2010–2019 Part 4: Best Anime Characters of the Decade

At the end of every year here at Ogiue Maniax, I pick my favorite characters of the year. Usually, it’s one male character and one female character, but exceptions have been made for, say, nonbinary characters or, well, personified abs. So now that I’ve picked characters from 2010 all the way through 2019, it’s time to decide the best characters of the decade!

Note that I’ve taken three important characters out of the runningOgiue Chika from Genshiken Nidaime, Daidouji Tomoyo from Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card, and Yang Wen-Li (Legend of the Galactic Heroes: De Neue These). The reason is simple: They are three of my absolute favorite characters of all time, and I would easily pick them if they were available as options. Ogiue, Tomoyo, and Yang deserve their own hall of fame. so to keep this competition fair, they’ve been excluded.

THE FINALISTS

2010

Koibuchi Kuranosuke (Princess Jellyfish)

Kurumi Erika, aka Cure Marine (Heartcatch Precure!)

2011

Kaburagi T. Kotetsu, aka Wild Tiger (Tiger & Bunny)

Tsurugi Minko (Hanasaku Iroha)

2012

Nishimi Kaoru (Sakamichi no Apollon: Kids on the Slope)

Yanagin (Daily Lives of High School Boys)

2013

Armin Arlert (Attack on Titan)

Ichinose Hajime (Gatchaman Crowds)

2014

Sei Iori (Gundam Build Fighters)

Kiryuuin Satsuki (Kill la Kill)

Andy and Frank (Yowamushi Pedal)

2015

Sunakawa Makoto (My Love Story!!)

Koizumi Hanayo (Love Live! The School Idol Movie)

2016

Yurakutei Yakumo (Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju)

Shidare Hotaru (Dagashi Kashi)

2017

Kevin Anderson (right) (Tiger Mask W)

Mauve (ACCA 13-Territory Inspection Dept.)

2018

White Blood Cell 1146 (Cells at Work!)

Aisaki Emiru (Hugtto! Precure)

2019

Wataya Arata (Chihayafuru Season 3)

Emma (The Promised Neverland)

And the winners are…

Armin Arlert (Attack on Titan)

Kurumi Erika, aka Cure Marine (Heartcatch Precure!)

Of these two decisions, one was incredibly easy to make and one I mulled over for many hours leading up to this. Kurumi Erika was a no-brainer—her energy, ability to inspire action and positive change, her all-too-human behavior, and her legendary facial expressions all make her an unforgettable character in my eyes. She’s simply amazing in a way few characters are, and it’s clear that many anime fans agree with me, given her ranking as the third most popular Precure in the recent massive NHK poll.

As for Armin, it was a closer call, but what ultimately made me land on him is what he represents in Attack on Titan. The series’s world is one where fear reigns and unthinking violence is often born out of the frustration of not knowing if you’ll survive to the next day. But Armin Arlert shows the value of having a more considerate and broad-minded view of the world, and the way he complements Eren and Mikasa further highlights how important and necessary it is to have individuals like Armin in the world to subtly challenge assumptions. He’s brave without being brash and thoughtful without being hopelessly indecisive.

Erika and Armin are characters who I wish could inspire many more both in media and in people themselves, and I declare them my favorite anime characters of the 2010s.

Awesome Manga Artist Autographs: Comic Store Wonderland in Osaka

wonderland-shoujofight

In many big anime/manga stores in Japan, there are signed images from notable manga authors. Often times, you’re not allowed to photograph them, so they can’t really be shared with the rest of the world. One notable exception is Wonderland in Osaka’s Den Den Town (sort of the Kansai equivalent of Akihabara), where employees gave me free rein.

This gallery includes a number of highlights from Wonderland, so see if you can spot your favorites. However, it doesn’t show all of the ones at the store. If you have the chance, go there in person to see the rest!

By the way, the image above is by Nihonbashi Yoko, who I recently discovered through the manga Shoujo Fight. What a coincidence!

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Where the American Anime Fandom Goes

I’ve been living outside of the United States for the past few years, though funnily enough I’ve spent every 4th of July in the US. This year is an exception, but at the same time I will also be heading back home soon. So at least for the foreseeable future, this is my first and last Independence Day in Europe. What better time then to talk about America? I haven’t done that in a few years either.

Specifically, there are a bunch of thoughts related to Americans and anime fandom that have been whirling around in my head as of late, and I’m using this opportunity to try and organize them into some cohesive ideas. Not sure if I’ll succeed or not but that’s part of the entrepreneurial spirit or somesuch. AMERICA.

Two pieces of news that caught my eye over the past few weeks have been the announcement of a sequel and animated television series for Pacific Rim, and the fact that the recently revived Toonami block on Cartoon Network is doing better and better. In the case of Pacific Rim, one of the biggest talking points concerning the first movie’s release was that it didn’t do well in the United States, but in contrast found some success nternationally, especially in China. The idea permeating Pacific Rim and its “failure” was that it needed to do well domestically for it to have any real hope of continuing, but this news has shown otherwise. Scott Mendelson over at Forbes argues that this is the first movie that has received a sequel despite of its lack of success at the American box office, and may hint at the increasing importance of that overseas market. Various arguments have been made for why Pacific Rim didn’t click with American audiences, from idea that “mecha” isn’t a popular genre in either the US mainstream or among its anime fandom, to the opinion that it was just a bad movie, but there’s something intriguing about the idea the US is not the epicenter of this property’s future.

In contrast, it looks like anime is in a certain sense “rediscovering” its American fandom through Toonami. For a long while anime looked like it was on its way out of the American geek culture, as the presence of Japanese cartoons on Cartoon Network faded from their heyday in the early to mid 2000s. The “Toonami” concept itself, a block dedicated to anime and anime-like cartoons, even went away in 2008. And yet, whether it was because the folks in charge smelled profit in the air from anime once more or there was just some personal desire somewhere to bring anime back to the fore of Cartoon Network, Toonami has returned and is doing quite well.

Historically, anime has not needed its American fanbase. Sure, there have been a lot of viewers, but anime’s domestic market is Japan, and it also finds success around the world, in Europe, South America, and Asia. The US certainly has an online presence when it comes to anime discussion and enthusiasm, but over the years it’s been easy to get the impression that this fandom is a paper tiger, especially when it comes to popular shows among the internet fandom not translating to home video sales. Of course, this also has something to do with how expensive anime was for a long time (and still kind of is relative to other forms of media), but overall it wouldn’t be surprising if people perceived American audiences of anime as just somehow lacking. Now, however, not only are American viewers tuning in to catch Toonami and its latest anime, but the shows people are most interested in are also the ones that have developed large fanbases online as well.

It would be remiss of me to minimize the importance of the actual shows themselves, as I think regardless of anyone’s opinions of these anime, it’s fairly easy to see why series such as Sword Art Online (MMORPG plus swords and sorcery), Attack on Titan (violent post-apocalyptic world with large cast of interesting characters), and Black Lagoon (guns and action) would do well with an American audience even if all three are significantly different from each other. One thing that I find interesting, however, is that at least for the first two their Japanese fanbases are also quite substantial. In this situation, you have the support of a hardcore Japanese fanbase, a mainstream Japanese audience (especially for Attack on Titan), a hardcore international and American fanbase, and a relatively mainstream presence in the US as well. It’s as if the division between fan and casual has been collapsed, and interests that are often viewed as mutually exclusive now overlap.

So on the one hand, you have a property in Pacific Rim where the American audience turns out to not be as important as originally thought, and on the other hand you have in Toonami the rediscovery of an American audience that is, while arguably not significant, still good to have. I feel like there’s some connection or relationship here but I’m not exactly certain of what it is. One thing that might help is that I recently read an academic article from 1998 on Sailor Moon, which was written during the time that Sailor Moon was already a runaway hit in Japan and was beginning to air in the US. Though Mary Grigsby’s “Sailormoon: Manga (Comics) and Anime (Cartoon) Superheroine Meets Barbie: Global Entertainment Commodity Comes to the United States” is more about arguing how the series is influenced by cultural hegemony (essentially the continuous and subconscious reinforcement of how things are in society) yet somehow defies it, what caught my attention is the fact that a note at the end mentions how by the time this article was published Sailor Moon had already been a commercial failure in the US.

Sailor Moon was not the profit machine that the various companies supporting its US distribution had hoped, but in light of a new  Sailor Moon anime in celebration of its 20th anniversary and the clear continued significance it has to American anime fandom, it’s clear that the show has had an impact, and possibly that what was seen as a failure of the show at the time may have been more a failure of marketing. To some extent, this may have had to do with the cultural landscape of the US in the 90s. After all, in contrast to the revising of Sailor Uranus and Sailor Neptune from lesbian lovers to cousins back then, currently more and more people in the US are accepting or at least tolerant of same-sex relationships. However, there’s another important point to consider. In the Pacific Rim article, Mendelson also writes that “The deciding factor separating Pacific Rim 2 from Robocop 2 may be the passionate fan base of the former. It’s easier to talk financial parties into a sequel to a somewhat under-performing original if paying audiences actually liked said original.” Sailor Moon grew a powerful fanbase that the models for success at the time couldn’t properly account for. As the American anime fandom grows once more, now may be the time for both old and new fans to find some common ground.

 

 

 

Busou Renkin, a Good Manga but a Bad Shounen Fight Manga

After attending Kurosaki Kaoru’s Otakon panel on her husband, Rurouni Kenshin author Watsuki Nobuhiro, I felt compelled to read more of his stuff, though perhaps unexpectedly I gravitated towards Busou Renkin, a manga that I had no idea about beyond having some girl with a scar on her face. Now, after having read all of Busou Renkin, I find it to be a rather interesting work in that its strengths and weaknesses like distinctly along the lines between what is “conventional” in shounen fighting manga and what is not.

In the end-of-volume notes in Busou Renkin, Watsuki writes about how this title is his attempt to make a straightforward shounen fighting manga along the veins of Dragonball and its ilk, but even if he had never said anything this would have been completely obvious. Busou Renkin has a typical high school guy protagonist Kazuki who encounters a mysterious power which gives him a cool weapon to fight villainous creatures and evil organizations with the help of a girl who is more experienced than he is but has less overall potential. It’s about as established a structure for a manga as it gets, but what’s especially fascinating is that Watsuki pretty much fails to execute that basic premise well, and we’re left with a kind of hodge podge of shounen-esque elements which either do not have enough oomph to wow aesthetically (like in the weapons for instance), straightforward payoffs which aren’t really satisfying, and just a lack of connective tissue to hold it all together. I think it’s often easy to characterize the shounen fighting manga as simpler or even easier and therefore less worthy of merit, something that should be child’s play for the creator of Rurouni Kenshin, but Watsuki’s mixed success with Busou Renkin reminds me of something said in Bakuman, which is that because it’s the most reliably successful formula, it also gets the most scrutiny.

Just as the series doesn’t quite deliver within the established structure it purposely stepped into, however, it also impresses when it comes to elements of itself which are not conventional shounen. A lot of it is in the small gags, but the main example is the female character referred to above, Tokiko. Her relationship with Kazuki is the absolute highlight of the series, and seeing them grow closer while giving each other strength makes the whole thing just so much more enjoyable than if it were solely about the fight against increasingly powerful enemies. It’s not even that Tokiko is a strong female character (which she is, and which I’ll get to in a bit), but that there’s an active interaction between equals when you see her and Kazuki together. It’s kind of telling that the final chapter (albeit a final chapter which technically followed the intended final chapter which then followed the original end of the manga which got canceled, it’s confusing I know) is about advancing the romance between Kazuki and Tokiko, and about Tokiko’s past and personality.

When I look at Tokiko, particularly in regards to that last chapter, she gives me the impression of being a kind of proto-Mikasa from Attack on Titan. They share a similar kind of intensity and desire to proect, and neither are slouches when it comes to being able to fight. Both are less squeamish than their male counterparts about a number of things, and both are willing to resort to extreme violence to get the job done. Tokiko can be so vicious that she’s eviscerated someone from inside out, and her catch phrase is actually, “I’ll splatter your guts!” like she’s somehow distantly related to the guy from the Doom comic. It’s maybe no surprise that she ended up being the most iconic and memorable part of Busou Renkin, not just for myself but seemingly everyone else.

As a shounen fight manga, you’re probably better off reading Akamatsu Ken’s UQ Holder, which seems to be doing most of what Busou Renkin tried to do but better and more consistently. However, judged on its less upfront merits, Busou Renkin is really strong, and if you’re a fan of Mikasa from Attack on Titan I think the character of Tokiko will hold immense appeal.

Best Anime Characters of 2013

For this year I’ve introduced an extra category to make things fair for the rest of the competition.

OGIUE CHIKA SPECIAL AWARD

This year marked the return of Genshiken to anime, and with it the re-introduction of the character whose very passion and turmoil became the cornerstone of this blog. Ogiue Chika has changed much since I deemed her the best female character of 2007, and Ogiue we see in Genshiken Second Season is not the same as the one which struggled with accepting her fandom. However, it is this very transformation within her which continues to inspire me, knowing that, as her eyes and her expression have softened over time, they increasingly reflect the growth and maturation of otaku culture, and of the positive influence of Genshiken. As Ogiue thrives, so does the club which changed her life, and it fills my heart with joy and discovery to continue to be witness to it. I would write more, but I think that I’ve already said more than enough.

BEST MALE CHARACTER

Armin Arlert (Attack on Titan)

Some of my favorite male characters are guys who are ones willing to take the supporting role, guys who defy the macho stereotypes which continue to haunt characterizations of men in media. Armin reflects this in spades, but I find that he is also great at contributing to how we perceive ideas like power, intelligence, passion, independence, and cooperation. Of the core group in Attack on Titan, Armin is clearly the “brains,” but it’s a specific type of brilliance which allows him to think on a more deeply conceptual and abstract level, and what impresses me most about Armin is this strength in combination with his weaknesses, and how he and his comrades  make up for each others’ weaknesses. Armin is highly observant, a clever strategist, and open to new ideas, but can be extremely hesitant, and to see him embrace his talents in the midst of despair and to take inspiration from Eren and Mikasa is one of my favorite qualities of his character. In a way, this is actually an award for the character interaction for Attack on Titan.

BEST FEMALE CHARACTER

Ichinose Hajime (Gatchaman Crowds)

I don’t think I’ve ever dwelled as long on a pick for best female character as I did this year, but in the end I feel there is no character more deserving than Hajime. To describe her is to engage in contradiction, a character who seems to defy all standards of anime characterization while adhering closely to them.  To talk about her role as the lead of Gatchaman Crowds is to realize that there are few who so utterly represent the concept of a main character as Hajime does, because Hajime is Gatchaman Crowds. Somehow Hajime is a protagonist who’s also a scene stealer, a presence which seemingly warps space around her and embodies all of the quirks which make the show special. Hajime shows that being positive doesn’t mean being naive, that conflict resolution through dialogue and and open mind can be just as thrilling as watching someone throw a punch, and that you can be stubborn about being open-minded. Hajime is simply a force of nature.

Final Thoughts

I find that as much as we like to think that anime is over and done, and continue to repeat that sentiment every year, that innovation (or something like it) continues to happen even in the areas most conventional. To hear that Gatchaman Crowds is ostensibly a remake of a 1970s anime classic is to bring to mind nostalgia grabs and numerous references to the old, or perhaps even a meeting of old and new generations, but Gatchaman Crowds largely defies all of those expectations. Attack on Titan is the big hit to the extent that it feels as if it has surpassed Naruto in its heyday, but even though both are of the ultra mainstream shounen battle manga demographic, Attack on Titan defies numerous trends through its bleak setting and the decidedly unglamorous position even its most important characters find themselves in, yet somehow this is also the source of its popularity. For both Attack on Titan and Gatchaman Crowds, I find that Armin and Hajime truly reflect how different and special each of their series are. Both are not the type to solve problems through violence first, but neither are they characters who are immobilized by the weight of responsibility or ones to abandon society physically or emotionally. They truly feel like characters who are a part of contemporary culture, yet will probably remain timeless.

Why I Like Eren Jaeger

In Episode 117 of the Anime World Order podcast, Daryl Surat, Gerald Rathkolb, and Tim Eldred briefly discussed the idea that, in order to modernize a classic, the creators of Space Battleship Yamato 2199 gave its protagonist Kodai Susumu a less gung-ho personality to match the current male audience for anime. Daryl pointed out that such heroes were the exception these days, and gave Eren Jaeger from Attack on Titan as an example of someone cut from an older cloth in terms of shounen main character tropes. I agree with the overall statement, but I also find that Eren works especially well as a protagonist in this current age because of the perspective it provides for his actions and personality.

The character of Eren Jaeger is essentially a boy who has dedicated himself to a singular goal in life, to wipe out the enemy Titans that destroyed his village and killed his mother. Characters in the series point out his immense drive and the willingness to work hard to accomplish his desires, and in this sense he exhibits the same qualities as many of the most famous shounen heroes. However, unlike Naruto whose overwhelming personality and “act before you think” approach is generally seen as a positive and the source of his series’ fundamental themes (heart is what’s important for instance), Eren Jaeger’s similar mindset is shown to have not only strengths but also critical limitations.

I see Eren as the kind of guy who makes people better than him feel worse for not accomplishing as much. Aside from his transformation, Eren is shown as not being particularly exceptional when it comes to fighting Titans, but he’s more willing to just go and do it, and not let his fears get the better of him. This is mainly what drives his relationship with Jean, as Jean is clearly smarter, wiser, and comparable in physical ability to Eren, but lacks his ability to throw himself into danger. On the other hand, Eren’s narrow-mindedness is the reason he can’t accomplish everything on his own, and that if he were a leader of men, for instance, he would probably send them all to their deaths just by being himself, as opposed to Naruto who’s supposed to become a leader with pretty much the same personality.

This is what drives the dynamic interaction between Eren, Armin, and Mikasa. Eren’s lack of forethought is tempered by Armin’s strategic insight and willingness to sit back and observe, but Eren’s fearlessness also helps keep Armin from overthinking things or succumbing to self-doubt. Similarly, although Mikasa lacks the vast dreams of Eren and Armin in terms of wanting more out of the world, her cool head and decisiveness help to keep both of them moving forward.

The fact that Eren has trouble transforming into his Titan form in one instance basically comes down to the fact that Eren has vision and drive but lacks perspective. When the Titans were simply an absolute enemy, someone who cannot be compromised with and who must be destroyed no matter the cost, it was easy for Eren to obtain the level of focus needed to become his Titan form, but when it turns out that his enemy is actually someone he considered an ally and a fellow human being, he cannot process this idea due to that same rigidity. It is ultimately his friends, who each see the world from a different place, who help him resolve this issue, and even that comes at the price of Eren having to throw away the basic love he has for humanity.

Attack on Titan is the Mobile Suit Gundam of Shounen Fighting Manga and Anime

Attack on Titan, the manga and now anime about a world where humans live in walled cities for fear of being eaten by nigh-invulnerable giants, is an interesting and unique title in that it goes against the grain of shounen action series and their conventions, especially when it comes to heroics. In particular, I find that Attack on Titan emphasizes people as a group over individuals in a way which doesn’t really happen in other popular titles.

When it comes to shounen fighting series, especially over the past ten years or so, gigantic ensemble casts are the norm. In something like Inuyasha or even Hajime no Ippo, you have the main characters, their friends and family, rivals, enemies, enemies turned allies, and so on until they require multiple volumes of guide books to keep track of them all. It’s even more the case that titles in the shounen fighting genre will emphasize group-oriented concepts, such as friends (One Piece) or fighting for a greater cause (Saint Seiya), but ultimately it boils down to unique characters cooperating. Where Attack on Titan differs, at least initially, is that it gives you a sense of a world where individual heroics are much more ineffectual, and it is only through the massing of people that they can have any hope of surviving in their world, and a slim one at that.

The reason why I make the comparison to Mobile Suit Gundam (though I understand that the comparison is not perfect) is that Gundam is known for bucking the trend of giant robots as metal superheroes, instead positioning it as an individual war machine as part of a greater force. The Gundam is still glorified to an extent, but compared to the shows which came before it, this is much less the case.

I think my point can be seen by just looking at the opening to Attack on Titan and comparing it to intros from other shounen fighting anime. Popular and long-running shounen fighting anime go through a process where their first openings emphasize a core group of characters, but as the cast expands they find it important to at least show a bit of each remotely significant characters. Whether it’s those slower-paced initial openings or the later frantic ones, though, there is still that focus on a multitude of individuals. In Attack on Titan‘s opening on the other hand, you barely get glimpses of the core cast, who are shown running and jumping from one structure to the next, almost as if the camera can’t stay on them for too long. Even Eren receives only a few brief moments centered on him, and in some of those cases he’s still seen as part of a group of fighters. The fact that the soldiers are all similarly dressed, male or female, instead of wearing unique outfits, and the fact that they all use standardized weaponry, creates a sense of them as a unified army.

That’s not to say that Attack on Titan lacks individualized or unique characters. There’s a clear protagonist in Eren, and there is a core cast of characters who are given personalities and particular skills such as sound judgment and lack of mercy. I’ve also read enough of the manga to know that there are developments which change things up significantly. However, the sense of group which Attack on Titan portrays goes beyond the typical shounen concept of such, and it lends an atmosphere which almost (but not quite) puts more attention on the military force than the people who comprise it. They swarm the titans like ants, which is about as un-shounen heroic as it gets.