So your story has a Hero and a Big Bad Guy. And eventually (in the final chapter) they’ll battle it out! However, your story isn’t going to be very exciting with just two characters… Who is the Hero going to test their special abilities on? Who is going to do the Big Bad Guy’s legwork?
Today’s word is…
雑魚キャラクター (Zako character)
The character za (雑) means “miscellaneous” and the character for ko (魚) means “fish”. Put together, they can of course refer to… literal small fish. However, it can also be an insulting way to refer to someone weak or of low status. If you want to keep the “fishy” image, then perhaps the closest English expression is “small fry”.
So what’s a “zako character”? I’m sure you can guess! They exist in anime, manga, video games and action movies from every culture.
They’re the minions that the Big Bad Guy sends to stop the Hero! They often work in groups and are completely interchangeable (in fact, they’re often identical) And despite their superior numbers, they’re also utterly useless! Think of the Team Rocket Grunts from Pokémon, the Saibamen from Dragonball Z, or the Stormtroopers from Star Wars.
Of course, zako characters are important for storytelling purposes. They help set the mood, and can be used to showcase your hero’s abilities. For example, the Fist of the North Star universe is populated with rough, brutish thugs who prey on the weak. This helps paint the picture of a merciless, cruel world. The reader will instinctively be repulsed by their cruelty and thus gets an extra thrill from seeing Kenshiro dispatch of them with his martial arts moves.
On the other hand, if they’re too ridiculous, they might break your reader’s suspension of belief. How many Kung Fu movies have you watched where an entire room full of ninjas barely make the hero break a sweat? That always left me thinking that those had to be the worst ninjas in the world (笑)
Who are your favorite zako characters? Please leave your comments below!
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