A lot of Japanese series feature a quiet, aloof protagonist. In some ways, he’s a blank slate so that viewers can project more of themselves onto the character. But that doesn’t always make for the most amusing of series. A way to counterbalance? A loud best friend.
The best friend usually is the person that the creators feel best represents their target audience, with the hero as the character the target audience most wants to be. Persona 3’s character designer, for example, once said that the obnoxious best friend Junpei was “the most important character in terms of getting the player to buy into the story” because he felt Junpei most looks and acts like a normal high school boy.
Any number of shonen anime demonstrate that. In Initial D, for example, you have Itsuki. He’s normal looking (as in not spectacularly attractive). He’s crazy about girls and cars. And he’s super loud and annoying. But all in all, he’s got a good heart (which is why the Hong Kong live action movie… well.. ugh… let’s not get into that awful pile of vomit). Meanwhile, there’s the protagonist, Takumi, who has had more than one girl pine for him. Totally conquers the Gunma racing scene in one summer. Has incredible talent and skill… but really doesn’t say much. He’s always thinking, but it’s often up to the viewer to figure out what about.
In Gundam Wing, Hiro Yui is stern, quiet, cool, and obviously scored Relena Peacecraft by hurling death threats but is balanced by (not quite best friend) Duo Maxwell. Troa Barton is balanced by Quaatra Rebaba Winner (or however his name is spelled). Wuufei… cries about weak opponents, so he’s not exactly a quiet blank slate.
Snake has Otacon
I think the point has been made. But there are other series that are not quite so one-sided.
In Dragon Ball Z, for example, Goku is still clearly the guy people want to be. The strongest fighter on earth. Everyone loves him. Has saved the world. And he has little Krillin as his more relatable but really important best friend. Still, what I think makes this more balanced is that Goku’s got a personality all his own. You can see him eat 90 bowls of rice and think “That’s so Goku.”
In Robotech, Rick Hunter has a starlet and a sassy slightly older woman’s panties all up in a bunch for him. He has incredible skill as a pilot. And Ben and Max are his goofy comrades. But the balance is there, as Rick, again, has his own personality – and really, his friend Roy is the guy more people want to be. Ben, yes, is a goof ball, but Max is, I believe supposed to be better with the ladies and cooler overall.
All I can hope for Ren and his buddy Axel is that we attain a similar balance. A likable lead that still clearly is “the guy people want to be” but playing off with his best friend Axel, rather than concentrating all the goofy antics in one character.
What do you think about these personality balances in shows? Has an imbalance between characters ever turned you off? Do you prefer the “blank slate” MC for your own stories?