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Old 2015-02-03, 05:44   Link #1
Myname
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What are "self-insert" stories?

I see this argument used all the time but it's never consistent.

So we have the weak "beta" main character that powers up throughout the story, it's also called character development. Many standard shounen series have this type of MC. People bashing it call it "self-insert" so the so-called "loser otakus" can relate to the character because the MC starts off as a beta loser and gains power and a harem.

Oh no, so let's have an overpowered (OP) "alpha" main character. He's strong from the start so unlike the beta loser main characters, he doesn't have to work his way up the ladder fighting stronger opponents. He's usually upper-middle tier in that he's stronger than most but there are still a few top dogs that could beat him. But yet again it's called self-insert so the so-called "loser otakus" can imagine themselves as a super strong all knowing being. Tatsuya from Mahouka and Rudeus from Mushoku Tensei for example.

So if the main character is weak, it's self-insert. If he's strong, it's also self-insert. If he's a loser, it's self-insert. If he's an alpha harem king, it's self-insert.

Is the point of a story not to immerse the reader? If the reader can "self-insert" then hasn't the writer done a good job such that the reader can relate to the character they've written?

Why is "self-insert" being used as an argument?
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Old 2015-02-03, 07:43   Link #2
Cytrus
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It's the Internet, so people use some terms in many different ways.

Self-insert is when the writer inserts themselves into the story. There is no rule that it must end in disaster... but it does nine times out of ten.

The reason for the above is that the author's "power fantasy" might often become more important than telling a fun and balanced story. Many people dislike any kind of story based on a "power fantasy", regardless of whether there is any self-insert character in the story at all. I suppose it is their right to dislike whatever they want.

The weak/stupid/average protagonist is mostly unrelated to the above points. Authors might intentionally avoid any and all characteristics which may alienate viewers/readers or make it difficult to "live through the character". This has a tendency to result in some of the blandest protagonists out there.

Basically, those are all just terms different people use with different meanings and not arguments in and of themselves. If you don't know what somebody means when they use a term, ask. If they believe those are self-explaining and negate all possible arguments... ignore them?
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Old 2015-02-03, 08:22   Link #3
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There are those and then there is Stan Lee, who has been known to be in several Marvel shows over the last several decades. Usually as a cameo more than a sel insert, yet he is there.
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Old 2015-02-03, 09:37   Link #4
Triple_R
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Myname View Post

So if the main character is weak, it's self-insert. If he's strong, it's also self-insert. If he's a loser, it's self-insert. If he's an alpha harem king, it's self-insert.

Putting aside the specific "self-insert" criticism, I can tell you why these types of characters get criticized a fair bit.

It's because it's one extreme or the other. There's more types of male leads than just "Gary Stu" or "loser". It is possible to find a happy medium between those two opposite extremes.

Nagi no Asukara's Hikari comes to mind.
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Old 2015-02-03, 11:38   Link #5
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Self insert is a buzzword to either imply that the author put himself into a story or he made a character that the audience self inserts as because the character shares some traits with its audience.

Most authors self insert themselves to some extent in stories but hardly often do they do it to the MC. Its not necessarily a bad thing.
Vonnegut did it in great book like breakfast of champions for example. Jane Eyre is also blatant self insertion.

Its not consistent because people have their own definitions of what a badly written character is. Also, people confuse unlikable characters with badly written characters extremely frequently as well and are just finding a reason to hate said character.
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Old 2015-02-03, 12:30   Link #6
Ghiest Cid
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There is some self insert that actually good. The author just have to prevent the character from being a boring Mary/Marty sue and a wish fulfillment.
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Old 2015-02-03, 13:17   Link #7
GreyZone
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It's a buzzword.

People can really use it for anything. It's very popular when there are shut-in characters, often even though every single other aspect of them is totally unrelatable to most "otakus".

Imagine a character has 1000 personality traits. Now 1 out of those 1000 is "being a hikikomori or NEET", while the other 999 are traits that usually do not apply to the "normal otaku". And guess what, even though the character does not match the "normal otaku" for more than 0,1%, they still call them "self-insert characters".

A popular example that comes to mind is Sora from No Game No Life. He is often called a "self-insert character", but honestly, I doubt there many people who could REALLY emphasize with such a character, whose life is mostly focused on one person (Shiro) and aside from that has a rather nihilistic perspective on life not to mention the fact that he is a genius... But wait! He is a hikikomori, so he must TOTALLY be a self-insert character!


And... who the hell would call Tatsuya a self-insert character? That's really going beyond my suspension of disbelief, unless in that case "self-insert character" means "this is a character whose hardships I don't want to carry, but whose positive experiences I want to experience!", but if there is really someone who uses that definition... well some things are better left unsaid.



Really, "self-insert character" and "wish-fulfillment stories" are buzzwords that are used far too much lately, escpacially against Web Novels, as if people want to show off their "maturity" that they don't read such "wish fulfillment stories with self-insert characters for the typical Otaku". I fear those phrases may become the new "Dues Ex Machina".
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Old 2015-02-03, 13:30   Link #8
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Like everyone else has said you can talk about self-insert when an author is blatantly identifying himself with a character, usually the protagonist.
Because different authors have different images of themselves (some may have low self-esteem some may be narcissistic) there isn't really a direct relation between a OP character or an Hetare character and self-insert, it really depends on the author.

A self-insert character isn't necessarily a bad thing and to a certain degree it is inevitable. More often than not there's always at least a part of the author in his characters.

When it becomes bad? Well when the author goes overboard and he only writes a story to vicariously live a fantasy where his own wishes are fulfilled. It just becomes self-gratification to the point plots and consistency take a second place or are ignored completely. That's when you get a typical Mary-sue\Gary-stu character.

Readers do not react well to that because they read a story to be entertained not to watch an author entertain himself. Not like it's bad that an author enjoys what he writes, but he should also make it so it's enjoyable to others and shouldn't make the character so particularly tailored about himself or flawless to the point nobody can relate to him anymore.
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Old 2015-02-03, 14:39   Link #9
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It can't really be proven, but sometimes the feeling is there. Here's an example.

Let's say you, as an author want to push the storytelling in a certain direction that may be controversial. But the fans are angry and they start burning your merchandise. So what do you do?

Insert a character that sounds well meaning and wise, but they carry your agenda. It's like if you projected yourself in the story to convince the audience that what is going on is a good thing, and that's what they should think.

As for self-insert main characters, I honestly think the whole concept is silly to criticize. It's inevitable people project their own experiences into writing and ultimately it rubs off. I mean you are yourself; you can't really ignore that. It's literally like accusing the author of being themselves.

It's not all bad either. In Professional Wrestling, Vince Mcmahon, after engaging in some shady and controversial activity, soon casted himself as a villain, knowing that events that happened in real life would cause the audience to hate him for real and would come to see him get beat up. It worked out pretty well. I'm sure in the age of modern media with fast and dynamic communication can easily put such a concept into use.
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Old 2015-02-03, 16:59   Link #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Myname View Post
So if the main character is weak, it's self-insert. If he's strong, it's also self-insert. If he's a loser, it's self-insert. If he's an alpha harem king, it's self-insert.

Is the point of a story not to immerse the reader? If the reader can "self-insert" then hasn't the writer done a good job such that the reader can relate to the character they've written?

Why is "self-insert" being used as an argument?
Ultimately, I think this complaint is really more about perceived "realism", and a slight at the perceived target audience. In all of the listed cases, we can assume that the protagonist is being successful at what they do either in spite of or because of their personality. If the critic doesn't feel that the protagonist's success was deserved, and yet the show is popular anyway, they may argue that the reason for the show's popularity is because it panders to the audience's sense of wish-fulfillment. Thus, the protagonist is a "self-insert" for the (debased/less-cultured) audience, who just wants to feel strong/powerful/successful/loved/whatever. If the protagonist is more nuanced or balanced in terms of their strengths/weaknesses and successes/failures, you tend to get this argument less, even though it doesn't necessarily follow that the protagonist is any less of a "self-insert" for the audience.

This complaint also used to come up a fair bit when there were more anime based on eroge, since "dating sims" are basically the one genre where the protagonist literally was intended to be a self-insert character (avatar) for the player, given that it was the player's decisions that would ultimately decide the outcome of the story. As a result, these characters tended to have sort of "blank slate" personalities to give room for the player's decisions to influence the story. (In older games, they often literally didn't even have a name, to allow the player to insert their own.) When adapted to anime, which tended to focus on the heroines and adapt as much content from different paths together, the result was sometimes that the protagonist was even more bland/"generic" than in the original game. Many of the games that have been adapted since then have featured protagonists with a bit more pronounced/defined personalities (and many games in the genre similar feature a bit more defined protagonists).
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Old 2015-02-03, 17:36   Link #11
Haak
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To me, a self insert is when the story and/or characters revolves around a particular character to such a large degree in a particular wish-fulfilment sort of way.

I've not seen weak "beta" characters in shonen action shows called self inserts and I can't really think of an example either. However, I can think of plenty of weak "beta" characters in harem anime that I can easily call "self inserts", because often all it takes is for them to do one good deed for a girl (which any loser otaku could do or likes to believe they could do) and she's forever after his heart. And that shouldn't surprise anyone considering how many harem shows are based on or direct adaptations from visual novels and dating sims where you actually are the main character. In this case, the character is accused of being a self insert for the viewer.

Conversely, an overpowered character might be called a self insert when it is evident that the author is inserting themselves into the character and basically makes them in such an idealised version of themselves that the author struggles to give the character an actual, genuine challenge because they're too obnoxious to consider themselves significantly flawed (I don't know if that applies to Mahouka or not - I haven't watched it all). I exhibited traits of this when I tried forum fantasy roleplaying during my teen years. In this case, the character is accused of being a self insert for the author.

But even if I do encounter any "self insert" characters, it's not necessarily a deal breaker for me. I've watched plenty of romances/harem comedies where the MC has traits of this but I can still like him anyway. It depends on each case really. As others have pointed out, it can be inevitable to a certain degree.
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Old 2015-02-03, 23:09   Link #12
larethian
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Myname View Post
I see this argument used all the time but it's never consistent.

So we have the weak "beta" main character that powers up throughout the story, it's also called character development. Many standard shounen series have this type of MC. People bashing it call it "self-insert" so the so-called "loser otakus" can relate to the character because the MC starts off as a beta loser and gains power and a harem.

Oh no, so let's have an overpowered (OP) "alpha" main character. He's strong from the start so unlike the beta loser main characters, he doesn't have to work his way up the ladder fighting stronger opponents. He's usually upper-middle tier in that he's stronger than most but there are still a few top dogs that could beat him. But yet again it's called self-insert so the so-called "loser otakus" can imagine themselves as a super strong all knowing being. Tatsuya from Mahouka and Rudeus from Mushoku Tensei for example.

So if the main character is weak, it's self-insert. If he's strong, it's also self-insert. If he's a loser, it's self-insert. If he's an alpha harem king, it's self-insert.

Is the point of a story not to immerse the reader? If the reader can "self-insert" then hasn't the writer done a good job such that the reader can relate to the character they've written?

Why is "self-insert" being used as an argument?
I think the term has been used loosely and contains a degree of subjectivity depending on each reader's standard and wish-fulfillment criteria.
It's not about whether a character starts out as strong or weak or has a harem or not, but how he is written as a character in relation to the story and the 'point' of the story, his 'hardships' vs his 'blessings' and whether these are explained satisfactorily enough for the reader to accept, and also how much of 'feel-good' factor he invokes in me (Ie. how much do I want to be in his shoes).

EDIT: relentlessflame said it better in his first paragraph.

Specific to your examples imo:

Spoiler for mild spoilers from Mahouka & Mushoku:

I have no issue with occasionally reading 'self-insertion (w.r.t to my definition)' literature for the purpose of entertainment. What ticks me off is when a group of people starts heralding it as a godly series or the best series ever written in history

Last edited by larethian; 2015-02-04 at 00:33.
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Old 2015-02-03, 23:13   Link #13
GreyZone
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Quote:
Originally Posted by larethian View Post
I think the term has been used loosely and contains a degree of subjectivity depending on each reader's standard and wish-fulfillment criteria.
It's not about whether a character starts out as strong or weak or has a harem or not, but how he is written as a character in relation to the story and the 'point' of the story, his 'hardships' vs his 'blessings' and whether these are explained satisfactorily enough for the reader to accept, and also how much of 'feel-good' factor he invokes in me (Ie. how much do I want to be in his shoes).
[...]
The thing is, sadly I have seen lots of cases where people where calling characters as "wish fulfillment", while conveniently ignoring the "hardship" part you mentioned. Also more than enough cases where characters that are actually impossible to emphasize with for most people to be called the same.
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Old 2015-02-03, 23:37   Link #14
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I think, there is simply method to determine whether protagonist is "self-insert" or not. Just ask: Is there any other character who were able succeed in his/her goal using own power?

If noone can do anything without protagonist help, if nothing can be done without him, that's what most people call self-insert.
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Old 2015-02-04, 00:17   Link #15
GreyZone
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I think, there is simply method to determine whether protagonist is "self-insert" or not. Just ask: Is there any other character who were able succeed in his/her goal using own power?

If noone can do anything without protagonist help, if nothing can be done without him, that's what most people call self-insert.
No that's not "self-insert". That's not even "GaryStu"/"MarySue". That's just "Bad Writing".
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Old 2015-02-04, 01:06   Link #16
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That's like saying murder is not immoral or involving taking someones life because it's just plainly crime. Well, it's all of it

Every M/G Sue is self-insert(negative connotation) in one form or another. These two are freely exchangeable AND it's decesive trait is hoging all spotlight and credit.
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Old 2015-02-04, 01:40   Link #17
GreyZone
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Originally Posted by Tenzen12 View Post
That's like saying murder is not immoral or involving taking someones life because it's just plainly crime. Well, it's all of it

Every M/G Sue is self-insert(negative connotation) in one form or another. These two are freely exchangeable AND it's decesive trait is hoging all spotlight and credit.
If someone claims they can "self-insert" themselves into the roles of chracters like Tatsuya from Mahouka, or Inaho from Aldnoa.Zero, then that person is in most cases outright delusional. The way such characters act and think is so extremely alien, that they are actually the LEAST fit to be self-insert characters. A "normal" person could never imitate their way of thinking at all.

A character just being "a teenager" does not automatically make that character relatable to a teenage audience at all, but I have to admit that I can not say for sure that the main audience is able to realize such simple facts... there are more than enough people not able to do basic reading/watching comprehension after all.


Well, it also depends on how far you stretch the definition of "self-insert". If you mean "this is a character whose hardships I don't want to carry, but whose positive experiences I want to experience!", then that could be applied to any fictional character in any fictional work, ever, aside from those who only suffer the whole time, like in tragedies.
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Old 2015-02-04, 01:48   Link #18
Tenzen12
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I described what I consider being definition of "self-insert" already so rather than putting t
word into my mouth what about checking that again?

Anyway you are mixing two types of self-inserts together.
1)Characters that audience replace by theirself
2)Authors avatar done wrong.

Tatsuya is later (I don't really care enough to argue about this point, so I will not). Not sure about Inaho as I didn't get far enough to make judgement about him.
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Old 2015-02-04, 01:55   Link #19
GreyZone
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Originally Posted by Tenzen12 View Post
I described what I consider being definition of "self-insert" already so rather than putting t
word into my mouth what about checking that again?
I cannot say that ego-centrisicsm of the protagonist is equal to a self-insert, though. It MAY BE a consequence as much as fans of an idol trying to project themselves into the idol, but that is just a possibility and depends on the individual. Actually it would only really appeal to those who seek constant attention.




EDIT: Well OK, I see that you mean author self-insert now, however I don't see how that is necessarily bad for the reader. It can make the writing itself worse, sure, but the fact that it's not necessarily a "pandering" issue anymore, which would practically remove the "negative" connonation, has to taken into account as well.

The GaryStu/MarySue business had also become quite popular due to an overwhelming amount of "Beta MCs" who for many people ruined a lot of shows, so that kind of "fresh type of MC" was what many people were looking for lately, but that is also starting to decline lately. A few authors have really decided on going too much into the "opposite extreme". But it at least means that some authors are doing it becuase it's "main stream" currently and not for self-insert reasons.
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Old 2015-02-04, 02:31   Link #20
Chaos2Frozen
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Relentless said something along this line a long time before which I really like-

"Everything is a wish fulfillment until it's your wish that's being fulfilled... Then it becomes a good story."
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