A theme that appeared in a few series this year was the power of the individual – the idea that anyone can make an important contribution, and often also the idea that what makes people different is what makes them valuable. Sometimes, this theme was used well (generally, when the concept cropped up more subtly/not as forcefully). Sometimes, it was used not so well. Frequently, though – in my eyes, at least – it was used memorably. Minor spoilers for Railgun and Liar Game, and slightly bigger spoilers for Occult Academy under the cut.
The power of the individual was a huge theme in Railgun. Of course it was; after all, Railgun was a series revolving around several super-powered people, and it enjoyed shifting its focus – when it wasn’t focusing on day-to-day adventures – to how its characters chose to use the powers they had. Supremely strong lead character Mikoto used her abilties to dole out justice in an often less-than-lawful way (even more so in the Sisters arc of the manga). Powerful (but weaker) sometimes-sidekick Kuroko also used hers to fight for justice, but she used the law as a tool. The actions personally taken by Harumi Kiyama were also motivated by a desire for a better world… and even later antagonist Telestina’s actions were, too, though her “better world” was decidedly warped. Yes, the theme of the power of the individual was employed heavily in Railgun – if you want to get critical, we were somewhat beaten over the head with it. The instance of this that was most memorable for me, though, was in Saten’s case. The superpower-less girl, who was so desperate to be among the ranks of the espers, was the finale’s true hero. Armed with a baseball bat, guts, and determination, she threw a major wrench into Telestina’s plans, and saved the day where her teleporting, electricity manipulating, and constant-temperature-keeping friends were unable to.
Railgun was set in a city in which those without strong powers were essentially taught that they were worthless. The message in Saten’s heroic scene was loud and clear: nobody is worthless, and everybody has the potential to do good. It was a message that popped up with regularity throughout the anime.
In Occult Academy, this message was something more like ‘even a wimpy, selfish jerk can save the world’. Fumiaki, also known as Bunmei, was easily unlikeable in the first three-quarters or so of the series, mostly because he was so incredibly quick to save his skin (even when it meant endangering others). As well as this, though, he, like Saten, struggled with feelings of powerlessness. And also like Saten, with a huge amount of bravery – which in his case was summoned up just in a nick of time – and aplomb, in the end he managed to save the people he cared about. Soon after, he gathered up even more courage, and sacrificed himself to save his friends and everyone else once again.
In addition to the two above, we have Takuto in the currently airing Star Driver, who is the new guy in a place where everyone else has deep ties to each other and to their home. He is quickly popular, but also very much an outsider. And he fights for what he believes is right, despite this meaning fighting against a force much larger than him. He stands out as an individual, and takes this completely in his stride, using this to his advantage or for fun.
Earlier this year, too, we had Angel Beats!‘s Kanade/Angel/Tenshi, who strove to do her best and preserve order, even when she was the target of some (mostly unintentional) cruelty. She fought against alienation and loneliness, as well as the SSS brigade, to do the job she felt she had to do. She did it well.
I think my favourite ‘power of one’ moment of the year, though, came in the fourth round of the tournament in Liar Game. Yukiko Abe, member of one of the opposing groups in the Liar Game, was initially cold, pushing away main character Nao when she attempted to form a friendship. As the round progressed, however, the two were able to get closer. When Yukiko was called “useless” by the leader she had placed all her belief and trust in, she was shattered. She opened up to Nao, and we saw flashbacks to her childhood, where she was abused by her parents and told she was stupid, worthless, and a burden. Of course, Nao’s response to this was to tell her that “no-one is useless”.
Nao soon proved her words right, as Yukiko became of vital importance in a manoeuvre that led to the protagonists turning the tables. Many people played a part in said manoeuvre; indeed, the success of it depended solely on people, quite literally, standing together. Without the cooperation of any single one of them, all would have failed. Yukiko was seen as the weak link in the human chain and she was targeted, but she showed her strength and pulled through.
I can understand how the power of the individual theme could be annoying, given its prevalence in anime and manga – particularly in those aired over the past year. But I think it’s a nice sentiment, and I believe that, when used effectively, it can definitely add to a character and to a work.
That’s it for Borderline Hikikomori’s Twelve Days of Anime series! Have a very merry Christmas, and a happy, healthy 2011.