Useless Male Leads in Anime

In the practice of my one-episode rule, I watched the first episode of a fairly recent anime called Shikimori’s Not Just a Cutie. It didn’t appeal much to me, but I was fairly certain other people would enjoy it, so I figured I might hear a little about it here and there in due time. I was surprised, however, when the first thing I started hearing was a controversy among the fans surrounding the male lead and the question of his uselessness.

Apparently – and I could be wrong in this because my understanding of the story is secondhand – the titular Shikimori is “not just a cutie” in the context of her behavior, the attributes of her personality, and, especially, how she seems to take on roles which are traditionally more masculine instead of feminine. She is the strong, dangerous protector, not her boyfriend. This leaves said boyfriend, Yuu Izumi, taking on a role that is traditionally more feminine in nature: he’s the caring emotional support, always in need of his girlfriend to come and rescue him.

Now, I can’t speak on that with any great deal of knowledge, but it does track with what I saw in the first episode. I’m recalling one moment, especially, where the couple in question is walking along a sidewalk, and a car drives by, passing through a puddle, sending a little spray in their direction. Shikimori reacted very quickly and forcibly, almost in a panic, as she pulled Izumi to the side and shielded him from the spray with her body. Considering that this was just a little bit of water, not some gun-toting madman, that seemed like a rather extreme overreaction to me. And then we saw her expression, and I was instantly convinced that she wasn’t just protective, she was crazy! That was the look of a territorial predator, a crazy yandere who would as soon kill her love as keep him locked up if she ever got even a little jealous.

This look means, “start running!”

That would be where I decided to stop watching because, as morbidly riveting as that look might be, it honestly made me very nervous, and I’ve had enough of stories that glamorize crazy, controlling stalkers, thank you very much! And I’m honestly surprised by how no one seems to be commenting on this girl’s behavior at all, just her boyfriend.

But bringing this back to the question of Shikimori and Izumi, it does seem that the girl was being the protector, the one in control of and dominating the relationship. I mean, those stories with stalkers tend to have them be male stalkers of female victims. It’s unnerving because it takes the masculine drive to watch over and protect others and reverses it, turning it into something perverse and evil. And seeing the feminine drive towards enduring devotion similarly turned into its opposite is equally disconcerting. But either way, this casts Shikimori into the role of both predator and protector, which are typically associated with men, who went out to hunt and who fought off beasts and other men to safeguard their women and children.

Which, again, leaves Izumi in the feminine role of needing to be protected, and being more of a nurturing support for those around him, instead of a fierce, aggressive protector.

Now, when the roles are reversed, put back in accordance with tradition, there are still issues to face, but not many would say that the supportive, compassionate girl is useless. She’s merely displaying a softer kind of strength, one that is every bit as vital to the human condition as a man’s aggressive nature. But when it’s a boy in that role, with a girl looming over him, instead of the other way around? Well, then he’s “useless,” fit only to be mocked. Copiously. Often in extremely inappropriate ways.

Why is this? Why is it that a girl’s controlling, overprotective demeanor is completely ignored, while a boy gets dragged across the coals for not being his girlfriend’s protector?

The answer is simple: because that is what men are supposed to be. It’s what we’ve always been, since time immemorial. We cannot bear children, or give them milk, so our task has always been to protect and provide for our families. It doesn’t mean we always have to be violent about it – witness: the value of being rich instead of being violent – but we have an inherent need to be useful. That is the entire basis of our value, our self-esteem, and the stories we love most are the ones where the man gets the girl after proving himself useful in some physical, practical manner. Take away our usefulness, and what kind of men can we even claim to be? How can we possibly even begin to be worthy of that ultimate triumph of life, the love of a beautiful woman?

Thus, nothing irritates us in quite the same way as seeing a useless male get the girl.

There’s Yuu Izumi, of course, whose girlfriend does all the heavy lifting, but that’s just scratching the surface. Just stop and think for a moment, how many useless male main characters can you recall?

There’s Tuxedo Mask, from Sailor Moon. Dashing, handsome, mysterious, and always popping up in a time of need, he nevertheless does not actually do much of anything, does he? Except look so pretty that the girls are left swooning over him. Not quite always, but the vast majority of the time.

There’s Kazuya Kinoshita, from Rent a Girlfriend. He’s shallow, selfish, and leaves a bad, potentially harmful review just because the great experience he had was one he had to pay for, which was the entire idea from the start! And that’s just to start with. Exactly what the girls see in him, I’m sure I do not know.

There’s Shinji Ikari, from Neon Genesis Evangelion. He’s one of the most infamous whiny crybabies in all of anime. He periodically fails to control his mecha. He fails to protect the people around him several times. Oh, and he pleasures himself over the comatose body of the girl he supposedly likes. Major loss of points for that.

There’s Makoto Ito, from School Days. He’s a philandering, cheating lech who somehow sleeps with girls left and right, despite all of them knowing why they shouldn’t. He drives one of his girlfriends so nuts that she literally murders him, and then his original girlfriend, who he cheated on, murders his murderer and takes his head to cuddle with on a boat. Yeesh!

And, foremost on my mind right now, there is Shu Ogata, from Engage Kiss. Another one I haven’t seen past the first episode, but that first episode convinced me that, by any standard, even one that would happily give all of the aforementioned a great deal of slack, this man is truly useless! Yuu Izumi’s role as a male damsel in distress looks positively noble and rosy by comparison!

The first episode of Engage Kiss establishes the following:
Ogata has no job.
He quit his last job with no plans for the future.
He refuses to get a steady job with a steady income.
He’s living with one girl who works and pays the rent and pays for whatever he orders online, the combination of which leaves her broke, and cooks for him as well.
He’s seeing another girl who pays for the meals they have together and pays his cell phone bill.
The additional fees of the cell phone bill and the online order come as pleas in form of, “If I can just spend a little bit more of your money after everything you’ve already done for me…”
Girl Number One, with whom he sleeps at night, can smell Girl Number Two on him, implying physical intimacy, so he’s unfaithful to the both of them as well.
When Girl Number One asks him about the smell of Girl Number Two on him, he lies.
He swaggers around, confidently full of himself as he enters an online auction for who will respond to a local, developing, life-threatening crisis – because that makes so much sense, but I digress – and he wins the bid by a far greater margin than is remotely necessary, undercutting all of the professionals present while simultaneously forfeiting the chance to even properly profit from this endeavor.
He immediately outsources much of the labor to a company owned by the mother of Girl Number Two, a company he used to work at. And his plan is to complete the job with the use of Girl Number One and her powers. So he’s actually still doing the same work he was back then, just very, very badly, making little to nothing himself while relying on the girls he’s cheating around with to do the heavy lifting, by every definition of the phrase.
Girl Number One’s superpowers require getting kissed by Ogata to fuel her strength, and because he hasn’t worked for at least three months, she is significantly weakened by his neglect and his idleness.
When things go bad, and collateral damage threatens the surrounding populace and nearby people, he is concerned with how it would damage the tiny fee he’s charging, and needs Girl Number One to immediately step it up in order to prevent further damage.
Finally, the two girls seem to be completely devoted to him, and actively try to kill each other to keep the other from stealing him.

So he’s a jobless, aimless, leeching, cheating, lying, swaggering, self-centered, manipulative, ungrateful, unrepentant, loudmouthed, idiotic, stupid bum who is actively choosing to get himself carried through life by the girls around him.

I am hard-pressed to think of single male main character more useless than that!

Seriously, WHY fight over him?!

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2 Responses to Useless Male Leads in Anime

  1. A lot of times these useless men serve as audience surrogates. Remember the audience: teenaged Japanese boys, right? Often they are nerds or otaku, passive in the face of the opposite gender if not outright intimidated. Wouldn’t this boy love to have a hot babe like Shikimori just grab him, possess him, and make him hers? That’s why there’s so much gender role reversal in anime: it’s wish fulfillment for the target audience 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Merlin says:

      True, true. Still, I can’t help but think that it’s better to create strong characters, male and female alike, instead of audience surrogates. I mean, we’re all annoyed by the bland harem leads, right? We actually appreciate stronger, more active leads, people we can aspire to be like rather than just inserting ourselves in their place in our dreams.

      Liked by 1 person

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