Type: Character cliché, fanservice, immersion device
What made it popular: Dating Simulator and light novel adaptations
Cliche Level: High
Where can you find it: The large majority of harem/ecchi anime are this, but you can also find it in many self insert adventure stories such as Sword Art Online.
Self Insert characters are blank, hollow, husks that contain nothing beyond a few basic traits, because they are hollow, anyone can essentially insert themselves into the Self Insert character, and view the story from the point of that character, increasing the immersion and potential enjoyments. The adventure genre has been using this trick for centuries, and it has gotten all the more popular in the age of anime.The idea behind self insert character is that you find a target audience and then you make your self insert character similar in appearance to the average of that demographic and give a few common traits to it. Standard example of this could be Kirito from Sword Art Online, which obviously targets the gaming teenager audience. He has the typical traits of these people, the loner attitude, the love of video games, the tech savyness, eagerness to try out the new software etc. He is also similar looking to the average gamer demographic in Japan, as he slim from the lack of exercise and training.All of these traits were put onto Kirito to make him as identifiable with the target audience as possible, but you can go multiple ways about this depending on who your audience is, shoujo anime typically make different self insert chars than those found in shounen demographics.
Whatever demographic the self insert actually appeals to, one this in general is true about all of them, and that is that self insert characters don’t have any actual ‘character’, which is something that is vehemently denied by the numerous fans of the self insert ‘characters’. Any SAOtard will quickly jump to Kirito’s defense, that yes, he indeed has characters, then they will proceed to X, Y and Z thing for why they have a character. But here is the catch, what these people are listing are simply traits, which alone do not make a character, as one person’s character is a collection of a multitude of traits and personality. Self insert characters only have about 3-5 traits usually and even those exists only for the sake of making self insertion easier, they are nowhere enough to make make a complete character. As for personality, self insert characters don’t have any personality, they are literal nulls. But wait, if they don’t have personality you might ask: how do these characters make choices and respond to events? And that is simple to answer, they don’t, self insert characters either just go with the flow of the story or what would be a typical choice for the demographic of the self insert. Actual prtoagonist are generally capable of shaping the story and even changing it by their actions, self insert protagonist do not do any of that, they just let the story progress and respond to events they get, they are just swimming with the current
Shows with Self Insert Protagonists: Sword Art Online, Accel World, 11eyes, Clannad, Air, Kanon, Angel Beats, Boku Wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai etc.
Why it’s bad: Self Insert Protagonists have zero value as characters and are generally completely forgettable, pretty much anyone with half a brain outside their deluded fanbase can realize his fact. Self Insertion is one of the lowest forms of fanservice in anime, protagonists are usually the heart or the center of their shows, to reduce that character to basically a blank card hugely drains from any show’s potential and vastly limits the possibilities, especially since as I said, self insert characters will go with the flow. Self Insert characters were originally created for Dating Simulators or adventure stories in book format, both of which are usually done in 1st person view, so the self insertion objectively makes more sense there, but it naturally fails with anime due to bad cohesion (You are shown everything pretty much from 3rd party view). The only ones who can see some sort of value in this form of intentional destruction are the ones who the self insertion is aimed, for everyone else, self insert characters are completely worthless and should be loathed with good reason.