The idiot hero is a trope for a reason. He’s head strong, stupid, the best fighter, and damn near always the leader of the group. Black Star from Soul Eater and Shirou from Fate/Stay Night are two perfect examples of this trope. For those who want a more interesting main protagonist it produces a groan of annoyance and probably a face palm every time he does something especially idiotic. It’s a trope for a reason, but we must consider the fact that it is continuously used because it helps create a more human character in us.
Here’s how the Idiot Hero trope is defined by TV Tropes as:
The Idiot Hero is a common character in action series. Often, he is both the protagonist and the central character of the narrative. He will frequently use the Indy Ploy, will be too stupid to be afraid of imminent peril, and will often have a short memory span. Despite all of this, he is the most effective member of the cast at fighting. He will also usually be the leader of a tight-knit group of characters, despite the fact that he doesn’t have the brains to lead a cat out of a paper bag. This is because he’s so stupid as to be incorruptible, and has the ability to maintain a childlike innocence and faith in people that inspires those around him.
You can apply this to all the characters listed above? They’re not particularly intelligent, they often don’t know a lot relating to the task at hand, even if said task probably involves saving the world, take the stupid big damn hero risks in order to save even the slightest individual and don’t get the girl until the very end or until it’s said right to their face and somehow end up the leader. A normal hero wouldn’t do this, right?
Take Shirou from Fate/Stay Night for example. He’s an under qualified mage who somehow gets involved in a ritual to summon the Holy Grail. His overriding goal is to protect people, no matter what. Shirou is the pinnacle of incompetence. He’s determined not to get his partner hurt in the battle between mages… despite the fact she’s shown to be way more competent than he is or will be. Even when he himself could probably be killed effortlessly by the main villain, he still tries to rush to the villain’s victim’s aid.
But in reality the idiot hero is similar to the anti-hero, a much more loved character in that we can relate to them with our own flaws. We want the perfect, shining hero of light who is pure intelligence distilled into one lean form of heroism… but no human is like that. Literally none. So why do we expect a hero to have any perfect qualities? Having a characteristic which is not perfect, whether that be in intelligence or otherwise, presents us a more human character that we can relate to, rather than just having a character that none of us can relate to.
Often if you delve deeper into a character there’s a reason the might display ‘idiot’ qualities. Shirou for example has a mental disorder which makes him only be happy when others are happy, explaining his often suicidal behaviors. Black Star has a superiority complex, he needs to be better than everyone and absolutely everyone needs to know this, even if it annoys other people. Both these characters show more human personality traits, mental disorders, they become more human. This help us relate to them more compared to if they were ‘perfect’ and this can help explain why they do things that may seem idiotic.
If a character displays a flaw, like being an idiot hero, then that makes them all the more relatable to us. It’s unrealistic for us as humans to expect a fictional hero to perfect and create a Mary Sue. Real life heroes don’t work that way. Neither should we expect our heroes in anime to be.
P.S. I suck at closing paragraphs.
Originally published at valiantghost.com on 25th of November, 2015.