What is “Pride” and why it is so common in Anime?
Pride has always been a common trait in anime series I’ve watched over the years. More common than any other character trait and also the one I’ve enjoyed the most when it materialises in key (and badass) moments within a story. So I wanted to talk about it as a driving force behind key characters’ development. Firstly, I wanted to establish what definition of pride I am referring to as there are multiple meanings to this.
“A feeling of self-respect and personal worth.”
“The Trait of being spurred on by a dislike of falling below your standards.”
In this case, Pride is about how you feel about yourself. An important distinction because in a lot of cases, pride is measured by what you think others perceive you as. Initially I thought its common occurrence in manga was due to its prevalence in Japanese culture. But actually it is tied to a bigger cultural theme – a culture of shame and honor. In essence, you live to make your family proud, which is closely related but slightly different to self-respect and personal worth. It is possible that could be getting lost in translation of subtitles to this day. For example, a character could be referring to his “honour” in japanese but translate to his “pride” in english. This is simply food for thought and I won’t go further into this.
So back to the original question, why does “Pride” appear so often? I felt it had more to do with my watching preferences. I mainly watched shows based on shonen manga which focus on martial arts, competitiveness and battles. I don’t like using wikipedia links but it was all I could find to define “shonen” as a genre. I feel it encapsulates the main character traits seen in these series very well:
Such manga often portray challenges to the protagonist’s abilities, skills, and maturity, stressing self-perfection, austere self-discipline, sacrifice in the cause of duty, and honorable service to society, community, family, and friends.
Shonen manga generally fall under the action and adventure genres containing elements of violence. Many portray a male team, whether a sports team or a fighting squad, working together for a common goal.
The correlation between shonen fighting and pride is obvious. And maybe we can give credit to Akira Toriyama for he contributed to the popularity of shonen manga with Dragon Ball. And by extension provided the blueprint for what personality traits future shonen character will have. And with that, I will look at a character of his whose pride is more than a trait but rather a way of life.
A Saiyan’s Pride
“You may have invaded my mind and my body, but there’s one thing a Saiyan always keeps… his pride!!!” — Vegeta resisting Babidi’s control.
Vegeta was without doubt the proudest character in the Dragon Ball universe. What looked like arrogance at first eventually became something more. He felt his royal blood destined him to greatness but he knew that this destiny came with a huge responsibility. On top of that, he was one of the only survivors of his extinct race meaning he couldn’t disappoint them even if they were no longer alive to judge him.
Seeing Goku, a Saiyan of lower class attain powers beyond comprehension was something Vegeta couldn’t live with.There were no Saiyans to mock him or question his royal status but it was his duty to reach such levels of power. His pride demanded it.
“Now it’s time to share that pride..pride in myself. I am a Saiyan who was raised on Planet Earth, and in the name of every single Saiyan that you’ve made suffer!…For them, and all the people of Planet Namek, too!…I will defeat you!” — Goku right before his battle against Frieza begun
This led Vegeta to partake in a near-impossible training regime to become a Super Saiyan. This single goal was a compass that guided him towards being Goku’s greatest rival but it also led him astray. It had a dark side which was exploited by Babidi who tried to take control of the “Dark Prince”. Fortunately, it was Vegeta’s Pride that would always overcome any obstacle.
His character development is built around his sense of pride and has inspired many Dragon Ball fans to root for him over a rather cardboard cut-out protagonist – Goku. When I was a kid, I always remembered my dad coming back from work, seeing me and brother watching DBZ and he’ll always ask “where’s Vegeta”. That’s all he cared about. I think this was because he related to Vegeta as a man of great pride. As my father’s son, I feel the same connection too.
A Soldier’s Pride
Ein Dalton was a dutiful young soldier, who held intense loyalty to both his comrades as well as Gjallarhorn – the organisation he fought for. Above all, he was extremely loyal to his mentor Crank Zent who died at the hands of Mikasuki Augus – the main protagonist. His story is one of pride and his honour as a soldier versus Mika – an orphan with none. Unfortunately, it didn’t end well for him nor his mentor who was the one that instilled these values.
From what I saw, pride was never the victor in this series but was a self-destructive trait that faltered when tested. Crank Zent didn’t have to go back and fight Mikazuki but he did it out of duty. It was his responsibility to preserve his soldiers reputation. Then he died for that and his student continued this vicious cycle. He became obsessed with vengeance and even put his life on the line for Gaelio who provided him another opportunity to restore his pride.
“McGillis. As a way to ensnare Gjallarhorn. You used Ein. You used his pride.”
But in the end, it was McGillis who used that against him for his own aims. What would be seen as admirable in many people’s eyes, was shown to be fragile and easily manipulated. Not everyone can survive a blow of this doubled edged sword like Vegeta.
The different forms of Pride
“If it is for the sake of my pride, there is nothing I won’t destroy.” — Byakuya Kuchiki
When he said this, it seemed he had betrayed the Soul Society by siding with the rogue Zanpakutos. Eventually it was revealed that Byakuya’s true intentions were to stay close to Muramasa so that he could locate and kill his Soul Reaper Kōga Kuchiki for dishonoring the Kuchiki clan. This was a filler arc so you can take what you like with a pinch of salt but the reference to his pride (whether true to the manga or not) is interesting in how elusive it is.
“My killing you is no other reason than the fact that you… Pointed your blade [view shifts to Rukia] at my pride”
Byakuya Kuchiki is the 28th head of one of the four great noble clans in Soul Society and captain of the 6th Division in the Gotei 13 so there’s plenty of reason for his prideful nature. But his is a lot less straightforward. I say this because it was this same pride that was for Rukia’s execution. He felt it was his duty as head of the Kuchiki clan to uphold the law even if it meant his adoptive sister’s death. Then in another arc, he refers to Rukia as his pride after saving her from the 7th Espada, Zommari Rureaux.
What you may take from these examples is that Pride can take many forms, whether it is a matter of honour, a sense of duty or virtue you live by such as protecting your loved ones. Essentially it is something you fight for even if it means putting everything else at risk, including one’s life.
Pride in today’s society
“Lucifer spoke thus. Pride took him from heaven, though he sat at God’s right hand. In the end, pride is the root of all evil.” – Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence
Pride has always had dark connotations but I can imagine it had a better reputation a few centuries back. Nowadays it is dismissed as hypermasculine or egotistic, I can understand why. The stakes are not so high, we are not soldiers and have no reason to fight nor do we have anything to prove to anyone. These values were reserved in times of wars or for people of power such as royalty. These things are less visible in a world of democracy and flatter hierarchies. You would struggle to justify a person possessing this trait as it is no longer needed.
Does Pride still serve any purpose?
When I see a football (soccer) player dive, I question their sense of pride. Nowadays there’s no shame in getting the best outcome. Whether it is your team winning or doing wrong by your work colleagues for shareholder profits. We even applaud these actions as if it was for the greater good. Without the fear of public shame or anyone questioning your “honour”, such acts are more likely to happen. It makes me wonder whether pride has become so socially unacceptable, it’s facing extinction.
Maybe it is the rarity of it that makes characters with pride my favourite. It can send one down a spiral of darkness, as shown by the above examples but it can also motivate you to do what’s right and attain greatness. Isn’t the Pirate Hunter Zoro a prideful man? Didn’t he swallow his pride when it mattered for a higher purpose? For me it is a double edge sword worth wielding but not out of a honour or a sense of obligation. Simply because I want to meet my own high standards and be great enough to reach my full potential.