Chapter 1: Reasons to Adore a Garbage Character
We can summarise the case of Bakugou as an abrasive young man focused on victory through power, and is set up to be the protagonist’s mirror and rival. In childhood, he notoriously bullied the protagonist, degrading the other’s worth and infamously saying something to the effect, that the protagonist may as well jump off a roof, because he might get a quirk in the next life. During character growth, his motivations are explained, and his behaviour has also improved, but that doesn’t wash away his introduction as some horrible gremlin person.
He is not be my number one favourite, but he is certainly many people’s favourite. And I can’t deny that I am quite partial to reading about him as well.
So, why? Why do we put ourselves through this?
- Adoring a character because we have assumed or foresee their potential redemption
The fanfiction we write is not only influenced by canon, but by other fanworks as well. This is what it means to post to a community, and it is often the newbies who may say something to the effect of “but that’s completely OOC, character A is never nice!” or “why do even ship B and C? They’ve never met.” And to which, I understand that reaction, because we’ve all probably had that thought at least once, when we first explored fandoms, because it takes some time to realise that some fanworks imagine and extrapolate on the potential of what canon provides, and then there exists further fanwork that aim to complement those fanfic. Ultimately, we all pay tribute to canon, but also our fellow writers and artists and video editors.
But the effect of this, is that someone, somewhere, probably saw Bakugou Katsuki in all of his garbage glory in canon, and thought “I think I can write some 60K (or 30K, or 100K or more) outlining the rocky path of redemption for this guy.” And they do. And other fans read that, and go “hey, I really love what you have you done with the character here,” and adopt that as some sort of personal fanon. Later on, they may even contribute something themselves, but this time, even when they write about Bakugou from canon, they do not want to be entirely ruthless to this character, and thus might write him somewhat more palpable to our sensibilities. And others still, read that more fluffy version, think, “aw I like this misunderstood roughshod character” and now draw a sweet domestic scene, but this time, in respect to fanon and Bakugou’s potential personality if only XYZ occurs.
If you choose to walk into fandom at this point in time, you may be confused why it appears that a lot of people, like what you first saw as a garbage human being.
So yes, quite a few of the people who eventually adore this character, don’t necessarily like him for his behaviour in canon, but appreciate the redemption someone else wrote for him. And the feelings transferred over.
It is not the first time that fandom has created such appreciation for background characters. Between a couple of us, we can recreate the few glimpses of what could symbolize personality in one-dimensional characters (such as noticing that a character once perfectly aligned their pens on a desk to relate to how they are secretly a perfectionist terrified of public perception) into complex characters, and that transfers to what you see on screen (or in the next novel/volume). We root for them, even if we, technically, barely met them.
True, it would be nice if authors could preface their work in some way to indicate that their character is actually the alternative version of the canon one, wherein their redemption occurred in a manner similar to the arc of fanfics A, B and C. But veterans seem to assume we already know that their work isn’t published in a vacuum. (Of course, there are fanfic where characters are written entirely missing some key element of what made them ‘them’ (and thus, are actually OOC), but that can only be identified through the way authors write in itself, and it isn’t a term to throw around lightly. (And even OOC works are important for the creators themselves, but that’s a discussion in itself.))
- Admiring the skill behind constructing such a character, not the personality
The only “bad” characters are “badly written” characters, as in, they are flat or lack internal coherence or consistency. And sometimes, you have very complex, morally dubious characters, but you respect the characters because it is admirable that canon managed to pull them off so believably or intensely, so on and so forth.
Just because a lot of people can appreciate a thrilling fight scene with inventive camera work and smooth CGI, doesn’t mean we would all would like to have child soldiers, or manipulation of orphans, or whatever the adolescent shounen shows impliedly may suggest when simply establishing their premise alone. On a similar logic, you don’t have to condone what Bakugou does, to appreciate how canon has chosen to develop him. A major part of his arc relates to how villainous the public comes to perceive his character, and that can only happen if this behaviour is established in the first place.
Sometimes, showcasing characters by exaggerating a twisted motivation is important for the sake of contrast, so that you can utilise that character to explore one of themes of the work. In Bakugou’s case, he effectively symbolises someone chasing a hero’s victorious strength to be their most important aspect, while the protagonist chases the hero’s reassuring selflessness, and others see that same hero to effectively be a blinder preventing others from seeing society’s systemic issues that they should tackle instead. You can’t explore a theme like this, without a character like this.
And it takes a lot of skill to pull off a complex character who is fairly horrible, yet have the audience begrudgingly like them, because of their complexity, or smidge of relatable origins/motivations. If you ever read or watched Durarara!! (a show often recommended for its characterisation and intricate, yet tightly woven plot), then I would point to Izaya Orihara as an example of such a character. For the most part, he may as well be chaos masquerading as a human, to the point where even if the show tried to state what his "true" motivations are, viewers likely wouldn't believe them. And so, the show has the audience avidly keep track of his exploits, often utilising him as a catalyst for further plot events. In a way, presentation of complex characters are the difference between great shows, and shows that fall flat. If you do not know how to present a mercurous character, then attempting to establish a plot based on their turn-coat actions would only be seen as contrived.
- Actually they aren’t horrible because of that most recent / ending twist
When something is ongoing, it can be the bane of many fans that other fans are still playing catch-up. On one hand, you are excited that they are going to experience something new, and you want to see their reaction. On the other hand, it’s hard to say anything without spoiling it.
And if you’re trying to defend why your character actually isn’t garbage, but you can’t because that may actually give away the plot twist, you may find yourself instead floundering about trying to convince people, with an argument that boils down to “if you finished watching/reading it, then you will understand!” (Note: the effectiveness rating of this is about 50-50.)
(For example, I once saw two people discussing Log Horizon, which is a show that looks into the implications of game mechanics still existing, even after the characters wake up inside the game, and those mechanics remain reasonable or explicable to the original occupants. The point is, one person stopped watching after 2-3 episodes claiming it was honestly too boring to continue for it didn’t really explore any ‘novel’ themes, ironically listing some off by way of example. And the other was vainly trying to explain without explaining that those themes will come in later, but since they appear as plot twists… well… you really feel for both people involved.)
On the other hand, there are also times, where even where the work is completed, the character twist came so late in the plot, that some fans have already accustomed themselves to believing the worst of that character and cannot get over the last minute nature of that twist. Which is fair, depending on how arbitrary you subjectively saw that twist. But if you have successfully incorporated that twist into your understanding of the character, then technically, they may actually be a “garbage human being”.
And now to the bonus rounds…
Bonus 1. Loving them because, hey, they’re gorgeous!
And to be fair, you are allowed to appreciate beauty. And there’s a lot of skill involved in making something look beautiful (see: the plight of fashion magazines), so don’t worry too much if the creators succeeded. That’s a good job, and usually worth some form of applause.
And if you can acknowledge it is just on this quality alone, completely devoid of personality traits or conduct such that you can transpose any other backstory on this character and it wouldn’t change how you see them, then… well, sure. (and well done with your self-awareness, because it will help you later once you realise there are some additional implications behind this pretty character design. Seriously, you don’t want to be that person trying to argue that they never displayed garbage traits and are perfect in every way, even if there’s clear canon evidence to the contrary, and you didn’t actually read/watch canon. *cough* fandom jumpers *cough*)
Bonus 2. Liking a garbage character does not preclude you for liking any other character.
I didn’t think I needed to mention that but sometimes, there have been comments where the logic of their arguments rests on the premise that people are only allowed to like one character from a show. (If you track the timestamps, this is usually from back during the flame-wars age of “OTP” and its cousin: “my OTP is the only valid OTP”.)
But the good news is, you can love many characters at once!
(I mean, I cannot deny that Aizawa is actually one of my favourites in My Hero Academia, because of his gruff kindness and sincerity. He also looks like he rolled out of a trash can and that sleep was a country that he lost his visa to visit. Wait- would this be another category for garbage characters? Like you would not be surprised if an episode showed them emerging from a dumpster? Huh.)
Bonus 3. Adoring them because while they may be garbage, they are mine and I will protect them
This has an underlying principle of no one deserves to be or should be alone/forgotten etc, transferred into an emotional fandom context and isn’t necessarily about the individual character themselves. It summarises as “Ok, sometimes they are garbage but I want to defend them against the world anyway!”
Chapter 2: The Severus Dilemma
How do we approach writing characters who were, at last minute, redeemed by canon? [An aside that relates to Points 2 and 3 of 'Reasons to Adore a Garbage Character']
There is a dilemma is what approach we should take as content creators inspired by a pre-existing work, when it comes to character who was at last minute, redeemed by the canon story.
Because there is a large subset of fanfic that are set at the ‘beginning’ of the canon story, perhaps through time-travel or maybe a “what if”. And in canon, this character indeed acted horribly, at least at this time point. Yet, later they have been redeemed or revealed to have had different intentions all along.
It is a disservice to write, for example, Severus Snape as some one-dimensional, garish, hateful abuser in your First Year-set fanfiction, a figure you can torment and mock because you want something especially dark to contrast your ever-heroic and powerful protagonist, without ever addressing his double agent status and desire to keep Harry alive. But it is also a disservice to write him as kind and fluffy and sweet. Oh he was a good guy at the end, so that erases how he’s managed to terrify and target a student so badly that he manifested as their worst fear!
Look, we don’t have all the time in the world, and it takes time to flesh out characters. So I understand why people don’t focus much on their characters at various points. But going by the extremes is fatal to a character that by implication for canon (even if it was just by an end twist) has a complex personality.
Creating congruence in character when there isn’t much to go in is not the job of the author. It used to be (and it would be great if they did more) but the work is already published. Unless they are continuing the series and using that character their work is done.
It is to the burden of fanfic writers who want to write what is essentially an adaption or complement to canon, who must pick up the slack and imagine coherency among the mental state of the characters. Somehow, seemingly contradictory actions must make sense to the individual. There is a reason why they did the things we saw them do, and even when those acts have yet to occur in the fanfic, the reasoning or mental state in canon must carry across.
So when you are writing your spies, your turncoats, the recently revealed-to-be-something-they-weren’t-initially-presented-to-be… and especially if you decide to set your fanfiction at the beginning of canon… then take care.
And also, good luck, my friend.
Because depending on the author, you may be in for one hell of a time, trying to hold together the puzzle pieces with patterned sticky tape so that the gaps aren’t too obvious. (But isn’t that what fandom does best? Piece together the most unlikely of screenshots and offhand phrases and ideas, until we get something that resounds with us?)