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13 Tragic Anime Heroes Who Are Hard Not To Pity

August 24, 2020 4.3k votes 1.1k voters 20.7k views12 items

A Tragic Hero is a long-standing literary trope that you're probably familiar with if you've ever taken an English class. It involves a character who has a 'fatal flaw' being unable to achieve happiness or being outright destroyed by their own flaw. This character can be a protagonist or an antagonist, but when it's an antagonist it's usually someone who is sympathetic despite their flaws.

Sometimes it's a genuinely positive trait that ends up being twisted into something awful - Ken Kaneki from Tokyo Ghoul was so focused on kindness that it prevented him from defending himself, then decided to focus on strength at the expense of those he originally hoped to protect. In other cases, it's a little more ambiguous - Kiritsugu Emiya believes in sacrificing individuals for the greater good, a morally debatable premise, and ends up seeing his own life ruined by those ideals. 

Which of these tragic anime heroes has the saddest story?

  • Photo: Shaft

    Homura Akemi's number one goal is to create a world where her beloved Madoka Kaname can live a happy and prosperous life. To accomplish this, she's willing to repeatedly go back in time, put herself in danger, put other people in danger, and generally turn her entire life into absolute chaos. The third movie, Rebellion, really drives this point home when she transforms into the witch Homulilly in order to protect Madoka from the machinations of the Incubators.

    But it doesn't matter how many times Homura betrays her own principles and endangers to save Madoka, she's ultimately fighting a losing game. That's because Madoka is 100% ready to sacrifice herself to save Homura - the last thing that Homura wants. Their lives are an endless cycle of painful self-sacrifice with no recourse. 

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    Ash Lynx - 'Banana Fish'

    Photo: MAPPA

    Ash Lynx might be a high-ranking mafia boss, but how badass he is isn't really the point of the series. Rather, it's his complex emotional landscape, and the fatal flaw that ultimately causes his already miserable life to unravel. After years of horrific abuse at the hands of everyone from a Little League coach to a mafia kingpin named Golzine, Ash finally has a little bit of freedom - but he won't have it for long if Golzine has anything to do with it.

    But Ash doesn't focus solely on defeating Golzine - because he's fallen in love with Eiji, a boy from Japan who he feels more connected with and protective of than anyone he's ever met. This gives his enemies the opportunity to use his love for Eiji against him through kidnapping and manipulation. Ultimately, Ash is in over his head, and ends up losing his life to a disgruntled member of a rival gang - in part because he was so focused on Eiji that he could not attend to his other responsibilities. 

  • Photo: ufotable

    Fate/Zero is hyper-conscious of the idea that Kiritsugu Emiya is a tragic hero. The first line of Fate/Zero is this: Let us tell the story of a certain man. The tale of a man who, more than anyone else, believed in his ideals, and by them was driven into despair. 

    What are those ideals? He believes that in order to help the majority, one must sacrifice the minority. He learns this when a friend of his drinks an experimental creation made by his father, which turns her into a monster that destroys nearly everyone on the island. To protect the island from future destruction, he takes down his father without hesitation. He took down his adoptive mother Natalia in the same way, not because she was a villain but because he had to do it to save multiple lives. When he discovers the Holy Grail, Kiritsugu decides to go buckwild taking as many lives as necessary under the assumption that he can use it to create lasting peace. 

    Ultimately, Kiritsugu realizes that the true nature of the Grail makes that impossible. We won't get into how, but let's just say that his ideals are thoroughly tested by the end. 

  • Photo: Trigger

    The best bro in all of anime is actually a tragic hero. While his intense enthusiasm and refusal to ever give up no matter the circumstances are crucial both for his personal successes and for helping Simon gain the confidence to save the day, they're ultimately the things that lead to his demise. Heavily wounded in battle, he still works with Simon to create Gurren Lagann and defeats the Beastman General with Giga Drill Break. It's impossible to know how the battle would have turned out had he taken a step back to deal with his injuries - would he have survived? Would Beastman General have defeated everyone? Regardless, his willingless to push himself to the absolute limit is what brought this hero's life to a tragic end.