Obviously every time a famous writer or other artist dies, there's the usual round of sentimental tributes as people fall over themselves to say just how much Dick Francis or whoever means to them, although for most people, their death is more likely simply an opportunity to remember the work of a writer you might recall being forced to read at school, or perhaps whose book you read and kind of liked a long time ago. Deaths, to most of us, serve as happy reminders that, yeah, that book that I hadn't thought about once for the last twenty or thirty years wasn't bad.
For me, J.D. Salinger was one of those writers, and more than anything I might have cared about his life or the minute body of work he could be bothered to publish, his death made me think, "Male lead characters in anime are rubbish, and Holden Caulfield gives us some hints as to why."
Without going into too much detail (Catcher in the Rye is a short novel and probably one you've pretended to have read on numerous occasions, so why not track it down and read it for real?) part of what I find appealing about Caulfield as a character is a combination of his knowing, often penetrating ability to size other people up, and his lack of knowledge and lack of understanding of himself (this is a trait you also see in the play/film Alfie, and a key factor in allowing the audience to feel pathos for a title character who really does some horrible things.)
Catcher in the Rye's most recent Japanese translator, and one of Salinger's most famous Japanese fans, the novelist Murakami Haruki, has drawn on these aspects of Caulfield's personality in the past, most frequently applying them to young, proto-moé female characters like Yuki from Dance, Dance, Dance, Midori from Norwegian Wood, and most strikingly May from popular metaphysical harem drama The Wind-up Bird Chronicle.
It's significant that in Murakami's mind the character of Holden Caulfield maps most closely onto a female character, whereas his male characters more often drift through his stories in a state of weary passivity. Sure, part of this is derived from the insouciant cool of Raymond Chandler's classic detective Philip Marlowe, but where Marlowe was quick off the hip with a wisecrack or a punch to the guts, Murakami's heroes are a bit more, you know, bland. They are, he seems to be trying to tell us, ordinary guys, trapped in this dizzy maelstrom of crazy women.
Many anime heroes, like Holden Caulfield, have a protective relationship with their little sister, but, like Murakami's male heroes, they are also overwhelmingly bland. Caulfield is brash, frequently out of control, and self-destructive, and Salinger isn't afraid to show Caulfield's flaws leading him into dispiriting, humiliating situations; however, in his flaws he's also charming and vulnerable, as well as pro-active and driven. Caulfield operates at a higher level of reality to us, he is his readers' strengths and flaws magnified, he is extraordinary. Now look through a few character summaries of most popular boys' anime and count how many times the lead character is introduced with the hateful phrase "XXXX is an ordinary high school boy". The only weaknesses a typical anime hero is allowed to have are shyness around girls, a lecherous streak, and weakness of nasal blood vessels. All he can do is react to external stimuli, either in the form of more active (often female) characters around him, or the anime scriptwriter's favourite deus ex machina, destiny.
Time was that every disaffected teenage boy/celebrity assassin in the world carried a copy of Catcher in the Rye in his pocket, so closely did Holden Caulfield's travails resonate with the trauma of youth. Nowadays, anime (and in Japan the light novel) has eaten up huge chunks of the offbeat, faintly alternative youth culture party cake, but the level of its male character writing has still to see its voice change, grow its first pubic hair, and take the first step out of its perpetual pre-adolescence.