To Be the Hero


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?

Bamboo Blade is its name, and Tama-chan is its star

I’ve been told that in any story there is always only one true protagonist as much as it would seem otherwise. It’s not necessarily the character who gets the most screen-time. It’s not the character who acts as narrator. It’s not even the one with the most prominent lines, but the character who moves the story along the most. Even when there seems to be multiple protagonists, in the writer’s mind there is only one.

I know I said otherwise previously, but I’ve come to realize that Isaac Dian is the main protagonist of Baccano! because he has by far the most influence on characters in the story. Even though Morikawa George, creator of Hajime no Ippo, has said that he treats his manga like every character is a main character, the mere fact that it’s titled “Hajime no Ippo” says otherwise. And in Bamboo Blade, of which I’ve watched the first seven episodes, Kawazoe Tamaki is the lead.

Tamaki has a clear purpose in the story, even if it’s the result of watching too much anime: protecting justice from evil. Even though she’s managed to repel evil, i.e. those two older boys in the club, it’s a never-ending battle, at least in her mind. Her actions, more than any other characters’, move the story along, as she is the one primarily responsible for transforming the ragtag Kendo Club into a workable team. As much time and emphasis that Koujirou gets, he acts more as a fairly passive narrator.

So with that in mind, I have to say that Tama-chan makes for a wonderful protagonist. I hope to see her speed-eating and kendo skills even more.

Hopefully it will involve ramen.