It could be argued that tragic backstories are the backbone of many an anime series.
Think of all the protagonists with sad upbringings. Or of those supporting characters who have had rough lives. Can’t forget about those minor characters who were dealt a bad hand in life, either.
Given that a story isn’t entirely rainbows and sunshine and saccharine smiles, chances are there will be at least one character with a dismal background if not more.
But it could also be argued that too many characters have melancholic pasts. Or that said character beat is almost universal. Tragic backstories pop up again and again in anime, as mentioned earlier. So perhaps some thought regarding the purpose and presentation of sad pasts in a narrative. Why should tragic backstories be included? How should they be presented?
Well, it’s a way to get the audience to care about a character, first and foremost. If the audience knows a character has gone through some difficult times, then it is likely the audience will sympathize with the character. The audience may become spurned to root for the character and start to consider the character’s victories and signs of progress as a way for the character to be awarded and compensated for enduring aforementioned hardship.
Be that as it may, sad pasts only have that sort of effect on the audience if the character in question is “likeable” or relatable. Whether a character qualifies, of course, is to be classified within that subjective category is really dependent on personal preferences, of course.
As such, tragic backstories for characters who aren’t quite as charming seem to aim for an entirely different effect. If the audience gets to learn of the dreary sob-story past pertaining to a villain who has done several heinous acts with little to no remorse, then it could come across as being slightly excusatory. Like the villain was somehow driven to act like this because this and that happened when he or she was younger.
At the very least, the inclusion and depiction of a sad past should partially explain why the ruthless antagonist is acting in such a way (at least in theory). Whether or not information regarding the villain’s background is enough to justify the villain’s behaviour is another story altogether.
The execution and presentation of a tragic backstory should also be considered. Take Mahou Shoujo Site, for example. Aya is viciously bullied every day by her classmates and her own family members, is nearly raped, and is almost scarred for life due to a bully wielding a box-cutter within the opening episode. The trope thus isn’t just being utilized to make us pity a character who happens to be an underdog; it’s also setting the tone for the series as being grim, “dark,” and without hope.
It may also cause others to consider this tragic backstory to be excessively cruel to unfortunate Aya. And once one starts considering what a depressing background brings to a series, the focus (of the discussion revolving around sad pasts) begins to shift away from the characters and towards the framework of the narrative. People will start labeling the tragic backstory in question as emotionally manipulative. They might start question the purpose of a lengthy flashback in which a character’s sad past is revealed since flashbacks essentially halt the progression of a story.
Anyways, I’ll stop rambling now.
What do do you all think about tragic backstories? Necessary? Or not needed? Does it require finesse to pull off without upsetting the audience? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section!
Thank you for reading.