Shonen is a staple part of any anime fan’s diet, whether you’re super invested in the genre or not. It’s impossible to avoid the larger than life characters, their larger than life adventures and all the pure hype and insane action that comes with these stories of nobodies becoming THEbodies.
But no matter how great the protagonist and their story, no great shonen has been anything without a great supporting cast. And more often than not, these casts: they’re biiiiiig.
My Hero Academia, Dragon Ball, Naruto, Hunter x Hunter, One Piece (or so I’ve been lead to believe, I still refuse to watch it), all great shows that have insanely huge casts of characters, much loved by different pockets of their fandoms, and inevitably disappear as suddenly as they show up. As is the nature of the story being told in this genre.
As a rule, Shonen stories are journeys, not always a physical one, but one of growth and maturation. They’re stories aimed at teenagers, so of course they’re going to deal with young nobodies coming of age, finding their place in the world and coming out the other end important, powerful and more at ease where they fit into it all.
Along the way they inevitably meet dozens, if not hundreds of different characters who act as mentors, rivals, enemies or friends to push them along their journey. In some cases, these characters end up becoming more interesting, deep or complex than the main character themselves.
Thus we get out fan favourites. It’s weird though, the very nature of the Shonen story requires that the hero move on, take on grander challenges and thus leave these people behind them and meet a whole new group of potentially cool and interesting people who may be greater or worse than the group that proceeded them.
If they’re worse, don’t worry about it. They’ll only be around for one arc and then we’re off to the next destination to meet yet more friends and villains. Which ends up being both an inherent strength and a weakness for these kinds of stories in a way.
Through this entire season of My Hero Academia, I’ve been toying with the idea of going and just catching up with the manga after it’s over. In doing that, I’ve found myself wondering if some of my favourite characters from this season of the anime ever come back in any meaningful capacity. And so I’ve risked the spoilers of the online wiki to see if they do come back as anything beyond a background element.
The two characters I looked up were Fat Gum and Gentle Criminal. I like Fat Gum just because he’s cool and I enjoy his attitude. Gentle, on the other hand, is a character I feel like I personally imbued with more potential as a character than was ever probably the intention during the process of his creation.
In writing my episode reviews of 84 and 85, coupled with me re-reading My Hero Academia: Vigilantes again, I convinced myself that there was a redemptive tale to be told in which Gentle and La Brava make the choice to give up regular crime in favour of vigilante crime. (Something that is actually touched upon in a post credits scene of episode 86, although that hadn’t happened when I was writing this.)
Gentle’s experiences battling Deku could cause him to turn over a new leaf and start using his abilities for good as he originally intended, yet still continuing to spit in the face of the flawed hero society that stopped from becoming the hero he wanted to be. Yet, looking it up online, neither Gentle or Fat Gum have made any significant appearance in the manga since the events of the current arc of the anime.
But it doesn’t matter, because the greater fan community is hella horny for some rabbit lady hero now anyway.
And that’s what I’m getting at, we move on and meet new characters, leaving the previous ones behind, so much as we liked characters from where we are in the anime, the manga readers are so far past it because something new has their attention. Yet, some supporting characters do stick around right up until the very end. Which makes it more difficult to just assume all great characters will just vanish after the current story line, because we might get a Killer Bee or Vegeta situation, where these latecomer characters end up sticking around. (He was introduced over 200 chapters into a 500+ chapter manga.)
But here in lies the downside of the alternative. Allowing your entire cast to continue hanging around thins them out more and more until the reason you loved them so much in the first place becomes a fleeting memory. As I’ve brought up Vegeta, I’ll continue down that road. Dragon Ball is a series that has managed to keep most of its supporting cast present throughout.
With exceptions: As memorable as the Ginyu Force and the likes of Raditz/Nappa were, being dead is kind of holding them back from factoring into the story anymore. Also Toriyama’s own memory being a major factor, see Launch for ref.
The problem is, as much as fans of the original series still love Tenshinhan for what he was during the original Dragon Ball, throughout Z he had very little to do. Culminating in him being little more than a background element during Super. And getting treated pretty poorly throughout. Yet, he is still there, so it ends up being a case being careful what you wish for.
While most of Dragon Ball’s characters did seem to stick around, Super has gone down the route of introducing a ton of new characters, many of which I’m not sure we are going to see again in any great capacity. The Tournament of Power introduced over 60 new characters, but as much as fans like Hit, Kefla, Jiren and even the likes of Top and Dyspo, you have to wonder if any of them are going to come back.
It’s a weird precedent to set, Super has seen a return to allowing characters like Master Roshi and Yamcha to get some fleeting moments of recognition they’re part of a cast that balloons ever larger as it goes on. The current arc sees Goku facing off against an evil space wizard called Moro, an opponent they’re going to struggle against no matter how strong they get.
So it stands to question, why no request aid from the likes of Hit or Jiren, characters powerful in their own right. Hell, take it a step further; is Broly ever going to factor into the events of Super ever again? I know this is a story about Goku (and now Vegeta) overcoming the odds, but it kind of felt like Broly was going to be a bigger factor with how his movie reinvented his character.
At the end of the day, these stories are about their protagonists. And no matter how bland or uninteresting they can often be, they’re the focal point of the story. And in forging forward they’re going to meet cool friends and enemies who will give us amazing moments that very well might outshine anything the hero themselves ever actually do. All of my favourite moments of Naruto lack the protagonist’s involvement entirely.
It can feel like a method of throwing as much against the wall as possible and seeing what sticks. And that has it’s ups and its downs. But that’s just the nature of these kinds of stories. And as much as we like these characters, fantastic side characters might be in the perfect place, and trying to make them carry a story on their own is maybe not as great an idea as some of us might wish it could be.