The Arduous Task of Gaining Viewer Sympathy

“The character wasn’t really developed enough for me to care about them.”
“That character was annoying, he was a complete idiot.”

Something I’ve noticed in the aniblogosphere is the swift judgement that characters tend to receive. The most common judgement is not caring about a character because they haven’t been developed enough.

Lately, I’ve been pondering about this mentality.

Don’t get me wrong, I completely understand that the basis for it is critical analysis, so not every character can just get a free pass. But at the same time, I know (or at least hope) that in real life, people wouldn’t be so quick to judge others. I’d be willing to bet that if most of the characters existed in real life, people who said they didn’t care about them or thought they weren’t developed enough might even like them.

However, that line of thinking throws me into another mental roadblock. The whole point is that these shows aren’t real life, and the whole point of critical analysis (or at least part of it) is to judge the writer’s abilities. But then yet again in counter, I question if it’s necessary to abandon part of our humanity purely for the sake of analysis.

Before my brain explodes, I suppose we should get to some examples.

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One of the more recent example would be Kujo from Gosick. He got quite a bit of flak for being “an idiot.” They weren’t really wrong, either. There were a lot of common sense moments that completely flew over his head.

But at the same time, as I said in my review for the show, Kujo is a nice guy. His heart is in the right place, and he’s always protective of Victorique once he gets to know her.

I don’t feel like it’s really fair to judge the guy solely based on his faults.

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One of the most popular examples would definitely be Yuuji from Shakugan no Shana. There are a fair amount of people that actually dislike him more than any other male characters in anime (or at least they’re the most vocal about him). This is due to, just like Kujo, not having a lot of common sense. He’s been branded as basically the embodiment of male high school lead character stereotypes. In English: he’s generic.

But on the other hand he’s quick to get in on the action. Admittedly, at first he just gets in the way, but he’s always training with Shana to get stronger, and once he finds out he has “Silver” in him, he’s quick to try and harness the power. Though he sometimes gets in the way, at least he’s trying to help Shana where he can.

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Here’s a nice recent one, and the opposite gender, too! Madoka was hated for, obviously, whining all the time. Pretty straightforward.

But if you think about it, that’s a realistic approach. Throughout most of the show, we the viewers were just as confused about all the developments that were going on. Maybe whining isn’t the best approach to all the confusion and mayhem, but you can’t deny that it’s a realistic reaction.

For both Yuuji and Madoka, it seems like the hate stemmed from the characters not acting the way viewers wanted. Viewers wanted them to act or react one way, but the author chose another, just as valid approach, but since it wasn’t what the viewers expected or wanted, it created a conflict. At least that’s what I gathered from what people were saying.


I think there should be large (or at least more obvious) divide between seeing/judging a character based on the fact that it’s someone’s creation, and seeing/judging a character based on the characters as people in and of themselves. By blurring the line between the two, you can end up hating characters with personalities you like/approve of, or liking characters with personalities you hate/don’t approve of.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, people should be able to admit a character has faults, but still be able to like them. There’s no harm in having critical analysis and personal judgement, as long as you can tell the difference between the two.

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4 Comments on “The Arduous Task of Gaining Viewer Sympathy”

  1. Anonomyous says:

    Its laughable sometimes. Take Madoka for instance.

    Before ep 5, people were all over “why isn’t she making a wish for Mami to come back?!? She’s a weak stupid person.”
    Then from ep 6 to 10, people were going “Why is she in the title of the show?!? She does nothing but cry. It should be Mahou Shojo Homura Magica!!!”
    Then ep 11 and 12 arrived.

    Seriously, its so funny to see people don’t understand the various ways stories are told. Some people caught on to what the script meant for Madoka to do but most missed the entire concept.

    Heck disregarding sympathy (which is harder to manipulate), there’s even times when the writer purposely builds viewer rage but many viewers have no idea. They are mad as hell but don’t even know that they are being emotionally manipulated (An example is the Freezing manga where the old translation crew actually quit because they were absolutely pissed about chapters 40 to 50 which if you could step back, you would have realised that was exactly the thing the author was going for and even now at chaps 60-70+ he was doing it again!)

    Then there the entire moe thing which a lot of people fail to realise is just to create that emotional bond so they can manipulate it later. Look at Menma from AnoHana (or Ushio from afterstory). She’s moe so you immediately feel a bond akin to a puppy or child, then they play her to make you sad. Look at Nichijo. Hakase is very moe and they use it to play the viewer for laughs or go “Awww”. TV uses the same thing to manipulate the audience except with kids or animals

    But it created this entire group of moe-haters who fail to realise that so called “moe” anime succeed not because its moe and fails not because its moe either. Sure you got a group of hardcore people going “kawaii!!!” at anything and everything but those are so small as not enough to make any anime a success (aka BD/DVD sales)

    Sorry for going on a rant but it really touches on something i find facedesk worthy sometimes.

    • Riyoga says:

      Rants are not a problem at all; this is a home for ramblers.

      As for what you’re saying, I’m glad you took the time to write all that up, because I had completely forgotten to address it.

      What you basically mention could be considered personal feelings/judgement, but applied to characters they don’t like and with a LACK of critical analysis. The analysis would show that the author is purposefully doing whatever you don’t like, whether it’s to make you angry or not.

      Though I know the counter to that argument would be something along the lines of, “Just because the author is aware of it doesn’t give it a free pass.” Basically, disagreeing with the author’s choice on whatever the matter is.
      I could go either way on that argument depending on the situation. There are too many possibilities to take a permanent side on it.

      As for moe, I don’t know enough about it to really give an opinion. Personally I don’t care for it because I’d rather have a good story, but I don’t really hate it or anything.

  2. hm says:

    You pointed it out well – people always want to see what they want to happen, happen, and get annoyed when it doesn’t. I think a lot of it stems from viewers not being able to put themselves in the character’s shoes, or when they try to see things from the character’s POV, they say to themselves “I would never do that, THAT’S STUPID.” They want to see someone they can admire rather than someone they can empathise with – or they fail to empathise at all.

    You bring up a good example with Madoka – I honestly didn’t understand the hate, because the whole point is that any normal, rational human being would be SCARED AS CRAP to “proceed” after the events of episode 3. It was kind of funny, since every episode Madoka acted exactly as I expected someone should react, and said all the things that I would expect someone to say, after having seen and experienced the things she did. In fact, I thought Madoka becoming mahou shoujo AFTER having seen all that she had seen would be a tragedy of epic proportions. I don’t think she ever “whined” at all – the only whiny thing, perhaps, would be because her voice actress had a really high pitched voice. And really that is not the character’s fault if the director directed the actress to act that way.

    And the thing is, she really did experience what people call “character growth.” Little things building up bit by bit every episode are what made her strong enough to do what she did in the end. People often say they like to see character growth, but is it that they don’t care for real “character growth” at all? Maybe they just like their characters perfect and flawless?

    • Riyoga says:

      It’s true that viewers can be like that. I just find it strange when they don’t realize that’s how they’re thinking.

      It seemed as though at the end, people were fine with Madoka. So I’d say that’s a correct way to summarize it. Some people just don’t like their characters to have any faults at all.


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