So, I was browsing the archives of Twenty-Sided, and came across this discussion of Read or Die. Shamus didn’t like it. The Read or Die OVA is, in fact, among my favourites when it comes to anime. Reading the comments, some of the stuff he says about it is accurate, and some of it is stuff I hadn’t really noticed, and some of it is stuff that wouldn’t bother me (I’m not too concerned about anti-Americanism; for me it doesn’t make it better or worse if it doesn’t get in the way). But notwithstanding all of that, I still really like Read or Die … the OVA. I don’t, in fact, like Read or Die: the TV. So what explains this?
Yeah, there are a few plot holes, and Yomiko’s ability can be a bit over the top. But I never noticed, because I like all of the characters in the work. I like Yomiko, and Nancy, and Joker, and Drake, and pretty much all of the main characters in the OVA. I don’t like the initial characters, at least, in the TV, except for the one that I thought I wouldn’t like (the one who doesn’t like reading). So with two series that are about the same, and one with characters I like and one with characters I don’t, I love the one that has the characters I like and hate the one that has the characters I don’t.
So it seems that my enjoyment relates to how well I like the characters.
This holds true for the other anime I’ve watched. I like Record of Lodoss War, but that’s because I like a lot of the characters. I also really like .hack//Sign because I like Bear and Subaru and Crim and even some of the other characters (Tsukasa can be annoying). The story in .hack//Sign is fairly weak — although better if you take the games and Liminality into account — but the character interaction is exceptional, and that’s what I liked about it.
This also seems to be at least one reason why I like Space: Above and Beyond so much. The characters and character interaction are done really well. I have problems with the revamped BSG because it doesn’t do characters and character interaction well. Babylon 5 is great because it has both great stories and great characters. I even think that I prefer Angel to Buffy — despite liking both — because the focus there is more on character interaction and less on just Buffy and how she relates to the world.
This also explains my problems with “A Song of Ice and Fire”. I’m halfway through the third book and despite its long character list there aren’t that many characters that I actually like … and if they aren’t involved in the section that section is less than interesting to me. Compare it to “Wild Cards” — which I loved — and you can see that the characters are better in “Wild Cards” than in “A Song of Ice and Fire”. And I really like “Rogue Squadron” because the characters — most importantly, Wedge himself — are done well and interact well.
I do believe that a great story with lackluster characters is something I’d still enjoy. But it’s clear that great characters in a lackluster story is also something I’ll enjoy. The ideal is to have both, but I can live with one, and it seems can suffer weaker stories better than weaker characters. Although I need to find more examples of both to do a proper empirical experiment …