The Case Against Perfection

Mary Sue

The term “Mary Sue” is a phrase used a lot in the geek community, however the exact definition is unknown as it varies from person to person. According to TV Tropes, the origin of the term first came about from a parody, self-insert Star Trek fan fiction from 1974 which follows the titular character, Lt. Mary Sue. I’ll put a link to it right here. Go ahead and read it, it’s only a few paragraphs so it won’t take long. I’ll wait. Done? Good. Aside from being incredibly entertaining, or depressing depending on how you look at it, “A Trekkie’s Tale” serves as a way to explain the meaning of a “Mary Sue” character. What the term implies is a character who is unbelievably good at everything they do and is universally loved by everyone. Basically they’re the wish-fulfillment fantasy of every socially awkward shut-in like myself. And while there’s nothing wrong with enjoying a wet dream, there is something wrong when you start charging for it.

Mary Sue1

So at this point you might be asking where I’m going with all this. Well, Mary Sue’s have been quite a problem with anime for some time. Even when they don’t conform to the trend perfectly, male protagonists in anime can’t help but be strong, capable, and bad ass right at the start. Characters like Naruto and Ichigo (from Naruto and Bleach respectively) are imbued with god-like powers from the beginning to make up for their lack of talent and skill. But the worst offenders in recent years are none other than Kirito from Sword Art Online and Inaho from Aldnoah Zero. These are two characters who through no justifiable reasons are great at everything, and are unconditionally loved by all of the other characters. In the case of Kirito, he along with 10,000 other people are trapped in an MMO. In defense of him being labeled as overpowered, Kirito is an extremely high level and is therefore stronger, faster, and better at fighting than everyone else. That’s all well and good, but as time goes on he begins to shine as a true Mary Sue when he can use abilities unique to just himself, turn into a giant monster under the guise of “illusion magic” and destroy an entire enemy platoon, and take on raid bosses all by himself and win. He is basically Emo Jesus. And if that’s not bad enough, every single female character that he crosses paths with wants to suck him off. That said, Inaho isn’t much better. He is a teenager capable of outsmarting and defeating scores of military geniuses single-handedly, all while having the personality and excitement of a block of wood. And all the while, everyone hails him as the symbol of the human resistance and he’s given every single military honor in existence. I realize that all fiction is rooted in unreality. But at the same time, there is a certain point where the suspension of disbelief will not be able to tolerate a character whose actions and characteristics don’t line up with the universe that’s been set up. And once that point has been reached, any serious undertones instantly vanish like attractive, single women around me.

And none of that’s to say that Mary Sue’s are bad and should never be used. In fact, Mary Sue characters are great to use in comedy. For example, in the show Rosario Vampire (a harem anime) there’s a character whose entire existence is to end every fight in a single strike. Not only does the show draw attention to this fact, but it also breaks the fourth wall to tell the viewers how many seconds this pathetic excuse for a fight lasted. It’s like the show’s saying “we all know that fights in harem anime are crap because the only thing our audience cares about is the TNA”. If you want to go even further, Monty Python and The Holy Grail follows King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table on a quest for the Holy Grail. Even though they’re all completely hopeless when their go-to strategy for encountering danger is either to cower in fear or shout “RUN AWAAAAY!”, they’re able to surpass every single obstacle on their quest for the Grail. Mary Sue’s have their place in fiction, just so long as they’re not used to tell any kind of serious story.

Like I said before, there’s nothing wrong with a bit of wish-fulfillment. But this is an issue that is happening on a very large scale. Sword Art Online is one of the biggest franchises in anime to have popped up in recent years, Aldnoah Zero was one of the most hyped anime series last year; and both of these shows are trying to have a serious narrative, while simultaneously having their serious narrative undermined by the fact that their main character is the second coming of the almighty. What we are seeing is professional anime in conjunction with, with such consultants like David Cage and Stephenie Meyer. And anime is much, much better than that. It’s powerful enough to have a plot better than the main character being a lone underdog with nothing to rely on but his bravery, wit, intelligence, strength, agility, luck, charisma, good looks, confidence, kindness, compassion, years of combat experience, the entire backing of the angels of heaven and the demons of hell, and every single hottie from the face of the Earth and beyond. You can see how that wouldn’t exactly make for a timeless classic.


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