Every story has its protagonists. Main characters, especially in shounen anime, have certain qualities that seem to transcend the stories themselves and find canon in the genre. Shounen protagonists all seem to have, or eventually develop a do-or-die attitude. Many of these characters possess a special ability or trait, an unwavering faith in themselves and their friends, as well as a lofty goal that keeps them going, but they also face intense and difficult paths. En En no Shouboutai’s (Fire Force) Kusakabe Shinra and Sword Art Online’s Kirigaya Kazuto, better known as Kirito, are main characters of different classes but, who faces more “torture” in their path as a protagonist? First we’ll profile these characters and then we’ll compare scars!
Kusakabe Shinra - En En no Shouboutai (Fire Force)
3rd Generation pyromancer, Kusakabe Shinra, is in many ways a standard shounen protagonist, complete with a dark past and inner demons that threaten the sanctity of the righteous life as a hero that he is trying to build. From the very beginning, Shinra is prone to jumping into the fray to save someone else’s life. What makes him a bit of a curveball as far as main characters go is his very close identification with the devil – it stands in stark contrast with the hero role that he tries to assume, but also torments him throughout his life. Everything about Shinra presupposes malice or evil, but he wishes to stand on the other side.
Kirigaya Kazuto “Kirito” - Sword Art Online: Alicization - War of Underworld
Kirito is an overpowered protagonist. Be it Hell, high water or even god, Kirito is the type of main character who will always win in stunning fashion. One thing that drives this point home is the fact that he played a gun-based RPG game armed with a lightsaber. Some people would even call the black outfit a kind of plot armour! He tries his hardest to be one of the good guys and will hardly ever put a foot wrong in that endeavour, but he finds himself unsettled in the deepest parts of his psyche given the traumatic experience of being trapped in Aincrad for two years.
1. Hero Complex
Kirito is the quintessential “good guys win in the end” type of main character, moreover, Kirito is insanely powerful, often serving as the Deus ex Machina when things were looking lost. Kirito also wishes to protect all of his friends from harm, but he also has the grit and bravery to challenge people whom he believes are wrong. Shinra is less of a trump card than Kirito; however, he too aims to protect and serve, often verbalizing that he wants to be a hero.
2. Inner Turmoil
Both characters are proactive main characters who take on the mantle of being a hero in some way. Kirito becomes the player who frees everyone from Aincrad after beating Heathcliff in a climactic battle. Shinra aims to be a quintessential hero, a so-called friend of justice. Kirito’s desire evolves into a desire to protect those close to him; however, with the deaths of some of his friends from the past, more recently, the death of Eugeo in the first half of Sword Art Online: Alicization – War of Underworld, Kirito faces an unbelievable level of internal turmoil.
Kirito also feels extreme guilt for all the people he has killed in his adventures in these virtual realities. Guilt and shame dance around in his mind in a similar fashion to the swirling torrent of guilt faced by Shinra; initially due to the belief that his mother’s death and little brother’s disappearance was his fault. In the current season of Fire Force, Shinra is being forced to face his inner demons brought to the fore by the experience he had in the realm of Adolla, better known as Hell.
While Kirito tends to be the saving grace when things are looking glum, the second cour of Sword Art Online: Alicization – War of Underworld had the character stuck in a strange vegetative state. By the 7th episode; however, Kirito is successfully revived and stands valiantly in front of an enemy who even overwhelmed Asuna and the gang. Kirito is always the last man standing (even if he wasn’t even standing up at all for 7 episodes). The entirety of Sword Art Online has cast Kirito as a kind of eternal saving grace in the series, while Shinra is not the same kind of ace in the hole. Fire Force has a heavy emphasis on team triumphs given the fact that they are a company in the fire brigade, so while Shinra is immeasurably important to the cause, his presence isn’t the kind of sigh of relief in his respective universe that Kirito’s presence is to his own.
Who Had it Worse?
It depends on how you look at it. There seems to be more to Shinra’s origin story as a protagonist than Kirito, as well as a more striking appearance and presence. Shinra’s glowing red eyes and sharp-toothed smile which he bares even when he’s nervous, have served been a haunting recurring theme, especially considering the fact that the combination has had him regarded a “demon”, or “devil”, the polar opposite of the type of person he is openly trying to become. Kirito’s black jacket can be seen as an application of this contrast present in the main characters of these two anime; however, it exists more as Kirito’s accepted trademark as “The Black Swordsman”, more than it is a mark of shame like Shinra’s features are. Shinra suffers guilt due to his abilities and even his own appearance, things exacerbated by the hostility he faced from other people right after his family’s home burned down and his mother and younger brother were presumed dead.
Kirito’s ability to jump into the action just as things are getting worrisome for his friends inspires the earlier sentiment that Kirito is the Sword Art Online “personified” Deus ex Machina. This can feel like a repetitive turn of events that stifles the novelty of any arc in the plot, mainly because one can expect Kirito to come and save the day. Be that as it may, he has been unable to do this on a few painful occasions, most notably the unfortunate massacre of the Moonlit Black Cats. Part of Kirito’s intense guilt lies in the fact that he survives these incredibly dangerous incidents while someone else dies, and his victory against the Pontifex as well as Eugeo’s death in Alicization’s first season leave deep scars. Perhaps this kind of protagonist can come across as protected by what the internet will call “plot armour”; however, it isn’t fair to expect that this kind of character be scrapped completely – overpowered main characters can also be striking and interesting in and of themselves too. Who is your favourite anime main character? Drop a comment below and tell us!