What Makes or Breaks the Bow of the Redemption Arc?
First of all, Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays. I hope your days were relaxing and bright. Secondly, redemption arcs are some of the most particular parts of writing a story and even nailing anything beyond the basics is almost impossible.
So pour yourself a cup of holiday tea and lets go.
What is a Redemption Arc?
A redemption arc is a storytelling device that allows people to emotionally reconcile with either themselves or others. It could be as simple as saying: ‘I’m sorry’ to the person they hurt, or as complicated as Hohenheim trying to take out Father to shed some of his own guilt.
Probably one of the oldest known uses of this trope, Heracles was a Greek demigod with enormous strength. Fathered by Zeus and Mothered by Alcmene, Heracles seemed predestined for tragedy because Zeus couldn’t keep it in his pants. Anyways, in his first marriage to Megara, he fell into a fit of demonic rage and killed his wife and four children. This lead to the twelve trials, seemingly impossible tasks given to him by a foreign king to atone for his sins. He accomplishes each task, gaining new tools and insights. Honestly, though, this story represents the baseline of what a redemption arc is: You Fucker, you fucked up majorly and now you actually have to work to make things alright.
Not all redemption arcs are as visible to the audience as people think they should be, sometimes, rather than a shift from evil to good, it’s a small thing, just a little thing that the character needs to get off of their chests. For Edward, his redemption arc comes from the fact that he finally asks his brother for forgiveness and admits that he can’t do it alone. It isn’t a massive outward change where he suddenly becomes a rebel soldier. It’s just a simple moment between him and his brother about something that’s been eating him up since he was a teeny tween. It’s a symbol of him letting go of his pride, his stubbornness, his fear and it’s really very sweet and caring. It lifts the weight over the loss of his brother and lets him surge forward with new determination.
On the other side of the spectrum, we have Severus Snape, who is hailed as having a brilliant redemption arc, but in reality, his arc is flatter than a skinny drag queen’s stomach. He’s a bully, plain and simple, in every sense of the word. His ‘arc’ is simply thrown in there to make us feel sympathy for a man who abused his position and bemoaned his fate of having the girl he liked not like him back. What makes his arc not work breaks into two things: He’d be a shitty good guy and Rowling makes the moral scale in her books into this black and white thing of good and evil. If you support Voldemort, you’re automatically horrid but as soon as you get a throwaway scene explaining you were a double agent and you sacrifice yourself, it’s all okay and you get a kid named after you. As for the shitty good guy thing: EVEN WHEN HE WAS WORKING AS A DOUBLE AGENT, HE WAS A PRICK. He shouldn’t just automatically be hailed as a hero. For redemption to work, there can’t be this moral solidness of good and bad, because there’s no such thing as pure good or pure evil. It’s always shifting.
Megamind is a brilliant film for many reasons, and one of those is Megamind’s arc. Megamind is a narcissistic, campy and frankly, he’s a really terrible supervillain. We’re rooting for him to become a good guy from the beginning because we want him to finally have the happiness he was denied for most of his life. He was never good at being bad but he was trying his hardest. He’s the underdog, he’s never won. The other part of his redemption comes from his willingness to change for Roxanne. He wants to be the person she can be with. It’s very endearing and works really well to give him a more human feel.
This is just going to be a subsection because manga and anime alike are guilty of this thing: the villain of the previous week somehow is the protagonist’s best friend without so much as an eyelash bat. And… It’s not bad per-say but it’s not great writing either. It’s a bit jarring the first few times it happens, because it’s so weird for the characters to do such complete and utter 180s. Then it’s just like; Oh, look a redemption with no rhyme or reason or arc. YAY.
If you think I was going to forget about this precious ray of confused and sad sunshine, you obviously don’t read my blog often enough. I love this boy and his redemption arc is probably the best in animated television history. Zuko is a confused young boy who is driven to get home, to have a family and feel the love that is sorely lacking from his life in nearly all corners. From the beginning of the first season, we’re rooting for him to join the good guys. Like Megamind, he’s an underdog, but not because he’s actually screwing up that often. He’s just treated badly for being banished because he acted like a normal kid. He never does anything too horrible, he’s actually quite kind when the occasion calls for it, putting the lives of his crew above the capture of the Avatar, protecting a child even though it reveals his identity and freeing Appa. These moments give us hope that he isn’t such a bad kid after all.
The other part of what makes his redemption perfect is that he doesn’t place the emotional burden of forgiving him on the others. He fully expects them to hate him and doesn’t expect forgiveness. He gives them all time and space to heal and trust him again.
In conclusion, what makes or breaks a redemption arc is the greyness of morality, the character’s willingness to change and whether or not it’s plausible for them to them to accept the consequences and actually put in the effort to be a good person.
I hope this helps and happy writing!