Wednesday, March 11, 2015

31 Days of Scans - Favorite Male Character

The obvious answer is Spider-Man. He's my favorite fictional character, period. No one else comes close. But, like last week, I talked all about him last fall, and where's the fun in just throwing out the link to that post? So I'm going to talk about a guy I really like, but almost never talk about. Since this is going to be about manga, remember to read right to left, please.

Sanosuke Sagara is far and away my favorite character in Nobuhiro Watsuki's Rurouni Kenshin. He's introduced as a fighter-for-hire sent after Kenshin by a couple of unscrupulous brothers, but once he learns Kenshin's identity, he has his own reasons to want to kill the guy. During the civil war that brought about the restoration of the Emperor and the subsequent Meiji Era, Kenshin and Sano were on the same side. But while Kenshin (who was between 15 and 19 at the time) worked first as an assassin, later as a 'free-wheeling swordsman' protecting his comrades, Sano was a kid serving as an aide to a Captain in a sort of peasant army. The leaders had been promising to tax reform for the working classes, and that encouraged a lot of those people to join the Sekiho Army and fight for the Emperor. Then the head honchos realized wars were expensive and they couldn't keep their promise. Rather than cop to it, they said the Sekiho army was a "false" army, spreading lies amongst the populace. It's ranking officers, including Captain Sagara, who Sano admired to the point he took the Captain's name as his family name, were executed a publicly denounced. From Sano's perspective, the same people who pulled that crap and covered up their actions went on to live happy and prosperous lives based on lies.

So he has some grudges, and they're justified, he just happened to go after one guy who a) recognizes the revolution hasn't ended and works to improve things his own way, and b) hadn't taken any benefits or perks from his service. The fight ends - though Sanosuke lost convincingly - and he resolves to stick around and see if Kenshin is who he appears to be, or if this is just another trick. They pretty quickly become friends, since Kenshin isn't the sort to hold grudges, and Sanosuke has Kenshin's back through pretty much the remaining 26 volumes of the series. Except for that stretch where Kenshin kind of gave up, and Sano left for awhile in frustration and disgust. But he came back for his friends when they needed him!

They are very different characters, though. Sano is blunt, direct, and open. Whatever he's feeling, you'll know it, whether because he tells you, or because he slugged you in the face. It doesn't matter who you are, he's not going to stand on ceremony. There are a lot of times I'd like to be more like that. Just tell people what I think of them and go forward from there. Like Kenshin, he wants to try and make things better, but whereas Kenshin is more concerned with protecting the weak, and will accomplish that without violence if possible, Sanosuke is more inclined to just go beat the hell out of the bad guys. Like the picture below, those poor dopes are part of a gang of 200 guys serving under a disgraced sumo wrestler/Yakuza who is helping a crooked government official (who happens to be his uncle, so nepotism) to corner the silk trade in a small village, garnering huge profits for themselves, while putting a chokehold on the locals. Kenshin could have wrecked that official's plans with one word to any number of people in the government who owe him their lives. But he was in the throes of depression, and Sano was in a foul mood, so things were resolved with beatings. Which is more fun, anyway.

Because he enjoys fighting. He'd prefer to be fighting someone who was up to no good, but he's not above just taking a fight because he's in a bad mood and thinks a spot of violence will relieve stress. When he was a fighter-for-hire, he determined how much he charged by how much he enjoyed the fight. In the same way he won't hold back telling how he feels, regardless of who he's speaking to, he'll challenge anyone.

Most of the characters in Rurouni Kenshin are older than Sanosuke, who is 19 went the series starts. They're contemporaries of Kenshin (who is 28 or 29 by that time). People who fought in the war, rather than serving as aides or assistants. People who had extensive training and survived dozens of battles against opponents who also had extensive training. Sano doesn't have that advantage, he's starting from behind and trying to catch up, but that never deters him. He's almost constantly underestimated. Kenshin thought he could beat him with one hit. Shinjiko felt he was stuck fighting 2nd-rate goods because he had to leave Kenshin to his boss, Shinomori Aoshi. Saito dismisses Sanosuke for a long period of time (and never gives him credit to his face, even if he admits to Kenshin he knows Sano is reliable). Shishio's right-hand guy, Hoji, dismisses Sano as a "tagalong", right before Sanosuke destroys their ironclad.

But it never stops him. Sure, sometimes Sano gets his ass beat, but he always goes down swinging. His fighting style pretty much mirrors his personality: He doesn't know or care a thing about defense. He'll take your best shot, then deliver his own. This isn't necessarily a smart approach - even when he wins, he's almost as beat to hell as his opponent - but I still like it. You don't have to be versed is some otherworldly sword art, if you can take the pain and keep going, you've got a chance. He's usually an underdog, but that's fine, the supporting characters usually are in shonen manga. The main characters are almost always going to win, and even if they do lose, it's always to some high level opponent. Kenshin doesn't have really have an equivalent loss to those two times Spider-Man lost to Stilt-Man, you know.

Also, he's an important character in the series for occasional comic relief. On the one hand, you have Saito constantly needling Sano, in large part because Sano can't control his temper, and so long as Saito knows he can get your goat, he'll keep doing it. Because he's kind of a dick. Or Kenshin saying something and Sanosuke overreacting to it. On the other side of things, Sano's willingness to say whatever's on his mind can lead to a lot of funny stuff. Comparing Kaoru's cooking to poison, trading barbs with Megumi, tweaking Yahiko in much the same way Saito does to him (though I think Sano's is more good-natured. He definitely cares more about Yahiko than Saito does about Sanosuke). It's a little bit of the same role Hawkeye plays among the Avengers, but with more of a comedy bent, as opposed to creating conflict among the characters. It's mostly friendly ribbing and jabs.

No comments: