Things I learnt from Yowamushi Pedal: Character flaws that aren’t endearing
Yowamushi Pedal is an anime about high school road bicycle racing, featuring loads and loads of characters. After all, you can’t have a sports anime without rivals.
So the mangaka fleshes out the protagonist team and introduces their main rivals, who are very friendly. Everyone respects each other and pushes each other to greater heights. It’s the kind of rivalry most people can only dream about.
And then you have Midousuji.
Midousuji spends 90% of his onscreen time tearing other people down. He talks to people like they’re dirt (in fact, he calls everyone else ‘small fry’, even his own teammates), and does everything he can to dig up people’s weakness and broken dreams. Most of us know at least one person like that. People no one wants to talk to because they’ve offended everyone in the office/school/business and their mum.
And the worst part. For the other 10% of his screen time, he shows everyone that he’s actually good. He beats everyone else at their own game, and isn’t afraid to rub it into their faces and break their spirits.
As I watched this anime, I noticed how angry I was at Midousuji, and my writer side kicked in. Why am I getting such a strong reaction from this particular antagonist? How can I create that kind of reaction from my own antagonist?
They are a few words I can use to describe Midousuji:
- Proud (he considers himself’s so good that everyone else is worthless, but his pride didn’t come from nowhere, he’s actually good)
- Mean (sticks and bones will break my bones but words will never hurt me, unless it’s Midousuji’s words, then the trauma will linger for years)
- Selfish (he’s in a team sport, but he’ll throw everyone else away as long as he reaches the finish line)
He isn’t the only proud character in the series, but he’s the only proud character who thinks nothing about his team mates.
The series doesn’t have many mean characters. The closest comparison I can think of is an ex-punk on the rival team, but he’s mean in the sense that he’s brutally honest, while Midousuji’s meanness is the kind that leaves behind a trail of dead dreams and suicide victims.
Selfish characters… it’s a team sport. Most of the selfish characters who won’t work with the team have already been weeded out long before they appear onscreen. But I’ve watched other series before with selfish characters, and I don’t feel that strongly about a lot of them.
Individually, there’s nothing terrible about his flaws that would make me react so negatively towards him. And there’s the catch. Individually. Combined, he’s a proud jerk who cares only for himself and has no problems making everyone else have a bad day.
So, one thing I learnt from Yowamushi Pedal is that character creation is more than just a list of traits. The way traits are selected and woven together plays a large role in how readers would react to the character. That, and backstory, which is a post for another day.
Also, if I want to create a villain/antagonist everyone hates, he/she doesn’t have to destroy the world, he/she just has to be a massive jerk who cares about no one else.