Archive for March 12th, 2009

Kino no Tabi poster.

Previous posts on this blog have mentioned my belief in the simplification of characters required for them to be considered "realistic". A more recent post on the Tsundere archetype has made me aware of some underlying principle, hidden in the mists of Cannot Be Bothered To Research This Academically. (Hobby blog, remember.)

There is a scene in Evangelion (one of the earlier episodes) where Touji and Kensuke show rather more insight than they do later in the series, at Shinji's complaint that Misato is a slob at home. The gist of it is that Misato is comfortable enough around Shinji to show him her more embarrassing habits. This was the first thing which came to mind when I read the comments on my posts on tsundere characters, and the point about them showing Another Side to the viewpoint character was brought up. There is the sense of trust placed into the protagonist, a heady feeling. A resonance is struck: we all have our public personas, perhaps more than one depending on the circles we go around, and a private one, which we only show towards family and the closest of friends. Perhaps there are layers even deeper, a truly private self which we show to nobody but ourselves.

Watching the commentary of other fans on the characters we observe, there appears to be this desire for everyone to have at least two personalities: bonus points if the private one justifiably leads to the public, dissimilar though they may seem at first. A perpetually cheerful, genki, happy character who brightens the lives of all around her will probably be labelled as "boring", if not worse epithets, unless she is also revealed to have a "hidden side", something tragic or otherwise not happy in her personal life. While this is not the only backstory we may assign to her, it does seem to be the most common and easily-conjured. For some reason, the other way around (happy home life, tragic public persona) is not as believable, save in comedy.

Tragedy appears to draw our interest, as soap operas have profited from. A depressing public persona with an equally depressing private life will likely have more fans than happiness both ways. I forget which Russian author it was who started a story (a famous one, even) with a line about how every happy family is happy in the same way, but unhappy ones are unique in their specific unhappiness. I think it's an overgeneralization for poetic value, but the point has been made.

Yet, too much tragedy, too heavy-handedly, and we say that the show has achieved Emo. This is a term that, up until very recently, I have not heard of before; the root of "emotion" is easily inferred, but the apparent definition, as seen on the Internet, of being too sad for realism I have to guess from usage rather than any reasonably professional dictionary.

I would personally draw the imaginary line of Too Much Angst at the point where it becomes annoying, where the character's options for conversation or even life choices revolve around it. After that point, it starts to feel like the creator is just piling on the horrible stuff wantonly, for no reason other than to make the character more "sympathetic". It feels gratuitous, tacked-on, and, more to the point, unrealistic.

But this point of line-drawing varies between viewers. Perhaps I just have a low tolerance for this stuff, since I consider myself to have a happy life in general, certainly not wanting for anything essential, as is obvious from my ability not only to acquire entertainment options at all, much less from Japan, but also to ramble on about it on a blog. Watching the lives of others less fortunate is not exactly distasteful, but seeing into their private lives, the lives they are obviously keeping hidden with their cheerful facades, feels a bit… I don't know. Voyeuristic, somehow.

This could be why I like watching comedies: the Hidden Sides of a character tends to lie in their interests and hobbies, which are embarrassing to proclaim in public, but Not Really That Bad, for the sake of ratings. Since the medium in discussion here is anime, there are a surprising number of cases of covert fans, be it of anime, gaming, or the stereotypical female interests of cosplay and yaoi. (I know that they are common interests among people whom I know to be fans, but since I know they are fans, they're not exactly hiding it. Also, over-generalization is discouraged.)

And yet, Character Simplification comes into play here too. Two sides to the personality, and no more; these sides may have nuances and variations, but they can be distilled into just those two sides. I suspect that main characters can get away with more, but they had better be significant to the story.

Which is probably the reason for the simplification: as an example, a character who is a loli of the maidenly, pure type can also turn out to be a highly-trained assassin. But then she is also the illegitimate child and potential heiress to a fortune, who relieves stress by secluding herself in her room, and is capable of the highest tiers of snarky comments. She also has eyes of a different colour, is extremely forgetful, wields a scythe, wears cat ears… after a certain point, we as viewers simply stop caring. It's all fluff, extra words tacked onto the character description, all for someone who appears for maybe half an episode.

Incidentally, if you were wondering, the above character was created entirely according to the dice. I love that game.

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