Friday’s Feature – The Nice Protagonist

This week I’d like to examine the nice protagonist (note – this is slightly different from the self-insert protagonist so common in the vast majority of harem comedies). No, the nice protagonist has the defining trait of being nice, but still has additional personality traits (underneath being nice all the time).

Just like overpowered or complete jerk protagonists, nice protagonists cop their fair share of criticism. They’re boring, they’re unrealistic, they’re just allowing themselves to be walked all over, and –  probably the most fatal trait for a protagonist –  they’re completely forgettable.

For instance: Bell from Is It Wrong To Try and Pick Up Girl’s in a Dungeon? is a nice protagonist (see my review). He’s also adventurous, impatient, ambitious, a little bit lecherous, and a lot insecure. So being nice isn’t his only personality trait. But when you talk to people about this show they discuss Hestia, the fight scenes, the weapons, occasionally Loki, but they don’t mention Bell. Or if they do, they call him the Main Character because half the time they don’t remember his name.

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And it seems a bit harsh to not even remember Bell’s name. He has some incredible character development both in literal skills and in his focus and goals. He also gives us one of the most dramatic fight sequences I think I’ve ever watched and one where I genuinely cared if this nice character was actually going to make it through the fight.

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The common saying of nice guys finish last seems to apply here. Get anyone to list their favourite protagonists and the vast majority of them will not be nice guys. So why is it we don’t like nice protagonists?

And I already know people will argue, but we don’t dislike them. And that’s true to. That’s why they exist at all. Because they don’t cause people to dislike them. But, in the absence of a truly great story or supporting cast the nice protagonist will just slip off your radar without a second thought.

Which all of course raises the question of what is it about human nature that ‘nice’ is seen as such a dull descriptor of a person? I was watching a rom-com recently (not anime amazingly) where the girl had the choice of two guys and she was describing them to a friend. Mid-way through one description the friend made snorted and then said that she’d literally just fallen asleep. Why? Because the guy was nice. Apparently that’s a death sentence in a rom-com because at the end of the film the girl ended up with the other guy.

So, my question is: Who is your favourite ‘Nice’ protagonist?

Let’s give all the nice guys (and girls) a shout out.

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22 thoughts on “Friday’s Feature – The Nice Protagonist

  1. Good point. It really does seem that many of us assume nice characters to be dull. Hmmm. Yes, it’s true. It’s just that being nice is seen more as a sort of a passive rather than assertive/aggressive stance during conflicts. So most of the time, we tend to gravitate to characters who react outrageously to conflicts. But I do agree with you that it’s certainly unfair to characters, especially main ones, to be dismissed just because they’re overall nice when they have other layers to their personalities. Good post. Thank you for submitting this to my blog carnival. Keep on watching anime and blogging. Cheers!

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  2. I did like Bell, even though the “nice guy” protagonist bores or annoys me more often than not. Like you said, you really did care whether he made it through some of those fights and defeated the monster. I think the key thing in me growing fond of him was his relationship with Hestia. They have such a unique and beautiful bond compared with the droves of harem heroes and their girls. I adore the way he pushes himself to please her and make her proud of him, as it’s too often the other way round and pretty sleazy in doing so.

    As for my favourite nice male protagonist, it’s got to be Gon Freecss from Hunter x Hunter. He’s so sweet but he’s nobody’s doormat, I wanna learn from him how to strike that balance 😆 His friendship with Killua is the cutest, and he says it best himself, Gon is light. Until he goes over the edge and into his 10-foot hair mode. But then, that’s part of why his sweetness is so beautiful. There is a darkness and despair in him that’s all the more horrific and heartbreaking when it surfaces.

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      1. Yes, you do. Once you get in, you never go back. Stick with the first few episodes and wait for the tone to establish itself, as it starts off a bit light and fluffy, but it soon starts to get the dark intrigue going.

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  3. While I don’t think kindness invalidates a protagonist from being compelling or interesting, I think it generally exists within the cliche image. It’s not just that their uninteresting by nature but because we’ve seen it so many damn times. The same can obviously be said for a lot of the stereotypes you bring up. I suppose the fatal flaw is that, being nice isn’t exactly exclusive to the protagonist and this kindheartedness is usually exhibited by the supporting cast they surround themselves with – your’e either a good guy or the evil antagonist more often than not. If their sole defining trait is how nice they are, it’s no wonder they are often forgettable – anybody can be nice.

    I think the pitfall exists mainly within the stereotype and so there are tons of nice protagonists that are great but it’s because they’ve got so much more going for them. Ginko (Mushishi), Shichika (Katanagatari), Araragi (Monogatari), to name a random few. Shichika is especially interesting because his politeness stems both from his upbringing and his own ignorance. He’s kind but that’s because of his simplistic outlook on the world. For him, it’s a symptom of his greater characterization rather than just a checkbox to make the character relateable. Thanks for sharing.

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    1. “Anybody can be nice” – I think is an interesting concept because while it is true it is something that isn’t witnessed all that often (in real life). While most people aren’t bad or evil antagonists, they are generally concerned primarily with themselves which means niceness isn’t a defining trait. Or at least, that’s been my observation.

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  4. An interesting article, and definitely a solid point that while we seldom dislike the nice protagonist they are just as rarely the reason we tune in. There is of course the 900lb gorilla of DBZ to pull from with the Goju/Vegeta dynamic, and I think the fandom has stated pretty clearly who they prefer.

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  5. This reminds me of the tendency in YA to give a girl 2 love interests – one nice, normal and the other the bad boy (she must fix). The nice guy never wins. He’s doomed from that first smile.

    I have to admit that I don’t tend to like nice protagonists all that much either. I don’t particularly hate them – unless they’re utter doormats in which case I get annoyed pretty fast- but neither do I like them. But then, I tend to prefer dark, morally dubious characters and settings so that could be why.

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  6. One of my favorite protagonists of all time also happens to be one of the nicest protagonists in anime and I think that he is hardly forgettable. Aside from being nice, he is also a master swordsman, a bit silly, insecure, filled with regret (because he used to be, well, “not nice”), and wise. I speak, of course, of none other than Himura Kenshin.

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  7. I finished Hesita Bestia a couple months ago, and I really enjoyed the show but as you said Bell never stood out. There isn’t too much to his character. I think we as audience members like flawed characters more than we care to admit. It gives us something to talk about. When someone is just nice all the time, it doesn’t lend itself to much discussion. As for your question, I think my answer would be Satoru from Erased. He does so much to help those girls and he never really asks for anything in return.

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    1. I don’t really see Satoru as nice though. He’s clearly on a journey to find himself and to satisfy his own feelings of inadequacy. It never really feels like he wants to help the girls so much as he doesn’t want to feel guilty about not helping them. I don’t know if that means he isn’t nice or if I’m just judging him a little harshly. Thanks for your comment.

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  8. These types of characters are boring and forgotten for sure, you can lump them all in the same category. I understand their purpose, most of them are from shows that are all about the girls, be it harems or as you mentioned DanMachi where Hestia over shines even the show itself. Or they are the straight man among crazy characters, so the balance is needed.

    But many shows don’t put any care into the male leads. I think a nice character can be fine if they are a character and not a cardboard cutout. Mochi from Tamako Market wasn’t too bad, his design was as good as Tamako’s and though annoyingly shy he was relatable. Tomoya (Clannd) can be seen as a nice guy maybe and he was a top tier male protagonist.

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  9. I don’t feel like “nice” protagonists are very interesting unless the premise of their kind nature is explained. For example: main character X is nice and considers everyone a friend because he has separated himself from pursuing deeper relationships due to a traumatic past event and his distant nice guy act protects himself from getting close to people.
    Anyways, I just tend not to like nice guy characters who are nice “just because”, as they are entirely inaccurate.

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  10. Not sure if this counts because he isn’t from an anime but first character I thought of was Jude Mathis from Tales of Xillia. He’s just a sweet kid, not one mean bone in his body. He’s so nice and helpful that he gets swept up in crappy situations he could have easily avoided. But he’s also very brave, persistent, “book smart” and stubborn. Love the guy.

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