Do your homework: The dubious power of Kyon and the Reading Steiner

As with anything I or anyone else will probably ever write that relates to Steins;Gate, there will be spoilers. Probably also for Haruhi Suzumiya.

The story of the typical shounen manga style hero is a classic one, usually a hero’s journey, but peppered with fantastical and wish-fulfillment elements. These could be special powers, an unlikely but glorious destiny, or a willing harem of beautiful girls. Maybe it’s all of the above. To offset these magically delicious benefits, our hero is beset on all sides by challenges that will either test the limits of his power and/or harem, or circumvent it altogether, forcing him to rely on his own hard work and guts to get by. This is pretty much how it works: no matter your extremes of power, you gotta get your ganbatte on to solve the real problems.

When we think of said heroes, it’s usually in the context of a popular hero like Naruto, or maybe Akamatsu’s Negima. But what about the guys who live in a seemingly mundane world,  have a less-willing harem, an unclear destiny, and a dubious power?

What of the Kyons?

“The Kyons?,” you might say. Sure, obviously there’s only one Kyon. And we love him all that much more for it. But he’s not the only one with the questionable superpower that he exhibits in both Endless Eight and Disappearance. In fact, It’s Rintaro Okabe of Steins;Gate who gives it a name: Reading Steiner. Sure, it’s some kind of bullshit that he made up, but it’s the only power that really matters in the story, and for all of Daru’s hacking skills or Kurisu’s genius, it’s only the chance ability to retain a memory through time leaps and parallel timeline jumps that can save the world.

Same goes for Kyon. While Koizumi can battle Haruhi’s monsters, Mikuru can correct the past in ways Okarin could never hope to, and Yuki can call on a giant space computer to fix everything, the Endless Eight loop paralyzed them all and the alternative timeline of Disappearance rendered them all normal. So what’s left? An awareness of the situation that seems more like a curse than a boon, and that most important power of all, the ganbatte spirit. The willingness to sit through endless boredom or even the death of a loved one as many times as is necessary to figure out that you just need to do your homework.

Neither the smartass Kyon or the delusional, crappy-student-cum-pretend-scientist Okarin seem like great candidates to be the next try-hard Naruto, but that’s of course what made them the accessible and lovable heroes they became when they finally got a cause worth fighting for — whether it’s saving Kurisu (or Mayushii) or just discovering that a full life with friends and fun was worth the trouble it put him through.

So what am I getting at? I don’t know, I don’t mean to imply that the “try your best” values that seem to be at the heart of a lot of anime and manga are the only thing that the two media have to offer, but I do find it interesting that even in the strangest and most complexly-crafted stories, doing your homework is often at the core.

Fuck these (3) Comments.

  1. moritheil says:

    The idea that there is some “essential you” that transcends time and space and that no one can take away is very Japanese. That is really what Kyon has going for him and what countless anime seek to extol.

    • otou-san says:

      I’ve heard of the concept, but oddly enough didn’t make the connection. Will have to read up on that. Tomorrow I have a post going live tomorrow that actually goes in a pretty different direction about Reading Steiner. :D

  2. Yumeka says:

    Good post. I agree that protagonists like Kyon and Rintarou act as the more “subtle” heroes when compared to the very “obvious” heroes like Naruto and other shonen protagonists. They’re not total anti-heroes, but at the same time they’re not seeking a heroic role but are thrust into one by circumstance, allowing their character to shine in a different way than if they were all about heroism from the get-go. Flashy super-powers can be appealing in a hero of course, but when they can believably to incredible things without them, especially when the characters who actually have the powers are powerless (like in your examples with Kyon) that can be just as appealing.