“I Follow It for the Side Characters.”

Years ago when I was more active in the Pokemon fan community, I noticed that there were quite a few people who loved Team Rocket. To them, Jessie and James were the highlight of every episode and every movie, and they generally only begrudgingly accepted Ash Ketchum on their televisions. “If only the show starred Team Rocket, then it would truly be great!” they’d say, or alternately, “The only reason I even watch Pokemon is for Team Rocket!” This wasn’t the first time I saw a show’s fanbase rally behind its supporting cast instead of its primary heroes, but it’s the most prominent example I can think of and one that seems to set the pace for other similar instances.

From what I can tell, most of the time the idea of following a series for the side characters happens primarily with people who love the setting of a show but for one reason or another cannot get behind its main protagonist. Most often, I see this happen with shounen series when the fans are not that young boy demographic that can most easily put themselves into the hero’s shoes. Uzumaki Naruto, for instance, is considered by some portions of the Naruto fanbase as being loud and annoying and difficult to relate to (or perhaps his detractors are unwilling to try and relate to him in the first place), and thus turn their attentions towards Kakashi or Rock Lee or whomever. And before you think I’m criticizing people for doing this, keep in mind that while I like Naruto as a character, my favorite character in Naruto is Hyuuga Hinata by an unbelievable margin, and she barely appears in the series overall.

What fascinates me about this whole matter is that prioritizing supporting characters in such a way can empower fans and their creativity. By following a series through its side characters, it’s like fans are saying that they are going to read and interpret the story their own way, that to some degree they know what’s better for the story than the original author, but that they also totally respect the author for giving them their favorite characters. It’s like fans have arrived at postmodernism without even knowing what that word means.

9 thoughts on ““I Follow It for the Side Characters.”

  1. That’s exactly how I feel about Oh My Goddess – the less page/screen time K1 and Bell get, the better the book/show is. I wonder if side characters become more interesting, especially in long-running franchises like Pokemon and OMG, because the author takes less risks with the central cast. The readers know that nothing bad will happen to Ash or Keiichi, but when Jessie or Chihiro attempt something all bets are off.


  2. I think Touhou is an interesting example (of course it’s not a series where you’d generally relate to the characters) in that people so often prefer the side characters.

    There also seems to be something about the Touhou franchise that really ignites people’s imaginations.

    After all there are hundreds if not thousands of doujinshi. I’ve only read a relatively small number of them, of those that I have read however the quality has been consistently fairly high.

    When I think of characters that I relate to the first one who comes to mind would be Nagato Yuki. Though that only really relates to the light novels as her development isn’t really shown in the animated version so far.

    Another example would be the male lead from the light novel series Bungaku Shoujo or ‘Literary Girl’ (though I’ve only read the first of the series). Rather then saying that I feel similiar to him though I would say it’s more a case of I can understand quite well such feelings but I haven’t personally experienced them. In a way his personality seems rather like the other side of the same coin in relation to my own personality.

    Naturally I would be a rather poor example of the norm though.


  3. Feeling pretty disgusted with the direction that Naruto has gone in lately and find myself pining for the seemingly-endless filler episodes of a few years ago, when supporting characters were given meaningless but long-overdue attention and opportunities to develop, or at least to be explored more than the main storyline had time for.

    Getting myself attached to any of them proved to be a big mistake, as it’s now painfully obvious that their role in the story is pretty much over. That’s not to say they won’t have their “big” moment or resolution when the time comes but at this point it’s clear that their personal conflicts are no longer a priority to anyone involved in the show or manga.

    Still looking to avoid spoilers so if my I’m somehow out of step with whatever is happening in the latest chapters… I’ll find out for myself soon enough and come back to retract my comments.


  4. There are some great ensemble shows too, with no true main character – like Baccano, Azumanga Daioh, Honey & Clover, Hidamari Sketch. It’s a nice flavour –


  5. forgive, the double-post but I just remembered a side-character revelation from the misty past – Infinite Ryvius. There’s a chick who appears in a few scenes in the first 12 episodes or so, walking thru the frame, nodding her head to the music on the earphones. I think she gets a line of dialogue at one moment. And suddenly more than halfway through the show, she hooks up with one of the main characters and skips several rungs in the character importance ladder. Cullen Lucciora. I love it when that happens.


  6. I just want to point out that having your favorite character be a side character, which happens frequently to many of us, and hating the main cast and only watching for the side character(s) is waaaay different.


  7. I think this is why I watch Kobato… for Ior(y)ogi. I hope the show goes a bit more in depth about his and his colleagues’ past.

    Nice post. Needs more Hinata pics.


  8. I absolutely watched Gundam 00 for the side characters. From day one I hated Celestial Being’s cause, their tactics, and their characters.

    But through all that I hated about it, I really liked a lot of the side characters, the ones who opposed the protagonists. Graham Aker, Patrick Collasour, Kati Mannequin, and Ali al-Saarshes (and pre-cop-out Louise and Soma) were what I wanted in protagonists. People with understandable motivations fighting in a cause that was good, with actual virtues and vices, and who were human instead of having infinite deus ex machina technology hax. They relied on their skill and their intelligence. These side characters made me watch 52 episodes of a story whose protagonists I hated, setting that I felt was at best naive, and story that I already knew would end with what I felt to be the real good guys losing.


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