Character Archetypes in Anime | The Messiah Complex

Character Archetypes are very prevalent in anime, especially in this day and age where almost every anime series released contains at least 2 archetypes. Archetypes are set roles or positions assigned to characters that details their reactions to certain situations and their personality overall. In anime these can be broken down into various different archetypes each acting independently such as but not limited to: the Tsundere, the Yandere and the Dandere. Tsundere’s are often cold on the outside but have a more gentle unseen side, yandere’s are psychopaths and obsessively crazy over the ones they love and dandere’s are more subdued and detached from everyone else and seemingly emotionless.

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These archetypes are seen by many as lazy writing and a plague on the anime community. But archetypes have their own place in the world, not every show has a huge episode count and can devote a lot of its screen time towards developing their characters, and not every show is a character-driven show, some may be story-driven. Because different storytelling forms exist in anime, the writing must also differ and thus the rise of character archetypes came to be. Take for example shows like Neon Genesis Evangelion and Food Wars S1. They both has relatively the same episode count of each having around 24 episodes, but they are two completely different story and try to convey different things in their storytelling.
Food Wars is very plot driven, the story follows the characters and their daily challenges, and focuses rather on the situations the characters find themselves in rather than how the characters feel during each situation. This switches the focus and screen time to advancing the plot rather than developing the personalities of each individual characters, as the show simply doesn’t have the time for it. Whilst Neon Genesis Evangelion tell as relatively simply story at first which is basically a standard mech anime show about kids having to battle giant aliens using giant robots.
Having this simply premise and having NGE use a monster-of-the-week type setup for it’s first half lets the story focus on it’s cast rather than the plot, as the structure of the plot stays pretty much the same each episode, and as the kids have to battle a new alien every week that vary in ability. To an extent the series lets the audience know how each episode will end and uses the allotted time to focus on how the characters adapt to the new monster and how they change in each episode, it is more of how the characters will be after they have reached the end, than the actual end which is pretty clear from the onset.
Both shows use character archetypes such as tsundere’s and dandere’s, but there is a difference in how effective each is. Food Wars uses cardboard cutouts of different archetypes because they are necessary to move the story along, whilst NGE basically created the archetypes themselves in the late 90s because of how well-developed the cast of characters were due to how much screen time and devotion was put into them. Food Wars simply can’t create the amount of depth that NGE does with it’s characters, so they opt for creating already established personalities which can convey a huge amount of information about the said characters in basically little to no screen time.
Tsundere’s such as Erina and Asuka in Food Wars and NGE respectably have the same core principles of being “soft on the inside and hard on the outside”, but because Food Wars is plot driven they can create a tsundere such as Erina and have the audience immediately understand her character, her motivations and her personality without writing much dialogue in for her because of what she is. This is what makes archetypes so vital, creators can now focus more of their attention towards making what they feel the story should focus on being the priority, rather than trying to do too much in not enough time. By creating these archetypes off the bat, they let the audience know the characters personality upfront and the creator can then tweak it later on if they so choose.
That being said character archetypes are lazy writing to the most part. Yes they can be done amazingly like in NGE or even the Monogatari series, but for the most part it is just lazy writing. I did state above that this lazy writing is necessary for converting huge amounts of character development in a short period of time, but a lot of anime just use these archetypes as a scapegoat for not writing well-developed and interesting characters. Take for example a loved genre of anime: harems. Harems features large casts and is mostly character driven, but instead of opting for an intelligently written harem such as Bakemonogatari they get caught up in just making cardboard cutouts of generic archetypes and putting them in the story without having them develop or change at all.
Most harems feature: a loli, a tsundere, a tomboy, a dandere/kuudere and a kind childhood friends. These character roles could be expanded upon and developed into fully fleshed out characters, but harems would much rather stay without their bubble without even trying to innovate their genres or develop their characters, passed what they are of face value. Harems are driven by the characters, people watch them to see how each character reacts to different scenarios of seeing the lead being surrounded by other girls. Seeing how other girls get along with each other as well as their emotions towards the main character is the reason behind their success. Being that they are centred around their characters, the story should move along focusing on developing them and explaining why they are the way they are.
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So really there are positives and negatives in character archetypes in anime, they can be very critical to the creator in streamlining and focusing the story and creative process, which help many stories stay simply and not have too many elements at work at the same time. But at the same time, I would still like to see more originality and openness to experimentation with other fully fleshed out characters rather than sticking to the designated character archetypes. Yes archetypes are lazy writing, but you must think “Is that such a bad thing?” it can be useful a lot of the time, but yes it does get abused a lot by creator not wanting to deviate from the already established notions on how characters should be written, and that is a detriment to anime as a whole. The real question that should be asked is “Does having this archetype in this anime, hurt or help the story?”

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