The importance of comfort characters

Sophia Gonzalez and Dave Huerta

The term “comfort character” first gained popularity during 2020, in which Americans were asked to quarantine inside their homes due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With the increased level of anxiety, people started looking for comfort in more accessible outlets from home like fictional characters. 

A comfort character is a fictional character that someone may relate to or feel elated about while consuming their media; these characters can be from TV shows, books, movies, and video games, but are mainly identified in shows. 

Comfort characters are able to serve as a relaxing but also relatable presence to audiences. They are able to create a feeling of safety and solace for their viewers. A space is provided for people to reflect on themselves from the character’s development and/or the media’s overall theme.

Freshman Allison Luo explained what she knows about them and how her comfort character impacts her.

“I know a lot of people really rely on comfort characters when they are dealing with anxiety or stress… sometimes people are too much to understand and we just need a break,” said Luo.

Luo’s personal comfort character is Nagisa Shiota from the 2013 anime (Japanese film and animation)Assassination Classroom. “Assassination Classroom is an anime in which a class of 28 middle school students are assigned by the government to assassinate their alien teacher (Koro-sensei) in order to save the world. 

Nagisa Shiota is the main protagonist of the anime; he is put into the class because of his failing grades, only to then be bullied by some of the students in the class. With Koro-senseis’s help, he learns to stand up for himself and use his skills to his advantage, even if they don’t seem as valuable to others. 

The class of students are the underdogs of the school, being placed in it for either being insubordinate, not meeting academic standards or just unfair punishment by school executives. When Koro-sensei was appointed their teacher, instead of disregarding them, he went above and beyond to foster the students’ skills and bring them together rather than apart. That brings in the trope of a found family which can comfort those who may have dysfunctional ones or just enjoy family tropes.

“It makes me smile when I see someone with so many layers unfolding into such a realistic personality… he’s inspired me to stand up for myself more often… the main thing he taught me is self-belief,” said Luo. 

Screencap of Nagisa Shiota, main protagonist from the anime Assassination Classroom. Photo from Assassination Classroom.

A big part of comfort characters’ popularity is that some offer life lessons that are naturally explored and rooted in their character development. Those who indulge in those characters can then take those experiences and apply them to themselves. 

An example of this type of character is Hagrid from the “Harry Potter series, who teaches his students to love all living creatures, teaching empathy. Another example is Spider-Man from the “Spider-Man series, who teaches responsibility and courage. 

Senior Sophia Rodriguez explained how her comfort character, Eleanor Shellstrop from the NBC show “The Good Place”, has affected her outlook on personal improvement and follows the main theme of it never being too late to change. 

In the first episode of the show, Eleanor wakes up after she dies in the ‘good place’. Eleanor is aware that she is a bad person who initially is excited by the mistake she thought was made by  being put into the ‘good place’, but when her presence starts to cause the ‘good place’ to go haywire, she works to become a better person. Through the show’s four seasons, Eleanor and her friends, Chidi, Tahani, and Jason, all work to become better people. 

“Seeing things related to her reminds me that no matter where I am on my journey of becoming a better person, the fact that I’m actually trying to be a better person makes me better than I was before…she reminds me that I’m allowed to fall back and mess up sometimes, it doesn’t make me a bad person as long as I move forward from it,” said Rodriguez. 

Screencap of Eleanor Shellstrop, main protagonist from NBC’s show The Good Place. Photo from The Good Place.

The Good Place touches on philosophers such as John Locke, Immanuel Kant, and Thomas Aquinas, and their ideas of morality. Morality is defined as one’s principles between right and wrong with most decisions and behavior. This is able to help viewers reflect on their own ideas of right and wrong, and how it can not only affect them but others as well.

Comfort characters can give people a sense of identity and discovery of who they are by seeing it being portrayed in someone else.