I think that when we first become interested in stories, we are drawn to characters that we like. By “like” here, I mean that we want to be them, be like them or think that they are good people. As we grow up, many of us broaden our character-interest to guys or gals (or other) who we think are cool. They may not be role models, or even pleasant to be around, but dammit they are baddasses! And, we enjoy watching badasses dole out karmic desserts or just exercise their power. I have, in recent years, come to enjoy characters that don’t fall into either of these groups. These folks are neither likable, nor powerful; in fact, they can be quite hurtful, cowardly, prideful, indecisive and generally frustrating. Two prime examples are Hachimaki and Tanabe from Planetes.
In the early days of my fandom, I probably would not have liked these characters. They don’t get along. They make poor decisions. They have failed in life, and their failures have stunted their growth. But, these hang-ups do not necessarily define them, nor are they unable to be overcome. Hachimaki and Tanabe are two human beings in the middle of their lives. They’ve got time to grow and change, to evolve and learn. I don’t really like Hachimaki all that much a lot of the time, and the way Tanabe interprets certain things and reacts to them can be foreign to me; however, I forget that stuff when I’m watching the show because they are interesting people and I care about them. Planetes makes sure I am emotionally invested in their personal journeys. The fact that they aren’t like me is part of what makes them so compelling!
Thankfully, I have matured along with my fandom. Great characters don’t have to be likable, and Planetes is proof of this.