I’m no stranger to discussing the appeal of cute or kawaii characters in anime (previous posts including “Just Add Cute” and “Is Being Kawaii Enough To Make You Watch an Anime?“) however today I really do just want to discuss the Winter 2020 anime Bofuri also known as “Itai no wa Iya nano de Bougyoryoku ni Kyokufuri Shitai to Omoimasu” or ” BOFURI: I Don’t Want to Get Hurt, so I’ll Max Out My Defense”.
At the time of drafting this post, we are two episodes in and what I know about Bofuri so far is that it is about a girl named Kaede who, at the invitation of a friend, decides to play a VRMMO for the first time and without knowing anything about character construction she decides she would be sensible to stack all of her stat points into defense. And that’s about it. It is perfectly delightful viewing but would it still be so delightful if the protagonist wasn’t a cute female character?
Kaede isn’t trapped in this game unable to escape.
The game isn’t glitching and trying to kill the players.
The other players aren’t trying to kill one another either in the game or in real life.
There’s no mysterious secret hidden in the game or some family legend or some angsty back story to uncover.
And there’s no one dying who has a last wish of conquering the game.
There really is zero tension or drama in the story so far. Kaede is a complete newb and because her friend is banned from playing games until after exams she starts out on her own. Happily she asks some random players for advice about where to start and then off she trots (very slowly because she has no agility points) into the forest where we learn that her build is pretty much invincible and she can literally just let things hit her until she builds up a resistance and then squish things to death with her shield.
Even soloing a dungeon isn’t a problem for our intrepid adventurer. Trapped in a boss room and out of weapons? No problem. Just eat the boss gaining skills in the process and then a very sweet new set of armour and a shield.
The second episode brought along a tournament where players tried to fight each other but again Kaede’s character build is just unbeatable but there were no claims of cheating or bitterness. Nope. One comment about the build being broken and then a lot of admiration for the new shield user who owned a whole bunch of other players.
We also finally got to see her playing the game with her friend and her friend has decided to go for an unconventional character build as well. And that’s the state of the story after two episodes.
Normally, if someone pitched a story like that to me for an anime I’d have to ask them, “What is the point?” If you’ve been following my blog for any length of time you know I’m very easily bored by anime that I don’t feel are ‘going anywhere’. I don’t mind if it is a character journey or a plot driven journey but normally I need to feel like something is going to be accomplished somewhere along the way.
Bofuri literally has nothing that would indicate there’s a greater story at play. Kaede has no goal outside of enjoying playing her new game with her friend. There’s no goal for either of them outside of playing and levelling up and having fun. While I’m sure they’ll go on quests, encounter other players, maybe join some more tournaments, there’s no end game in sight.
Neither character has some deep flaw or trauma that needs to be worked through. They are both perfectly pleasant people who seem pretty well adjusted. So character development doesn’t seem to be the goal either.
Yet despite this lack of tension, purpose, or depth of character, Bofuri is fairly delightful to watch for the sheer joy Kaede seems to have at playing the game. The characters are cute, Kaede’s reactions when she succeeds at something or even when she’s startled, are adorable, and now that her friend is playing with her we have a second personality for Kaede to bounce off of and that only added to the enjoyment of watching the anime.
All of which made me wonder if I would forgive the story for being practically non-existent and the characters for being generic and the only real thing the anime has going for it being the practically invincible gimmick due to Kaede’s own misunderstandings about how to build a character, if the anime wasn’t cute?
What if Kaede, our central character, was a surly, teenage boy who for shits and giggles decided to build a broken character to play the game. Would I be as delighted traipsing through the forest with him as he shield bashed rabbits to death? Would his eating of a boss have been an adorable epiphany moment where the character comes up with an unconventional solution or would it have been just terrifyingly gruesome?
What if Kaede was not in school but actually in her thirties or forties and a mother who decided to try a game for the first time but was relatively inept? Would the story still fly or would we want more information about why this mother suddenly decided to play a game other than her friend invited her? Would it still be relaxing to watch or would I be more judgemental about all the things the anime lacks?
It’s all just hypothetical of course because Kaede is in fact a cute, female anime character. Her character design is relatively ordinary but they’ve made some lovely choices in her clothing and the fact that she’s a shield user helps her stand out. The rest of the cast are so far pretty cute to and the whole gaming world is just nice to look at. Generic for an in-game world as depicted in an anime, but perfectly pleasant.
I really have enjoyed the first two episodes of Bofuri. I think it is great fun to watch so far and I’m looking forward to seeing what Maple and Sally get up to next inside the game. However, the question remains whether or not this anime would work without the cute factor and that’s really quite hard to answer. I’d like to think it would, but I also know that objectively there’s little else as a claim to the appeal of the anime so far.
If you’ve tried Bofuri, what do you think? Would Bofuri work if the protagonist wasn’t a cute female character?
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28 thoughts on “Would Bofuri work if the protagonist wasn’t a cute female character?”
Have you ever watched Knights and Magic? It does an Isekai/Mecha story with a young boy hero, and it is really fucking wholesome. I kinda feel Bofuri and it are cut from the same cloth.
I kind of hated Knights and Magic. I have a review of it but it is pretty scathing: https://100wordanime.blog/knights-magic-series-review-it-is-going-to-take-more-than-duct-tape-to-fix-this-mess/
Ah that’s a shame. I personally loved it, because of that same innocence of love of a hobby that Bofuri seems to be like.
Ah well, can’t like em all.
For some plots, it completely matters as to what gender the character is (CGDCT for instance, since it’s in the name of the genre), but for Bofuri as a premise…nup. It’s a case of a surprisingly gender-neutral plot, which just happens to have a girl as the protag because of the creator’s choice.
In fact, it would be interesting if we were in a parallel world where Shield Hero was the nice, easygoing one and Bofuri was the one where the main character is scorned…I bet Shield Hero would’ve only gotten a fraction of the buzz it did, because the scorning of said Hero and subsequent buzz is tied to his gender and gendered preconceptions.
I think cute and new and open to experience is the key here, which is easy to do with a teenage girl, but it could be done with a teenage boy as well. I think an older female character who was a mother could work here quite well.
That open to experience is definitely part of the appeal. Maple/Kaede is just so much fun to follow around.
If Bofuri’s main protagonist crew were cute boys with the same personalities, I think it would still work. It just wouldn’t work with overly serious people that plan out all their actions.
Would it still work if the protagonist wasn’t a cute girl? For me, probably not. But no worries, because the protagonist IS a cute girl! (Good enough for government work and, hey, I work for the government. . .)
It’s essentially a CGDCT… And it’s working because it’s hewing close to the tropes of that particular genre. It wouldn’t work if the protagonist wasn’t a Cute Girl, or at least Cute. (And ditzy to some degree.)
That’s not be said it couldn’t be made to work, but once you start genre cross you’re into a minefield of viewer expectations. Or, as Lynn says, you might end up with a different type of show entirely.
I personally think the cuteness of Kaede is the primary stabilizer for Bofuri. Without cute Kaede and her innocent personality, you have the most virtually stagnant plot ever. What makes this series likable for me are Kaede’s simple yet pleasing interactions. Maybe it’s because it’s been a while since I’ve seen an (Isekai) MC be so naturally affable and fluffy? It’s satisfying to see after being filled with a bunch of edgy Arifureta protags. Besides, maybe her great social skills can catch on to me?
I think Kaede/Maple is helped along by the fact that there don’t seem to be any toxic players that she’s had to interact with yet. I’m feeling the real experience for most new players in such a game wouldn’t be so sweet and they wouldn’t encounter so many universally helpful players straight away.
I haven’t watched the show (isekai and kid-centric shows aren’t really my thing) but this does pose a very interesting question, and I think it’s about audience perception as much as it is about creator choices. We have different expectations of characters dependent on their gender, age, and other factors. Would we care as much about Katsuki Yuuri if he was a young woman? Would we have found his anxiety and lack of confidence as endearing? Would Victor Nikiforov’s ego and flirtatiousness have been as fun if it came from a woman?
I spent a few years with a theatre group who did Christmas panto every year with a lot of deliberate cross-casting. We absolutely took advantage of the fact that the audience would react to the actors’ genders as much as the characters, so the Dame (female character, male actor) could get away with being incredibly rude and vulgar compared to other female characters, while the Principle Boy (male character, female actor) was expected to be much more prim and and proper than other male characters. Panto audiences, similar to drag show audiences, have definite expectations based on the genders of the actors, to the point that some purists are outraged at the possibility of women playing Dames or women playing drag queens.
Sometimes you can play audience expectations positively, like putting a cute character in situations that might not appeal with a less endearing character. When it becomes problematic, it’s as much down to audiences and their prejudices as it is anything the creators do.
This one isn’t actually isekai – though I do agree with your point. And now I’m wondering how Yuri on Ice would have gone with female leads and whether I would have still enjoyed it… I don’t think I know the answer to that.
I dont sure. But I would ask myself the following question
Would smartphone work if the protagonist was a cute female character? both shows are similar, however one is very hated while with Bofuri everyone is condescending
I think it probably not since many bad tropes aren’t applicable when the Mc it’s a girl.
I know quite a few reviewers like Smartphone and I found it quite amusing at the time. Though I think it is the tropes Smartphone pulls out that are more the problem for some viewers rather than whether the character was male or female.
I remember that this got mostly negative reviews, in MAL the score says it all
I tend to not trust MAL scores given some people score shows that they haven’t completed. I do use them as a reference point but 6.53 is where a lot of anime I find quite enjoyable sits. Also some anime I really dislike. Turns out Arifureta has the exact same score.
As a fan of the Virtual Reality / Game / RPG genres, this sounds like a really chill anime to just sit back and enjoy the fantasy-like world. A kawaii female protagonist is definitely a huge huge huge huge plus considering the pacing of the show, but I’d still buy into this whole fascinating idea (and world) of a character that pumps full defence. Buuuut that’s just me, and I sort of enjoy almost every anime I watch anyway.
This has been a very chill anime to watch and it is one that I am surprisingly enjoying a lot. There’s been some real care put into it so far to make it pretty enjoyable even while keeping a very relaxing tone.
That’s a great question and I’d like to think that it wouldn’t matter, but I think it probably would.
Each of those scenarios you’ve mentioned would make for interesting premises but they’d probably end up as a very different story.
That’s what I ended up thinking. Cute girl isn’t normally something I would call an appeal to a show for me, but I just can’t imagine Bofuri working without Maple.