It is often said that one should not meet one’s heroes, because they will inevitably disappoint you. It is a good thing, then, that I will never meet most of my personal heroes, given that they exist within that unreachable realm known as fiction. Maybe that’s why a lot of people would say that the ones who have inspired them to be better people are fictional. Sure, there were plenty of great people throughout our history, but we will never really ever have experienced the journey along with them. On the other hand, fictional characters are people whose experiences we DO get to witness first hand, and thus we can get the purest sense of who that character is, and how he thinks and feels.
What I am saying is that, in a sense, fictional characters can be more real to us than real people are. No matter who you are, there is at least someone (most likely from childhood or adolescence) on a television show, book, or film that has profoundly affected your view of the world, your morality, or the way you interact with others.
Basically, what I’m saying is, I really, really like these ten guys who I’m about to gush over, and such behavior is not immature or childish. Well, it can be. And in this case it probably is. But regardless, these ten characters are people (or not even necessarily people) from my childhood, adolescence, and even my early young adulthood who have inspired me to be a better man than I was yesterday. And if fiction can have that kind of impact, well, it is not to be dismissed.
10. The Sailor Senshi (Sailor Moon)
I admit, I was seriously torn between the Senshi and the Pretty Cures for the number 10 spot. However, I ultimately went with the Sailor Senshi because they were just around longer. Sure, Nagisa and Honoka of Futari wa Pretty Cure were great, but after two years, they would never be seen again except in crossover events where character development isn’t exactly a priority. And they were lucky to even have two years. Meanwhile, the Sailor Senshi went through eighth grade, high school entrance exams, and the early years of adolescence together, all the while learning about each other’s quirks. hobbies, and old childhood friends who always turned up to be the victim of the week in one filler episode, etc. No matter what adversary they faced, including the wannabe ruler of the entire friggin’ galaxy, these girls always stuck together and faced every obstacle through, only becoming closer in the process. They may not all be the coolest people around, or the strongest, or even the brightest (looking at a particular blonde-haired one for the latter), but at the end of the day, they’re there for each other, their families and friends, and anyone being terrorized by entities about to punished in the name of the moon. Again, I love the Pretty Cures (most of them, anyway), but the Senshi were the ones who grew along with their audience.
9. Ken Hayakawa (Kaiketsu Zubat)
I have never believed that heroes need to be complex. Ken Hayakawa is about as far from complex as a hero can get; he swoops in strumming his guitar, he beats up the bad guys, he brags about how much more awesome he is than the villain, he proves his bold statement, and he smiles and winks a lot. And that’s really about it. Of course, he doesn’t need to do anything more, because he’s awesome. How can someone like him NOT be on my list? He’s literally the best at everything! Even things you can do that haven’t been discovered yet, he’s the best at. Pick a random action verb from the dictionary, Ken is better than you at it. But he’ll only rub it in if you’re a scumbag, of course. Heroes are supposed to inspire us to be better people, and who better to be inspired by than the best?
8. The Ghostbusters (Ghostbusters, Ghostbusters II)
This may come as a shock to you, but I’m kind of a geek. And geeks tend to have heroes in other geeks like them. These four guys are total dorks! Well, three of them are anyway. Peter Venkman, Ray Stantz, and Egon Spengler didn’t get any respect at work, were seen as oddballs by the general public, and believed in ghosts. In fact, each of the three represents a significant part of the geek persona: Venkman is our dry sassiness, Ray is our excitability and adorable childishness, and Egon is our analytical and serious side. None of that changes throughout their rise to stardom and glory. They’re still their geeky selves by the end of Ghostbusters, but now everyone adores them, and they’re New York’s saviors. And ultra-cool Ernie Hudson likes them! These guys are the ultimate geek fantasy, and no other characters have ever demonstrated more to a geek that it is best to just be yourself.
7. Bugs Bunny (Looney Tunes)
Just look at that smug smile! As soon as he chomps on that carrot and says his signature, “What’s up, doc?” you know whoever just crossed the line is in a world of hurt. Who hasn’t wanted to drop an anvil on that jerk who ripped you off, or that egotistical shithead who thinks he’s better than everyone else? Of course, if we were to do that in real life, it would take exquisite planning and probably jail time, but Bugs has foiled hunters, ducks, bears, criminals, and even “super genius” coyotes without breaking a sweat. Sometimes, it’s nice to just see inconsiderate assmuppets get what coming to them, and there’s no one better for the job than Bugs, who always has a way out, often making physics his bitch in the process. Okay, thinking about it, what Bugs did to poor Elmer Fudd probably wasn’t all that heroic, but were we ever really supposed to think about his actions that deeply?
6. The Doctor (Doctor Who)
The Doctor is basically Bugs Bunny, except his adventures make even less scientific sense, and the scope of his escapades extend to saving the universe multiple times. He’s a nice guy (though how nice varies), but piss him off, and you’ll wish you were never born. There’s not really one thing that can be said to be inspired by him, because he’s been played by so many different actors who have emphasized different aspects of his personality that it’s impossible to stick with just one. Even if there was one Doctor who you didn’t find too admirable, there was always another who could be your knight in shining armor. Just for the record, mine is Patrick Troughton, who was as Bugs Bunny as it is possible for a Time Lord to get. But whether you like the exquisite planning of Sylvester McCoy, the suave and coolness of Jon Pertwee, or the batshit insanity that is Tom Baker, there is something to inspire everyone. What’s constant, though, is that he has decided to devote his exceedingly long life to saving other lives, and he is very good at that.
5. Sam Gamgee (The Lord of the Rings)
Behind every hero there is an even bigger hero, who will probably never get the same recognition in-universe. But out of universe, a good sidekick is always celebrated, and by God Sam is a good one. He is loyal to a fault, humble, and will never back down from his quest, even if he has to dress up as an orc or defeat a giant spider. Most heroes inspire you to be your best personally, but Sam is the one who inspires you to be a good friend to somebody, one of the noblest and fulfilling of pursuits. He may be a little clumsy, and kinda packing in the pounds, but few people will dispute that all of this just makes him that much more badass.
4. Kermit the Frog (The Muppet Show, The Muppet film series)
It’s not easy being green. Especially when you have to manage a gang as rambunctious as the Muppets. Anyone else would just quit, but Kermit is a frog dedicated to making people happy and giving them a good time, no matter how much crap he himself has to endure. Whether he’s being karate-chopped by Miss Piggy, getting bad news from Scooter, or being roped into something stupid and dangerous by Gonzo, Kermit always remains perpetually smiling, and in the end, the Muppets are his big, crazy family. It may not be easy being green, but it is a lot of fun, and is always inspiring.
3. Belle (Beauty and the Beast)
The Disney Princess to end all Disney Princesses, Belle is a woman who is an independent thinker, a free spirit, and not willing to let an arrogant douchebag like Gaston or society in general determine who she is. And she does this without ever coming across as preachy or heavy-handed. She’s just a woman who loves to read, and no one will stop her from getting to her books, no matter how not “normal” it is. There have been many great Disney Princesses since, but all of them take after Belle in some way.
2. Superman (Superman comics, cartoons, films, serials, etc.)
There’s a reason why he’s one of the most beloved superheroes; because he was THE superhero, dedicating himself to truth, justice, and the American Way like no one else has. When he smiles, you know that he won’t let you down. To him, your life is no more or less important than any other. He is the shining example of someone with so much to give, and proceeds to give even more than that. Some people don’t like Superman, because he’s such a boy scout. Well, if Superman is a “boy scout”, then the world needs more boy scouts.
1. Yusuke Godai (Kamen Rider Kuuga) / Nausicaa (Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind)
One is adorable, the other is a princess. Topping my list is a tie between my two favorite characters ever. I don’t think I could talk about these two separately, because I find them to be eerily similar. Both are unconditionally kind, selfless, and compassionate, but also possess great strength and willpower to endure great physical and emotional pain in order to do the right thing. Both have a relatively tumultuous relationship with authority figures, but their actions transcend mere politics and law into the purest of altruistic motives. They just want there to be less suffering in the world, and will do anything to get even a little closer to that goal. And again, both are not to be pissed off. Not to mention, they both give damn great thumbs up signs!
And those are the people who I have tried to channel the spirit of in some way in my own life. To me, they are the pinnacle of how movies, TV shows, books, and comics can positively affect a person. If there’s anything that all of these guys have taught me, it’s that in a world where nice guys are said to finish last and aren’t typically perceived as “cool”, being a good person is the coolest thing you can be. See you next time, and until then, be sure to learn a thing or two from your heroes, and never stop improving yourself.