So, upon glancing some of the negative reviews for Slime, I got to thinking: when exactly is it a bad thing for a main protagonist to be overpowered. I started thinking about this ever since I saw the negative reviews for The King’s Avatar back in 2017, which criticized the MC for not developing and being incredibly overpowered. I’ll spare you the whole “character development is a tool and not a requirement” spiel as that’s its own issue. Still, I get the feeling that this is another case where people sort of miss the point and just throw all overpowered anime protagonists under the same umbrella of them being problematic characters. It’s also a case where people often seem to just say that the MC being OP is the problem, which is a surface-level claim that doesn’t really get to the heart of these issues. I’m gonna go over some examples of where I feel it gets used poorly, and then provide some actual examples where this kind of character is a problem. I’m not gonna be naming any names here, but yea, tons of reviewers and commenters on MAL have had this issue.
Also, spoilers for That Time I Got Reincarnated As A Slime, Sword Art Online, and Mahouka Koukou no Rettousei.
Rimuru from TenSura
While I myself find some problems with how he’s presented in tense situations, I don’t think it solely comes down to him being incredibly powerful by even the standards of the show’s cast. It’s more that the show often fails to establish any real threat that he or his allies are in immediate danger. In most cases, these two lines would be a contradiction, but here, it’s not because Rimuru is so incredibly overpowered, it’s that he’s resistant to these bosses, everyone else is already evacuated, or Rimuru has a key to defeating it just sitting it on the sidelines. The bosses he faces at the end of the first 3 arcs of Slime (in episodes 7, 14, and 19 respectively) are puzzle bosses, where Rimuru has to figure out a specific way to defeat them.
Ifrit from the first arc actually got this right for the most part. He has laid waste to Rimuru’s village, and while its citizens have been evacuated, not only is Rimuru forced to deal with Ifrit in a way that will allow Ifrit’s host Shizue to survive, but he has three adventurer friends who are in very real danger in this fight. Rimuru can’t just bum rush him either cuz he’d get thwacked by Ifrit and his fire wyverns, possibly leaving an opportunity for them to close in on and obliterate the adventurers. This forces Rimuru to try to find ways of stopping Ifrit while the adventurers fend him and his small legion of fire wyverns off and take tons of punishment in the process. It leads to a series of moments where they often work together to find new solutions to the wyverns before dealing with Ifrit himself, all while the trio suffers a massive beating. Given that these are three of the most likable characters in the show and they can barely deal with a single fire wyvern, there’s a very real danger of them getting killed.
Sadly, the show fumbles the ball towards the end as Ifrit unleashes a pillar of fire, and Rimuru melodramatically announces his death for roughly 30 seconds, while we are aware of his fire immunity, before he finally snaps out of it and gets one final opening. This moment killed any satisfaction that would have been had with seeing the boss finally get defeated, as all the tension and hype has been robbed. With this dragged-out sequence done with, Ifrit gets absorbed. While the show trips up towards the end of an otherwise relatively engaging fight, this show has already proven near the end of its first arc that the show can still craft tension while having its protagonist be overpowered.
Let’s briefly cover the rest of the puzzle bosses. When Rimuru has to defeat the Orc Disaster, he somehow switches to Great Sage to allow it to fight with his body on autopilot. This comes out of nowhere and immediately takes me out of the fight. If we had Rimuru simply fighting the Orc Disaster in order to look for a way to beat him like he did with Ifrit, all while perhaps tightening the pace a bit, this would have been more entertaining. The devouring scene suffers from a different reason, that being the dialogue, which is rather corny. As for the third arc’s boss, Charabydis, it’s even worse. It’s not even that Rimuru’s OP here since he stops being OP at this point. It’s that he and everyone else has to chip away at him for 11 minutes while Millim, the character who is the key to defeating it since not even Rimuru can beat it, is forced to sit on the sidelines, while we know that it’s here for her and not Rimuru. It’s an aggravating form of dramatic irony combined with a weak excuse to allow everyone to fight instead of ending the fight in seconds. They get off some good banter, and it’s interesting how Rimuru pulls out all of the stops just to find out that even with a large army comprised of multiple races and kingdoms’ armies, he finds out that the thing can regenerate fast enough to turn this into a nightmarish war of attrition. If they just cut out some of the comedy of Millim asking “can I fight now” and simply make it so that she’s off somewhere else and has to get over to the battlefield while everyone holds Charabydis off, it would have been much better. Not perfect, as we still have no reason to assume Rimuru is in any danger, but it would have helped. With the fourth arc’s boss, Rimuru has to face a magitech golem while protecting a bunch of kids, except the kids never ever come into play so there are no stakes.
So, the problem isn’t that Rimuru is OP, it’s that the show just writes some of these fights in rather ridiculous ways that make it harder to get invested. I do understand some of the complaints, though. With Ifrit, there’s no way for Rimuru to be damaged, so the fight becomes more of a waiting game than anything incredibly tension-filled, despite the danger Ifrit poses to Rimuru’s allies and even its host, Shizu. With the Orc disaster, there’s no threat since not only do we know Rimuru’s not in any danger, but everyone has been removed from the vicinity, so there’s no way to introduce any stakes in the first place. They throw all tension out the window with the latter two puzzle bosses, with the key to defeating Charabydis being right there and neglected just for the sake of an 11-minute showcase, and the golem having the ingredients for tension sitting right there, only to be ignored as Rimuru effortlessly stomps the thing.
Kirito from Sword Art Online
And now for the character that started it all. There are numerous misconceptions about Kirito, but the one I’ll tackle today is that he’s incredibly overpowered and tension-deflating…at least when it counts. We’ll leave the likes of “Kirito doesn’t have character development” elsewhere. Kirito has a ton of baggage added to him by the community
I can see why people say he’s overpowered. Episode 4 will go down in infamy for the scene where Kirito becomes so absurdly overleveled offscreen after episode 3, and manages to tank an entire team of mid-level goons and autohealing all of his health back (note that the autohealing never comes into play for the rest of the series). It would have been one thing if he actually fought back but he just stood there…and tanked it. This is the one time where that critique of Kirito is actually valid.
That said, he struggles in basically every fight he’s in afterwards. Sure, the fact that he can take down a relatively late-game dungeon boss with only some help from two teammates (cuz the large swarms of party members won’t do anything) in episode 8 is kinda ridiculous, but he damn near dies in the process. In the very next fight he has against this weird death thing in episode 11, he can’t do jackshit to it, and in the fight with the Skull Reaper at the end of episode 13 and beginning of episode 14, it takes him, his two teammates, the plot twist antagonist of the arc, and their entire army to take it down. In both fights against the plot twist villain Heathcliff, it takes everything Kirito’s got to keep up with him, even if Kirito bullshits a win by a deus ex machina glitch of all things. In the heavily reviled second arc, he even loses to a swam of flying paladin fairies. If he were really as overpowered as people said he was, he’d have treated them like those goons from episode 4, or at the very least put up little resistance while rising to the top. He does take out this one forgettable general halfway into the arc without struggling too hard, and the only reason he struggles against the final boss was due to a cheap shot that pinned him down. Still, the show at least puts him in active danger and forces him to put a lot of effort in, which is more than I can say about several other shows that have come out since. Even getting into SAO 2, despite how he can just wield a lightsaber in a gun game and beat everyone despite how much harder it is to play with a sword in Gungale than with any gun, he still has to put everything into beating the arc’s antagonist, Death Gun. On top of that, he needs another character to help him. It creates this strange situation in which Kirito is absurdly OP until it counts cuz most of the major antagonists or opponents are OP as shit like him. Say what you will about Kirito as a character, but he’s definitely not as “overpowered” as people make him out to be in the context of his story. If nothing else, he’s certainly better than our next target.
Also, apparently he faces more struggles in the Ordinal Scale movie and in Alicization. I haven’t seen them so I wouldn’t know.
Tatsuya Shiba from Mahouka Koukou no Rettousei
Now it’s time for an example of an OP character that’s genuinely awful. Godsuya is a stereotype of an archetype, the OP main character taken to its logical extreme while somehow pretending that there’s some semblance of struggle and tension and conjuring up bullshit reasons for why he isn’t automatically seen as the god he is. Whenever you joke about Kirito being too damn OP, this is the punchline animated taken seriously.
The dude is placed in the “inferior students” class known as weeds (cuz they get SMOKED) because he can’t push blocks with magic…somehow, despite his actually obscene magical ability that comes out despite apparently having next to none, him literally inventing all of the magitech weapons people use since he was a kid (though no one knows that somehow despite knowing his fake name), and him generally being a weapon of mass destruction. Yea, everyone always praises him (unless they’re jealous) and he gets to be part of the student council, but for some reason, he’s never officially acknowledged. It’s probably their only way of making him seem flawed. He’s so unstoppable that it takes until episode 18 for anyone to make him even have to try, and even then, he’s so inhumanly powerful that snapping his fingers is enough to create sound waves and whatnot so strong as to blow people away and practically deafen them. His personality is somehow surgically removed yet it’s still relatively dormant because they somehow kept in the part where he loves Miyuki, meaning that he can express it to some extent if it concerns her I suppose given that he shows visible anger at one dude when they’re all onscreen around episode 10, since this anime has shit wording that gets easily contradicted by what’s on screen. If all of that wasn’t enough, in the span of an afternoon, he looked at what teams of professional scientists were experimenting for years in order to develop flight magic, figured out what they did wrong, and invented it himself.
You think that’s enough? How is this guy not revered and/or weaponized as a god yet? No wonder he’s always in the right, even when his mindset of shutting down the weak when they try to rebel or otherwise find a way to stop being oppressed, or when he tells women to cover up when they’re looking even slightly provocative (in spite of the camera sexualizing any character who does so, and sometimes even the character herself doing so). Somehow, it gets even more ridiculous. His most absurd spell, Regrowth, is one of the most bullshit things in anime history. He can heal any wound or damage inflicted on anything or anyone –living or dead– in an instant as long as it was sustained and treated within 24 hours. In order to do so and restore a bunch of technobabble bullshit, he takes on the pain or damage in the span of .2 seconds in his mind, 150 times more than the person or object actually sustained the injury/hit/damage/whatever. If that isn’t the most obscene, broken “pity the stone wall MC” moment and power in anime history, then I don’t know what is. It’s actually kind of insulting. Obviously, even before this, he would wipe out anything and anyone in an instant barring the “challenge” presented in episode 18 before he used Ran instant regeneration spell to completely heal all his wounds and Thanos snap his way to victory.
The show doesn’t even try to present any tense or satisfying scenarios; it just forces you to gawk in awe at Tatsuya while pretending anything means a damn or that you should ever get invested in him for any reason other than to see just how warped and absurd his godlike powers get. We never see any scenes of him dealing with an active problem character that has been pissing off the audience and making everyone in and out of universe await the day he comes and beats on him. We don’t get anything other than one shitty fight scene where he actually has to kinda try for once before still managing to cheese a victory. If any character can be considered a Mary Sue, it’s him. Everything revolves around him, everyone except for objectively wrong people praises him, he’s always in the right even when he’s definitely being disagreeable to most people who don’t discriminate against the kinds of people he dunks on, and the narrative contorts and contradicts itself to suit his needs and attempt to make us pity him. If this were all a joke, that would be one thing, but we’re supposed to take this seriously. I don’t even think it would be that easy to write any interesting scenarios for him to fight in given his powers and physically suppressed personality, especially since we can’t even see what personality he has underneath like readers apparently could in the novel. It’s a nightmare, through and through. At least Rimuru has to restrain himself and come up with different solutions while sometimes having to keep his allies safe from bosses. At least Kirito struggles against most bosses, despite how ridiculous these bosses and achievements are in the first place. Tatsuya has nothing, no reason to ever get invested or hyped up, unless you really love watching OP main characters or want to indulge in a power fantasy!
I can go on dissecting other overpowered protagonists to further illustrate my point. As tedious as I find Overlord to be thanks to its dry characters and bad presentation, main character Ains’ comedic side makes him entertaining on some level, and the idea of watching him put rampant asswipes in their place for messing with people he needs to use is incredibly satisfying for at least the first 10 episodes. Saitama from One Punch Man makes this a punchline, where a villain too big for their britches wreaks havoc and/or becomes a vehicle for fight scenes with other characters until Saitama comedically and/or satisfyingly bops them into oblivion. Circling it back around to the anime that got this discussion playing in my head, Xiu Ye from King’s Avatar is already established as a skilled player nearing the end of his glory days, so of course he’s better than damn near everybody. Not to mention that the first season is more about recruiting people and taking down people who sass him down a peg while being the kind of character meant to go through a flat arc, where the characters have to learn from and bounce off of him cuz he’s teaching and recruiting them. Mob/Shigeo from Mob Psycho 100 is insanely powerful to the point where for the first half of the show, his only challenge is trying not to fight psychic opponents when they wail on him and his classmates. Yet, thanks to his likable and relatable personality, and just how scary he is when his powers go on a rampage, the show creates tension with the knowledge that Mob could break at any time, which is his greatest fear. Even in the second half of season 1 when the show changes focus from fighting evil spirits to fighting malevolent espers, that’s still the main source of tension, but now it works two-fold as Mob has to not only keep his power in check, he has to make sure he doesn’t die while holding back.
The strangest thing is that I feel most of us subconsciously realize this. No one complains about Mob being overpowered because they write many tension-filled situations around him having to restrain himself. People don’t complain about Saitama because they weaponize this trope for the sake of comedy. It’s just that when writers don’t come up with any real ideas for tense or satisfying situations for these overpowered protagonists, people focus less on that and focus more on the idea that the main character is just too overpowered. Perhaps it just takes more effort to illustrate that the show doesn’t write cool scenarios around the MC than it does to say the MC is too OP and rattle off those same ideas. It’s like saying a show has no plot or story. We get what you mean, you’re just going about it in a misguided way that doesn’t really tackle the big issue like you think it does. Keep this in mind whenever you call a character a Mary Sue/Gary Stu as well cuz you’re only tackling a scapegoat symptom when you say that instead of the actual problem. It’s also because when you say the character being overpowered and praised in-universe makes them a Mary Sue, you’re missing vital elements that would actually make the label applicable, like the universe and plot contorting to suit the MC’s needs.