What makes a good protagonist? Quite a lot of things, countless things really, but one central core needs to be development and growth. If your characters are static the entire story, they become dreadfully boring and quite a chore to continue to desire to spend time with. While there is obviously a fan base for characters that are nothing more than their archetypes, or else are nothing more than their trope or power, I don’t feel as though that makes for very deep writing.
I’m not going to jump on the twenty something bandwagon that thinks its trendy to hate on Dragon Ball Z, but I will say that there’s a reason why the thrill I get out of seeing Goku is pure nostalgia, while I’ll take an adventure with Luffy over the Z-Team most any day.
I joke often that my friend introducing me to One Piece pretty much ruined most other anime for me. The reason is that everyone in One Piece continually grows. They have certain things you can expect out of them, Zorro is almost always moody, Luffy is always a lovable idiot, Nami will always be a gold digger, and so on, but there’s depth. Sometimes its in large ways, such as Usopp allowing himself to get beat near to death for the sake of his friends, and other times its in the quiet moments. Nothing grabbed me more than one particular scene in Nami’s backstory arc, an arc I didn’t particularly enjoy to be honest, save for that one moment, that one painful moment. You know the one.
Luffy looks around at the bloodstains in Nami’s old room and he understands what child Nami had to endure. As the villain brings his mighty blade towards Luffy, he reaches out and stops it with two fingers. Similar to earlier in the arc when a sobbing Nami drops to her hands and knees and begs Luffy to help her, one thing I love about his character is that he doesn’t necessarily need to know the details, all he cares about is whether or not someone hurt his family.
I tried getting into Fairy Tail, and before I was ultimately pushed away by their “SATAN SOUL!!!” obsession, I found it to be a less deeply written One Piece. Every battle was resolved by Natsu magically having a new move, story arcs were rushed through, and the stakes never felt real because Natsu was never really using his full strength most of the time. There were brief moments, like when a crying Happy had to leave Natsu alone against an enemy he couldn’t quite figure out how to beat, but for the most part you always know the overpowered protagonists will never struggle.
Similarly, even though Toriko is a joy to watch, both the series and the character, somewhere between fifteen and twenty episodes in I stopped caring and never picked up the show again. Every fight is resolved by Toriko being all like “Oh by the way I’m one of the heavenly saints AND HERE’S ANOTHER NEW MOVE HA HA YOU DIDN’T REALLY LAY A SCRATCH ON ME TO BEGIN WITH!!!”
Yeah, though the characters are fun, I lost interest shortly after Terry Cloth joined up.
Which brings me to Cloud Strife versus Sol-Badguy. When I was a kid, I was such a Cloud Strife fan. He was just so freaking cool, with his spiky blonde hair that as a somewhat self loathing black kid I knew I’d never have, his amazing buster sword that he could flourish effortlessly, and his dark, brooding presence. He was so dang cool.
Cloud never let anything shake him, and he met every challenge head on. I thought he was just the coolest thing on the planet. Later, when I got into FF8 I found Squall was such a great character, I thought he was so cool! He never let anyone get too close, he had a freaking sword with a gun inside of it, his scar looked B.A., and I found his thoughts synced up with a lot of mine at the time.
When I got older I picked up Skies of Arcadia and was so freaking refreshed. I had just finished beating Grandia 2 from cover to cover, which I absolutely loved right up until the moment when they were suddenly like “Oh, by the by God is a pansy, Satan killed him, he kinda came back but we don’t need God anyways. Also Ryudo is shacking up with both Millenia and Elena, switching off whenever he gets the urge to wander. Everyone is okay with this.”
I was like “…….Wha?!”
Skies of Arcadia was so refreshing. Vyse was comical, he was fun, he was exuberant and upbeat. I realized that being around those angsty bags of hormones was just no fun anymore. I’d stopped being an angst ridden teenager by the age of sixteen or so. I didn’t care about characters like Cloud anymore; they were such massive downers. Even when everything was okay, for them it wasn’t okay.
So, who is my favorite Guilty Gear character? Sol-Badguy, hands down! What makes him different from Cloud?
I was thinking about that this morning. Sol is pretty angry a lot of the time. He’s kinda moody, but he’s not what I’d call dour. Sol to me has pretty good reasons to be pissy. He was a part of a holy order that he realized was just a farce to let the rich get richer, he was subjected to terribly painful experiments, he had to kill his own daughter, he lost his beloved to darkness, his memory is spotty, and he might someday have to kill his grand daughter, or vice versa.
The difference? Sol changed, evolved, grew, and is more than his archetype.
Cloud lost a loved one, which he blames himself for, and he kinda sucked as a soldier. Also he got experimented on. That’s his excuse for being a whiny brat, trying to steal his best friend’s girlfriend, being even more of a whiny brat, and being a horribly derelict father and borderline abusive boyfriend.
In the original Guilty Gear, a game I think most series fans didn’t really get to play, Sol seemed to have absolutely no remorse about killing his daughter at the end of his story. Part of that, we learned later on, is because when he removes his headband (which is something he had to do to access his full power in order to beat Justice) he goes frigging berserk. The headband functions as a limiter that keeps his psychotic personality, a side effect of the experiments, in check.
Just real quick, Sol with his hair down was bloody amazing and I’m pretty sure Hellsing stole that design, or vice versa.
In later games Sol has expressed a modicum of regret about killing Justice, though he views it as his responsibility to destroy all gears. The reason why he carries this weight, is that they’re all spawned from his blueprint. The clearest way that we can see his regret however is that canonically, after he beat Dizzy in their duel, who was exceedingly reluctant to fight him anyways, he chose to spare her life. He let live the one gear that was directly “birthed” from his daughter, and seemed very thankful in his own special way that Dizzy was in control of herself.
Again in his own way, Sol tends to be protective of Dizzy. Speaking of Sol’s special brand of empathy, we know that he and I-No had some manner of relationship before she decided to go all Sith on his butt. She’s one of the few people he hesitates against, expressing a desire not to fight her. Similarly, Sol is one of the few people I-No will defy her orders for.
The biggest difference between Sol and Cloud, aside from the fact that Sol actually has depth, is that he experiences a wide range of emotions. Sol is nowhere near as laid back as Ragna the Bloodedge, but he’s a fun guy. He laughs, he jokes, he goes out of his way to be nice to certain people, and he’s managed to turn his anger into something that can portray everything from “I’m worried about you” to “I’m glad you’re doing okay.”
Sol, by the by, has got to be the only person who can turn “Yeesh, what a pain in the ***” into “I ‘m glad you’re doing okay.”
So what do you think? Agree? Disagree? What angry heroes are you into? Do you need depth in your stories or do you prefer just nonstop action? You know what to do!