Anyone who has ever tried to create something artistic knows that doing so is as far removed from simple and painless as any task can be and is every bit as exhausting as it is time consuming. Newer and younger creators who have only recently chosen to dedicate their time and mental energy to crafting a creative identity for themselves are intimately familiar with the struggles all artists face on a daily basis, only in their cases those difficulties are amplified by their inexperience and lack of knowledge in their respective fields. In addition to the initial challenge of learning the basics of their crafts, through time and experience they must also discover for themselves what it means to be a creative person and how that identity fits into their everyday lives. Creating artistic content requires extensive thought, planning, introspection, hard work and brutal self analysis that often leaves the creator feeling overwhelmed and discouraged with the task they’ve taken on. Those who persevere through this initial learning curve find the self satisfaction of having done so to be more than worth their while, but during that period all potential rewards for the young creator’s tireless efforts seem despairingly small.
Character development is a term thrown around a lot in discussions on storytelling. It’s often a sizable factor in how many critics view whatever media they are reviewing. Briefly, because I don’t feel like doing a full article on it at the moment, character development is important to me because while we, the audience, are viewers and observers of any given story from the outside, we also vicariously live out the story through its characters. A great story does more than look pretty from an outsider’s point of view, rather, it drags its audience kicking and screaming into it, forcing us to experience the characters’ emotions first hand as we find ourselves desperately wanting them to succeed in their goals. When a lead character never changes or develops, the audience can’t experience that because there’s nothing to experience. As humans, we are constantly changing and being changed by our experiences, so seeing a character change and develop only feels natural. When it doesn’t happen, it feels dull and even unnatural, causing me to feel like I’m being ripped out of the story and forced to be an observer again. A great story uses its characters to keep the audience thoroughly engaged and immersed throughout. The line between good and bad character development, however, is extremely subjective. For me, when I think about anime with great character development, a few immediately come to mind, one being the extremely popular high school music drama Hibike! Euphonium.
Whatever your opinion of the show, it’s not difficult to understand why it’s popularity has exploded within the last year. Kyoto Animation (Free, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, K-On!) are masters of what they do, specifically slice of life and drama series. From a production standpoint, Hibike is, as the kids are saying these days, on fleek. The animation, soundtrack, voice acting and directing are all top notch. However, while production quality is an important part of how I rate the media I consume on it’s own, we live in a world in which technology is developing so fast that high quality production values have become standard and are no longer a guarantee of a worthwhile story. Anime such as Sword Art Online, Guilty Crown, and more recently Kabeneri of the Iron Fortress have flaunted impeccable production values but still failed to capture the hearts and attention of a widespread audience. This isn’t only true of animation, either. Television, film and literature can all be perpetrators as well. A skilled team of artists doesn’t necessarily guarantee an equally complex product. The way I see it, Hibike is a solid seven out of ten in production alone, but what is it that has caused me and many others to give it an even higher rating? You guessed it: the characters.
A better reviewer than myself could write a massive article detailing why each character in this show is intriguing and important to the story in their own right. However, right now I’d like to examine one of the most obvious and interesting character arcs, that of Kumiko Oumae, the lead character, and a couple things I found interesting about it that weren’t immediately apparent to me upon my first viewing. I’ll be diving into some spoiler territory for season one so if you haven’t watched it, I’d highly recommend it if you don’t mind a bit of musical melodrama. It’s currently available on Crunchyroll for free. Let’s get started.