• Fri. Jun 2nd, 2023

What Makes an Anime Protagonist Relatable?

ByJohn Wintroub

Sep 15, 2020

One of my biggest pitfalls when it comes to anime is the over-the-top, “friendship is magic” type protagonists. It is one of the reasons I was never able to get into Dragon Ball. Goku was just too perfect for me. He does lose fights, but it never seemed to truly weigh on him the same way it would other characters. Between that and his sheer power and unbreakable will, I was never able put myself in his shoes.

Being able to understand and relate to the main character of an anime goes a long way in endearing me to the show. In Mob Psycho 100, Shigeo “Mob” Kageyama’s only desire is to be successful in life without relying on his psychic powers. He wishes to improve himself to better his life. He may have unimaginable power, but his purpose is not tied to it. This desire allows Mob to connect with those around them and show others there is more to them than the sins bound to them.

Mob Psycho 100 changed my opinion on the “friendship is magic” trope as every time Mob convinced a villain that their drive was misplaced, it felt natural. Mob’s simple goals are able to humble those around him, and it is those goals that make him relatable. He doesn’t want to become the most powerful psychic in the world. He just wants to not come in last in gym class.

That is not to say he without flaw. He holds in all of his emotions constantly, feeling like a blank slate until he reaches his breaking point. That need to hold in all of your emotions is one I dealt with constantly in high school. To be relatable, you must have relatable flaws.

No protagonist is more flawed than Subaru Natsuki from Re:Zero. Subaru deals with many of the deadly sins throughout the first season of Re:Zero. He is greedy, expecting that his sudden arrival in Lugnica was due to a goddess summoning him to be their champion. This greed leads him to desire love and affection from the one who saved him on his first day there. When he is able to return the favor and save Emilia, Subaru becomes prideful. This pride only reinforces his selfish desires. However, when his pride is destroyed, Subaru gives up, believing he is truly helpless. He becomes slothful. The combination of these sins leads to the terror Subaru sits through in episodes 15-17 of Re:Zero.

Subaru is just an ordinary 18-year old summoned to a fantasy world. There is nothing inherently special about him, making him an “every-man” type character. This allows the audience to better understand the “why” behind his actions. It is likely that if we were in his shoes, we would make the same mistakes.

Understanding what makes a character tick allows viewers to create a connection between themselves and the character. This is even easier when a character wears their personality on their sleeve like Hachiman Hikigaya does in My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU (or OreGairu). Hachiman just wants something genuine in life, whether it be honest friends or true love. His depressing outlook on other people as self-serving falsities creates this disconnect from himself and those around him. While he did not originally choose to become a loner, he did choose to remain one.

Even without the flashbacks, it is easy to understand why Hachiman prefers his own company over anyone else’s at the beginning of OreGairu. The world has never been kind to him, so why should he be kind back? Despite his desire to be selfish, to be the self-serving scumbag he so despises, he can’t help forcing himself into other people’s problems. The prime example of this is when he risked his life to save Yui’s dog on the first day of school, putting him in the hospital for three weeks. His selflessness combined with his desire for genuineness create an interesting duality as he does not always believe that other people’s selflessness is genuine. If this is the case, then is he really behaving out of kindness or is he fueling his own pride? This inner turmoil is something many people, myself included, struggle with constantly and is one of the primary reasons why Hachiman is so relatable to me.

However, what makes all three of these characters stand out to me is how they grow due to their relationships with others. Mob is only as kind and thoughtful as he is thanks to the support he receives from his friends and family, especially his mentor Reigen. Reigen showed Mob that there is more to the world than psychic powers, while giving someone that Mob could discuss his deeper feelings with. Reigen’s teachings are what allow Mob to understand many of the antagonists the two face over the course of the first two seasons.

Subaru is able to understand others through others’ understanding of him. Rem is the first person in Re:Zero to truly understand what drives Subaru. Because of the kindness she shows him, Subaru begins to learn how to reflect that kindness onto others. Subaru likely still suffers from greed and pride, but he no longer lets himself be controlled by them. The growth he experiences throughout shows that you can grow beyond your sins.

Everyone Hachiman grows close to due to his time in the Service Club breaks him out of his shell. Yui shows him that going out of your comfort zone allows you to experience so much that you would not otherwise. Yukino, on the other hand, shows Hachiman that he is not alone and that there are others that feel the same way he does. Both of them deal with their own loneliness, but together the three of them are able to work through it together (at least for now).

What makes these characters feel real is not their flaws, but how they overcome them and their relationships with those that support them. These are certainly not the only examples of relatable anime protagonists, but these are the ones that come to my mind first when I think of relatability. Is there an anime character that you find yourself relating to? Comment below telling me who it is and why!