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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