It’s been a long interlude since I had time to think about Valourborn’s Heroes project, but my summer job is finally finished, I’m back at school, and I now have the time to ponder what characters I attached myself to as I grew up.
The conclusion I’ve come to? It actually comes down to a specific time period and what stories you were exposed to then. All the heroes that I brainstormed – Zack Fair from Crisis Core: FF7, Neku Sakuraba from The World Ends With You, Wataru and Mitsuru from Miyuki Miyabe’s novel Brave Story, even Zael in The Last Story – were characters I grew to know in an 18-month span between the end of 11th grade and my matriculation to college.
They all share certain traits, but plenty of others do as well. When I finally focused on Zack and Neku, I recognized that they were likeable characters who begin the story with a certain set of beliefs, get thrust into strange, even terrifying situations, and manage to weather crisis after crisis, each of which prompts a fundamental personality shift.
It’s the last bit that resonates most with me. Having just finished a job where each week was a bundle of unforeseen, 11th hour crises, I find myself in admiration of Neku, who manages to stay composed and conducts himself beautifully.
(If anyone got the TWEWY-pun there, I love you)
It’s not stoicism, per se, but an internal stability. Neku is set in his opinions and attitude, and this allows him to ward off the snafus all around him.
Zack simply rolls with the punches, absorbing the lessons from them without letting each betrayal or raw emotional experience cripple him.
Even Wataru, the pre-teen protagonist of Brave Story, demonstrates a remarkable ability to perform under pressure, warding off desperation, fear, and hurt.
I was exposed to these characters at what I consider a critical juncture in my life, when I became comfortable in my own skin. I used to be embarrassed to publicly say that videogames were one of my hobbies, given that society views them as mindless, violent entertainment. Even watching a shojo anime, much less admitting that it’s a current favorite, would have been out of the question back then.
(For clarification: Japanese manga is divided into categories based on target demographic. Shojo is for teen girls. Hence why it’d be dicey to admit enjoying it as a teenage boy.)
Slowly, I stopped being defensive right off the bat. I’m quick to talk about my interest in the business/finance side of the videogame industry, and not just my love of the games themselves, but that’s because I’m genuinely fascinated by the business aspect. And I’ve just stated, both here and in personal conversations to close friends, that I’m loving Ouran High School Host Club, a shojo manga/anime.
My friends frequently made jabs at my tastes in games. As a high school student who owned and frequently played on the Wii, I felt criticized and attacked for the fact that I hadn’t ‘moved on’ to the Xbox 360, as my friends had, with the accompanying FIFA, Halo, and Call of Duty. Spending time with my friends in 9th and 10th grade felt stunted and emotionally limiting, not least because I didn’t gravitate to the FPS genre, as they did.
Thankfully, in late 10th and early 11th grade, I transitioned to a new social group that didn’t have the same judgmental attitude. We were all geeks with our own fandoms, but we respected each other and got along well, especially since we all had varying levels of fandom overlap. It was a fusion of science-nerds, jRPG fans, otakus, and Supernatural/Doctor Who/Sherlock lovers. And while this was going on, I played TWEWY and Crisis Core. I discussed it with my new circle of friends, and we geeked out with each other about all the intrigues and twists. I read Brave Story, and harassed my friends to try it. (They, in turn, harassed me to watch the animes Kuroshitsuji and Ouran)
Objectively, it’s difficult for me to confidently state that Neku, Zack, and others are my heroes solely because of their own characteristics, and not just because of good timing. Memories are tinged by our lives and impressions of the time. Moreover, these are relatively recent games and books I’ve played and read, respectively. The memories are fresh, so the impact is greater.
Nonetheless, their stories and personal growths are significant to me, and they are heroes in my eyes. They demonstrated an ability to thrive under pressure, to grow up, to gain self-confidence, and to learn the importance of different values. In a sense, they are more role models than heroes to idolize.
But aren’t heroes and role models just two different descriptors for people whom we aspire to become?