Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Character Analysis: Mikasa Ackerman

MIKASA ACKERMAN: The Japanese version of Mary Sue



Mikasa Ackerman is the main female protagonist of Shingeki no Kyojin. She is also the adopted sister of Eren Jaeger, the main male protagonist. Considered the best trainee among the 104th Trainee Squad and reliable in the Scouting Legion, she is an ideal character when it comes to offensive power. She is the epitome of badass, and she shares the badass throne with Levi.

This character type is pretty common in Shounen anime. In fact, this character formula is exploited so much that almost all Shounen titles have at least one character that has superior combat abilities. It’s actually a good thing. It gives the audience someone to look up to. But it does have an inherent problem. There are instances where it results to the creation of a Mary Sue character, and Mikasa Ackerman is one of those instances.

Mary Sue is a TV trope wherein the lack of flaws in a character becomes a flaw in itself. Mikasa Ackerman is almost perfect. She is exceptionally talented in almost everything she does that it is almost a cop-out in the story. There are even instances that Mikasa seem to kill titans effortlessly, even though it has been established that titans are extremely hard to take on.

Even in the Battle of Trost Arc, she stayed calm when she received the news that Eren died. It was a good opportunity to show character flaw by breaking down. But no, the author decided that Mikasa was a character that could stay calm in such situations. She even led the surviving party. In short, Mikasa is a killing machine with a calm mind and leadership skills. She has no flaw that could make her more believable.

As with other Mary Sue characters, Mikasa has a dramatic back-story. This is a common technique for the character to gain sympathy, and often times it presents a flaw in the character’s psyche. True, this is the case for Mikasa. Her supposed flaw is that she has no family left and Eren is the only thing she has, so she can’t afford to lose him. But it’s a poor excuse of a flaw. It just makes Mikasa a more endearing character, instead of opening her up for good character development. There is really no other thing going on in her head that could open her to development. It’s just about protecting Eren.

The secret formula

To summarize, Mikasa is a badass that viewers should sympathize with because she has no family. That’s about the whole of Mikasa Ackerman. I’m sorry to say this, but that’s just not enough. A main character should be more than just a lonely killing machine.

In the Female Titan Arc, the viewers get to see the highlight of Mikasa being a lonely killing machine. She finally loses her cool when she sees Eren devoured by the female titan. She tries to save him, and it is a good thing that she primarily failed. If she has been successful in her attempt, she would have been a worse character. I would see it as a blatant display of her supposed perfection. But then Levi appears, and together they were successful in saving Eren. I couldn’t help but see it as an exploitation of Mikasa’s perfection -- not to mention that it is a cop-out in the story.

From the start of the Female Titan Arc, Mikasa has decreasing screen time, as if she isn’t a main character anymore. I just hope that she will not suffer Haruno Sakura’s case, wherein she will be entirely shoved aside to make room for Eren Jaeger. But if ever that happens, I won’t be surprised. Like I said earlier, there is little room for character development in Mikasa Ackerman.


However, it is not too late. I’m still hoping that Mikasa will gain more screen time and struggle like a main character should struggle, and not just pass by the conflicts easily. The author needs to give her more conflicts, both external and internal. If he is able to do this, then Mikasa will almost instantaneously transform into one of the most memorable female characters in Shounen anime. She already has the backbone of a great character. All she needs is a little push.

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19 comments:

  1. I'm checking this out after the comment you left on my analysis of Mikasa. You make several very good points and, while I respectfully disagree that she is an underdeveloped character, it is interesting to see what you think of her.

    I think, compared to a lot of the other characters, she's pretty solid in terms of being developed and fleshed out. Mind you, that's not saying much - character development is not always SNK's strongpoint. We pretty much have Eren (who's only real defining trait is being angry), Mikasa, and Armin. Everyone else is kinda swept under the bridge. Personally, I think Armin is the most fleshed-out character in the series by far, Mikasa being second.

    Though, I will say that Mikasa didn't actually remain herself during the Battle of Trost. I mean, it depends on how you look at it, but she lost her cool in a different way: her judgement was clouded by her grief. It may not be as extreme as people would expect, but it does show that she'd not entirely perfect.

    Anyway, thanks for your feedback, and I enjoyed reading yours :)

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    1. I enjoyed your thoughts about her too. Actually, I discovered your post because I was searching for someone who has also written the same analysis. It turns out that yours was entirely different! But that's a good thing. It gives me a different perspective on how to see Mikasa Ackerman.

      And yeah, now that you compared her to the other characters of SNK, she is relatively fleshed-out, perhaps even more than Eren who was BORN ANGRY. Haha. And I agree, Armin pretty much takes the cake.

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  3. I think you should read the manga before writing a character analysis, as the anime adaption is not always a faithful interpretation. For instance, upon discovering that Eren died, Mikasa struggled to hide her shock with action (a fact that IS reinforced by the anime). But later she realizes she led a party she couldn't be responsible for into action and feels regret. Certainly, she is not a character that is "perfect" as you analyzed; Mikasa certainly has mental flaws.

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    1. Also, I thought it might be interesting to mention that many people have also written insightful views on Annie's character in the manga and anime. So not only Eren/Mikasa/Armin are the only "developed" characters.

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  4. Hello, I just read your analysis, and there are certain aspects that I do not agree with. Mikasa almost committed suicide before realizing what she was doing when she thought Eren was dead. Mikasa's perfection was evanescent once we really saw her flaws, which was not only her love her Eren, but also her blind belief and trust placed in Eren. I agree with Karin, she struggled to hide her shock, and I don't think you included that. You wrote: "Even in the Battle of Trost Arc, she stayed calm when she received the news that Eren died.", this was blatantly false in my opinion.

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    1. Yes, I will not deny that I have overlooked that part of her in the Battle of Trost Arc, and thanks to you and other readers, I have learned that. But my point here is, her supposed flaw is only making her a more endearing character. Something like this: "Omg she's so good at everything she does! But aww she is a really lonely person deep inside." And that's what makes her a Mary Sue. She's "good" at practically everything, and the only thing "bad" about her is, like what you said, her love for Eren and her blind belief and trust for him -- which is, for me, just a tool inherently to make the audience more sympathetic for her.

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    2. Arvin Saints - How the audience chooses to react to Mikasa's unhealthy attachment is their decision. But the attachment itself isn't depicted as good or bad; in fact, for as many times as it is sympathetic, it is also frustrating. Even Levi scolds her for her impudent recklessness as a result of her obsession; she screwed up the plan for the Female Titan because of her desire for revenge. In that moment, whether you choose to see it or not, her bloodlust/vengeance was actually starting to overtake her concern for Eren, which was interesting.

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  5. Although your analysis was very interesting to read I think you've overlooked many of the very apparent flaws of Mikasa. If you look past her unusually high level of skills, you will see that she is far from being a perfect person, especially if you are reading the manga.

    Starting from her relationship with Eren, her mental and emotional dependency on him is far from ordinary and healthy; Eren is literally her reason to live. Even in the anime you can see that Mikasa doesn't really care about her self or others (except maybe Armin) nearly as much as she does for Eren. She's made it quite clear that the only reason she even joined the army, let alone the survey corps is for Eren's sake. Furthermore, as the series continued (in the manga) its clear that every incident of Eren's kidnapping or being put in danger is pushing her closer and closer to the edge, until she ready to threaten her own comrades if they get in the way of her saving Eren.

    Her backstory, although it makes her more endearing to the audience as you said, also serves to show how she became so mentally unstable and why she will remain so without further development. I do think she is underdeveloped in comparison to Eren and Armin, who have both been shown to slowly be changing, but I think she is far from being perfect.

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  6. I personally agree with this. Mikasa is too OP. In her first official battle with Titans she mowed them down. I get it, she's a prodigy, but there has been no increase in her skill because the second she was put on the field she was as good as Levi.

    I may be biased in this complaint but I think making a character's soul purpose to be a love interest is a really unfair thing to do to the character. Take away Eren and what's left of Mikasa? A cold killing machine. Eren is what humanizes her, Eren is her motivating factor and Eren is her reason to live. Sure she showed she could live on without Eren when he "died" in Trost but what was her source of strength? So that she could at least keep THINKING about Eren. I've watched all the subbed eps of AoT and some manga and I loved Mikasa as this fem-badass at first but the more I watched her the more I realized her character was kind of pathetic. Almost every scene she was in was her obsessing on Eren in some way. To be fair I tend to be a little harsh on fem-characters in general because most shows don't write them right.

    I also see little development for her character since she was introduced the way she was. We didn't see her develop into the cool cucumber she is, instead she went from naive and weak to cold killer in an instant. She entered the battle field in god mode and the torch she carries for Eren blazed brighter than the sun. What are her goals? Keep Eren safe. The only way it can go from here is if she begins to NOT obsess and worry over Eren constantly. I don't hate her with a passion or anything but I do feel she's overrated since her design isn't all the impressive from a creative standpoint.

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    1. That's exactly what I'm trying to point out. The character has nothing to offer in a creative standpoint. She is merely there to satisfy the cravings of viewers for a fem-badass. Her so-called flaw is somewhat pathetic and it exists only for the sake of having a flaw that will make her more endearing and vulnerable. I'm not updated in the manga, so I really can't say if there is improvement. But as far as I've seen, she isn't a well-made character at all.

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    2. THANK. YOU.

      You know, there was this radio show/interview with a few of the cast members from SNK (Yuuki Kaji, Hiro Shimono, and Ishikawa Yui), and they played a game where they would ask each other questions relating to their character, and you have to say the first thing that comes to mind. When Yuuki Kaji asked Ishikawa Yui what her first impression of Mikasa was, she said, "Eren is her life!"

      Yeah, that's not good when it comes to character development. When I try to tell people that Mikasa is not a well-developed character, this is what I mean. She's a really flat character and has almost no inner workings of her own, other than "I have to protect Eren!" As of Chapter 70 in the manga, Mikasa is the only one who has not changed that much since the beginning of the series. She's still the same. And it really irritates me when people always fall back on that ONE excuse whenever I bring up how flawed her character is. (I also hate characters that forsake an entire city/country/race for one person. And this hate doesn't come from the fact that she's female. I hated it when Batman was going to forsake the fate of Gotham City for Talia in Arkham City.) It's always, "Well she wants to protect Eren because he's the only family she has left!" or "Mikasa wants to live a normal life with Eren and she will do anything for that!" and all I have to say is... so what?

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    3. Hinata, it's nice to see that someone agrees, especially someone who is updated to the manga (I'm not.) As you said, inner workings of her own are an integral part of character development, and Mikasa's so-called flaw is nothing more but an excuse for the sake of having a flaw. Plus, I believe this flaw is having an endearing effect for the character, so the audience will sympathize with her more.

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    4. Mikasa is a child suffering from massive PTSD. Thus, she has an unhealthy attachment to the last living "family" member. That's one of her flaws, but she has more. She has horrible oratory skills, as Jean points out. She is recklessly impulsive (Armin notes this, and Levi even scolds her for that).

      "I also hate characters that forsake an entire city/country/race for one person."

      So, you want Mikasa to have more human flaws, yet when she displays a very obvious human flaw (loyalty to a loved one over what is good for everyone), you hate it. Nice.

      "I get it, she's a prodigy, but there has been no increase in her skill because the second she was put on the field she was as good as Levi."

      Lol wtf? She is nowhere near as good as Levi; did you even watch their battle with the female titan? She barely did any damage whereas Levi sliced her up and Mikasa's eyes couldn't even keep up with his speed.

      "Mikasa's so-called flaw is nothing more but an excuse for the sake of having a flaw."

      That's how all flaws for fictional characters are. What is the argument here?

      Mikasa is far from my favorite character, but she has more emotional depth than people give her credit for. She is nowhere near a Mary Sue.

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  7. http://www.springhole.net/writing/marysue.htm

    Here's a link that can direct you to a Mary Sue Litmus Test, and I have to say, Mikasa is a complete Mary Sue, it's almost infuriating how people will insist that she's not.

    I think part of my dislike for the character stems from me feeling PRESSURED to like her, especially from the fan base. Like, if you say that you don't like Mikasa, you'll get people jumping down your throat, insisting that you hate "Strong, Female Character(s)™" or that you're being "sexist" because if Mikasa were a male then obviously people wouldn't feel this way about her (which is entirely untrue), and it's just... ugh. It just makes me dislike her even more.

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    1. Mikasa is not a Mary Sue. Again, I don't even like her all that much, but really? Think back to when she lost her will to live and found it again because she wanted to remember Eren. Had she been a perfect little Mary Sue, she would have suddenly found random self-motivation and personal strength and wanted to live because of that. However, she didn't. As a child suffering from PTSD, she once again relied on her unhealthy attachment to Eren - that is clearly flawed behavior that is not Mary Sue in the slightest. It is important that Mikasa is a physical prodigy (which, by the way, she is depicted as having manly muscles, and not dainty petite/skinny, which was one of the criteria in that Mary Sue checklist you sent) but it is equally important she is emotionally closed off and reckless when it comes to Eren.

      "31. Is your character easily provoked to violence but only gets into fights with character who deserve it?"

      Lol. Mikasa wants to get violent and fight people like Levi, a fan favorite who usually does the right thing. Basically, she wants to fight anyone who hurts Eren in the slightest, and half of these people don't deserve to be fought against.

      Furthermore, she has horrible oratory skills and is an uncharismatic leader. Jean points out as much. A Mary Sue would not be like that.

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  8. If Mikasa is a Mary Sue, then what does that make Levi? He is also overpowered, likable, and his "flaws" are likable.

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    1. Also, "But then Levi appears, and together they were successful in saving Eren. I couldn’t help but see it as an exploitation of Mikasa’s perfection -- not to mention that it is a cop-out in the story."

      Did you even watch that scene? The whole point was that Mikasa fucked it up by being so rash, getting all blood thirsty and making an extremely stupid decision which as a result, Levi ended up getting injured... the MAIN reason they were able to rescue Eren was because of Levi.

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    2. Sorry for so many replies but for some reason, I am limited to a few amount of characters I can type. Also sorry that some of my arguments are redundant to Geoffrey's (we were just watching AoT together and came across your article) - I respect what you said at the end about Mikasa having the backbone of a great character, they just need to do more with her. I agree with that, it just seemed contradictory to the rest of your article where it sort of makes her sound perfect and incapable of having any development.

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