The Main Scapegoat in Anime

Being the protagonist is a high-stress, high-pressure role.

She or he is often the face of the show and is usually there from the very beginning, after all. With the character’s thoughts and actions being established as important to the narrative and (typically) influential in regards to other characters, the protagonist thus is the default character to analyze and scrutinize. It’s not an exaggeration to say they often serve as the foundation of an anime series.

That means, however, the protagonist is an easy target for viewers to criticize and lambaste. If a series isn’t to your liking, then one might end up going after the main character and make it seem like it was his or her fault. The protagonist can thus be labeled as boring, or insufferably arrogant, or annoyingly perverted, or a horrible person, etc.

Given the pivotal role the protagonist typically occupies, it’s easy to see why you might opt to attack the main character. But before you dismiss an entire series on account of its unlikeable (which is in itself quite a subjective label) protagonist, perhaps you could consider the following three points, which all happen to be open-ended.

Sometimes There’s Character Development

In other words, sometimes a main character who is initially off-putting (i.e. is scum, is some emotionless robot, etc) might change (clean up his or her act, learn what it means to love, etc). So SOMETIMES it gets better.

But then it becomes a matter of commitment. Do you want to sit around and see how this character changes for the better or do you want to watch some other anime series instead?

And then there are series in which the main character doesn’t really change for the better. Perhaps some minor flaw is improved but overall he or she remains more or less the same. If you had stuck around just to see if and how this character would improve as a person, then I can’t blame you for getting disappointed if that’s the end result.

Agree to Disagree with the MC

Look. It might be a bit jarring when someone doesn’t agree with you. After all, you’ve (probably) put a lot of thought into your opinions and thus have confidence in your ideals. But then someone comes along and challenges your thoughts with a different set of beliefs, which could be hard to take for some.

The same goes for main characters in anime, too. If their points and perspectives align with yours, then they’re “relatable.” If not, then they’re not relatable.

However, you shouldn’t be so hasty in your judgment. As long as the protagonist (as well as dissenters in real life) make some sort of sense, it might be worth your time to hear them out. Maybe you can see where they’re coming from even if you disagree. And then maybe you might decide to continue watching this show to see if either you or the character will change opinions.

…Well, the events might play out like that, which would be nice. But you also might end up feeling like you’d have wasted your time following a series because what the character says over and over fails to connect and it’s like you’re watching an alien.

Whether or not you want to invest and hope for the best is something you’d have to decide for yourself.

A Side Character is Fine, Too.

If you truly do hate the main character with the passion of a thousand dying suns, then it’s probably best for you to consider watching something else.

But if you’re like me, then you’ll find some side character to latch onto instead in order to cope with the insufferable main character. You’d end up watching entire series hoping that one particular character gets some screentime and becoming disappointed when he or she is MIA.

…Yeah, don’t be like me.


What do you think about main characters? Are they crucial to helping you appreciate or enjoy a series? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section.

15 thoughts on “The Main Scapegoat in Anime

  1. I absolutely agree. I feel this way when someone reviews a book they didn’t finish. You can’t tell me your opinion when you have no idea what happens!! Sometimes, the end justifies the means. Like you say, sometimes the character changes or something happens. Hell, if you didn’tgive it a proper chance you may not know that that character DIES then maybe you would have liked it better? 😉😉

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  2. For me, it’s not about whether I like the main character as a person or not. There are some great main characters who are real bastards. The hook for me is this: Is there someone in this story (main character or otherwise) who is compelling enough as a character to make me care about what happens to them, for better or for worse? Just give me one or two characters somewhere that I can either root for or root against. I can’t watch a show where I hate the entire cast, but even a show with bland self-insert MC #47235 can still be enjoyable as long as it has a couple of really strong side characters. A Good Librarian Like a Good Shepherd was a good example. Kakei was the classic boring VN protagonist I couldn’t care less about, but I was really drawn to the story arcs of Senri and Nagi, two of the girls in his club harem.

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  3. I’ve played enough visual novels to know that an immediately dislikable main character is not necessarily a reason to drop something. In fact, I often very much enjoy shows, games and VNs where the protag is a seemingly irredeemable bastard. That provides the opportunity for either a redemption arc — or perhaps the arguably more interesting option of a story that attempts to “humanise” someone who is less than admirable.

    One of my favourite examples of that to date is the game The Witch and the Hundred Knight, in which the main character (who is not the one you actually play, interestingly) is a horrible, horrible person, but she’s crafted in such an interesting way that it makes for a compelling story. (Plus she gets to redeem herself in one of the endings, anyway, too.)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Mmm, character development is a great thing. Portraying less than ideal traits as being positive is also rather interesting!

      Ohhhh that does sound intriguing. Sometimes “bad” characters are good, then!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I think being likeable is important for a main character but I don’t think it’s a deal breaker if they’re not the best character on the show. In fact MOST of the anime I watch the MC isn’t my favourite character, and in some cases they are the least favourite, but if it’s an ensemble show with lots of side characters then I don’t have a problem with it.

    MC’s who are ungrateful or rude or mean-spirited and aren’t rebuked for their actions, however, I have zero tolerance for.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. If the story is a romance or similar, then whether I like the main character/s or not will make or break my enjoyment of it. Particularly rom-coms. But for other genres I’m fine as long as I don’t find the MC completely obnoxious to the point where it is painful just watching them (ReZero had that issue and I still can’t make it past the second episode so I’m just accepting I’m never going to watch it at this point).
    There are a lot of unlikable protagonists out there that make for good stories and there are plenty that I don’t agree with. Still, I think the ones that really stick with me are ones where I gain an understanding of their reasoning for their actions, even if I wouldn’t have made the same choices.
    Great post.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sounds solid to me. Rom-coms featuring a protagonist you dislike could be very hard to sit through.

      Mmmm I remember you hated Subaru.

      Those are definitely the most interesting ones, I agree.

      Thank you.

      Liked by 2 people

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