Protagonist? Or just unnecessary focus?

It’s been about a year since I’ve done a Tv trope related article, so here it is…

Generally at the center of every story, no matter what the medium, is the protagonist. There’s always the character that is the focus of the story.  This isn’t necessarily the nondescript, bland narrator, or the epic hero.  At its base, this is simply the character for which the story is about.  So of course, you have to make them worthwhile.  Because the protagonist is, well… the main character of the story and the one who you place your empathy upon, it’s not surprising for him/her to receive a bit of popularity.  However, the opposite often happens: some characters end up only receiving prominence because they are the main character, and nothing else.  For example, I think Liu Kang of the Mortal Kombat series is an intriguing guy.  A bare-fisted messiah monk who has the fight the forces of evil.  Oh and can turn into a dragon.  But I don’t think I’d pay as much attention to him if he wasn’t the protagonist.  A major reason for this is his lack of distinctive flaws.  Liu Kang is a pretty upstanding hero, and he doesn’t possess too much character other than being a pinnacle of goodness.  It’s understandable why Sub-Zero, Scorpion, or even his archenemy Shang Tsung would be more popular as their antiheroic or outright villainous traits make them more lively characters.  The same “protagonist syndrome” happens with Ryu of the street fighter, or even Mario. As playable characters, I’d use them but they’re not particularly fleshed out as characters.  In video games, this is partially justified because the developer wants you to step in their shoes.  But if that’s the case, then let me design my own damn character. Regardless,  I try to force myself to like or at least relate to each protagonist of a work.  After all, a story matters as well.

Recently, I wondered to myself, whether I truly enjoyed certain characters, or only bothered with them because they were the protagonist.  But I realize this is not the case. In the harem genre of male-demographic manga, we almost always have a relatively bland male protagonist who happens to attract several females (and maybe some males) through certain virtues.  This is often either sheer kindness, wholesomeness, or honesty.  It’s pretty obvious that the male protagonists are supposed to be stand-ins for whatever male comes to read it.  Mangaka seem to think that showcasing the attractiveness of various other characters excuses them from fleshing the very characters that the story is centered around.  No we don’t want the see him get the crap beaten out of him every chapter or episode, because of some random perverted misunderstanding.

If you’re a TV tropes reader, this phenomena is known as Designated Protagonist Syndrome.  Sometimes, it’s not the main character’s fault, just that the others are more interesting.  The reasons often vary, from the protagonist taking up too much spotlight (yes it’s possible) to the point where the other protaognists or supporting characters are left undeveloped.

If you ever choose to make a protagonist, it shouldn’t be a case of fighting for spotlight.

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