When attachment to anime characters goes too far

Credit to linked pixiv user

It’s no secret that one of anime’s biggest appeals is how it can make viewers very attached to its characters, thanks to a great emphasis on character development, attractive character designs, and employing beloved character archetypes that fans enjoy seeing. But is it possible for fans to take their love of a character too far, so far that it blinds them to the overall quality of the anime the character hails from? I’m not talking about the stereotypical otaku who’s so obsessed with a particular character that he carries around dakimakuras of her or even acts like he’s married her. I’m talking about fans who are more in touch with reality, but still may be going a bit overboard…

Hoshiko recently wrote a similar post on her blog (which was also my inspiration for this topic) and mentions one sign that indicates a fans who may be too attached to a character: if they go on an angry rampage if anything extreme happens to that character in the series, the most common ones I would assume being that the character dies or is written out of the show some other way, or if he/she becomes an “official” couple with another character that the fan doesn’t approve of. By going on a “rampage” I don’t mean they just express some resentment about it here and there – they go all out and do things like completely defame or even threaten the creator of the series all over the Internet, boycott products of the series, destroy any items they have from the series, or endlessly cry, swear, rant and rave like someone murdered their child or raped their lover. I haven’t had any personal experience with this type of fan so I can’t elaborate more, but I’ve certainly heard stories, not just among anime fandom but other fandoms as well.

I agree that it’s unpleasant when any character we like dies or is otherwise condemned to a fate we don’t approve of. In all the anime I’ve watched, I’m always saddened when characters I like die even if they’re not a particular favorite. But the reason it doesn’t ever bother me that much is because to me anime, like art, mirrors life, and death is a part of life whether we like it or not. If you watch anime only because it gives you things that satisfy you and make you happy, you could develop the idea that an anime is only worthwhile if it satisfies you personally. You should of course watch anime that satisfy you, but if it doesn’t, instead of flying into a rage because the story didn’t go your way, take a step back and see if you’re looking at it for what it actually is – someone else’s creation meant to entertain you, but at the same time, meant to interpret a story and characters written by someone else the way they want it. The original creators of anime and manga stories have no obligation to make events in the story turn out the way you want it, just as you have no obligation to stay true to their characters and story canon when you write fanficion or doujinshi.

Speaking of fanfiction and doujinshi, they’re great outlets for very attached fans to express themselves, especially when they feel the official series doesn’t do justice to a character they love. And what’s funny is that it seems like anime and manga creators know that so many fans get obsessive about certain characters so they purposely do subtle things to satisfy the fans…to an extent of course. Not only are doujinshi and other fan creations more often than not tolerated by the official series creators rather than condemned, but the way so many series are structured makes it seem that way too. For example, in the majority of anime I’ve seen, it’s rare for characters to “officially” become a couple, as in, they (or the original creators) state that they love each other and are going to date/marry. Even if there’s evidence for potential pairings, as I feel is the case for Evangelion, Code Geass, AnoHana, Macross Frontier, Fullmetal Alchemist, and many others, it’s rarely downright stated that two characters are a couple. Even when a lot of anime end, they tend to either have reset endings or endings that return to the status quo, as in the characters go back to their lives and how they related to each other before the plot started (except maybe they’re a little closer than before). I know this thing about being vague with romance has to do with the formality of Japanese relationships, but it also seems like the creators of anime and manga know that fans will be pissed no matter what character pairings they make official, so they instead give us the evidence but make it arbitrary in the end, so fans are continually left speculating and arguing amongst each other about which pairing is best. Even deaths of anime characters are typically slated for just villains and side characters, and for series that do kill off main protagonists, its either in long-running series or very dark-toned series (where a lot of death happens anyway).

When it comes to characters I like dying, ending up in relationships I don’t want, or anything happening to them in the story that upsets me, instead of asking “Why did they have to kill off [name of beloved character]?” or “Why did this have to happen to [name of beloved character?” I’m more inclined to ask things like “Did it make sense?” and “Was it written well?” Even if I don’t like what happens to characters on a personal level, if what happened to them flowed well with the story, developed their character, or was just a good part of the overall narrative, I can accept it. It actually pisses me off more if characters act out of character or regress in their development than if they die. It’s wonderful to get attached to anime characters, but that attachment shouldn’t blind us to the fact that they are someone else’s creations and thus they’re not obligated to have a fate we personally want for them.

23 Comments… read them or add your own.

  1. Kal says:

    Hum… I view anime as a form of entertainment, so it’s not something that affects me to that extent. If the author kills off one of my favorite characters, sure, I may not like it, but that is life. No big deal.

    If someone was to react in that extreme way to an anime, or book/movie, then they probably have some other issues. They are just expressing it through what happened in their favorite anime. So it’s probably more of a personality trait that is revealed through anime, and may be a good idea to work on it. I mean, if they react that way to a fictional series, how could they react to a real life event? Like their couple breaking up with them, or something like that?

    I think this would be a perfect example of what it says on your banner: “Anime reveals truths that reality obscures”. It would reveal an underlying personality trait that may not come up often, but it’s there… Hiding, lurking, waiting for a chance to strike…

    • Yumeka says:

      Yeah, I’m glad I’ve never personally known someone that obsessed with a fictional character, but I agree that they most likely have some kind of coping and emotional issues if they take their hobby to such extremes. Actually, if fictional stories are that important to them, they may even react in a lesser way to real life events since they’ve come to place such a high importance on fiction in their lives. As much as I indulge in fictional worlds and characters, I can still accept the fact that it is fiction and even if I’m upset about things that happen to a character I like, time will fade them away and I’ll move on to concerning myself with other characters =P

  2. jimmy says:

    “potential pairings, as I feel is the case for Evangelion”
    Eva’s not really about the “romance” though, mainly about communication and the role attraction can play in this. It’s pretty obvious that Asuka has romantic feelings for Shinji, but that and how she acts on them is used to build and develop her character. Which is basically your point. That they don’t “get together” is a result of the flaws in communication all characters have, which is a main concern of Evangelion as a whole.
    Going with Asuka and Eva and what you said in “if what happened to them flowed well with the story, developed their character, or was just a good part of the overall narrative, I can accept it”… I was always fond of Asuka as a character but the less than favourable events that befall her midway through End of Evangelion don’t upset me perfectly because they’re fantastically done. So yeah, I agree with you on your point.

    • Yumeka says:

      Yeah, what I meant by “potential pairings” is what happens with anime like Evangelion – they’re not romantic stories, but they give lots of evidence for certain characters having romantic feelings for each other, which are ultimately left unresolved for one reason or another. I agree with what you said about Asuka and her role in the story. Asuka has been one of my favorite characters for a long time and I’ve always been a hapless fan of ShinjixAsuka, but despite this, like you, what happens to her at the end of the original story didn’t upset me because it was all well done. Though the new Eva movies have my shipper senses tingling again after ten years of dormancy XD It’s probably in vain though, LOL.

  3. Kai says:

    I don’t get get angry or super sad when bad things happen to my favorite characters or they pair off. But I do experience the opposite. :) I get really happy when I see something going the way I want. I might pause it and do a happy dance, even. I wonder if that’s the flipside of it and it’s considered going to far? At least I’m not breaking dvd’s and emailing hate though, haha.

    Reading stuff like Game of Thrones way back in ’98, I’ve grown up conditioned that bad things happen to good people, and so it always subverts my expectations when good things happen. ^_^

    • Yumeka says:

      Anime and all other forms of fictional media are meant to bring enjoyment, so I think it’s ideal to revel in the good stuff like you do, and if something upsets you, it’s natural to get frustrated but it should be easy to move on since it is, after all, just fiction, and there are plenty of others out there to enjoy. Of course, that’s easy to say if the series or character in question is one of our favorites and I’ve been guilty of rants and bitter feelings when things in a story I love don’t go my way, but I never let it get out of hand and move on before too long.

  4. CoolCARTGuy says:

    I’ve never been terribly upset whenever a character I liked died, was injured, suffered through pain, etcetera; sure, I’ve felt sympathy or concern at times, but never deep sorrow. I cannot say I’ve personally met any crazy fans who have threatened the creator of a series or staged a boycott; I tend to shake my head whenever I hear of that happening, especially in the case of what happened to the Mangaka who wrote Kannagi after allegedly dropping a hint that Nagi may not be a virgin.

    Probably the most intense feeling I’ve felt in a situation involving the misfortune of a beloved character was during the game Valkyria Chronicles in Chapter 11 where Imca freaks out when Riela uses her Valkyrian heritage to save the Nameless and Imca nearly kills her in a fit of bling panic, and in Chapter 12 where Imca tearfully apologizes to Riela for freaking out during the previous battle; the latter scene was particularly potent since it involved the two main heroines coming to grips with their deeply unfortunate pasts and deciding to move forward together. In short, without the unfortunate events in Chapter 11, some of the most poignant character cevelopment in the entire game never would’ve happened, so the events of Chapter 11 had purpose in the narrative. Needless to say, my heartstrings were tugged pretty hard by both chapters.

    In addition, I was also a tad upset during Kyouko’s death in Madoka Magica since she was my favorite character.

    Also, like you mentioned, I get more frustrated if the consistency of a series is ruined (such as characters acting unlike themselves for no reason and lazy plots) than if an unfortunate event befalls my favorite character(s). The direction Bleach went in after the Soul Society arc is a good example of writing awful enough to make someone grind their teeth to powder; the focus was all over the place, many of the later arcs seemed to considerably lack significance, the villains became less interesting, Aizen was a walking Deus ex Machina machine whose sendoff was disappointing, it was just terribly handled in general.

    • Yumeka says:

      Heh, I almost mentioned the thing with Kannagi but didn’t in the end XD It is a good example of what I’m talking about though.

      I don’t think I’ve ever gotten terribly upset about anything happening to a character I liked, though I did have some issues with the direction the Inuyasha manga took in its latter chapters. Usually I have to really, really like a series or a particular character for me to get upset (Inuyasha was my favorite series at the time), which doesn’t happen too often. And yeah, it’s much more upsetting to see bad writing or characters acting unlike themselves than if the story just doesn’t go my personal way.

  5. chikorita157 says:

    While I’m not too attached with characters. I have seen instances of this not just with Anime, but idols as well. AKB48 is one of the main examples as they try to make the girls cute and attractive to men so they can have fantasies with a particular idol. Of course, the no dating policy just makes the whole thing seem disgusting to me as the girls have no freedom.

    Of course, visual novel adaptation does this alot when fans get mad that a guy choses one girl over the other, causing outrage. I’ve seen this with Clannad as some people raging that they didn’t chose the other girls who also loved the male lead.

    • Yumeka says:

      Yeah, definitely in Japan, this over-attachment of fans that I’m talking about extends to idols and seiyuu as well, like what you’re saying about AKB48 and the scandal with Aya Hirano. Though I have to say it’s not too surprising when idols and seiyuu are often precisely marketed in such a way to encourage otaku to have obsessive feelings for them. Same thing for harem-themed visual novels that make the main male protagonist a default everyman for the player to imagine themselves as.

  6. Adziu says:

    I find the people who get overly attached – even the confrontational ones – absolutely hilarious and quite adorable. The whole waifu/husbando thing, the setting up a screen as if having a romantic dinner, the dakimakura and the marriage ceremonies are comedy gold for me.

    I do make emotional connections with characters, too, of course – fiction would be pretty useless if I didn’t. But if they end up dying, I tend to accept it as part of the story and appreciate the emotional places I’m taken.

    But yes, fans who get very angry when their ‘ship’ gets sunk by a new canon pairing and go on a rampage (I’m looking at you, Avatar fandom) can get very tedious.

    • Yumeka says:

      I don’t have anything against the obsessive waifu/husbando people who go on imaginary dates with their supposed loved one or carry around dakimakuras of them. I can’t say I think they’re all well in the head, but yeah, they are good for laughs are really aren’t hurting anyone XD I draw the line when the over attachment brings unnecessary hate to the fandom and becomes an overall big downer to something that should be enjoyed.

  7. I’ll never forget seeing doujinshi for sale in stores on Otome Road in Ikebukuro, just a few blocks from the hotel I was staying at. Actually for sale, in Tokyo, right under the noses of the manga and anime creators.

    I just put up a post that kind of relates to this topic – Amazon is going to start selling fan fiction on Kindle(!) – which is almost unbelievable to me, considering the way fan fiction has traditionally been viewed by licensors. Right now it’s just three Warner Bros. TV series and naturally it’s with the permission of Warner Bros., but… one day… maybe… can we hope… Naruto/Sasuke stories published and paying royalties to the writer?? :-O!

    • Yumeka says:

      I recall seeing some doujinshi in Akihabara XD And wow, that news about Amazon selling fan fiction on Kindle is amazing! If someone really wants to get their works published and it’s not incredibly hard getting permission from the original creators, then perhaps we’ll be see a lot more of this in the future =)

  8. Shikon says:

    I have to admit I’ve never met any fans like that either (hopefully I never have to) lol. I can understand and relate to an extent as to why people feel the way they do when something happens to they’re favorite character, especially in slice of life series where the focus is often on the characters themselves. I get sad when a character that I like dies or when two characters form a relationship that I don’t quite agree with but that’s just part of entertainment in general to me, I mean if everything went the exact way we wanted it to what would be the point? It’s the fact that we don’t know what’s going to happen (whether good or bad) that makes us want to know and keep on watching.

    • Yumeka says:

      Death of main characters is rare in slice-of-life series from what I’ve seen, except for the ones that are also very dramatic, like the Key series. Usually series that have main characters die are already set in dangerous, action-packed worlds, so the viewer knows that the characters’ lives are constantly at stake (not that it makes their death easier or anything). When death suddenly comes into a supposedly dark-free world, it can create some fantastic unpredictability and wow factors, Madoka Magica being a prime example.

      And yeah, I agree that if events in anime series always went how we wanted, it would make the fandom quite dull indeed ;)

  9. complex says:

    As I read this, I couldn’t help but to think of Neji’s death in the Naruto manga. That pretty much caused an uproar in the Naruto fandom. Neji is my favorite male character, so I was extremely surprised and upset, not to mention I hadn’t gotten to that chapter yet so it was a huge spoiler. It took a bit of time before I could accept it, and when the anime episode comes for that chapter I might just flip again, haha. But it’s not to the point where I hate Kishimoto and I rant or go on a so-called rampage. Anyway, what you mentioned about relationships being sort of vague, and not official most of the time in anime is totally true! And I just noticed that the moment I read it. When I really want something to be official between two characters it makes me itch a lot. *Sigh* well, at least most shojo aren’t like this, so we still have that!

    • Yumeka says:

      Wow, Neji dies…I didn’t know that (I only watch the Naruto anime and don’t read the manga). Guess I’ve been spoiled now XD Oh well, I was spoiled about Jiraiya’s death long before it happened in the anime, so whatever. I think deaths in long-running series like Naruto tend to be more depressing because the series has been going on for so many years that the characters become like old friends. I’ve watched the Naruto characters grow up and come a long way since the series started, so having them die is more impacting than the death of a character I’ve only known for 13 episodes. But again, if it makes sense in the story and lends itself well to the character’s growth, I can’t complain too much. Just hope it doesn’t happen to any of my personal favorites, LOL.

  10. Nopy says:

    I know people get upset when a favourite character dies, but I can’t say I’ve ever seen anyone go on a rampage over it. The most recent character death that I lamented (and I’m sure others did too) was Mami Tomoe, but everyone seemed to be able to get past that as the story moved on.

    As for character pairings, I have read some people raging over how a series has ended. The Ichigo 100% manga ended with the main male character going out with the not-main female character and there was a flurry of negative comments on online forums. I think in those situations though, it was mainly due to the build-up towards one ending during the story, but then being given a different ending.

    • Yumeka says:

      Like I said in my reply comment right above this one, for me, the longer I’ve known a character the more upsetting their death tends to be. So for long-running series or even two-cour series, I’ll often lament a character’s death more than for shorter shows. It’s interesting that you bring up Mami because I felt like the reason her death was so poignant was because it was the first “whoa!” moment the Madoka series had and the first that showed just how much it was deviating from the typical magical girl series, and not because everyone had such a strong attachment to Mami as a character (we had only known her for, like, two episodes before she died). But that’s just how I saw it and I’m sure there were plenty of Mami fans who got attached to her very quickly XD

      As for pairings, since I tend to like the canon pairings I’m rarely disappointed since they usually end up being official in the end. But your example with Ichigo 100% sounds like it went off from what it was building up to, so I can understand fans getting upset. Like I said in the post, it sounds like what happened didn’t make sense for the story and that’s more upsetting than if something just didn’t go my way.

  11. Cely_belly says:

    Speaking of which, and your visual of SNK, my brother who is relatively new to anime, was really upset with episode 5 of SNK after I adamantly persuaded him to watch the show and I think a lot of it had to do with Eren’s rapid, presumed, death. I am sure he grew attached to this character and was the main reason he was upset. On the other hand, that didn’t upset me and instead, like you, I took a more analytical approach to the story – maybe because I am much more accustomed to this form of storytelling in anime, but you should have seen how happy he was once he got around to the latest SNK episode. Which further emphasizes your point about those who watch anime for pure satisfaction. Instead of going into a fit of rage, we would probably be better off looking at the pros that someone else’s creation brings us – that it is not meant to satisfy us, although, fanservice becomes an essential part of the industry now a days for assured support I suppose, and financial benefits, and I can’t really argue with those vague romances when the “Ulquihime” ship of Bleach exists(I don’t like that ship). And although my all time favorite character departs in Bleach, I would never blame the creator. I blame Ichigo. :P But you make excellent points. I can’t say I’ve never ranted about certain events in anime either. Thanks for sharing!

    • Yumeka says:

      Heh, in the example with Eren I knew for a fact he wasn’t dead because it really didn’t seem like the type of show to kill off the main character right away when there would still be 19 episodes to go XD But even if that was the case, like I said, if his death made sense and led to something positive for the story – character growth for Mikasa and Armin for example – I wouldn’t have had a problem with it either.

  12. Mikoto says:

    I’ve seen huge attachment to characters, though thankfully I don’t know such obsessions personally, as its common for me to see character wars happen in both the anime and visual novel fandom.

    I admit I do get attached to certain characters myself. Though not to the extent where I rampage over their death, if my favorite character dies, I will be saddened. Then there’s the anime crushes (Azusa, Haruhi, Mei, Idolmasters, etc. lol)

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