Monday, September 1, 2014

Hajime no Ippo and the Value of Losing

If you’re following Hajime no Ippo, then you should know Ippo just lost. Pic Completely Related.

I am really happy about that.

See, there is value in losing.

Machismo. Superior.

Let me paint the stage for those not familiar with the manga. In spite of being over a 1000 chapters long, Ippo still hasn’t gotten the championship belt. The manga has a slow pace and some really, really long fights.

Ippo just fought against the #2 in the world in his weight class. Had he won, he would have been a step away from claiming the championship belt.

And he’s nowhere near ready for that. 

There are still unresolved plots. As a character and a boxer, Ippo still needs to grow up before he gets the belt.

In fact, Ippo should have lost a long while ago.

He should have lost when he fought jungle boy Woli.

He should have lost when he fought speeding bus Kojima.

He didn’t and those wins were bullshit.

Yeah, those three off-screen defeats were just what we needed

Unless you are writing a tragedy, the main character should succeed at the end. That much is obvious.

However, past a certain point making your character win against all odds is just incredibly painful. Readers can only suspend their disbelief so much.

It’s not just about winning. It is about winning in a believable way.

The reader needs to think losing is an option. Obviously, he knows the main character will win in the end, but the illusion of “What if?” must be alive in his mind.

When you lose that, the tension is lost. There is no excitement to a story.

Meaningless Victory #24

It was natural for Ippo to lose here. It was necessary to him to lose here. However, there was always a chance the author wouldn’t go through with it.

Plenty of authors don’t.

Look at Fairy Tail.

Ezra has plenty of bullshit wins and she’s far from the only one.

The entire tournament arc was boring precisely because of bullshit wins and how nonthreatening most of the antagonists ended up being.

Bleach has recently provided a good example with three villains being defeated off-screen by Byakuya, a character who should have died plenty of chapters ago.

There is a way to make a villain lose so the hero look cool. Making the villain a wimp is not it. However, it seems like plenty of writers cannot bring themselves to make their main characters look bad. 

Honestly, there are plenty of manga in which I am rooting for the bad guys exactly because of how forced some of the protagonists' wins are.

Hope and Dreams. Gone

The hero losing is not a bad thing. In fact the bigger the loss the better.

Losing during a training session is completely different from losing when you have everything on the line. When it really counts for you.

Here Ippo tried his best and his best was not good enough.

He was not ready for the world.

That’s great. There is some level of suspense back in what were quickly becoming boring matches. Ippo has been dealt a huge blow from which he needs to recover and climb back even higher than before.

That’s awesome.

Losing when it matters. There is value in it.

Letting your protagonist look uncool is just as, if not more, important than making him cool.

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