament, all I will say is that if you do not vote for Ogiue here, then she will have no chance of getting into the main tournament.

Oh, and Hyuuga Hinata’s up too, though shounen jump characters never really stand a chance, which is a shame.

The Strength of Manga in Clearly Describing Deeper Concepts

Sometimes I’ll see people say that western comics beat out manga because when they actually are written to be sophisticated they do so in a much more mature and literary fashion. Granted, Miyazaki’s Nausicaa is richly dense in this respect but he’s the exception that sort of proves the rule as he’s greatly influenced by European comics.

However, I think that the greater strength of manga in general is that it manages to marry strong ideas and deeper philosophy with a very clear, conventional story-telling style often meant for young readers. While Naruto is indeed a children’s comic, no one should be ashamed of reading it while they’re above the age of 10 as it carries (and sometimes loses) interesting themes of redemption and friendship. You don’t have to dig deep to find out that Naruto is trying to fight 12 years of neglect and depression throughout his own series, or to know that Oscar from Rose of Versailles has to struggle with the conflict that arises from her trying to understand her own gender. This is not a bad thing.

I already have an exception, as I think this may be why Avatar: The Last Airbender is so appealing to its fans (which includes myself) as well. While it still feels very western, it is similar to manga in the sense that there are many themes running throughout the show but they are not obscured and require multiple viewings to get most of them.

Sure, they’re not Grant Morrison or Alan Moore, but they don’t need to be.

The Fujoshi Files 4: Haruno Sakura

Name: Haruno, Sakura (春野サクラ)
Relationship Status:
Origin: Naruto

As a young girl growing up in the ninja village of Konoha, Sakura was a very intelligent student with a keen understanding of the basics of being a ninja. Chance would have her put on the same team as the love of her life, Uchiha Sasuke, and the infamous prankster and all around clown Uzumaki Naruto, led by the skilled, if eccentric, Hatake Kakashi. While there were tensions at first, the team developed a deep bond, which was severed when Sasuke betrayed them and left to join one of their worst enemies.

Sakura is the sole pupil of Tsunade, one of the most powerful ninjas in the world, and from her has learned how to both channel immense strength and utilize life-saving medical techniques. Teamed with an older Naruto and an unintentionally foul-mouthed artist-ninja named Sai, the team pursues Sasuke to return him home to Konoha.

Fujoshi Level:
It may catch some people by surprise that Sakura even has an entry in the Fujoshi Files. It is true that her fujoshi level is not very high at all. However, she certainly is one, though even Sakura herself has only barely realized it, as her extremely “positive” reaction to an illusion of Sasuke and Sai embracing each other passionately catches even Sakura off guard.