Forward: I know it is an overused phrase to use for lame posters but it was just too apropos. Also I technically wrote most of this post 4 years ago when Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches anime was on TV but I decided to finish it since I JUST finished the 3rd season of the Rin-ne anime which inspired me to finally finish this.
Remember when Kyon from The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya was a popular character? For a while he spawned he spawned about a dozen similar anime leads who were similar stoic with a bit of sarcastic edge to them. This is hardly a phenomenon solely centered around anime. Success tends to breed equal amounts of homage, inspiration, imitation, and plain and simple copying in media. I think it was just Kyon that made me mentally track trends like that in anime more than anything else I can easily remember.
Most of the time when people notice a trend like this it tends to inspire a good deal of cynicism. When you see a dozen characters all with a very similar character in a short period of time it does really make it seem like media has completely run out of ideas. Add on top of that the fact that the Johnny-come-latelys often never match up to the original only exacerbates that feeling of despair. I myself try to find similar characters who on the surface seem like they are doing the same thing but instead find a way to distinctly find their own niche. There is no real lessons to be learned from the first case that is not immediately obvious after you learn it the first time. The blind copying of a trend is just as easy to criticize as it is to do. The far more interesting examination is an analysis of the cases where similar characters are able to differentiate themselves or even fill different roles.
The characters who recently brought this to the forefront for me are Sakura Mamiya from Rin-ne and Urara Shiraishi from Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches. At first they seem remarkably similar. They are both young ladies who seem to be the only characters who constantly keep an almost robotic stiff upper lip despite the strange supernatural activity happening around them. They both act like straight-men for the rambunctious characters around them. They both also seem to be fairly unaware of the romantic interest that the male lead has for them.
It is really easy to assume that these characters are merely carbon copies of the other. A closer examination will show that they are actually very different when you examine them beyond the simple examination you would make in a snarky image post.
The main difference between Mamiya and Shiraishi is overall Mamiya is actually as serene on the inside as she is on the outside whereas despite appearances Shiraishi actually has an inner universe of tumultuous feelings when you get to know her despite what you first assume. Mamiya is basically a case of what you see is what you get. She does have some hidden complexity but overall she wears her heart in her sleeve. Shiraishi, on the other hand, plays the stoic mostly because she is clearly someone who does not deal well with large bursts of emotion. Shiraishi is usually placid as a lake but she tends to react to things if you paying close attention. Her emotions much like how music is the space between the notes. How she does not react is just as important as when she reacts.
A good deal of this contrast comes from the author of the series and what they are bringing to the characters. Sakura Mamiya is a reaction to the work of Rumiko Takahashi as much as Urara Shiraishi is informed by the previous work of Miki Yoshikawa. An examination of each manga-ka’s previous work gives a good insight into how these characters came to be the way they are.
Rumiko Takahashi is distinctly known as an author who likes certain archetypal templates. You could even say it might be at the point of loving infamy. Her female protagonists tend to be stubborn and jealous women who have hair-trigger tempers but are very sweet down deep. Akane Tendo, Lum Invader, and Kagome Higurashi are full versions of her style of character while Kyoko Otonashi, Sister Angela, and some of her Rumic Theater characters are a bit more diluted versions. And that is just her protagonists. You will also have someone like Miyake Shinobu in the same series as Lum who increase the overall count of that type of characters in her series.
In many ways Sakura Mamiya seems like a deliberate choice to try create someone who was the exact opposite of her standard heroine. When someone like Akane would fly off the handle or freak out at an event Mamiya has an almost monk-like calmness instead. She is not unemotional like Rei Ayanami or Eve from Black Cat. She can be happy, angry, sad, scared, annoyed, or perplexed. She just generally seems like she has a firm control over said emotions. If anything she seems like what would happen if she took Nabiki and Kasumi Tendo, combined them, and made that character the main character of her own series. The thing is Sakura Mamiya often placed into situations where the prototypical Rumiko Takahashi would go ballistic just so you can see Mamiya have a far more tempered reaction. While it is effective on its own there is an extra level of amusement involved if you are familiar with Takahashi’s older works.
(Yes, yes, I know that Rei Ayanami and Eve have emotions. But said emotions are so stunted and repressed in those characters that they are mainly nonexistent.)
Urara Shiraishi on the other hand seems like the next step after Hana Adachi. Hana is this former wild child that wants to be the utter cool and respected class president type but is a goofy force of nature despite her best efforts. Hana’s ideal would be to be someone exactly like Shiraishi. It is very clear that Hana thinks her problems would go away if she could be the responsible, even headed, classy intellectual. In the end it is a clear case of the grass always being greener on the other side. Shiraishi gets her power because she would like to be more like Hana.
Shiraishi used to be a person who was much more expressive with her feelings but after being hurt and let down by multiple people she became jaded and closed off. She decided she would not react in a way that would let it show that people get to her. But the witch powers in Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches reveal what the person who gets them wish they could change about themselves. Her body-swapping would theoretically let her escape from the pressure of being her and let her actually express her feelings. It is not that Shiraishi is actually as calm as she appears. It just that she uses her facade to protect herself from the vulnerability that comes with strong emotions. Shiraishi is a straight-laced doll inhumanly clam doll that actually wants to let her strong emotions to flow freely.
In most situations both characters would often have the same deadpan reaction to any crazy situation. A simple cursory examination might make you think they are pretty much the same character. Sakura is a simpler character mostly because she is in a simpler straightforward comedy series with small bits of deeper drama. Shiraishi is a more nuanced character because she is in a series that has more dramatic weight and therefore needs more emotional depth. With that observation you could conclude that Shiraishi is the “better” character but I feel they are merely characters who are crafted to work with the story they are in. It is an important fact to remember in any analysis but especially vital when thinking about seemingly similar characters.