Victimizing makes a show worse
One of the most highly successful plot devises used in bad storytelling, is victimizing the characters so the audience can feel sorry for them. And although it makes people care about the characters, it does not make a show better in terms of writing or characterization. In fact, it makes it worse.
Victimizing is a form of favoritism. The author wants you to root for some characters more than some others, not because they deserve it in the context of the story, but simply because they are victims. Being a victim is a sad thing of course but it’s so cheap when you are supposed to feel sorry for someone just because he is the loser, or the powerless one, or the ignorant one who fell for it.
Why not root for the winner, the one who was training for years to become strong, who was planning carefully for years so his trap can work? Oh, you cannot do that because the presentation implies otherwise.
Psychologically it all makes sense of course, as long as you have a loser mentality. If you believe you are a weak, powerless, and manipulated by others, you will root for the victim because you are self-inserting yourself in him, you want him to win as a form of revenge or even wishful thinking.
That is understandable, unless of course you are powerful, rich, and controller of millions, who worked really hard to get where he is and sees all that as nothing more than power fantasy for losers.
Let me give you an example of how this works. There is this anime called Shiki. It has about one hundred characters with close to no focus on any of them. Besides the doctor, everybody else is defined by a crazy hairstyle and two lines of personality. So in the first part of the show, a village is attacked by vampires and makes it seem like the peasants are the victims, for being powerless and ignorant, constantly attacked and killed by the monsters.
But midway it reverses the roles and makes it seem like the vampires are the victims and the peasants are the evil ones for hunting them down when they are powerless against them.
Now notice, the characters by themselves are nothing, they barely have personality, barely have any focus, and as usual you mostly remember the gory way they die rather than the things they did while they were still alive. But when you are victimizing them, oh boy, now as if by magic they feel so real, so relatable, so deep. When they are not.
Just imagine how easy it is to see it differently and consider the peasants deserving to be laughable victims while they were ignorant, powerless and easy prey. And then you should root for them when they realize what is going on, and fight back.
With the same logic, you should like the monsters while they are stealthy and do as they please, and loath them when they are found out and exterminated without being able to fight back despite all their cockiness at first. This is the manipulating effect of victimizing, which I don’t like at all. It makes it seem like the losers are the winners and vise versa.
What is even worse is that you cannot have victims without also having those who are victimizing them. Meaning, you need to demonize the winners, making them seem like they are oppressors, sadists, rapists, laughing maniacally, and rubbing their hands at the thought of making people suffer. Everybody becomes a one-dimensional caricature, doing things in a most forced, fake, improbable way, which translates to very bad writing.
And I repeat, I am not saying it doesn’t work, it works like a charm and it’s so easy to do it. I am only saying that it makes people to blow out of proportions the significance of what is going on, just because it is presented as sad. Good storytelling doesn’t work like that, it’s about making things grey, not black and white where it’s obvious what side you are supposed to root for. That’s closer to propaganda.
And I am fine with propaganda in power fantasy as long as it is honest at being power fantasy. I love GAR characters but I will never consider them to be real or deep when they become victims for whatever reason. I know very well what they are and I enjoy them for what they represent. I do not consider them deep or relatable, I consider them to be fun.
And this is what I want you to understand when they are deliberately victimizing people in a so easy to tell it’s bullshit way. Such as a walking power fantasy like Kirito suffering from post-traumatic-stress-disorder, while his enemies are nothing more than sadistic rapists. Such amazing dramatization, completely real and relatable.
Anime make this huge deal out of constantly victimizing their characters as means to build sympathy. This almost never happens in cartoons and when it does it’s never to that degree. So, what gives?
It mostly has to do with the Japanese justice system. While in most developed democratic societies an accused is considered innocent until proven guilty, in Japan we have the exact opposite. If you are blamed for something, in the eyes of the people you are already guilty.
This has some really silly effects in the way Japanese people behave. For example, police officers are free to interrogate anyone they arrest without the presence of a lawyer, and it’s their job to force him into admitting he is guilty.
From the side of the accused, a person who insists being innocent is treated as a jerk that is making the lives of everybody around him hard. He is pressured by his own friends and family into accepting responsibility, even if he didn’t do anything, just so somebody can be blamed, the crisis can be over, and life can go on as normal.
So essentially, the justice system of Japan is all about scapegoats. Someone must be blamed for everything as soon as possible, otherwise the crisis will escalate and many more people will suffer until the natural order of things is restored, or some zen shit like that.
Anime are abusing this notion for making their protagonists tragic. Basically they turn them into Byronic heroes, just so they flavor their otherwise bland personality and broken powers.
So, if the archetype of the Byronic hero exists and the society promotes victimizing, am I wrong when I say it’s a problem when anime do it all the time? No, I am not. Byronic heroes do not belong in advanced societies of the 21st century. The justice system of Japan is crap and being depicted realistically in anime does not make it any less crappy.
Good characters have actual personality flaws, not artificial ones they cause through self-sabotaging. Taking one for the team does not make them good hearted; it makes them gluttons for punishment, not to mention big suckers.