Hi everyone, I’m Lost. I’m new here and am excited to be a part of this community. I was a Theatre major in college and so that drives me to focus on characters, a perspective I would like to share with all of you. This is my first such analysis and I look forward to making more for you in the future.
Character. One of the most important elements in any story. A good character can be the difference between an amazing book and an alright novel, a touching scene or a pointless one. They are the shoes we step into as we walk through glorious and perilous adventures spanning from cover to cover, and it is their tale we are compelled to follow until its conclusion. But what makes a good character, separates the dull from unforgettable, the great from the bland? Now we could talk about depth, dynamicism, empathetic throughlines, and we will touch on those as we go, but when it comes down to it for me there is just one question to answer to determine if a character is good or not. That question is, “Why is this the character we are seeing the world through?” That is a big question though so we’re going to break it down into a few parts, and as an example I’m going to address those parts in the context of one of my favorite light novel characters of all time. Grimgar’s Haruhiro.
Synopsis: Fear, survival, instinct. Thrown into a foreign land with nothing but hazy memories and the knowledge of their name, they can feel only these three emotions resonating deep within their souls. A group of strangers is given no other choice than to accept the only paying job in this game-like world—the role of a soldier in the Reserve Army—and eliminate anything that threatens the peace in their new world, Grimgar. When all of the stronger candidates join together, those left behind must create a party together to survive: Manato, a charismatic leader and priest; Haruhiro, a nervous thief; Yume, a cheerful hunter; Shihoru, a shy mage; Mogzo, a kind warrior; and Ranta, a rowdy dark knight. Despite its resemblance to one, this is no game—there are no redos or respawns; it is kill or be killed. It is now up to this ragtag group of unlikely fighters to survive together in a world where life and death are separated only by a fine line.
The first of the three topics is Motivation, or why the character does what they do. In the case of Haruhiro his motivation is for his party to live. Now this may seem like a simple and straightforward goal, but it’s not. Note the choice of words. “Live,” not “survive.” Haruhiro’s group work as members of the Reserve Army, essentially adventurers who are forced to fight to scrape together a living from the spoils taken from defeated monsters. Surrounding Haruhiro and his companions at home are other Reserve Army members, large and successful groups acting as a mirror to reflect how far they still have to go. In the beginning they struggle to defeat a single goblin, and through the books it is clear that they are the bottom of the barrel in terms of capability. They barely make enough to get by, and none of them are particularly concerned with wealth or motivated to improve their abilities beyond what they need to survive and see tomorrow. They were told that there were no other jobs they could do, and none of them are prodigies. With all that in mind Haruhiro develops his own goal. Not just to survive, but to live. Living means moving forward. It means progressing. It means becoming more each day. They could survive by staying near town, killing low level monsters, earning enough to get by. But instead they are compelled, not only by their surroundings, but by watching each other. Haruhiro and each member of the party see the lengths they will go through for each other, and each takes that knowledge and thinks that there must be something more they themselves can do to make things easier for their friends. It is a simple motivation, but one that emphasizes what it means to be part of a group. To rely on others and be relied on in turn.
The second topic is Growth, how this character changes over time and why those changes matter. As readers we can wait months or years for new books to come out, and in that time we have lived. We’ve seen things, done things, and those experiences shape and change us. Who we were yesterday is not who we are today. Life has an impact on us all, and it should also have an impact on the characters we love so we can feel they are growing alongside us. In the case of Haruhiro his changes begin when he first loses someone and is forced to step into a leadership role. As a character Haruhiro begins with nearly no memory, thrown into a hostile world and told to fight if he wants to survive. He begins nervous and indecisive, allowing other people to make the decisions for him as he goes with the flow. All of that changes though when circumstances force him to be the leader of the group. Now the lives of his friends are own his shoulders and he knows first hand how quickly death could come for any of them. He does not want this role, he does not want to be responsible for their lives, but he steps up. He makes decisions, not because he feels he should, but because he knows he must. Because if he doesn’t his friends could die. They look to him, need him, and in turn he is forced to keep going so he can be there for them. This growth is gradual, and we as readers watch as he changes from book to book. He never becomes someone sure of himself and will always second guess whether he’s changed for the better or not, but he makes strides and it’s hard not to cheer him on.
The last topic I want to cover here is Impact, the weight of decisions made and how that shapes the story. Choices are difficult things. In life we know there is no going back once we’ve made a decision, and we can almost never know what the right call is. Some choices are small, the choice of what to eat or wear. Some are bigger, who to be with or whether to stay at our job. These choices have repercussions in our world, and we live with them every day. In books sometimes you see decisions that don’t matter. Will the overpowered character pick the dangerous path or the cautious one? It doesn’t matter, they are overpowered. They can pick either, deal with the consequences, and save the people around them without issue. For Haruhiro in Grimgar it’s not that simple. His choices have weight, the battles they face have real consequences, and main characters die along the way. Even if they did not die, their financial situation or the state of their psyches, or the party dynamic as a whole can also face severe impacts that ripple through the books. I won’t list any specifics so as not to lessen these moments for you should you read them, but they are in every book and at no point do we as readers think the characters will be just fine no matter what. That kind of tension is a powerful throughline that creates emotional investment in the characters because we never know what will happen to them. The uncertainty is compelling and we need to know more and wait anxiously for the next book. That investment makes for a great story, and is not something that is found everywhere.
So, what does this mean for our starting question? Why is Haruhiro the character we see this story through? It’s because his viewpoint changes the nature of the story. This is not a power fantasy, a harem comedy, or the story of an underdog training to be the best. This is the story of a young man forced to carry the lives of people he has only known for a few days in a world he knows nothing about. He is not a hero through which we are to live vicariously and imagine greatness, but a stand in for the reader to show that a person does not need to be great to succeed. It’s a story of struggle and perseverance, about what it means to rely on others and the void the comes about when you lose people you’ve forged bonds with. Haruhiro is a character defined by his relationships, he would not make it on his own. He says several times in the book that without his companions he would probably give up and die. He seeks no fame, no glory, no wealth, just to make it to the next day. His story is the story of living for others, and by doing so finding value in living that life. It’s a story that we don’t see often in light novels and I for one am very happy it exists.
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