October 26, 2015

MANGA MONDAYS | OP, Please Nerf

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By MICHAEL MAUER

Anyone who’s played a MOBA has heard it. Most of us have said it too. Heck, if you’ve ever yelled at a some 12 year old on Call of Duty for running around using nothing but a noob tube yet still somehow managing to win games, you know exactly the feeling I’m trying to convey in this post. Today we’re not talking about video games, though. Instead I want to discuss a certain ridiculously overpowered character in anime, why they make for incredibly boring stories and then throw out an example of when godlike characters actually work.

Photo Courtesy of Toei Animation

Photo Courtesy of Toei Animation

In a shocking plot twist, my target today isn’t Kirito. Maybe because Mother’s Rosario and Alicization have made me feel a bit more merciful, but more likely because I already said we wouldn’t be talking about video games. The main character I want to criticize is actually Goku, of Dragon Ball Z fame. Before anyone gets angry with me, I want to do two things. First, I’d like to say that I’m no DBZ expert so my facts might not be totally straight. Second, I want to ask you all to carefully take off any nostalgia goggles you might be wearing. Now think about this statement: Goku is a really, really uninteresting character. He always does the right thing, he always wins, he always comes back to life. Everyone always has to wait for their savior Goku to show up and save the day. There’s no internal conflict and no development beyond powering up to his new and improved transformation. Heck, the Battle of Gods movie directly characterized him as arrogant, noting his bitterness at being unable to power up without the help of his friends. Not that it matters, because Resurrection of F immediately paved over this limitation for no adequately explained reason.

Photo Courtesy of Madhouse

Photo Courtesy of Madhouse

On the flip side, I want to direct your attention to Overlord. Overlord finished airing only recently, and if you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend that you do. The main character, Momonga, essentially wields godlike power for the entirety of the series and never faces any real danger (though the show gives the illusion that there is danger to build suspense through a number of Code Geass style “Aha! But it was all according to my plan” moments). In this sense, Momonga is actually more overpowered than Goku. After all, Goku dies multiple times (oops, spoiler alert). Yet, even though Momonga faces less danger than Goku, II would argue that he is a more interesting character because his insecurities and his relationships to his subordinates are actually explored – a level of consideration never given to Goku’s inner thoughts and motivations (which I believe are limited to “I must do the right thing” and “Food!”).

Of course, there are examples of this sort of godlike power throughout anime. Like I mentioned earlier, Kirito is a pretty good option, though I’d suggest that his superpower is less about fighting and more about spontaneous harem generation. Tatsuya from The Irregular at Magic High School is also an interesting example because of how the show explicitly states that he’s boring and emotionless, but actually attempts to explore that concept (though it meets with debatable success). The point I’m trying to make here is that the notion of an overpowered character isn’t inherently flawed. It’s just very, very difficult to get right because unless the nuances of that character are adequately explored, they’re prone to becoming an uninteresting, harem-creating flat character.

Michael Mauer is a sophomore in the college of Arts and Sciences majoring in Computer Science. His favorite anime is Neon Genesis Evangelion and he never leaves home without his Homura Akemi necklace. He can be reached at mmauer@cornellsun.com. Alternatively, just hunt him down on Facebook or Google+.

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