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Second Year Protagonist

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High schools are a very common setting, which means the hero is generally a high school student. But how old should they be? If they're seniors, there's a chance that graduation issues might interfere with the plot. If a first year, they're new to the school. Either one can complicate things. To avoid that, the writers will often opt to put them between the two poles, leading to this trope. The hero is free to have the widest range of plots without stressing about graduation or being new.

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There can be more to it as well. For example, if more importance is placed on age, having the protagonist as a second year is again most convenient. He will have both older and younger students to interact with, which allows more variety in both personalities and plots in a show with an extended cast. Age carries assumptions about ability and maturity, for example.

For whatever reason, the main characters in high school settings are often divided among these lines. While not an ironclad rule, a story that places the protagonist into a different year will probably have done so intentionally, such as to focus on the character graduating or to display their entire school life.

Compare and contrast Always in Class One. Contrast Freshman Fears and Senior Year Struggles. For characters who think of themselves as a Second Year Protagonist, see Chuunibyou.

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Examples:

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     Anime & Manga 
  • In The World God Only Knows, the age of the capture targets varies greatly. While there have been no first year high school students, the sempai kohai dynamic was used to specific effect in one of the Girl of the Week stories. Being a second year also means that Keima, the protagonist, has an established reputation for being a rude otaku.
  • Lovely Complex starts with Koizumi and Otani being in their second year of high school. Not long after, they must deal with their future studies.
  • The class in Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei are second years and always remain that way.
  • School Rumble: plays this straight (including the sections 2-C and 2-D). By the end of the series, they move onto senior year.
  • Not made explicit, but all the main characters in Daily Lives of High School Boys have an existing friend group and occupy themselves with generic high school activities rather than worrying about making new friends, college, graduation, or other freshman/senior woes. This Double Subverted in the final skit, where they all graduate, only to reveal that it's All Just a Dream. One of the characters assures everyone that they will all stay second years forever, this being a work of fiction after all.
  • In Air Gear, the entirety of the main cast is in second year. However, while they are often shown at school, the series doesn't really focus on their school life.
  • While the Usotsuki Lily leads start as first years, this trope is strongly enforced once they move up a year. Characters in their third year never graduate and repeating first year Taiyou reacts with despair when he realizes the true meaning of "You're sure to get a girlfriend as a second year."
  • Bleach: Ichigo, Orihime, Uryuu and Chad are all second-year students before the 17 month timeskip. Rukia, Renji, Matsumoto and Shinji of all people tend to pretend to be that when they're staying in the physical world or just trying to contact Ichigo.
  • In Girls und Panzer, the main character, Miho, is a second-year student, who recently transferred to her high school because of a bad experience with tankery at her old one during her first year. Most of her friends are in the same year.
  • While there are three members from each year in the Idol Singer group μ's, the Love Live! anime focuses more on the second-years because they are the group's founding members. Love Live! Sunshine!!, unsurprisingly, as well, though focus seems a bit more balanced if ever slightly towards the founding trio.
  • Most heroines from Pretty Cure are second year middle school girls, with some exceptions, but all lead heroines are second year students. Additionally, Yuri Tsukikage is a second year high school girl. Furthermore, Nagisa Misumi and Honoka Yukishiro are second year students in the first season, but third year students in Max Heart, while Yes! Pretty Cure 5 GO!GO! seems to repeat the school year for all heroines, considering that Komachi Akimoto and Karen Minazuki would graduate the school if the staff don't do this. The first lead heroine to avert this is Haruka Haruno, who's only in her first year at Noble Academy.
  • Majority of the main cast in Monthly Girls' Nozaki-kun are in second year of high school. This allows Umetaro Nozaki, a second year, to be a mentor figure to first-year Wakamatsu and an underclassman to third-year Hori.
  • Ryuu Yamada of Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches has just started his second year on Suzaku High when the story starts, and save for the last 50 chapters, he's a second year student for most of the story. Most other named characters are also in their second year, almost to the point of Competence Zone if it wasn't because two of the major villains have been/are a third year student and a first year student respectively.
  • Accel World is an odd variation, since while Haruyuki and his friends are in their first year of middle school at the start of the series, it starts midway through the year, and most of the series takes place in their second year.
  • In A Place Further than the Universe, Kimari and Shirase are both second-years at the start of the series. Hinata would be a second-year if she were still attending school, while Yuzuki is a first-year.
  • Sarazanmai: Kazuki, Tooi and Enta are at least second years in middle school when the story starts. Moving on to high school or adjusting to a new school never comes up as an issue, though school isn't much of a focus. Instead, Kazuki's personal life drives a lot of the plot.
  • The Disastrous Life of Saiki K.: Saiki and most of the other student characters are in their second year of high school. This allows the story to have both younger freshman and older senior characters without having to deal with things like college exams. And thanks to Comic-Book Time, they remain sophomores for quite a few in-universe "years" — Saiki deciding to put a stop to the loops and move on to senior year happens near the end.
  • Yuri Kuma Arashi puts Kureha Tsubaki in her second year at Arashigaoka, giving students enough time to build up cliques and exclude her using an elaborate voting process.
  • The Quintessential Quintuplets: The story begins with Fuutarou currently in his second year of high school, and the Nakanos transferred to his school on the same year. Part of the plot is about them trying to get high grades so they all can pass to third year (and eventually graduate).

     Comic Books 
  • In The Intimates, wannabe whiz kid Punchy is in his second year at Superhero School the Seminary... but due to his poor grades, he was held back and is thus technically still a freshman. Still, his status as the only main student already familiar with the school pegs him as your primary protagonist.

     Film 
  • Charlie's being fifteen years old in The Santa Clause 2 makes it easier to set up the scenario of his getting into trouble in high school and on the naughty list; he's used to his school, he knows his way around it, and because he hasn't just filed a college application, there's plenty of time for him to be set right again.
  • Subverted in Bring It On. Torrance is a senior in high school, and it's implied that everybody else on both the Toros and the Clovers is, too, but Torrance's mom lampshades the fact that her course load and the amount of focus they put into cheerleading say otherwise.
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     Literature 
  • Haruhi Suzumiya: Volume 9 sees the SOS Brigade (except for Mikuru, who's now in third year) become second years. This becomes a plot point in the tenth novel when Haruhi decides to recruit freshmen.
  • The Familiar of Zero's Louise and the other members of her class are second year students and are summoning familiars because of it. Her familiar, Saito might have been a second year high school student himself.
  • Sayama in The Ending Chronicle is a second-year high school student and without having to worry about college exams yet, he leads the Team Leviathan which is made by students of his same year, seniors, and a junior freshman.
  • Alice, Molly and Reena in The Poison Apples are 15 and in sophomore year (though they are all new at their Boarding School). We never hear anything about the freshmen at the school but Reena is shown to be popular by being invited to hang out with a group of cool older students. Alice's eventual boyfriend Jamal is considered cool and unattainable for being older (the same goes for Molly's crush Pradeep - Reena's brother).
  • Kodaka Hasegawa from Haganai is in his second year, allowing him to not worry about college exams yet and to have the rest of the cast be either older or younger.

     Live Action TV 
  • Dawson's Creek: Joey explicitly states in the pilot that she and Dawson are starting high school, and Dawson is classified as a freshman by Mr. Gold, and yet they are also stated to be fifteen and in 10th Grade. Granted, graduation didn't come until the end of Season Four, but that was only because Seasons One and Two covered one school year; Season One's finale states very clearly that it had only been three months since the pilot, and Season Two picks about about 30 seconds from where Season One left off.
  • Degrassi: Gloriously averted in that the characters started off in 7th and 8th Grade and were allowed to age right through 9th and beyond. Degrassi has a rotating cast but due to a failure to introduce younger characters in seasons 8 and 10 during which time the school was Ret-Conned from a 6-year junior/senior high into a 4-year high school since when they've usually introduced a new freshman class every other in-story school year which seems to average out to every third season due to a floating timeline.
  • Glee: Rachel states in the pilot that she's a sophomore, and it is assumed that all the kids are in the same year. It isn't until the Third Season premiere that a few of them are retconned into juniors in what, for all intents in purposes, should have been their senior year.
  • Head of the Class: Averted. When Charlie Moore takes over teaching the class it seems as though they'd been at it for a year or more already; but the show lasted 5 seasons*, which means that they were freshmen when he started teaching. Word of God is the Seasons 4 and 5 took place over senior year.
  • In Beverly Hills, 90210, most of the students spent two years in their junior year before moving onto senior year in the show's third season. This was done to sustain the show's longevity as the series became popular. However, the trope is averted with David Silver, who begins as a freshman, and unlike the rest of the gang, ages normally but graduates a year earlier than expected in season 3, with the Hand Wave being that he took more classes to catch up.
  • Popular: Sam, Brooke, Harrison, and the rest were all sophomores in Season One, and Word of God says that had the show gotten a third season, they would have graduated at the end of it.
  • Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers: Though it took them four seasons to graduate, Word of God as per the official merchandise places not a single Ranger below the age of sixteen during the first season. The only one to graduate ahead of the others was Billy, who was a freakin’ genius, and given what ideal role models they were all supposed to be, it’s doubtful any much less all of them were in remedial classes.
  • Veronica Mars starts in Veronica's junior year, but When It All Began and many flashbacks are set in the previous year, while freshman year isn't mentioned much.
  • The Wonder Years: Whether or not it’s an aversion really depends on how you classify its genre. If you see it as primarily the story of Kevin, Winnie, and Paul, then it is, since they start off in 7th Grade (in a 7-9 Junior High, this being The '60s) and age right on up through 11th Grade. If you see it as a family dramedy that includes the adolescent protagonist’s best friend and childhood sweetheart, then not so much.
  • Welcome Freshmen: A major aversion in that enduring freshman year was the show's entire premise. After the Second Season, all but one character became sophomores. The show's title was kept by flunking Walter and making him repeat 9th Grade, while new freshmen were introduced.
  • Liv and Maddie plays this straight, the title twins being sophomores, presumably so their brother Joey could be younger than them and still go to High School alongside them.

     Theatre 
  • A Very Potter Musical: The musical translates a lot of the British boarding school aspects to a more American-style high school. In the first play, Harry, Ron, and Hermione are sophomores, with Ginny as the new freshman learning the ropes from her brother and his friends. The sequels avert this, however; A Very Potter Sequel goes back to Harry's freshman year via Time Travel, while A Very Potter Senior Year takes place exactly when you'd guess.

     Video Games 
  • Typically in Persona the main character is a second-year student. Persona 3, Persona 4, and Persona 5 start off by transferring to a new school, and all three quickly gain at least one male and one female friend of the same age/in the same homeroom. The dynamics are played around with in all these games:
    • P3's lead gets three senpai to help guide him; one of said senpai is the leader and founder of SEES, and she assigns the protagonist the "field leader" (read: leading the charge in dungeon crawling) position, putting him/her in the middle of the totem pole (which gets emphasized once Ken joins them).
    • P4's heroes surprisingly lack any senpai; While there is one at the very beginning of the game, she is murdered, and her death kickstarts the plot. The protagonist and three other Investigation Team members are second years, three others are first years, and Teddie. This makes the P4 protagonist's position as the leader of the team much more blatant.
    • P5 begins similarly to the other two, but the school setting isn't as focused on - thanks to the protagonist's record, nobody in school really wants much to do with him. In turn, because the Phantom Thieves all share a background of abuse by authority none of them follow the Sempai-Kohai system to a tee. All of them ignore it and are casual with each other, including third year students Makoto and Haru. This even extends to members who go to different schools (Yusuke, Akechi), or to the one member who doesn't go to school at all (Futaba, who is also the youngest member). As a result, the P5 protagonist takes a middle ground to his leadership status, taking authority mainly in the Metaverse, but leaving some more mundane tasks in the hands of his teammates when he himself cannot do anything.
    • P1 is justified in a lack of Sempai/Kohai - all nine potential party members are second years, and the majority of them happened to meet one another in passing before the DEVA System began warping Mikage-Cho. The P1 protagonist's status as a leader mainly stems from his ability to remain calm in heated situations, especially when Inaba and Nanjo argue over certain crises of consciousness over the course of the story.
  • Tokyo Xanadu has the protagonist, Kou, in his second of year of high school. In regards to the party, there are two girls in the same grade as him (his class's representative Asuka, as well as the idol-group member, Rion, in another class), allowing them to have 2 kohai (Sora and Yuuki) and 2 sempai (Mitsuki and Shio).
  • Ensemble Stars!: the protagonist character Anzu is a second year student transfer, and the idol group with the most focus (in the main storyline, anyway) is made entirely out of second-years. This not only allows for a wider range of different relationships, it also makes sense for the plot: the previous year, a 'war' happened in which a number of highly skilled, experienced idols were sabotaged by the student council. As a result, each of the different year levels have a different perspective on it: the third years were either part of the problem or victimised by it, while the first years weren't around and so don't properly understand it. Only the second years have a close enough perspective to know what happened and who was responsible, while largely having escaped from being targeted themselves, and at least initially not coming across as a threat. (And in the case of one of the few second-years who was targeted, Natsume, the other oddballs went out of their want to protect him because he was younger than the rest of them.)

     Visual Novels 
  • CROSS†CHANNEL runs along these lines, though the age of the characters in question is vague due to the school system used.
  • Da Capo leaves Junichi's age somewhat vague, but the basic points of the trope stand; he has younger and older love interests, is used to the school and not about to graduate.
  • Shirou and Tohsaka in Fate/stay night are both second years, while Sakura is a first year. No really important third years, but the fact they aren't graduating until the next year is an important detail in the UBW True End epilogue.
  • The main character in High School Story transfers to Berry High as a sophomore. This distances them in age from the original app's main cast, who are mostly seniors, while ensuring they are not entirely new to the high school experience. The spinoff, Class Act, takes place in the following year, so they are distant in age from the new (freshman) main character but still not ready to graduate.
  • Kanon has Yuuichi transferring in during his second year, with the older Mai and the younger Shiori.
  • SHUFFLE!. Asa and Kareha are older, Primula is younger, no graduation in sight and everyone is comfortable.
  • In Tsukihime, Shiki is 17ish. Ciel can be his sempai and when Akiha transfers in, she can be a first year.
  • In Little Busters! all of the main characters except Kyousuke are in their second year. This is important because it means that Kyousuke will graduate in a year and the childhood friends will be split up, something that worries all of them but especially Riki.
  • In Storm Lover, protagonist Yuna transfers to her new school on her second year. Her acquitances are also mostly from her same class, excepting three senpais and two kouhais.
  • Averted in YU-NO, where the protagonist Takuya is a third year, but doesn't give really give a damn about school since his father's death a few months ago. As for his potential love interests, Mio takes her studies seriously, but expects to go abroad to escape her father's soon to be ruined reputation, while Kanna is a long-lived half-human stuck in the body of an 18 old who constantly switches schools to keep up appearances.

     Webcomics 
  • The main characters of El Goonish Shive are all in junior year, something Word of God states was only briefly meant to be the case. Eight years later, they've reached May of that year...
  • At the beginning of Misfile, Emily is a sophorore (second year) student at high school; a couple of arcs in the school year ends and after Summer ends the story progresses over her junior year (while Ash, the protagonist goes from junior to senior). This is significant because until the misfile Emily was a graduating senior. Now she has to repeat her last two years of High School and re-take the driver's license exam.
  • Milan in Trash Talk is in her 2nd year of high-school. Evident by the various class labels on her equipment, and how she refers to Janus, a 3rd year, as "kak note .

     Western Animation 

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