[Editorial Tuesday] 7 Shōnen Cliches/Tropes

Introduction

We’ve all seen a Shōnen anime or two. It’s almost inevitable that one of the first few anime that we watch in our lifetime is a Shōnen anime, if not the first. This is due to long running nature and massive popularity or followings that many of these anime enjoy. One good example is the long running series One Piece, which has been in serialisation long before some of its current fans are even born. That’s 1999 for the anime and 1997 for the manga in case you were wondering. Are you older or younger than the series?

Either way, the point remains. Love it or hate it, you’ve seen at least one Shōnen anime or even multiple. For those who have watched more than one, it’s possible that you have started to spot certain patterns that they all seem to follow. These patterns are commonly referred to as clichés or tropes, used to denote the repetition of a certain plot point or mechanic that is merely repeated as part of the formula for success.

Here at Honey’s Anime, we try to point out 7 of the most outstanding and repeated clichés that appear in almost all Shōnen anime. Why 7? Usually, the list is standardised at 5 or 10, to allow a whole number that allows readers to digest the article more easily. If you’re curious about the weird deviation, read on to find out!

1. Shouting Attacks

Have you ever watched a martial arts tournament? Even a mixed martial arts match or boxing would suffice in this scenario. During the match, fighters are locked in a dance of blows, raining fists and kicks upon each other to claim the honour of being the champion. Such action is very prominent and actually further exaggerated in Shōnen anime to hype up the series and provide excitement to the viewers.

That’s all well and good, but have you noticed the main difference between the two yet? Those real life fights, don’t compose of fighters shouting out their techniques right as they attack. It wouldn’t make much sense to do so would it? You’re telling your opponent what your move is, allowing them to dodge. It’s the equivalent of saying “Right cross” as you swing your fist, causing your opponent to dodge as he knows your move in advance.

Yet every Shōnen character does it, or almost all of them. Take Fairy Tail as an example; is it 100% needed for Natsu to shout “Karyū no Hōkō!” when he blasts away his enemies with a roar of fire? Or would it be better to just randomly shoot fire blasts that they can’t predict? The simple reason as to why this always happens is for the viewers benefit. It allows those watching to get excited when their favourite attack pops up, even causing some to shout along with the character.

At the end of the day, as illogical as shouting your attacks can be, it’s an anime. It doesn’t have to be always logical unlike real life. Anime is just for fun after all.

2. Flashbacks

2. Flashbacks naruto Capture

Anyone who has watched a Shōnen will know this one. Right as the main character is about to unleash his super mega ultra badass world destroying noble phantasm Kamehameha attack on the villain, he will always pause to remember how he got to that point. He will recall the training he had to undergo under his cool mentor, the defeats he suffered at the hands of the villain and those he has lost to the ravages of war (well not really, it's Shōnen after all). The hero grips his hands tightly as tears trickle down silently. His eyes steel with resolve as he blasts away the bad guy, ending the arc once and for all.

This really only stands out for two reasons. One, it always happens at some of the worst possible moments AKA during a high action sequence. Two, the attack could take about a minute maximum but the flashback itself will last about the entire episode. Talk about a horrible pay off at that kind of ratio.

That’s not to say flashbacks are bad in general. There are times when flashbacks are used well in Shōnen anime. It can be effective at revealing large chunks of a character’s past when it gets too hard to hint to the viewer. At least that’s better than just watching some characters talk about stuff that happened right?

It can also provide for some of the most visually impactful moments of a series, like a certain tree of knowledge burning down, or two certain rivals recalling their previous battles in the heat of battle when they’ve matured from the younger selves. Flashbacks can be good, and they have been good at many points, it’s just that when they are used wrongly, it can really drop the tension of a fight down to almost nothing.

Now, the article could go on, but first we must talk about how this site was formed…

Just kidding.

3. Cool Mentor

3. Cool Mentor ONEPIECE Capture

The main character of a Shōnen anime is often a young boy, teenager, or young adult at maximum. That is why they are classed under Shōnen Jump after all. Shōnen by itself literally means a young boy. So with this go getter character who sets out to take the world by its reins and explore it fully, he sometimes runs into problems that he can’t deal with or is too immature to comprehend at the point of the story.

Enter the cool mentor character that the Shōnen can look up too. He must be cool, because if he wasn’t, the Shōnen wouldn’t even listen to him at all. Such is the fickle mindedness of a young teenage boy. But despite his coolness, he hides behind the façade a wise and jaded outlook, tempered from years upon years of pain and loss. He looks upon the Shōnen and sees himself in the young lad, taking it upon himself to make sure that the protagonist does not go through the same pain that he had.

If the Shōnen ever feels down and out, the cool mentor will arrive to provide encouragement and motivation to him, allowing him to reignite his protagonist spirit to never give up. When he gets utterly trounced by an overpowered villain, the cool mentor will tutor the hero in a super technique that will have an entire arc dedicated to just learning that technique. But the payoff will be worth it, because that technique will defeat that bad guy in the end.

At the end of the day, cool mentors are one of the most important characters in the series, as they help the story to move along in a succinct manner without feeling too forced. There’s a good reason these clichés exist, and it’s not always because of a particular formula but because that particular plot device is just that good.

4. Training Arcs

4. Training Arcs katekyo hitman reborn Capture

As mentioned before, one of the functions of the cool mentor is to provide our dear protagonist the power he needs to summarily hand the bad guy his ass on a platter because without that power, the hero is just not strong enough to fight against whatever the bad guy has cooked up. However, this power will always come at a huge price, whether it be a sacrifice of some kind, or requiring huge amounts of training on the part of the hero.

Hence, a training arc will be necessary in order to fully show the full extent of effort that the Shōnen puts into learning his new technique/power/form/mode. You will spend a full arc’s length, or at least half an arc, watching the hero sit down and receive a long winded and detailed explanation about whatever special ability he is about to learn. The arc will proceed to portion where the hero tries and tries but keeps failing to produce any tangible results.

The viola or eureka moment will come to the hero through the weirdest manner possible, like somehow slamming himself into a wall with jet propulsion arms will give him the idea to make a super move. After this moment of revelation, the Shōnen will undergo a training montage with epic music accompanying them (That epic flute music from Naruto anyone?). When they finally get the technique down, they won’t show you, and will in fact wait till the next fight to actually reveal it.

This all sounds really retarded on paper. But there is a strange satisfaction from watching training arcs that some people experience. Perhaps it is the feeling of watching someone’s hard work pay off after watching them fail so much? Either way, if you don’t like it, just pretend the series is on a long hiatus. If you do, more power to you. Just know that training arcs won’t be going away for a while.

5. Friends and Family

5. Friends and Family naruto Capture

Like all good stories for young boys, and girls too, there must be a good message for them to learn. It is named Shōnen Jump for a very good reason after all. With their main demographic being such an impressionable group, it falls upon them to instil morals and lessons that these youth can carry throughout their life.

Of all the morals, the one that gets repeated the most is to always treasure your friends and family. Naruto who is strongest when protecting his precious ones, Luffy who must always protect his nakama, Tsunayoshi the one who fights only for the sake of his famiglia, and many more. The good guy must always work to protect those around him, and the bad guy must always try to take them away, whether directly or indirectly.

It is these ideals that empower them so greatly, and it is probably the hope of the story writers that viewers will in turn be empowered by these ideals to a certain extent, leading them to lead lives where they not only live for themselves, but to protect and care for those around them as well.

This isn’t a bad trope in any way at all. Unlike the previous clichés and tropes, there is no real way to criticize an attempt to teach youth to be less self-centred and to help those around them. Good job Shōnen anime. One round of applause for you.
*clap clap clap*

6. Plot Armour/Power Up Button

6. Plot Armor Power Up Button Bleach Capture

With all the mushy stuff out of the way, let’s jump right into one of the most prominent of the clichés that permeate the Shōnen sphere of influence. As mentioned earlier, Shōnen anime are some of the longest running series to ever exist in the existence of anime itself. That’s pretty long if you know how long anime has existed. But how is it possible to keep such a long running series going if real life logic like death in dangerous situations apply? It’s quite simple, they don’t. Shōnen main characters cannot die, period. The exception is only lifted near the end of the series, but even then, it’s still extremely unlikely that they die at all.

It’s not like death to a “good” character never happens. Plenty of characters die in Shōnen, just never anyone too important. The worst that can happen is always an extremely important side character passing on in a very dramatic manner. But in the end, it serves to motivate the protagonist to protect his pirate crew/ninja squad/Shinigami friends.

So if characters can’t die, how can viewers feel excited when watching their favourites getting put into a life or death situation? Studios and writers are quite devious in this aspect. They give main characters plot armour, a form of protection that prevents the character from dying as it would ruin the plot, yet they always make it seem like the character might die. This is a very high illusion cast by the writers that even Itachi cannot surpass.

This is the primary reason action scenes remain so exciting and tense despite the fact that everyone knows that he or she won’t die even if they lose. Of course, we’ll still roll our eyes every now and then when they try too hard to trick us.

7. ...

Did the sub-heading confuse you?

Were you expecting words like the previous 6 sub-headings? The reason there is no text in the sub-heading, is because the cliché up for discussion is the number 7. That’s right, the reason why an article about Shōnen anime has 7 instead of 5 or 10 because a cliché itself is the number 7.

So what about 7 that makes it a cliché in Shōnen anime? Think back to the second paragraph of the article and remember that clichés are a repeating pattern that appear across multiple shows. To better help you see the pattern of 7 linking all the Shōnen anime together, we at Honey’s Anime have helpfully provided a list for you.

  1. 7 Dragon Balls (Dragon Ball Z)
  2. 7 Shichibukai (One Piece)
  3. 7 deadly sins homunculi (Fullmetal Alchemist)
  4. Team 7 (Naruto)
  5. 7 Ninja Swordsmen of the Mist (Naruto)
  6. 7 Paths of the Sage, including outer path (Naruto)
  7. 7th Hokage Naruto (Naruto)
  8. 7 Flames of the Sky (Katekyo Hitman Reborn)
  9. 7 Flames of the Earth (Katekyo Hitman Reborn)
  10. 7 Dragon Slayers (Fairy Tail)
  11. 7 Sins of Purgatory (Fairy Tail)
  12. And for the worst of them all, the following quote should speak for itself, “Both dragons vanished 7 years ago, on the year 777, on the 7th day of the 7th month.” (Fairy Tail)

It’s possible that there are more unlisted here, some were simply missed, others were not placed for spoiler reasons. Yes, an item with the number 7 was so plot relevant that it had to be excluded for fear of spoilers.

Does the oversaturation of the number 7 mean anything? Actually, yes it does. Throughout history, the numbers 3, 5 and 7 are prized by multiple cultures as magical numbers. It is not entirely known where such emphasis on these particular numbers originated from, but they have popped up over the many historical texts to mean something special, like 7 meaning perfection for example. Or having 5 of something meant that a person was blessed.

Anime, not just Shōnen anime, draw heavily on mythology and religion to construct characters or concepts in their shows. The Kyuubi no Yoko is, to nobody’s surprise, based on the same Kyuubi from Japanese mythology. Similarly, the attacks Itachi use like Amaterasu, Tsukiyomi and Susanoo are based on Shinto Gods that are well known even to this day.

Thus, it is inevitable that the authors who draw inspiration from such source materials pick up on the prominence of the number 7 and continuously insert that number in, whether consciously or subconsciously.

In the end, it’s not inherently a bad thing. The pattern is more or less something interesting to note and a learning point that can be taken in by those who just noticed it. But the quote is still amusing nonetheless.


Final Thoughts

There are definitely way more clichés that exist in Shōnen anime, like talking animals, super ugly character designs or main characters that eat way too much. The 7 that were presented are simply some of the most repeated and prominent ones that exist. None of the clichés presented are overly bad, and any critique that goes towards them are only for their misuse. Remember that just like a sword, clichés can be used for good or evil. It is not the cliché (sword) that is evil, but the user himself.

Have any amusing or entertaining cliché that you enjoyed? Share in the comments below!

Aria

Writer

Author: Aria

Hi, this is Aria. I have abandoned the 3D world for the 2D one. Occasionally I leave the 2D world to write my thoughts down. With that said and done, it's time for me to depart once more to the forbidden world, my waifus await.

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