When you watch a certain anime series or movie, what is the one element that most often decides for you whether or not you are going to like that anime? In last week's article, Jeremiah stated that the story that a specific anime tells is the deciding factor for him. While I also think that the storyline of an anime is important, as well as the themes and settings, it is the character element -- how they grow and how they interact with each other -- that is my deciding factor. More often than not, no matter how good or bad the storyline is, if I like the characters involved, I will like that anime.
For instance, one of the reasons why Maison Ikkoku is my favorite anime series is the character depth and development of Kyoko and Godai. We find out that Kyoko is so hesitant to remarry again not only because of her faithfulness to Souichiro, but also because she is afraid of being widowed for a second time. We also see Godai develop from a pathetic, whiny, hentai-magazine-collecting ronin to a semi-responsible, caring, great-with-kids adult. For me, the realism that is portrayed in Kyoko and Godai separates MI from other anime of the same genre.
Another example of an anime series in which the characters enhance my liking of that series is Marmalade Boy. Even though it may not yet be obvious, Yuu is a deep character. The reason why he sometimes seems aloof is related to something that happened in his past. And like everyone else, he has his weak points -- he is not the "perfect" person who is able to do everything, even though it may first appear that way. And just to tie in with what we're watching now, Meiko is also an interesting character. She is very wealthy, yet it is obvious that she values friendship over money. As a matter of fact, nearly all of the major characters in Marmalade Boy, and there are about 15 of them over the course of the entire series, are very well-written.
On the more negative side, I had a chance to watch all 26 episodes of Future Boy Conan. I thought that the series had a pretty good storyline, but I really couldn't stand 2 of the main characters, Lana and Jimsy. At times, Lana seemed to me to be overly -- excuse the term -- sappy. I couldn't bear it every time she yearned, "Conan!" I also quickly got tired of Jimsy's constant whinings and stupid remarks. I guess knowing that his seiyuu was the same person who did Ichinose-san's voice probably didn't help. As I said, the storyline itself is pretty good, but because of my disliking of some of the characters, I wouldn't consider Conan to be one of my favorite anime by a longshot.
Now on the complete opposite end of the spectrum from Conan, there is Neon Genesis Evangelion, which I've also completed watching. I still don't like the ending that much -- I think it's too incomplete -- and I'm not too fond of the story in general. However, the characters in Eva more than make up for that. Each has his or her own unique and interesting histories. We find out why Gendou is so harsh on his son, why Misato joined Nerv, and why Rei seems so distant. Also, I thoroughly enjoy the interaction among the characters ("Anta baka!?"). Thus, because I like the characters in Eva so much, I regard this series as one of my favorites.
For me, the major characters in an anime are what propel that specific title from mediocrity to greatness. After all, one of the most overused devices in anime of the romantic comedy genre is the love polygon, and more often than not, before the series progresses too far, we'd already have a pretty good idea about what will happen at the end. In other genres of anime, there are similar instances of overused devices. It is the characters who give life to an anime and separate that anime from the rest of the pack.