Friday’s Feature: The Power of Clichés, Archetypes, and Being Predictable

How Not To Summon a Demon Lord - Episode 1 - Diablo

We all know about anime clichés, archetypes and tropes and we’ve all kind of come to accept that there are certain characters and events that we’re going to run into again and again. However, for some people, the existence of clichés and archetype characters who don’t break the mould are enough for them to scorn a show and turn away from it. They label it unoriginal or boring and might claim it offers nothing. And yet there are a lot of good reasons for stories not to go off script or venture into new waters.

That isn’t to say that it wouldn’t be nice occasionally for things to be changed up a bit or presented in a new way, nor is it excusing the lazy use of clichés for laughs in exchange for actually writing a story or considering the purpose of the characters but it does mean that just because something is entirely cliché does not mean it is bad just because it is. I think we need to consider the context and the execution (as well as which cliché it is because there are some clichés that individuals will accept more readily than others) before making up our minds.

It is kind of timely to visit this topic with so many new shows starting for the season. It is inevitable that first episodes will be riddled with clichés. And for those who consider that a death sentence on a story that is something you will have to accept.



First episodes need to get their point across, set up what their tone is going to be, introduce characters and give the audience some impression of who they are, as well as do some basic world-building. And they need to grab the audience’s attention so there are going to be some bells and whistles thrown in. 

All of this in some twenty minutes. It is a lot to ask and while some shows put off some of these attributes for later episodes and choose to either focus on world building, tone, or characters rather than all of them in one episode, with the short attention span of viewers these days that’s a pretty risky move. That’s where clichés and archetypes come in.

Archetypes are recognisable and memorable. They also cut through a lot of explanations because people already know what is on offer. In a first episode a female character might come across as the ‘manic pixie girl’ and a male character might be ‘generic self-insert isekai protagonist’ but it instantly establishes where this character is starting and the tone the audience can expect.

Depending on which character archetypes we have on display the audience can begin making predictions about the kind of narrative path we’re about to walk and what is on offer. They may have seen it before, but they haven’t seen this version, so as long as the quality of how things are being executed is there, or there is some reason to believe that things are going to get shaken up in future episodes, there’s no reason to dismiss something just because it seems like it might be similar to about a thousand other stories.


Cliche events and actions such as first meetings, finding a secret power, some sort of misunderstanding, and so on serve much the same purpose in these first episodes. They may not be terribly original but as long as they are presented with integrity, that isn’t a huge problem. The issue isn’t from the archetypes and clichés themselves, the issue comes from the lazy way these are sometimes rolled out.


If we take a look at the current anime season on offer we might look at something like How Not To Summon a Demon Lord and begin with the take down criticism of it being horrendously unoriginal, derivative, and the same as about a million other stories

. And certainly it isn’t exactly ground breaking as we’ve seen a player trapped in his in game character that is some sort of demon in Overlord, we’ve seen transported to another world about a million times, and a world based on a game fairly recently in Death March to a Parallel World Rhapsody. We’ve certainly seen ordinary socially awkward guy instantly surrounded by bunch of girls of various types who for whatever reason all end up in love with him (more times than I can count).

The set up is incredibly generic, and then the events in the first episode are incredibly cliche. We have more fan-service moments then I’d care to recount right at the moment, an obnoxious jerk who wants to teach the protagonist a lesson and consequently gets beaten down, and the cute girl who eats a lot. Then the main character who is so incredibly recognisable as a gamer with no social skills or ability to talk to other people without assuming some sort of in game role (No Game No Life and about a million others).

All of this might be enough reason for some anime viewers to pass on this show entirely and I’ve certainly seen a fair number of reviewers who have thrown all isekai offerings this season into a basket and if that basket had been more than just metaphorical they’d have set it on fire (much the same to how I feel about idol anime really). However, not all isekai anime are created equal and while episode 1 of How Not To Summon A Demon Lord certainly didn’t blow my socks off, it did a decent job of setting up a potential story of interest with characters that have most definitely started out as cookie cutter archetypes that we’ve seen before but they all have growth potential.

This is where it gets tricky. The anime now has a short window of time to convert viewers like me from ‘maybe’ into definitely following the show. While generic cliches and archetypes work well enough in first episodes to establish ideas, if the show doesn’t demonstrate a willingness to do anything more than walk the well tread path of other stories, or worse, it has established the characters and then it leaves them exactly where they are, then the show becomes utterly deserving of the criticism of being unoriginal, derivative and not worth the time. But a first episode isn’t enough to make that judgement.

Though episode 2’s opening act with Diablo waking up with his hands on the boobs of both of his female companions probably indicates where this show sees character development.


While comparing first episodes I’m really looking at How Not To Summon a Demon Lord or The Master of Ragnarok and Blesser of Einherjar to add to this season’s watch list (but not both because even I draw the line on isekai at some point). At the moment How Not To Summon a Demon Lord is slightly edging out The Master of Ragnarok for the simple reason that I had more fun with the first episode and the potential story set up looks like it will have a better pay off.

Also, cool explosion (sorry, deep down I’m six years old and I know it) and the reference was cool even though I never watched the anime being referenced (memes do wonders for filling in context sometimes).

The Master of Ragnarok didn’t get an immediate skip though because despite the overly harem qualities, the overt sex jokes, and every other poor generic idea this genre likes to throw at us, it does have the slight intrigue of not being another world but potential the past earth and the protagonist isn’t just arriving, he’s already there and established. It gives it just enough points of interest to earn a second episode consideration despite all the flaws with the first episode.

Regardless of which isekai I end up watching, the point that clichés and archetypes aren’t all bad can be made pretty clearly through an anime that also aired recently, Cells at Work. Outside of the concept that the characters are all anthropomorphic cells doing jobs within the body, there’s really nothing particularly original about the first episode.

While AE3803 might be a truly adorable red blood cell, she’s your stereotypical naive and shy girl on her first day at work. She’s confused, she gets lost, after a chance encounter with a guy who saves her she literally clings on to him as he shows her around before he saves her again. If we took out the fact that they are blood cells, it is pretty much the script of any romantic comedy anywhere or even an action flick (actually, take out first day on the job and we’ve more or less got Temple of Doom working here).


Yet most viewers would agree that Cells at Work presents itself in such a way that it feels original, fresh and entertaining. The change in setting and the clever way that is integrated into plot and character development allows them to execute a fairly ordinary and familiar story in a way that people appreciated and enjoyed.

Something isekai stories might start doing if every ‘other world’ wasn’t generic fantasy land type B (why are no other worlds ever technologically advanced or just completely different from anything we’re familiar with – pseudo-medieval settings have been done to death, move on).

As a reviewer, I’m not above calling something cliche or generic, but at the same time, that isn’t reason enough for me to condemn a story and stop watching. As a fantasy/horror/action/sci-fi fan (in movies) I am well used to seeing very familiar characters and plots time and time again.

What I want isn’t something that reinvents the wheel or revolutionises story telling; what I want is a quality story with a purpose and passion behind it that lends integrity to the work. Though that also might be asking too much sometimes and maybe I should just stick to wanting to be entertained for twenty minutes because that is something I’m more likely to achieve.

Alright, over to the readers. What do you think about the use of generic plots, tropes, clichés and archetypes and what do you think about the start of the Summer anime season? Be sure to leave me a comment letting me know.

Thank-you for reading 100 Word Anime.
Join the discussion in the comments.
Karandi James

Friday’s Feature: On The Man-Devouring Woman in Darling in the FRANXX

Since it premiered three weeks ago there have been a lot of posts about the Trigger/A-1 project, Darling in the Franxx. It seems this show got a lot of people talking, even if they were simply explaining why they won’t be watching it. Hardly surprising given despite the seemingly innocuous story of robots fighting the anime is filled with a plethora of sexual references and imagery around sexuality and it isn’t being subtle about it in the least. It was clearly not caring if it rubbed people the wrong way when it decided to position the female pilot bending over in front of her male partner who controls the robot with handsets that are literally connected to the girls’ flight suits (which for added fun are literally sprayed onto their body in a fan service laden scene).

That said, let me be clear in that while I like seeing female characters getting a range of decent roles, I don’t object to every representation of female characters in subservient roles on principle. Nor do I particularly object to this, though I can certainly see why it might annoy some. For me Darling in the Franxx represents a flawed futuristic society and one I’m kind of hoping ends up in flames by the end of the series, so for me it isn’t exactly promoting this kind of treatment of women as something that should be acceptable because the whole system is so crazy it is clearly designed to be rejected. And yes, there are issues of normalised sexuality in the way they are all paired off boy-girl but again, given the system itself here isn’t exactly something we would be leaping to adopt, I’m pretty sure the show isn’t asking us to accept that this is the actual norm that we should be aspiring to.

Moving on. A lot of the talk has focused on the partners such as Ichigo and Goro who clearly represent the normal dynamic within the world (even if that dynamic is clearly restrictive and largely insane in terms of operational efficiency for any kind of robot – okay, I am not letting go of the fact that whoever built these machines should have been fired and their funding given to someone who actually understands that technology should work all the time and not just when adolescents manage to make some sort of emotional connection). And while I haven’t disliked these discussions the more interesting character in the story seems to be the one who is getting the least attention.

And that is Zero-Two.


Admittedly, a lot about Zero-Two is an enigma which leaves us with a lot of speculation and very little in the way of fact, but Zero-Two is exactly the kind of female character who manages to always leave me just a little bit concerned. Yes, in an anime about female characters being literally driven by their male partners I’m concerned about the one who seems somewhat free of the otherwise incredibly restrictive system. However, that is because of the precedent set in literature for how these sorts of characters are ultimately dealt with by narrative and while I’d love to believe that Zero-Two would avoid these pit-falls and give us a strong and independent female character, there’s already more than enough evidence to suggest that isn’t true.

So far Zero-Two has demonstrated that she is nothing more than another representation of the archetypal character the man-devouring woman. The show isn’t even subtle about setting her up that way (though, it isn’t subtle about anything else so why would it try to hide this).


In almost every culture, mythology throws up this character. The monstrous woman unbound by societal norms who either lures men to their deaths through beguiling them or essentially hunts them down and quite literally devours them. As we came to more modern literature this character took a new form and became the social outcast or, if slightly more empowered, the femme fatale. What really didn’t change was the fate of these characters. In mythology they were almost always ultimately hunted down and defeated (chained, trapped or killed) by a heroic male who represented all that was good with society and in modern stories they either tragically conform to social norms, are sent away or forced into hiding, or in the case where they refuse to conform they are killed off.

How does Zero-Two fit this pattern? Well, she’s literally part monster and this is represented through both her hair colour and horns. She’s different from others in appearance so even if she were to bow her head and behave in the same meek manner that seems to be expected of the others when in the presence of adults, she still would not fit in with the others. But then there are her brash mannerisms and her wilful nature defying control and normal standards. But, you know, the most obvious clue would be that she quite literally devours those who pilot with her, killing them in three rides.


One of the things I find interesting is that  Zero-Two is a character who presents herself as free from a fairly oppressive system and yet ultimately doesn’t go directly against her orders. While she might speak harshly and not play nice, she hasn’t defied the system in any meaningful capacity. She’s actually fairly comparable to Ichigo in that she has asserted herself and her claim over Hiro but is toeing a fairly fine line between assertion and disobedience. Even episode three when she helped Hiro pass through a security screen was more of a prank than an act of defiance. The audience therefore is given a false notion that she’s somewhat empowered when in fact she’s every bit as bound by aspects of the system as everyone else.

Basically, other than the point that Zero-Two devours her male partners (which we still aren’t sure if it is intentional or not though events at the end of episode 3 certainly suggest she has some control over it) she is ultimately just another victim of a system that no sane person is going to look at and think is okay. She’s being used because she is useful and her attitude tolerated because she knows what the line that she shouldn’t cross is.

And this leads me to my concerns for where they take this character. Ultimately I think we all know Zero-Two and Hiro will partner up and when they do, the question is whether they continue to work within the system or whether together they decide on defiance. Either way it probably won’t end well. Given there are only a few real options and none of them don’t really sit well no matter how they try and spin it.


Hiro may indeed be the perfect partner for Zero-Two and bring an end to her man-devouring ways. In which case we get the mythical story of the man taming the beast/woman, or a modern day version of the Taming of the Shrew. Which seems like a fairly lame ending for a character who has made as much of a splash in the early episodes as Zero-Two.

Hiro may be the perfect partner for Zero-Two and essentially gives her leave to do as she likes in order to save the others in some crisis down the line leaving him as the noble sacrifice and her once again as the useful beast. Double whammy if they also knock her off after the fact.

The two may confront the system head-on and end up royally burned with both of them going down in flames (after either bringing the system down or failing to do so). They might survive but I’m not getting a survivor kind of vibe from this show.

Alternatively, Hiro may ultimately reject Zero-Two after he gets a glimpse of her true face. That would be the truly tragic end for this show.

In the nature of optimism and because I don’t like being too wrong with predictions, maybe they are a match made in heaven, perfectly compliment each other’s weaknesses and end up being the best team ever and fight all the bad monsters living happily ever after without ever questioning or challenging the system that governs their reality.

I think that covers all bases really.

I should probably point out, I’m actually really enjoying Darling in the Franxx so far. While it isn’t my favourite show ever and I’m not the biggest mecha fan out there, it has so far been serviceable enough and entertaining enough at setting itself up. And certainly the side conversations about female characters and sexuality in anime have been an interesting byproduct of this anime airing.

Turning it over to you and your thoughts on Zero-Two so far, leave us a comment below and get the conversation going.

Thanks for reading.

Karandi James


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