On the week of my return I talked about one of the most important objective standards to me whenever I watch a show: pacing. I talked about the massive importance of pacing and how easily pacing could make or break a show. After watching the Love Live movie via my own curiosity (as I’ve tried my hardest to make it a known fact that I rather dislike the Love Live series) and talking to a few people who were rather big fans afterwards a new topic came to light, that being characterisation.
In the creative process, whenever you write your character the first question you must always ask is “Why is this character here?” Why are any of the characters that have presented themselves here and what purpose do they serve to the overarching plot? If there are multiple main characters, what does each individual protagonist give towards the conflict? Overall, you cannot write a character merely because you want to. The story and experience are both weaker if you introduce any element to the creative process that affects the production in no way.
A character is designed to serve a purpose, but along with this, a main character must develop. If a character had a job to stay in the spotlight throughout the entire play, it would be incredibly boring and extremely noticeable if they underwent no character development at all. When something is the center of an entire production and it doesn’t change in any way, you could look back at the beginning of the experience and see it in the exact same light. If this ever happens to a creative piece that you write, ultimately you have failed. If your conflict was great enough to be worth writing a story about, your main character who is caught in the middle of the whole thing will change. If they don’t, you’re undermining the importance of your conflict and devaluing the entire experience on a fundamental level. That is something you never want to do, especially in creative writing.
A show that uses characterisation to not only empower the entire experience but uses it to justify an otherwise poor conclusion to the overarching conflict, and one of my personal favourite anime of all time, is Mahou★Shoujo Madoka Magica. In Madoka Magica every character serves a purpose. Every character is unique. Every character feels human and falls away from tropes which, while that isn’t something that defines good or bad characterisation, helps them feel more real, and on top of all of that, every character is necessary and is massively impacted by the main conflict. Characters like Sayaka Miki go from a happy go lucky high school girl, to a hero of justice, to someone who has lost all hope. Characters like Homura Akemi go from an innocent and clumsy girl, to a magical girl vowing to save her best friend’s life, to blasphemous and broken girl filled with envy. Each main character goes through three distinct phases of development (another theme constantly repeated throughout the show, weird how that works out, huh?) and each character is human. Each character breaks, each character changes in drastic ways, each character helps the show. If not for the change in these characters that affect them permanently, the resolution to the entire story (as far as the TV episodes are concerned, anyways) would feel hollow. But, because each character is permanently scarred forever, the conflict is still deeply important to everything and how it was resolved leaves a bittersweet taste in your mouth almost exclusively because of how it affects the characters.
A show that did it poorly, on the other hand, is Love Live: School Idol Project. The only characters that really develop are the ones unsure if they wanted to join the idol group or not, and even then they never fully accept it. None of the characters ever change in any drastic way and always stay in this kind of safe zone. Everyone who starts off shy, stays shy even in the face of a large task. Everyone who starts enthusiast remains super enthusiastic about the idol group. Everyone who starts as a narcissistic bitch (Am I allowed to say that? Editor’s Note: As long as it is not Umi, Nozomi, or Maki) remains a narcissistic bitch and always makes me hate her more with every waking line of dialogue that escapes her mouth. No one has a meaningful back story (No, Nico’s “tragedy” doesn’t count), no one has any distinct character qualities that give them a level of relatability, and if they do it’s usually tossed out the window to give them a more idol-like overall appearance or for them to fit into more anime tropes.
Where Madoka Magica has genuine heartache and development that gives each character depth in a way that makes you care for them more, Love Live gives you tropes and cardboard cutouts. Tragedy isn’t even a requirement for good character development, shows like Chuunibyou demo Koi ga Shitai! and Non Non Biyori still have that level of real-feeling characters and none of them have ever been through any overwhelming depression. Failing to develop your characters is a fault of your own. The writer is responsible for making every character cared about even if their character base is a trope. Without that, the experience suffers, but with it, your show becomes one that already outclasses all of the shows that don’t have it by a mile and a half.
The featured image for this post was drawn by mangaka Yoshitaka Ushiki.