There are a lot of things critics will tend to point to as integral facets of making a good story. Three act structure, a resolute ending, believable characters etc. The list of these things is fairly long and isn’t universally applicable.
But one that gets brought up constantly is the idea of character development. Critics will complain often when there isn’t enough of it insisting that characters must grow and change over the course of a series. Okay, but why?
Before even answering that question you must know that “character development” can be an ill-defined and oft misused term (I’ve probably done so myself). I find it tends to be used to mean how a character grows and changes whereas it was originally meant to be more all encompassing meaning how the audience develops a connection to a character when the audience fills them with depth and personality. Not specifically change even though that can be part of it. I’ll be talking about the common usage here.
You want believable characters and also want them to change drastically, I’m sorry but most of the time those two things are mutually exclusive. In the real world people don’t tend to change very much in adulthood but in shows it’s taken as a given.
The only time I think that a majority people change drastically is in adolescence more specifically between the ages of 13 and 16. This is part of why many slice of life shows are set in high school the characters are so malleable because in reality their personalities are not fully formed. It’s this sweet spot of an age where ones personality is solid enough to make for a somewhat consistent and interesting character but still has room enough to change in significant ways.
So when shows with Adult characters get this criticism thrown their way I never quite understand it. Is it not interesting and consistent characters that grab our attention? Part of what makes characters so interesting to me is that I can imagine what they would do in any given situation because they are of course consistent
Then of course there’s the train of thought that characters must specifically “grow” and become better. This is even more ludicrous to me. In adulthood significant change tends to come from life shattering events and the change is rarely ever a good one. In Psycho-Pass for example Kogami becomes a much more cynical and twisted person after the death of his enforcer and friend Sasayama under gruesome circumstances. I get change like this it makes sense to me. And when a similar thing happens to Akane she just becomes even more resolute in her personality not letting it change her for the worse. What I wouldn’t get is a character going through that and coming out a “better” person.
I also feel that sometimes people get change confused with gradual relation. Let’s take Uraraka from My Hero Academia. In one episode we find out that the reason that she wants to become a hero is to make enough money to support her family. Uraraka of course has not changed, this has been her motivation from the start but even so I’ve seen this praised as growth of her character.
At the end of the day this whole idea is a confusing mess. The use of the term has been skewed in a way that makes it confusing when used analytically. And specifically the idea that a character growing or changing is needed for a show to be good or is somehow more nuanced when it’s included does not sit well with me. If your best friend became a different sort of person tomorrow would you still be friends with them? Who know your relationship would certainly change though. You’re friends with them because you like who they are so if who they are changes so does your relationship.
I don’t even know at this point, ranting takes it out of me.
Thanks for reading,