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Why Anime Characters Can Never Beat The Antagonists Without The Final Power Up

Why Anime Characters Can Never Beat The Antagonists Without The Final Power Up

Battle shonen anime and manga have developed a nasty habit over the years. More often than not, there will be opponents that the main characters can’t beat without the last power-up. If it was just that the startup was what gave them the advantage or was one of many ways to win, it could work. However, some of these stories are written as if the antagonist can just get beat with the new power-up. Until then, they remain invincible. This style of power creep has evolved throughout the anime.

While plot progression that requires a specific plot device is nothing new, how anime and manga handle it can be incredibly frustrating. The leaps and bounds some series will go to make it seem like only the latest gimmick can save the day is absurd. At first it was a problem that was common in a few popular games. However, the problem has spread to other series and turned otherwise decent writing into something contrived, lazy and repetitive.

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Of course, for all the ways this trope has been used, power-ups can come in all shapes and sizes. In the case of kamp shonen, they are often presented as newfound strength, new techniques, new skills or abilities, new attacks, or new transformations. Whatever the startup is, it’s not enough to cause a problem.

It is also not a problem if an incoming startup is correctly established or foreshadowed. For example, if the character got his power-up through training, it should be fine. At that point, they simply take their newfound power and apply it to a situation that calls for it. If the start-up is the training itself, it is not necessarily a problem. Improving one’s strength and skills to deal with newer, stronger threats is a fairly natural way to require a power-up on the part of the protagonists.

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The real problems begin with how the need for a power-up is set up. Often the antagonist will be made to be virtually unbeatable through any previously established abilities or feats of strength on the part of the main characters. When this happens, it can feel like the story is forcing a situation where the characters have to use a cool new power-up to win.

There are two major problems with setting up the need for a start-up like this. First, it makes all previous powers and abilities appear lame and worthless regardless of what coolness factor they had in the first place. The apparent need for more power also limits the way forward and makes the story all the more predictable. This form of tension fabrication devalues ​​older parts of the series, just so that an easily anticipated power-up can have its own brief moment in the spotlight.

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As if setting up the power-up like this wasn’t bad enough, there can also be issues with how the power-up is obtained. Again, having the power earned through training is not a problem, nor is proper foreshadowing. However, if a new ability manifests in the middle of a battle without any steps taken to earn it, it can be hard to argue; it risks coming off as one deus ex machina or plot armor. A character who is saved by his own sudden burst of power that has seemingly come out of nowhere can feel unsatisfied and undeserving.

Even worse is how much of an advantage a newfound power-up can give a character in a fight. Where the match may have started with them completely outclassed by their opponent, they may suddenly find themselves overpowering that same opponent; suddenly it is enemy which is made to look lame and worthless. So much of a story’s dignity can be lost in the pursuit of this kind of cheap thrill.

Again, the biggest offenders of overemphasized power creep come from shonen battle manga, especially those published in Weekly Shōnen Jump. This magazine is aimed primarily at younger readers, so the stories are often kept simple and easy to follow. This approach to typing also affects how most matches play out. Thus, most combatants are written to be much stronger than their opponents until the tables are turned.

Shonen Jump has produced many popular works that have overused the helpless-until-powered-up trope. Some older examples include series such as Dragon Ball, Saint Seiya, and Yū Yū Hakusho. Series like these sometimes found their own ways around the trope, but the damage was already done. These beloved series popularized the idea that the only way to win a battle was with absolute power.

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Shonen Jump’s greatest hits have encouraged imitators and imitators alike to fall for the same writing traps they did. Even popular series in their own rights, such as One Piece, Naruto, and Bleach, was made vulnerable to power creep and perpetuated the trope’s perceived value. The trope has been further implemented in other popular Jump series which black clover, Demon Slaughter, and Jujutsu Kaisen. Even the non-match shone Kuroko’s Basketball and Dr. Stone have fallen for it. The entire magazine has become a dangerous breeding ground for this trope to flourish, and the more it works, the more writers are inclined to use it.

What is truly tragic, however, is how the power creep has spread to other series beyond Shonen jump. Battle shonen as Fairytale and The Seven Deadly Sins who tried to recapture the magic of Jump’s greatest hits were lured into imitating their flaws and strengths. It’s one of many reasons for one to wonder how much better these series could be if they tried to be more of their own thing.

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One of the worst studios affected by power creep is Toei animation. Over the years, they’ve adapted some of the biggest offenders of this trope, including Dragon Ball Z, Saint Seiya, One Piece, and Sailor Moon. Not only do they adapt the scenes that embody this trope, but when they need to write their own action sequences for movies and OVAs, they often fall back on it. It’s as if working on series that rely on this trope has inadvertently created it Toei animation bad at action writing.

They have also used this subpar plot writing on other works under their banner. Series with all-anime original content such as Digimon, Dragon Ball Super, and Nice cure all make the older power-ups seem worthless right before the next power-up arrives. It’s almost as if Toei animation don’t know how to write a match as anything other than an absolute blowout.

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However, emphasizing the need for new power-ups is more likely done so that the items associated with the new power-ups sell more. Unfortunately, if this is true, then it just absolutely devalues everything about anime, including the startup. Anime once praised for its compelling storytelling that has devolved into shameless toy commercials like most 1980s western cartoons is depressing in many ways.

The best way to avoid this problem of power creep is to maintain the utility of older skills. A good fight is about combatants using all their abilities optimally to beat their opponents and not rely on a single gimmick. Even Dragon Ball Z got this right with some of the bigger fights. In a properly balanced match, there are all possible ways to win a match. While this sounds counterproductive to storytelling methods like building suspense or foreshadowing, it’s much better than the predictable alternate anime has created.

New power-ups and abilities can sure be cool, but they don’t need to be put on such a high pedestal. Whether it’s Ultra Instinct, Gear Five or Baryon Mode, the presentation shouldn’t make everything that came before it irrelevant. Instead, it should supplement a character’s skills and only give them the slightest advantage they need to win, not an overwhelming advantage. The more series that can stand to hand out power-ups like this, the better.

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