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BEST MALE CHARACTER
Nishimi Kaoru (Sakamichi no Apollon: Kids on the Slope)
When it comes to Kids on the Slope characters, an excellent series, I get the feeling that the rugged-yet-sensitive Sentarou would be the most popular one. Indeed he is a great character, but there’s something about Kaoru which impresses me more. More plain-looking and less-outgoing than Sentarou, the ups and downs of Kaoru’s life and the process by which he gradually opens himself up to others gives Kaoru what I find to be a real sense of humanity, warts and all. What’s especially important is that the story doesn’t portray Kaoru as a purely passive figure who just benefits by association, but as someone who becomes a best friend and perfect foil to Sentarou. That scene at the school where the two make amends by playing a duet of piano and drums is one of the best moments in anime I’ve ever seen.
If anything, whether you pick Kaoru or Sentarou as a favorite, it’s difficult, perhaps nigh-impossible to talk about one without the other. Overall, it’s that friendship through the good times and the bad which makes Kids on the Slope and its characters so memorable.
BEST FEMALE CHARACTER
Yanagin (Daily Lives of High School Boys)
To explain my pick this year, I would like to take a quote from an episode of The Simpsons titled “A Star is Burns”:
Homer Simpson: Barney’s movie had heart, but Football In The Groin had a football in the groin.
2012 was actually full of excellent female characters in contention for the title. There was Mine Fujiko, whose own spinoff series explored not only her history but also the question of what it means to be “Fujiko.” There was also Urabe Mikoto, the Mysterious Girlfriend X, who comes from one of my favorite manga and whose eccentric personality I always enjoy. Takakura Naoko, the vice principal from Tari Tari, had adult charms and adult struggles which won me over. Cure Sunny (Smile Precure!), Senomiya Akiho (Robotics;Notes), Aria (Saint Seiya Omega), I could rattle off a dozen names, and yet, I just couldn’t forget Yanagin, whose shrill, trauma-inducing cry kept cutting through the competition like a football in the groin.
There isn’t much to Yanagin. No inspiration, moe, attraction, character development, depth, nothing like that. All it boils down to, is that she makes me laugh like no other character could in 2012.
It really wasn’t easy pickings this year in either category, and that has a lot to do with an overall strong year of anime. 2012 brought us strange and experimental shows in the form of things like gdgd Fairies and The Woman Called Mine Fujiko, and it delivered shows which both reinforced and defied their supposed lineages such as AKB0048. Along the way there have been many approaches to characterization, stemming from various beliefs as to what the role of characters are, from rough templates which activate creative imagination to ones meant to reflect a sense of reality or realism whether physical or emotional. Even though this contrast is nothing new, I think this year is especially good at showing how there isn’t a dichotomy at work, that these areas are not so rigid that one precludes the other, and that notions of character (as well as Ito Go-style kyara) are much more fluid. In other words, anime continues to show its potential.
BEST MALE CHARACTER
Kaburagi T. Kotetsu, Wild Tiger (Tiger & Bunny)
The world of Tiger & Bunny is filled with heroes, but none are quite like Wild Tiger. With the power to increase his physical abilities hundred-fold (his so-called “Hundred Power”), he fights to protect Sternbild City, but when we see him at the beginning of the series, he’s a C-List star, unable to capture the public’s attention as his peers do. However, it doesn’t matter to him, because he loves being a hero to people and he loves to save lives. While his actions may sometimes create more problems than they solve, it’s clear that his heart is always in the right place. In Kotetsu, you have a man full of pride but without an ego.
What is even more impressive about Kotetsu however is that he handles success just as gracefully as he handles failure. When he and Barnaby start showing the world what they’re made of, it’s clear that he’s still the same person he always was. Rank is of no concern to him. And when his powers start to decline, we see him deal with that in arguably the best way possible as well.
Wild Tiger is not the first hero to have his powers wane, but the prior example we’re given shows how the gradual loss of that superhero identity can be devastating to not only the hero but also their family. Tiger, though he struggles with deciding what to do, simply doesn’t have quite the same problem, as his personality doesn’t allow for it. At first, he opts to retire and just spend more time with his family, but he eventually realizes something important : even if he has only one second’s worth of superhuman ability, that’s still one second more of a difference he can make that a normal person could not. This, above all else, is why Wild Tiger is my pick for 2011.
BEST FEMALE CHARACTER
Tsurugi Minko (Hanasaku Iroha)
An aspiring chef working at the inn “Kissuisou,” Minko (“Minchi” to her friends) is notorious for her creatively blunt word choices, whether it’s telling people to go die, or calling them an unborn chick fetus used in East Asian cuisine. However, her seemingly constant and fierce anger is in reality a product of her never-ending determination.
The first scene that really had me take notice of Minko came early on in Hanasaku Iroha, when she rejects the feelings of a would-be suitor by listing the traits of her ideal man. Describing this “perfect guy” as someone with a sharp tongue and the ability to take initiative who is also very kind and takes his work seriously, the profile turns out to be that of Tohru, one of Kissuisou’s resident chefs. This becomes something of a recurring aspect of her character, as she angrily defends Tohru’s character and honor from what she believes to be unjust criticisms on more than one occasion.
It might seem like I’m defining her character entirely by her feelings for a man, but what is clear about Minko is that she is very serious about becoming a chef. She originally even wanted to skip high school entirely, and along with the fact that Tohru acts as her mentor, it is this dedication to cuisine that allows her to see Tohru’s better traits so thoroughly where others would write him off as brash and uncaring. When a rumor surfaces that Tohru is leaving for a better position elsewhere, Minko refuses to stop him despite her strong feelings, because she recognizes that this would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a chef and knows how hard Tohru works to perfect his craft.
Minko does not want to get into cooking as a profession because she is in love with Tohru; rather, she is in love with Tohru because her dreams (and the ability to follow through on them) put her in a position where she can truly understand him. Even in love, her dedication to her goals shines through.
Kotetsu and Minko certainly do not share the same personality, nor very much anything at all. In fact, the Hanasaku Iroha equivalent of Wild Tiger would be the main character Ohana, while the Tiger & Bunny counterpart to Minko might be Barnaby. However, Tiger and Minchi do have one major thing in common, and that is a strong will. In either case, their powerful personalities potentially lead to misunderstandings for those who don’t know them well, but for those that do they wind up being devoted friends and partners who you know have ideals and goals far above the norm.
BEST MALE CHARACTER
Koibuchi Kuranosuke (Kuragehime)
A handsome ladies’ man from a wealthy background with a talent for crossdressing, Koibuchi Kuranosuke is larger than life, the kind of character who you would almost be able to say is “too unrealistic” if weren’t for how natural and convincing he is as an individual, and if you’re used to this sort of thing via extensive experience with shoujo and josei, he stands out that much more. Straightforward yet enigmatic, helpful yet selfish, intelligent and savvy yet frightfully naive at times, Kuranosuke is equal parts intriguing stranger and close personal friend, and it makes him both fascinating to watch and easily relatable.
From the very first time he saves Clara the jellyfish and enters Tsukimi’s life, you know that Kuranosuke is a man you can respect, even before you know that he’s a man. He’s not a saint and he won’t solve everyone’s problems as he has his own to deal with, but he tries hard to help others, in particular working to help Tsukimi and the rest of the “Sisterhood” recognize that their stereotypes of themselves are self-imposed. It’s a fight I can definitely get behind.
BEST FEMALE CHARACTER
Kurumi Erika, Cure Marine (Heartcatch Precure!)
Though I can describe Kurumi Erika by her general traits — talkative, friendly, clever, energetic– I feel that it doesn’t quite do her justice. With Erika you have someone who is much more than the sum of her parts, an endearing character whose traits cannot simply be divided into “strengths” and “flaws,” but are aspects of Erika that have both positives and negatives. Erika’s gift of gab is tempered by the perils of being a motormouth. She is incredibly hardworking and focused when it comes to her interests and will go out of her way to accomplish her goals, but can be incredibly lazy and ignorant towards anything that fails to inspire her passion. All of this stems from Erika’s sense of emotional honesty and her full-speed, no-brakes approach to life.
In a series with particularly strong characterization, Erika stands out in a big way, and I hope that she and her fellow Cures have a positive impact on not just the way characters are written for anime, but also how they are received by the fans and how they may influence those watching to better themselves. Erika feels real, not in the sense of evoking reality or being a simulation for it, but in that she is an emotionally complete individual. She is an inspiration for anyone who has every hesitated due to fear of being unable to grow as an individual.
Though not intentional on my part, I realized while writing my thoughts on Kuranosuke and Erika that the two have much in common. Both are outgoing with sunny dispositions. Both are highly passionate about fashion and believe in the positive transformative effects it can have on people. And both are eager to meet and help others, but their enthusiasm and extroverted natures can make them seem abrasive to those who can’t keep up with their pace. They feel human. On an additional storytelling level, both are able to show that you can have incredibly straightforward and simple characters that are also complex and fully developed, whether it’s a show for adults (Kuragehime) or for children (Heartcatch Precure!). Perhaps most importantly, having people who can encourage you to grow for the better can be incredibly uplifting, whether they’re real or fictional, and that’s exactly what they do.
While my recent posts on remembering the past have been about the entire decade, I’m keeping the annual Best Anime Characters entries limited to this year. Besides, if I were to actually pick best characters of the decade, it’s pretty obvious who would win.
Looking back, there were quite a few good characters in 2009, so it wasn’t entirely easy to pick favorites. Still, I think each character is more than deserving.
THE BEST ANIME CHARACTERS OF 2009
BEST MALE CHARACTER
Takizawa Akira (Eden of the East)
Eden of the East emerges as one of the most smartly written shows of 2009, and its male protagonist Takizawa Akira really stands out in the way he manages to turn many cliches and conventions on their collective heads. Takizawa is able to take the concept of an amnesiac main character and make it work, with his lack of personal knowledge never holding him back from accomplishing what needs to be done.
Unlike other characters who are able to shine on their own however, Takizawa is at his best when he’s alongside female protagonist Morimi Saki. Their relationship is an interesting mix of trust, good-will, and a genuine desire to see the other happy, and it keeps Takizawa a cheerful and overall optimistic guy even in the face of the harshest realities.
BEST FEMALE CHARACTER
Aisaka Taiga (Toradora!)
Anime these days is full of girls whose cold exteriors mask their true feelings and intentions. Under the term “tsundere,” it’s become a trope of anime, a cliche, and its execution easily mishandled and capable of leading to a character who is simply two layers thin. But if ever people want to look at what can be achieved with the tsundere character type, where the girl’s emotional development over the course of a series is never compromised, then they should look no further than Aisaka Taiga.
One of Taiga’s finer qualities is that she is very sincere even when she doesn’t want to be, and it goes a long way to make her an incredibly convincing character. To quote myself from my article on her Saimoe victory, “Taiga’s reactions to circumstances don’t come from a set of patterns, but from a mix of thoughts and emotions that bubble forth uncontrollably, like a raging pot with the lid still on. You can tell from the bit that seeps over the edge that the broth inside is of the finest quality, though it’s only a hint of what’s actually there.”
But then Taiga doesn’t simply stay this way. As her friendship with Ryuuji grows, so too does she, and by the end you can look back and see just how much she’s changed.
Taken in their entirety, the best characters of 2009 are-
Wait a second.
I forgot that there’s one more award left.
BEST CHARACTER, MALE AND FEMALE
Baron Ashura (Shin Mazinger Shougeki!! Z-Hen)
No, I’m not kidding. Baron Ashura is one of the most well-known villains in anime history. Their antagonizing of Kabuto Kouji and Mazinger Z provide a classic example of how to be an evil foil to the intrepid hero. In a sense, all subordinates in giant robot series can trace their lineage back to Baron Ashura. They’re cliche because they are the cliche.
Things have changed, however. In Shin Mazinger Shougeki!! Z-Hen, Baron Ashura gains a level of development that they never received in previous incarnations to the point of Baron Ashura becoming arguably more important a character to the series than even Kabuto Kouji himself. You get to see Baron Ashura’s motivations, fears, and hopes, and you get to delve into their past. Most of all, you learn that Baron Ashura is a man-woman not to be underestimated.
The Real Final Word
The main points that all three winners have in common this year is that they 1) Defied convention despite being firmly planted within a set of cliches and 2) Were made better by their fellow characters.
It’s not uncommon to see people claim that “there are no new ideas left” in fiction, let alone anime and manga, but even if that were true (and I don’t believe it is), Takizawa Akira, Aisaka Taiga, and Baron Ashura all show that just because something’s been done before doesn’t mean that those areas can’t continue to be explored. Ideas can be revisited countless times, and when combined with the exploration towards new ideas the result can often be more satisfying than having the two separate.
Once again, there’s only two categories. I would include a “BEST DEATH” category but I’d feel bad accidentally spoiling events from anime in such a dramatic fashion. So without further ado, I present…
THE BEST ANIME CHARACTERS OF 2008
BEST MALE CHARACTER**
Graham Aker (Mobile Suit Gundam 00)
It’s not easy being a rival character, and it’s even less easy when you’re in a Gundam series. Despite the odds, Graham Aker exemplifies the best in rivalry in a way that is rarely seen in anime.
Graham isn’t some rebel who can’t be contained, or a neutral figure with ulterior motives. He’s no Char Aznable, but that shouldn’t be held against him. He’s loyal to his allies, respectful to his enemies, and approaches every situation with unmatched fervor and determination. His skills as a pilot make him one of the most significant threats on the battlefield. Even when he’s severely outmatched on a technological level, Graham can never be counted out. He’s a rival character who actually has the potential at all times to end the life of a main character without any convenient plot devices to cheapen his victories. Graham Aker has presence unlike any other.
Graham Aker is a thinking man’s beast. He’s passionate, but doesn’t let passion blind him from the truth. In the end, Graham’s most important trait is that he is simply unafraid to be himself, though he may change his name and then make everyone call him by said name. That’s just Graham Aker, baby.
BEST FEMALE CHARACTER
Sheryl Nome (Macross Frontier)
2008 was rife with good female characters, and unlike last year it was very difficult to choose just one. The more I thought about it though, the more I leaned towards Sheryl Nome.
Sheryl is attractive in a way that harkens back to 1980s anime series while still possessing a modern 2000s flair. She’s confident yet vulnerable, going from being on top of the world to carrying the weight of the world on her shoulders, and along the way all you want to do is cheer her on and be her support. But she doesn’t need your support, because she’s Sheryl Nome and nothing short of death will stop her from moving forward. Even when she’s hit rock bottom nothing can ever truly dampen her spirit.
There are some disagreements among the anime community in regards to recent anime and its treatment of female characters. Sheryl Nome is a compromise between these schools of thought. Actually, “compromise” is a misleading word, as there are no concessions made with her character. She has all of the strengths with none of the drawbacks. Sheryl Nome shows everyone, old and new, fan and detractor, what it means to be a strong character where strength does not preclude vulnerability or vice versa.
Picking the “best” characters is never easy, and in the end, the concept of “best” as used in this sense is just an illusion. These aren’t even my favorite characters of the year, but I felt they had much more of an impact on anime as a whole, in addition to being characters I’m very fond of. It’s also pure coincidence that both Graham and Sheryl are from Gundam and Macross respectively, two of the biggest franchises in anime that are also giant robot series. Or perhaps not, seeing as both series dared to do more with its characters than anyone expected.
**What this actually means is, “Best Male Anime Character of 2008 who is not Kenshiro or Raoh”
I don’t really want to do other awards, so this is it.
Best Male Character
Simon (Tengen Toppa Gurren-Lagann)
In the fine tradition of Tetsurou from Galaxy Express 999, Simon begins his journey as a boy and ends it as a man, only much more literally than in the case of Tetsurou. Simon’s progress and change, as well as his ability to truly mature and consider the weight of his actions gives him the edge over even his mighty Aniki.
Best Female Character
Take a guess.