Hmmm, now this one’s a tough one, as I’ve never thought about it before.
There are so many anime, with so many characters (half of them, male), great and small. A number of them simply fit into stereotypes. Some are even worse, being just a new face for a character you’ve seen in dozens of anime before. I can’t really like either of those, so I want something unique. Even more, he must be someone I like not just because he’s such-and-such (clown, warrior, leader, etc.) but because, were he real, I would be honored to have him as a friend. That limits it to characters with compassionate hearts and functioning brains (I cannot abide stupidity). Strength and honor are big pluses, the latter, I think, resulting from the aforementioned heart and mind. He doesn’t have to be perfect, but he does have to be trying to be better than he is, in some capacity.
And he needs to not be annoying. (more on that another day)
So, I have decided, at least for the moment, that my favorite male anime character is:
Zoro is, from the first, intimidating to look at, but a humble man of principles and surprising compassion. Not that he goes far out of his way to help little old ladies across the street, mind you, but he’s aware of the people around him, the people who can’t protect themselves, so he does it instead. First episode we see him in: he’s enduring a month of being bound to a cross, outside, with no food or water, all to protect a little girl and her mother from a corrupt military officer. He tries to warn the little girl away when she brings food for him, but then, after it’s been stomped under foot, he accepts the food with gratitude and humility. When Luffy offers to help in exchange for Zoro becoming the first man to join Luffy’s crew, Zoro sees a fellow man of honor in him and accepts, though he’s a bit off-put at first by Luffy’s frank, eccentric manners (not to mention his ability to stretch like rubber and his status as a pirate). He discovers almost immediately that he may have bitten off more than he can chew, as Luffy has much more madness than method to his plans. Yet he holds true to his word, becoming a loyal crew mate and friend.
Zoro’s physical prowess was always substantial, but seeing how he grows stronger, moving from one level of strength to the next, is plenty pleasing to me. He’s more than just a guy who swings a sword (or three) around, slowly becoming a master who wields the power of haki, or chi-infused combat. He is driven both to protect others and to increase his skill level. He aims to become the greatest swordsman in the world, fulfilling a promise he made long ago.
Side-note: It’s an interesting contrast between the heroes and the villains of One Piece: the villains have the ambition of ruling and dominating, while the heroes have the ambition of doing, of being more than they are.
Though Zoro’s constantly getting himself hilariously lost or sleeping through a storm or drinking obscene amounts of alcohol, the only thing I dislike about Zoro is his ridiculous three-sword style, with sword number three held in his mouth. That has got to be the single most ridiculous thing I have ever seen in regards to combat, but I can overlook it rather easily. I can overlook it in favor of his code of honor, and his selflessness. He has the savagery of a wild beast but the restraint of a man.
He has so many awesome moments, such as when he defeats one enemy without even hurting them very badly, just with an emphasis of the undeniable truth that Zoro is fully capable of killing them, despite an advantage his foe thought she possessed. There’s when he carried Luffy away from danger despite having to carry the cage he was in to do so. There’s when he impressed the current “greatest swordsman in the world” with his value of honor, even in the midst of defeat. There’s when he stood up to an enemy despite being severely wounded (this may have happened more than once, actually).
Most of all, however: there’s when he offered to lay down his life in exchange for Luffy’s.
Not simply “fight when Luffy couldn’t.” Literally die in Luffy’s place. They were facing an enemy, the Warlord Bartholomew Kuma, whom they simply could not defeat. Chances of victory: zero. No decimal point, several zeroes, and a number. Zero. They were already weary, wounded, defeated, beaten down, and not getting back up. Death was a certainty.
However, Zoro thought to loophole Kuma, offering his own head instead of Luffy’s. He was already wounded and weary, only able to muster up one attack which, while it would have proved devastating to most enemies, hardly fazed Kuma. In such a state, he did not pause to think about himself. Heck, even when his crewmate Sanji, with whom Zoro was always bickering, tried offering his head instead, Zoro just knocked him out and made his offer again. In the face of this, Kuma would have felt too ashamed to kill Luffy, but he demanded more than just Zoro’s death. He demanded Zoro experience all the physical pain Luffy put himself through (the process involved Kuma’s superpower). For this, which could very well kill Zoro anyway, in a most agonizing manner, Kuma agreed to spare Luffy.
Afterward, when the heroes are rousing back to consciousness, Sanji goes searching, desperate to find Zoro. When he does, Zoro is standing covered in his own blood and in the middle of a large splatter pattern. Sanji asks what happened, and Zoro just says, “Nothing.”
Real men, having put their lives on the line for their friends and survived the impossible, have no need to boast.
Roronoa Zoro, a Man among men.
Oh, and he has some monstrous stamina. A must when dealing with Luffy every day.