When you think of over-powered main characters (OP MC’s), you may think of people like Goku and Saitama. People with so much power that the show either says are unbeatable or says they will never gain power.
I mention these two because they are great examples of these two concepts. Goku is always getting more power before anybody else can get close to him. I would even say that half the time a new arc was made simply to get him to a new level of power. Then we have Saitama who is simply too powerful for anyone to contend with. The show’s title literally describes how most of his fights go; with him ending it with one punch. Although, there are OP MC’s who simply are overpowered for the wrong reason. Guys like Kirito from SAO and Tigre from Lord Marksman and Vanadis who have the OP MC title as to develop a character or progress a status among others (i.e. your typical harem story).
So then the question is, “How is it we like the former set but not the ladder?” Over-powered comes in only one flavor; vast amounts of power with little to no weaknesses. So why do we like Goku over Kirito?
And yes, I know some of you guys may be looking at the mention of Kirito on the bad side as a bit of a blasphemy since apparently, Sword Art Online is somehow art, but just keep reading and I’ll explain why later. For now, let’s start off by explaining how a good OP MC affects the story.
The Pros of being a Pro
So let’s start with the obvious one, they are the spearhead of the plot, but not the driving force. If anything they are the one that resolves a plot. So why have them push one along to begin with? To go back to our Dragonball Z connection, Goku doesn’t come up with plot pushing ideas all the time. In fact he rarely is the one to think of ideas to begin with. Although, everyone knows that when it comes time to initiate, they first check to see if Goku will be there to follow along. And this makes sense since he is the front runner for the Z fighters and everyone has acknowledged his fact entirely. Even in the movie special, Battle of the Gods, when it comes time to choose one Saiyan to acquire the status of Super Saiyan God, the decision was already decided to use it on Goku. Even with the ego prince Vegeta being one of the candidates, it was clear that the only one deserving of the title was Goku. This idea that the OP MC being the front runner to the story, in terms of plot, leave the actual thinking part to other side characters.
Another way an OP MC affects the story is being a new benchmark for other characters. This really shows better with OP MC’s who constantly gain more power; again with Goku, but also Natsu from Fairy Tail. The MC will be on a much higher level at all times but will be growing none-the-less. But the time they spent at lower power levels is still shown so the side characters have a progression line laid out for them. Changing examples over to Fairy Tail with Natsu, there is a large cast of other characters that are a part of the main story, but Natsu is always on a much higher level than his team mates. But remember back in the early episodes when he could barely pull off some of the moves in as much success as he does now? Remember what his friends were like at that time too? Well take a look in later episodes. Natsu is overly powerful to the point where he can fight two of his own kind solo, but his friends have risen to the point of power to be able to support him if needed. This is a great way to show character growth for side characters. Sure you can always disguise it as , “Have fought so many battles they can’t help but get better” but using the idea that they didn’t want to be left behind in power by the OP MC makes them feel more motivated to grow stronger. Hell Vegeta from DBZ literally says this when he realized Goku went Super Saiyan before he did. It literally drives him to keep going.
The last way I want to mention is that the OP MC can give the show a very comedic tone. This is for the kinds of MC’s who start off all powerful and stay that way. Saitama fits this bill because he is literally the one punch man. He doesn’t have to put any real effort into a fight, but he composes himself to be very comedic without intention. He is chill to the point of boredom. He is so serious you can’t help but find him funny. To even add to the hilarity, the times Saitama does emote, it looks so over the top or is on a level higher than the situation calls for. Case in point, the scene between him and the fly. He doesn’t say a word, changes emotion, or even shift his eyes in a strange way. He simply continues to slap at a fly that keeps surviving and flying away. And you can’t help but laugh because this is a guy who can fight gods but can’t kill a fly buzzing around his faces. The scene pans away on him on his balcony chasing this fly continuously. But maybe the added tone doesn’t need to be comedic but instead be cynical. Ok so you know when you see a fight that is completely one-sided and you can’t help but laugh at how this fight will inevitably end, right? Well, that can add a different comedic value to a story as you simply laugh at the enemy for picking a fight they will obviously lose, especially if that MC loves to smack idiot villains who challenge him. I’m talking of Alucard from Hellsing and Hellsing Ultimate. This man has the shiniest of brass balls to the point of not willing to take any fight serious and toy with his opponent. And when you watch this, at least this happened when I watched, you fall into cynical glee as another person came forward to challenge him. I would give an example of this but it’s in pretty much every fight.
So Does It Matter?
Well to put it simply, not all OP MC’s do the things that I mention earlier. They don’t spearhead the plot; they drive the plot by being the problem solver. They don’t allow their side cohorts to develop as much so they must cling to them like nurturing children. They are also very bland in personality that makes them not as likable. It’s like if you asked them if they considered themselves overpowered or not they would answer, “Yea, I’m a bit overpowered. So what?” This is why I include Kirito in the bad OP MC category. He embodies everything I just mentioned. Tigre doesn’t embody as much of these as Kirito but he shares in the same problems.
Still don’t believe me? Here let’s start with the plot one. Kirito is the one to come up with ideas and then put them in action himself. Take episode 4 for example. After rescuing Silica from monsters that were going to kill her, he finds out that her familiar sacrificed itself to save her. He then says he knows a place to revive it and proceeds to take her there. At the end they are confronted by the whole guild who abandoned her and he fights them off by himself. Why does he know about the spot to acquire an item to revive familiars when he doesn’t use one? Why does he insist on going there with her? It all comes across as convenient to show off how powerful he is. Even the ambush at the end of the episode is too convenient. Never mind the fact it’s a 5v1 fight but he just so happens to have enough power to tank every bit of it because he constantly heals. Man if only we saw him acquire any of this power he suggests he wouldn’t have had in a prior episode. He isn’t spearheading the plot, he’s becoming the plot. If he, instead, said that he felt bad for her loss and would help her find a way to get her friend back and then found another familiar user who knew of said reviving site then it would be better. If he actually showed how powerful he is by subduing all the five guys attacking him instead of saying, “I have magical fuck you powers” it would have been better.
How about comrade growth? Well, you tell me. Do any of them show signs of growth? The answer is no. Since they aren’t active in the plot they have no basis to grow. Making the power gap even larger as Kirito pulls another reason he is all powerful out of his ass. We saw the extent of Asuna’s power when she first returned into the plot. Now unless the fight is meaningless, she is put in situations where she can’t fight, i.e. the second half of season 1. Silica and Lis don’t grow in any way either but I guess being given one episode is gonna do that to you. But let’s step back from Kirito and move to Tigre and explain why he fails here. Well while also having the first problem of being the plot driver, he also gives no room for character development for the side characters. How can you when you have barely developed yourself? He claims to be a master archer and that’s all he is. That is literally the only string to his personality bow; pun definitely intended. So the plot spends all its time trying to convince you to like this character by making him also a leader, a strategist, a ladies man. So what amount of time is going to be spent on their side characters? None, that’s what. Lastly, they are duller than competitive chess. Can anybody tell me something that made Kirito interesting? Don’t worry, I can wait. Believe me when I say, a person can forgive a poorly made OP MC so long as they have a brilliant personality. But here, he is monotone to the point of being white noise. And not Saitama level of monotone where it becomes funny. Tigre doesn’t show any signs of personality between serious and embarrassed and that is only because he is a “harem lead”.
So in the End, What’s the Moral?
At the end of the day, this all seems like a topic overblown by a writer who is probably over analyzing the significance of a type of character used in anime. To some extent you may have a point. Although, this does play a role in how likable a show is. Why do you think I include it as a category in all my reviews? Seeing how we have to spend the whole show with them, they have to be made well to make the story that much more entertaining. And when you decide to use a type of character who doesn’t get much character development, you need to work harder to make them work. If you don’t, then all the flaws show much brighter than with other types of leads. When you use it as a crutch for solving problems, then the story will feel redundant. If you spend time trying to show them off, then the whole cast will feel lifeless. And if you want to make them relatable to the viewer, then they will be bland and boring. So, if I had to describe what makes an OP MC in one sentence then it would be “an over the top team player”. Because we all know that Goku or Natsu rely on their friends just as much as they rely on their strength and Saitama and Alucard are such extreme personalities that you can’t help but want to mimic them. These are characters I enjoy to watch be themselves and would come back to see where they go next or how they are going to be played next. I wouldn’t come back for somebody like Kirito because his character started and ended at the same exact time. And so to put a conclusion to my conclusion, this is what I believe makes a good OP MC. But maybe you have other ideas to add or want to put a case forward for somebody like Kirito. Comment below and let’s discuss this further…..or not, up to you really.