Rachael is a passionate long-time anime fan, who enjoys writing about the storytelling aspect of anime, manga, and light novels.
It happens sometimes. A show can be saved from an annoying or unlikable main character. Perhaps it's beautifully designed. Perhaps it touches on heavy and important themes. Perhaps it's saved by the annoying main character becoming a better person by the end... of several dozen or so episodes. It can also be that foils to the main character, rivals or villains, become more of the reason people watch the show. Or the cool powers or interesting world-building make the show interesting. Whatever it is that draws people into the story, safe to say it's probably not the main character or characters.
Twilight Sparkle - Friendship is Magic
In My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, all of the main characters are a little annoying at first, and gradually become more likeable due to character development. Twilight Sparkle undergoes a lot of personal growth in the series. She is obsessive about charts, lists, and organization. She is very into academics and often neglects the real world when lost in study. Over time, she learns to overcome this character flaw, becoming more impactful in the real world as a result.
Overbearing, sometimes jealous whenever people she cares about spend time with anypony else. Like I said, academic to the point of forgetting about the real world and obsessed with organization. Always likes to do things "by the book", sometimes literally. She sometimes comes across as a dictator, and is sometimes a little fanatical about rules.
She is compassionate and cares about her friends. Her attention to detail is an important leadership quality. She seems clearly suited for leadership because she knows when to listen to others and when to put her hoof down and firmly take a stand.
Do They Get Better?
Yes. Season 8 shows her running a school of friendship. In that endeavor, she shows the capacity to delegate, and also sees the necessity of bending rules in order to give a better learning experience to her students. This shows a lot of maturity over how screwy she acts in episodes like Lesson Zero, Look Before You Sleep, and A Canterlot Wedding.
Steven Universe - Steven Universe
While the show is celebrated for being the only Cartoon Network show created solely by a woman, and for its lesbian and transgender representation, most fans also agree that the show is flawed, and Steven himself is not a big reason most people who like the show like it.
Steven is driven purely by gluttony, and is obsessed with food. This is a fat-shaming stereotype that feels out of place in a show that's so often put on a pedestal for being progressive. He's not that annoying, but he's not particularly charismatic either, often coming across as sad and cringey rather than as funny, interesting, or likeable. He just comes across as a typical little kid.
Steven is enthusiastic, curious, and always wants to be helpful.
Do They Get Better?
I've been told he does by fans, which is my main reason for continuing to watch the show, despite my initial reaction to it being that I don't like Steven as a character. We'll see how that goes and I'll probably write a separate article about this later.
Naruto - Naruto and Naruto Shippuden
This is to a lesser extent in Shippuden, because Naruto is more mature, obviously, after the time skip. But mainly, early on in Naruto, our hero comes across as whiny, loud, bratty, and is constantly looking for a fight. I also hated his English dub voice, road-cone-chic attire, and the way he always yells when he talks, like if Billy Mays were a teenage boy in an orange suit.
What fans of Naruto say is that his behavior can be explained by understanding his back story. As an outcast and bullying victim, Naruto is constantly trying to prove himself by fighting. He acts loud and obnoxious to make up for his lack of self esteem.
Do They Get Better?
Over time, yes, but it does take a long time, and I can forgive anime viewers for just not having the patience for it. The interesting side characters, complex villains, and innovative world building are what really save the show.
Usagi and Mamoru - Sailor Moon
Called "Bunny and Darien" in the manga's English translation, and "Serena and Darien" in the anime's English translation, Usagi and Mamoru are, especially initially, not anyone's reason for caring about the show. Both are kind of useless, both seem to rely on others a lot.
While Usagi is too emotion-driven, Mamoru is too cold, distant, and emotionless. Usagi's voice is sometimes annoying in either English or Japanese, since she whines and cries a lot, especially in the beginning. Usagi is very sensitive. Which makes it a bit odd that her plot-designated "true love" is so insensitive, even to the point of sometimes seeming like an uncaring ass.
A lot of fans also point out that Usagi's main motivation is her (female) friends, and she develops strong feelings for, and even romantic chemistry with, several of them. This leads more fans to ship her with one of her friends than with Mamoru.
The 90's anime is just plain better at exploring the relationships between Usagi and her friends than it is at justifying the Usagi/Mamoru canon pairing, to the point where the canon pairing itself feels like a crack pairing. A kind of "romance ex machina", where the feelings happen all out of left field. Mamoru, being wiser and more mature than Usagi, also seems to have more of an affinity with other characters, like Rei, Ami, and Michiru. People like this show for the lesbian romance and girl-girl friendships and bonding. The straight romance at the center of the plot seems a bit like a forced nod to conventionalism in an otherwise totally unconventional story.
Do They Get Better?
Meh? Usagi does become more mature, less whiny. She also becomes more confident, relying less on others and becomes less afraid to fight by herself. Mamoru softens a little, but is sent overseas for the entire final arc of the series, the Sailor Stars arc. You do see though that he comes to admire and appreciate Usagi more, and he seems to bring out her better qualities, which is a good sign in any relationship. She also brings out his softer and more emotional side.
Usagi's romance with Mamoru is crucial to the plot early on in the series, but over time, it feels like she has more romantic chemistry with other characters. In the S and Super S seasons, she has moments of romantic tension with Haruka (Sailor Uranus), ending with Usagi remembering she has a boyfriend and Haruka remembering she has a girlfriend. In Sailor Stars, you'd be forgiven for thinking Seiya, Sailor Star Fighter, was her actual boyfriend, as Mamoru is an absentee for the season. Let's be honest here - even though we like that Usagi and Mamoru mature over the course of the anime, we just really want to see Usagi be a lesbian.
Inuyasha and Kagome - Inuyasha
While some fans like them, I'd have to say these main characters were not the main appeal of the show for me. What I really liked were supporting characters, especially Miroku, Sango, and the villains. Additionally I like the world-building and the exciting fight scenes.
Kagome is shrill, abrasive, and has a very annoying English dub voice. Both characters are very hot-headed and combative, spending a lot of the show's staggering run time arguing with each other, perhaps more time than they actually spend fighting enemies. Inuyasha is always acting controlling and possessive in an attempt to protect Kagome, but Kagome never appreciates the gravity of the dangers he is protecting her from. Instead, she seems bratty and self-centered, constantly defiant for the sake of defiance, whether or not that means she's going to end up stupidly walking into an enemy's trap. When they're both so stupid and stubborn, sometimes the viewer just feels like throwing up his/her hands and saying, "Those two deserve each other!"
Do They Get Better?
Eventually? Inuyasha is a cyclical show, where the main characters learn the same lessons several times. Several times Inuyasha has to learn to not be such a bossy jerk, and several times Kagome has to learn to be less reckless and stubborn. She also has to learn to accept help and advice from others.
Over time you do get a sense that their relationship is evolving and they become better people. I found myself much more invested in their relationship by the end. It just takes a long time, since the show itself is so long, as is the problem with Naruto as well.
Ash - Pokemon
The Pokemon video games have a very specific, complex strategy system based on type advantages, levels, stats, and so on. The anime plays fast and loose with this system, sometimes holding to the games' concepts of levels, move limitations, and type advantages, and sometimes just throwing these things out the window, depending on the plot of the episode.
Ash is weird to the point of needing some alternate reality theory to explain why he is so inconsistently competent as a Pokemon trainer, and why his Pikachu is similarly inconsistent in power level and abilities.
He's loud, immature (well he is 10), and has delusions of grandeur - he's much better in his head than he is in reality. He's extremely prideful, some might even say a show-off, and can be stubborn as well. His boldness is often something he thinks will get him a win in spite of his utter failure to learn even basic Pokemon strategy.
Among his many egregious strategy choices is that he almost always sends out his favorite Pokemon first into every battle, usually with no regard for type advantages or disadvantages. Usually this will be Pikachu, or one of the (rarely evolved) starters in whatever region he's in. He also tends to tell them to use Tackle a lot, even if they should know stronger or better moves. Ground-type Pokemon? Better send Pikachu and yell "TACKLE" really loud! I am gonna be a Pokemon master!
Does He Get Better?
Ash undergoes character development that is truly touching, which is why the later episodes of the Indigo league arc are some of my favorites. But, while he learns about being a more compassionate Pokemon trainer, he seems to have no real capacity to remember even basic strategy.
The plot forces him not to evolve his cuter Pokemon, a move that's clearly based on marketing and merchandising issues, rather than being an actual strategic move that makes any sort of sense. A problem with this is that it also implies that growing up is something to be feared.
Some of the saddest moments in the original Indigo League anime involve one of Ash's Pokemon evolving and then he either abandons them or sends them to Professor Oak. Perhaps this indicates Ash's own immaturity and both literal and figurative inability to grow up, a kind of Peter Pan syndrome that can be endearing, but is often sad.
Maybe the reason he can't keep companions across travels to different regions has less to do with the demands of the show's production - to use new main characters to advertise a new game and a new region - and more to do with the fact that other kids grow up and move on with their lives while Ash stays the same.
Haruhi - The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya
I've talked about this before but, I like The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, but absolutely cannot stand Haruhi herself.
Haruhi is a bully and possible psychopath. She forces Mikuru to wear a bunny costume and makes a male student grope her in order for her to blackmail the computer club into lending her "SOS Brigade" club a computer. I consider these to be reprehensible acts, when the show plays them off as harmless pranks. That's a real problem with school abuse situations - adults don't take these types of incidents seriously enough, especially if the victim, like Mikuru, is too nice or too meek to complain. But things like this can significantly impact someone psychologically even years later, and I just felt really uncomfortable watching Haruhi do sexual harassment without seeming to care about its impact on the victim.
Haruhi strikes me as also completely self-centered. She's so focused on her single-minded obsession with paranormal investigation that she doesn't care about anyone. She only cares about people to the extent that they might either be paranormal, or to the extent that they can be used as tools to help her with her paranormal investigation obsession. Seeing people as only a means to an end is a sociopathic "dark triad" trait more commonly seen in villains than protagonists, and if you want to go so far as to call Haruhi herself a villain-protagonist, I don't take issue with that.
Does She Get Better?
Not really. The show just gets more mileage out of Mikuru, Yuki, and Kyon so that Haruhi's complete lack of regard for others just kind of stops mattering as much. Interesting that the more powerful Haruhi becomes, the less central to the show it feels like she's actually becoming.
Shinji and Asuka - Neon Genesis Evangelion
Dysfunctional human relationships signaling the end times are a crucial central theme in Evangelion, and boy are the main characters unhinged psychologically. Asuka and Shinji are polarizing main characters. Some fans relate to and sympathize with them very well, other fans hate their guts.
Shinji and Asuka are opposite in personality, so they're annoying in the opposite ways. Asuka is brash and confrontational. She is cocky and thinks herself superior to almost everyone else. In contrast, Shinji is withdrawn, moody, and full of fear all the time. He constantly wants to flee or does flee from his responsibility to pilot the Eva, fight Angels, and save humanity. To many fans, this constant state of panic, fear, anger, and sadness makes Shinji annoying because he's seen as too emotional and not tough enough. One could argue that the audience's gender-based expectations of Shinji as a boy also come into play in how he is perceived - if he were a girl, fans might be more forgiving when he cries or runs away from a fight.
Asuka is a tyrannical bitch, the kind of girl I used to get in fights with in school. In the beginning of the series, she made me angry in a visceral way, mainly because of how harshly she abuses Shinji and Rei. Then I became attracted to her. Then I became sorry for her, as she slowly unravels psychologically towards the end of the show. But though I now see her as more sympathetic, I can also see why some fans just find her annoying. Her English dub voice was also somewhat shrill, but it did fit the character.
Do They Get Better?
They get different. Shinji's last moments in End of Evangelion have him learning compassion and benevolence, necessary for allowing Lilith, with whom Shinji has merged, to resurrect human souls after the end of the world. He does overcome his past and it is implied that paves the way for him to have a better future.
Asuka is a mixed bag. She doesn't really become un-broken. She has a mental breakdown and ends up in a coma. When she is awoken from the coma, she learns to sync with her Eva Unit, understanding that the protective soul of her mom (who committed suicide due to Asuka's dad cheating on her) was living in the Eva Unit all along. By mentally mending her relationship with her mother, and dealing with the grief of her death, Asuka is able to get back her confidence and fighting spirit. It almost looks like she's going to beat the Eva units sent to attack her by SEELE, until... she's not. She dies a horrific death, and before her death she's not 'better' so much as 'axe crazy and talking to a dead woman'. Asuka may show signs of having bipolar disorder, and this seems like a manic episode emerging from a depressive episode more than like true character development.
In Rebuild, Asuka and Shinji are less annoying, but also less unique, resembling generic, cutout anime stereotypes. I personally prefer the raw emotion of the original to the polished plainness of the Rebuild movies.
So, an annoying main character does not always mean that you won't like the series. Sometimes, other things are more important or more interesting; the plot, the world building, the fan service, or the other characters. Sometimes the villain is the more interesting and entertaining aspect of the show. For example, in Kill La Kill, the villains are fascinating and carry a dramatic stage presence, such that by the end, you care almost as much about them as you do about Ryuko and Mako. Sometimes the annoying main characters undergo real character development too. What is a show or movie you really like, despite being annoyed by the main character/s?
© 2019 Rachael Lefler