Understanding Perfection: The Good, The Bad & The Boring as Hell

Perfect.  It’s not a word we use often or lightly and usually when we use the word perfect it’s in reference to how something can’t be perfect.  But what happens when something is perfect?  Do we praise it?  Do we note the irony with which it’s perfection makes it imperfect?  Or do we get to the heart of what separates the different types of perfect characters and reason them out because we are sort of weird and that sounds like fun?  Well  all of the above of course, but mostly that last bit.  From here on there will scattered spoilers, you have been warned.

This post specifically is looking at different types of characters that are perfect in one way or another and what kind of effects these variations of the perfect character have on the story.  The most common type of perfect character is one who is superficially perfect, or close enough to perfect, that the audience considers them perfect.  A popular example would be Kirito from SAO, who has relatively few flaws and is so godlike in comparison to his fellow characters that he gets treated by the community as though he is indeed perfect.  Most of these kinds of characters are absolute shit.  They are very similar to the OP character I described in the post linked here.  If you didn’t click the link here’s a short summary, OP characters are a fucking mess, so blatantly broken that they make the whole world of the story less appealing just by existing in it.  Perfect characters like Kirito are also boring as hell to watch, I mean he’s never going to lose, he won’t make many mistakes and the ones he does make he won’t get punished for, how the fuck is that entertaining?  To walk into every arc and every fight knowing Kirito and characters like him will come out on top without much struggle and no consequences of note, just kills the story for me.  There is one exception to this, namely when a charcater’s perfection or invincibility is a major part of the story.  For Kirito and his ilk, their perfection does not arise naturally from the story nor has any relevance to the story’s themes, it is just handed to them so they can look badass, push the story forward and act as the author’s Deus ex Machina whenever they can’t solve a problem they themselves created.

With the characters who are exceptions these problems are largely resolved as a matter of course.  For example in the currently airing One Punch Man, Saitama’s godlike physical abilities and immunity to damage are fundamental to the story, and as a result the story does not suffer from Saitama’s presence.  Instead it opens up the story to other possibilities.  If you look at One Punch Man in comparison to most superhero movies, comics and cartoons, there is a definite difference in the themes and structure of the story.  In One punch Man it’s a given that Saitama will crush every fight he’s in, so the dramatic tension is not in the battles but instead in the public perception of Saitama and heroes as a whole.  Another major example is Medaka Box.  In Medaka Box, the titular Medaka can do literally anything and do it better than people who specialize in whatever the thing is.  On the surface that probably sounds boring as shit, at best something to be amusing for an episode or two.  However Medaka Box is completely structured around Medaka’s perfection and how that perfection is perceived by others, so the story goes places other stories can’t and therefore remains engaging.  What makes Medaka Box interesting is not Medaka’s godlike ability, but how different characters react to that ability and how they treat Medaka.  It’s a simulation of sorts, as to how people would react to monsters in their midst, which is something I personally like.  Conversely both shows also sort of explore how the exceptional react to the limits of a world defined by the norms of people far less competent than them.  Saitama is generally bored as shit because nothing is a challenge for him, and as one character put it, Medaka imitates humans as a way to belong among them for she herself is to monstrous in her capabilities to really be considered human.  In short the exception with regards to superficially perfect characters is when said perfection is closely tied to the show’s themes and narrative rather than being a tool to push a show’s narrative along.

The last kind of character I want to address is a character who is not necessarily perfect on the surface, though many of them are, but is perfect for the role they are given in the story.  For this discussion I’m going to look at Garo: Hono no Kokuin (which I will call the original Garo from now on) and Garo: Guren no Tsuki (which I will call the new Garo from now on).  Let’s start with a little background for those who haven’t seen either show.  In both shows there is a band of individuals called the Makai Knights, who work with people called Makai Alchemists.  Makai Knights can equip themselves with super-powerful armor to fight Horrors, demons born of human evils that possess humans.  Makai Knights consider it their duty to hunt down Horrors and defend humans.  Most importantly the Knights are not allowed to attack humans, even though Horrors are born of human weakness, sin and so on.  Now I watched the old Garo to completion, 24 episodes in all I think, but I dropped the new Garo after episode 8.  So what makes me react so differently to the two?  Well there are a bunch of reasons but at the heart of it all is the difference between the main characters of each, Leo and Raikou.  Raikou is boring as shit.  I don’t much like his character design and his voice acting is pretty bland.  But most importantly Raikou is too good at being a Makai Knight.  He never struggles with temptation or losing his way, which means he never gets weaker in his heart or in battle.  He just beats all his enemies and says how he wants to save as many people as he can.  This may change post episode 8, but in episode 8 he meets his dad who threw his mother and him out and the retainer who took them into the snows to die, without faltering in the slightest.  In other words Raikou is the ideal candidate for the Makai Knights, and this makes him patently uninteresting when compared to Leo, the hero of the old Garo.

What really convinced me to stick with the old Garo was not the action or the setting, it was the story and specifically Leo’s place in it.  In the old Garo, one of the enemies of the Makai Knights convinces the king that the Makai Knights and Alchemists are witches and demon worshipers.  The king then does his level best to wipe them out, and because Makai Knights aren’t allowed to fight humans they are almost driven to extinction.  Leo is the son of two Makai Knight parents, born at just about the same time as his mother is being burnt at the stake.  He is saved by his father and then the story fast forwards until he’s like 16.  Anyway the thing that makes Leo interesting is that he is a bad fit for the Makai Knights but has no choice but to be one.  Leo is not strong of heart, he is constantly in danger of going out of control because a part of him hates people for burning his mother at the stake.  This also means he struggles some in battle because he can’t draw out the full power of his armor.  This is extra important when the prince appears and becomes a Makai Knight.  You see the prince is like Raikou, perfect for the job and very good at it.  This adds to the pressures on Leo since he has been a Makai Knight for longer but struggles with it.  Essentially, Leo is set up to fail, and because of that his story is both more engaging and more free to move about.  Restricting the new Garo to follow the path of a perfect hero limits where the story can go, and it’s just not entertaining when I have the old Garo to compare it to.

In summary I think the most important thing to consider when it comes to perfect characters of any variety is whether the story has put serious effort into accounting for their perfection or not.  Going back the Garo example, the reason the prince worked where Raikou fails is that a) the prince was not the main character and b) he served as a contrast to Leo and the story was intentionally drawing on that contrast, using it to highlight it’s themes and precipitate Leo’s fall from grace.  The story needs to be structured around the problems a perfect character creates and then examine said problems, perfect characters need a lot of attention in order to function well is what I’m saying.  They are high maintenance characters as it were because they are so inherently unrelatable and unbelievable, so more work needs to be done to make them relevant and engaging.  Anyway, that about wraps up everything I wanted to say.  Thank you for reading, I hope to see you all in future posts.

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