I am not sure if this even applies to comics at all; in the last year that i have been giving comics a try i haven’t come across any specific moments that have made use of this particular ‘weapon’ if i can even call it that. But maybe i simply haven’t yet read enough comics to justify that.
Whenever someone criticizes manga, especially shonen or battle manga, a small potion of that criticism will most likely be aimed at the fights; in most cases anyway. The primary target of battle related criticism will usually have to do with the primary protagonist’s winning streak. Basically most critics will complain about how ridiculous it is that a hero simply doesn’t lose no matter who the opponent is, and apparently this ability to win no matter the odds somehow degrades the series. What such critics are saying is that they would like to see the hero lose every once in a while. And the reason will vary; maybe this reveals a vulnerable side of the hero to them, or even allows the antagonists to seem like they pose more of a threat than they might seem, which raises the stakes of the plot and produces a better quality story.
I mostly disagree. It is more than possible for a plot to produce truly threatening villains even while the protagonists is continuously victorious. A good example of this is Katanagatari where Yasuri was clearly victorious in his battles but that didn’t diminish the escalating levels of risk and threat he faced with each new mysterious opponent. It is a matter of creativity and some clever writing. With the proper writer you can still maintain excitement regarding a battle that might seem predictable at the start.
This all comes down to execution, specifically how a battle ends. I don’t care if a hero beats every single villain he faces no matter how powerful, so long as it is good to watch, believable and logical. One of my biggest quarrels with fairy tail isn’t merely the fact that Natsu always wins, but the way he wins. It simply doesn’t work. He might be the primary protagonist but it is common knowledge that he isn’t the most powerful or most skilled mage in fairy tail. Yet Hiro will always push him forward at the end of each arc, to face down the most powerful villain to make an appearance. The first problem here is how unbelievable the reason given is for Natsu to take the lead. Usually there is a clearly more powerful candidate to engage the opponent. Yet because Hiro likes Natsu and must push him to the front line to face the main villain ahead of Erza or Gildatz, he will use the most ridiculous means and reasons to do so. This just kills a fight. I still remember the Hades battle. Clearly Laxus should have fought him, seeing that every other team member including was fatigued from battle and he was fresh and fully energized. I have re watched that moment again and i still don’t understand the reason Laxus, barely hurt, gave to Natsu explaining why he thought Natsu should fight the former fairy tail master in his place. Hiro can be stupid some times. Actually this reminds me of Ichigo.
Anyway, the main point is that a writer should strive to make the battle look good; no matter the outcome, if they can explain a hero’s victory away, then it is all good. My problem is some of the reasons they use to explain a protagonists ability to beat someone they clearly have no business beating. Right now, what is bugging me is the bit about memory and how they can use it as a weapon to defeat a larger than life opponent.
The way it usually works is that the hero has given a fight his all and they have been sorely defeated. They are done, they should be done. But they just can’t give up yet. Suddenly they have a epiphany, a flash of memory, remembering something from their past that suddenly gives them a surge of power the likes of which has yet to be seen in the series and they win. These four are the most common memories that will enable the hero to triumph;
1. Special training> While lying down, bloodied, they will remember that special lesson they had long time ago during which time they learnt that one thing that they had forgotten. Maybe it is the final technique in their training, or the secret to mastering a great power. Either way, at that moment it clicks and which that one incident, they remember it all, access this great power and end the battle with a skill they have never shown the slightest hint of possessing.
2. Special technique> Here is comes down to the hero doing something impossible. They will usually remember a certain character making mention of how, if conditions A and B and C where to ever be in play, while executing D or evading E is completely impossible, if these circumstances were ever to occur, the hero could use them to do whatever impossible act no one has ever done before. Of course it usually turns out that those conditions are in play at that very moment; they bedazzle the enemy and turn a sure loss into a sure win.
3. Hopeful words> This reminds me so much of fairy tail. Here the character is reminded of those words of hope they heard just moments before the battle or a little further in the past where that special someone tells them something that, when it comes back to them, beats back all the dark vibes blanketing their thoughts and allows them to rise beyond there current abilities and defeat the villain, all because they remembered a couple of sentences.
4. Special people> This is usually where the hero keeps saying that they can’t lose and they don’t. And the reason is usually because of a promise they made to someone that they must absolutely survive to meet. They will remember a smile or a laugh and that will be all the power they need to defeat an opponent that had previously overpowered them
All this comes back to heroes beating enemies they simply have no business beating. I hate the use of this element most in game based anime where the hero will go beyond the limits of the game, in that you can only access power of up to level 4 but the hero, because of a memory, pushes beyond to level 100, completely overwhelming the enemy and shattering the game or something. I HATE that. What is the point of a hero defeating an opponent if they are going to cheat?
Besides that, i would love a hero’s victory to be more concrete and believable, beyond a single memory making so much difference. I can accept the instances where the memory only enables the hero to do something that was within their power. Maybe all they had to do was pull a lever and they had failed. But with that one thought, they find the will to push beyond the pain and punishment to pull the lever and that makes all the difference. I find DBZ silly, but at least there was a level of realism in that area. No matter how much he wanted it, or trained or struggled, or really willed himself to be of use to Goku, Krillin and Chautzu never beat Vegeta or Frieza and they didn’t even come close to doing it.
For that much i can respect DBZ. But so many other series just don’t get it. I sometimes wonder if writers are simply out of ideas for unique battles finales and choose to use the same old tools. What i think is that they think that we think that the hero should always win. And in trying to keep this true they will make the dumbest decisions especially when they have made the villain too powerful for the hero to beat as he is. They must force this issue and that is why we get these ridiculously predictable battles.
I feared this would happen with shaman king. While the primary protagonist was miles ahead of everyone else in terms of power, Hao, the villain was several thousand kilometers ahead of him. And i feared how the final battle would be resolved, because nothing sucks about a series as much as a final battle than doesn’t fulfill or a hero’s victory that you know is clearly not deserved. And this mostly happens when a series has done such a good job that you really respect the villain. So for what you see as a puny hero to defeat them, without ‘grounds’ just spoils the entire experience. Just think about it. Imagine Krillin had defeated Vegeta, all because he thought of all that Goku had done for them and it gave him the power to fight on and all that garbage. DBZ would be a far less impressive series.
This element can be used well. I have seen it used well, where i am still able to enjoy a series to its fullest. But when it is done badly, you can’t help but notice it and it ruins the entire series, usually because it is all too predictable. This brings me back to comics which i have yet to see use such an element. Each battle seems to be unique (sort of) in its own way, and at the very least there is an attempt to keep each finale fresh and unpredictable (again sort of). I haven’t read any issue about superman suddenly remembering his parents on krypton as doomsday pummels his head in, and then suddenly he gains the strength to disintegrate him with his finger. There is some thought put into the levels of strength of both hero and villain. It is ridiculous for one little thing to change so much so easily.
Most importantly, it eliminates the coincidental nature of such fights, in that the hero happens to remember the one counter against the attack the villain is about to use. Or the conditions just happen to fall into place for that one lesson that the hero just happens to remember. I never thought i would see the day i would be asking manga writers to become a little bit more creative.