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So if the question sounded a bit confusing, allow me to explain.

In media that feature a lot of non-human characters, such as many video games, anime, manga, or movies, the low-level enemies always tend to look blatantly non-human, ie generic monster.

However, as you encounter more enemies, you start to notice that the more powerful the enemy, the more human they look. They might still retain some monstrous features, such as horns, tentacles, claws, etc, but their overall figure is very clearly humanoid.

Let me use some examples to illustrate this observation.

Dragon Ball: Cell has various forms that he transforms into. However, his most powerful form looks the most human.

One Punch Man: The final villain of the first anime season is Boros, an extraterrestrial. Most of his subordinates look very alien-like, such as Geryuganshoop, with the big eyes and tentacles. However, Boros himself looks very human-like, save for the single eye. His hands even have 5 fingers.

Gantz: In the Osaka Arc, the final villain was an alien called Nurarihyon, who just looks like an old man.. His human-like appearance even caused some of the characters to doubt his status. However, his two subordinates look viciously demon-like, and all the other lower-ranked aliens also look very monstrous. Nurarihyon is the strongest of them all, but resembles a human the most. Also, in the final arc, the final alien antagonists are almost identical to humans in appearance, behavior, and civilization. They serve as the final villains since they're the most powerful aliens our humans characters have had to face.

Bleach: The Hollows all look like your average monsters, and are usually not that strong. However, the Arrancar, which are basically Hollows that have ascended and gained new powers, all look like humans, save for a few features. The Arrancar are exponentially stronger than regular Hollows, and serve as the antagonists for a major story arc.

There's a lot more series that implement this trope, and it extends far beyond just anime and manga. I'm just curious as to the reasoning behind it.

Is there some kind of physics-based reason for why stronger enemies tend to be humanoid? Is the humanoid form factor the most optimal one for combat?

Or is this some kind of literary technique that I'm not familiar with? Clearly these creators all have this type of design philosophy in common.

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    Not an exact answer, but the Monstrosity Equals Weakness trope is pretty relatable – Wondercricket Jan 15 '19 at 18:35
  • The humanoid form factor is most certainly not the most optimal one for combat, it's more for fine motor control (basically, using tools). Many animals out in the wild can easily overpower most people that are using weapons other than guns, and it's definitely possible to create an advanced alien species that has both fine motor control and great combat ability – somebody Jan 15 '19 at 23:21
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    Just a wild guess, but I'd say because there's a belief that humanity is the best creature, and might also be related to human intelligent compared to other creatures (just like how we "rule" the world). – Aki Tanaka Jan 16 '19 at 15:42
  • I guess the Monstrosity Equals Weakness trope would be the explanation, though I still think it's something interesting to think about. – DeeeFoo Jan 17 '19 at 1:31
  • Adding to all of this (especially the part about human ego that Aki Tanaka highlighted), it could also be a subtle nod to how humans are our own biggest enemies / problems. Both literally and psychologically. Not everyone would go this deep intentionally though, so just might be a subconscious thing. – TheGamer007 Jan 17 '19 at 13:55
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I am pretty sure this is something that originates from the intention of the medium (film, novel, game) to tell a story. Weak enemies that are quickly dealt with don't need a fleshed out personality. But strong enemies are often your main antagonists and therefore need a personality, motivations and so on. In order for us to understand these motivations the antagonists thought pattern needs to be somewhat human. The more human the physique of a character is the more intuitive it is for that character to also have human thought patterns. This results in the general trend of fictional characters to be more human/anthropomorphised the more important to the story they are.

You might also want to consider that weaker enemies often come in bulk and that killing something is less morally taxing if it dosen't look human.

other observations to back this up:

  • Cartoons for kids often feature anthropomorphised animals instead of normal animals even if the story doesn't involve combat
  • Video games with less focus on story and more focus on gamplay don't follow this "trope"
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  • Please include relevant sources/references. Specify specific anime episodes and manga chapters, if needed. – W. Are Dec 23 '19 at 3:36

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