Best Anime Characters of 2010

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.

Final Thoughts

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.

The Enemy’s the Fashions! Kuragehime’s Look at Anti-Beauty

Kuragehime, aka Jellyfish Princess, has so far been quite a genuine look at the lives of female otaku. Though certain elements of the story are exaggerated for comedic effect, the show really feels sincere overall, particularly when it comes to the uncomfortable conflict that can occur when dorks, particularly female dorks, run up against the frightening monster that is Fashion.

Already from episode 1 you get the idea that main character Tsukimi and the other girls find fashion to be an anathema. Living in Tokyo, going outside means having to deal with the constant, almost unconscious social pressure that results from not looking “like everyone else.” They know they’re different from others, and being reminded of it constantly and from all angles doesn’t make them any more comfortable. Their home, known as Amamizukan is a haven, not merely because it’s visually devoid of the perceived runway drive-bys that make the outside so dangerous, but also because it’s seen as mentally and emotionally free. So when the threat is made internal, either by a “beautiful woman” stepping through their door, or through having one of their own transformed into “one of them,” it’s like the sanctity of their home (and their existence) has been violated by that which they fear most.

In episode 3, Tsukimi is given a glamorous makeover by the cross-dressing Kuranosuke, and her reaction to seeing herself comes in two parts. First, she is unable to accept herself as attractive. Second, she frets over what her peers would think if they saw her. When Tsukimi imagines herself being crucified by her friends, she envisions it taking place on Otome Road in Ikebukuro, which is itself a haven for female otaku, particularly fujoshi, within a greater trendy shopping/fashion city, reflecting the status of their home within Tokyo. This reveals a lot about how Tsukimi defines herself, not just internally but also in relation to others.

While “beauty” can be defined in any number of physical ways (let alone more intangible ones), it’s clear that Tsukimi does not consider herself to be beautiful. By saying that she “doesn’t want to be pretty,” Tsukimi defines beauty as something foreign to her existence, or that to look attractive would mean that she isn’t be true to herself. I can relate. Having been ridiculed in the past because of my clothing, “good fashion” and “good looks” became symbols of the enemy, the barriers which prevent people from seeing that it’s the inside that counts, as taught by one Ugly Duckling. But when you think about it, if the inside is really what’s important, then people should not be judged negatively simply because they’re attractive and make an effort to be attractive.

Fashion can be seen as a way to hide your flaws. In that sense, fashion becomes a “lie” made all the more egregious by glitz and glamour, but it’s a perspective marred by pessimism, where a person allows the negative aspects their appearance to define them more than the positive ones. Instead, you can think of fashion as accentuating your better qualities, where you define “good-looking” on your own terms, and the difference between fashionable and unfashionable can be as simple as an anime t-shirt that fits versus one that doesn’t. But this isn’t what Tsukimi is doing. Rather than making a declaration that sweats and unkempt eyebrows are a sign of her own personal beauty, she has defined “being pretty” as a state that she can only achieve through deception and trickery, that whatever “beauty” is, she isn’t. To look good is to be one with the enemy, and neither she nor her housemates at Amamizukan can accept that (or at least that’s what Tsukimi believes).

So when it comes to the second part of Tsukimi’s reaction, the fear that she would be branded a traitor by her comrades in geekdom, there is more at work than simply group pressure. Tsukimi and the other girls have so violently rejected the “standard” world that they have created their own anti-fashion values, where everything is upside down. While I appear to be contradicting what I said earlier about defining fashion on your own terms, this isn’t quite what’s going on, as the girls are actually casting in a negative light the very attempt to look better. Because they feel ostracized by the outside, they shun it right back to the point that they feed their insecurities, rather than grow more comfortable, and in doing so they end up being not so different from those they wish to distance themselves from.

I know the emphasis that fashion can have on a group dynamic like this can be difficult for a lot of guys to comprehend, so I’m going to provide a more aggressive, arguably more “masculine” nerd equivalent. Imagine that a Star Trek fan gets beat up in school by a bunch of jocks. As a result, he begins to associate anything having to do with physical prowess and athletic activity with stupidity and the worst human traits. Then, he manages to find a Star Trek club and makes some friends, even going to science fiction conventions. He’s happy, but within that community he becomes the guy who judges others by their Star Trek knowledge (which by this point has also branched out to Babylon 5 and other works), and to not be up to his level is to simply not be up to par. Just as this poor nerd “bullies” with his intelligence and fandom knowledge, unconsciously mirroring the very bullies who torment him, the anti-fashion, anti-beauty attitude of Tsukimi and friends emerges in a similar fashion.

Is Amamizukan truly free then? Yes, but only if you follow their rules. That doesn’t make them bad people, though.