The Ignorant Badass: How Can They Not Know?

The above characters are from anime that I recently watched.  Space Dandy is from the anime named after him and Lloyd is from ‘Suppose a Kid from the Boonies Moved to a Starter Town’ or whatever it’s called.  One is science fiction while the other is fantasy.  One is a zany comedy with a flimsy relation to the fourth wall.  The other is an action adventure/slice of life type of thing.  Both deal with epic scale events at some point, but the real connection I’m touching on is this:

Space Dandy–  Rare alien hunter who has an obsession with women, terrible with a gun, and has a special power that this evil empire wants.  He doesn’t know he has this power or that he’s hunted.

Lloyd Belladonna–  Weakest citizen from a legendary town who ventures out to become a soldier in another kingdom.  Has the power to single-handedly hurl local monsters into orbit, faster than the eyes can follow, and knows ancient rune magic that works even if he messes up.  He doesn’t believe he is strong at all.

Both characters are special and don’t realize it.  The difference is that I think one was done well and the other was a joke that stretched on for too long.  Oddly enough, it wasn’t the comedy that made this a joke.  This actually made and broke the series for me because it became a defining trait of the characters.

Space Dandy is ignorant of his power because it’s subconscious and nobody has told him about his abilities.  They happen without him knowing and the audience doesn’t even know about them until the end.  His friends don’t know either, so nobody can reveal the truth.  He’s not the smartest person either, so all of this combines to explain why he doesn’t know.  It’s such a distant subplot until the end that it’s kind of a whimsical mystery that you forget while the current fun is happening.

Lloyd is surrounded by people who know he’s incredibly powerful, but stand there in awe or fear.  If they do try to tell him then he doesn’t really believe them.  This goes on for a long time.  In fact, I can’t remember if he ever acknowledged his own strength by the end of the season.  At one point, he seemed to just fight and act like a hero, but nobody spoke of him having monstrous power any more.  He still mistook local monsters for basic animals and had this level of ignorance that made him hard to like.  He wasn’t stupid like Space Dandy, but unaware and this became an issue as he progressed because it felt like he should have noticed something was going on.

That’s a lot of set up, but it’s the best way to present the ‘Ignorant Badass’.  These are powerful characters who don’t realize their own strength or importance.  You can keep that going for a while depending on personality and situation, but it gets harder to maintain as the victories pile up.  Imagine if Superman believed he was weak even after he reversed time, caught a plane, died and returned to life, and flew through space.  His own experiences and actions should reveal that he’s powerful, especially with weaker people all around him.  This is where Lloyd messed up since it reached a point where he couldn’t feasibly believe that his weaker allies had saved the day.  Eventually, you have to drop the ignorance unless you work hard to keep them in the dark.

One of the easiest ways to do this is with a power that is amazing, but both subtle and not in control of the character.  This way, they don’t realize they’re doing anything.  It makes it more difficult for them to believe anyone who says otherwise.  It can make it a challenge for anyone to notice what is going on.  Only the audience may see the truth and characters never hear us yelling from the other side of the pages.  At least with this scenario, we can understand why the hero thinks they’re weak even though they’re winning.  How could they know if they aren’t doing it on purpose or with clear movements?

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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14 Responses to The Ignorant Badass: How Can They Not Know?

  1. L. Marie says:

    Interesting topic. I can’t help thinking of our own lives and how unaware we might be of our own gifting, especially if we’re surrounded by people who disparage that gift. So yes, I can understand how someone might be ignorant of an ability. Of course an anime would take that point to an extreme for the entertainment purposes. But it makes for a good conflict.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The potential in a story of an ignorant badass seems unlimited. He doesn’t know he is a badass. There are some who know he doesn’t know and some who think he knows. Great potential.

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  3. V.M.Sang says:

    An interesting post, Charles. There could be a scenario where people deliberately keep the character from knowing he has a power, and explain everything away. Eventually , though, unless he’s super stupid, the character would work it out, I would thimk.

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    • It’s that dependence on stupidity that makes things difficult. In my examples, Space Dandy was definitely a full-blown idiot who wouldn’t be able to understand his power if explained to him. Lloyd was played off as naive instead of stupid, so his ignorance started making less sense as the story continued.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Interesting topic. I can see this working in smaller doses, or with supporting characters. Over the course of a longer series it would become the elephant in the room for readers.

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  5. I haven’t seen either of these shows, so I can’t comment on them specifically. For Lloyd, I can think of two possibilities (although neither one probably was used in the show). 1) Imposter Syndrome. No matter how well he does, Lloyd still thinks of himself as not deserving/out of his depth, and expects other people to call him out on being a fake hero. 2) A curse which prevents him remembering or understanding the role he must play. That could be a sneaky villain strategy to stop him from stopping them in the end.

    From what you describe, it sounds like the authors picked that one trait of humility and stuck with it rather than allow the character to grow.

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    • With Lloyd, it’s not a curse. He’s the weakest of his overpowered village, so he thinks he’s weak. He basically moves from the last dungeon of an rpg world to a starter town where he’s extremely overpowered. His ignorance makes sense at first. Yet, he kept it after defeating demon lords and other enemies that he even said were strong. More frustrating, all of the other characters realized his power and none of them tried to explain things to him.

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