We often think of heroes as being physically strong, but anime series like World Trigger and Kuroko’s Bastketball make us rethink what it means to be hero. While both lead characters are characterized as physically weak, they remain central to the action and make selflessness the new heroic standard.
Both anime series place our potential heroes in situations where people initially judge them by a physically based notion of heroism. We have no illusions about Mikumo Osamu, the main character in World Trigger. Ai Kitora, an elite agent of the force that protects Mikado City against alien invaders, says (while looking at Osamu): “Border does not need weak members.” Other Border agents frequently comment on his low physical stamina. Osamu appears to be the world’s most unlikeliest hero. He is physically weak. He wears glasses, which miraculously never get broken. He barely made it into Border. Even after becoming an agent, rarely wins on his own in actual or mock battles. During training, he is frequently out of breath and easily collapses. Even his mentor, Karasuma Kyosuke, has his doubts about Osamu’s ability to progress very far. Osamu also has other flaws that make him an unlikely hero. He has low self-confidence. When asked why he always sticks around when disaster strikes, Osamu acknowledges that he must stay, because he knows that if he allows himself to run, even once, he will always do it.
At least people acknowledge Osamu’s presence. Poor Kuroko Testsuya is constantly overlooked in Kuroko’s Basketball even though he is the lead character. He’s like a ghost. The running gag in the series is that people only notice him long after he has joined a group for a conversation. Kuroko is also stoic, which means he rarely expresses emotions, even though he has them. This adds to his forgettable nature. To many, he comes off a little weird. Moreover, Kuroko’s basketball skills consist of moves that support the team’s strongest member, Kagami Taiga. Kuroko is the shadow to Kagami’s light, using his ability to disappear from people’s perceptions to get the ball to Kagami so that he can score. He’s short and lacks the physical stature of a typical basketball player. Eventually, he develops other skills, but they still often support other members. He lacks talents that place him in the spotlight. Or so we are led to believe.
What these characters lack in physical prowess, they more than make up for in intellectual and emotional strength. Osamu balances his physical weakness with his selfless courage and daring strategies. The first time we meet Osamu in the series, he defends new “transfer” student Kuga Yuma (who also happens to be an alien) from bullies in school. Osamu just met Yuma, but he is driven by an innate obligation to protect the weak that we see again and again in the series. In the second massive Neighbor Invasion, he works to get the lower-level agents to safety and to protect his friend, Amatori Chika. In the fabulous climax to this narrative arc, Osamu puts his physical body on the line as part of an elaborate plan to beat the invaders. This selfless act changes the perceptions of many Border agents who originally thought he was weak.
Despite these heroic acts, Osamu remains flawed. He feels immensely guilty about the agents who were kidnapped during the invasion as well as the loss of Replica, Yuma’s chaperone. He willingly volunteers to be the fall guy, the person whom the public blames for the loss of property and life. Osamu never loses these vulnerable characteristics, but he also continues to be the heroic center of the series.
Kuroko demonstrates similar kind of selflessness by promoting team play rather than seeking individual glory. Initially the sixth man for the Generation of Miracles team, Kuroko finds himself at odds with the philosophy of Seijuro Akashi, the team captain who only wants to win, even if it means destroying team morale to assuage the egos of the ridiculously talented players. When Kuroko moves to high school, he convinces his new team, Seirin, to pursue a more team-based kind of basketball. Even though they have a star player, the team only really succeeds when they all work together. Even more amazing, he slowly convinces his former Generation of Miracles teammates to engage in more team play when Seirin beats each of their high school teams in a tournament. Like Osamu, Kuroko continues to experiences bouts of self-doubt and fear in the face of stronger players. Even as a stoic, it is clear that Kuroko does not want to let his teammates down.
Both Osamu and Kuroko are unlikely heroes. They are flawed and have self-doubt. At the same time, they are the source of inspiration for those around them. Achievements could not be made with them. Even the more powerful people in their lives eventually recognize their sacrifices and ability to motivate others. This represents an interesting shift in heroism, particularly in anime genres like action and sports where the hero is usually the one who is physically strongest.
Redefining Heroism in World Trigger and Kuroko’s Basketball by CeeFu is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.