Yesterday, Saten Ruiko (of A Certain Scientific Railgun) won Group H of Saimoe, edging out Fate Testarossa by 39 votes. This is quite a feat, and she will now join moeblob powerhouses Nagi (Hayate), Shana (Shana), Nodoka (Saki), Koromo (Saki), Yamada (Working!), Mafuyu (Maid-Sama!!) and Azusa (K-On!!) in the final eight. She is also the only remaining character from Railgun, Mikoto having lost to Azusa in a rather hotly-contested match. Saten’s victory and Mikoto’s loss got me thinking a little bit about Railgun, which I am currently watching. (Spoilers through Episode 12 of Railgun.)
I am amused by the prospect of a Railgun in which Saten fills the role of protagonist. Railgun‘s protagonist, Misaka Mikoto, amounts to little more than Magneto with slightly more titties and less sinister motives. She is incredibly powerful, and she never really meets a worthy opponent. Her near-invincible powers, while amusing, aren’t particularly interesting or engaging on a storytelling level.
Saten, on the other hand, has no special abilities. Her status as a Level 0 puts her in the minority at Academy City. Her minority status, as well as her inferior physical prowess, puts her at a unique disadvantage, creating tension and conflict. Her desire to grow stronger is explored somewhat during the Level-Upper arc of the series (which I have just finished), but perhaps that conflict could have been more well-developed and expanded upon.
I call characters like Saten “normal” characters or “victim” characters, conforming to Japanese industry norms. They are fairly common— civilians caught between the crossfire of an armed conflict, managers on a sports team, et cetera. What makes these characters interesting is the juxtaposition of their minority status within the framework of the piece and viewers’ sense of familiarity with their plight. This may seem like a rather convoluted statement, so let me explain:
Normal Characters (with capital letters) are often relegated to a minority status in the world of the anime. At the same time, however, these Normal Characters are familiar to the viewer— for example, Saten has no special abilities; it is fairly reasonable to presume that none of us can generate electromagnetic waves or teleport. Therefore, even though the Normal Character occupies a minority niche within the anime, we naturally identify, or, at the very least, sympathize with their plight and their frustrations, because we are most similar to them. This distinction isn’t always clear, and in more realistic fiction, we may not identify with Normal Characters at all. Even if we do not identify with them, our capacity to uniquely sympathize with their challenges and issues allows Normal Characters to become very convincing and interesting protagonists.
A prime example of a Normal Character in action is Recruit from Arakawa Under the Bridge. In many ways, he does not fit the archetype of normalcy; he has his own issues and can is portrayed as normal in an ironic sense. Nevertheless, I found it much easier to sympathize with his concerns, as opposed to the concerns of his insane neighbors. We are naturally drawn to his awkward position as a fish out of water. Not understanding the rules and conventions of the odd society in which he has found himself, he must use his common sense and human reason to squirm his way out of problems. We slowly watch as he adapts to his new home (or not really, in Recruit’s case; a shame, really), and he begins to adapt and cope, finally flourishing in his own way by the end of the series.
We return now to Saten. The creators chose to integrate her into the majority using the Level-Upper. This is a rather regrettable choice, since Saten’s story ultimately becomes a simplistic moral tale: winners don’t do drugs. The whole draw of Normal Characters is that they do not integrate into the majority by becoming a member of the majority, but rather, by carving out their own niche. In a smaller society like the one in Arakawa, the Normal Character can subtly change the social equilibrium. In a larger society, such as Academy City from Railgun, the Normal Character, Saten, is too small to affect societal change by herself. However, she does find a comfortable place for herself; she realizes that she will always be different, unable to integrate and conform into mainstream society. Yet, simultaneously, from her understanding that she will never be part of the majority, she accepts her fate, and learns to become a successful member of society despite her differences. Saten is not powerful in the same sense that Mikoto is powerful, but using wit and wisdom, she has the potential to be just as effective, if not more so, of a protagonist than Mikoto.
Notes and such:
I love Mikoto. She is my favorite character in Railgun, bar none. I am saddened by her loss to the K-On spearheaded moe-industrial complex. This post rose out of a conversation I was having with another friend about Railgun, in which he noted that Mikoto, while interesting, never really faces any challenges throughout the series.
Since I have not finished Railgun yet, I would appreciate it if comments kept spoilers to a minimum. I look forward to seeing how Saten grows and develops as the series progresses. She is an extremely interesting character, and probably my second favorite, after Mikoto.
It is worth noting that another interesting side effect of a Saten-dominated Railgun would be that Kuroko’s screen time would most likely be reduced. This is also something that I support. Also, Uiharu might actually have a personality, which is cool too.
Finally, my friend insists that Saten sounds like a young boy. What do you guys think?