Here we are in June and I’m writing my second post for OWLS (OWLS stands for Otaku Warriors for Liberty and Self-Respect). I will admit, it took me a bit to get going with this month’s theme but I’m pretty happy with the end result.
For those who don’t know: OWLS are a group of otaku bloggers who promotes acceptance of all individuals regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, religion and disability. OWLS emphasise the importance of respect, kindness, and tolerance to every human being. Each month, OWLS will look at a specific theme. If you want to know more, please do click on the logo in the side bar.
The theme for May: Pride
In honour of “Pride Month,” we will be discussing the word, “Pride” and its meaning. We will be exploring pop culture characters’ most satisfying and joyful achievements or skills that they possessed and whether or not these qualities could be seen as a positive or negative aspect in their personal lives and/or society.
The Pride of the Protagonist
I really struggled with this theme at first. Mostly because for me ‘pride’ is one of those double edged swords. Characters with too much pride annoy me as they come off as arrogant. Characters with too little pride also annoy as they come off as doormats. Though it is much the same in real life. I feel people need to have pride in themselves but it shouldn’t cross the line into being egotistical or conceited. And I kind of looked at this issue when I wrote a feature back in 2016 on anime characters who want to be the very best (no Pokemon in the post but a focus on Ichigo from Bleach and Light from Death Note).
However, my personal thoughts on pride aside, in narratives pride is a driving force for characters. For better or worse, characters can make decisions and take actions to protect their pride and this moves both the characters and the plot forward. Still, at times you have to question what that pride is based on and whether or not it was particularly beneficial to act in that way.
For anime I’m watching at the moment, the immediate one that sprang to mind when thinking about whether or not pride was helpful is Record of Grancrest War. Now, there’s a lot of questionable decisions in the narrative outside of character motivations and yet I think a lot of the audience would be happy to accept a lot of the things that have happened if the character motivations would make sense.
Now we could look at the choices made by so many characters in this anime. Marrine deciding she has to unify the continent herself and willing to even resort to chemical warfare to achieve that end. Milza being Milza. The number of commanders who have ridden out to their deaths rather than surrendering. The number of characters who have committed suicide upon losing a battle (and has anyone ever inquired as to the mental health of the mages because they seem particularly suicidal). But instead of looking at all of that, because it is messy and doesn’t relate well to other stories that actually have some logic behind them, I want to look at Theo and his decision to face Milza in a one-on-one fight.
Realistically, this just reminded me of Sarah in the Labyrinth:
Sarah: No! I have to face him alone.
Didymus: But why?
Sarah: Because that’s the way it’s done!
Didymus: Well, if that is the way it is done, then that is the way you must do it. But, should you need us…
Hoggle: Yes, should you need us…
Sarah: I’ll call.
So, why does she need to face the Goblin King alone? She has a whole group of friends waiting and yet she’s going to go fight the guy with magic powers by herself, armed with… Confidence she’s the protagonist so it will all work out somehow? Even as a kid, this scene never sat well with me.
As does Theo’s decision to fight Milza one-on-one. It has already been established that Milza is by far the stronger fighter of the two. Despite Theo’s preparations to wear down Milza’s army and to isolate him, fighting him by himself is pretty much suicidal, given that in a realistic world, Milza would have broken through Theo’s defense and killed him early on.
That isn’t what happens though. Instead, Milza beats away at Theo, hitting his guard and sword continuously, and in the process he wears himself out before Theo prattles at him and then runs him through. And once again, we get an excellent look at why pride is not a useful trait for character survival when Milza is given an opportunity to just surrender and flat out turns it down allowing Theo to kill him and somehow justify it.
An argument could be mounted that Theo has to beat Milza to prove he is worthy of leading the alliance and inheriting Vilar’s crest, but realistically if Theo lead the army that reclaimed the castle and wiped out Milza’s troops, would it matter if Theo had actually personally killed Milza. Furthermore, would it have mattered if the other characters had brought Milza down to the ground where Theo could have still walked up and done his little speech and offered Milza a chance to live before delivering the finishing blow?
But let’s expand that argument to more or less any story about a lone hero who rises up and some of the convoluted reasons narratives come up with as to ‘why’ they end up facing the villain alone.
Lethal Weapon gives us an excellent example of this in the fight of Riggs vs Mr Joshua. They are fighting on the lawn, literally surrounded by police all armed with guns, and yet they continue a smack down. Running around the perimeter, we see Murtaugh claiming he’ll take responsibility as it is Riggs’ arrest and the others shouldn’t interfere.
I’m not sure where that fits into any kind of standard police procedure or common sense. It makes for a great fight sequence. We get to see how tough Riggs is and how awesome he is at fighting. We also get to see him being the benevolent man and not killing Mr Joshua, you know, until Mr Joshua grabs a gun. But it doesn’t make a huge amount of sense.
From a character point of view, we can see why Riggs wants to fight him. That is clear. And the reason he might want him dead. But that drive, his sense of pride in wanting to be the one to take him down, is pretty silly in the grander context leaving him quite badly injured and almost killed. More importantly, despite what Mutaugh is saying, I’m not sure the rest of the police would just chill and watch for the sake of Riggs’ personal vendetta.
Over and over again we see these kinds of protagonists who push the limits and boundaries in the pursuit of defending their pride. And while there might seem to be something noble about this particular action, the end result is something that seems slightly faulty to me. To assume that an achievement is one you cannot be proud of unless you do it alone is really inaccurate and realistically, collectively having pride in the achievements of a group is more likely to lead to social cohesion than lauding individual achievements. Would Theo have been any less a character for not facing Milza alone? Would Sarah have failed to realise she could beat the Goblin King if Hoggle and Sir Didymus have accompanied her? Would Mr Joshua be any less dead or arrested if the full force of the police had simply swarmed him on arrival at the scene?
Having pride is important as people all have value. But protagonists regularly go too far. They cross the line into believing that they must stand alone and it is only their strength that will succeed. While it definitely makes for some great viewing and has lead to some truly epic scenes, the application of this kind of pride into the real world would definitely be problematic.
So let’s bring this back to Pride Month. Pride Month isn’t about the lone wolf going off to bring down the villain in a showy display of individual strength and self-glorification. Being acknowledge for either your individual self or for your achievements (both individual and collective) don’t equate to tearing someone else down.
In that sense, Sailor Moon with her ‘love and friendship’ mantra is probably a better role model as she reaches out to her friends for support when facing her enemies and even reaches out to her enemies where possible.
The Schedule for June:
5: Matthew Castillo (Matt-in-the-Hat)
14: Mistress of Yaoi (Yaoi Playground)
18: Irina (Drunken Anime Blog)
19: Naja B. (Nice Job Breaking It, Hero)
20: Marth (Marth’s Anime Blog)
22: Gloria (The Nerdy Girl News)
26: Takuto (Takuto’s Anime Cafe)
27: Scott (Mechanical Anime Reviews)
28: Crimson (Crimson is Blogging)
29: Carla (PopCultureLiterary)
15 thoughts on “OWLS Blog Tour: The Pride of the Protagonist”
Omg so happy you joined the owls. Shows how long I’ve been away from the blogging world!! Great post. It must be hard writing about pride. But you did really well
Thank you. I really struggled starting with this topic. But I kind of like where the post ended up.
Ah… the cliche solo smackdown.
All these writers who can’t balance story and character… at least make it make some sense like Kogami vs Makishima or something!
But yeah, I feel like the root of this problem is a misunderstanding that individuality is somehow compromised by cooperation. That kind of just strikes me as weird.
Kogami vs Makishima is a great case of where the the character has a genuine reason to face the villain alone. His friends wanted to arrest the villain rather than kill him so Kogami really had no choice but to do it solo in the end. Psycho Pass just does so many things that make sense.
You are right that the protag standing alone does make for some great scenes, but never for common sense haha.
It is true that people rarely want to ask for help. I suppose if I was about to face a battle in which I may die I would rather my friends live even though them being there would increase my chance for living. Pride is a interesting topic for sure.
The thing is though, in a lot of these cases if the protagonist fails to stop the villain, their friends won’t live anyway. So it would genuinely make more sense to work with someone to stop them even if there might be casualties, given it would stop an even bigger disaster. And in Riggs’ case, no one would have needed to be injured if they’d just arrested him straight up.
Really good read. That Labyrinth got a mention gives it plus points in my book as that was always a fun favourite as a kid. I think youre right though that the message in Sailor Moon is a positive one. There’s no shame in reaching out for help when it’s needed.
Labyrinth is definitely a movie that should get more attention. It left a lasting impact on me as a kid and I still really enjoy watching it as an adult.
Same here. Which made me happy when my kids enjoyed it too.
Thank you for the insightful meditation. There’s a Chinese kung-fu movie called Iron Monkey that I think exemplifies this very well: neither of the heroes are strong enough to defeat the villain alone, and when they team up it’s just barely enough. And it’s not done in a cheesy way, either. Though the movie has plenty of humor in it. In a way, I consider this about as close to a perfect movie as I’ve ever seen.
That sounds kind of interesting and quite different from so many other stories where we have the single character who ends up facing danger alone.
What I don’t get though, is even when the protagonist can win, why risk the loss and the villain getting away when working with someone else would ensure success.
Yeah, I know exactly what you mean. I mean, if you’ve you got the means to guarantee victory, why not guarantee it?
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