The majority of anime protagonists begin their respective series underpowered but hiding intense latent abilities, usually falling into the moniker of a once-in-a-generation or world-saving power set. This is particularly the case for shounen anime series with the main character often undergoing some form of training arc or levelling up experience at the behest of a wiser, older, teacher or mentor, akin to Master Roshi in Dragon Ball or Aizawa Sensei from My Hero Academia.
Mentor characters as an archetype have undergone an evolution over the last decade, and today we want to have a look at a certain type of instructor through three examples from recent popular anime. These three mentors have been picked as different pinpoints for the archetype, representing the relevance that an anime’s atmosphere has on the style of mentorship used to teach some of our favourite main characters.
The Serious Suit-Wearing Blonde Mentor
The archetype of the mentor we want to examine today is sort of a recent phenomenon, although this could just be a coincidence with more anime being adapted with similar themes from Shounen manga. Often appearing cool, calm, and collected, the blonde suit-wearing mentor is skilled in their craft to an expert level, proving that deviation results in wasted effort for the main character in their training.
Our three examples today are Kishibe from Chainsaw Man, Kento Nanami from Jujutsu Kaisen, and Reigen Arataka from Mob Psycho 100. These three have been selected for their similarities in presentation, all in perfectly tailored suits with a businessman aesthetic that would make any Japanese salary man jealous, and all sporting the trimmed blonde hair befitting of a teacher.
Captain Kishibe - Tokyo Special Division 1
Kishibe is the Captain of the Tokyo Special Division 1 for the Public Safety Devil Hunters, answering only to Makima personally, and set to lead the way for the main cast of Chainsaw Man. Tasked with mentoring and improving the abilities of our main character Denji, and his fiend sidekick, Power, who tries to kill Kishibe as part of his unusual teaching methods. The stoic drunkard is easily perceived as uninterested or slow, but his insane reflexes and bursts of pace against the chaotic duo prove why he is the best devil hunter. Kishibe’s abilities are said to stem from his three contracts with unknown devils, but even with the enhanced physical attributes, his mental fortitude to remain calm constantly is crucial to his mentoring skills.
Easily beating the Fiend and Hybrid, Kishibe illustrates his teaching methods as entirely serious despite the ethical quandary surrounding beating your students to a pulp. This shows how the atmosphere of Chainsaw Man as a bloody, violent, shounen series has shaped the title's mentor figure by using his skill set to tune the aggressive abilities of Denji as a main character. Kishibe does demonstrate care towards his students, only shown in the anime through his recognition that Denji and Power will not die from his violent rebuttals to their attacks so far, making it clear that this is the only method to improve their fighting skills meaning they can take on stronger devils.
First Grade Jujutsu Sorcerer Kento “Nanamin” Nanami
After graduating from college, Kento Nanami retired from being a jujutsu sorcerer, instead opting for the career path of a salaryman resulting in his iconic spotted tie and grey suit attire. However, the job was not for him as Nanamin returned to jujutsu sorcery after a few years, realising it to be the better of the two career choices because of the appreciation shown to him by the people saved through his work. Being a First Grade jujutsu sorcerer, Nanami is highly skilled in his use of curses and is the perfect candidate to teach the protagonist of Jujutsu Kaisen, Yuuji Itadori, how to manage his immense latent power being the host of Sukuna, a world-ending level curse.
Nanamin’s mentorship style is influenced not only by his previous role as a salaryman, but also by the atmosphere of Jujutsu Kaisen as an anime, with the emphasis being placed on the ability to control curses and their energy as opposed to the raw violence or aggression seen in Chainsaw Man, or the mental fortitude for psychic abilities in Mob Psycho 100.
Itadori is dealing with a cursed spirit that is irrationally powerful but aware of his need for his host to stay alive, meaning Nanamin’s job in teaching Itadori is less about harnessing cursed energy as Sukuna can provide that, but instead how to deal with what is essentially an overbearing and demanding boss - a skill he developed from his years as an excellent salaryman. Not the usual format for a shounen mentor, but none of our three boys are normal.
Arataka “The Century’s Greatest Psychic” Reigen
The self-proclaimed greatest psychic of the century, Reigen mentors the titular main character of Mob in Mob Psycho 100 in his psychic abilities through a part-time job at his medium office. Much like Kishibe, Reigan is on the surface a man with a calm demeanour presenting as an expert in his field primed to mentor Mob through learning how to deal with his exceptional psychic powers.
However, the key difference between Reigen and Kishibe, despite such stark similarities in dress, sense, style, and attitude, is that Reigen actually has no psychic abilities at all and is in fact pretending to be “The Century’s Greatest Psychic” through his knowledge of previous jobs to solve client’s issues. Similarly to Nanamin, Reigen uses his previous career choice to make his mentorship unique, fitting with the suit-wearing style.
It could be argued that this makes Reigen a pretty bad mentor for Mob, but we would argue the opposite as much like Kishibe’s aggressive skills suit the atmosphere of Chainsaw Man for teaching Denji how to get better in a violent setting, Reigen’s emotional capabilities are perfectly situated to mentor Mob in the most critical skill for psychic powers, good mental health. In contrast to Nanamin being a First Grade jujutsu sorcerer, saddled with the responsibility of tutoring a student with exceptional power, Reigen is not a stand-out psychic due to his powers but instead relies on reputation to attract business and his trainee Mob in order to build his own repertoire of psychic skills.
Reigen’s mentoring capabilities help Mob to tackle social situations, stand up for himself against people, and keep a cool head in tricky situations. This illustrates Reigen’s understanding that despite lacking psychic abilities, he can help Mob’s development through other means, making him a stand-out mentor.
Kishibe, Nanamin, and Reigen are similar in archetype but adapted as mentors to suit the atmosphere of their respective stories and the needs of their main characters' abilities. The suits and blonde hair aside, their calm mannerisms allow for clear direction when instructing Denji, Itadori, and Mobi. The three anime have also made waves in their popularity and we could not help but notice that these three mentors have such stark similarities in their style and mental state.
What have you thought of mentor characters over the years in anime? Have you noticed any trends developing? Let us know in the comments!