Growing up I was always known as a bit of a space case.
My teachers would often take my parents into conferences to tell them about how easily distracted I am and how my inability to pay attention was hindering my learning ability. My mom’s solution was to give me EXTRA homework when I came home in a number of different workbooks I had to go through growing up. It was annoying and repetitive and probably did more harm than good in terms of endearing me to my classrooms at a young age.
But I was often distracted because like most kids I liked living in my imagination. Dreaming of new space age and fantasy worlds I could inhabit. Fighting in some great war against a dark lord or some other horrible monster creature, while making explosion sounds as I walked around the school playground during recess. I wasn’t super social because of it since it’s not like I could have the other kids hop into my make-believe world with me (perhaps too shy as well), but I was content to be there often because of the escape it gave me from the real world.
More than anything, inside my imagination, I was typically the main character. The one to save the day or get the princess and experience the catharsis of a hero’s journey and I often based what that journey looked like off the number of characters I fell in love with at a young age. Whether it was Tommy Oliver in “Power Rangers,” Luke Skywalker in “Star Wars,” or Aragorn in “Lord of the Rings,” characters have been a big influence on not just my imagination but myself.
A good character can pull you into a story and guide you along to its epic conclusion. Characters come in all shapes, sizes, genders, races, and all things in between and we become infatuated with them for a number of different reasons. Sometimes it’s because they remind us of ourselves, maybe in good ways, maybe uncomfortably so. Sometimes they show us who we could be perhaps, whether its aspirational or a warning to turn from a darker path. Either way, characters can attract us for a number of different reasons, and through my time consuming TV, comics, books, and movies a lot of them have been informative of how I view life and carry myself as I’m sure plenty can be for all of you.
So, who are my favorite characters? What do I love about them? Let’s dive in…
5. Captain Jean-Luc Picard (“Star Trek: The Next Generation”)
Picard is one of my oldest favorite characters. My parents endeared me to “Star Trek” at a young age and while I have many favorites within the franchise, I always come back to Picard perhaps the most.
What I like about The Next Generation captain is he is really my ideal type of leader. Picard can be stern but also empathetic. Disciplined but capable of lightheartedness. Principled but has the ability to change. A leader but can be lead as well because he respects and loves his crew who he sees as equals.
The way Picard runs the Enterprise is how I would hope more leaders could work with their subordinates. Throughout the series, while Picard can be plenty strict, he also gives a fair amount of leeway for his crew of diverse characters to lead in their own way because he trusts them with his life. Perhaps it’s because these characters live in a post-scarcity, post-money, implied communistic society Picard can allow himself to let others be themselves instead of see them as competitors in life but he is a leader who fairly consistently does right by his crew first before himself.
He is noble and well-learned and the type of character I would love to sit down with and discuss philosophy over a cup of Earl Grey. “Star Trek” is an episodic series so we often don’t see long-running arcs come together that often but what Picard does from episode to episode is show what a true leader can and should look like and it’s what makes him an inspiring character.
4. Kara Thrace aka “Starbuck” (“Battlestar Galactica”)
I have a feeling if I revisited Ronald D. Moore’s sci-fi classic remake of “Battlestar Galactica” my feelings would change on a number of themes it posits about the post 9/11 world.
Originally a character like Lee “Apollo” Adama might’ve made this list, as he is the moral center of the show, but I have a feeling I would take issue with his stringent beliefs on certain political subjects (which I won’t get into today).
But one character who is not likely to change for me is Kara Thrace aka “Starbuck” who from the moment I started binging the series for the first time back in 2011 quickly became one of my all-time favorite characters. What I like about “Starbuck” is how messy she is, how perfectly imperfect she carries herself. An ace fighter pilot with a bad attitude just sounds like “Maverick” from “Top Gun” but what Katee Sackhoff does with the reimagining of this character is give depth and personality behind all that tough girl attitude.
While, again, the crew of the Galactica relies on her ace fighter pilot skills to fight back the Cylons they are also to an extent compromised by her bull-headedness and her impulsivity whether it’s professionally or socially. Kara has a ton of baggage due to the way she grew up, due to guilt she has over the death of the character Zack, and because she has few ways to process it, especially during an end of the world scenario like that of “BSG,” she puts on a face that can often rub her crewmates the wrong way.
In the early episodes during season 3, one of the lines she says continually comes up in my head when I know deep down, I want human contact but I’m too afraid to let anyone in. Kara goes through some real pain and trauma during the New Caprica arc. Her husband Anders is trying desperately to get her to open up to him but she can’t help but push him away cause all she feels is anger so she says “I just feel like hurting someone right now and it may as well be you…”
It’s a brutal line, especially to say to someone you love and care about and it’s illustrative of the type of person “Starbuck” is throughout the series. For all her strength, and all her skills, she is human and her trauma informs her of how best to go forward, and unfortunately, it’s not often right.
So why would I like a character who routinely fucks up like this? Because it’s frankly a real portrayal of how we all kind of carry ourselves. Instead of seeking others for help we often turn inward because of inherint mistrust built by trauma. We make mistakes, sometimes lots of them, sometimes constantly and “Starbuck” is very much a character who routinely finds herself in this situation. No one says that’s the right thing to do but it is absolutely understandable for a character like her.
The 4th season takes “Starbuck” through some…let’s say…interesting arcs but I think it at least lands on somewhat firm ground at the end as she grows to understand what she’s been through and finally get comfortable with loving others without fear again, even it comes a little late.
Sometimes our catharsis comes too late and that’s frankly just life. So say we all.
3. Legoshi (“Beastars”)
A late addition to my all-time favorite characters list but nonetheless welcome, Legoshi is perhaps my most relatable character ever. Across all mediums.
Why do I relate to this strange wolf character so much, from this very weird anime about anthropomorphic animals? Because like Legoshi I too have an inherent fear of myself that often feels debilitating.
Legoshi discovers he can barely contain his carnivore instincts one day when he finds that he desires a herbivore bunny character named Haru in more than one way. Legoshi spends much of the anime languishing with himself trying to understand if his feelings for Haru are based on real love or just his need to feast which is an obvious stand-in for lust and sexual desire (among many things). It makes Legoshi consistently on edge because of it, afraid to show his true face to others and to be fair the wolf isn’t terribly sure what his true self is himself. He feels dangerous in more ways than one because he feels he is breaking a number of taboos by simply having these thoughts to begin with and it eats at him on the inside.
Throughout my life, I often feel like the weird out a place guy in just about every social setting. Though I think I am generally agreeable to most people I often feel like I don’t belong anywhere because my views, my feelings on certain subjects, and how I may feel about others often don’t feel like they align with the group so I begin to feel like I have to hide my true self. It feels like I’m a walking taboo sometimes. Much of it is certainly paranoia and anxiety but it’s built from experiences as a kid where my own feelings and beliefs would get tossed to the side or chastised for this or that reason by fellow classmates and even friends. Thus hiding my true feelings becomes a defense mechanism. I don’t want to scare people, I don’t want to make them uncomfortable even in the slightest and if my friends who may or may not be reading this think I’m perfectly fine to them it still worries me to be truly myself in front of you. This feeling can be debilitating and painful and few characters exemplify what this feels like better than Legoshi.
Legoshi is terrified of how people might view him if he were truly honest and certainly worried about what his true self might see in Haru. He wants to do right by her, but he can’t figure out if it’s the love talking when he see’s her or his predatory (sexual) appetite. But what he does do throughout the series is continually grow, continually try to understand himself better and no matter what, whether he feels its love or hunger that drives him toward Haru he knows he will always do right by her and perhaps that might be the answer he is looking for.
“Beastars” has a number of things to say about identity, vulnerability, lust, and love but no character in the show exemplifies all of this better than Legoshi and it’s why he’s one of my new favorite characters.
2. “Gearless” Joe (“Megalo Box 1&2”)
As a practicing martial artist, I love a good fighting anime as much as the next weeb but a lot of this genre devolves into endless powerup episodes and bad philosophy jargon in between and very rarely have anything deeper to say about life. “Megalo Box” was not one of those animes these last few years and its lead character “Gearless” Joe is a big reason why.
Set in a dystopian cyberpunk future where the biggest sport in the world is mechanized human boxing, “Gearless” Joe is a man typically of few words but always filled with determination. In the first season, his desire to see his own personal mountain top as a Megalo boxer is what drives him to the series epic conclusion. He spends much of the prior episodes lamenting that he may never be able to know how great he truly can be because of the limits both society and his coach Nanbu put on him. He doesn’t want to settle for just survival he wants to see how far he can truly go and it’s his willpower that gets him to the final match against his rival Yuri.
The way the character gets a personal high from combat and testing himself within a fight is not too unlike how I feel often when I spar and train. But where I really related to Joe is the way he struggled with removing himself from that simple “survival” mindset. Because I have to work in order to get by training is often cut out of my day and it feels likes I get shorter and shorter on time to get better at these skills I’m passionate about. Like Joe, I too want to test myself and see how good I really can be, in perhaps an amateur kickboxing match someday, but because the world is driven by capital first the things I really care about take a backseat.
This blog is also a part of that. I want to see how far I can go with my writing but because the survival mindset dictates that I have to make money first, typically at a dead-end job, it’s frustrating. Joe doesn’t just want to survive, he wants to live. How he is able to overcome that in the series to go all the way to the end of the Megalonia tournament is inspiring and the character often reminds me to keep pushing forward and not settle.
But remarkably Joe goes through one additional arc in the second season “Nomad.” Here Joe learns that there is more than just reckless pursuit of perfection, that as much as he may love the thrill of the fight there are more important things in life.
It’s the people you love.
“Nomad” reminds fans that while Joe is inspiring for going as far as he did in season 1, that we should also not forget the people who cheer you along the way to your personal mountaintop. Victories are great but they can be temporary. Love though? Love of family, friends, and others? That can last a lifetime and Joe learns in “Nomad” what’s truly important beyond just his own personal goals.
It can be rare for a hero in any story to go through two major arcs but Joe is definitely one of them and it’s what makes him a great character.
1. Captain Flint (“Black Sails”)
Few shows have altered my way of thinking on certain political and social topics than the vastly underappreciated series “Black Sails.”
A sort of prequel to “Treasure Island,” “Black Sails” is on the surface a period piece about the pirates of Nassau and their struggle against the British Empire. But just below that is the real meat of the series which is this story about identity and the way authority and “civilization” will weaponize that against you for their own purposes. Something I often say jokingly to friends when talking about this series is that “’Black Sails’ radicalized me” but its not far from the truth.
This is all best characterized by our lead Captain Flint. In the first season its hard to figure out what exactly makes him tick. He seems like a character who can barely contain his rage but also knows how to channel it to his own end. But why is he angry? Why is he so driven to find this gold aboard a Spanish warship? Why is it important that he tries to save Nassau with it?
As the series progresses into season 2, we find out the true origins of Captain Flint and what made him into this vengeful, angry character. It turns out he was once a part of proper society, a naval officer named James McGraw. He was tasked with helping lead a recovery force against Nassau with the help of a wealthy proprietor in Thomas Hamilton. They decide together that the best course of action to save the island is not to drive out the pirates by force but through reconciliation and peace. The two become inspired by this prospect and in time they fall in love as well. But that doesn’t sit well with “proper society” and the two are outed, with Hamilton sent to a psyche ward and Mcgraw alongside Hamilton’s wife Miranda self-exiled to Nassau themselves.
It is in this moment Flint is born and the seeds of radicalization begin to ferment.
Flint becomes a murderous pirate captain and one of the strongest leaders in Nassau. The way he commands his ship is often through keeping his crew’s appetites consistently sated by hunts against merchant vessels across the Caribbean seas. But Flint also mistrusts his crew, prone to secrecy, and consistently irritable around them and when the prize Spanish gold comes into his ambitions, he only turns more inward. He doesn’t trust them because of what he has been through, what society does to men like him and it’s a source of constant struggle throughout the series even when he starts to open up and come clean about his goals.
But I really began to love the character and learned perhaps the greatest lesson of the series at the end of season 2. Captain Flint attempts to do as Hamilton did bring Nassau back into civilization, to attempt reconciliation one last time but instead finds himself facing the gallows. The people of Charlestown are not looking for nuance or to understand a character such as Flint. All they see is a need for blood that their leaders are more than happy to give them. People like Flint are good scapegoats for society’s leaders, boogie men to keep their people in line for as tyrannical as they can be to their own as long as their citizens still prefer them over the pirates that’s all that matters.
When Flint manages to escape with the help of Captain Vane he turns toward his first officer Billy “Bones” and tells him to ready all the guns. Billy asks what they are targeting and Flint simply says, “Whatever is left.”
As the crew of Walrus unleashes cannon fire indiscriminately into Charlestown the tone is very much dark, but it also feels justified for Flint. This was the final step of Flint’s radicalization, shedding off the last shreds of empathy and reasoning for society. He has been wronged too many times. His crew, the people of Nassau have been wronged too many times, he needed to even the scales and he does it in the most violent way.
The reason I love Flint the most is because of this lesson he and this series teaches me in this moment. The results of endless disenfranchisement, marginalization, and disrespect have consequences and Flint pays back society in full for it. In 2020 we saw a small dosage of what that looks like, as cop violence and marginalization of underprivileged people hit a fever pitch everything finally boiled over in one of the most violent summers on record.
And it was absolutely justified.
You don’t have to like it. You don’t have to enjoy it. But when we look back on what happened in 2020 people should, by and large, understand that it wasn’t just one event that led to that uprising. Like Flint, there are layers of disrespect built up for years, or in this case centuries, that needed to be answered for and at some point the only real answer is violence.
Flint understands how society will always make scapegoats out of people like him, turn them into monsters to keep people in line. Whether it’s people calling Black Lives Matter protestors “terrorists” or endless propaganda about a number of our “foreign adversaries” overseas, those in charge love having a monster to play with but as Flint says at what point he is more willing to be it. Flint’s embrace of who he is makes him perhaps my favorite antihero of all-time. He is a vicious human being and not everything he does is noble throughout the series, in fact, he can be quite dastardly, but no one should question why he is the way he is. He is a revolutionary and revolutionaries are not meant to be saints and if “Black Sails” and Flint have taught me anything is that while violence might not be THE answer it is definitely one that should never be left off the table when confronting injustice.
So that is my favorite character list. I hope you all enjoyed reading it and my thoughts behind it all. These characters are near and dear to my heart, and I like to think are informative of my philosophies in life in at least some ways. Anyway, who are your favorite characters? What makes them great to you? And what does your love of them say about you?
Something to ponder perhaps…
Neo (“The Matrix”)
Spike Spiegel (“Cowboy Bebop”)
Shinji (“Neon Genesis Evangelion”)
Miyamoto Musashi (Multiple books, comic books, and movies)
Misato (Neon Genesis Evangelion”)
Agent Smith (“The Matrix”)