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Heroism and Morality (and Giant Robots)
Posted: Posted March 13th by nullfather
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(A spin-off of the "anime romp" thread.)

What is a hero? To many people, the idea of a hero is inextricably linked with the idea of moral justification. I'm not here to say that this idea is wrong, but to say that that is not the entirety of it - not by a long shot. To start off with, let's look at some historical context.

The etymology of the word "hero" leads us back to the Ancient Greek for "demi-god" and the Proto-Indo-European for "protector". Inasmuch as Greek divinity was concerned, the gods were no more moral than the mortals - if their behavior was aligned with the concept of justification, it was more because they happened to shape the cosmos and not the other way around. The Proto-Indo-European context is even more blunt, with no theological indication, reflecting even simpler cultural needs: a protector. Someone to raise walls, pick up a spear and drive off barbarians.

But we usually don't think of it so simply today. Culture has evolved to the point that laymen are capable of philosophical discussion - for better or worse. Government, organized religion, and social circles have all expanded to a global level with use of mass transit and mass media. Humble Christianity, the religion of sacrifice and forgiveness versus the pain of eternal hellfire, rode on the back of mass media to become a multi-billion-dollar industry. Rising political superstructures seeking global domination or global peace (through global domination) put forward agendas to manipulate the populace. Millions of people are comfortable with describing people from thousands of miles away, who they have never met, as friends. We still experience vestiges of "localized morality" (nationalism, ethnic prejudice, etc.) but the average modern person is vastly more likely to be cosmopolitan - and to consider the wellbeing of his "neighbor" in the next continent over as well as the neighbor in the next house over.

As culture evolved, so did heroes. As political, religious and social groups broadened, the need for heroes that did not represent specific peoples increased. The desire for an open, accepting, and reciprocal new world led to representation of a new kind of hero. This hero didn't fight to protect you; they fought to protect everyone. This hero didn't represent your values; they represented the values that let everyone live in your world. When they did go to war, it was to crush the tyranny of localized morality.

Power is a burden that you accept as a mark of your station as a servant of the greater good, instead of an asset to be leveraged on behalf of yourself and your people. War is a terrible, dehumanizing affair that no-one escapes unscathed instead of an occasional necessity in self-preservation that benefits the victors. Self-interest is ethical cancer instead of the basis of survival. You are a citizen of the world. This is your hero. "This peace is what all true warriors strive for"...the doublespeak of a brainwashed, dissonant global morality.

Kamina is a man. He's tall, strong, good-looking and confident. He likes good food, hot women and fighting monsters. Kamina is a hero.

Kamina is also an asshole. He railroads people to get what he wants. He takes risks that put others in danger. He openly lusts and desires. He treats the people around him roughly. He fights relentlessly and without mercy. None of this prevents him from being a hero. Why is that?

That's because Kamina protects his people. When needed, he bends all of his will and wit towards doing what needs to be done or getting the people around him to do what needs to be done in order to keep winning. Kamina is a paragon of localized and tactical morals, not impersonal and neurotic reciprocity. He doesn't want to make the world a perfect place for everyone. He wants to pierce the heavens and deliver his people unto glory.

He doesn't get a free ride for this. The people around him criticize him for his general borderline madness regularly and loudly. But they also recognize what he accomplishes and they know that he is their hero.

Kamina is not unique in modern media, but there are definitely fewer examples of the style of heroic philosophy applied in his character writing than there are of generic Big Blue Boy Scout clones. While Kamina is the main example due to the discussion that this split off from, there is a much more pointed example in my favorite movie - Drive.

The driver is a criminal. Over the course of the film, he also becomes a murderer. He is a man who, while generally Stoic, is capable of summoning unbelievable violence to his command. The film even likens him to a slasher villain in his behavior, going as far as putting a disfigured mask on him while he stalks the people responsible for his precarious situation. The scenes where he brings comeuppance to these characters play out like you're watching a grindhouse horror flick instead of a modern drama.

He never gives a speech about why those people are wrong for trying to cover up their own fuck-ups by rubbing him out. No-one makes excuses for him. The law never comes around to question him. The film is not about morality; the film is about survival. As such, it tells the tale of how he protects himself and the people around him. It doesn't waste time by making it "safe" for people to sympathize with him. It shows how he and the people he values are threatened and it shows how he deals with that threat by rising to the occasion. Do you know what that makes him?

A real human being and a real hero. If the intent of the film was not clear by the time that track rolls, it tells you directly.

While I loved the film and it's message from the first time that I watched it, I can only imagine the internal dialogue that some people must have had.

As I said at the beginning, this is not to invalidate the idea of the hero as the global paragon. This is to simply say that the obsession with virtue in the practice of survival is an invention and not a necessity. I think that many modern people are afraid to put themselves and their people first - or, at least, afraid to present themselves and their people as worthy of protection. The divine appointment of a hero can now be seen as a requirement and not an intensifier in many cases: you must be the true king to draw the sword from the stone; you must be truly good to speak the magic word, you must be pure of heart to enter the promised land.

What I like to see is when something shows that you have to do what is necessary to survive and to triumph. What a lot of things show me is that you have to make sure to do exactly the "right" thing for as many people as possible, justify your actions to anyone that doesn't like it, apologize to those you inconvenienced and clean up afterwards in order to be a real hero. That's bullshit.

There are 5 Replies

I believe the Greeks worshiped those whose deaths allowed others to live, and called them "Heroes." They also had a paradigm of tragic heroes.

A hero has got to be someone who saves people's lives. It doesn't have to be physically, either. Yes, you can be a hero and a jerk, or a tragic hero, and you can have flaws, but at the end of the day any story must serve a purpose.

Specifically what I don't like about Kamina is he doesn't feel the consequences of his actions as heavily as someone like, say, Inuyasha. His battle strategy is always barge in AND be obnoxious. He's one facepalm moment after another. At least Inuyasha feels consequences when he barges in without a plan. Yeah, a lot of times he follows through, defeats his foe, and play it straight, but there are just as many times when he can't. There are even times he justifies his actions against the better judgement of his friends and put a lot of people at risk. Sometimes he does things to help his friends that nobody asked him to do. Though stubborn and easily angered, he always follows his own path to do what he thinks is right. And there are times when more than one of the main characters are right.

Kamina... doesn't have any of that, from what I've seen. The plot armor allows him to survive multiple stupid fights with barely a scratch. He's constantly leading on the offense, and so far he constantly wins. Technically he's a hero for the aforementioned times he does win, but just as many times he needs to be saved himself. And I never doubted him for being a main character or a hero, I just felt the story wasn't as good.

Posted March 15th by mariomguy
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Technically he's a hero for the aforementioned times he does win, but just as many times he needs to be saved himself.

I mean, needing to be helped doesn't make you weak or not a hero.

Specifically for GL, however, Kamina is subtly aware of the role that he plays. A lot of the anime has to do with Kamina showing Simon that Simon can be a hero. Simon is a beta at the beginning of the show, even going as far as instantly trying to give the mech that he found to Kamina. Kamina doesn't want everything, though. He wants the people around him to become glorious.

If Kamina wanted to, he could just hang out in one of the villages, or travel from village to village like a normal person, defending himself from beastmen with tactics like the other people do. He doesn't want that. He wants to take everyone around him to the top. He wants trial by fire. They're all going to have to save each other to get there.

And I never doubted him for being a main character or a hero, I just felt the story wasn't as good.

I mean, Simon's the main character.

But yeah, this wasn't to specifically respond to the idea that you think Kamina's not a hero. This was sparked by you saying that this show didn't do heroic writing well, to which I responded that I could legitimately open a thread on the subject.

Posted March 15th by nullfather
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OK, I guess if you read between the lines Kamina does play a role in getting everyone around him to start acting a little more heroic, but I think that's taking it a little too far. To me it just seems like the show needed a little more edge, and the writers thought to put all that in Kamina. It would be pretty boring if he wasn't CONSTANTLY doing the thing he's NOT supposed to be doing. I feel Inuyasha does it better: he does bring out the best in his team, but his mistakes tend to come at a cost.

Posted March 16th by mariomguy
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OK, I guess if you read between the lines Kamina does play a role in getting everyone around him to start acting a little more heroic

Congratulations, you admitted what the core character drama of the show is.

Posted March 16th by nullfather
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Congratulations, you only hear the part where I bent over backwards to try to appease your point. Not every other point I've been making. It doesn't change the fact that he still does stupid things, still gets everyone in mortal danger, and still requires other people to rescue him for his own stupid actions. The reason he lives for so long is not because of his wit or intelligence, nor his strength or friends, but plot armor.

You're willing to go to the ends of the Earth defending this show, and I'm just tired of it. I posted my review of it, nothing changed since then.

Posted March 16th by mariomguy
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