I've never been a huge anime fan, but recently, a friend of mine introduced me to some of the more popular contemporary series like Death Note, Code Geass, Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood, and the like. When you watch a lot of these series you start to see interesting recurring themes that, while they have Western analogues, they're not quite the same. One of the most interesting recurring themes in anime is this idea of overcoming terrible, horrific suffering, and preventing your will from breaking. In anime, the will is everything.
In Hollywood movies, there's always the moment where the hero is on his last legs, about to break, before he turns it around. The Japanese do the same thing, except when their protagonists are on their last legs, they're really on their last legs. Above all, they've suffered.
It's a neat trick, basically torturing the hero so that you empathize with him, and then reversing the power in the situation and giving you a vicarious emotional payoff. Even though you know what's happening and that you're having your strings pulled it doesn't affect you any less.
For context, in the clip below, the main character (Kaneki) is hallucinating, hovering on the precipice of completely psychologically breaking. He's been tortured for hours, having had his fingers and toes repeatedly amputated (due to superhuman regenerative abilities, they grow back). For the entire season of the show, he's espoused a philosophy of nonviolence and pacifism as a tool for solving his problems. I've probably never seen such a devastating take-down of pacifism as a workable philosophy:
I loved, loved the cinematic way they bring you down and then right back up. It's a testament to the direction of the series.
And of course, here's the vicarious revenge-porn payoff:
A narrative is a form of manipulation, but we are willing participants. I think a lot of superhero/superpowered protagonist stories are vicarious male power fantasies that appeal to low status men, whether deliberately or not.
I've watched this scene countless times, and it heavily influenced one of the pivotal scenes in Beta Male.
The trick to making you like a bastard for a protagonist, it seems, is to make his enemies even bigger bastards.
people I admire
Bret Easton Ellis