One of the cool things about the blogosphere is that we sometimes actually talk to each other. I know, right? And of course I mean “type at” not “talk to,” but you’re here. You know what I mean.
So we got to talking and they mentioned character analysis, and I said, “You know, I was thinking of that.” I’ve been thinking about it since I got to thinking about why someone might call a classic series overrated, and character plays a large role in that, in making a series liked or disliked. I mean, the show is called One Punch Man, not One Punch Squad or One Punch Team.
There are going to be a lot of character analyses coming up because part of my “deal” is that I look at anime and manga from my perspectives as a semi-successful writer and award-winning animator. Both those elements of my being know that character drives plot, creates conflict, and attracts audiences. There is an entire genre of anime that is solely character-driven: it’s the essence of slice-of-life.
I love Lucky Star. What’s the plot of Lucky Star? Go ahead. I’ll wait.
Much as Mind-Body-Soul is a common character trio, Brains-Looks-Feelings is a common way of looking at characters. That combination of factors, intelligence, physical strength, and some kind of emotional power – is a common way of looking at people going back at least to Aristotle.
Now, let’s make this perfectly clear: a character who is ten out of ten on all three of those is a pretty crappy character. Let’s face it: they are flawless. They can do anything. Where’s the drama in that? That was a rhetorical question. There is no drama in that.
The technical name for this character is “Mary Sue.” Mary Sue is annoying. He/she can do no wrong. Whatever obstacle Mary Sue faces, she’s smarter/stronger physically/strong enough emotionally to overcome it.
Boring. Every good character needs strengths. But every good character needs weaknesses as well.
Which leads us to Haruhi Suzumiya. Haruhi is interesting as a character in part because she has god-like powers to control her environment but doesn’t know it. There’s a source of tension right there: what happens when she’s dissatisfied? Not being self-aware, she creates new worlds, or the Endless Eight, or whatever. By accident. Without knowing it.
The cutie pie Haruhi Kyon first decides to chat up. Big mistake, Kyon.
As a character:
Brains: Haruhi finishes all her homework in the first two days of vacation. She may be oblivious, but she’s no dummy. Koizumi specifically calls her “intelligent” several times.
Looks: She’s as cute as a bug’s ear. Plus she has nice boobies (or at least thinks she does – her comment on meeting Asahina is “Hers are even bigger than mine!”). She’s also a natural athlete, a terrific baseball player (I’ll vouch for that: she really does have a nice swing as a batter), a good sprinter, skilled enough that the sports teams all want her although she’s not interested.
Feelings: And here we find Haruhi’s weaknesses. The fact that her powers lead to her continued success has made her into a spoiled brat.
To be fair, Haruhi has a number of personality characteristics I would describe as positive. She is a natural leader. She is upbeat, optimistic. She is loyal to her friends. She has a sense of adventure, and the ability to motivate people less extroverted to join her. She enjoys the moment.
She’s also a terrible bully and loses it when she doesn’t get her way.
And there are the flaws that create the conflict that underlies the series. She wants what she wants, whether it’s good or bad.
If it’s good, no problemo. Everyone has fun. Except, you know, the opposing baseball team.
But if what Haruhi wants is bad, the others have to stop her. And because she’s a bully, it means she resists being stopped.
And because she’s got god-like powers, she has to be resisted carefully. In fact, this is one of the key sources of conflict in the show: Kyon just can’t punch her lights out. Koizumi actually stops him at one point. If Kyon unloads, verbally or physically, on Haruhi, the world could end.
A second source of conflict is that something else Haruhi doesn’t know: she wants to be loved. Specifically, she’s crushing hard on Kyon. That’s his function in her world. She wants an ESPer and a time traveller and an alien; she gets Koizumi and Asahina and Nagato…and Kyon.
Question: What is he doing there? Answer: He’s the boyfriend.
When she’s REALLY unhappy, her subconscious creates a whole new world for just herself and Kyon. Yep, in her head they are Adam and Eve. That world disappears when he kisses her.
Big problem: Kyon doesn’t love her. His kiss is total manipulation. In the Endless Eight he knows he can break the cycle by doing it again, and he won’t. And because of the god-like powers and all the world-ending stuff, he can’t just leave, either.
I don’t blame him for not loving her. Yeah, she’s cute, yeah, she’s got nice knockers, yeah, she’s smart and interesting. But yeah, she’s a really nasty person at times. The guy who falls for Haruhi Suzumiya will have to have the patience of a saint, and that’s not Kyon.
So she wants his love and can’t have it; he wants out and can’t leave. That, my friends, is tension. And it’s tension that grows naturally out of her character, specifically, the flaws in her character. It’s enough to drive the series.
I always look at comments and feedback, and I’m sure I’m not the first to see what I’ve seen, so have at it. Just keep it clean and keep it on target…no personal attacks, okay? Thanks.