As promised, here’s the next part in my three-part 2011 Anime Year in Review series. From the Top 10 Male Anime Characters of 2011 we now move on to the fairer sex, as we count down the Top 10 Female Anime Characters of 2011. As for why I’m promoting this with a Madoka Magica group picture, it’s because no fewer than 3 of these 5 girls made my Top 10 list, and the other 2 could be considered ‘honorable mentions’. To find out which three made it, and precisely where they finished, please read on!
While keeping in mind that the same disclaimers I made for the Top 10 Male Anime Characters of 2011 also applies here, let’s kick off this triumphant tribute to girl power! I give to you my personal listing of the Top 10 Female Anime Characters of 2011!
10. Potte, Fu Sawatari (Tamayura ~Hitotose~)
Tamayura ~Hitotose~ is definitely one of the unsung hero titles of the anime world of 2011. It sadly generated little discussion, even relative to other less noticed gems like Usagi Drop and Ikoku Meiro no Croisée. Still, in spite of this, I found that Tamayura ~Hitotose~ represented the hearty Heavenly heights that ‘healing anime’ can reach when it presents itself with smooth subtle sincerity and good execution. While these heights were reached primarily due to a strong ensemble cast performance, I do think that Potte was ultimately the character that had the most to do with that rise. Her personal story lay at the core of the narrative, and it was a story that managed to bring me to tears in the very first episode, that was how instantly beautiful and touching I found it to be. Keep in mind here that I am not a person easily moved by anime, as I can count on my fingers the number of times an anime has left me teary eyed. However, Potte’s intensely illuminating innocence, in spite of personal tragedy in the form of losing her beloved father at a young age, was truly a sight to behold and a welcomed reminder of how people can overcome lost without becoming very bitter or jaded. Instead, Potte eventually came to terms with her loss, and carried on the legacy of her father, by adopting both his old-fashioned camera as well as his love for photography. If I ever have a daughter, I’d be very proud if she was like Fu Sawatari (Potte being her nickname).
9. Minami Kawashima (Moshidora)
Another female anime character that could do a father proud is Minami Kawashima. Minami is also similar to Potte in that she to came from one of the lesser known anime shows of 2011, Moshidora. Moshidora had a decidedly ‘edutainment’ feel to it, being explicitly inspired by the business management philosophies of Peter Drucker. Minami took those philosophies, and applied them comprehensively to the business of managing a high school baseball team. It made for intellectually intriguing insights into how one can adapt business strategies for helpful use in different contexts. While Moshidora was admittedly never perfectly clear on how this all worked, the earnestness and temperance of its lead character Minami went a long way to adding weight and credibility to what Moshidora was trying to achieve. Also, while Moshidora did start somewhat slowly, it did end up being a very enjoyable watch for me personally. So due in large part to Minami, I think we saw how the modern anime world can be used to convey and develop practical ideas and themes, while still being a pleasantly entertaining watch. It also helped that Minami did have her highly emotional moments, where she became unglued and hence more human in a way. On a personal note, Minami made me think of a more realistic and saner Haruhi Suzumiya, and being a big Haruhi fan myself, this admittedly went a long way to me liking Minami’s character.
8. Himari Takakura, Princess of the Crystal (Mawaru Penguindrum)
While Himari wasn’t one of my favorite anime characters of 2011, she did end up being one of the more fascinating anime characters of 2011, due in part to the nebulous relationship between the human Himari and the Princess of the Crystal persona that takes over her body during the scintillating “Survival Strategy!” sequences. Given that the exact nature of the Princess of the Crystal has been left in question a bit, it’s hard for me to separate that persona from Himari herself, and so ‘both’ of them share this spot on my Top 10 list. Also, I found that the two personae complimented one another. Himari tended to be meek, mild, milquetoast. She was certainly likable, but she could lack presence. As the PotC, though, Himari was bold, brash, brazen even. The contrast between the two was breathtaking to behold, precisely because they occupied the same body. Another factor that helped Himari’s character appeal a lot was a steady stream of flashbacks for her, starting in Episode 10. Through these flashbacks we slowly but steadily learned more and more about Himari, rounding her character into shape, and showing that there was actually a lot of depth to her beneath the sugary sweet surface. Also, Himari’s challenge was a difficult one: Making viewers believe that this was a person that Kanba, Shouma, and Ringo would all be willing to sacrifice themselves for. In the end, I think Himari met that challenge, and that’s a big reason why she’s on this list.
7. Chihaya (Chihayafuru)
From a character of brilliant contrasts we shift to a character of compelling consistency. We see Chihaya as a child, and we see her as a young adult, and we see that through it all, she remains the same socially awkward but superbly strong-spirited girl. Chihaya’s penultimately powerful passions permeate the work that fittingly bears her name, and since Chihayafuru has been one of the fantastically finest Fall 2011 anime shows, it’s only fair to give Chihaya due credit for the major role she plays in making that anime be as good as it is. While other characters, most notable Kanade and Taichi, add a great deal of needed nuance and color to the work, it is Chihaya that is the heart and soul of Chihayafuru. More than any other character, she pushes the plot forward, and she represents the themes of the work. Nowhere is this more clear than how young Chihaya stood up for young Arata in the face of bullying, even against her own good friend Taichi in the process. This gave Chihaya lasting moral credentials, and speaks to Chihayafuru’s theme that just because a person is different or unusual doesn’t mean that he or she should be condemned and ostracized. Chihaya is a modern day heroic figure, in this regard. A lovely young woman, but one who’s greatest beauty is of the inner sort.
6. Madoka Kaname (Madoka Magica)
Ah, but there is perhaps no female anime character of 2011 with more inner beauty than what Madoka boasts. Or, rather, she could boast about it if she was not such a humble sort who tends to see herself as less than what she actually is. As the titular character of the best-selling TV series anime of 2011 (thus far, at least), there is no question that Madoka has been an impressively influential anime character this year. Furthermore, her character design is magical girl aesthetics in its purest form. Madoka represents the spirit of the magical girl genre itself, and she hence plays an essential role in what Gen Urobuchi attempted to do in Madoka Magica. Madoka has a mixture of humility, femininity, altruism, and guarded hopefulness that I think exemplifies what the magical girl genre is all about. And so in her we see both the best, and the worst, inherent qualities of the genre. It is her successes, and her failures, that most clearly tell the tale of deconstruction and reconstruction that I think Madoka Magica was all about. In a more basic sense, this makes Madoka very likable, but also mildly exasperating in some ways. On the whole, I think she was a wonderful character, and she’s one of my favorites of all-time, but I can see why some found her overly inactive during most of the narrative that bears her name.
5. Sayaka Miki (Madoka Magica)
When it comes to degree of activity, Sayaka is the ying to Madoka’s yang. The two best friends are similar in many ways, but one way that they differ markedly is in how quick and eager they are to take decisive action. While Madoka is quite cautious, arguably to a fault, Sayaka can at times be downright impulsive. And yet, even when she is impulsive, Sayaka’s actions and choices are always informed by what I would call a slightly idealized form of conventional morality. What I mean by this is that Sayaka is more or less a normal girl of conventional moral values that I think are pretty reflective of common human values in general, but Sayaka always takes these values to their logical ends. This makes Sayaka, in my view, a bit of a “Everyman Hero”. She’s simply a good young woman, who’s strengths and flaws are reflective of many people. This makes her very likable to me, as she adds a great deal to the immersion value of Madoka Magica. It also makes Sayaka’s eventual descent so magnificently effective when it comes to what I think Gen was aiming for with her. Basically, Sayaka shows as well as any character could how deeply flawed and corrupted the Puella Magi system of Madoka Magica is. If it can so cruelly victimize her, then that speaks profoundly to how horrible the system is, and to its potential for victimizing countless innocent teenage girls. Sayaka’s descent, though very tragic and sad, is probably essential for fully displaying the great evil that Madoka must confront and overcome. So Sayaka’s role in the narrative is much more indispensable than I think many viewers realize. Not only does Sayaka carry the middle portions of the narrative, she also plays a central role in framing Madoka’s final act, and showing why that act was both necessary and the right way for the anime to end. On a personal note, I also completely love Sayaka’s character design, as its a glorious fusion of so many different character types I love: Magical Girl, Super Hero (Sayaka’s Cape), and Chivalrous Knight/Paladin.
4. Ringo Oginome (Mawaru Penguindrum)
Ah, but one character with a notably normal “girl next door” character design is Ringo Oginome. Yet this normalcy not only does not limit Ringo’s effectiveness as a main cast character, I think it may even aid it. Over the course of Mawaru Penguindrum, Ringo goes from a ‘crazy stalker girl’ to the most normal and sane character in the cast. What is quite remarkable about this is that the anime achieves this completely seamlessly, with her characterization never feeling uneven because of it. While the Takakura brothers grow ever more mentally disturbed, Ringo regains her faculties and becomes increasingly stable. As such, the “straight man” and the “crazy fun” characters become juxtaposed. Ringo now becomes the viewer “touch-point” character, a role once played by the Takakura brothers, while the Takakura brothers descend into demented self-loathing and crazy terrorist activities respectively. As the viewer touch-point character, I found Ringo exquisitely elegantly effective. She is truly a sweet, caring girl who’s relentlessness in the face of adversity is to be admired. A fearlessly faithful friend, who in some ways combines the best of Sayaka Miki and Madoka Kaname. Perhaps for that reason, Ringo achieved a happy end. However, if there’s one word that I think sums up what made Ringo so great a character, I think it’s this word: Soulful. For all of her normal looks, Ringo is simply overflowing with emotion, zeal, charm, and style. She is truly the soulful girl next door.
3. Ohana Matsumae (Hanasaku Iroha)
Another girl who is soulful in her own right, though, is Hanasaku Iroha’s Ohana. Ohana, I would argue, took that swashbuckling shonen spirit, and put it inside of a teenage girl character in a slice of life anime. This made for a remarkable combination of popular anime elements, even when much of the rest of the cast was unremarkable (or even remarkably bad, in some cases). Ohana definitely deserves no less than the No. 3 spot on this list for one very simple reason: More than any other character on this list, she carried the anime that she was in, through good times and bad. There’s no character that was more valuable to the anime that they starred in than what Ohana was to her’s. While Minami and Chihaya are definitely the heart of their respective anime shows, both of them were well-supported by a strong and diverse supporting cast. I typically couldn’t say the same for Ohana, though I will admit that Hanasaku Iroha’s supporting cast ended up being better than I first thought. Still, if not for Ohana, I wonder if I would have even made it through Hanasaku Iroha. The irony there is that Hanasaku Iroha ultimately ended up being one of my favorite anime shows of the year, as it’s final arc was outstandingly excellent. But I never would have managed to get there if not for the spectacularly sparkling shounen heroine with the marvelously moe mannerisms. Ohana was simply a joy to watch, and she was why I had the patience necessary in order to fully enjoy Hanasaku Iroha. I hope we see more of Ohana in the future, because nobody fests it up like she does.
2. Akemi Homura (Madoka Magica)
Still, Akemi Homura is also quite good at festing it up. Just ask Walpurgisnacht. Homura is probably the most popular new anime character of 2011. For me personally, I like her, Madoka, and Sayaka, all about equally well, albeit for significantly different reasons in each case. However, popularity itself can be important, and may show if a character is having the desired effect of the individual who first wrote her. By that measure, Homura has been incredibly effective. I do think that Homura is very “cool”, and that she added a lot of that commercially important “cool” factor to Madoka Magica. The more famous Dark Magical Girls (Fate Testarossa being a good example here) tend to be well-beloved due to that “cool” factor. But Homura put a welcomed new spin on that old Dark Magical Girl idea. Typically, you see, the Dark Magical Girl starts out as genuinely antagonistic and needs to be reformed/”saved” by the titular magical girl. Conventionally, the Dark Magical Girl has a sympathetic, passionate cause that overrides everything else for her, but that cause runs contrary to the titular magical girl. However, Homura puts an interesting twist on this in that, for her, the passionate overriding cause is… the titular magical girl herself. Madoka herself is why Homura does what she does. When you really think about it, this is a pretty mind-blowing twist on a magical girl genre convention. The reason being is that it’s usually through the titular magical girl reaching out to the dark magical girl and befriending her that the dark magical girl becomes reformed. In this case, the dark magical girl is a dark magical girl precisely because of such “reaching out”. You could even say that Madoka inspired Homura to become a “dark magical girl”. As with Madoka and Sayaka before her, I think that Homura also has a great character design that suits her personality and character role beautifully.
Now, given the mammoth impact that Homura had on the anime world in 2011, some may wonder who could possibly finish ahead of her,and why? Well, let me now answer that question.
I give to you the Top Female Anime Character of 2011. As with the Top Male Anime Character of 2011, I think it calls for a drum roll and an imperial tuturu…
1. Kurisu Makise (Steins;Gate)
Kurisu shares some similar strengths with Homura, but she has a couple key advantages over her for me. While Homura puts a nice new spin on a popular anime archetype, Kurisu doesn’t merely spin the tsundere character type, she revolutionized it. Also, Kurisuo frankly made that anime archetype relatable and relevant again. Finally, while Dark Magical Girls aren’t rare, they’re also nowhere near as common (and hence predominant/influential) within the anime industry as the tsundere archetype is. Tsunderes are found everywhere in the anime world, and the future of that archetype will have a lot to say about the future of anime as a whole. This is why Kurisu being the perfect tsundere was such important and welcomed news to me, as I delved into before on this site. Since I already covered a lot of ground there in that post, I’m not going to waste the time of regular readers of this blog by restating it all anew.
So let me instead focus on the second key advantage that Kurisu holds over Homura. While I think that both characters are great representations of “strong character (female)”, I think that Kurisu is a bit more down-to-Earth and realistic overall. There’s a few key reasons here. Kurisu kept her wits about her when faced with personal tragedy. She favored cooperation over “going it alone”. As awesome as Homura’s independent stands were to behold, they weren’t necessarily the smartest or shrewdest courses of action. In sharp contrast, Kurisu always pushed herself in when she could sense that Okabe was in deep, serious trouble and that he shouldn’t “go it alone” either. While Homura relied on keeping Madoka uninformed of the wider situation, Kurisu relied on forcing Okabe to inform her of the situation so that the two of them could deal with it together. I think that there’s a positive message there, of the importance of not “going it alone” when you or a loved one are in deep trouble.
One other notable strength of Kurisu’s is how I think she’s a more modern and realistic anime female character. What I mean by that is that Kurisu wouldn’t seem out of place at a modern real world University, whereas many anime female characters frankly would. As much as I love some Yamato Nadeshikos, and many magical moe girls, and many of the other quirky and unusual female anime characters of renown, a lot of them are pretty starkly divorced form the modern female. Here I think Kurisu really shines. I suspect, but don’t know, that she’s a character that many female anime viewers would like, because she’s like them. She has her own personal goals, separate from those of the male lead. She’s strong, assertive, independent. However, she’s not constantly uptight and serious, as she’s able to let her hair down at times and be a bit silly (see the picture I’ve chosen for her spot on this list ). She can match Okabe’s “Mad Scientist” persona when the need arises, as such an approach is sometimes for the best for both him and her. Long story short, she’s a very sophisticated character, that represents a meeting of the anime world with the world of the modern female. If anime is to ever hit it big in North America again, it will need characters like Kurisu Makise to lead the way. As such her character, more than any other female anime character in 2011, gives me reason to hope for where anime may go to in the future.
That does it for this Top 10 list, but know that there will one more to come later this week. Steins;Gate has taken top spot on the two Character lists, and so the question now is if it will go 3-for-3 by taking the top spot on the Top 10 Anime Shows of 2011 list. To know the answer to that question, check back here in a day or two.
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.