Viewers are always so quick to condemn flat characters. But sometimes they are a necessary evil.
(Spoilers for Shingeki no Kyojin and Final Fantasy 10 in this post)
Flat characters are defined as “characters who do not undergo substantial change or growth within the course of a story. Said literary personality is typically defined by one kind of personality trait or characteristic.”
In other words, they’re static and simple characters.
A lot of viewers complain that flat characters only bring harm to a series. I know I’ve implied as much whenever I’ve denounced a show as having only flat characters. And I’ll stand by that statement if a show’s cast of characters primarily consists of flat characters.
But I would also argue that flat characters are often needed in narratives (which includes anime). The inclusion of a few flat characters does not single-handedly ruin an anime series.
Here are some reasons I thought of which hopefully explain why some characters should just be flat characters.
1. Time Constraints
If every single character turns out to be both nuanced and complex, then the story would probably not progress. Episodes would strain to cover all these character developments, which would leave no time to focus on the development of more central characters.
Imagine how slow Shingeki no Kyojin would be if every soldier and fleshed out before they’re killed. The pacing of the series is already all over the place due to frequent flashbacks. Sometimes all a flat character gets is their little quirk or favorite saying or belief before they bite the dust or before the series ends altogether and that’s okay.
2. Specific Purpose
The reason why it’s okay is because flat characters are supposed to serve a specific purpose. That’s why they’re included within narratives in the first place. It’s unreasonable to expect a minor character who fulfills a minor role to be fully developed.
If we’re continuing to use Shingeki no Kyojin for examples, then the point of Lynne and Henning is to die early on in S2 in order to demonstrate the dire situation. We don’t get to know much about them at all besides the fact that they’re elite soliders. As a result, it’s ideal for them to die abruptly to establish that things are going downhill.
Nanaba and Gelgar get a bit more development before they perish, but they’re ultimately just one-note (Nanaba holds strong resolve and Gelgar likes drinking). The fact that they’re slightly more fleshed out makes their sacrifices more potent than the boring Lynne and Henning.
Basically, expect flat characters or previously flat characters who receive a sudden burst of character development to die before more important characters (if you’re watching a series where death is actually a thing to worry about aka not Fairy Tail).
3. Not Their Story
Sometimes a character may seem flat because they’ve already gone through their character development. “Don’t take it personally, babe, but it just ain’t your story,” is probably what the dynamic characters say to the static characters as they pass by each other in the hallways or something. Not that anime characters actually walk to and away from the set.
What I mean by this is that they already received their character development. A good (non-anime) example would be Auron from Final Fantasy 10. He’s the only one of the Guardians who remains a static character from beginning to end. But that’s because he’s already experienced what the others have experienced. His story is already over.
Is it a bad thing that Auron is included in FFX? I would say no, since he does provide some contrast to the younger, more inexperienced members. He also shows how tragic events can really change a man. But the biggest reason behind my vocal support for his inclusion is that he’s really cool. What a stud.
Flat characters can also receive their story / time in the limelight in a spin-off series. Not that this guarantees said spin-off would be any good, however. A
boring show example of that in action would be Dungeon ni Deai wo Motomeru no wa Machigatteiru Darou ka Gaiden: Sword Oratoria.
Do you think these reasons for including flat characters make any sense? Are you mad at how I called some characters flat or that I took some potshots at your favorite shows? I would love to hear your complaints and concerns in the comments section below!
That’s all for now, folks.