You know, every time I have to write about extremely cool and bada*s anime protagonists like Ayanokoji, that aren’t all that unique? It makes me cringe. Like I was discussing this with a fellow Otaku friend about how we haven’t had solid ‘morally corrupt’ protagonists in anime for a while now. Or, well, ones that don’t seem like they are being forced to portray an aloof attitude, which ends up becoming less debonair and more ‘teen pretending to be adult.’ And they brought up how there is also the issue of younger fans looking at protagonists like that and trying to emulate them.
Like, kids want to be like Ayanokoji from Classroom Of The Elite, which is such a strange goal to have. First of all, you can’t be exactly like an anime protagonist because they are fictional for a reason. Most anime leads are unrealistic portrayals that are meant to entertain, not stand as role models. Secondly, Ayanokōji is one of the worst choices, considering the guy has practically no social skills. Like, I get wanting to be edgy, but Ayanokōji is mid-tier, at best.
This will have real ‘back in my day’ energy, but, genuinely, we grew up with some excellent protagonists in the past. One that frequently gets mentioned when compared to the newer generation is Light Yagami from Death Note. And I get why older anime fans bring him up. After all, Light was one of the first mainstream blueprints for a protagonist that wasn’t a goody-two-shoes. He started as the hero and lived long enough to see himself become the villain.
None of his darkness or analytical thinking felt forced. His character arc felt natural, and I can see why emo anime fans looked up to him. And while I love myself a good ‘flawed genius’ style protagonist, with Ayanokoji, I feel like all his interesting characteristics are shallow, at best. There isn’t enough to keep me hooked. But then, why do people want to be him so bad? Let’s discuss.
Morally Gray Protagonists: What Appeals To Us About the Anti-Hero?
As someone who grew up in the late 2000s, the idea of quiet but deadly main leads isn’t all that novel. If you were a fan of alternate things such as anime and ‘mature’ fiction, you already were past your happy-go-lucky protagonist stage.
I mentioned Light Yagami mostly because he was the most prolific example of this type of main character that got mainstream popularity. Death Note was revolutionary for its time because the character it centered around wasn’t exactly the story’s hero. And it’s not like Light was particularly likable. I’d argue more people rooted for L Lawliet, the detective with a sweet tooth that was pursuing him, instead.
This was rare in anime, especially popular ones. To explore the idea of an anti-hero, or a character that does heroic things through dubious means, was pretty novel. The main lead that was more multi-faceted than your typical Shonen lead was something different and intriguing for fans. And it proved to be worth it, considering how Death Note went on to become a cult classic for weebs everywhere.
Sure, he was smart but was he smart enough? Was his intellect or morals enough to keep him from being corrupted by power? Light was stoic, smart, and almost too perfect. But that’s why his character worked; his hubris became his downfall.
The Internet’s Obsession With Edgy Anime:
From then on, the idea of a hero that didn’t act like a bumbling idiot took off. And with that came another problem, copycats. Soon the anime industry was flooded by ‘dark’ protagonists that didn’t offer much beyond shallow personalities.
Sure, some good ones stood out. Lelouch Lamperouge from Code Geass was a fantastically written character whose natural intellect shone through and had real stakes involved. But then there were characters like Kirigaya Kazuto, nee Kirito, from Sword Art Online, who became so painfully generic by the end of things that he ruined his franchise.
The anime world loved itself bad boys, and the industry definitely delivered.
How Does One Be Like Ayanokoji? (Hint: You Don’t)
And this is how we came about Kiyotaka Ayanokoji from Classroom Of the Elite. Sure, I get the appeal. He is a character that seems unassuming on the outside but is secretly super smart and talented. He’s got a gaggle of women who are in love with him. And he’s got a cool, mysterious past, to boot.
I reckon there is a lot of wish fulfillment going on there. But, in reality, his personality is a dud. Sure, you can get smarter by reading more and staying up to date with current events. But you can’t magically turn yourself into a stereotype.
Because that’s what he is, an exaggerated trope that doesn’t exist in real life. And trust me, there is nothing worse than trying to be something you’re not. Therefore, becoming like Ayanokoji tends to skew more toward ephemerality than reality.