Earlier this year, the 100th chapter of Needless debuted, a remarkable milestone for any manga, especially for one that is published monthly. Not only did the chapter serve as a landmark for the manga itself, but it corresponded with the crowning achievement of the series protagonist, Cruz Schild, commonly known as Yamada. As Needless has progressed through these past nine years, the story has evolved into one that emphasizes the growth and maturity of its central, most-dynamic character. It has literally become the story of a boy becoming a man (while dressed as a girl), and the events and adventures over the entire manga easily demonstrate the greatest exhibition of character development that I have ever witnessed in my limited history of anime/manga and is a viable candidate for the greatest of all-time.
When the story of Needless begins, Cruz is nothing. He has nothing. He possesses no qualities, no redeeming factors. His inability and hopelessness are ultimately responsible for the death of his older sister, who dies protecting him, and nearly kills the compassionate priest who rescued him from certain death. Although the title of the manga is Needless, named such because it is what the super-powered fighters are called, you can sense that it has another, more serious meaning, that it is a namesake for Cruz’s character. With virtually everyone else around him possessing these special, fantastic abilities that allow them to fight and survive in Blackspot, Cruz feels that he, without these powers, is needless as a human. He needs these other characters around him in order to live whereas he provides nothing in return. His character is marred by depression and futility following the death of his sister, showing absolutely zero resolve or courage in his character and resorts to give up immediately before even attempting to fight for his life. Even he, as a character, sees no value him himself, that even he believes he is worthless as a person. And the manga seems to think so, too, consider how it begins to focus on the other, most interesting, more exciting characters in the beginning chapters and that Cruz’s character, while still the protagonist of the series, is reduced to being a hopeless observer or a discouraging onlooker. Not only that, but no one could even remember his name, so everyone began calling him Yamada instead. That is the baseline for Cruz’s character; he begins the story as nothing, he begins the story as needless.
Fortunately for Cruz, his new guardians began to immediately instill some confidence in his character and some meaning to his life. When faced with his very next life-or-death situation, Cruz showed his cowardice and was unable to act, let alone think straight. It was then when Eve shouted at him that he has to fight back, to fight however he can. It’s here, in this instance, when we first begin to see Cruz as a character. Rather than fight back with any powers or even his own physical strength, he uses his astonishing intelligence combined with his astute observation to overcome a dominating opponent. It’s here where he begins to see some value in himself, using his brain to save his life and Eve’s. However, this is only a mere baby step in his progression as a character as his strategy begins facing some immediate challenges. It isn’t so easy when going up against other intelligent and clever opponents who can use his intelligence against him or when you piece together the puzzle too slowly. In fact, his enemies even use his intelligence against him, using it to capture him as a prisoner and again to completely turn the tide of battle and spell certain defeat for Cruz and his allies. As you might assume, these situations where his assistance backfires and hurts his friends are crippling to his self-esteem and confidence and he often falls back onto his hopelessness and depression. So while we begin to see Cruz grow as a character and for him to see some value in his existence, it isn’t a given. This is something that needs to be earned. You don’t just listen to an inspiring speech and take the next step; you must accept the challenges ahead, wrestle with them and win it for yourself. As you can see, not only does Cruz need to mature as a person but he needs to develop and understand how to use his intelligence, too.
As the manga continues, Cruz continues to inch along with his development as a character, primarily finding hope and salvation through his friends, though often facing setbacks that cause him to abandon his faith and resort back to his timid, fearful foundations. However, through the inspiration and love for his friends and allies, Cruz is still able to act, trying his best to do whatever he can to help in desperate and anxious situations. Although he’s always been kind, considerate and selfless as a character, it wasn’t until now that he was able to think and act on the battlefield. Unfortunately for him, he often meets failure going against the much more powerful Needlesses. Still, this ability to act in distressed and worried times shows that he wants to help repay those who have done so much for him. He realizes his intelligence can only do so much for his friends in battle and sees that he needs to act, too, to save them as they have saved him many times before. And although he meets failure at every attempt, to see him try shows some maturity. To see Cruz trying now is more than he could ever do at the beginning.
And that’s how it is for Cruz during the first part of Needless: he begins to slowly build himself up from nothing but faces daunting challenges that often result in failure. Although his intelligence is still lacking, his actions are futile, and he quickly falls back into feelings of uselessness and depression, he has shown signs of growth in that he continues to try and do his best despite his results. Moreover, the seeds have been planted for him to grow throughout the second half which is when the manga begins to focus on him as the protagonist again. It isn’t until he is separated from all his friends and paired with an enemy that we begin to see Cruz take the first big step in his evolution as a character. And like before, the growth begins through another character, doing their part to improve Cruz. It is through Mio’s kindheartedness and compliments does Cruz begin to show some permanent growth. Even after Mio thanks Cruz for his help, he falls back on his usual despair claiming how he can never do anything on his own. A smiling Mio then corrects him by telling him how that it isn’t true and cites an example of where he was instrumental to her. The very next panel shows a speechless Cruz, in awe of Mio’s thoughtful words, with light basking down on his face as he began to realize how useful he is. And only a few pages later, Mio is at it again, this time complimenting Cruz’s culinary skills and exclaiming how he can do everything (something he’s never been told before). It’s here, through Mio’s praise, encouragement and recognition of his efforts, does Cruz begin to show some growth in his self-confidence. As a result of Mio’s help, Cruz begins to find strength in himself to reunite himself with his friends whereas earlier in the chapter, just a couple dozen pages ago, he was crying to himself about how he was powerless, alone and could not survive like this. It’s amazing what one simpleminded and smiling girl can do for a fragile and discouraged character.
With the second half of the manga focused solely on Cruz and his adventures to gather up his friends again, Cruz goes through various challenges that test his character. There are still signs that he hasn’t fully developed in any of these areas, but there are clear indications that he is growing as a person. With newfound confidence in himself, he was able to act and rescue the life of one of an ally and use his intelligence to stop a murder-mystery and save the lives of more enemies-turned-friends. Again and again he would find himself in situations where he was alone, where he could not depend on the strength of others, and where he must use his intelligence and his actions to save the lives of him and his friends. Here and now, Cruz was able to find success which further boosted his confidence and self-respect. Still, he continued to face failure through his thoughts and actions, but this time, he never fell back into the former shadow of himself and be consumed by fear and desperateness. His attitude now was that he felt sorry for himself and others since he was unable to do what he set out to do. He tried his best, but it wasn’t enough. And though this sounds like a wonderful story of character growth already, there’s still much more for Cruz as the manga continues along.
With Cruz now showing confidence and belief in himself, we were able to see our protagonist do more as a person, both with his mind and his actions. His attitude had changed so that he never resorted to his hopelessness again and found strength and inspiration in his friends and in himself. However, he still found himself powerless to help his friends. It didn’t matter to Cruz that he would be facing some of the strongest, most intimidating Needlesses around, he would do whatever he could to help his friends. Unfortunately for Cruz, this often meant being ineffective and sometimes complicating the matter more. Even so, he would do what he could to help, even if it meant risking his own life. He believed he would accept his own death if it meant that his friends could continue living, showing spectacular but questionable growth in his unselfish and thoughtful nature. It wasn’t until Chapter 100 did we see Cruz grow again as a person, by questioning whether this is the fate he desired. With him in another desperate life-or-death situation, Cruz realized the foolishness in his attitude and refused to accept his death, especially after all that he had gone through previously. And it’s here we’re we see Cruz come full-circle as a character, to reach the pinnacle of character development.
When comparing the Cruz from Chapter 1 to Chapter 100, it’s clear to see how much growth and development he has done as a character. No, it’s not just the change in clothes and hairstyle but from within in his attitude, his intelligence, his actions, and his personality. When Cruz began Needless, he had nothing. His attitude was constantly between depression and despair, his intelligence was misused and potentially dangerous, his actions were meaningless and his personality was shy, timid, fearful, and accepting of his own death. He began as needless. Now, the Cruz that stands before us boasts confidence and understanding in his strengths and abilities. His attitude has changed so that he has self-esteem and faith in his actions, his intelligence now honed and experienced, his actions now productive and significant, and his personality set so that he and all his friends can survive and be happy. Now, now he is a person. And though this sounds like the peak of his character development, there’s still room above Cruz for him to grow into. In fact, you can’t even see the ceiling with his character yet. Yes, from Chapters 1 to 100, Cruz was able to grow from a boy into a man (while dressed as a girl), but it’s not over yet. With Needless continuing past Chapter 100, so too does Cruz’s character continue to develop and mature.
Cruz will never be a perfect character, he’ll never be the strongest fighter (or even a fighter to begin with), he’ll continue to show flaws and imperfections and require assistance from his friends, but he has singlehandedly the finest, most spectacular, most remarkable, and most inspirational tale of a character in any anime/manga I have ever witnessed. And it’s not simply a story of how he began as nothing and grew into this character through various stories and adventures. And it’s not because the storytelling of his character growth was littered with details, hints, and subtleties. And it’s not because his growth was born, not through lazy writing where it was handed to him by pure luck and ‘always having the power from within’, but through challenges to his character, ones in which he saw failure more often than success and had to learn from that. It is because of all of this, combined together, that made Cruz’s story so exceptional, so distinguished, so… so… so unparalleled and insurmountable. It’s overwhelming is what it is and it isn’t even over yet. This is just Cruz going from 1 to 100. With the manga continuing well past Chapter 100, so too does Cruz’s character continue to grow.
If you’ve ever wondered why Needless is my favorite anime/manga, look no further than Cruz’s maturity as a character. This aspect alone outweighs every other aspect of the manga that I adore, enjoy or appreciate. It is simply the greatest thing that I have ever seen in any anime/manga and that alone is enough to make it my favorite. And even though this may seem like a lot, there are still so many details and so many specifics that were omitted as to prevent anyone from spoiling the experience themselves. This post barely outlines the skeleton of Cruz’s character development and it’s up to the audience here to pick up the manga and experience the story I so very, very deeply love. And though I’m sure there will be people eager to disagree or to refute my claim, I am sure I will continue to believe that this is the greatest demonstration of character growth development that I have ever seen and quite possibly one of the best of all-time. So with Chapter 100 providing the crowning moment of his character development, there is no question that I’d take the opportunity to document the story of his character as my favorite of all-time.