Hear Ye Hear Ye Princess Pinkie has returned with a New Anime Post
Salutations Dear Island Guests and Loyal Subjects, which I hope are one and the same. Shonen is probably the most accessible genre in anime. The desire to be more than our current selves, to grow more powerful and to be respected as a hero might dwell in all of us .. at least a bit. Yet Shonen Protagonists are often a tad .. bland.. made without a very dominant personality so we can place ourselves in their shoes and feel empowered. So what makes a good Shonen Protagonist in my eyes?! Today we find out by comparing a couple and picking my favourite.
Round 1: Gon Freecss and Izuku Midoriya
Let’s begin with two characters who represent the target demographic the best. Gon and Midoriya are kids of an age that Shonen watchers would be. They both love the colour green, they both have outfits I do not find very fashionable and they both work by enhancing their physical strength by having a story that is deeply connected to having a father figure playing an important role in their life. Both have high moral fiber and join an organisation that is there to protect human kind from all sorts of unspeakable evils. Yet which of the two is the better character? To me there is no contest here at all, because I really do not like Deku as a main character at all.
I totally get why he is the main character and I can see why people like him but I found him so boring I dropped Hero Academia for it. He’s almost literally Captain America.. a trope that has been there since the 40’s! Steve Rogers is a wimpy boy, that dreams of/wants to be a soldier, like all his buddies. Even though he is not born with the physical capabilities a benefactor gives him a serum that turns him into a super soldier. One of extremely high moral fiber that always does the right thing… even if it isn’t always the lawful thing. Midoriya is the exact same character..except soldier has been replaced by the word hero.. and instead of serum , he got a hair.
I already made a post in which I wrote how bland Shonen main characters can be and Deku to me is the epitome of that. On the opposite site of the spectrum though is Gon. Who in many ways is similar but one who has actual layers. Starting with his Goal.. unlike other protagonists of the genre Gon has an objective goal, rather than a subjective one. What is “ a great hero?” What is a Pirate King, What does it take to become Hokage?” All these goals are final destinations, when (and not if) the character reaches them, the manga/anime ends. Gon’s story is different, he wants to find his dad. Given how often we see and hear of Gin we already know that will not be the end of the story.
From the beginning we know his dad might be dead, maybe he is alive and the reunion will be touching, or maybe Gon will be angry with him. He is written as a protagonist whose journey can go anywhere. Gon also feels much more like a kid. He is fickle, naive and has a dark side. He can be very empathic.. but he also has enough apathy to let Killua do the terrible things he does..to some extent. Gon does what he does, for a very personal goal at times maybe even selfish, power and status is not a goal but a means to an end for him making him feel much more real. Midoriya chases in essence what everyone in that world chases.. or at least the cast chases, translated in this world Deku chases the American Dream, which is the most generic story, with a character that has no real flaws.. he is insecure sure that can be noted as a flaw .. but when it matters he always steps up, his flaws vanish . Gon is frustrated and angry, Gon has abandonment issues and these show up as nasty traits at times, which hinder the story or at least his growing curve in a significant matter. Therefore his base narrative as well as the road trough that narrative is so much more versatile and holds excitement… we truly don’t know how his journey will go. With Deku you can make very well educated guess, Gon keeps the audience surprised which makes him one of THE best Shonen Protagonist period. No contest here at all!
Son Goku Vs Monkey D Luffy
I would like to classify Gon and Deku as more serious protagonists, despite the fact that Gon can be carefree, their journey has some gravitas. It’s not about enjoying themselves along the road. Enjoying yourself on your journey is a trope as well and what two characters better to portray that as Goku and Luffy. The top two selling anime franchises of all time. Goku and Luffy are both carefree, glutenous characters, who have access to several transformations and continue to get new ones as their journey goes along. They journey across their respective narrative worlds to face their worlds strongest fighters to prove their own worth. They make plenty of friends along the way and show kindness to both friends and enemies. Unlike the previous bout this one is a lot closer for me to call and not just because I am watching Goku through nostalgia goggles.
On paper Luffy does seem like the character that is better equipped for the win. His character arc is more dynamic and he is a much better person than Goku. He also has a lot more personality than Goku does from the get go as well as the one that is more consistently written. Some aspects of Goku’s personality faded over time, which can be explained because we literally see him grow up from a naive kid to a more aloof man. Goku is often hated upon for being a bad father who only wants to fight. However it is that very aspect that draws me so much to later Dragon Ball and Z-Goku. Toriyama told his readers that there is a toxic element in Goku. I do like the idea of this self destructive toxicity.. Once again it offers excitement. How often can it be done before Goku truly bites something off too big for him to chew?! Unfortunately Goku was ruined , to an extent..not by Toyataro but by the fans.
Luffy could win this match simply for the fact that he basically is aromantic and will never be a character that I can see having a kid. That means Luffy’s journey can only be achieved by Luffy. Z-Goku was to an extend designed to pass on the torch to his son! However fan complaints ruined this, they needed to see more Goku.. NOT Gohan. This reduced Goku’s most interesting character trait, his toxic need for growth and bigger challenges, to a non issue. No matter how insane Goku’s decisions will become.. it will always be alright because fans won’t allow him to bear the consequences of his mistakes too much. It made the Buu-arc more convoluted as everyone but Goku had to be benched in the end… and it contributed in Toyotaro making Goku more helplessly naive rather than toxic.. which ruined the Moro Manga arc at the end.
Luffy is designed better, his goal is strictly tied to him so he can never be replaced. He WILL have to be the one to overcome obstacles or his goals will not be met. The interesting element of Goku is that he does not want to BE the strongest, he wants to FIGHT the strongest, he doesn’t mind losing once or twice if it means he can continue to improve. However that is also his detriment..his goal is the ultimate form of subjective..especially now that we have been introduced to the realm of the gods, surpassing the gods and all the other universes. Goku’s goal can only be obtained if the writer can’t imagine anyone stronger.. yet Toyotaro found the solution through the Dragon Balls, with Granola wishing to be the strongest in the universe… which means ANYONE can become the new strongest person in the universe.. his goal goes on forever and we will never see it conclude. Luffy has an end goal, Luffy will reach his finish..he is a character that can win. In a way.. Goku is pacman and Luffy is Mario. For the Audience it is much more satisfying to see Mario save the princess and take her home.. rather than see pacman establish a new high score before trying again.,, at least the majority of an audience.. That is what ultimately puts Luffy above Goku still.
Yusuke Urameshi Vs Kurosaki Ichigo
So we have had the bouts of the young naive kids, the airheaded but insanely powerful adults, what is next? The grouchy kid that gets dragged into this lifestyle thing against their will of course. The Delinquent type character. The characters I chose to pit against each other are Yusuke and Ichigo,,, can you figure out which one of the two I watched in Dub?! Other examples of this type of hero would be characters like Inuyasha or a great many of the Jojo’s. However Yusuke and Kurosaki both get visited by a girl from the spirit world, tether somewhere between life and death and face enemies in that theme. Both of them have an evil form they have to control so this seemed like a good fit.
What defines these characters is that oftenly they “lack” a bit of a goal. They usually have a goal “by proxy” or at least a goal caused by another person. Both Ichigo and Yusuke get more “jobs” rather than a goal they strive for with all heart and soul. Which can at times feel a bit “forced” The reason why they put up with this thing is oftenly explained through a macguffin, like Inuyasha’s necklace or in Yusuke’s case being employed as a spirit detective. This is where Ichigo takes a small lead over his rival, his story feels a bit more natural. Rukia is his coach for his new powers and as he learns she gets in trouble because of him.. he feels obligated to help her and from there his story flows naturally…until he defeats Aizen. Yusuke is a lot less likeable and a lot more resistant in the beginning, in fact he never really stops being an asshat until the very end of the show. That though gives mister Urameshi a trait that Ichigo somewhat lacks. Consistency. He bounces around from having romantic moments with Rukia to having kids with Inoue and from delinquent to overpowered hero that does cool poses.
Character growth is important and Ichigo is a character that grows a lot more than Yusuke.. however I do think Ichigo is also a prime example of it being done in excess. While Ichigo does start off as a better person than Yusuke already , he loses a lot of the elements that define him in the beginning, ending up as some generic cool looking hero. The biggest problem with Ichigo is that he really doesn’t fight all that much. The first part of the series is fine.. but around the Espada Arc it kind of follows a certain format. Ichigo’s old powers get overwhelmed, he goes to train somewhere to gain a new power. Hell breaks lose everywhere around him and his friends do all the fighting and as soon as they begin to lose Ichigo shows up late.. but looking all cool and more powerful, obliterating the current enemy.
Then mid fight we travel to an alternate universe for a few weeks, return to see him finish off this enemy before he is overwhelmed by the next enemy or encounters a new problem.. he goes back to training.. and shows up late for his next fight. Looking all cool and stuff one again not really having a challenge. As a result Ichigo kind of becomes a gimmick in his own show. After every other fight he goes to power up and learn stuff again.. vanishes , then poofs back looking all cool.
Yusuke kind of does the opposite. He gets his finger gun attack and then for almost half of the series he doesn’t really learn a new technique.. he just can fire it a bit more often. Only when the Dark Tournament Saga begins does he learn a new technique.. except it’s kind of the same technique still. A blue beam power attack.. this one is a bit wider though. That’s dozens of episodes in though! Then two story arcs beyond that he gets a third power and that’s really it. Oh yeah he also gets a platypus bunny duck thing that only does something once, but I can’t help but feel Yusuke really does not grow that much at all…. yet I am not sure if I mind. Change is great but it has to feel natural. The way Yusuke gets roped into being a spirit detective would make it so that he probably would never go fond of the job. He treats his girlfriend pretty terrible and Botan as well, but he is never really given a very good reason to change. Yes they treat him better than he treats them but with Keiko that has been ongoing since before the series began change has to be natural and I think Yuske is an interesting case study of it not always being needed.
The last Archetype
I thought I would place Natsu versus Sawada Tsunayoshi here as both “fire” based people who can float in the air and do big fire attacks as well as some punches… but they are very different archetypes. Tsuna is more akin to Gon and Midoriya. He would beat Deku but lose to Gon. Natsu is the fourth archetype. The shouty anger issues shone the protagonist. Characters like Naruto and Asta would find their way on this list as well as Edward Elric, though he can also fit in the previous category. This is my least favourite archetype because it oftenly invalidates itself as time passes. The “Wild” characters start out as the Scrappy Doo of anime but are then quickly polished out into something else. I get this is probably a cultural archetype for Japan where loudness equals rude and undisciplined and seeing them grow into respectable people is part of the journey.. but to me at times it feels like we do not meet the real protagonist until halfway into the series.
I think Tsuna is how this trope is done correctly. Naked Tsuna who is the super mode of the first part of the series doesn’t always show up so we get to know the real Tsuna already before he turns into this obnoxiously present trope. Until he is ready to learn discipline.. but we got to know him already. But he is such a different take on it that I don’t think he classifies. So how about I let you guys decide? Who is your favourite, high spirited, loud and almost feral anime protagonist? Let me know in the comments! Do note that I think that none of the shows I mentioned are bad. Some are just not for me. I am kind of picky with what I want to see in my main character. What makes for a main character you like?! Type a comment while I go imagine my own ideal Shonen protagonist in my mid day nap! Because remember folks! Friendship is Magic, but dreams are even more wonderful! Oyasumi.
8 thoughts on “This or That: Who is the Better Shonen Protagonist?”
This is a great concept for a blog post. I definitely agree with your picks of Yusuke and Gon. They were way more interesting characters. Funny enough, both were created by the same person.
They were! And while Gon I think really outshines Yusuke .. there is a way he layers his characters, they are among some of the most human protagonists to me, and their respective journey always felt less of a straight line and more a road map of different goals and achievements as they went along. Less defined , which I find super important!
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That’s right. Gon does have more layers of a character than Yusuke if one were to compare the two and he had to work harder to improve as a fighter. That’s a very insightful point.
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Most of Yusuke’s powers were bestowed onto him, he rarely had to work for one. Yet I am also talking about how Yusuke’s behaviour was uniform and solid, he was a deliquent and acted like that to everyone.
Gon is/was a sweet kid that liked being kind, yet who knowingly and willingly hangs around Killua, a cold apathic killer, but someone who Gon can bond with.. but also someone that helps Gon reach his goal. To an extend he can betray his own morales because his goal is more important. With Killua present and just him he is also more likely to bully an enemy a bit, while with Kite present he is a bit more of a kid. Around Netero he becomes more brave, inspired and more proper.
Gon adapts to his surroundings, he has a form of empathy as a person that not many other characters have. There are aspects of his persona that he cant explore around certain people or that simply dont manifest. I think that is much more how a real person acts than lets say a Midoriya or a Luffy would.
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Very true on both counts. Gon had to work a lot harder to get powers let along get stronger in general.
Yeah, that irony of their relationship was certainly fascinating and it was something that never became too preachy with how those dynamics happened. The dynamics between him, Killua, Kite, and Netero are certainly different.
Gon does seem to be a more realistic character than a lot of Shonen Jump protagonists despite the crazy world he lives in.
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Interesting post and I like the match up sort of style to it. I think which is “best” probably boils down to personal preference, and quality of story telling. Some shonen protags are so blank they don’t get anyone hooked and some stories are so formulaic you can watch the first episode and fill in the rest of the blanks yourself without taking the time to see the rest of the show. My favorite shonen hero? Well my first thought is Natsume of the book of friends fame. He’s so low key though, I’m not sure he even qualifies. So lets go with Rin Okumura, and I know this is personal because I’m that wild child who is always in trouble for following his heart deep in my heart, even if outwardly you might think I was Yukio (no, I married Yukio and he keeps me from my wilder excesses. Sometimes) Rin doesn’t have all that much character growth. It’s more like those around him come to appreciate him as he is while the brothers come to work together as a team despite their differences. Oddly enough I also quite enjoyed Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood and in that pairing I much prefer Alphonse, quiet, steady, self sacrificing as opposed to Elric who (in my mind) tends to go off half cocked without considering consequences of his actions. Elric gets so focused on an end goal that he loses sight of the many side issues and people, whereas Alphonse never does. But Alphonse can be so “soft” and compassionate that he does not have that drive that Elric has. They complement each other. Hmmm, I guess what we are seeing here is that I prefer cooperation to competition.
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Oh I am not saying my opinion is the right one either. I tend to look at these stories a bit from a Meta perspective. I think of an anime long after an episode is done. I think ” why would they be written like this”.
Arguably Midoriya can be an excellent character because he inspires youths, because his resolve never wavers and because he is so strong that he never really makes selfish or wrong choices . He is much more a symbol to live up to.. but that is not my style and his journey I find unexciting from a narrative stance.
Rin Okumara, I think is much more exciting by comparisson, his passion is a lot more connected to his ego, to show his brother what he is worth, to prove that the eyes looking down on him are wrong, he has an ego and therefore is much more prone to mistakes, giving the writer more options to build excitement. I don’t believe one is altruistic all the time and only has goals that benefit mankind at all times. So him pursuing more personal goals I also find a much more powerful story. It is easy to do what Midoriya wants, chase the popular thing that everyone will support you with. It’s much harder to carve your own way in a group that doesnt perse like your way
Natsume is actually targetted as a Shojo demographic , targetted at (young) girls so I dont think he qualifies
Edward and Alphonse are an odd pair and I do like Edward over Alphonse as a character, Alphonse over Edward as a person. The problem I have with Edward is that his shouting persona and his iritatable character is never an influence on the Narrative, it never really pushed him in a certain path and instead it is nearly exclusively used for comedy. He can get angry in serious moments but it manifest completely differently. Making his emotions less believable then they could be.
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I had not thought about that aspect of Edward. He isn’t as shouty as some Shonen protags – which is what really turns me off them. I can’t even watch Black Clover because that one kid never stops yelling. I got a few episodes in and the story really interested me but I couldn’t take the screaming any more. 😛 Side tracked, Edward. I think maybe that’s one reason I like Alphonse better. He has a belieable story arc to me, where Edward is a lot of bluster. Yes, he IS strong and amazing – but he does some dumb stuff and is (to me) angry at inappropriate things and times (ie. for comedy – as you say) so I think that’s my discomfort with him. I just feel that he could have been better…
Yes to everything you said about Rin Okumura. And it’s everything I love about him.
By and large I’m more a slice of life, fantasy, kind of anime watcher. Says the person who drops everything for a new mecha… Ahem. Anyway, the “pure” Shonen titles that are so big and well known rarely really appeal to me. Luckily there’s lots more to anime 😀
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