A few weeks ago I wrote a piece about a particular debate that has been surrounding anime for quite some time, that being the debate over the definition of anime. However, there are quite a few others that I find particularly interesting, and so I thought it a good idea to cover another one of those this week. Specifically, I want to talk about Archetypes as they relate to anime.
Archetypes have been everpresent in anime for almost as long as the medium has been around. Most anime fans are aware of the popular female archetypes such as the Yandere, a girl who is both insane and in love with another character, and the Tsundere, a girl who acts like they do not like a character but actually does.
There are, however, many others. Another example of a female anime archetype is the Kuudere, the quiet girl, and on the male end of the spectrum, there is the ever-popular Isekai protagonist, who often serves as less of an archetype in and of themselves and more as a way for the male viewers to better project themselves into the world. Also among the male archetypes is the comic relief best friend, who is often found in Harem and ecchi series as a way to contrast the main character.
All of these archetypes have to lead to many a complaint from people in the community. It does not take long looking at forum discussions to find at least one person complaining about “generic tsundere” characters, or other yandere characters being “Yuno ripoffs,” a reference to arguably the most popular yandere character, Yuno Gasai from “Future Diary.” I know because I was once one of those people. However, as I dabble more and more in writing myself, I have come to realize the important role that archetypes play in telling a story, especially in anime.
It is pretty obvious to most that have consumed any kind of storytelling media that most of that media is trying to send some kind of message. Sometimes that message is more directly political, such as with shows like “ACCA 13” and “Princess Principal.” However, most shows deliver messages that are seemingly apolitical. One thing those different messages have in common though is the way they deliver those messages, which is often done using similar archetypes.
A good example of this is a show like “Neon Genesis Evangelion” vs something like “The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya.” Both shows have a character that could be considered a Kuudere, Rei in “Evangelion” and Yuki in “Haruhi,” respectively. Despite this, both shows deliver different messages with those archetypical characters. Arguably more important than just telling a different story or delivering a different message is that the characters themselves are different relative to their individual stories.
Another good example of this is “Re:Zero” and “In Another World with my Smartphone.” Both shows start off as isekai stories with isekai main characters but take radically different directions with their stories, character development, and messages. Touya, from “In Another World with my Smartphone” becomes much more stereotypical, being overpowered from the very beginning and, of course, getting all of the female characters to fall in love with him. Meanwhile, Subaru from “Re:Zero” is noticeably not that. Subaru, despite not doing that much wrong, seems to be tortured by his newfound life, where every time he dies he comes back at predetermined checkpoints.
Archetypes exist because people have similar ideas about what characters are or should be like inside the context of a given story. By definition archetypes are going to be similar to each other, some more than others.
Think for a second about the theory of Gravity. Isaac Newton invented the concept of gravity in the mid-1600s, and to this day physicists and mathematicians are operating from that baseline. However, this does not mean that they never criticize or go against any part of his theory. Einstein’s theory of Relativity is proof of such.
The same is true for storytelling. Many of the character models that were around at the dawn of anime are still around today but are constantly being built on and changed by new writers. Some choose to lean into the archetype’s constants more than others, but all are ultimately still their own new creations. While it is true that lazy writing and uninteresting characters will always be as just that, blaming the basis for those characters is wrong because ultimately the Tsunderes and Kuuderes of old can become the starting point for new, more interesting characters later on.