My recent Unpopular Opinions post, specifically the question asking about “a trope that I’m tired of” or something along those lines, left me wanting to write more about the topic.
This one isn’t even really exclusive to anime, it’s a popular trope in storytelling itself. I’m sure there are many studies on why exactly the underdog appeals to people, why it’s generally the “natural outcome” in storytelling.
Recently, I’ve encountered a few stories that have left me wishing for more cases where the underdog… doesn’t win.
The Underdog Always Wins;
Hope Always Prevails
When’s the last time the protagonist lost in anime? And I mean seriously lost. Died, or was forced to give up their ambitions, permanently. Their journey comes to an end. No silver lining, just defeat. I can’t think of any real concrete examples.
Even in the seinen genre, it seems that the underdog rule still applies. I feel like if you want anything that even attempts to go against this rule, you have to look in the horror genre of all places. Or perhaps the psychological genre, where you might encounter a large twist that renders the protagonist’s original ambitions obsolete or changes our perspective of things.
Am I wrong here? Looking through my own list (460 titles) I’m having trouble finding an anime where the enemy, whoever or whatever that may be, just outright wins in the end. The closest I can get is anime where sacrifices are made. Things don’t end up perfect, but there is a silver lining, so to speak.
Isn’t this strange? I’m no literary expert, I’m sure there are some deep-rooted reasons why we gravitate towards underdog stories. But in a time where anyone can sit down and write a story, you’d think we’d have some variety in this area.
It’s clearly not always been like this. There are many stories in history where the underdog outright loses. Or, as often was the case in Shakespeare, everyone loses. What happened to stories in this vein?
I, for one, would love to sink my teeth into some anime that re-explore this area of storytelling, where being morally good, or the underdog, or the protagonist, doesn’t guarantee success.
But questions aside, why would I even want to see more cases where the underdog loses?
Lately, I’ve been mentioning quite frequently how I’d like to see more death in anime, more dark and gritty anime… and at the core of it, this comes from a desire for more “realism” in anime. Specifically, realism in regards to the stories told in anime.
For example, in fantasy anime, it’s amazing how so many sword fights end up leaving none dead, or even wounded. Let’s be honest, in a real situation, the fight would end with wounds and/or death.
And that includes the main character! Why should the main character always be exempt from these things? Yes, the story is invested in them. We are invested in them. More than often, the story hinges on them. And so I understand that it’s natural to want them to live.
But what a shock it would be if they didn’t.
“That didn’t just happen!” is the thought that would jump into our minds.
We might even have to rewind and watch again, just to confirm what we just saw.
It’s such a shocking idea that the protagonist would die, or lose.
And yet, that’s the realistic outcome, isn’t it?
I guess this comes down to us not wanting to see stories end in despair. The underdog represents hope, the impossible. If the underdog can achieve his goals, then surely so can we! Surely good will prevail over evil, it’s the natural outcome right? Human empathy and all that will surely prevail.
But that’s not always the case.
It’s often not the case.
I’d like to see more stories where that reality is shown to us. Sometimes, there is no hope in sight. That’s what I’d like to see reflected more in anime, and anime stories.
It’s not just because of the “shock value”, which honestly, can be a very powerful thing. It’s because the fact is that all of these stories are only showing one side of the picture. It’s a biased, one-sided equation that we are working with here.
Simply by showing us the other side, it gives us a whole new perspective on things. On the way things can be. On the way things often are, whether we like it or not.
I think the idea of ending a story in despair is very interesting. And it can sometimes pull us back down to Earth from the idealistic clouds that we can find ourselves in after indulging in so many stories where the underdog always wins, and good always prevails.
So many anime have done such a good job of conveying psychological distress, trauma, horror, and other aspects along these lines. But it’s almost as if none are willing to go all the way. There always has to be a silver lining, at the very least.
In my opinion, that shouldn’t always be the case.
And those are my thoughts on this matter.
All of this stems from reading some books where hope is snuffed out, and me realizing that stories can actually take this route.
I’m always for more variety in anime, and I always applaud anime that take risks and try deviating from the industry standards. I highly doubt anime will attempt to go this “despair” route, but you never know, it’s possible a story or two could slip through the cracks.
I’d certainly like to see that.
And I’d like to know if any of you know of an anime like that, where the underdog, the protagonist, loses. Where evil prevails. Where there’s no overt silver lining. Where it seems like everything was just for nothing. Although I guess that’d be a big spoiler if anyone did name an anime!
I personally couldn’t think up any solid examples of this happening in anime. But maybe there are some out there, somewhere.
Until next time,
Thanks for reading.