“The Peculiar Olympians” is a series of blog posts about my most favourite fictional characters. They are each here for some combination of sympathy, empathy, inspiration, humour, quality, staying power, and/or significance to my relationship with fandom. These are not all the characters that I like, but they are the ones that have stood out to me the most. The list is also alphabetical and nothing more.
For a long time now, I’ve been fond of the anime character design known as the bishounen (“beautiful boy”). There is no overall bishounen character type to go along with this appearance, but at best, perhaps by accident, certain bishounen characters show that male characters can be strong without being traditionally “manly”. It’s one of the few things I’ll still admit that anime and manga has over western works.
If my list of favourite fictional characters is meant to represent aspects of my fandom experience, then a bishounen character was a must for it. I decided easily on Andromeda Shun, from the manga Saint Seiya (know in various countries as Knights of the Zodiac). The character and premise goes a little something like this:
Since the days of myth the Greek goddess Athena has been surrounded by warriors who defended her and upheld the cause of justice in her name. Called "Saints”, they all wear Cloths, supernatural suits of armour that form a figure representing a constellation when at rest. There is a Saint for each constellation, and they are ranked Bronze, Silver, or Gold, as well as other side variants depending on whether it’s the manga or anime.
The continuing incarnation of Athena in mortal flesh ensures that Saints exist clandestinely in the modern day. The Bronze Saint Andromeda Shun is one of these modern Saints, an orphan who trained at the Grande Foundation with ninety-nine other potential Saints who would be sent off to remote locations for further instruction from a new teacher.
Shun's destination was Andromeda Island, a place of extreme temperatures off the coast of Ethiopia. Shun was trained by Silver Saint Cepheus Didaros. Shun's older brother became Bronze Saint Phoenix Ikki.
I didn’t choose Shun to represent my interest in bishounen characters primarily for his looks, as in the manga he’s drawn flatly, and in the anime his initial colour scheme is a clashing mess of green and pink--though in both cases he’s not exactly hard on the eyes. But it’s more because Shun represents the apex of “not manly, but strong”.
In my opinion, the most inspiring heroes are those who have to overcome something within themselves, in addition to their external foes. It’s a tricky thing to make a character’s pain convincing but not grating enough, so that the audience will not be inclined to wait for his rebirth, but Shun achieves it. For those not wiling to dismiss him, he proves to be very heroic. Even though he does not like to fight, he will stand and survive and make sure that others do the same.
However, the idea that Shun always needs Ikki to save him has become a meme of sorts in the series’ tiny English-speaking fandom. In reading the manga myself, I have not seen Shun save Ikki enough times for it to be approach meme status. I don’t know if my reading the manga instead of watching the anime makes a difference, but I just want to be clear that it’s manga-Shun that I base my study on, and that in that case, he very much holds his own.