Friday, August 31, 2018

Confession: I Don’t Look for Relatability – I Look for Emotional Sincerity

I have a confession: I don’t really care about a character being relatable.

Let me rephrase that: I don’t need a character to be like me in order to connect with them.

That may sound like a novel concept considering relatability is one of the “buzzwords” of fiction (as writer Matt Colville would call it)1, but it’s true. I don’t really care about whether a character is like me. I don’t need a character to have two X chromosomes to understand them.

I don’t even look for relatability when I dive into a new story, though it’s nice to find something universally appealing in a character.

No, the main thing I seek in a story is emotional sincerity.

I consider a story emotionally sincere when its characters have genuine, understandable emotions and reactions; basically, characters react to things like a real person would. YouTube video essayist Just Write adds that emotional sincerity also includes letting emotional moments play out rather than constantly interrupting them2—even at the risk of looking cheesy or melodramatic.

Because emotional sincerity is the biggest thing pulling me into a story, I’m not a big action flick fan. It’s not that I hate explosions (who doesn’t like a gorgeous fire plume bursting in the sky?); it’s just these types of films don’t usually give their characters time to exist outside of the plot, to show who they really are. And if I don’t know who the characters are by seeing them emotionally react to things, I won’t connect with them. And if I don’t connect with the characters, I won’t really care about what’s going on.

I experienced this most intensely with the anime Aldnoah.Zero, which ironically was written by one of my favorite modern anime writers: Gen Urobuchi. His season one of cop/psychological-thriller Psycho-Pass was phenomenal for both action-seekers and deep-thinkers. Puella Magi Madoka Magicka became a cult classic nearly overnight for its genre-spinning reversal of expectations and well-led plot twists. But Aldnoah fell flat for me.

Why? I couldn’t connect with the protagonist... because he displayed nearly no emotions.

Does this look like the face of a
protagonist to you? 2014 A-1 Pictures
Though the protagonist Inaho often talks to himself about strategy, we never see why he personally feels he needs to win. We know he cares about his sister and other characters in the show, but to what degree, and why? We never get a good gauge on that, because we never see him emotionally reacting to any situation. Is he only mildly fond of people? Does he just protect others out of a sense of duty rather than compassion or desire? I have no idea. The show never even explains why he’s so emotionally detached and never shows him struggling with the fact; he’s never frustrated at not being able to understand others’ emotions; he’s never aggravated by the fact he can’t connect.

I can’t tell you who Inaho is. I can’t tell you what he really wants. He just exists.

Shota Aizawa. He cares, really! 2017 Bones
You may think it’s logical, stoic characters I have a problem with, but that’s hardly the case. Shota “Eraser Head” Aizawa—a typical stoic, grumpy, hard-nosed guy—is one of my favorite characters of My Hero Academia. Because while initially he seems to have almost no emotions or personality, the show offers hints in little things he says and does that prove he really does care. And that’s all I need.

As soon as you create a character who genuinely feels and desires things—that’s when you’ve got my attention.

I start to care about the characters. My heart aches for them when they suffer loss. I cheer for them when they face an obstacle head-on.

Those are the kinds of characters I want to see, because they’re emotionally sincere.

I started thinking I must be a weirdo for prioritizing this over a character’s relatability, so I was shocked to find I’m not alone. Fellow writer and superhero-lover Vaughn Roycroft wrote a fantastic article on how Wonder Woman genuinely moved him. He speculated it was the film’s emotional sincerity that generated its positive feedback and box office success.3

And for another advocate of emotional sincerity, look no further than Wonder Woman’s director, Patty Jenkins.

“Did you say cheesy?” she questions an interviewer when asked about the film’s takeaway.
Cheesy is one of the words banned in my world. I’m tired of sincerity being something we have to be afraid of doing. It’s been like that for 20 years, that the entertainment and art world has shied away from sincerity...

I wanted to tell a story about a hero who believes in love, who is filled with love, who believes in change and the betterment of mankind. I believe in it. It’s terrible when it makes so many artists afraid to be sincere and truthful and emotional...4
There’s nothing wrong with relating to characters, connecting to them because you see a part of yourself in them. It’s just not the way I personally best connect to a story.

I don’t need to see myself in a character; I need to see the character being a real person. That’s the crux of emotional sincerity: letting characters live out the good, the bad, and all the messy stuff in between, without trying to hamstring their reactions with too many jokes or too much grimdark or too much cynicism.

The stories that let people be people are the kinds of stories I love. And, like Roycroft and Jenkins, those are the kinds of stories I want to tell too.

Notes and References:
  1. Matt Colville, “Explaining vs. Engaging,” YouTube video, 11:18, January 30, 2017.
  2. Just Write, “What Writers Should Learn from Wonder Woman,” YouTube video, 9:39, June 23, 2017.
  3. Vaughn Roycroft, “Heartened by Wonder Woman—The Case for Sincere Storytelling,” Writer Unboxed (blog), 1. June 19, 2017, accessed August 29, 2018.
  4. Patty Jenkins, qtd. in Cara Buckley, “The Woman Behind ‘Wonder Woman,’” The New York Times, June 1, 2017, accessed August 29, 2018.
All photos are screenshots taken from Crunchyroll and are used under US “Fair Use” laws.

Aldnoah.Zero and all related terms are the property of Aniplex of America; My Hero Academia and all related terms are the property of Funimation. And I am not affiliated with either of them.

From Him, To Him

Friday, August 24, 2018

How Your Lie in April Impacted My Life... and How It Can Impact Yours

Your Lie in April was one of those shows I’d heard people praising, but I didn’t check it out right away. Going in, I only had a general idea of what it was about: musicians, a young love story, etc.

I had no idea how deeply this story would impact me.

Your Lie in April is indeed about musicians and a young love story. But it’s so much more than that. It’s a show about life. It’s a show about loss and perseverance. It’s about finding your passion and, in many ways, finding who you are, even when you might not like it. It’s about coming to terms with how you were designed and what you were made to do. And it’s about the beauty that unfolds when you finally step into that.

Unlike most shows I watch, there’s no overarching villain in Your Lie in April. Actually, the enemy here is much more terrifying and relatable... it’s fear.

Your Lie in April highlights how devastating fear is in all our lives, no matter what obstacles we face. The characters don’t beat their fears in a 22-minute episode. Far from it. It takes the entire show for the protagonist Kousei to start tackling his fears, step by painful step.

Having struggled with anxiety and panic attacks, I’m intimately acquainted with fear. You can’t just tell fear to go away. It’s not something to scoff at.

This show dares to portray fear and anxiety with raw honesty, including all the shame and self-loathing that so often accompanies it. Fear feels like a monster living inside us, and Your Lie in April portrays that perfectly.

2014 A-1 Pictures
Kousei struggles with fear, embodied by his image of his mother. When she was alive, she was incredibly strict and even abusive at times. Whenever Kousei tries to play piano, he feels like his mother is watching him, judging him, telling him he’s not good enough. This anxiety paralyzes him to the point where he can’t even hear the notes he’s playing.

Just like this ghostly image of his mother, Kousei’s anxiety haunts him, beating him down every time he tries to play music. He freezes up. He can’t do it.

Fear makes him give up. He abandons his public piano-playing: no more concerts, no more competitions. His piano books at home collect dust, and a part of him dies. In fact, he’s actively trying to kill it, avoiding the classical music that was once such a beautiful part of his life.

Kousei is scared of feeling trapped, of being left alone, of failing.

And those are the same fears I’ve struggled with since college.

My life plans fell apart after graduating. I was (and am) one of the many post-college undergraduates who couldn’t seem to get a full-time job. I endured rejection after rejection in the form of “No’s” from dozens of positions. I finally gave up trying to find a job in the field I’d planned on going into. There just weren’t any jobs for people with no previous professional experience.

I was fresh out of college; of course I had no experience.

“Frustrated” wasn’t close to expressing how trapped and betrayed I felt.

I’d done everything right. I’d checked all the boxes. I’d gone to school, stuck it out, worked my butt off for my good grades. Yet after fifteen years, I had nothing to show for it.

I felt directionless; what was I supposed to do now? And worse, I felt helpless to change my situation.

Apparently I had no useful talents or skills; the job market certainly said as much. Maybe all I was good for was working dead-end jobs.

I’d dreamt of being a writer since I was eight or nine years old. But without any “real work,” how could I even afford to spend time writing?

My plans had been smashed to pieces. My hope was sputtering out. Now I felt my dreams were slipping away too. And slowly my world started to lose color. Just like Kousei’s.

From Kousei’s point of view, the world has little color. Many of the backgrounds are muted or even completely black and white. The color pallet is indicative of what’s going on inside him. Nothing excites him. Nothing thrills him. He’s just going through the motions: existing, not living.

I didn’t even realize how monochrome my world had become until I started watching Your Lie in April.

This may not have been a show about a writer, but it was a show about me. Kousei’s struggle with failure, anxiety, depression, pain, and loss resonated with me. Every time Kousei’s fingers would freeze on the keys, every time he sat in horror knowing others were judging him... that was me. When Kousei tries to walk away from music, leaving his piano to literally collect dust... I knew I was one step away from that same future, forced to watch my dream trickle through my fingers.

After all, I figured, I probably wasn’t any good at writing.

After all, I thought, everyone would probably just criticize me.

After all, I felt, I’d never have what it took to really succeed.

There was just one problem... writing was a part of me. No matter how hard it had gotten, no matter how many times I failed at everything else, I had to keep writing. I couldn’t let it go.

In the same way, Kousei tries his hardest to walk away from music, but he can’t escape it. Music is a part of him; he’s a musician, an artist. He has to perform. He can’t leave it behind; that leaves him feeling dead inside.

All it takes is a couple nudges from people who care about him to open his eyes.

Because when Kousei meets Kaori, everything changes.

2014 A-1 Pictures

Kaori reminds Kousei to live. That some things are worth fighting for, even if it takes every bit of ourselves. That even when we pour out every part of us, sometimes that’s exactly what we need to grab hold of a much-needed victory... even if that technically ends in defeat.

Because the people who don’t win aren’t necessarily the ones who lose.

Seeing Kousei and Kaori face fear head-on, no matter how things turn out, reminded me that we only truly fail when we give up.

When Kousei learns to accept music and return to it, a bit of color returns to his life. Bit by bit, Kousei learns to fight his fears and open his heart—to show the world what he can do as a musician and to let others into his world.

So now I’m going to tell you what Your Lie in April told me:

Stick to your passions. Figure out what you were designed to do and do it, no matter how hard it is. Keep fighting.

But why bother? You may wonder. How can I when it’s such a struggle? You don’t understand how difficult it is. You don’t know what I’ve already been through, and with no results to show for it.

But I believe in you.

2014 A-1 Pictures

Everyone is built to do good things in this world. There are going to be people out there who need you to do what only YOU can do.

If you don’t, no one else will. We’re all counting on you. We need you.

If you’re struggling to remember what’s worth fighting for, give this show a watch. If you’re feeling like your dreams are slipping away or that you’re at a dead-end in life, watch this show. You may just walk away with a fresh appreciation for what matters... and with a rekindled desire to chart the course of your life, even if it’s just one small step at a time.

Though I will say: this show is not for you if you’re struggling with an illness. For the rest of you, prepare your feels.

All photos property of their respective owners and used under US "Fair Use" laws. Unless otherwise specified, all are from

Your Lie in April and all related names and terms are the property of Aniplex of America.

From Him, To Him

Friday, August 17, 2018

Why People Hate Mary Sues

She's perfect. She always says the right things at the right times, people can't stop gushing over her, and she never does anything wrong. She makes everybody look bad, but she feels plastic, fake. You're sure her life is secretly a mess, but she'll never show it. To her, everything seems easy, effortless. She never has to work for any of the good things thrown her way.

This kind of person would drive anyone insane. But it's especially aggravating when we see this character in entertainment. This is how I define a Mary Sue.

Some people cry “Mary Sue” as soon as a character shows up that they don't like. Usually the cry of “Mary Sue” can be enough to transform any character into a pariah. But “Mary Sue” has been used to describe anything from a character who's mildly annoying to one that every other character adores to one that's obscenely overpowered compared to everyone else.

So what exactly is a Mary Sue, and why is this type of character so loathed?

TV Tropes has done excellent work cataloging the origins and various definitions of a Mary Sue, though they do warn that the specific definition differs from person to person.

Originally written as a parody... [t]he prototypical Mary Sue is... idealized... mainly for the purpose of wish fulfillment. She's exotically beautiful... She's exceptionally talented in an implausibly wide variety of areas, and may possess skills that are rare or nonexistent in the canon setting. She also lacks any realistic, or at least story-relevant, character flaws — either that or her 'flaws' are obviously meant to be endearing... 
The canon protagonists are all overwhelmed with admiration for her beauty, wit, courage and other virtues, and are quick to adopt her as one of their true companions, even characters who are usually antisocial and untrusting... [T]he canon characters are quickly reduced to awestruck cheerleaders, watching from the sidelines as Mary Sue outstrips them in their areas of expertise and solves problems that have stymied them for the entire series...”1

TV Tropes may not be willing to pin down a definition for a Mary Sue, but most people agree that a Mary Sue is not something you want a character to be. It is a character who is inexplicably perfect to the point of ripping away the audience's suspension of disbelief. A Mary Sue makes other characters look like idiots compared to how incredibly perfect they are, and everyone pays them uneven amounts of attention.

Now, having some of these traits doesn’t necessarily make a bad character. Hey Arnold's Helga, a bully who struggles to confess her true feelings, is contrasted with her absolutely perfect sister Olga, the perfect daughter who's always doing good deeds and getting straight A's, but Olga doesn't break the suspension of disbelief. Saitama from One Punch Man was created to be over-powered, able to defeat any opponent in a single punch, yet he remains likable. Most protagonists gain tons of attention throughout their series; they seem to be the center of attention. But none of these situations garner as much hate as characters labeled a “Mary Sue.” Why not? What makes the difference?

I think what truly separates a Mary Sue from other exceptionally-talented, strong, powerful, or well-liked characters is the fact that accepted characters are meant to be played for laughs while Sues are meant to be taken seriously, and Mary Sues did not earn their status.

Can you think of anything more frustrating than someone who has everything when they haven't done anything to earn it? Think of the irritation with the “One Percenters” in today's society, or how frustrating it is when you've worked your butt off for a promotion only to see someone who doesn't work as hard or as long as you get it instead. This is the sentiment that Mary Sues bring. Little wonder so many people use “Mary Sue” as a derogatory term.

Mary Sues haven't worked for or earned their power, talents, and “beloved by all” statuses. So when Mary Sues hog the spotlight, it rubs salt in the wound. Not only do we have a character who hasn't earned the amazing traits she possesses, but every other character in the universe seems oblivious to that fact.

In addition, Mary Sues have no flaws or weaknesses whatsoever, or if they do, it's ones that don't matter to the story. They can't cook, but who cares? They’re adorably clumsy, but they never trip or fall at an inconvenient time so it works against them.2 And because a Mary Sue has no flaws, she's unrealistic to the point of unbelievability. We can't take a character who is literally good at everything seriously, because no one is like that in real life.

But how do you explain characters like Captain America? Steve Rogers is regularly shown as a very good man. He doesn't seem to have any real flaws; he is literally made into an unstoppable super soldier. He's a good guy with good morals. He doesn't have any particular weaknesses to speak of. Yet nobody complains about him being a Mary Sue. Now compare him to Rey, who's criticized in dozens of videos on YouTube.

Hard work makes for a good character!
Once again, it's because Rey's power has not been earned, especially in the context of her universe. What few struggles she has are not enough to justify the level of power and the attention she receives from most other characters in the film.

In the first Captain America movie, Steve Rogers struggles to achieve his dream, which seemed so out of reach. We rooted for him because we saw he was a man of character, even before he enlisted in the army and became Captain America. And even after becoming Captain America, not everything came easily for him. He fails to save his friend Bucky—twice. He fails to keep Hydra bases from exploding. But he keeps fighting to overcome those failures.

Compare that to Rey, who is immediately able to use Force abilities we've only seen trained Jedi Knights perform, who can wield a lightsaber like an expert despite never turning one on before using it to defeat a trained combatant. Rey didn't work for these abilities, whereas Steve Rogers had to undergo boot camp and struggle with titanic villains.

And unlike Steve Rogers’s Super Soldier program, Rey has no program to justify why she is so powerful in the Force—even moreso than Luke Skywalker, apparently, who had the same start point as Rey and yet had to undergo months if not years of training to be able to do what Rey can do without anyone instructing her.

Mary Sues are not loathed because they're more powerful than anyone else. They're not hated because they garner attention or because they lack meaningful flaws. They're despised because they have all these things, and absolutely none of them are earned through training, failure, and hard work. And anything worth having in life is worth fighting for.

Notes and References:
  1. “Mary Sue,” TV Tropes. October 3, 2017, accessed August 10, 2018.
  2. Ibid.
Photo by Oscar Söderlund on Unsplash.

Star Wars and all related names and terms property of LucasFilm and Walt Disney Studios. Captain America and all related names and terms property of Marvel Entertainment, LLC (and also Walt Disney Studios). And I am not affiliated with any of them.

From Him, To Him

Friday, August 10, 2018

How (NOT) to Handle Exposition - A Lesson from Datalogs

Writers can learn a lot about handling exposition through a video game tool called the datalog.

Datalogs are small blocks of text that explain something about a video game. They’re used to bring the player up to speed on the game’s setting or characters. Normally, you can access them by stopping the game and pulling them up from a menu.

Datalogs have a bad reputation among some gamers, however. Since games are meant to be played, some gamers aren’t keen on a tool that forces them to stop playing so they can obtain more information. Couple that with the fact that some games use datalogs as a crutch just to help the game make sense, and you can see the problem.

Design Doc highlights this very issue in the video essay “FFX VS FFXIII - Two Linear Games, Two Outcomes ~ Design Doc.” The video points out how Final Fantasy XIII’s datalogs threw giant chunks of confusing text at the player to explain how the world worked rather than expressing it through gameplay or cutscenes.1 It was the ultimate violation of “Show, Don’t Tell,” and players were rightfully insulted... and confused.

Getting this much information all at once in hard-to-digest chunks rather than picking up clues while seeing the world unfold is insulting to the audience and makes for weaker storytelling.

A Tool, Not an Evil

Part of the reason so many people decry exposition is because stories often deliver it poorly; see the above example of datalogs gone wrong.

But exposition and datalogs aren’t inherently bad, just as cutscenes in video games aren’t inherently bad; as Extra Credits puts it in their video “Cutscenes - A Powerful (and Misused) Narrative Design Tool,”2 they’re simply tools which must be used properly.

As Extra Credits states in another video, no tool should ever work against the core purpose of the project.3 Misused exposition, whether in novels or in datalogs, does a lot more harm than many other misused tools. But a well-written datalog shows just how important and helpful exposition can be.

Complement, Not Supplement

My brother (an aspiring game-maker and fellow storyteller) put it best: datalogs should only be used as a complement to the story already established in-game. They should never be used as a supplement to telling a story through the actual gameplay or cutscenes.

It’s the same with any form of exposition. Show as much as you can about the world, the characters, and the plot. Only when you can’t show any more do you resort to telling the audience something directly.

And even then, make sure to tell it in an interesting way.

Reality Punch Studios reveals one of the most effective ways to deliver exposition as he breaks down Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl:

Throughout a large portion of this film, scenes [in Pirates of the Caribbean] will be doing more than one thing at a time, which is why you’ll find yourself engaged pretty much the entire time. While they’re giving you exposition, they’re also giving you character. When they set up plot points, you don’t even notice, because they’re also simply entertaining you with a fun scene... Good screenwriters can and should be doing the same thing.4

This is the right way to divulge exposition; not boringly dumping it into a viewer’s lap and expecting them to care.

Stay Within the Game

Keeping exposition within the story is one problem seen less in literature as in games, but the lesson’s the same regardless: exposition usually needs to stay within the story you’re telling. Don’t expect people to go to some outside source in order to understand what they’re reading right now. Datalogs in particular almost always need to stay WITHIN the game—unless the game is about making the player self-aware that they’re playing a game.

Forcing players to stop playing the game to look up information on its world and lore (I’m looking at you, Destiny) is bad design. Forcing readers to pull open another book just to understand what’s going on is bad writing. Put that information in. For a story, put it in the book. For a game, put it into the cutscenes, the in-game dialogue, and even the level design, as much as you can. Once you’ve done all that and there’s still a few things you just can’t squeeze in—THAT you can put in as raw exposition. That you can make into a datalog.

Stay Short!

Because datalogs are a written medium, they too need to follow the rules of good writing. In particular, datalogs must be concise. They have to remember their purpose and never stray from it.

To that end, exposition in any form should usually remain short. It’s far easier to digest multiple spread-out, small pieces of information rather than many giant paragraphs.

There are exceptions; for instance, Kingdom Hearts can get away with longer datalogs (their “Ansem’s Reports”) than Final Fantasy XIII. But why? What makes the difference?

Part of the “tolerance” for exposition depends on the genre; you’re going to get more history, names, and background in fantasy than in a spy thriller. In Kingdom Hearts and Final Fantasy XIII’s cases, however, genre isn’t the issue. For the most part, Kingdom Hearts could get away with longer datalogs because the reports didn’t contain a ton of confusing and similar terms, whereas Final Fantasy XIII’s lore was rife with tricky terminology (l’Cie, fal’Cie, and Cie’th are three completely different terms, all equally important to that plot). For another, Kingdom Hearts’s reports weren’t absolutely essential to understand the main plot or the basics on how the universe functions. By contrast, Final Fantasy XIII threw vital information on the story’s various (and equally confusing) factions without addressing who was whom and what they were fighting against in cutscenes or through the gameplay.

Exposition can never confuse the audience. It needs to remain short and to the point. If it’s bogged down with terms that are too similar or not well-explained, the audience will get confused. And if the exposition is confusing and important to the overall story, the audience is probably going to get mad or wind up totally uninvested.

Remember, most people won’t bother to read exposition in any form, including datalogs; they’ll just skip over it. People play video games to play. People read stories to enjoy what happens in the story. Nobody wants to be forced to read; they want to be drawn into reading because they’ve already learned about the world and found it so compelling that they want to dive deeper. You want to make it as easy as possible for them to get sucked in.

The Takeaway

To do that, ask yourself these questions when writing exposition:

1. Is this information vital to the story I’m currently telling?

If it is, consider weaving it organically into the story. Don’t just tell us your character is poor; show how tattered and ill-fitting their clothing is. Have them come home and be grateful they have dinner this evening.

If it isn’t, consider cutting it entirely or, if it’s a tidbit a really big fan might enjoy knowing, present it in a way that doesn’t tear the reader out of the ongoing story.

2. Am I presenting this information in an interesting way?

Are you showing off more facets of your characters while they’re speaking that expositiony dialogue? Are you introducing things in a way that makes your audience want to know more? Are your exposition-delivering scenes fun in and of themselves?

3. Am I giving enough information?

Timing is important! Make sure to give the audience enough to at least get the gist of what’s going on. They don’t need a lot; sometimes all it takes is a little nudge that tells them “These are the bad guys.”

4. Am I giving too much information?

Keep it short; keep it simple! Your audience doesn’t need to know everything right away! Give them just enough to understand what’s happening. They’re smarter than you think!

Four writing tips just from studying datalogs. Who says gaming can’t make you smarter? ;)
Notes and References:
  1. Design Doc, “FFX VS FFXIII - Two Linear Games, Two Outcomes ~ Design Doc,” YouTube video, 15:39, October 16, 2017.
  2. Extra Credits, “Cutscenes - A Powerful (and Misused) Narrative Design Tool,” YouTube video, 8:26, May 17, 2012.
  3. Extra Credits, “Skyrim's Opening - How NOT to Start a Game - Extra Credits,” YouTube video, 9:48, May 19, 2012.
  4. Reality Punch Studios, Pirates of the Caribbean - Accidentally Genius YouTube video, 53:07, May 19, 2017.
Final Fantasy, Kingdom Hearts, and all related names and terms property of SquareEnix. And I am not affiliated with them.

From Him, To Him

Friday, August 3, 2018

Type Casting: Roy Mustang

Some characters are so well-written that they seem life-like. But how would these realistic characters stand up to real-life personality typing?

It’s time to put the Enneagram back to the test by gauging characters’ personality types based on their core drives and greatest fears.

Type Casting:

Personality Typing Your Favorite Characters

The remainder of this post will contain some spoilers for

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood

You have been warned.

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, Bones 2009-2010

“The power of one person does not amount to much. As such, I will do all I can, however little that may be, to protect those who are dear to me. Those below me will protect those below them. We tiny humans should be able to do that much, at least...”

“Which means... In order for you to protect the whole country, you’ll have to be standing at the top of the pyramid.”

“I’ll bet it feels awfully good to be there, Hughes.”1

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, Bones 2009-2010

Roy Mustang is a man of many faces: irritating boss to the impulsive state alchemist Ed Elric, confidante of Lt. Colonel Maes Hughes, center of the world to sharpshooter Riza Hawkeye. Roy Mustang garners respect from some... and loathing from those who incorrectly think they know the real Roy.

Today, we’re typing the Flame Alchemist, Colonel Mustang, a poster-child Type Three.

Type Threes are called “The Achievers.” And hearing that, those of you familiar with Fullmetal Alchemist are probably already nodding in agreement; there’s nobody more ambitious in the FMA universe than Roy Mustang.

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, Bones 2009-2010

Determined to become the leader of Amestris, Roy will do anything to achieve his goals. As is typical of Threes, he works himself to the bone,2 often falling asleep at his desk due to how hard he’s pushing himself (and his subordinates).

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, Bones 2009-2010

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, Bones 2009-2010
Threes are all about achieving success, however their culture might define it.3 To Roy, success means ruling the country so he can right the injustices and atrocities he saw—and perpetuated—during the Ishvalan War of Extermination. He sees ruling the country both as a way to redeem himself (or condemn himself, as his lieutenant, Riza, points out)4 and to protect others from being harmed via war again.

With this in mind, Roy has become the pinnacle of a good soldier while positioning himself to climb the political ladder. This is typical Three behavior: “Threes learn to perform in ways that will garner them praise and positive attention... learn[ing] how to cultivate and develop whatever about them is attractive or potentially impressive.”5 And Roy’s been hard at work at that. He’s “diplomatic and poised.”6 He almost always retains his cool, keeping the hot-headed Ed Elric in check with his straight-talking diplomacy. He’s “self-assured, attractive, and charming,”7 so charismatic he’s gained a reputation as a womanizer.

But this is all some see when they look at Roy: a dangerously ambitious go-getter who has a penchant for hitting on women. But that’s hardly Roy’s true face.

Roy wears a myriad of masks in order to achieve his goals. If he needs to seem like a womanizing scumbag, he’ll do it. If he feels he needs to be brutal, he’ll be brutal. Outsiders might see these masks and assume the Three is a naturally disingenuous person, and to some degree, they are correct; Threes often struggle to understand who they really are and what they truly want, since success defined by others will only satisfy them for so long.

Many Threes discover they’ve spent their whole lives adapting to how others define success... and thus don’t know what they want out of life.8

But Roy doesn’t struggle with this Type-Three pitfall. Why? Perhaps because of his upbringing. Whereas many Threes are told “[a]t a young age... that they [are] not allowed to have feelings and be themselves,”9 Roy was surrounded by emotionally healthy individuals who encouraged him to chart his own path. His foster mother, a caring and street-smart woman, continues to support his dreams, even at the risk of her life and the wellbeing of her business.10 His mentor, Riza’s father, supported and tutored Roy in flame alchemy; the two were so close that Riza’s father had no qualms criticizing Roy if he thought the young man had lost his way.11 Even the horrors of the Ishvalan War forced Roy to evaluate what really mattered. All these elements taught Roy to self-reflect and attune himself with his “inner core.”12 He knows who he is and what he truly wants: to protect people and do it justly.

Roy does, however, fall prey to a second struggle for Threes: the blessing/curse of compartmentalizing emotions. It allows Threes to achieve greatness... and lose touch with their inner humanity. “Threes... ‘put their feelings in a box’ so that they can get ahead... Threes have come to believe that emotions get in the way of their performance, so they substitute thinking and practical action for feelings.”13 We can see this in action as Roy puts aside his feelings and sometimes even his basic physical needs (again, his lack of sleep) to get things done.

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood,
Bones 2009-2010
Although this quality enables Roy to do great things, it’s a double-edged sword: after all, it led to him killing Ishvalans during the war, a crime that still haunts him and Hawkeye to this day.14 It also leaves him more susceptible to his emotions taking over, especially when he thinks it’s his goals driving him. For instance, when Roy investigates a friend’s murder, he doggedly works until he finds the culprit... and nearly loses his humanity to his overwhelming rage.

To achieve what he wants, Roy has to manipulate how others perceive him... which leads to another Three pitfall: being “overly concerned with [his] image and what others think of [him].”15

Threes thrive on affirmation more than any other personality type because they fear they are worthless. This fear ultimately drives Roy’s every action and frustration. Look at how he responds when he’s at his lowest point.

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, Bones 2009-2010

Robbed of the use of his eyes, his alchemy is useless. He’s thrown around like a ragdoll, forced to listen as others try their hardest to defeat an impossibly powerful enemy while relying on someone else to guide him to safety. He’d only be a burden. Injured and shaking, all Roy can say is, “Sorry. I didn’t expect to be so useless at such a critical time.”16

To an outside observer, this would seem like nothing more than an off-hand comment. But for Roy, who needs to be needed, feeling this sense of worthlessness kills him.

Riza has always told him he’s “useless” in the rain,17 and it’s clear from his reaction in this scene that to some degree, Roy has always believed—and feared—that it’s not his alchemy that’s worthless... it’s him.

But this moment also proves what a strong, developed Three Roy is. This moment of raw honesty is exactly what a Three needs; they can’t grow until they express their “genuine feelings and needs.”18

So how does Roy overcome this insecurity and the very real weakness of suddenly becoming blind? By turning to others to help him overcome his flaws. Immediately after this scene, Roy turns to Riza, willingly and eagerly relying on her to be his eyes.

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, Bones 2009-2010

Riza brings out the best in Roy. Together they overcome the pitfalls a Three-One relationship can fall into: while some Threes may find Ones’ principles annoying and inconvenient,19 Roy is willing to let Riza guide him. He respects and trusts her moral compass so deeply that he willingly lets her make the call should he go too far.

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, Bones 2009-2010

Even when Roy finds himself on the brink, Riza’s love brings him back. Because what he can’t stand most is hurting his “dear lieutenant.”20

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, Bones 2009-2010

Riza balances his weaknesses, holding Roy accountable when he becomes so focused on the goal that he loses sight of what it means to get there. Riza also serves as a constant visual reminder of Roy’s true goal and deepest desire: not to rule, but to lead; not to lord over others, but to protect them in ways that the current leader has failed to do.

So although Roy may seem like a man of many masks—a charming politician rising through the ranks to become ruler of all—he’s far more. Because he’s taken time to focus on what really matters and kept himself surrounded by people who will drive him to do the right thing in the right way, Roy exhibits qualities of the healthiest Three:

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, Bones 2009-2010

“Self-accepting, inner-directed, and authentic, everything they seem to be... [S]elf-deprecatory humor and a fullness of heart emerge. Gentle and benevolent... Self-assured, energetic, and competent with high self-esteem: they believe in themselves and their own value. Adaptable, desirable, charming, and gracious.”21

By the end of the show, Roy has turned away from his ugliest inner monster and faced his deepest fears. He’s become the self-sacrificing man he needs to be to lead the country into a new era of peace.

Notes and References:
  1. Roy Mustang and Maes Hughes, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, “Separate Destinations” Episode 10, Directed by Yasuhiro Irie, Written by Hiroshi Ōnogi, June 7, 2009, Aniplex of America.
  2. Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson, The Wisdom of the Enneagram: The Complete Guide to Psychological and Spiritual Growth for the Nine Personality Types (New York City, NY: Random House Publishing Group, 1999), 153-55, quoted in “THE ACHIEVER [sic],” The Enneagram Institute, 2017, accessed July 24, 2018.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Riza Hawkeye, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, “The Ishvalan War of Extermination” Episode 30, Directed by Yasuhiro Irie, Written by Hiroshi Ōnogi, November 1, 2009, Aniplex of America.
  5. Riso and Hudson, The Wisdom of the Enneagram, 153-55.
  6. Ibid.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, “The Oath in the Tunnel” Episode 48, Directed by Yasuhiro Irie, Written by Hiroshi Ōnogi, March 14, 2010, Aniplex of America.
  11. Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, “The Ishvalan War of Extermination” Episode 30.
  12. Riso and Hudson, The Wisdom of the Enneagram, 153-55.
  13. Ibid.
  14. Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, “The Ishvalan War of Extermination” Episode 30.
  15. Riso and Hudson, The Wisdom of the Enneagram, 153-55.
  16. Roy Mustang, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, “He Who Would Swallow God” Episode 61, Directed by Yasuhiro Irie, Written by Hiroshi Ōnogi, June 13, 2010, Aniplex of America.
  17. Riza Hawkeye, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, “Fullmetal Alchemist” Episode 1, Directed by Yasuhiro Irie, Written by Hiroshi Ōnogi, April 5, 2009, Aniplex of America.
  18. Riso and Hudson, The Wisdom of the Enneagram, 153-55.
  19. “Enneagram Type One (the Reformer) with Enneagram Type Three (the Achiever),” The Enneagram Institute, 2017, accessed July 24, 2018.
  20. Roy Mustang, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, “Beyond the Inferno” Episode 54, Directed by Yasuhiro Irie, Written by Hiroshi Ōnogi, April 25, 2010, Aniplex of America.
  21. Riso and Hudson, The Wisdom of the Enneagram, 153-55.
All photos are screenshots taken off Netflix and are the property of Aniplex of America 2009-2010. Used under US "Fair Use" laws.

Colonel Roy Mustang, Riza Hawkeye, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood and all related terms are the property of Aniplex of America. And I am not affiliated with them.

From Him, To Him