Anime Vice News

One Fan’s Opinion: Why are Side Characters Better?

Why do the boring characters get all the attention?

The tale of Naruto becoming Hokage is great, don’t get me wrong; but are you like me and wonder where the hell the other cool cats are? Neji, Rock Lee, Mother flipping Choji are almost all but gone, only to make their appearances in boring fillers. This gets me thinking, why not just make a Rock Lee anime then? Why does it always seem like the side characters in most anime/manga are more interesting than the main protagonist?
 
      
I have a feeling when I ask myself this question that perhaps it has something to do with the well known phrase “the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence”. This is especially true when watching long anime (mostly Shonen Jump), because I almost feel like I’m married to the main character; an arranged marriage I had no part in.

At first it’s cool, thinking “My husband is so strong, and overcomes any problem that comes his way. Wow look at his special move, did he just go Berserk? Awesome!” But soon the puppy love dries up when more and more of the side characters are revealed. “My hubbie is cool and everything, but did you see what that Neji guy did? He just poked him a million times and the enemy just died!” And then the last nail is nailed into the coffin when the side characters begin to get their own flashbacks, fully flushing them out. “Neji has such a dark and interesting past. If only my husband suffered through that instead of enduring the brutal taunts from ninja children.”

What makes a character great? Fully fleshed out characters with likable personalities would be my best guess; but when it comes to anime that is not all. We also like interesting super powers, unusual abilities, or normal people stuck in unusual situations. I sometimes feel that mangaka are forced to make their mains a certain character archetype, so that the audience can easily relate themselves to them. Yet for side characters they don’t have to follow any of these “rules”, so they go all out.

 Deep down you wished this happened instead.
 Deep down you wished this happened instead.
Also, a main’s special move or power is well thought out before the manga is created, but later in the series when more side characters are introduced, the mangaka already has time to think about better powers and can assimilate them better into the story. For example, look at any Shinigami Captain’s bankai and compare it to Ichigo’s, do you see how badly he was shafted? I guess that’s why Kubo threw in all the crazy transformations for him.

This is only a problem when side characters are forgotten from the story; but usually this isn’t as big of a deal as I made it out to be. As long as anime and manga exists, this will always be a problem. So the only way to fix it is to not make it a problem at all. Enjoy it for what it is, and not for what we want it to be. Who really wants to watch a Kamina anime anyways?
ErikHowletton May 25, 2010 at 7:41 a.m.

You know, I kinda find myself agreeing with you on this one, GodLen, my friend. For some reason, I've always found the side-characters to be just as interesting as the main characters, maybe even moreso! Take Kisuke Urahara and Yoruichi Shihouin for example, both of them are major players in the saga of Bleach, and both have a deep, integrated history with the overall plot, so much so that when Kisuke got his chance to shine during the "Turn Back The Pendulum" Arc, it was probably one of the better flashbacks we could've ever had for that show! Why we didn't explore more of Yoruichi's past there is beyond me, but they did a good job with revealing what she was like back then too. On the flipside, we know so little about Rangiku's past with Gin, its kinda annoying (though I get the feeling that this little tidbit might be fixed soon enough).

 

On a similar note, the back story of Jiraiya and Tsunade in their younger years would've made an interesting story for Naruto as well. Sure, we see enough of Jiraiya's teen/young-adult years during the flashbacks that Pein has, but it would've been cool to see how things turned out for him, Tsunade, and Orochimaru growing up, sort of showing how much of them is mirrored by Naruto, Sakura, and Sasuke's relationship in the present.

 

All in all, I see your point. Side characters can be a heck of a lot better than the main characters in the long run.
 
(Also, yeah, I may not have gotten that far into Gurren Lagann just yet, but already Kamina has started to grow one me. Such a shame he's not long for this world...)

FekketCantenelon May 25, 2010 at 8:13 a.m.
Once again, Lord of the Rings comes to mind as an example. There were a few characters that you might designate as 'main characters' (Bilbo in The Hobbit, Frodo and Aragorn in the trilogy), but the story and setting were rich enough that almost all characters had a backstory and a unique personality. As a result, fandoms have sprung up for just about every one. 
 
Another factor is that the main character gets a lot more screen time and is therefore more explained and obvious. When you have a mysterious character about whom not much is known, they're almost never the main character. Examples include Hiei and Kurama from Yu Yu Hakusho, Seto Kaiba and Thief King Bakura in Yu Gi Oh!, and just about every character in Baccano!. If you can write rich characters but then resist the urge to put them all front and center all the time, you create an air of novelty and adventure around them that some fans find more attractive than the ease of getting to know a main character.
ReVolutionOfEvangelionon May 25, 2010 at 8:16 a.m.
Main characters, in every medium, suffer from "too many cooks in the kitchen" syndrome....or the single writer is trying to put too many impulses into them; so much focus means they get tugged in many directions; I mean look at  Battlestar Galactica; by the final seasons, the side-characters were still pretty good, but the main characters were all over the map, to the point they were unrecognizable.  And don't get me started on "Heroes"....
 
But for anime as well:  rarely will writers just let characters "be", just let them follow their initial set of motivations and definitions.  
 
This is worse in long-running shonen series, because at least 26 episode series are *relatively* pre-planned, and can't be affected that much by fan feedback or whimsical writer decisions as the years go on.
ErikHowletton May 25, 2010 at 8:54 a.m.
@FekketCantenel said:
"When you have a mysterious character about whom not much is known, they're almost never the main character. Examples include Hiei and Kurama from Yu Yu Hakusho, Seto Kaiba and Thief King Bakura in Yu Gi Oh!, and just about every character in Baccano!. If you can write rich characters but then resist the urge to put them all front and center all the time, you create an air of novelty and adventure around them that some fans find more attractive than the ease of getting to know a main character. "

Ah! Can't believe I forgot about Baccano!, how forgetfull of me!! Still, now that you mention it, FekketCantenel, Durarara!! uses similar methods as well, something I've found to be quite a charming aspect of Ryohgo Narita's work.
hitsusatsu11on May 25, 2010 at 9 a.m.
No more, choji, ten ten, hinata ect, we get them ad nausem in fillers. More lee and neji would be ok though.
Walker696on May 25, 2010 at 11:08 a.m.
I agree completely, its like going to see boxing once a week every week and you seem the same person fight every week (just with a new opponent). You almost stop caring as to whether or not they succeed and you start looking at opening acts because lets be honest everybody likes new stuff and when we see something new we like it more. I will be honest I was one of Rock Lee's biggest fans when he first came out and funny enough I like most of the people in the series who only had 1 or 2 fights the most (Kimmimaru, Sasori, Zabuza, and Kisame). I feel the same way about folks in Bleach and One Piece as well. I think part of it we want to figure out what that persons limits are and since we follow the main character so much we pretty much know theirs by hard. Not mention at a certain point the main heroes go from being like a cool best friend to that annoying buddy that wants to chill out with you all the time and the side character are like the other friends who just come by to do something cool and then they are gone. Yea there are plenty of people who could be main stars but honestly if they did then you would just end up feeling the same way about them eventually
Boddingtonon May 25, 2010 at 11:51 a.m.
Many (most, I guess) fictional stories have a journey of discovery at their cores and the protagonist is the one walking that path. They start out flat and incomplete, but gradually become something new and, hopefully, better. Until then, however, they're flawed and perhaps contain characteristics we won't like. Supporting characters, on the other hand, don't necessarily need to be round and oftentimes their one-dimensionality can even make them attractive. Take the character Kyuzo from The Seven Samurai for example: his ability with the sword and hard-nosed personality defines his character and makes him awesome, but it's also his only characteristic and nothing else about him really changes.
Newdeathon May 25, 2010 at 12:14 p.m.
I'd like it if Rock Lee got his own series. That'd be quite interesting.  
 
ND
Magnificenton May 25, 2010 at 12:22 p.m.
Naruto's supporting characters(specifically those non team 7 kids)  are turrible, I'm glad that they have been regulated to the background.
willyverebon May 25, 2010 at 1:12 p.m.
Well, there is a reason for that. there are more rules and restrictions at creating a main character than for side characters. For example you could have a super-intelligent wise, overpowered and badass character for occasionally appearing character and the audience will love him. But for a main character... For starters we need the protagonist to struggle and probably improve over the time while it may give a few extra options it also makes impossible to write a successful story with a really powerful character as the main. Secondly, the protagonist is usually the moral and ideological trumpet for the writer. Even if not, they mustn't be too dirty(well, there are exceptions of course and we know anti-heroes well). Third and probably most importantly: The author must write the protagonist's actions down in a detailed way in contrast to side character. For example writing a total genius protagonist for someone having average or bellow average intelligence is a really-really bad idea. Perhaps, that was an extreme case but all in all side character always need less research and still be fine. 
 
for example no matter how I would like a show about Urahara Kisuke as the protagonist it wouldn't come. he's a support character and designed to be like that. Giving him more spotlight would obviously reveal that. Well, in the Pendulum mini-arc he was kind of like the protagonist but the emphasis on the kind of. We never had the chance to peek inside his mind, neither see his real work. with slight alterations it's possible to make Urahara more like a main character but his story wouldn't be a shonen manga...for sure.
cfatalison May 25, 2010 at 1:46 p.m.
@willyvereb: in other word we may not write a mary sue/marty stu main character , since well....... really lookat those fanfiction and red hulk
Gaseroon May 25, 2010 at 4:20 p.m.
If the side characters in Naruto were to get more screen time it would alert more people of how lame Naruto is as a character. How ironic is it that the character we are supposed to be following seems to be the one that has shown the least growth in strength and personality?
gla55jAwon May 25, 2010 at 8:46 p.m.
Rock Lee is the best. His own series with Gui Sensei would be amazing.
Naruto79on May 26, 2010 at 2:42 p.m.

Side characters take your story to the NEXT level. This is the difference between a Naruto and DBZ. The fact that the hero isn’t the end all and begin all of the entire series makes it feel like more of a story of a universe than a story of a singular character. 

shonenon May 26, 2010 at 3:59 p.m.

Rock Lee >>>>>Naruto. Naruto is just a whiinny ass blond bitch.

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