Diversification of personalities in anime- how much does it affect our anime watching?

[Just a quick shoutout: this post is dedicated to my friend Wei En and his sister, for both the awesome pizza and being fans of AOIA. Thanks a lot guys!]

Katekyo Hitman Reborn. Puella Magi Madoka Magica. Even Pokemon, if you must. What do these anime have in common? Simple. Each character (or each pokemon, if you catch my drift) seems to personify a certain character trait, and perhaps even being the only characters in the show who possess that particular trait, at least in that degree of intensity. How much does this deliberate diversification of personalities in anime affect our anime watching?

Note the usage of the word ‘deliberate’, for it is clearly planned for each character in several shows, to be the unique possessors of a particular trait. In both Hitman Reborn and PMMM, this special trait is marked by objects they hold – in Hitman Reborn, the rings they possess sort of mark their personalities: for instance, it could be said that the Lightning Attribute’s users are all unpredictable and spontaneous in their actions. In PMMM, their wishes and perhaps costumes mark their characters – a passionate red for the passionate Kyouko, and a blue for Sayaka to represent her sentiments of sadness and unrequited love as well as sacrifice.

And it moves beyond the fantasy anime as well. Even simple slice-of-life characters have character archetypes for each character, so much so that even if a common archetype is shared, their personalities would differ tremendously. In most high school anime, it is common to have a deadpan, serious character, a fun-loving character, and so on. The characters hence become incredibly predictable and polarised  – each character being similar yet different only by account of the tremendous differences in personality.

How then, does this affect our anime watching? Perhaps on a micro level it actually generates interests for the show instead. If Pottermore and Facebook quizzes are any indication, people and fans just like being paired up with characters in the show. They like to know what house they’re in, what character they most resemble, what weapon they would use, et cetera. Would the polarization of characters and the reflection of this via symbols and items thus increase accessibility to the show? If today’s events were any indication, I’d say yes.

It was rather simple today, actually. A trip to my friend’s house led to a short discourse by my friend on his collection of Vongola rings and how each ring represented a particular personality trait. He even offered to pair up the people present with each ring, and explaining the personality traits for each. (I was this character, apparently.) And if the sudden interest in the rings and characters were any indication, I’d say that he managed to get the rest of the group mildly interested in the anime itself.

Yet it would be too idealistic to call this polarization of characters as a means to promote and increase accessibility to the anime without considering the effects of the anime on the characters themselves. Would characters made with simply having different personalities in mind fare as well as anime which are much more story-driven? Is it impossible, then, to avoid polarising characters in anime and restraining them to only one type of personality?

I think that in the end, the question boils down to whether this polarisation of characters in anime is deliberate or coincidental. It’s one thing to create a wide and diverse cast of characters, and it’s another to do so in a fixed, forced manner. It is only when we understand what goes on in the minds of the writers for anime do we become truly able to access the effect this diversification of personalities in anime holds on our anime watching habits.

Now if you excuse me, I’m off to take yet another quiz.

About Valence

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4 Responses to Diversification of personalities in anime- how much does it affect our anime watching?

  1. Carillus says:

    Since the key factor in writing is, above all, conveying the message or the story to the viewer (you should know this better than I do), I would believe that simplicity is the best policy with regards to approaching the secondary aspects of the story. Thus the deliberate polarisation of characters.

    Alternatively, a viewpoint that I hold is that different characters represent different facets of the writer’s personality and experiences. Good writers inject their experiences into their characters which lends them depth and the human quality, so that when we read about or watch them in action, we are able to empathise with the character, because we empathise with the writer whose personality is behind them. It’s very easy to tell when writers are creating characters without including experience – you end up with series like Index, where more than half the cast are forgettable members who are, indeed, very vocal with their supposed thoughts and alignments, but still have about as much personality as a freshly baked brick.

    But of course, normal people have multiple sides to their personalities. Unlike fictional characters, we are non-polarised, a mishmash of personality types gained from numerous life experiences that makes us unpredictable to all but the closest of friends and family.

    The problem, of course, is that we don’t like not knowing what a character is about to do next – human nature to tend toward consistency and predictability. So the best solution is to give the character a predictable personality, but to give it depth at the same time.

    Note: Predictable =/= tropic (trope-ic, not the coconuts-and-beaches variety). It’s one thing to have predictable personalities like in Madoka Magica; it’s another to have a bunch of single-defining-factor characters in a harem anime.

    • Valence says:

      Although I suppose this deliberate diversification is common in a lot of anime, some are much more polarised than the others. Yet the thing is that in most cases this depth the characters so desperately need is tragically lacking.

      Is it not right to tell the story while using characters to further the plot? A character-driven story rather than an event-driven story, perhaps? Lots of shows, especially those with multiple arcs, are driven by these arcs. Their characters as a result are polarised and arguably tropic. Shonen manga often have the same composition of characters. The male lead is usually someone hot-blooded, who holds concern for others and has hidden abilties, etc etc etc. There’s almost a complete list of characteristics assignable to each character type. Is it impossible then, to create a unique character archetype?

      I suppose it boils down to the intentions behind the writing of the characters rather than the characters themselves.

  2. Funny how your friend picked Chrome Dokuro as representative of your personality. I wonder which ring would best define me. If I got to choose, it would be Flan’s ring. Of course that is just wishful thinking.

    My guess as to why there are many cliche characters would be to make shows more accessible to the audience. If television characters were as layered as people in real life not only would explaining these characters be complex but also might distract from the story. These character stereotypes are accessible because these are caricatures of real life people. So in that sense I agree with you. Plus, I suspect it is easier writing a show with cliche characters than one with more originality.

    A show with more interesting and unique characters usually feels like a character study to me. Not that I believe that is a negative thing. I actually prefer character studies. I have no way of knowing if the majority of the TV watching audience enjoys those shows too.

    Interesting post.

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