Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Favorite Characters, Part 1: Ensembles

There are a lot of great characters in the realm of fiction.  Characters that, as a reader, you think "Wow, I'd love to be someone like him!"  Characters that, as a writer, you think "Wow, I'd love to write someone like her!"  Since so much of what I've written is so character-driven, I think that I'm going to take this time to go into some of my favorite characters and why I like them so much.

When putting together this list, however, I noticed one thing: some of the characters that stood out to me the most were characters that, on their own, weren't people I could put on a list.  They always stood out in a way that was supported by others. Whether it was just another character that they played off of, being part of a collective, or part of a cast that I couldn't choose one person over the rest of, I couldn't make a list of favorite characters without having to amend a "this is cheating since it's technically multiple characters" to every other entry.  Consequently, I've decided to make this first list about some of my favorite character ensembles.

1. Isaac Dian and Miria Harvent (Baccano!)
"Say, Isaac?"
"Yes, Miria my dear?"
"Why do you suppose we're first on this list?"
"Hmmm...I guess it's because we're the characters this blogger likes best!"
"Oh, wow!"

The whole cast of Baccano! is wonderful, but these two in particular are standouts.  And no, Isaac, this list isn't in any particular order.  While I obviously love Isaac and Miria (otherwise they wouldn't be on a list of my favorite characters), I can't truly say that they're my favorite two characters.  That's a distinction it'd be impossible to make.  But they're still a good place to start, as they're maybe the best example of why I can't count them as individual characters.

You see, Isaac and Miria are characters who are always together.  It's near impossible to refer to one without referring to the other.  They're so similar-minded and play off of each other so perfectly.  Sure, there are some subtle differences in their characters--Isaac's the one who "masterminds" most of the plans, and Miria often manages to somehow be the more rational of the two--but overall they're both like-minded ineffectual thieves who spread happiness all around them.

So what sort of characters are these two?  Well, if it gives you any indication, they're the first thing you see of the series in the opening theme.  The two flip a coin, and after Isaac deflates and Miria rejoices at the result, the two dress up in Headless Horseman and Santa Claus outfits to rob a store of its candy bars.  They set out to steal an entire museum, but when they decide that they've bitten off more than they can chew, decide to keep everyone out by stealing the entrance.  They go gold mining to "steal from the earth itself."  They decide to redeem themselves for their past deeds by doing some good--i.e., stealing from the Mafia so that their families won't have to fight over the money.  When someone breaks down crying in front of her, Miria's first thought is that it means she "won" the conversation.  When Isaac asks that, in all their 87 robberies, if he's ever put her in danger and Miria responds with "only 87 times," he pauses before gleefully explaining "see, it hasn't even been 100 yet!"

Overall, the two are the most bizarrely ditzy and gleeful characters that it's impossible to love them.  It's hard to explain their charm through text, so here.  Have this demonstration of what sort of characters the two are.

2. The entire cast of LOST (LOST)

LOST is a show made amazing by the characters.  The cast is so diverse, so fleshed out, so sympathetic, so changing and dynamic that the question "who's your favorite character in LOST?" will vary wildly from person to person, especially depending on how far into the show they are.  You have the Iraqi torturer who's looking for his lost love.  You have the doctor thrust unwilling into the leadership position who struggles with feelings of inferiority.  You have the has-been musician struggling with addiction and trying to become a better man for the woman he loves.  You have the former invalid who develops a deep faith and becomes something of a mystic.  And that's only four members of the huge cast.  These characters' interactions, fights, and reconciliations are what result in the best moments of the show.  You feel for every single one of the characters, since they're all, well, lost.  Not just in the literal sense that they're castaways, but in the sense that they all need to find who they are.

No, you're not going to like every character.  You're not going to love the same characters the whole time through.  During the early parts of the first season, you will probably love Jack and Kate and you will hate Sawyer.  By the last seasons, you will probably love Sawyer and hate Jack and Kate.  It's a show that has a lot of great characters, but ask someone to pick a favorite character, and the answer will almost always be "oooh, that's a tough one."

By the way, the correct answer is "Probably Charlie or Hurley.  I can pick two, right?"

3. The crew of the Serenity (Firefly)

These Big Damn Heroes make the list with ease.  This, like LOST, is another show where pretty much the entire cast gets a spot, though I don't feel as bad since the cast is so much smaller.  Every one of these characters is loveable in their own right, but the true joy is seeing the family they form.  They all have very distinct personalities that compliment each other very well, and as a crew in general, they're probably the best one I've seen.  Sure, One Piece is kind of similar, having lots of colorful characters and a diverse crew with specific personalities and talents, but it just doesn't blend as well as Firefly's.

Every one of the crew members switches easily between playful banter and complete seriousness (save River, though that's due to the fact that she's mentally unhinged), and they somehow manage to be simultaneously very human and larger than life, resulting in something that is fully loveable.

4. Shishio Makota and the Juppongatana/Ten Swords (Rurouni Kenshin)

These guys are all fairly solid characters, and a lot of them have well-rounded backstories, but as an ensemble, they're maybe not as strong in the "character" department as some of the other entries on this list.  They're included here mostly for their designs.

I've talked before about the villain designs in Rurouni Kenshin, and while pretty much all of the villains are pretty fun, the Juppongatana are probably the best.  They're all highly varied in how they act and what they do, from the weak but loyal adviser, to the burly monk who can punch through stone, to the crossdressing guy with the giant scythe, to the blind assassin with superhuman hearing.  While I'm not going to go too in-depth into them, I'd also like to give special mention to the final villains of the series, who are pretty cool as well.  This pick for me is definitely style over substance, but that's okay at times, right?

5. Pretty much all of Katawa Shoujo's side characters (Katawa Shoujo)

Katawa Shoujo had some really great main characters, and you'll get to see at least one of them again on one of these "Favorite Characters" lists.  But today I'm going to be talking about the side characters.  No, they're not technically an ensemble since most of them don't interact, but it's impossible not to love every single side character in Katawa Shoujo (except for Hideaki, who's very boring).

There's the paranoid, femenist-hating Kenji, who's pictured here.  He's easily become the most popular of the side characters, and for good reason.  There's Lilly's carefree and cool older sister, the suited Akira, who at one point in a conversation about how life can suck, casually remarks that she wishes she smoked so that she could look cool by taking a drag of a cigarette.  There's the perpetually clumsy and apologetic Yuuko, who works a few jobs in town to pay for her college tuition and, despite her hard work, tends to fail miserably.  Shizune's abrasive father, Jigoro, who will openly insult you and offers to "help you suck less."  The nurse known only as "Nurse," who will constantly hit on the protagonist solely to tease Emi.  Almost every prominent side character is a joy to encounter

While most of them are fairly flat characters, we get some glimpses that indicate that there's definitely some depth to them.  Yuuko and Kenji are subtley implied to have had a relationship in the past.  Akira's carefree attitude is largely a front that hides that she's bitter and jaded from essentially being abandoned by her parents.  Jigoro is implied to, despite his near-abusive behavior, actually love his kids quite a bit.

Also worth pointing out: despite Hideaki being about the most boring character in the game, he and Akira have a great dynamic together.  So much so to the point that I was shipping them...up until the point I found out they were cousins.  Whoops.

So those are some of my favorite character ensembles.  Be sure to stay tuned for when I go into more of my favorite (individual) characters at a later date!

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