Redemption arcs are persuasive through all types of media. They are not just a trope in anime but throughout all forms of story telling and genre’s from romance with Pride and Prejudice in Mr. Darcy’s character to Sci-Fi with Darth Vader. There is a reason why this appears so often than not, to quote Billy Flynnn, ‘there is one thing people cannot resist, and that is a reformed sinner.’ Don’t misunderstand me though just because redemption arcs repeatedly pop’s up does not make them terrible. Character change happens within the narrative and for story’s filled with conflict whether in romance or Sci-Fi, it would be odd for it not to appear when warranted after all character growth is essential in creating a cohesive narrative. What determines a good or bad redemption arc is in the execution but there are mitigating factors to achieve this.
Orchimaru from Naruto (a anime about ninja’s where the star of the show is a young boy with a demon in his gut wanting to become Hokage the leader of the village and overcoming in and outer struggles to achieve this) managed to have a classic redemption arc as strange as it was to witness and he did a variety of terrible right down to despicable acts to the characters in the story. He killed the third Hokage, nearly burned Konaha to the ground, killed women, children, baby’s and manipulated children why can he be redeemed. Focusing on another character for the moment let’s talk about Endeavor (My Hero Academia a story which involves people with quirks a.k.a super powers and the people who are in the super hero industry and those who aspire to be in it) and why it is such a struggle to achieve the audiences forgiveness .
Looking at both Orchimaru and Endeavor as characters with there evil doings what appears is their key differences as Orchimaru was a stand up bad guy when we met him. The first time he accosts Naruto, Sasuke and Sakura decommissioning 2 thirds of the team leaving Sakura to protect them in the forest of death, with his introduction he is firmly set as the bad guy and as the story continues onward the more despicable acts we get to know of swapping body’s with people, killing baby’s in the name of reviving the mokuton, killing dozens of people, manipulating young children so he could use them in various ways etc. etc.
These are all highly reprehensible acts though in the way they are crafted in such away it seemed not in the realm of possibility. Swapping body’s is not in the realm of possibility in our world at the moment and stealing bloodlines can only be done on paper. Furthermore while murdering is all in the realm of what we have known the way the show frames it cannot truly hit the viewer. We’ve all heard the show don’t tell when crafting in a visual medium but when you are going to redeem a character in the future it is best not to put this in practice, the crimes he committed against people were in essence while horrific in nature were not shown enough to the viewer to horrify them.
Sure we heard what he did but we never saw him murdering a kid on screen and while he did abuse Anko as a child we only saw the aftermath and while in flashbacks we do see her being tortured by the curse seal it isn’t explicitly graphic and even the two dead kids next to her they are just laying there dead no blood no gore just death and by this time in the series I had accepted children dying as a factor in this world and because I didn’t have any particular attachment to these nameless children there death wasn’t particularly painful to me. The third Hokage’s death was graphically shown to us but there is a difference between killing an old man to killing a young child and as we got to know the third Hokage we learnt he did some morally reprehensible acts as well basically putting them in the same position as each other making us unsure of how we feel towards them. We know Orchimaru did terrible things but we rarely see him executing these calls he made, we saw the aftermath mostly of his actions. Then we have the really absurd lines of his experiments which were so far removed from reality that we could not imagine it happening to us or someone we love and the way he killed mostly nameless peons which were not practically attached to allowed us to be more forgiving of his actions when he turned to the good guy’s side to help them fight Akatsuki, we could forgive because his actions effected the characters in show not us and to a higher extent and when the characters forgived him so did we, there was enough separation from the audience to the characters in this case to not feel enraged by the other characters forgiving him even though this heal turn was just so weird.
Endeavor on the other side of this argument was for all accounts a hero, someone who was meant to protect the populace, but within our first three meetings with this character it is recounted the abuse he committed against his family and within the flashbacks showed him harming his wife, showed him training Shouto till he threw up and showed how he drove his wife insane during the time she was in her house. The abuse he committed is far too human for the audience not to feel. Physical, emotional, child abuse and spousal abuse happens in our society in frequent amounts. According to the World Health Organisation, up to 53,000 children are murdered worldwide each year. Between 80 and 93 per cent of children suffer some form of physical punishment in their homes; a third are punished using implements. Up to 275 million witness domestic abuse annually. -2001. It is estimated that 35 per cent of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or sexual violence by a non-partner at some point in their lives. However, some national studies show that up to 70 per cent of women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence from an intimate partner in their lifetime.-2017
As I have recounted Endeavor’s actions hit close to home for many who have been in and witnessed a abusive relationship or have been abused by their parents and even those who have not can still find fault in his actions as they are clearly heinous to witness which makes it hard for the audience to gather sympathy when they try to change for the better. Though I have come across similar abusive characters such as Akito Sohma from Fruits Basket (a series about the Chinese zodiac animals who have reincarnated into humans of the Sohma clan, although the zodiac have no memories of their previous lives they can turn into their animals forms when hugged by the opposite sex, being apart of the zodiac brings more problems than in the supposed bedroom though) that’s had a successful redemption even though she has committed on screen abuse, what makes her so different from Endeavor. Akito Sohma did a majority of the stuff Endeavor did and worse, she nearly blinded Hitori in one eye, she stabbed Tohru, locked Yuki away from the world mentally touring him with tales of how people despised him just because he was the rat, revealed Kyo’s true form to Tohru when he clearly hates being in it and so many more terrible instances to the rest of the Sohma clan. To put her in perspective she could get away with anything she did to them as she was god and I mean that in a literal sense, she held all the power over them, realistically she should not be redeemable but she does have a successful redemption.
How is this possible for such a disgusting character to achieve this status, she has an excuse unlike Endeavour, we get the whole tried and true trope of tragic past where this excuses the characters actions. Her mother was hateful and neglectful because Akito got in her way with Akria wanting his sole attention and she was forced Akito to cross dress as a guy because her mother wanted to be the only women in Akira’s life, then Akira died the only parent that loved her when she was just a child, she was then raised by people who respectively worshipped her and told she was special boosting her ego and because she was god. Her relationship with her close followers was truly apart of the group not a part of it, it also accounts for the worst of the abuse she did to Yuki when she was also a child because clearly she was not reigned in at all because no one told her that she couldn’t do these things because they are disgusting, people have a tendency to forgive children for their terrible behaviour because they are still learning how to be people. Typically I hate the tragic backstory explaining why a character is abusive because it feels as if it’s excusing the character for their abusive behaviour but it is needed if a character is going to live on in the next chapter instead of going down the whole self sacrificing path. Garnering our sympathy so that we can allow this change to happen within our minds it’s easier to forgive someone who was abused than someone who isn’t but what happens next is one of the better redemption arc that I have witnessed.
When the series starts to wind down she starts to make amends for her actions and in the final volume she calls a meeting with the now un-cursed zodiac sitting them down and explains what the plans are for the future, when explaining her horrid actions she does not make excuses for what he has done to them, doesn’t shift the blame to the past even though she could and knows that a majority knows that she was to a victim to abuse as well, she owns what he has down to them and although she can’t apologise she is at least making an effort by trying to wright the actions made by countless generations. Here it is the act of acknowledgment plus her furthered actions of fixing things so the future may shine brightly for them, compound this with the fact the un-cursed zodiac cannot forgive her for what she has done even though she didn’t ask for it. Ultimately it’s her actions that she takes allows for the reader to accept her redemption as a character because what is being asked of us is not to forgive her instead it’s the willingness to move on from these past actions and accept who she is now, not forgetting the past but moving on from it.
Redemption arc’s as a whole are meant to right a wrong the character committed and feel remorse for the atrocious actions they committed, while Orchimaru felt no remorse for his actions it mattered little as the characters forgave him because we couldn’t feel it as the terrible things he did effected those in universe despite how weird the turn went. Akito Shoma’s actions cut many deeply but the viewer wasn’t asked to forgive her but rather move on from the abuse they witnessed and accept who Akito has become rather than who she was. These two subjects widely differ in terms of the evil they committed, from whole families to whole nations but each were forgiven in there own respective ways. I hope you have learned from this post and can create a wonderful redemption arc now.
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