In the past I have talked about my theory of the two major categories of shonen fighting protagonists. I call them the Shonen Hero and the Seinen Hero. The Shonen Hero is what you very stereotypically think of with the genre. They are passionate and ambitious but have almost no experience. Therefore everything must be explained to them but they have an endless pool of potential to draw from and so they learn powerful techniques almost instantly. In contrast the Seinen Hero while still in a shonen magazine feels like a character taken from a series for older men. These character usually have years of training under their belt and tend to be more stoic and coldly driven. They are not perfect but they are 80% of the way to maximum. Usually their journey is about perfecting their skills, adding to their already powerful repertoire, or learning to work with a team. Not every shonen fighting protagonists falls into these two categories. There are some notable exceptions or combinations of the two but nine times out of ten your hero will fall into one of these categories. Naruto and Simon are your stereotypical Shonen Heroes while Luffy and Kenshiro are your stereotypical Seinen Hero.
Until recently I would have told you that sports anime pretty much follows that same formula to the T. The main character who joins the team is either the fresh young buck with no skills but an insane potential and a killer move or a cold ace with the crazy skills but with a major flaw. Like the shonen fighting protagonist there is the very rare exception to this rule but overall they are just as easy to divide into the two camps. The thing is the last few shows we have been watching have added a third archetype that I have never really seen be this predominant until now. They are the Super Support Protagonist.
The thing is this character is a mixture of the Shonen Hero and the Seinen Hero but with some added elements that make them more than just a blend of the other two. Usually the protagonist is the star of the team. They are the character who scores the most points, gets all the important points, and draws all the attention, love, and hate to themselves. The Super Support Protagonist might do that on occasion but most of the time they are there so all the other characters can shine or work together better. They usually have some technique or place in the team that helps everyone around them. If the Shonen Hero is the fighter, and the Seinen Hero is the wizard, then the Super Support Protagonist in the bard. In years past they would have usually been secondary or tertiary character on a team. Someone who might get an episode of two in the spotlight but no more than that. But apparently this Super Support Protagonist is appearing more and more as the lead in modern sports shows.
Kuroko’s Basketball, Yowamushi Pedal, and Haikyu!! have enjoyed immense popularity recently. It may come as no surprise then that they do share some similar qualities.
No longer the stoic genius or the hotblooded ace; more recent heroes of sports anime are the guys who would have been side characters in the past. And it isn’t just their personalities that mark them as previous side characters, but their roles on their teams, too.
Kuroko’s central role is passing the ball. Hinata is the decoy of the court. Onoda pulls the other members along so they can conserve their strength. All of these characters act in the best interest for the rest of the team. Each of them is integral to the team succeeding despite them not necessarily having the role that gets the most outside attention or glory. So intentionally or not, all of these titles end up emphasizing how important a cohesive team is maybe more so than when the central figure is the ace.
Kuroko, Onoda, and Hinata all feel like they occupy the same spot in the team: the soul.