How To Make Overpowered Protagonists Fun
Lately, I have been thinking of doing NaNoWriMo. Then I remember that this is a stupid idea when I already write half the word count of a NaNoWriMo novel every month just for work. I say all that, but a part of me thinks: “Wouldn’t it be fun to bury myself in a complete nonsense story for a month and make up shit as I go along?”
I’m sure that the author of My Sister Lives in a Fantasy World has had similar thoughts, because the series reads like a giant NaNoWriMo draft.
In the latter half of the series, major characters and plot points get introduced out of nowhere, powers and abilities get made up on the spot, and half the word count is spent on characters explaining how the nonsensical setup of the story is supposed to work. But I still like the series, mostly because it’s the most fun I’ve had with the “Overpowered MC” concept in a while.
Overpowered characters are difficult to take seriously even at the best of times. If left to their own devices, they can kill the tension in a story. There are some ways that writers can get around this, like introduce challenges to match the protagonist’s strength. For example, Goku in Dragon Ball is ridiculously strong by any measure, but because the narrative keeps upping the scale and shifting the goalposts, Goku never comes across as infallible. Heck, he dies multiple times in the story.
Powering up the opposition is a fine storytelling tactic, but at the same time, it defeats the purpose of having an overpowered MC. After all, an MC can only be considered overpowered if he is that much stronger than everyone else in the story. It’s all a matter of scale.
Sometimes, writers can make the overpowered character a teacher figure. That way the audience can still bask in the awesomeness of the OP character while rooting for the students as underdogs. It’s like how in One Punch Man, a lot of viewers ended up cheering for Genos and hoping to see him surpass Saitama, even though everyone knows that Saitama will never lose.
In the end, though, making the overpowered MC a teacher takes the focus off the power fantasy in favour of the conventional “coming of age” narrative. It also doesn’t count if the MC has so much emotional baggage that it seriously affects his performance in battle. He can’t be a “cheat” character unless his victories are effortless. And for some stories, at least, revelling in lopsided victories is exactly the point. Nothing more and nothing less.
For the sake of keeping this blog post manageable, I’m just going to talk about how this trope is managed in light novels and web novels here. I can’t say that I’m normally a fan of it. I think my problem comes down to the fact that the authors often to try to have it both ways with their overpowered MC. The MC often starts off as a “normal” person who becomes overpowered because they’re granted some blessing by a god or whatever. You’re often supposed to empathise with them and experience the thrills of a power fantasy at the same time. (I go into more detail about that idea here.)
This is boring to me because there’s no way I am going to relate to a character who is all-powerful. Overpowered characters are fun because I don’t relate to them.
If you’ve spent like two minutes talking to me about Re:ZERO, you’d probably know that my favourite character is Reinhard, the grossly overpowered white knight guy whose powers include, but are not limited to: walking on water, resistance to all elements, and immunity from the first strike in any battle.
Reinhard’s abilities are insane. Whenever Tappei Nagatsuki answers questions about Reinhard’s powers, he just makes Reinhard seem like a parody of a human.
The thing is – you’re not supposed to relate to Reinhard. He’s just a supporting character, and he doesn’t even do that much in the story anyway. Pretty much none of his OP haxx skills are relevant to the plot; they are just part of his quirks and personality.
In a similar way, you’re not supposed to relate to the MC of My Big Sister Lives in a Fantasy World. Yuichi is a “normal” boy in high school, but although he plays the straight man to his sister’s antics, it quickly becomes clear that he’s anything but normal himself. He is overpowered as hell, and may actually be able to beat up Reinhard in a fight. I’m not kidding about this.
Probably the most amusing thing about My Big Sister Lives in a Fantasy World is how it spends so much time building up these absurdly powerful enemies, only for Yuichi to one-shot them. It’s all played very seriously, until that final moment when Yuichi kicks ass. The anticlimax is the joke.
Meanwhile, Tatsuya, the poster boy for “Overpowered Light Novel Protagonist”, sucks because the story takes him way too seriously. There’s never really any humour in the way he defeats his enemies unless you go meta. He does at least have a nice ass though, so that’s something.
So yeah, it is generally difficult for me to take a story seriously when it has a truly overpowered MC with no competition, so you may as well take the piss out of it. Do you share that attitude about overpowered characters? Who are some of your favourite overpowered MCs (if you have any)?
Posted on October 19, 2017, in Editorials and tagged dragon ball, i watch rezero mainly for reinhard and felt, mahouka koukou no rettousei, my big sister lives in a fantasy world, one punch man, re zero, reinhard is such a hunk. Bookmark the permalink. 15 Comments.