So, a week(ish?) ago, I happened to get into a fan discussion about Reborn!/KHR on Plurk. Now, all I know about the series is from friends, but it's about Tsuna, an unlikely Japanese schoolboy discovering he was the heir to a Mafia family and that it started as a gag comedy manga but the author eventually decided to try to plot something. One of the points of Tsuna's characterization was that he was a good kid who was determined to not compromise that even if he was the head of a Mafia family.
So my Plurk friend was ranting about how fans of the series were all 'Mafia = serious business' and therefore that the logical thing would be for the series to crush Tsuna's innocence until he had to act all ruthless and how a Mafia boss should act, rather than have the plot be about Tsuna's conflict between duty and idealism* and let that take it where it may.
I commented this is a lot like how some Avatar fans reacted to the end of Season 3 of Avatar: the Last Airbender.
Spoilers start here:
Basically, Aang is a pacifist airbender, but also the Avatar, responsible for preserving peace in the world. Firelord Ozai, the antagonist, is trying to conquer the world and has decided to use the power of a once in a hundred year astronomical event to set fire to large patches of the Earth Kingdom to both destroy any resistance and to show them who is boss. The entire series pretty much sets up Ozai as a ruthless megalomaniac who even plays his two kids against one another so he can have a strong heir.
And, yet, Aang doesn't want to kill anyone, even a shitstain like Ozai. He's also twelve, and making a twelve year old kill someone strikes me as cruel. Aang can't deals with this and his friends are all 'look, you're the only one who can do this, even if you don't want to', so he takes off on a spirit quest on the eve of the final battle.
He consults his past lives which all tell him, in different ways, 'you are the Avatar, and you can't run away from this problem or try to moralize around it', and runs into an ancient lion turtle who gives him a bit more wisdom on the nature of bending. Basically Aang gets a choice: he can either kill Ozai or he can try engery-bending, a forgotten technique that would remove Ozai's firebending but requires both capturing Ozai alive and that Aang have a will of iron. Any doubt or hesitation would kill Aang, and leave Ozai to finish what he started. So, basically Aang can choose an easier choice that would compromise who he was, or a harder choice that he found more morally acceptable.
(Granted, the awareness of energy-bending led to the plot of Legend of Korra, but it completed the TLA arc.)
Some fans of Avatar saw the ending as a cop-out; basically they wanted Aang to be stuck having to kill Ozai. And I think the execution might have been improved; the hints are there, but Aang's arc in the finale felt a bit rushed. But I think 'sometimes there is a third option if you are bold and hopeful' is just as important a theme as 'sometimes the options all suck and you got to deal with it'. Both kinds of stories need to exist. In the aforementioned Tsuna plurk, someone equated it to 'growing up as destruction of innocence' which… well, in Aang's case, that was his first season arc, to be honest: accepting that he was the survivor of a genocide he slept through and that, as Avatar, it was his duty to set it right, even if he wanted to just wander the world and play. (I can't speak for KHR, but I imagine that Tsuna deciding that refusing the call because he never asked for this wasn't an option was a similar kind of arc.)
I also busted out a Miles Vorkosigan quote I'm fond of, from Komarr. The context is that Miles is staying with a coworker's niece and her family, and the niece's husband, Tien, is an emotionally abusive pile of garbage. (Mostly focused on his wife, but also to their son.) When Nikki, the son, starts talking about wanting to be a FTL pilot to Miles (who everyone knows was hired for this job because he's been off Barrayar and the Emperor trusts him), tine tells his son that he's too old for childish dreams. Miles responds, "Some people grow into their dreams, instead of out of them."
It's underscored by the entire series; Miles was born physically disabled in a culture that stigmatized disability, especially birth defects, and valorized soldiers. Miles managed to earn a position as a soldier, albeit unconventionally and under the command of the intelligence branch (mostly because Miles has a problem with following orders from stupid people, and two tries to correct that failed because Miles is a trouble magnet and situations arose where Miles was ethically forced to disobey orders). After a medical discharge that really shattered his self-image, Miles managed to pull himself together (almost literally, in a mental sense) and basically end up doing a similar job for the Emperor that he did for the military, except (mostly) openly as an agent of Barrayar. (Basically: Miles, we know there's a problem here, go dig it out and tell us what it is, who caused it, and then fix it.)
(Miles is also painfully aware that everything he does makes it easier for others to follow in his footsteps, so any screw up is not only on him and his family, but will mean the next bright but physically disabled person has to work twice as hard.)
I guess there's this perception that 'True Art is Angsty', and punching characters in the gut is an effective storytelling choice. But there is room to tell a story where you can keep some hope in Pandora's Box, even with the ills of the world. That, sure, the world sucks, but there's also good stuff in it. Some will survive and have earned their happy ending, even if it's not a picture-perfect one. And they wouldn't have had to sell their soul to do it.
* I mean, this isn't an uncommon theme, especially in shounen anime/manga. The protagonist is an idealist. Usually he has an ally or rival that is a pragmatist. When he confronts the antagonists, he has to choose if he wants to compromise his ideals for a better shot at winning, or try to stick to his guns and win.