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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.