Why Do Anime Heroes Get The Most Boring Powers?

Friday's Feature

In case it doesn’t become immediately apparent, this discussion is mostly me musing on something that has bothered me in a handful of shows that I’m now generalising across anime. It is not actually intended to be an overly serious post but honestly, I’ve been wondering this for awhile and of all things it was Endro that brought me back to musing about the powers given to a hero in anime.

Endro! Episode 1

For those who aren’t watching the pastel painted moe fest that is Endro, it is the story of a girl who wants to be a hero and defeat a demon lord, only she kind of already did but stuffed it up sending the demon lord back to the past and now the demon lord is her teacher as she learns to be a hero. of course she has a team of friends along for the ride and a Princess who has fallen in love with her, but mostly it is just a lot of fun and silliness.

Now, as one of the symbols that Julia Charldetto is in fact the hero she comes across the ‘hero’s sword’ and draws it out. In fitting with the colour scheme of the anime it is pink. And it sparkles. But basically we have a hero who swings a sword and whacks things.

Endro Episode 2 Seiran

Meanwhile, we have Seiran in her squad who is an elven priest and when all else fails can actually put her glasses on and is a crack shot with a bow. Then we have Fai who is more hand to hand and likes pummelling things and jumping a lot. Lastly we have Mather with her obsession with Cartado and an array of interesting magic to bring to the fight. All of these characters have really cool abilities and yet the hero in their story has a pink, shiny sword.

Endro Episode 4 Finding Shells

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ENDRO!: JUULIA CHARLDETTO

Now I’m not dismissing swords. Swords can be super cool. Just look at Hitsugaya in Bleach with Hyourinmaru and how cool that sword can be with weather controlling effects and ice dragons. Seriously, that is a cool sword. As is Rukia’s zanpakuto and dozens of other blades in Bleach.

Hitsugaya - Bleach

But, do you know who has a less than cool sword? Ichigo Kurosaki. The hero of Bleach. His sword is really big. About the only time it kind of looked cool was when Hollow Ichigo was swinging it around by the wrap and attempting to pummel Ichigo with it. Actually, Ichigo vs Hollow Ichigo is just a fantastic fight to watch in general and Hollow Ichigo provides some great entertainment throughout the course of Bleach.

Even when Ichigo steps up to the next level, his sword actually becomes less impressive and realistically, while he gets really fast and agile, and hits things even harder and faster, Ichigo’s power is the least interesting one to watch in Bleach (okay I take that back, there are worse powers in Bleach but when looking just at the main group of shinigami and Ichigo’s human friends, his power is just not that interesting by comparison).

Hollow Ichigo - Bleach

Though, even if we move away from sword wielding heroes to a magical girl like Sailor Moon, what we see is a hero surrounded by characters with cool elemental powers that are showy and flashy, fairly versatile and interesting, and yet in season one she throws her head band and occasionally heals things. Even when she uses the Silver Imperium Crystal, other than a light show the power itself is not that interesting to watch. It might be the strongest force in the universe but that by itself doesn’t make it all that fascinating to watch as the bright pink light engulfs her enemy and thus ends the climax.

As the seasons continue, Sailor Moon upgrades from her Crescent Moon Wand to the Moon Sceptre and if nothing else she continues to get the absolute best accessories compared to the other scouts. The Moon Spiral Heart Attack is perhaps the longest one to get going of her general attacks and is so overblown in both the set up and execution that you almost have to laugh (actually, I was more worried Serena was going to trip over her own hair while doing the activation sequence) and yet realistically for all the increases in power Sailor Moon’s attacks remain much the same. She’s very much a one punch and they are dead kind of hero and once she lets off her attack in most cases the battle is done. While the other scouts might be less effective in battle, at least there are some interesting possibilities for outcomes when they attack.

Kirito kind of bucked this trend in Sword Art Online (at least in Aincrad). While his sword style was a bit weird to begin with, it was always fun to watch. This only got better when he demonstrated his dual wield ability which was unique in the game making his ability actually one of the more interesting in the story.

However, Sword Art Online decided to kick its own hero when they introduced magic in Fairy Dance, and Alicization has taken the Bleach approach where swords aren’t always swords. Suddenly, Kirito isn’t looking all that crash-hot even in his own series, though he is still one hero who kind of breaks this trend of having the most boring power going.

Actually, there are plenty of cases where the hero does have a cool power or hidden ability. The problem is, with a lot of these powers they are so OP that they kind of instantly end fights once they get going or can’t be used because of the general scale of destruction. So even when a hero has a very cool ability, its use outside of final battles is pretty minimal meaning we’re watching a hero fight at less than full capacity in a lot of fights and it doesn’t always make for engrossing viewing, particularly when you know that they can pull out another power if things get really tough.

For instance, Bell in Is It Wrong To Try To Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon has a very cool attack. Admittedly, I like Bell’s fighting style anyway where he relies on speed and his fairly small knife, moving around his enemy and wearing them down rather than just smacking them really hard once. Bell’s fight against the Minotaur is still one of my favourite fights ever and for all that there are stronger warriors in DanMachi, Bell is actually just great to watch in action.

But, his Argonaut Skill is definitely an overpowered skill, tempered by the long time it takes to activate. In order for Bell to get a decent strike in with it, he requires a lengthy interval in which his companions are likely to get splattered if they aren’t careful. While the results of this attack are fairly spectacular, it essentially boils a fight down to the flies buzzing around an enemy and distracting it long enough for Bell to get a decent fly-swat and one punch end the battle.

Is there a solution to this? I mean, we want our heroes to win their fights and having a fairly unstoppable attack more or less guarantees it. Though, such a large scale attack usually ends up looking much the same as every other large scale attack. The personality and distinction of an ability is washed away by the effects given to promote the size and scale of the attack.

Anyway, as I said at the start, this wasn’t an overly serious post. I’ve just been thinking through anime heroes and wondering why more of them don’t have unique or interesting powers and why so many end up with giant swords. I’d love to know your take on anime heroes and whether they have interesting powers or not so leave a comment below.

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Karandi James
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19 thoughts on “Why Do Anime Heroes Get The Most Boring Powers?

  1. I think it boils down to one thing – if you have a hero with (what boils down to) a basic skill, then it’s easy to describe and easy to market. (Then you have the extreme of that, which is basically One Punch Man…)

    On the flip side, even if the heroes of the most famous series don’t have particularly interesting powers (punch things a bunch, magic spam, swords…), there are loads of other series out there with much cooler, complex powers. I guess it’s just up to the industry that supports said series to make them known and up to those who control plots (writers, directors etc.) to make heroes that aren’t so one-note.

    Personally, I think the best compromise is having a shared base skill set and then inventing more powerful skills once you master them – it’s both cool and helps to distinguish individual heroes.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes, it probably is easier to market heroes when you can explain their power quickly rather than needing a paragraph to make it make sense.
      I agree with your compromise as well. That seems like it would be the best solution if it is coming down to marketing.

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  2. I enjoyed this post and agree with most of what you’ve said. My first thought as a contradiction is Luffy from One Piece. The guy is a rubber man. He has no weapon but what he can make his body do and some of it is pretty out there, second and third gear come to mind. With all that, I say that his ability to keep coming back stronger is what makes him so formidable. He loses a lot of fights, but always gets back up stronger from the experience. Also in the One Piece world he is far from over powered (yet, I’m no where near being up to date on it.)

    I also wonder if Deku breaks the mould too. Sure he is powerful, but if he uses more than 8% of his strength it would tear his body apart.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes, even while writing this I started thinking of exceptions, and yet there are enough characters that have fit into this character that my brain at least noted it as a trend.
      Luffy definitely is an interesting protagonist. I’ll admt, I’m not a One Piece fan but I like the idea of it and the characters are quite unique.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I absolutely agree that it definitely is a common element, but then I’m also quite partial to sword wielding heroes. I almost kind of expect it, which is why the few heroes that don’t fit that design stand out to me. I also enjoy the overpowered characters/attacks but also think they work best if there is a limitation to it.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. This post made me thing about Gon’s fishing pole for some reason. He’s definitely a character that while being very strong and skilled, is still decidedly average when compared to others. So, I never got a strong OP vibe from him. It’s probably why he’s one of my favourites. I’m also reminded of Killua’s cards. Aside from be super sharp, they are subpar in basically every way (he’s also not an MC, I’m just noticing it now that I’ve read this post). I loved reading this. I think in the back of mind, I have similar feelings and thoughts, usually as I’m watching. But I’ve never thought about discussing it like this. Another reason why you’re such a brilliant blogger. I haven’t completely caught up in SAO, but now when I do, I’m looking forward to keeping eye for the things you mentioned. Should be interesting. (Sorry for bad grammar/typos, I’m using my phone.)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Gon is odd because early on he’s fairly inventive in his fighting because he is reasonably weaker than other characters. As the series progressed though he became more of a standard fighting character and the fights became less interesting as a result. Other characters in the series had some very cool powers and abilities.

      Liked by 1 person

        1. I still haven’t quite finished my watch of Hunter x Hunter. I just found it got less and less entertaining after about the mid-way mark mostly because Gon just wasn’t as cute or interesting after awhile.

          Liked by 1 person

  4. I totally see what you’re getting at, and have thought the same things. The only answer I can come up with, is that generic powers are easier to make useful on a regular basis.

    If you had a hero with a really neat and unique power, it’s more likely to be more niche, and this not useful all the time, and the hero needs to be useful at least the majority of the time

    Now, I dont think that’s and excuse. I feel that honestly makes it boil down to lazy writing. But that is probably the main driving factor in why that happens.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I am glad I’m not the only one who has thought this though.
      I was going to bring up My Hero Academia and Midoriya essentially just hits things really hard (or kicks them) where you have characters with some really cool quirks who aren’t the main character.
      I don’t know if it comes down to lazy writing but it does bring a certain sameness to heroes.

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      1. For a battle shounen protagonist with an unique power I’d recommend “Law of Ueki” – changing trash into trees. It gets less used later in the series, but his power-up is also pretty quirky.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. I’ve thought about this for a while and yeah, the “standard shonen hero power set” just exists for some reason. Is your character going to have a sword? It’s got to be huge. Does your character have powers? They are going to punch things and fire laser beams. It’s really sad, but maybe it’s just familiar? You can easily just jump into one series after another and automatically know who the hero is based on what they’re doing?

        The only place that seems to have not happened is JoJo and One Piece that seem to me breeding grounds of strange abilities.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Despite how much anime I’ve watched, I still haven’t actually tried JoJo. I don’t know why, but it just seems like it wouldn’t click for me so I’ve just kind of avoided it.

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