Ian & Rin

Rin and Ian

It’s no secret that I like Fairy Cube. The manga isn’t perfect, but what I really appreciated about it is how well balanced the two main leads were. Often times, it’s so easy for a writer to write one character as strong and the other as weak, or write weakness in a way that denies agency. It feels as if some writers think showing any real weakness would somehow undermine how “cool” or “powerful” or just strong that particular character is. But that’s not really what makes someone strong and furthermore having a character that only knows how to look cool is often the quickest way to make a boring character. Likewise, having characters that embody only weakness and helplessness often causes readers (well at least me) to get frustrated with the character. Weakness is only interesting when it’s paired with some sort of character growth or balanced in some way by adding aspects of strength. Do we really want to see Character A wallowing in self pity over and over? That’s as equally boring as having a flawless character!

So the name of the game is to create a balanced character. Well, actually, a realistic and balanced character would be more accurate. Balance in itself isn’t enough if it isn’t written in a realistic way. But enough technicalities and back to balanced characters. Fairy Cube is one of the best examples of how to create balanced characters of both genders. Let’s start with Ian. He’s the protagonist, but he isn’t very assertive, or so it seems. What Ian tries to do by bending to the will of his father, a man that is obsessed with keeping Ian by his side, is to protect his childhood friend Rin and his father. He’s just like any of us and cannot just abandon his father. He knows his father’s irrational fear that Rin will steal him away or that Ian will fly away is wrong, but at the same time he still loves his father. He sympathizes with his dad’s pain at his mother leaving them. Furthermore, Ian’s “strong” traits include his fearlessness and his desire to protect the ones he loves. Yet these are tempered by the fact that Ian isn’t some superman; he can’t just magically protect everyone. He has to struggle. And he can’t just solve every and any problem. The fact that he lives with his dad even when the latter has done some questionable things to him shows Ian’s weakness. He cannot fix everything, he has to compromise and he cannot just ignore his emotions and abandon his dad even if no one would blame him for doing so. In short, he is a balanced character with both strengths and weaknesses.

Rin, on the other hand, appears to be a very assertive and confident person, but that all comes undone when we see that this is just her way of coping with her abusive mother. She is often seen running away from home and has no love for her mother. In many ways, she is the exact opposite of Ian. But that is not so say her assertiveness and confidence doesn’t exist, it very much does given that she stands up to lots of people even when she is at her most vulnerable. But this strength is tempered by the fact that she is afraid and she does have her demons. For one, she has trouble making friends with anyone but Ian; and Tokage makes it very clear that she only trusts Ian because she sees him as “safe”; as someone who wouldn’t do bad things to her. It would have been so easy to write her as a self pitying shell wallowing in despair at how crappy her life is, but Ms.Yuki doesn’t do that. She balances Rin’s character by adding an inner strength, a will that will not be subdued, that will not break under the weight. In short, she balances the massive weakness she wrote into Rin by giving her extraordinary strength to keep going and keep trying to change her lot in life.

And that’s really all it’s about. Writing a character that isn’t all weakness or all strength. Granted, getting the balance just right so that others can sympathize with said character is hard, but at the same time, that is not an excuse for characters that lack this sort of balance on some level. Getting it just right may be hard, but attempting a balanced character isn’t hard at all. There are a lot of imperfect attempts that I’ve seen and I ended up liking these imperfect attempts more than shallow trope-ish characters because the attempt at balancing itself ended up creating a more nuanced and interesting character.

Anyone have any examples of characters they think are balanced? Do you also prefer imperfect attempts at balance to trope-like or perfect characters?