Welcome to Guidance, Private Sanctuary’s source for tips and techniques for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, written by Everyman Gamer Alexander Augunas. Today, we’re going to be talking about hero kids in games and media.
A few weeks ago, I wrote a big article about how children aren’t represented properly in Western fantasy. This week, I wanted to give a quick shout-out to some of the best-written child characters in our modern media. Why? Because if we’re going to fix the problem, we need models. Plus it helps to have examples for nay-sayers to reference.
And with that, onto the show!
Arya Stark, 8 years (Game of Thrones)
Okay. I’m going to do my absolute best to talk about Arya without spoiling Game of Thrones. Its going to be nearly impossible, but I’ll try.
Arya is the daughter of the Lord of the North. She’s a tomboy and has no desire to act like a proper lady should in the Game of Thrones world. She wants to hunt, don armor, and kick butt. When her father is forced to move south, Arya is forced to come along, but her father allows her to train with a swordplay tutor who is essentially a Pathfinder swashbuckler. Then crap hits the fan and Arya becomes a fugitive from the Southern nobility, a powerful game piece in the Game of Thrones and slowly begins to flee north.
Lots of horrible, horrible stuff happens to Arya. She is temporarily blinded for a time. She is forced into servitude. She has to constantly hide her gender from everyone around her. She has to direct an assassin and eventually becomes one herself. And when all of this starts, she’s eight years old. Game of Thrones is a book that is filled with characters who experience setback and tragedy after setback and tragedy and Arya is not spared in the slightest. But compared to every other character, including the adults, no one manages to flip a lousy situation into a somewhat positive one quite as well as Arya. She is one of the most resourceful (and downright lucky) characters in Game of Thrones, which makes her characterization absolutely perfect.
Author’s Note: To an extent, Arya’s siblings also fall into the category of hero kid. Her older brothers, Bran and Robert, both have their own challenges that they’re forced to face throughout the story. Robert especially, as he is forced to take on the mantle of Lord of the North early on and ultimately leads the North’s armies against their enemies for most of Book 2.
Billy Batson, 10 years (Captain Marvel)
Billy Batson is an excellent example of an American child hero, one that I’m a little ashamed that I neglected to mention when I did my original article on kid heroes. Billy is essentially gifted with the power of the gods early on and when he utters a mystic word he transforms into the incredible Captain Marvel. Now, I know what you’re thinking. “But Alex! Billy transforms into an adult when he becomes Captain Marvel, so doesn’t that make him not count?” No. Not at all. While Captain Marvel appears to physically be an adult, the comics do a decent enough job of keeping Billy’s character more in line with that of his childhood self. If you want a perfect example of what I’m talking about, follow this link and read the summary that you find there. It contains some heavy spoilers, but it really showcases how effective the use of a 10-year old child can be in a story.
Fun factoid: did you know that Captain Marvel was the best-selling comic book of the 1940s?
Gohan, 4+ years (Dragon Ball Z)
I’m sure that many of my readers just got flashbacks from their childhoods at reading this character’s name! Dragon Ball Z, arguably one of the most popular anime when I was young, involves a surprising number of young characters, but none of them were ever as developed as Gohan. Gohan was introduced in the very first episode of Dragon Ball Z, when he was 4 or 5 years old. Almost immediately, Gohan is abducted by another character and left to fend for himself in the wilderness for a year in order to improve his strength, stamina, and agility before learning to spare with his abductor. (Stockholm Brawling?)
Throughout the course of the series, Gohan is constantly in the front lines fighting until he ultimately takes the stage for himself in the Cell Arc, where he is instrumental to defeating the villain. Throughout the series, just about everyone was training Gohan while they saved the world from various threats and in the end it was to save the planet from this final threat. (Final … until the next season, anyway.) Although Gohan was never the most powerful character in the show, you felt like you were right there with him as he trained and fought on the front lines in order to protect what he held dear. In the end, his final battle where he finally superceded his father and became the most powerful character in the show was a gratifying moment because of the journey that you, as the audience, had gone on with him.
Jade Chan; 8 years (Jackie Chan Adventures)
Jade is a weird character because she’s not really a competent fighter by any stretch of the imagination; as a matter of fact, her skills are mostly played for laughs because her junior-level karate isn’t much against most of the show’s trained villains. That said, Jade does get to shine as the show’s rogue; she’s constantly sneaking around, discovering evil plots, and in many cases she’s saving the day by innovatively utilizing one of the show’s magic items. Although she definitely has her character archetype and isn’t the most well-rounded character on the show (that honor goes to Tohru), she holds her own in a pinch and, unlike some of the other characters on this list, her abilities lie in her resourcefulness and cunning rather than that stereotypical “super-powered child” character type that many hero kids fall into.
Miles “Tails” Prowler; 8 years old (Sonic the Hedgehog)
Tails has been a mainstay of the Sonic franchise since he debuted in Sonic 2. But did you know that even as early as that first game, Tails is actually only 8 years old? (Compared this to Sonic’s 15 – 16 years). He actually is quite remarkable when you stop to think about it; he can keep pace with Sonic (though he can’t match Sonic’s top speeds), has a genius-level intellect (he flies a plane as earily as Sonic 2 and later games have added to his personality, stating him to be a master mechanic), and perhaps most impressively of all, he is able to maintain a steady, fast personal flying speed by spinning his two tails around WHILE carrying Sonic. Essentially, this 8 year old kid can carry someone twice his age! Although Tails’ age has little bearing on the classic games, his youth plays a much bigger role in other Sonic games and media, particularly in the Archie Sonic Comics.
Fun Factoid: Tails’ name is a homonym for “miles per hour.” This is the second worst-kept secret in the gaming world.
Percy Jackson (Percy Jackson and the Olympians)
You might have seen the movie for this series, but trust me when I say that the books are much, much better. Percy Jackson basically runs with the concept of the godling; Percy is the son of a Greek god (no spoilers from me, but its revealed early on in the first book) and has a plethora of special powers and abilities that call back to his divine heritage. Percy is forced to go on something akin to a hero’s quest in order to stop Zeus, Hades, and Poseidon from destroying the United States in a squabble. Percy’s a great example of a child hero because he’s still very much a kid, both in his actions and his thinking. The author does an excellent job of making the story fun and action-packed while making sure that Percy’s age is relatively clear to the reader. In the movies, Percy is 15 while he’s closer to 12 or 13 in the books.
Naruto, Saske, and More (Naruto)
All of the main characters start the manga at age 12. By the end of the first season, most know a number of special techniques and have to duke it out with one another in order to essentially “graduate” from their ninja apprenticeship. This means that the youngest fully-trained and certified ninja in the setting are 12 – 13. “Part 2” of the series takes place when the characters are 15 years old, and when it ends, they’re just barely turning 17. This means that most of the awesome fight scenes that people know and love Naruto for are between highly trained middle schoolers.
Aang, Katara, Sokka, Toph, Zuko, and More (Avatar: The Last Airbender)
Surely ALL of you knew that I was going to cover Avatar: The Last Airbender, right?
TLA is by far one of the most amazing American animated series to come out within the past decade, and honestly the character’s ages have absolutely nothing to do with it. Aang, the Avatar, is roughly 12 years old, Katara is 13, Sokka is 14, Zuko is 15, and Toph is 11 or 12. At the start of the series, both Aang and Katara are relatively limited benders, with Aang’s only real advantage being that he practices a fighting style that has been dead for 100 years. As the series goes, all of the young characters (including its villains) become significantly more powerful benders. For example, when she is first introduced in Season 2, Toph is regularly knocking out older, male, adult benders in fighting matches. All of the characters mature significantly throughout the show, and while the group does face off against kid villains (Jet, Zuko, and the terrifying evil Azula all come to mind), the group manages to hold its own against many an adult threat as well, and the final battle ultimately pits the Avatar against Zuko’s father. If any series is proof that children can make for interesting characters that can hold their own against adults, it is Avatar: The Last Airbender.
Ichigo, Chad, Orihime, Rukia, Renji, and Hitsugaya (Bleach)
It is easy to forget that popular anime, which is centered around a group of teenagers who fight evil spirits, has a cast of minors for its characters. Most of the humans (Chad, Ichigo, and Orihime specifically) are 15. Several other reapers (Rukia and Renji) also appear 15 and one of the character’s most powerful characters, Captain Hitsugaya, is actually younger then the cast (around 13 – 14). All around, Bleach can be best described as “Dragon Ball + Naruto + swords,” and it can make for an interesting show as a result. (You know, when its plot is actually moving forward.)
Peter Parker, 15+ years (All, but Especially Ultimate Marvel)
I know there’s an entire generation out there who sees Toby MacGuire as the quintessential Spider Man, but he’s very much the exception rather than the rule. In traditional Spider Man stories, Peter Parker is bit by a radioactive spider while on a class field trip and becomes Spider Man. The version of the story with the youngest Spider Man that I can find is the Ultimate Marvel series, which has him at 15 years old. Interestingly enough, there’s an alternate universe story were Spider Man retires and a new Spider Man, named Miles, replaces him. Even more interestingly, Miles is 11 years old, which technically makes him the youngest Spider Man.
Fun Factoid: Andrew Garfield is an awesome Spider Man.
Yusuke Urameshi, 14 years (YuYu Hakusho)
For my last character, here’s another anime hero that I mentioned in my original article. Yusuke is interesting in that he dies in his very first episode. His death was considered a freak accident by the afterlife, however, as none of the angels expected Yusuke to jump in front of a truck to save a small child’s life. (Yusuke is kind of a jerk at the beginning of the series.) Because of the unexpected nature of his death, the angel of death offers to make Yusuke a spirit detective instead of bringing him to the afterlife for judgment, possibly because too much paperwork would have been involved. Yusuke accepts and thus begins his journey as a spirit detective.
Being a spirit detective is a weird combination of monk and gunslinger, as he gains super speed, super strength, and the ability to shoot a “spirit gun” blast of energy out of his finger tips when he points his hand like a gun. As the series progresses, Yusku’s spirit energy grows dramatically, to the point where it is revealed that every time he attempts to access his soul’s full power henceforth, his soul will rearrange every cell in his body so he reassumes his 14-year old form because that is the most powerful that he will ever be for the rest of his life. That’s both kind of sad and kind of cool at the same time. Yusuke defeants many powerful, adult opponents, sure, but most of his enemies are actually immortal demons, making his victories even more impressive.
And that, as they say, is that! What do you think? Are there any excellent, young characters that I missed in my synopsis? Got any disagreements with me? Leave your thoughts below and let’s discuss more awesome, young people in literature, gaming, and media! Until next time, I’m signing out!
Alexander “Alex” Augunas has been playing roleplaying games since 2007, which isn’t nearly as long as 90% of his colleagues. Alexander is an active freelancer for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game and is best known as the author of the Pact Magic Unbound series by Radiance House. Alex is the owner of Everyman Gaming, LLC and is often stylized as the Everyman Gamer in honor of Guidance’s original home. Alex’s favorite color is blue, his favorite Pathfinder Race/Class combination is kitsune spirit detective.