I don’t think anyone’s going to argue with me to say that an overpowered main character can’t be interesting or implemented into a great story. We’ve got people like Light Yamgami, One Punch Man and Kuro sensei who make great overpowered characters and people seem to like them.
So is it fair to say that being overpowered doesn’t reflect on the character and it’s everything else that makes them suck? Well not really in my opinion because context matters. It really does. Both the context of the story and both the context of which aspect of their character is so strong.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. How do you define overpowered? You can’t really and the word itself assumes a negative feeling towards the characters great power, so technically the meaning of the word makes it impossible to find good. I want to break away from that idea for the sake of this argument to say that an overpowered character just means someone vastly stronger (at anything the show is about) than everyone else.
So back onto the context matters train, a context where it’s not great in just happens to be the place where people criticize it the most. The action shounen genre. The worst example is in fairy tail where the enemy is always very overpowered until the show suddenly decides that they suck now and fairy tail are the overpowered ones.
The reason why it sucks so much is that it’s simply not fun to see. We don’t like seeing our characters tossed around just so that they can gain a sudden power boost to beat them. It doesn’t feel earned.
There is also a huge element of tension to consider. The tension for an overpowered villain is tossed to the side due to the fact that the main characters need to stay in the fight for 5 episodes. It works similarly to the main characters too, it’s not tense.
There are however exceptions to the rule, more often the exceptions are more frequent than the rule. So why do we like Light, Saitama and Goku so much?
Lets start with Goku because on paper he is the worst of the three characters despite his mass following and likability. Well his fights are fairly even, he is overpowered in the context of humans but not when he’s fighting an alien god for example.
One punch man is a natural extension of the Goku archetype. He is like goku but with all of the jaded aspects. He is prevented from fighting just like Goku in a similar way as well. So basically his overpowered nature is simultaneously his greatest strength and weakness. As a consequence of great power he is jaded to the world and fairly miserable and it leads to negatives in his life. The people hate him as well because of his attitude.
A character stops being overpowered when he is forced with consequences and difficulties out of their control and they start to become more interesting.
The last one on the list is Light Yagami who is overpowered. What makes death note so good is that while watching it it’s quite the opposite. A man with a book that can kill you if your name is written on it while thinking of their face vs a normal dude? Granted they’re both genius’ but still, it looks obvious who should win! But it’s quite the reverse. In fact due to Lights massive power he is constantly on the ropes, in danger and unable to do anything about it. He is the one being pinned down all because he can’t find L’s name.
Death note would have been so much worse if Light had got the shinigami eyes because it would completely nullify his main character flaw and made the show like I described earlier.
So simply the specifics of what they are powerful in and the flaws that they have can completely change how much we like the main character.
Join me next time where I’ll be talking about an overpowered main character who miraculously works in a situation where he really shouldn’t work at all.