Anime Year in Review: Top 10 Male Characters of 2011

Over the next few days, I intend to put up a series of blog entries here on Rabbit Poets, all with the goal of looking back on what proved to be a coolly captivating comeback year for anime. These blog entires will focus on the characters, and anime shows, that I felt contributed the most to making this one of the finest years of anime in recent memory. Please join with me as we take one last look at 2011, before we ring in the New Year of 2012.

With that invitation being made, let me be clear by making a bit of a disclaimer. The opinions and listings that I write are strictly my own, and do not necessarily reflect the views of other contributors to the Rabbit Poets site, including the chief operator RP himself. These listings are, by and large, a reflection of my own personal opinions and tastes. While I do aim to be at least somewhat objective with these listings, by considering how the anime fandom as a whole reacted to certain characters and shows, there is no question that this consideration plays very much secondary to my own personal assessments of what I liked, found compelling, and found effective. Let it also be known that I’m not a big fan of the long-running shounen titles, and am only mildly interested in shounen in general. This does admittedly influence my listings considerably, particularly the one I’m about to begin now.

With all of that out of the way, let’s now kick off the festivities with my countdown of the Top 10 Male Characters of 2011!

 

10. Shingo Uryu (Mashiro-iro Symphony)

Shingo is easily amongst the most well-balanced, and well-developed, harem anime male leads of all-time. He accomplished that by driving the plot, rather than by letting the plot drive him, a rare achievement for a harem anime male lead. Shingo was not a prude, but nor was he a pervert. He appreciated the company and charms of the beautiful female peers all about him, but he never failed to treat them with decency, kindness, and respect. Shingo did not rush head-on into romance while neglecting the wider world, but nor was he indecisive in matters of the heart. He befriended many girls, but he openly confessed to and courted one particular girl. In this vein, his character was admirably realistic compared to many others in a role like his. He largely tolerated tsundere abuses, but I could tell that he was not fond of them. His patience in the face of such abuses was a natural outpouring of his inherent diplomatic spirit, rather than occurring simply because genre conventions demanded it to be so. As such, Shingo was a dynamic breath of cold, crisp, fresh air, reflective of his OP exhaling. His anime was not one of the most well-known of 2011, but it was a very good anime, and he’s a core reason for why that is.

 

9. Shouma Takakura (Mawaru Penguindrum)

Shouma wasn’t the most inspirational of heroic figures, but over the full span of Mawaru Penguindrum, he proved to be a very sympathetic figure. Ultimately, he did a great job being the ying to his brother’s yang, creating an effective duality with internal contrasts and interesting dichotomies. Equally important, Shouma had a very positive impact on Ringo Oginome, aiding her character development massively. Then there’s how Himari’s character was given much greater depth and dimension through the flashback sequence focusing on her first meeting with Shouma. So I think that what we see with Shouma is that while he himself was rarely the “star of the show”, he was instrumental in helping to make other characters seem like superbly shining stars of the show. I also think that Shouma made Mawaru Penguindrum more accessible in the early going, when the more overt eccentricities/extreme behaviors of the other characters called for a “regular guy” to compliment them with. As a complimentary character, Shouma was truly in a class of his own in 2011.

 

8. Gai Tsutsugami (Guilty Crown)

One character who is not a complimentary character at all, though, is Gai. No, Gai is cool charisma central for Guilty Crown, as he’s a character who’s manly grace and style went a long way in compensating for the problems posed by the much less appealing characterization of many Guilty Crown characters, including the male lead Shu Ouma. I don’t hate Shu as much as many Guilty Crown viewers do, but I have to say that Shu’s specific weaknesses demanded a character like Gai to make up for them, and there’s no question that Gai delivers in fantastically fabulous flying colors when it comes to that. And yet, just when Gai starts to feel a bit too much like a GAR Gary Stu, he starts to encounter some significant setbacks in his goals and plans, adding a needed dimension of fallibility to his character, rounding him out and making him easier to sympathize with. For making Guilty Crown a much easier watch during its weak points, while also developing nicely as a character throughout GC, Gai definitely deserves this spot on my Top 10 list.

 

7. Shuichi Nitori (Hourou Musuko)

And now we go from a manly leader who asks much of his subordinates to a male individualist who simply wanted to embrace a more feminine identity for himself. Nitori is at the heart of the social commentary posed by Hourou Musuko, and that proves to be a heart that beats steadily strong in pursuit of its courageously controversial causes. Through Nitori’s subtle, but not understated, characterization, many social issues are comprehensively and maturely broached in Hourou Musoko. Gender identity, as well as gender double standards, are carefully explored throughout the anime, and this exploration is compelling to a large degree because the male lead is easy to like, understand, and feel for. Nitori is thankfully not overly loud or “in your face”, but like the anime that features him, he is simply honest and forthright without coming across as obnoxious. He distills certain social causes down to the basic human emotional needs which fuels them, and hence forces the audience to acknowledge those emotional needs, in the hopes that we in turn can learn how best to address them in real life.

 

6. Daikichi Kawachi (Usagi Drop)

However, emotional needs can be different for middle aged men than they are for teenagers or young men, and with this in mind, it was great to see and watch a character like Daikichi. It’s not often in anime when the male lead is a man in his 30s, and so that helps to provide a relatively unique viewing experience, focusing on aspects and perspectives on life (particularly family life) which are not often addressed in anime. In Usagi Drop, we do this through the character of Daikichi, who does a largely commendable job of presenting a regular guy making sacrifices to help out a young girl in need of adult supervision and care. There are times when Daikichi’s degree of patience seems unworldly impressive, but there’s thankfully enough scenes of him getting frenzied and unsure of himself to keep him from slipping into Gary Stu territory. Daikichi is somewhat idealized, but only enough to make him admirable, and not so much that he becomes hard to relate to. Daikichi’s struggles, sacrifices, and rewards are all portrayed beautifully by Usagi Drop, and there can be no doubt that the character himself is a big part of the reason why this proves to resonate so well with so many viewers, myself definitely included.

 

5. Iskander, Rider (Fate/Zero)

 

Magnificent machismo mirth is proudly and heartily displayed in almost every Fate/Zero scene starring this “Servant” who is much better titled as King. His actions and words carry with them a great gregarious gravitas that adds mightily to the epic entertainment value of Fate/Zero. Indeed, it’s even hard to imagine Fate/Zero without Rider, as at times it’s like he takes the full weight of the anime upon his strong outstretched shoulders, in order to carry it by chariot to a place of prominence, an action befitting of his Servant Class. In a cast filled with hollow men, insane sadists, ego-stroking antagonists, and a regretful King, Iskander stands astride as a mighty Colossus of brash, life-affirming conquest. He also forges perfect camaraderie with his master Waver, as the two enjoy something akin to the classic comedian/straight man routine, but also an engrossing mentor/protege relationship. There’s perhaps no anime character of all of 2011 that simply puts a smile on my face more effectively than Alexander the Great did. While his character is a bit limited in range, what he provides to his anime and the wider anime world is truly invaluable.

 

4. Kanba Takakura (Mawaru Penguindrum)

 


A somewhat different sort of  machismo is displayed by Kanba Takakura, but it is no less impressive than Rider’s.

Kanba constantly progresses forward, ever unflinchingly, always with no regrets, and never looking back. His cause is sure and steadfast, and hence his character is compellingly consistent even as he becomes increasingly antagonistic during the final few episodes of Mawaru Penguindrum. Let’s be clear that Kanba Takakura is not someone I’d approve of in real life. But as a fictional character, his brilliantly breathtaking boldness is truly a sight to behold. In an anime year marked by fictional characters willing to sacrifice all to save their most precious loved one, Kanba is notable as a character who compromised himself morally more than any other in the pursuit of such an aim. Thus in Kanba we see both the full light, and the full darkness, of a person who would destroy and sacrifice all for the sake of one unfailing love. And he did it with pristine playboy pomp and circumstance; with a zealous courage and skill in combat that can only be admired. While Shouma is easier to like, there’s no question to me that Kanba is the more memorable of the Takakura Brothers.

 

3. Kotetsu T. Kaburagi (Tiger and Bunny)

And yet, there’s something to also be said for the unflinching hero, who always abides by his moral ideals, and who’s love is for the all, and not for the one.

Kotetsu Kaburagi is such a hero, as he strives to live up to his conception of the perfect hero, while never losing sight of his humanity. Kotetsu is flawed, but his flaws tend to be the sort that are typically endearing and great for casual jokes amongst friends, even given that those same flaws can create serious issues for the family back home. You see, Kotetsu is both hero, and regular Joe. He’s the guy you’d love to share a drink with, a casual chat with, shoot the breeze with. He’s Johnny Depp infused with the spirit of Peter Parker, the ultimate “Everyman” Hero for the 21st Century, all while he reaches those with a respect for tradition and uncompromising values. In short, he brings together the best of many worlds, while never losing his down-to-Earth appeal. He’s the main reason why Tiger and Bunny worked so marvelously well as an anime spin on an old North American concept called the “super hero”. For an anime fan who spent decades reading Marvel and DC Comics, Kotetsu served as the perfect bridge between the two entertainment worlds. Also, as with Daikichi, I liked how Kotetsu provided a “middle-aged man” focus and perspective. It’s an uncommon perspective that I greatly appreciated.

 

2. Kyubey (Madoka Magica)

But there’s no perspective more uncommon than Kyubey’s. Here we have an unemotional alien from a highly technologically advanced people who think in consistently collectivist cosmological terms. And yet, Kyubey can mimic emotions, and offer the most personalized of sales pitches. He is an inherent contradiction, yet he makes it all fit, as the ultimate subversion of the magical girl familiar. I wrote extensively on Kyubey in the past on this site, so I won’t get into too much detail here, except to say that there is probably no more fascinating anime character of 2011 than Kyubey. He inspired passionate debate, disagreement, and speculation, much of which I myself engaged in over on the site Anime Suki. He is likely the best anime antagonist of 2011, although he himself never opposes directly, but only tricks and exploits for a larger purpose. In an age of increased environmental concern, it may be fitting to equate Kyubey with Halliburton writ large. However, as great a character as Kyubey is, he does lack in some areas, and that is one of the reasons why he doesn’t finish first here.

 

And so, I now give to you the top male anime character of 2011! With a drum-roll accompanied by an Imperial Tuturu, I give you…

 

1. Okabe Rintarou (Steins;Gate)

The coolly charismatic cackling of a great villain, the sweet streamlined style of a serious scientist, the highly hopeful heart of an unwavering friend. Okabe Rintarou took all of these, and made them all seem so spectacularly unique, as he made them distinctly his. Each of these elements are commonplace in different contexts, but when brought together into one character, they created something superbly special: The Mad Scientist with a Heart of Gold. The wielder of cool-sounding  nonsensical phraseology, but with a “keeping it real” persona lying beneath the loud and ostentatious surface. A man with a great sense of self, even while he appears to suffer from multiple personality disorder. Okabe Rintarou is more than simply fascinating, he’s also elaborately exquisitely entertaining in almost every scene he’s in. The wittiness of him and his fellow cast members kept Steins;Gate an incredibly enjoyable watch even while its plot progressed at a snail’s pace during the first half. But as slow as that first half was, the second half was equally hectic with a blazing fast pace that was exhilarating to follow live, as I did back during the Summer months. The main reason why it was so exhilarating was Okabe, who’s relentlessness in trying to save two different people who were close to him made for an exciting viewing experience to be sure.

Okabe showed the anime world that the male lead can be much more than a milquetoast white bread sort who’s carried by a colorful female cast. No, even amongst an excellent female-dominated supporting cast of his own, Okabe never ceased to be the star of the show. There’s a lesson for the anime world there, a lesson that I hope it learns well. Your main character is the one who’s going to have the most screen-time, so it might be a good idea to also make him (or her) your most fun and entertaining and interesting character. And there was no anime character of 2011 that brought together “fun”, “entertaining”, and “interesting” better than Okabe did. As such I tip my hat to him, and award him as The Top Anime Male Character of 2011. The anime male characters of 2012 will have quite the act to follow there.

 

That does it for this Top 10 list, but know that there will be more to come throughout the week. I also intend to do a Top 10 Female Anime Characters of 2011 list, as well as a Top 10 Anime Shows of 2011 list. Please check back at this site in the days to come for that.

In the interim, please let me know what you think of my list here, and your thoughts on those characters who made it. Any comments on the basic format of this post is also welcomed, of course. All images featured in this post came from a simple Google Image search; I lay no claim to either of them and I give full credit to their respective creators/owners.