Inhuman Human (aka The Superman – Astro Boy Connection)
One of the things animated features are indirectly achieving is to present us with inhuman characters that just happen to behave as humans. As much as they try to make them look normal, and as much as some people seem to get attached to what is basically a drawing, deep inside we all know they are not real. They are idealized versions of archetypes, and as such they behave in extreme and simplistic ways that can never pass as realistic.
So, if you know they are not real, what is the thing that makes them relatable? Why do you care about them? It all begins with the uncanny valley effect. Every person has a different tolerance for what he considers real and relatable. My parents for example only like series and movies that are about everyday people doing everyday things. That is as far as their tolerance for realism goes. The moment they see something supernatural or related to science fiction, they just yell “fake” and change the channel. Other people who are fans of live action series full of occult, magic, or futuristic technologies have no problem with that. You can say they are more open-minded to what they can relate to.
Anime is the next level, because it’s not even live action, it’s animated. It requires from you to be even more open minded, with more tolerance for what you can accept as real. And of course even these categories have their subcategories. How much science fiction can you accept before it becomes too much and you can no longer take it seriously? How much moe, or fan service can you tolerate before your immersion is completely ruined? How much unorthodox can an artstyle be until you just can’t get into it because it looks too weird? How polished does the CGI need to be so you can tolerate it as if it was hand-drawn? How much more until you tolerate it as if was live action? These things have nothing to do with directing or script-writing. They are pure aesthetics, which as I mentioned in an earlier topic, count as the least important when it comes to the value of a title.
But there is also something which most people usually don’t realize when it comes to tolerance, even when subconsciously it can excuse a lot of aesthetic issues. And that would be the origin of the characters. Think of an animated character who is presented as a human, next to a character who is presented as an alien. If the human does something weird or stupid, the audience will mind that a lot more than if the alien does the exact same thing. The reason is because an alien is not a human; he is not confined to human standards. No matter how human he looks, a simple thing such as being told he is from another planet is enough to put our minds at ease.
The same thing happens with an artificial human. If a robot does something bad, it is a lot easier to be excused next to a human doing the same thing. We can simply say that it wasn’t part of its programming, or that it doesn’t comprehend the concept of morality. How can the human be excused without resorting to the done to death excuse of “he was a teenager, he wasn’t thinking straight”? Some other reasons, such as being anti-social or suffering from chuunibyou hold far better but they are still weaker to the robot excuse.
What I will mention now may sound very strange, but it’s also very true for the time period it was originally conceived in. A big part of the appeal Superman and Astro Boy had, which instantly made them very popular, was their inhuman side. Ok, it also has to do with the simple fact they were the first superhero and the first anime series respectably, but that wouldn’t be enough to make them as iconic as they are today.
We may be joking about Superman being a boring Gary Stu with broken powers, but back in the decade he was originally created, it was his alien side that excused all that. The race he belonged to was supposed to be mentally superior, plus he had a fine upbringing to further solidify all that. And most may consider Astro Boy to be a typical protagonist of a kids show but they usually forget how he was a robot with the memories of a human, and how he kept trying to learn from others as means to be accepted as a human in a world that was treating robots as nothing but tools.
They were both empowerment fantasy archetypes of course, but they were far better at excusing their supernatural side next to most other human heroes who just had an accident, got superpowers, and decided to help humanity or something. That is why overpowered Gary Stu heroes such as Kirito and Tatsuya are far harder to relate to, than it is with Superman.
In other words, the human side of a character is what makes him relatable, and the inhuman side is what excuses everything that feels out of place, thus gapping the space between reality and fiction. And that is why so many people can be crying over a moeblob that got sick and needs someone to help it.