It’s time to take a look at what it means to be a good main character. There are a lot of qualities that you need to have to be a quality lead and it’s a very broad subject. There’s no way I can tackle literally every part of this equation, but I will at least get to the important parts. A hero stops the villains. That’s the basic definition of it at least, but there’s a whole lot more to it than that. You’ve got to have a strong fortitude, the will to defend others and fighting battles that are not winnable. You gotta protect your family and friends even if it means going against the law. The characters I use as examples below aren’t necessarily great heroes, but they have shown at least that one of the 8 major traits that all big heroes need. So without further adieu lets talk about this.
Disclaimer: The images/gifs below include scenes from Naruto (The flashback saga between the classic series/Shippuden), RWBY (The volume 6 Adam short), Yu Yu Hakusho (The second showdown with Sensui), Sword Art Online (The Sleeping Knights arc), Super Smash Bros Brawl (Final cutscene), Fairy Tail (The Sabretooth arc), Seraph of the End (The first meetup with the leads), Bleach (Soul Society climax), My Hero Academy (The introduction to the Mafia arc), and Dragon Ball Z (The Buu Arc). So if you haven’t read/watched those series and are concerned for spoilers then you may want to look away. Mainly the scenes here are bits without context and I wouldn’t consider them all that spoilery, but I know what a spoiler is depends on the individual. Some prefer to be 100% surprised so even seeing 2 characters together is a bit of a spoiler since now you know that they cross paths. For others it has to be something bigger, but nonetheless you at least know the various series involved now.
1 A Hero can’t be bound to the law.
You can’t always follow the protocols. Follow your heart, not the law. Of course this is in the context that the heroes will still follow the just ones of course. You have to keep in mind that half of the time the villains are the ones running these worlds. If you blindly follow the laws then you’ll end up allowing villains to get away with everything. If you’re a hero who is a part of a larger organization then you have to watch out as the group will often try to stifle you. They need to wait for proof and such, which as an organizational policy isn’t necessarily a bad thing. However, this means that innocents will still be suffering during the wait. That’s when a real hero steps up.
A good example of a hero moving in on his own is Natsu from Fairy Tail. Here’s the context behind the clip here. There’s a guild known as Sabertooth which is a group that carries out missions. The group has a very strict policy where if you lose you’re publicly shamed and then thrown out of the guild. Natsu finds out about this and decides to break in and take out the leader. Attacking another guild isn’t something you’re supposed to do and especially attacking on your own is typically a suicide mission. The Fairy Tail group is a lot more reasonable than other guilds so I actually think they may have supported Natsu here, but at the same time I’m glad Natsu didn’t wait to go check with everyone. He went right to the group and if he wasn’t interrupted I really think he would have taken down the whole group there. Natsu wasn’t playing around.
2. Heroes can’t worry about villainous mind games.
There are a lot of villains who start talking about their grand ambitions, how they’re actually the good guys and all of that nonsense. It tends to work on some characters who start weakening in their resolve against the villains. Some heroes go all the way in turning to the dark side while others simply become paralyzed with fear. True heroes really don’t care though and that’s part of what makes them a good hero. A good hero doesn’t need to worry about if what they’re doing is the best course of action or not. They’ve already thought through their plan earlier so at this point they just need to go in and get stuff done. In Yu Yu Hakusho a big part of the Sensui arc was the villain trying to convince the heroes that humans are even worse than demons. It works on some of the characters, but Yusuke never buys into this from the start. It’s not that he’s disregarding Sensui’s points, but at the end of the day the villain’s trying to destroy the planet so no justification will save him from Yusuke’s beat down. A hero can’t waver in their convictions.
3. Heroes save their family and friends no matter what
This one seems to be really hard for a lot of heroes. They become bound by their own feelings and the law rather than standing by their allies. Kakashi’s line in the image shown above perfectly describes the true heroes from the ones who neglect their title. Time and time again we see a hero get framed and his or her supposed best friends and comrades are quick to turn. One of the worst examples of this was in the 6th Naruto movie where almost the whole leaf village decided to take him down as well as allowing Kakashi to sacrifice himself. None of those are real heroes. Even if nobody else believes in your friends you’ve got to save them. Even if it’s against the law or you’re outnumbered you’ve gotta at least try to save those closest to you. Mikaela’s whole character is built around how he’s sworn to always protect Yu. It hasn’t been easy, but in the clip below he finally locates him and gains a surge of strength to save him. Not everyone here may be enemies, but they’re all pawns so Mikaela has to save Yu on his own.
4. Heroes don’t back down
This is a big one because depending on the circumstances it’s easy to lose all respect for a character. An infamous example of this is Deku from one of the latest arcs as he allows a girl to be kidnapped and tortured in part because he was scared of the villain, but also because he was told to let it happen. That’s falling for 2 taboos in a row there. It’s very hard if not impossible to ever recover from that. As a hero you can’t back down. If something bad is happening in front of you then you’ve got to act. This includes a scenario where you don’t have a chance of winning and have to try anyway. Even if you lose at least you’ll have bought some time or at least weakened the villain. Even if you’ll ultimately be defeated without dealing damage, it’s better to stand and fight than flee. The villains win automatically when you don’t even try. Kirito is one of those fighters who is always quick to jump into a fight even if it may not be a winnable one. He certainly won’t back down and in this clip Asuna and the others showed similar resolve. You’ve just got to stand your ground.
5. Heroes don’t make sacrifices
One of the worst things a hero can do is allow someone to be sacrificed. I don’t care if it’s the other character’s plan, if the character begs the hero to let him die, etc. If the hero allows this then that’s a problem. There’s always another way and in the cases where there isn’t, well I guess everyone’s gonna have to die then. Better to go down as a team than to let someone make the sacrifice. Endgame did a good job with that with the Black Widow and Hawkeye dynamic since both of them did their best to stop the other. You have to do everything you can to stop the other person even if it means taking the plunge yourself. I’m not against the hero doing a self sacrifice move, but you can’t let anyone else do it. The point of being a hero is taking the shots so someone else doesn’t have to. Is it selfish? Yes, but sometimes being a hero is about being selfish. That may be a topic for another day. Here Ichigo just prevented Rukia from dying even though at this point she didn’t want to get anyone in trouble. He just decided to save her anyway and that’s always the right call.
6. Heroes act rather than wait
This is a big one. You can have the loftiest ideals in the world, but if you’re not acting upon them then you’re doing more harm than good. I’ve seen a lot of villains created in part because the heroes are ineffective. Take a look at this clip. The White Fang is at this moment a fairly peaceful group, but they are being stopped by bandits (or countrymen as the world of Remnant definitely did not like the Faunus) and the leader just halfheartedly tells them to stop. Of course they continue to shoot because it’s a very passive attempt at best. You have to actually stop them. In this case, Adam was right to neutralize the bunch. He didn’t murder any until the end, but he made sure that they wouldn’t hurt anyone else. Now, for the last person? I don’t see anything wrong in that instance as he had to make a snap decision to save his comrades. Could he have just sliced the gun? Sure, but that’s way easier said than done and he only had an instant. Again, a hero can’t hesitate as more lives would be lost. You just have to act and live with the consequences there.
7. Heroes can’t be pawns
There’s a little overlap here with the bullet about not always following the law. Sometimes heroes allow themselves to be pawns by either acting in a situation where they’re just going off of someone’s word or they’re doing something they know is wrong because their boss told them to do so. One instance of this was when Captain Adam chose to help Cadmus rather than the League. He stood by as they tortured a League member and were planning to murder several others. You just can’t call yourself a hero at that point. At least if you don’t realize that you’re a pawn you can use that as a defense but if you willingly jump into the role then it’s all over. Vegeta allowed himself to be mind controlled in order to access his next form and fight Goku, but he never let Babidi give him any real orders. At the end of the day Vegeta still does whatever he wants and that’s exactly the kind of hero you want. If the orders you’re given don’t make sense then you shouldn’t follow them.
8. Heroes inspire confidence
This last one is a bit obvious, but worth mentioning. A Hero should inspire confidence. His or her mere presence should turn a situation around and bring some hope into a situation that was filled with despair. Originally I chose a Justice League clip with Superman here, but the gif website was having some issues and I couldn’t load the video so I quickly had to go with another option. Sonic’s another hero who inspires confidence and the scene of him saving everyone in Super Smash Bros Brawl was perfect. Not only did it finally solidify him as the strongest character in the game, but it was just the perfect entrance. Sonic’s appearance automatically changes the whole situation and a good hero should have that kind of impact. A hero doesn’t have to be massively powerful like Sonic or Superman, but a hero should have enough experience and tools in his kit to always be able to give the good guys some valuable help. If a hero shows up and everyone stays gloomy or throws some insults around then you’ve done something wrong.
So, these are my 8 bullet points on what makes a good hero. There are more things of course, but I feel like these are the main 8 without starting to repeat myself. Eventually a lot of the other points would overlap. Look, if you’ve got a brave hero who fights to save everyone then that’s a great character. A hero should always strive to save everyone even if it isn’t practical. The more cynical heroes who think you have to let everyone die are the ones who are really missing out on the big picture here. At that point you may be doing the right thing, but you don’t have the right hero mentality. So, what kind of hero do you get when you merge all of these aspects? Well, you get one of the ultimate anime characters of legend, a hero through and through.