Owning Up to Your Character’s Faults: Aldnoah Zero

Lt. Marito

Most characters, like real people, have something wrong with them. Maybe your character cheated on their boyfriend or girlfriend, or maybe they have an irrational fear of peanuts. Some characters are just insecure and behave worse than the people they believe themselves to be, while others have full blown PTSD or want to avenge their dead partner with a full on mech-fueled genocide. Regardless of what traits define a specific character, it’s important for the writer portraying their actions and emotions to understand their flaws and misgivings. Not so you can fix all of them to create the perfect person, but make sense of them to the reader or viewer.

A great example of a fictional work that draws attention to its characters flaws is the anime Aldnoah Zero. Note: I’ll be leaving names out of this to keep the article as spoiler free as possible for those wanting to watch, but if you want to go into the show totally blind you may want to avert your eyes. 

I’ve been scanning forums and threads after each episode of the show, and have even struck up conversations at cons about the fans’ issues with the characters. The most common complaint is in regards to a certain character’s complete and total lack of emotion. This character reacts and speaks in the same calm, boring tone at all times. This holds true whether he’s watching his friend being slowly disintegrated by a force field, or simply asking for his pajamas after a battle. This lays in stark contrast to certain archetypes where a protagonist cries out of anger each episode for at least twenty minutes, or on the opposite end of the spectrum, huddles up in a corner with their fingers jammed in their ears. Yeah, we’re looking at you Ikari Shinji.

Despite the fuss made over the blank expressions of this character and his unbelievable demeanor, the show seems to know this is an issue. In episode 9 a group discusses how the character seemingly never falters in his stoicism and always has “the same old grumpy look on his face.” However, the character that knows him best points out that she can decipher the subtle intricacies of his demeanor, saying that she can tell when he’s happy, depressed or lying. She even points out that the fact he’s listening intently to a girl without interrupting shows that he’s interested in her. I’m not saying that this one conversation is going to change fans’ opinion of the character, but at least it shows the writer is aware of the character’s traits and is making an attempt to justify them.

Then we come to PTSD. Posttraumatic stress disorder is a component of both Sword Art Online II and Aldnoah Zero, and I’ll argue that a character in Aldnoah pulls it off better. Since the general population neither fully understands the DSM-V’s classification of PTSD or suffers from it, I won’t go into details about how realistic it’s portrayed in the show (although episode 10 of Aldnoah had a very accurate depiction of CPR). A good many people complained of one character’s PTSD being quite the annoyance, as the events that caused it weren’t fully shown. I never had a problem with that since for the majority of the show this character primarily deals with the flashbacks and memories through substance abuse. When the episode finally rolled around that showed the traumatic event it was brilliantly done. It showcased exactly what it was like to be in that moment, to have the responsibilities the character had and the decisions they had to make. I felt very much in their shoes, and consequently was okay with all their PTSD stumbles from earlier on because I felt much closer to the character.

I was glad to learn a lesson in crafting fiction from an anime, since all to often characterization falls to the wayside of hardcore action sequences and fanservice, but that’s a conversation for another day.

Also if you want a in depth breakdown of episodes with some solid insight you should check out the Geekcorner-Geekculture blog headed by Guy Shalev. Here’s a link to his analysis of Episode 9 of Aldnoah Zero.

Tl;dr version: Make sure you understand your character’s faults, but even more so, make sure you let your readers know that you know them too.

 

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