Oh, So Tropical: The Chosen One

The essence of The Chosen One trope is that there is someone out there in the universe who has been Marked by Fate (or the Gods, or whomever) to be the Winner/Savior/Liberator/Whatever. Oh, and at the start of the story, they don’t know it.

Sure, you know this character: How about Aang? Or Afro Samurai? Or Madoka frickin’ Kaname?

Didn’t you wonder why Homura kept trying to save Madoka OVER and OVER and OVER? Because It’s Madoka who’s been chosen to blow up the magical girl universe.

The Chosen One is a really useful character because they are the natural protagonist of a Rags to Riches story, right? I mean, seriously, right? Nine times out of ten they’re stashed in some damn farm in the middle of nowhere on some desert planet, just acting like a normal everyday kid until some jackass like Ben Kanobi comes from nowhere and hands them a light saber. That’s not necessarily LITERALLY rags – I mean, it’s not like Madoka comes from some poverty-struck family, right? – but in terms of the universe the person appears to be a nobody.

That’s the real problem with the Chosen One, of course. They’re CHOSEN. Of course they’re ultimately going to win. They will have external conflicts, of course, Person vs. Person conflict, and they can lose everyone of those except for the last one, but if they lose that last one, then obviously they weren’t really the Chosen One. So you know the Chosen One is going to win in the end. It’s the nature of the beast.

That means the REAL conflict has to come from someplace else. If it’s not Person vs. Person, that leaves Person vs. Nature and Person vs. Self. And Nature makes a lousy antagonist because while Person needs Nature to have conflict, nature usually don’t give a damn. As I’ve said before, you need Everest to climb Everest, but Everest don’t give a damn one way or the other.

So the REAL source of ends up being Person vs. Self. And if the person is the Chosen One, the sources of internal conflict are disbelief that one is the Chosen One and/or rejection of their identity of being the Chosen One.

This is why the Chosen One has to Refuse the Call, right? They can refuse it for either of those two reasons, but they have to refuse it. Otherwise there’s no tension at all in the story. And that’s the real problem with the Chosen One, right? They’re CHOSEN. Of course they’re going to win.

Another key turning point for the Chosen One is the Decision to Turn Back. It happens to just about every Chosen One at some point: Having accepted they are the Chosen One, they reach a point where they believe they have been tested to their limits and can no longer proceed. This scene can be constructed in any number of ways, but ultimately the Chosen One must CHOOSE to go on.

That’s what makes them heroic, right? They look inside themself and find what it takes. Person vs. Self.

My favorite Chosen One is Madoka Kaname, of course. Partly that’s because her story is constructed around hiding the fact that she IS the Chosen One.

Madoka Kaname, Chosen One

Sure. Think about Puella Magi Madoka Magika. Madoka is shown as being literally nothing special over and over again, a weak and silly girl compared to the others. How could she be the Chosen One?

But contemplate this: For the most part the plot of Madoka Magica just spins its wheels until Madoka makes up her mind to become a magical girl. Facts are revealed, characters come and go, but the main plot, Earth vs. magical girl system, just bumps along and bumps along, looking worse and worse for Earth. The main plot is on autopilot.

If Madoka does ANYTHING for most of the series, it’s Refuse the Call, right? She just can’t decide … and she just can’t decide … and she just can’t decide …

And as soon as Madoka makes her choice, she immediately breaks the magical girl system, rendering everything that happened in the show up until then moot.

Does that make Madoka Magika a bad story? I don’t think so. Do you?

What that really tells us is how hard it is to deploy the Chosen One in a meaningful way. Usually when it works it’s because the Chosen One’s quest, as in Madoka Magica, is not really the point. Usually it’s what the Chosen One learns about themself that ultimately turns out to be the point. The Last Airbender, right?

Unless they’re just using the Chosen One as a trope. Then you often get tripe.

Oh, man, I loves me some wordplay.

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.

2 thoughts on “Oh, So Tropical: The Chosen One

  1. I’m gonna be honest here, I hate this trope. Sure, I can recognize the reasons why it is used, but it has just gotten so predictable, that there is nothing new in this trope, aside from subverting it.

    The chosen one as a villain, now that is something I haven’t seen. It would be so easy: this person is chosen, everyone knows it, and this goes into their head, and the main character has to put up with them as a result.

    Liked by 1 person

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