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JOEL: We need some character development… in the… hizzy.
People change, it's a fact of life if not nature. However; change can be gradual, and people may keep the core of their character intact for much if not all of their life, just as a traumatic experience may well abruptly change someone completely. Characters reflect that. When a character finishes a story with a different outlook or personality than when they started, they are called a Dynamic Character. It doesn't matter whether they had a Deep and Nuanced personality or started life as a cardboard cutout, the character changes in either a subtle or overt way. We call this Character Development.
Mind you, this isn't always the case, nor is its absence bad. Contrast the Static Character who begins and ends much the same as they began a story. Maybe they've learned something, but it doesn't change how they act.
The change a dynamic character experiences can be born of just about anything. It might 'evolve' them from a flat to a round character, but it might as easily simply change them into another kind of flat or rounded character. Then again, it could well flatten a rounded character if they suffer some kind of Heroic BSOD or related trauma.
Anime & Manga
- Most of the characters in the Fruits Basket manga. The Character Development in this series is staggering, and towards the end, nearly every character has undergone major growth. Best examples are Yuki, Kyo, and even Akito.
- Ai Haibara aka Shiho Miyano from Detective Conan starts off extremely terrified by the Black Organization and would often choose to commit suicide then face them. Thanks to the titular character and others' influence, she has decided to not run away from the organization, instead finding ways to bring them to justice.
- Hunter X Hunter:
- Gon starts out very upbeat and friendly for the most part, but anger and pride turn into consistent character flaws, and it becomes clear just how alien a naive Idiot Hero's mindset can be.
- Killua goes through a transformation of his own, from a ruthless child assassin to someone more merciful and level-headed, and also goes from being cowardly yet brave, to just plain brave. Interestingly enough, his develop is the opposite of Gon's; Killua becomes more heroic as Gon becomes more anti-heroic.
- Fullmetal Alchemist: Edward Elric begins the series dependent on alchemy and doing everything himself. By the end of the series he has learned to depend more on his friends and share his burdens.
- Almost everybody from Team Medical Dragon. Character development and character depth is this manga's main strength and drive. Almost nobody stays the same as they are in the beginning of their appearance. Best example includes Noboru and Gunji.
- Shakugan no Shana: While just about everyone gets some Character Development (save for those who died too soon to get any), this is especially prominent with the two leads, Shana and Yuji Sakai. It is not an exaggeration to say that both of them end the series as completely different characters from what they started off as. To be specific, in the beginning, Shana is a ruthless, uncaring Anti-Hero focused only on her duties while Yuji is a Nice Guy who attempts to make her care about human life. By the third and final season, however.... well, let's just say the roles have been reversed.
- One of the reasons Sailor Moon is cited as a good role model for girls is that she is like her target audience at first, having tendencies to be lazy, flaky, klutzy, and a crybaby, but then over five arcs becomes The Messiah and saves the galaxy. This development is somewhat more shaky in the anime than in the manga though, as a constant Reset Button seems to be hit at the start of each season.
- Edmund, from the Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe goes from being the obnoxious, spiteful sibling to being King Edmund the Just, kind, helpful and loving after he betrays his brother and sisters.
- Eustace Scrubb also goes through similar Character Development.
- In The Next Three Days, John Brennan starts the movie as a comunity college lit. professor and a caring family man. But his wife is arrested and he decides to break her out of jail. In preparation for the attempt he becomes a strategist, planning multiple escape routes, developing illegal skills, "collecting" money, and forming underworld ties. He also changes mentally, becoming capable of quick tactical thinking and rapid violence.
- In A Song of Ice and Fire, you can generally tell how long a character will last the main storyline proportionate to how willing they are to change:
- EG: Sacrificial Lion Ned Stark is the character most unwilling to compromise his beliefs, and dies by the end of the book; Jorah Mormont stays by Daenerys' side for three books after his objectives change, but his unwillingness to admit he was wrong gets him banished from her presence; Tyrion Lannister's character changes subtlely the more he survives impossible odds; Sansa Stark has gone from Too Dumb to Live Scrappy to one of the characters most likely to survive to the end, because she slowly - yet frequently - learns from her mistakes.
- The changes in Neville Longbottom, of the Harry Potter series, are subtle, but major, and can sneak up on you if you weren’t paying attention. He goes from The Ditz in the first book (whose only distinguishing characteristics are being timid, nervous, and forgetful) to the Badass leader of La Résistance at Death Eater-Occupied Hogwarts in the seventh book. The change becomes most apparent in book five, when Neville, who flounders in nearly all his classes and “can barely stand a cauldron right way up”, becomes the fastest-learning member of the DA and attempts to fight in the battle at the Ministry.
- Hermione also undergoes some pretty big changes. She starts off as a bossy, insecure, neurotic, rule-abiding little girl, best exemplified by equating being expelled from school with being killed. Ultimately ends up with a number of To Be Lawful or Good decisions, and chooses to be good -- beginning with her lying to Professor McGonagall about going after a troll in order to keep Harry and Ron out of trouble.
- A Christmas Carol: Ebeneezer Scrooge is one of the oldest and best known examples. He's introduced as a selfish, greedy man who loves money more than people. After three spirits make him realise how miserable he really is, he has a Jerkass Realization and starts using his money to help those in need.
- Basically everyone in Buffy the Vampire Slayer has so much trauma inflicted on them that by the end of the show they've all become much, much darker. The only one who barely changes is Joyce, and she dies in Season 5.
- Buffy: Starts the series cheery, sometimes depressed but generally upbeat. Ends it basically broken, having lost her mother, died, gotten dragged out of heaven, gets thrust into a war she never asked for and then epically fails when expected to lead people.
- Xander: Starts out pretty much cheery and non-serious. Ends it much less cheery, much more serious and with one less eye.
- Willow: Starts out shy, kinda upbeat but afraid of interaction. Ends it having lost the person she loved, went evil and had the guilt of murdering someone and has lost most of the self-confidence she built up throughout the show.
- Dawn: Loses her mom, loses her sister, her sister comes back and basically ignores her and is commonly ignored by the Scoobies. Oddly enough, she comes out of it actually better than when she went in (she tazed Xander WHILE he was driving, that's both crazy and brave). Still, what she went through through alot of her existence could be called one prolonged moment of Break the Cutie.
- Giles: Admittedly, he actually pretty much improves through the series, but he loses his girlfriend and then Season 7 (and 8, but I'm talking about show development since more people know that) shatters his father/daughter relationship into tiny little pieces.
- Spike: While, again, he doesn't change as much as others, he does go from an evil, souless vampire to a anti-heroic vampire with a soul who sacrifices himself to save the world (and comes back from it).
- Faith: Starts out acting happy and cheerful to hide pain, ends up mostly showing it on the outside by the end (but actually being more happy and cheerful). She went through a Heel Face Turn in season 3 before being beaten into a coma by the end of the season. She got better from both of these and eventually turned herself into the police. In the last season, she broke out of jail to help save the world.
- Angel also has quite a few:
- Wesley is probably the most triumphant example - he goes from a prissy comic relief watcher on Buffy the Vampire Slayer to a ruthless and badass Anti-Hero.
- Cordelia starts out as a typical Alpha Bitch Defrosting Ice Queen and ends up as The Heart and the group's moral center. By season 3 of Angel, she's practically unrecognizable.
- Angel himself, in the beginning of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, is content to watch her kill baddies with an occasional cryptic message. Then he gets his own show, becomes a brooding Hurting Hero, almost falls to the dark side several times and prevents a few apocalypses.
- Albert from Twin Peaks undergoes a drastic change in personality after some sort of enlightenment experience.
- Topher from Dollhouse is a very morally ambiguous Hollywood Nerd at first... who performs a Heroic Sacrifice to save the world in the finale.
- The X-Files: Fox Mulder and Dana Scully are both very different characters at the beginning of the series than they are at the end, especially Mulder. In the Pilot, he is introduced as a brilliant but troubled loner. He prefers the company of his files to actual people, and spends more time in his office than his own apartment. He is deeply traumatized by the abduction of his sister decades before, plagued by nightmares and guilt. His quest to find her and uncover the Truth consume him to the point of near insanity. He believes in pretty much everything supernatural, so long as it's not religion. He is reactionary, reckless, and hostile to anyone who dares invade his space. He's also pretty self-loathing and arrogant. By the end of the series, he is a very different character. He's let Scully into his life in a big way; she functions as his Living Emotional Crutch and that actually helps him get over a lot of his issues. He realizes her life is more important than his quest, and begins to see that there's more for him as well besides the X-Files. He still wants to find the Truth, but at that point, it's more for the good of mankind than his own desire. In season 8, he's fired from the FBI and forced to hand the X-Files over to Agent Doggett. And he's fine with it.
- This change in character is showcased in season 7's finale, "Requiem" which was written as the series finale before being renewed for an 8th season. The episode is based on the case from the "Pilot," and it takes place in the same location. In the Pilot, Mulder emphatically tells Scully "nothing else matters to me" than his quest to find the Truth. Seven years later, he admits that the personal costs are too high, that there has to be an end sometime.
- Scully has a lot of development as well, especially in the way she handles the paranormal. Early on she consistently shuts down Mulder's theories as crazy and scientifically impossible, but by season eight she's become the Agent Mulder to Doggett's Agent Scully.
- Star Trek: The Next Generation: Picard was somewhat dynamic at least by that show's standards starting out as overly stern and grouchy hating children but softening in later seasons and eventually bonding with children on the ship and having a family in a simulated reality.
- Spock grew a little throughout his run, first trying to purge his humanity and become wholly Vulcan but later moving beyond logic leading to his line "Logic is the beginning of wisdom, not the end."
- Carlos from Desperate Housewives starts out as a neglectful husband, but eventually turns into a basically decent guy with a few flaws.
- Vala from Stargate SG-1. From cool one-off character to The Scrappy to a very pregnant plot point to a funny and interesting character that a large group of fans wanted to end up with their favourite woobie Daniel.
- Rachel Berry from Glee. She can't seem to get rid of her basest flaws of being abrasive and attention seeking though, but even those stem from her rather heartbreaking loneliness and lack of self esteem.
- Quinn, who starts out an Alpha Bitch/The Cheerleader/Blondes Are Evil stereotype but eventually grows to caring about her baby and learns through her mistakes and her new friends in Glee club. After her pregnancy though she seems to have gone into denial and is trying to rebuild her old life and is a cheerleader again.
- In the first two seasons of My Name Is Earl, Earl goes from a greedy criminal Jerkass motivated by a misinterpretation of the concept of karma to a genuinely selfless person.
- Probably one of the most subtle and realistic depictions of this is in Malcolm in the Middle, with Francis. Over the course of six years, Francis goes from a dangerously reckless teenage maniac setting cars on fire, sleeping around all over the school, and piercing every available inch of his face, to a loving and faithful husband with a steady job, who is willing to risk his health and reptutation to do the right thing. It was never a huge leap or a contrived epiphany - every episode, he grew up just a little bit, and suddenly, he's the kind of man you would trust to watch your daughter, and your money.
- Everybody on Mad Men. Especially Pete and Peggy.
- Boyd Crowder of Justified. In the span of a season, he goes from Evil Counterpart to Worthy Opponent to what seems to be a genuine (if possibly temporary) Heel Face Turn in the season finale.Even though in season two he goes back to being a criminal, he is no longer as reckless and carefree as he was at the beginning of the series
- Ezio Auditore of Assassin's Creed II starts off as a cocky, young Florentine noble without a care in the world. This suddenly changes when his father and two brothers are wrongly executed by a corrupt government. He is then forced to take up his father's assassin mantle and go on a brash, rage-induced Roaring Rampage of Revenge. Over the course of the game and it's first sequel, he matures into a calm, wise tactician. Taken further in the second sequel, where he seems to have a plan for nearly any person or situation he may come across. In addition, Ezio's saga covers nearly fifty years of his life, starting with him at seventeen years old and ending with him finally passing away at sixty-five.
- Persona 3: Aigis unquestionably gets the most Character Development out of anyone in the entire game, and, perhaps the entire series. She's introduced as a mere machine whose personality is simply to follow orders. After gaining emotions, however, she becomes a much more complex character, and learns to understand her new feelings. The Answer takes this even further, in which she develops into a sweet, gentle, empathetic and strong-hearted girl with a talent for leadership.
- Neku from The World Ends With You learns how to expand his horizons and reach out to other people.
- Resident Evil has several:
- Leon S. Kennedy starts out as a rookie cop. He's naive and brash, with a strong sense of justice. He assumes the best of people he's just met. He then joins SOCOM. He's still trusting, somewhat, but he starts to become a bit jaded. He didn't want Manuela to kill herself from blood loss during the fight with Javier, despite the fact that she's infected. But he expressed shock that she didn't mutate. He ends up in the Secret Service. He's much more jaded and sounds more bitter than before. He still cares about others, to the point of yelling in woe over the deaths of two people he's known for roughly a few hours and ten minutes respectively. Instead of being thickheaded when Krauser ended up a traitor, by claiming he wouldn't switch sides, he just takes it as it comes, unlike in Resident Evil 2 with Ada. Skip ahead a year, and he looks like he's about to shoot his old friend Claire, a United States senator, and a little girl named Rani. He's jaded. He doesn't assume other people have good intentions. He still saves survivors, but he looks like he might kill them.
- Ada is another good example.
- Tales of the Abyss: Luke fon Fabre is indisputably the most developed character in the entire Tales franchise, going all the way from Jerkass to All-Loving Hero (and not just in a straight line, either).
- The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob has some interesting examples of Character Development, in that at least four of the characters are artificial beings born as near-blank slates, and we get to see them evolve. The most dynamic has been Galatea, born a complete innocent, turned hyper-paranoid by an awful childhood, then calming down and settling into a rather sophisticated lifestyle in France (funded by theft), and now she has unwittingly become a minion to the comic's Big Bad.
- Zuko has quite the character arc throughout Avatar: The Last Airbender. He began as a bitter and angry "Well Done, Son" Guy. After a long period in the Heel Face Revolving Door, he realized he could earn his own honor. He became more friendly, peaceful and wise.
- Most of the cast of Thomas the Tank Engine in the original books as well as the classic episodes. Thomas himself started off as a cocksure, immature young station pilot with the delusion that no engine worked harder than he. But he learned from advice and his experiences to be responsible, earning his own branch line and eventually becoming a wise engine in his own right. Gordon learned to be less condescending towards other engines, and he, Henry, and James all learned not to complain about shunting and dealing with goods trains.