Overused Character Archetypes and Clichés – Are they making Anime Unoriginal?

Artist: weee (raemz)

One of the things that some fans complain about Anime is how similar the characters are. It’s true that there is an array of archetypes you can use to describe a character, but is this a reasonable complaint? (Image Source)

When we talk about a character in any type of story, they usually have a fixed personality since personalities has to be developed throughout the story. Because of this, people eventually use different archetypes to easily describe a specific character. It can range from the good old protagonist and antagonist characters to your average male high school lead or Tsundere girl.  However, since some archetypes tend to get used more than others, which is why some people feel that Anime is getting worse. I don’t agree with this statement since archetypes does not mean that characters are carbon copies of each other from different stories.

While stories from a certain genre have similar characters such as the typical hot-blooded male hero or in a slice of life anime, a cute absent-minded girl, people tend to complain that all or some of the characters are not original. The only problem with that argument is that even though a character might have the same archetype, they are not exactly the same. For instance, Kyoto Animation has adapted shows that have the typical kind, cheerful but ditzy girl such as Yui (K-ON), Eru (Hyouka) and Tamako (Tamako Market), but they also have some unique qualities that set them apart such as Tamako’s obsession over the Bunny Market. This can apply to Tsundere characters too since most of them are cold on the outside to hide their insecurities, but have different insecurities, cast, etc. However, I understand why people feel that the Tsundere archetype is unoriginal because Kugumiya Rie tsunderes are popular.

In short, characters will have different experiences that influence their personality and outlook like we do in real life. While each character can look or have similar qualities, they are still unique since the author can add more depth to make it more interesting. For instance, Ichinose Kotomi from Clannad shares some similarities from Mai and Shiori from Kanon, but experiences a loss of her parents, which pushes her to become a top student with her childhood friend possibly reuniting. However, if an archetype is not used correctly, it can give negative impressions to people.

Besides Anime, Japanese role-playing games not only have its share of overused archetypes, but also clichés relating to its cast. The problem I see with most role-playing games is that most of them feature a typical shounen male hero while female characters are reserved for healing and using magical skills rather than physical attacks (although there are exceptions). To make matters worse, the ratio of male to female party members are imbalanced to the former. This bothers me not because I want to play as a female lead, but I feel that they are just as capable as males. I think most of this has to do with video games being a male dominated hobby in the past, a trend that is changing.  Not only that, in recent years, we are seeing a higher ratio of capable female characters (or an all female cast) in role-playing games such as the Atelier games (especially the last three main games in the series), Tales of Xillia (which you can play as a female protagonist), Neptunia, etc. Still, this cliché stands out the most compared to others such as the need to level grind to beat a boss, saving the world from evil, etc.

At the end of the day, I don’t think archetypes (or the over usage of them) are making Anime unoriginal for the fact that each character is developed differently. Even if an archetype gets overused, it will never become clichéd as it only describes a characteristic. Furthermore, each story is going to have a number of clichés. What matters more to me is how the story progresses and develops these characters to make it interesting from its original premise.

With that, what you think about character archetypes? Do you think that some being overused more than others? Feel free to discuss some that are being used in Anime or related mediums. 

9 Comments… read them or add your own.

  1. Overlord-G says:

    They exist. That is all. Why waste time whining about them when not only are some of them charming, but the shows they’re in make money? Get your heads out of the gutter and find something more interesting to rant about guys! This isn’t the mid 2000’s anymore.

    • chikorita157 says:

      I apologize that I’m talking about negative things… but I have to get it out of my mind, but the next editorial will be more positive. :p

  2. Rekari says:

    First, there’s so much I want to agree with in this post. You couldn’t have expressed my views on anime cliches and such any better.

    “The only problem with that argument is that even though a character might have the same archetype, they are not exactly the same.”

    I agree with this so much. While some characters may remotely resemble others, no one character is completely the same. However, that doesn’t really seem to satisfy many anime viewers. I see a lot of people who cast away certain anime genres such as ecchi, harems, or some shonen, stating the characters are too bland. I mean come on, with all the variations of character design and anime, it’s a daunting task to be original. Also as a writer, I can relate to writers using cliche, it’s easy to build a decent character by taking a cliche and twisting it.

    And yes, I would love for my female protagonists. Girls can do a lot more than healing and supporting.

    • chikorita157 says:

      It’s true that people tend to criticize characters in different genres compared to others. I think this is more of a sameness issue, but in the process don’t realize that they are different. Of course with anything in life, it’s difficult to create something completely from scratch, so authors will base something off from their experience or something to make their story even better. As you mention, authors do this by taking characters they like and expand it further or tweak it so it will fit in the overall story… But at the end of the day, it’s something silly to complain about as there is some sameness quality in everything.

      But yes, I tend to like female characters more as they have better character development in the type of shows I watch… although male characters in certain occasions can be good too.

  3. Silvachief says:

    One of the things that i’ve always thought about stereotypical characters is that they are used often because they work well; if they didn’t they wouldn’t be used. I completely agree that it’s the experiences each character has had that shapes them rather than their base personality traits.
    As far as male leads in games go, I also think that it may be because most gamers are male and identify better with male characters. It’s not true now as much as it was in the past, but it’s probably one of the reasons. It’s definitely something that’s changing though and I support it as long as developers don’t start including token female leads just for the sake of it – the gender of the protagonist needs to fit the position they’re in.

    • chikorita157 says:

      Like said previously, basing a character off a successful one is a lot easier as it takes a lot of creativity and effort just to create one completely from scratch. However, you can’t simply copy a character and drop it in a different story, it will make the story awkward. Of course it has to be tweaked one way or another.

      As for the male leads, it’s understandable that the main demographic of video games are heavily dominated my males. However, it doesn’t mean video games are not a girl thing as my sister is a hard core gamer herself. But both of us don’t play shooting games, but mostly Japanese games. But aside from that, I tend to play as a female protagonist when there is an option for it…

  4. Frog says:

    There are certainly patterns when it comes to characterisation. Honestly, bad characterisation has less to do with the archetype existing than with bad writers feeling the need to box in the character or to define solely them by their traits. They’re going to feel derivative in the bad way if the character isn’t tweaked to fit the context of their own story.

    • chikorita157 says:

      I think you have a point as taking a group of character traits from a character and how good it will turn out in the end will depend on the author’s skill. Like creating a unique character, fitting a derivative character into a story takes just as much work and effort so it fit’s well into the story. Probably this is the reason why some feel this way this will affect the story. But no matter what we look at it, they eventually have to be tweaked a little so the plot at least works.

  5. melissa says:

    I agree with what you’re saying in fact the only anime where characters act realistically is Cardcaptor Sakura how you ever noticed that they don’t act in a “anime-ish” way, like they are people you could meet in your every day life.

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