When You’re the Supporting Character in Your Own Series

I can remember when I first really discovered anime, through an episode of Tenchi Muyo! on Toonami. In it, Mihoshi, the bubbled-headed Galaxy Police officer, is returning to earth and crash lands her plane. The landing was so rough that I assumed she died. It was such a strange scene, so unlike what I was used to, that I of course had to return to the series. And I did so again and again and again, discovering something totally unlike anything I’d watched before, a show filled with interesting female characters, but with a very uninteresting male at the center of it all: Tenchi Masaki.

Tenchi is that dull character that’s become central to anime, the one who is so normal that male viewers can put themselves in his place, especially in a harem series like Tenchi Muyo (though I will admit that OVA Tenchi is way more fun than TV Tenchi; he’s actually kind of a jerk—poor Amagasaki!). I later found out that the series title could be translated “No Need for Tenchi,” a purposeful play on words that was made to great use. But now I felt bad for Tenchi—he wasn’t even needed in his own series!

The female characters absolutely take center stage. Ryoko, the fan favorite, is unadulterated in her sexuality, a kind of bridge between some of the very forward female anime characters of the 80’s and the more subtle ones of today. Aeka floats between prim and proper and having serious princess syndrome (also the canon reveal of her, uh, more sadistic side has remained an interesting facet of her character). I’ve already mentioned Mihoshi, whose background is complex and mysterious, and perhaps only matched by Washu, the intense goddess-turned-inventor. Sasami is sweet (but not always) and Kiyone, the add-on for the TV series, was my favorite (and perhaps best suited of all the girls for Tenchi).

Umm…nope! I see Ryo-Ohki TWICE, but don’t see Tenchi in there at all.

It’s a wild series, but like Puella Magi Madoka Magica the Monogatari series, Tenchi Muyo! actually does need the calming presence of its central character to work. I’m glad that’s true, not for the sake of the show, you see, but for my sake. Like Tenchi, I’m not terribly impressive in any aspect, and I often feel like the bigger story of life is something that yes, I’m participating in, but in which I’m not the star. That can be a lonely feeling, because our lives are like our own anime series, and to feel that you’re not the centerpiece of it can be a difficult realization to swallow.

That thought, however foolish it might be, can be paralyzing. It’s this kind of mentality of realizing, “Hey, maybe I can’t be anything I want to be. Maybe my parents—and television—lied to me.” I’ve never gone too far down that route, but the rabbit hole is there, and it doesn’t take much to fall into a sense of worthlessness.

But there’s a better framing for how we might approach our story. In the grand tale of life, we may be a supporting character (I’m going to discuss this further later this week), but we are most certainly the protagonist of our own story within that tale, and our role is both crucial and exciting. Like Tenchi, we’ll find our way and earn our Light Hawk Wings, whatever that may be for us, and because life is complex, it will probably be they—many, many things, some surprising, some even painful, but all making our story wondrous. It’s all there for the taking, should be avoid the mentality that life is disappointing, that we are disappointing. The adventure is out there for us, and it’s an awfully big one.

Even if we’re boring like Tenchi Masaki.

Featured illustration by シャーデンフロイデ | reprinted w/permission

4 thoughts on “When You’re the Supporting Character in Your Own Series

    1. Thank you, Rachel! It’s about a group of intergalactic girls who all end up in the home of Tenchi, a supposedly normal boy. The ladies include a demon, alien princesses, space police officers, and a goddess.

  1. I love the way your thinking. Supporting characters are important and play a crucial role in the story. Sometimes we have that spiritual Ptolemaic model of the universe where everything is revolving around the earth and just like the culture shock that came with the feeling of displacement caused by the (Heliocentric) Copernican model of the universe. We sometimes struggle with that sense of how am I important and crucial to the story without being the center of it.

    fantastic thoughts, I look forward to your next couple of posts!

Leave a Reply