The Paradox of Side Characters

In a recent post, feal87 from Empty Blue questioned the appeal of side characters and why we often find ourselves liking the side characters over the protagonists. Feal87 argues that protagonists are often bland or too common because they are too idealized. And in essence, all of these protagonists are so similar that there isn’t much to distinguish them from each other.

Now, unlike feal87, I don’t always find myself liking the side characters over the protagonists. In fact, more often then not, I find myself liking the main characters of a good show quite a bit. That said, in most of these shows there is almost always side characters that appeal to me even if they spend little time actually on screen. And while they may not be my favorite characters from the show, I end up liking them a fair amount.

But if they spend very little time on screen and receive less development, how is it possible that these side characters could make such an impression? Like feal87, I think a part of is that a lot of protagonists are very generic and not very different from each other. In fact, visual novels often leave protagonists deliberately bland so that the players have an easier time projecting themselves into the character. But that only explains it for certain shows, so how might we explains this paradox for anime in general?

There is two reason why I think that despite their limits, supporting characters appeal to viewers as much as I do. The first reason is that we are less demanding of supporting characters than we are the leads. Let me give you a recent example of what I mean. If you have been following my Guilty Crown posts, you will know how much I adore Tsugumi, the show’s resident nekomimi character. Ignoring how much I like her though, Tsugumi doesn’t really contribute anything important to the story as a character. Not only that, but she is also very one dimensional. Despite these two rather large faults, I’m always happy to see her on screen. As a side character I hold Tsugumi to lower standards than I would with a main character which means I am able to appreciate her more as a character even with her faults.

Sympathy may play a part in it.

The other reason that viewers are drawn to the side characters over the protagonists is simply because they are side characters. By design, we see less of them on screen and understand them less. Thus, to viewers, those side characters are something of an enigma. And it is that mysteriousness surrounding them which draws us to them. It is precisely because we aren’t given enough of them that we want to see and know more. Just like how we become curious about the main characters when information we don’t know is hinted at, we desire to know about characters we don’t see very much of.

Now, everybody’s experiences with anime is different, and personally I find myself liking both main characters and side characters. But besides personal reasons such as looks or personality, I would say that the reasons for people being drawn towards side characters is because we don’t have the same expectations for them as we do mains and that their enigmatic nature draws us to them naturally.

But what do you think? Why or why don’t you like side characters? Let me know in the comments down below!

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13 thoughts on “The Paradox of Side Characters

  1. I agree with you saying that we don’t hold side characters up to the same standards as main characters. They can be much more simple but so loveable. I love Kenpachi and Yachiru from Bleach because they’re hilarious together, While they do have different sides to them, if they were main characters they’d have to be much more rounded and I think you’d lose out on what makes them great characters.

    • Ah, good old Kenpachi and Yachiru. They were a good pair. But like you say, I think that an arc focusing on them, or if they were main characters themselves, would not be as good as one would hope. ^_^

  2. Those are great points – I think I would expand the second one to say that because we don’t know as much about them, we can accept these side characters for who they are, even if who they are would be annoying if they had more screen time. I like seeing Mihoshi on screen in Tenchi Muyo! for three minutes an episode…I would shoot my screen (or press “stop” on my DVDO player) if she was the star of the show.

    • I can certainly relate to that feeling. Certain characters lose their charm once we see more of them and can get very annoying. Fortunately for us, that is why they are side characters! 😀

  3. Nice counter-post! 😛

    I agree with your point of view revolving around “we see them less, thus we know less about them”. In the end why are we so interested by Remon of Ano Natsu? Because she’s mysterious and we know nearly nothing about her motives or origin…:D

    Protagonists? Well, not sure as I got only very few protagonists I actually like. For example Hakuoro from Utawarerumono, Leopard from Sora wo Kakeru Shoujo, etc…:)

  4. I find myself liking both too. Of the series actually develop their side characters like say Ling Yao/Greed from FMA brotherhood. He is so awesome he can fight Wrath on equal ground.. And he is a SIDE character. There also quote a lot of side characters that gets so famous a new season/movie/OVA is adapted just for them.

    • Yeah, FMA is really exceptional in that it has a really strong and developed cast. They are side characters that are great to see more of and I can hold to fairly high standards considering how well-rounded they are.

      And yes, you are quite right. I know a number of side characters that got a spin-off series or something. And in some cases, I ended up enjoying that character even more because of it.

  5. I’m a huge fan of side characters, but agree with a lot of the points you’ve raised – many of those I love probably wouldn’t work as main characters for various reasons. In most cases because they’re there for comic relief, and aren’t serious enough or well developed enough to do anything besides make me laugh. 😛

    • And make us laugh they do. 🙂

      I’m thankful we have such side characters in shows because they can keep things fresh and entertaining. Too much of them though and the show may get distracted from its actual plot.

  6. I’d say I’d love a show devoted to my favorite side character(s) from a show, but I realize I probably wouldn’t like the way it would turn out. Because we rate them with different criteria (and because their functions are fundamentally different), it creates a paradox like your title suggests: We want to see more of them, but because of who (or rather, what) they are, seeing more of them will cause us to like them less. Like you say, it’s that mysteriousness, that *lack* of knowledge about a character, that draws us to them. We want to know about them, but once we do the magic fades.

    Nice post.

    • Thank you! ~ Yes, I am also not so sure about how a show devoted to my favorite side character(s) would turn out. Thinking about this posts makes me want to look into what happens when characters get their own spin-off series. I’m actually kind of curious to see what how they are affected and whether or not we can even consider them to be the same character.

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