「才能を隠すのにも卓越した才能がいる。」 (Sainou o Kakusu no Nimo Takuetsu Shita Sainou ga iru.)
“It Takes a Great Talent and Skill to Conceal One’s Talent and Skill.”
Let’s talk about character flaws.
Imbuing a character with flaws is a great way to tell a story. It’s a tactic so elemental we’ve been doing it for literally—literally!—centuries. From Hercules’ struggles with excessive rage to Walter White’s tragic pride—and comedies utilize flaws too, I present you with Kazuma of KonoSuba and rest my case—we understand the hero’s journey to conquer their own flaws at a glance, and it energizes us. Once we realize a character has a flaw that’s standing in their way, we know there will be some kind of resolution by the end of the tale, even if they don’t achieve their stated external goal—which promises catharsis even as it throws the external goal into doubt. Beautiful.
But actually establishing the flaw is a delicate dance. What a well-implemented flaw does is make it so that, even when the character does something that we (the audience) know is dumb, we still understand why they couldn’t not do that, because that’s who they are. It provides this tension where we understand why they’re fucking up even while not entirely blaming them, but still partially blaming them and wanting them to change and adding this delightful frustration in the mix. It’s great storytelling—but it’s all predicated on either understanding why the character has this flaw, or in it not being a flaw for a long time before suddenly becoming an issue.
We’re on episode two, so the latter path—say, a character being a total hothead, but it doesn’t really hold them back until suddenly it does, I’m looking at you Katsuki #imjustguessing—isn’t available. They’ve got to establish flaws quickly without making the characters detestable, because once the basis of our relationship with a character is frustration, it’s too late. The well is poisoned, pack in the wagons, we’re done. This is a challenge that Youzitsu is having trouble with in regards to Suzune, but doing better at with Kiyotaka.
Suzune’s asshole behavior damn near did me in during the study group. There was a bucket of poison on the lip of the well, and it was teetering. It was so stupid and unnecessary, and frustrating, and we don’t know why she’s like this. Then we get to the scene with her nii-san, and it smacked of “Here! This! This is why she’s like she is!” And, okay, sure, but almost too late. Not too late! But almost. I think the story would have been better served by having her be prickly but not a problem until later on, when we’ve become used to her. As it is they front-loaded the flaw instead of the understanding, and that’s dicey.
Kiyotaka, on the other hand, is raising all sorts of interesting flags, because he’s not the focus. His seiyuu was less sleepy this episode, which was an improvement firstly. But then he cracks out the martial arts, and he lies about why he can do that, and we learn that he’s the Miyanaga Saki of quizzes, able to nail plus-minus zero—I mean, 50pts on any quiz he wants. The foreshadowing wasn’t subtle when Suzune was leering at his forearms, but because we’re getting mystery before either understanding or flaw, he’s interesting instead of frustrating. That’s a better move.
I’ve rambled on storytelling nonsense for too long. Let’s bring this back down from 10,000ft. Did we just watch an episode where the majority of the runtime was spent organizing and then failing to complete a study group? Because yeah, that happened. The pacing was rough, as the episode only really came alive when Kiyotaka started dodging kicks to the damn head, and before that it was a boring series of events where people did boring things. Good writing can make a conversation in an elevator at the Post Office compelling, but there are tricks to it Youzitsu wasn’t employing. It was just a lot of talking about boring stuff until, suddenly, it wasn’t.
Not much else to say, because if I get too far into the philosophy of this series, I’m going to get cross. Which is a sign that I might not be able to blog this, because eventually I’ll jump on my soapbox, and nobody wants that. I’ll only say one thing: this system promotes desperation, and desperation is not an emotion that makes for a more productive society. Hunger? Sure, a little hunger can do wonders for productivity and growth. (Note: That’s metaphorical hunger. It’s hard to be productive when your stomach is trying to eat itself.) But desperation turns humans into animals. The nice thing about this school is that it doesn’t make students too desperate—they all have places to stay and food to eat. But the twin specters of no money (note the faces of the students trying to borrow money) and the threat of expulsion are liable to drive people into a corner. (That the class hierarchy is a zero-sum came that incentivizes tearing the other classes down doesn’t help either.) The school might get some focused people out of this, but I doubt they’re actually going to learn much. They’re just going to learn it long enough for the test.
And expulsion, hah! I knew they had a way to get to “100%” without actually educating everyone. That’s a fake 100%, the system is still failing some people. Though I’m sure they’ll punish the surviving students if anyone drops out anyway. C’est la vie.
- She cannot reveal the details of their performance evaluations? Bullshit. That might occasionally be true to life, but employers who do that are assholes. Trust me, I’ve had one or two of ’em. They did not get anyone’s best work.
- Anime is full of hellaciously tough schools. I’d rather be in almost any of the other ones. At least they’re broken in more interesting ways.
My SECOND novel, Freelance Heroics, is available now! (Now in print!) (Also available: Firesign #1 Wage Slave Rebellion.) Sign up for my email list for exclusive content. At stephenwgee.com, the last four posts: I get it now!; Guardians of the Galaxy, Glee, & Firesign; That’s not supposed to go there . . .; and The Carcer Principle.
ED: 「Beautiful Soldier」 by Minami