Flat characters and full series

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Actually this post did start out as a Lucky Star post catching up with all the episodes that have remained unblogged, but since the layout sort of devolved into a mental debate over whether the characters were A) realistic and B) funny, it's time to reach into the meta-vault.

So in that regard 1000 words about how awesome Tsukasa and Miyuki are has now been condensed to about 10, and it's time to move on with a head-hurting topic.

One of the criticisms that at least I have come up with for a lot of characters in a lot of shows is that said characters are rather flat and one-dimensional. You know the type. The energetic airhead who can't seem to get it through their head that they are annoying as all hell, even after ten episodes. The flat-chest-obsessed character who will do anything in their power to put another centimeter on. The really shy character whose only action is to blush furiously, stammer, and pretend they haven't been liking the guy for dozens of episodes on end now.

This isn't to be confused with characters who are a mix of tropes; even if you mix it up just a bit, usually a character can remain fresh. But the fact is, there are characters that are just that flat.

Now, being a fan of believable, appealing characters I often lead at least a mental crusade against most characters I consider to be one-dimensional. As usual, however, it's time to open it up to both sides of the argument, as just maybe there may be times where one-dimensional chracters just might be welcome after all.

Blasphemy! No, jump.

To put it simply character depth is usually proportional to series depth. In series with light-hearted content and lots of humor, characters are usually more simple and shallow than in a heavy, dramatic show where a character might have quite a few sides (and secrets to them).

And in the former situation, sometimes it's not too bad to have relatively predictable characters when it comes to making gags. It leads the audience to a sense of familiarity with the character, a sense of "Oh, what'll X do this time;" a question, perhaps, that they could already answer.

Likewise, 1D characters are easy to digest and understand; anyone who's had their brain wrecked to hell and back watching characters from shows like School Days slowly change and become someone Completely Different can enjoy simple characters who won't betray them; or at least, their stereotyped view of the character.

On the flip side though, there's a lot more worse to say about these types of characters than there is to argue in favor of it.

I used the word "familiarity" in the paragraph above; another suitable would be "predictability." Sigh, here comes X again, right? One begins to get tired of seeing the same thing over and over and over, no matter how funny it is. Because you've been there, done that, and you want to do something else.

1D characters are usually far enough out there that they don't really click with the audience as well. You may be dense like a character at times, or crazy like a character at time, but that much? I sure hope not. Usually when a character has only one main quality, that quality is going to be exaggerated beyond belief in order to really generate any (temporary) entertainment value out of the character. If it's not, there's not really any substance to the character. What you have is what we call a side character. And if that's a main character, oh dear...

Likewise the situation gets progressively horrific if the show you're watching doesn't happen to be a comedy. Sometimes a character does get distorted so much in other genres as well. For one, my specialty, harem shows. While these may be just as light as times as comedy, they do have a larger emphasis on being able to care for and sympathize with the characters, since these types of series do get serious, if at least for a little bit. And if you have a flat character, even if they do suddenly grow personality halfway in (equally unrealistic), it's really hard to connect with them, since they are still a rather immature and comedy-based character.

So, flat characters are bad. And the sky is blue. And?

What's actually surprising though is how just a little variation can make a character just so much more.

It's when a character goes against their stereotypical personality that things really get interesting. Even if it's just one out of ten times, it shows that that characters do actually have minds of their own, they do have more sides to them than one, they are somewhat realistic characters.

This variation doesn't have to be just doing the diametric opposite (energetic character becomes pensive) either. Even just a short moment of sanity can speak volumes for characters. After all, not even the craziest people in real life are crazy 100% of the time. They might change around others, or stop to contemplate their actions, or maybe just discuss normal things.

This is one of the reasons why I believe that the characters in shows like Lucky Star, and perhaps, to a lesser extent, Azumanga Daioh are actually quite plausible characters. As many jokes as they crack about Miyuki being clumsy, Konata being geeky, and Chiyo being loli, all the characters do actually take the time out to have normal conversations like normal people. And when they do act up, it might be in a way that seems semi-realistic; a gag doesn't have to be utterly insane and off-the-wall to work. Sometimes there's a second sense of humor, a "Yeah, I know what you mean/have done that before" concept that works on a connection level as well.

Perhaps that why it seems to me that characters that are mostly, but not entirely, flat can work because they do have moments where they resemble all of us. It's like how a Picasso painting, although it's a professional work and supposedly of a person, is so abstract and out there that a lot of people wouldn't recognize it, yet a simplistic cartoon drawing can be easily identified as a human. Obviously neither is really a person or a realistic representation of it, but the second one, through actually containing identifiable characteristic that we all share (facial parts in the right place, legs, etc) is much closer to an actual person.

The former might have more significance, and some might derive more of a sense of accomplishment of making sense of the Picasso, but for the untrained masses like me, the second is a lot more sensible - and maybe enjoyable.



This was an enjoyable read. It's very easy to hear all sorts of people harp on 1-D characters as being bad, but since when did anyone actually take the time to explain why this is so? It's taken for granted far too much. Perhaps we as critics should also emerge from our own comfy little tropes to examine why we believe what we do concerning the quality of such matters.