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The good, bad, and complex portrayal of father characters in Anime

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Piyush Singh
New Update
Father characters

The absent dad trope is ubiquitous in anime, making it rare to find father characters who significantly influence the plot. But there have been notable father figures who helped drive the plot.

As a dedicated fan, I usually watch anime shows to see well-written characters, and if you've watched enough anime, particularly Shonen, you must have observed the recurring theme of absent dads. Father characters are often poorly developed and aren't memorable in contrast to mothers who are impactful enough to shape and drive the story forward. This disparity is so prevalent that it makes me wonder if the writers choose to avoid writing complex father characters due to a deeper cultural reason or because it fits the narrative. 

As there are not many well-written father characters, when I come across one, it sticks with me long after the show ends. These rare father figures stand out because they break the mould of a poorly developed absent character and offer something rich and complex that deeply intrigues the audience. I'm not referring to universally adored father figures like Maes Hughes from Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. The reason everyone loves him is also why he could be easily forgotten when compared to Shou Tucker, who appeared in just a few episodes. Shou Tucker stands out not because he has the qualities of a good father, but because of his disturbing belief that scientific advancement should be achieved even if it means sacrificing others. He created a chimera that fused his daughter and pet dog to retain his research license and I still remember feeling disgusted towards him. He was a bad dad whose role emphasized how ethics and compassion should balance the pursuit of knowledge and power in the story.

Also Read: Parenting tips to learn and unlearn from these onscreen fathers.

Speaking of bad dads you can't go about without mentioning Grisha Yeager from Attack on Titan. For someone who rebelled against a community, he traumatized his first child and turned another child into a Titan against his will. Despite the reprehensible nature of his actions, Grisha's character is deeply complex, with motivations that gradually unfold throughout the series. As his story unfolds, revealing the people of Marley and the broader conflicts at play, we see the circumstances that shaped him to become the bad father that he was. Grisha is a memorable and impactful father who adds depth and complexity to the story.

If not all, we've seen dads with toxic traits that often serve to develop the protagonist's character. One common trait of a toxic father we've seen in Bollywood films growing up is how he imposes his wishes onto his children and gets disappointed when they fail. This trope is also common in anime, with characters like Enji Todoroki from My Hero Academia or Gozaburo Kaiba from Yu-Gi-Oh! However, the father-son relationship between Gendo and Shinji Ikari in Neon Genesis Evangelion takes this trope to the next level. Gendo's relentless pursuit of his motivations leads him to push his only child into a war he wants no part of, ultimately leaving Shinji with PTSD and a lack of self-worth. This extreme level of parental neglect and manipulation, somewhere, played a major role in the story.

Whether these characters are well-written or not, there are also portrayals of father figures that warm our hearts. One such example is the character of Edward Newgate, also known as Whitebeard, from the show One Piece. Despite having the chance to become the Pirate King, Whitebeard chose his pirate family over personal glory. This sentiment may sound cliché to some, but the show, especially the Marineford arc, emphasizes it when he confronts the World Government to save Ace who isn't even his biological son. He ultimately sacrifices his life on the battlefield to protect the future of the younger generations ensuring their rebellion against oppression doesn't get crushed by the people in power. Whitebeard stands out in the shonen anime because, unlike other pirates, he spent his life searching for a family rather than materialistic riches and died an honourable death protecting them.

Being "good" is subjective, and can vary greatly depending on the situation like that scene from Vinland Saga. Thors Snorresson asks his son Thorfinn why he wishes to use his sword to which Thorfinn replies, "To kill an enemy." Rather than being proud, Thors looks at him and calmly states, "Thorfinn, you have no enemies. No one has enemies. There is no one in the world who deserves to get hurt." This line alone shapes Thorfinn’s character and shows us how Thors didn't want his child to follow in his footsteps despite being a Viking fighter himself. He knew that the cycle of violence and vengeance would only lead to further suffering, and he sought to protect his son from that same fate. 

The definition of a well-written father character in an anime often boils down to having heroic moments and a strong mindset. But in fiction, it's easy to create characters who fit this mould and tend to stick with us. Yet, one may wonder if there's room for realistic characters amidst these larger-than-life portrayals. Like the characters from a film I watched a few years back. The film Crayon Shin-chan: Fierceness That Invites Storm! The Adult Empire Strikes Back revolves around a new threat turning adults back into children leaving Shinchan and his friends to remind their parents of their responsibilities and prevent them from becoming trapped in nostalgia. While being affected by it, we get to witness the life journey of Shinchan's dad Hiroshi Nohara who feels incredibly relatable, working diligently for his family, with his set of flaws that may not fit the ideal hero archetype. However, it's precisely these imperfections and resonance with real-life experiences that make him endearing. He helps highlight the challenges and the lack of appreciation that every parent faces throughout their life. Hiroshi Nohara is a reminder of how one can find true heroism even in the ordinary offering a refreshing perspective on what it means to write a compelling dad character.

What are your thoughts on the portrayal of father characters in anime? Let us know in the comments below! 

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Fullmetal Alchemist Vinland Saga My Hero academia Attack on Titan neon genesis evangelion