I have a giant poster of Ryuko Matoi (from Kill la Kill) hanging outside my bedroom door. It has been kept inside its original polyethylene bag from the store in Japan that I purchased it from (thank you forever and ever Nakano Broadway), together with the backing board. I also have a 1/6 scale action figurine of Ryuko on top of my bookshelf. She is standing alongside another Kill la Kill character, Satsuki Kiryuin. I had to order a custom-made acrylic case to house both characters, because I really wanted them to be displayed next to each other. With ample space for them to brandish their weapons.
My Facebook and Twitter avatars and banner headers are both of Ryuko. Previously my avatars were of Eltnum from the videogame Under Night In-Birth.
Time and time again over the past couple of years, I have been asked by quite a few friends, some colleagues, and the occasional stranger: Why do you devote so much time to fictional characters? Why do you love this anime girl more than you love a real-life person? (this is an actual verbatim quote from someone). The same question is popping up with such frequent regularity nowadays, that it is starting to feel very condescending.
Even worse, is this strange social media stigma that if you post an avatar of an animated character on your social account, it means that you are not to be taken seriously. I don’t know who started this.
Before I continue, allow me to give a brief character summary of Ryuko Matoi:
Ryuko is a 17-year-old Japanese schoolgirl who was orphaned because she saw her father succumb to a murder right before her eyes. She never met or knew her biological mother while growing up. Her father was a scientist who was so absorbed in his daily work that he paid very little attention to his daughter, who eventually became a delinquent in school.
From the moment she saw her bloodstained and dying father’s body, a hidden and inner rage was unleashed inside Ryuko. Yes, she had a distant relationship with her father and hardly talked to him. But he was still her family. And now she sought vengeance against the murderer. The murder weapon was very unusual — it was a giant “scissor blade”, essentially one half of a giant pair of scissors. Her father’s torso had been stabbed by the blade, along with multiple slash wounds all across his body.
In his dying breath, before Ryuko’s father could explain the situation to his daughter, Ryuko caught a glimpse of the murderer fleeing their mansion. The murderer’s silhouette was unmistakably that of a young woman, and she was holding what appeared to be the other half of the scissor-blade. Enraged, Ryuko chased after the assailant, scissor-blade in hand, and little did she know, this was the beginning of her amazing journey where she would be forced to fight with all her might against an unknown evil.
I just described my favourite fictional character without making any descriptions about how she looks. To set the record straight once and for all: Ryuko’s character could have been that of a male, and I would have liked him just as much. I also really love Max Payne, from the original first two Max Payne videogames (I DO NOT like his drunken Max Payne 3 incarnation though).
Here’s this thing about human nature that most of us should have figured out by now: We love the underdogs. We want the everyman, the “ordinary people”, to win. We want Leicester City to win the Premier League.
Take away Ryuko’s scissor-blade and shape-shifting attire, and she is just an ordinary tomboyish schoolgirl. Take away Max Payne’s bullet-time and he is just an ordinary New York cop, married to a lawyer wife, and who is trying to start a family. These characters we love so much are not defined by their “powers”, but by their actions, emotions, and personalities. They all have humanistic traits and actions that we can relate with and identify with. We want them to succeed and win because we can see some of ourselves, however slight, inside these characters.
You can say that I was an intellectual delinquent when I was growing up in secondary school (I got into a lot of verbal and written arguments as a young kid). Not quite the same physical delinquent that Ryuko is (she gets into a lot of physical fights and does not back down from duels), but I could emphatise with her. What about Max Payne then? I’ve never fired a pistol in slow-motion or got backstabbed before, but I really enjoyed his ridiculously poetic monologues (The sun went down with practised bravado; Twilight crept across the sky, laden with foreboding). I loved creative writing as a kid and wrote quite a lot of nonsensical stories with my classmates when the teacher wasn’t looking. English was always my strongest subject.
Stan Lee, one of the founding fathers of Marvel’s comics, once said that he didn’t like Superman because he was “too good” and couldn’t do anything wrong. And I agree. I find Superman boring like hell as a superhero.
Human beings are flawed. We experience ups and downs in our everyday life. It’s part of living, it’s part of what makes us human. Ryuko is brash, impulsive, and in one episode, almost gets herself killed because of her blind rage. Max Payne succumbs to his male passions by making out with a female antagonist, inadvertently becoming responsible for her death later. These characters also have flaws.
Ryuko Matoi, Max Payne, Nathan Drake, et cetera, they may not be real but they exhibit real human behaviours and emotions. I admire these characters because they come from my passions: videogames and TV shows.
What are you _really_ passionate about in life? This will be my counter-question to any future person who asks me “Why do you like this anime girl so much?”