When reading reviews a comment that is regularly mentioned is how relatable a certain character or situation is and why that makes something more or less interesting. I find this an intriguing comment mostly because the bulk of my viewing growing up was strictly fantasy and science fiction and while you can relate well to the human elements of those shows and some of the characters, the fun of those genres is that they can take you outside of what you know and make you see things in new ways.
However, as I got older and really started looking at what made stories work, I realised that even within fantasy and science fiction, the stories I was drawn to were the ones where the struggles the characters went through felt real. And what made those conflicts and problems real was that I could usually see a parallel to something in my own life or the real world. It was kind of at that point where I started expanding outward from fantasy and sci-fi, as well as copious amounts of horror, and started finding other stories to lose myself in though I never lost my love for fantasy.
While making something easy to relate to might be a draw, does it make it good?
Anyway, the reason I’m thinking about this at the moment is I recently tried to review the first season of Kuroko’s Basketball and what I realised was I didn’t actually like the show. I watched the entire series (25 episodes) in less than a week while working 55+ hours and doing episodic views and reviews of currently airing anime, and I came to the conclusion I didn’t particularly like the show, though I didn’t dislike it either to be honest. So why couldn’t I stop watching it?
He is an incredibly boring character when you just kind of describe him. He barely talks, he has no presence for either the other characters or even the audience (even when he is seemingly supposed to be the centre of attention) and his overall character journey isn’t that interesting in this first season. He didn’t like the way the other members of his middle school team played basketball so now he’d like to beat them. Well, that’s profound. So again, why couldn’t I stop watching?
Because of the relatability. I really related with Kuroko right from episode 1, and not because of basketball because I really did not care about that part of the story. Without the gross exaggeration, Kuroko is someone who is easily overlooked. The guy in the room that even when people know he should be there, they just forget about him. It isn’t that he lacks talent, or that he is getting picked on, or anything like that, he’s just an existence like air. And that is something I could relate to.
At school I was the person who the teacher would ask someone else in the room if they knew where I was, when I was sitting in the classroom. I’m the person who can stand at a service counter forever and will have to wait while everyone around me gets served, sometimes even people standing behind me, and then the service person will start cleaning up behind the counter because they genuinely don’t see me standing there (something which my real life friends find hilarious for some reason).
However, what made Kuroko easy to relate to wasn’t just that he was invisible. It was that he wasn’t bitter about that aspect of his life, he wasn’t hiding because he was being bullied, he wasn’t on some quest to be noticed or not to be noticed… it was just part of who he was.
There are so few characters like that and it was such a novel experience seeing a character that just owned that attribute. That isn’t to say he doesn’t make his presence felt when needed, but again, that makes him relatable. While I might have a presence like air by default, you can’t get through life like that. You have to make people see you sometimes.
So one character, with one relatable trait, was enough to draw me into a show that I don’t actually dislike but it isn’t exactly blowing me away and it made me realise just how powerful this idea is. People are drawn to characters they relate to. They don’t need to be exact mirror images, but when they have that one trait or one thing that the viewer connects with on a personal level, they grab the interest of that viewer in a way that all the brilliant plots in the world probably wouldn’t.
Which made me wonder about a show that I thoroughly enjoyed the first season of, My Hero Academia. What is the draw for that show? Its fun, high energy, great fight sequences, but ultimately it is the characters that I’ve fallen in love with. And when you look at each of the characters what you realise is that they all have some trait or characteristic that you can relate to.
Even if it isn’t a trait you have, it is one you recognise in someone near you. Those characters are incredibly interesting but more than that, you can relate to the struggles they are individually going through even as they are on this fantastical journey to become a superhero.
In one of my favourite shows was March Comes in Like a Lion, I connected very strongly with Rei as he progressed through the story. As a character I wanted to see him succeed but I could understand him when he failed and when he felt he needed to give up. I cheered when he pushed forward, even if it was only a small step, and I cried for him when things got hard.
There were so many moments in my own life where I felt Rei’s struggles related and so many people I know who have gone through depression or similar situations that I could relate Rei’s story too. It felt real and I loved every moment of Rei during its run I really looking forward to its return for season 2 (and was absolutely not disappointed).
What are your thoughts? Do you prefer characters you can relate to?
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36 thoughts on “Do You Need Characters You Can Relate To? Do You Like To Look In The Mirror?”
Lol I relate to so many characters! Personally I relate to Tenya because I have done something stupid and greatly regretted it while for Deku, I can experience the late bloomer vibe we both share! 😀
I have some quick thoughts that aren’t really fully formed, and I didn’t read through the other comments, so others may have hit on this.
I don’t know if I actually relate to characters in anime, but I do recognize traits in them. For instance, I just finished watching Real Girl, and I recognize how Tsutsui’s social ineptitude interferes with his self-image and his relationship. I’ve had similar problems. But I also recognize that Tsutsui is a much nicer person than I am, so while I suppose I relate to that trait, I don’t know if it’s enough to say that I relate to the character.
There was a piece of writing advice I was given a long time ago that has really stuck with me. And that is fiction isn’t real. Reality, for the most part, is boring. It’s going to the store, shuffling papers and sometimes going out. There are moments of drama, but they are fairly far and few between. Fiction is taking all of those moments of drama and putting them much closer together and making them more dramatic.
Just to use Real Girl again. Reality would be that Tsutsui and Iroha clean the pool and never talk to each other again. Fiction is that she agrees to go out with him.
Just some thoughts. Sorry that they aren’t really organized.
Fiction definitely shouldn’t be too real because as you said, it isn’t as interesting. Kind of like when sci-fi stories stopped having weapon sounds in space. It may have been more realistic but it was a lot less fun to watch.
I wonder if the appeal is in a character’s relatability, or how the character represents some aspect of the human condition? I don’t see that talked about much anymore, which is sad. Stories that illuminate the human condition often do so through relatable or at least sympathetic characters.
Those kinds of stories often end up among my favorites.
A lot of American movies focusing on the human condition have been more snarky satire with a cast of highly unlikeable characters though each with traits recognisable from people you know in your life. Don’t Look Up was the latest one I watched and it was an utterly depressing viewing experience.
That sounds like a poor example of the topic!
When I think of books that deal with the human condition, I think of something like The Lord of the Rings. It covers pretty much all of the spectrum of philosophy. Or movies like Blade Runner.
Even in Blade Runner, there are times I can relate to Roy Batty…
And “That sounds like a poor example of the topic!” I don’t mean your example is poor!
I mean we in America have given you poor examples!
I by no means wanted to criticize your answer! So sorry for the ambiguous comment.
See, this is what happens when I try to type late on a Sunday…
I think you also hit on something that bothers me about American cinema. It’s nihilistic. It’s like it can’t see a future. The challenge of philosophy, divorced from anything uplifting, is that it ends in despair.
But that’s not the human condition.
Sam and his family prospered after the fall of the Ring. Frodo had to pay a price. He had to pass over the sea, but the idea of self-sacrifice is not inherently depressing, especially in light of what Frodo enabled: Sam’s happiness, the prosperity of the Shire, and even the Return of the King.
I’ve seen the same thing you have in American cinema. There are movies like Coco, sure, and they have a solid take on humanity. But there are so many others that just don’t engender hope or show a way forward.
Maybe that’s why I watch so much anime.
Relatability is fine but I certainly don’t go looking for it. I related with Sawako in Kimi ni Todoke and it left me crying like a baby and sad the next day. Great anime, BTW.
I also related a lot to Rei in “March Comes In.” So much I almost dropped the show because after a couple of episodes it left me depressed. I eventually picked it up again and it is one of the best anime ever made.
Alternately you can like a character because they are what you’d would like to be. An idealized you in a heroic situation. They don’t leave me so depressed because I don’t identify with them. It is a fantasy, much like a daydream.
Relatability can definitely be a problem if you are looking for escapism.
I’ve found the majority of characters I like are ones I see aspects of myself in, if I don’t admire them for other reasons, and the more aspects I see in a character that match myself, the more I will love them. That said, if I spotted a fictional version of myself somewhere, I’d just get embarrassed, so there is a threshold of relatability.
Notably, there are some fans who identify with a character so strongly, they refer to themselves online as that character and become offended when that character is slandered.
I think if there was ever an anime character just like me they would be terribly boring.
I would say that I don’t need to relate to a character to enjoy a story. I do find that it sometimes helps to enhance a story if I do though. Moriko Morioka in Recovery of an MMO Junkie, for example, really helped sell me on the show due to how she viewed social interactions and life in general.
It also helped, for me, that she wasn’t a high schooler. Finding an anime romance with adult working characters (or former working characters) isn’t easy and it was nice to see. It didn’t instantly make it great but it was definitely part of the appeal.
Absolutely! A good high school anime is a good anime, but trying to find series with older characters is so hard sometimes. It was part of why I enjoyed things like Spice and Wolf too.
It’s good to find characters you can relate to. But it’s certainly not key to enjoying any particular story. Indeed, I find that the less often it has happened before, the more pronounced and powerful that connection can be.
That’s probably why I keep coming back to March Comes in Like a Lion. It had such a profound impact on me emotionally.
I always found that I could relate to quite a lot of the characters in fiction, not because I’d personally experienced what they were going through but more because I could sort of understand where they were coming from. But strangely, now that I actually think about this, I find that my favourite characters are the ones that are hard to understand – the kind that I can’t relate to but then I end up admiring some aspects of their character so much! I never really thought about this so thanks for the article.
On a side note, I tried watching a couple of episodes of Kuroko but I just… couldn’t.
I kind of get what you mean about Kuroko. It is so heavily recommended and yet if it hadn’t been for connecting with Kuroko himself I would have probably let it go fairly quickly. It just didn’t do much for me.
I find it interesting that you like characters that you end up admiring some trait of but not necessarily relating to.
Thanks for the comment.
You’re in for a treat if you are watching Kuroko for the first time. Great anime and hype. My favorite sports anime!
I’ve got to admit, I’m not that into it. I’ll probably watch the second season but it just hasn’t grabbed me the way Haikyuu or a couple of other sports anime have (not that I’m all that into any sport anime really – which is why I’m trying all these titles for the first time).
Haikyuu is very similar to KnB
I don’t know. I had a lot more fun with the characters in Haikyuu. The whole show just seemed more energised. It isn’t the sport aspect. I don’t like either volleyball or basketball so that isn’t swaying my view on it.
Ahhh ya, I’m a basketball player so that must be the reason i like KnB so much!
I loved this post and it was interesting to read how you related to Kuroko.
As for me, I do love relatable characters, even if it”s just one trait or aspect of their personality where I see myself reflected. I also love characters who are nothing like myself because it gives me a chance to vicarioulsy experience things that I will not – and probbaly cannot – feel.
Then there’s a bunch of stuff about my emotional range and how stories affect me but I’m sure you’re not interested in hearing me ramble. Thanks for sharing this post.
(Ok so I tried to use that translate feature you’ve added to view this page in my mothertongue…and holy shit, that was wild.)
So the translation not very accurate then?
Please, feel free to ramble. I love hearing how other people feel about stories and characters.
I agree, it only needs to be one trait or aspect of their personality that makes them relatable. I really got that from Kuroko because other than the one trait, the rest of him was pretty different, but that one trait was enough to draw me in.
Thanks for the comment.
No but it’s google translate so we can’t really expect much. I mean, it turned one of your comments into something like “I love letters very much”
And well, okay, here we go. I have a lot of difficulty feeling emotions at a level that’s not shallow as hell. Stronger bursts tend to be short-lived. It’s been this way for many years now and I’m not too bothered but it does mean that my default emotional state is a blank slate and things gets boring fast that way.
Reading stories, watching shows, writing my own stories, music, constructiong elbaorate worlds in my head – all of this is the best way (and for now, only way) that I can feel a whole range of emotions with the depth I want.
Laid out like this, it sounds kinda weird, I guess.
Not really strange, I’m pretty much the same. Other than neutral and anger I don’t really emote well (apparently I manage annoyed very well), but I love stories because I feel like I can experience more or less the full spectrum of emotions. It is one of the many reasons I’ve always been in love with stories (particularly books).
That’s pretty great to know. A few years ago, I made a friend who was the same and who also turned to stories as a solution. Seems to be working for us all so far.
To be honest, I don’t really think about this all that much but, there are times when I’m drawn to characters or end up having a soft spot for a certain character because I relate to them.
Usually, I just enjoy the characters and story for what they are. If they are realistic enough that I can attribute a part of their personality or action to someone I know or something I have experienced, that’s just an extra bonus that makes that character all the more likable. :’)
I think I like a bit of both. I feel more deeply for characters who I can relate to but I also like characters who arent like me. And if theyre fleshed out and have a great story then I will just love them to bits regardless of them being relateable
That’s true, in that some characters you end up liking because they possess some trait you don’t have.
Some interesting questions here. I haven’t really given this topic much thought on my own. I guess I decide if a character is relatable or not, but I frame it as asking if they are realistic or not. I’d much rather ask that, being relatable is just a bonus.
I’ve never been that concerned with realistic compared to consistent. Sure characters develop but they shouldn’t just be up/down and all over the place. Plus, I kind of like characters to follow some basic internal logic and some people in real life just don’t.
That’s fair, I agree with that.