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.