Friday, August 23, 2013

Fun Stuff: My Top Ten Favorite Anime Ladies

I may be all about the bishies, but I've definitely got a lot of love for some of the leading ladies of anime, too! As someone who likes to take the feminist perspective when digesting literature, film, etc, the subject of the role women play in anime is of particular interest to me. Several anime titles (especially those geared towards young men) tend to disappoint me with women whose characters are entirely dependent on fanservice and their physical appearance or otherwise dependency on the male lead(s) without any other driving purpose given, but several shows have developed fantastic heroines who have brains, guts, and emotional depths to go along with their looks.

Here are my top ten anime lady crushes and the reasons why I love them:

10. Kaname Chidori (Full Metal Panic)

If you're going to be paired up with a dense-in-the-ways-of-love type man like Sousuke Sagara, you've got to be sharp and on your game, and Kaname Chidori is all of these things and more.Though both a high school girl and slight tsundere, Chidori avoids the negatives of these tropes by being in many ways smarter and more emotionally on point than the majority of the characters surrounding her, even those who are prodigies when it comes to war games. Like most tsunderes, she does have issues with being up front about her personal life- particularly her growing feelings for Sousuke-- but she doesn't allow her tsutsun side to keep her from actively making sure he is safe, even from himself.Quite a few anime ignore the fact that most real life high school girls are no longer in their "cute" phase, but are in actuality struggling the most with their relationships at this time-- first loves, the drama laden tensions of female friendships, rebelling against family, figuring out self-identity, etc- and I think Chidori felt true to the kind of girl who is not fully developed inside yet. I really enjoyed watching her come into her own and fight strongly for what she wanted in FMP's conclusion, during which shined even more brightly than Sousuke, the leading man!

9. Homura Akemi (Puella Magi Madoka Magica)

Homura is a tricky character to get a hold of at first, because the cold young lady she pretends to be at the onset of the series is a carefully placed cover to protect Madoka from becoming a magical girl. Who Homura is in reality is one of the most inspiring young female anime characters I have ever had the pleasure of watching. The magical girl genre can be hit and miss with me; I love titles like Cardcaptor Sakura which gives the leading lady some agency in a world where she wouldn't normally have much of a place (which Cardcaptors limited, much to my disgust), but titles where the female is stuck in the same fan-service geared, charmingly helpless rut she is in her every day life hit a bad note with me. However, Homura (and most of the girls of Madoka Magica, for that matter) takes her role very seriously, and understands the risks to the point where she will do anything in her power (which pretty much entails dragging herself through a living hell time and time again when she fails) to protect the person she cares about the most because of how much respect she has for the part Madoka played in her life. It is perhaps one of the most beautiful friendships in anime out there, and Homura's courage and determination isn't something I'll soon forget.

8. Blue (Wolf's Rain)

Though Blue spends the majority of the series in dog form and we don't actually find out that she is a wolf-dog half breed who can transform into a human woman until much later in the show, I grew to love her pretty quickly when she joined Hige, Toboe, Kiba, and Tsume on their journey to find paradise. The immediate concern when a woman joins a traveling part composed of males is that the series will take a dip into reverse harem territory, but Wolf's Rain is a title which focuses on the man vs beast dynamic as well as what happens when society and mankind turns on itself, so Blue's unique experiences with humans instead bring a much needed new perspective to the plot. I loved how she was able to see both sides of the equation in the conflict between wolves and humans, and was capable of falling in love with a wolf (Hige) while still maintaining her respect and adoration for the human who raised her (Quent). And even though she served as a bridge between humans and wolves, she never allowed either side to tell her how to think or feel after she learned her identity. In the end, I think she served as a turning point for several characters- Hige and Quent especially, but Hubb and Cher as well. An overall delightful character.

7. Kurisu Makise (Steins;gate)

Three cheers for intelligent women! The focus of time traveling drama Steins;gate is on mad scientist Okabe Rinatrou, but Kurisu Makise was just as fascinating of a lead as Okabe's unwilling assistant and eventual love interest. Though Kurisu's attitude is often cold, her iciness is what keeps her safe in the man's world of scientific study. Shunned by her father for outperforming him in his own field, Kurisu still loves and wants to excel in scientific research, even though her talent is often rejected by the people she most wants to please. Throughout the series, she time and time again shows her wisdom and strength even when faced with inconceivable challenges, and the scene in which she urges Okabe to reverse a world line even if it means they can't be together anymore is one of the bravest, most poignant moments to bring a tear to my eye.

6. Ayumi Yamada (Honey and Clover)

If taken at face value, Ayumi Yamada from Honey and Clover doesn't appear to be much of a strong female character. In fact, she spends a significant portion of the series crying over the fact that her male friend Mayama is in love with another woman and has rejected her several times. But honestly, whether you're a woman or a man, if you've been in unrequited love before, you'll know how hard it is not to be terribly upset over it. Yamada has a long and winding grieving process, but the ways she views and internalizes her problematic love during this time is so magnificent and true to life that I wished that I had known about Honey and Clover the first time I fell in love. Hanging everything you are on the shoulders of someone else is rarely a good idea, but Yamada isn't quite like that. She understands and tries to respect herself as much as she can; she simply can't change the way she feels, which is something we are often told to do for our own sake, but don't actually have to do if we make that choice. She does eventually begin to reconcile herself to the fact that Mayama will never love her, but I've always been an advocate for moving on at your own speed and deciding your heart for yourself. She's by far and away one of the most impressively real characters of slice of life anime.

5. Arashi Kishu (X)

It's always a bad idea to get too attached to X characters given that the majority of them end up dying on you, but I just couldn't help falling a little for Arashi Kishu, one of the Dragons of Heaven fighting to prevent the end of the world. As somewhat of a kuudere, she doesn't talk or express herself all that often, but her heart awakens when she is forced by fate into an impossible decision. The person she falls in love with is destined to die on her behalf, and in theX-verse, changing predetermined fate is nigh on impossible. One of CLAMP's main theories on destiny is that the power of the human heart, manifested through wishes, is stronger than the notion of fate itself, but unfortunately for Arashi, she is unable to realize her wish before it unfolds just as foretold. Even so, her resolve is something spectacular, much like Ashura's in Tsubasa. Even if she has to sacrifice something precious to have her wish granted, she stills sees enough value in the thing she wants the most to pay any price for it. Sometimes this isn't always the right choice to make, but as in all CLAMP works, there is quite a bit of dignity to be found in choosing for yourself even if that choice comes with its own set of consequences.

4. Faye Valentine (Cowboy Bebop)

Faye Valentine is hot. She is also one of the bad-assiest females of anime, even though her bounty hunter skills are far from perfect. These days, a lot of busty action girls are turned into jokes complete with a special soundtrack for their jiggling chests, but while Faye does have her moments, she is still a very serious character with a very serious history, just like male leads Spike and Jet Black. Even though her plans don't always work out, she has enough spunk in her to last long-term alongside Spike (who has lone-wolf coming out his ears) and gives the hard hearted boys reason to care about her, even though she starts off as an interloper. She was also one of the first anime heroines I actively wanted to be like. Growing up with two older brothers, I wanted to mimic the way she stood up to them and became one of the team without giving up being feminine. Learning how to be your true self among members of the opposite sex is something that it takes many years of acting stupid for some of us to learn.

3. Winry Rockbell (Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood)

I actually can't think of anything I don't love about Winry. Like Faye, I respect how she's one of the team-- and a mechanic to boot-- without sacrificing her femininitybut I think more than anything else, I respect how she was able to retain her sense of self despite living through horrors-- confronting her parents' killer, learning of the death of a man she looked up to, having her very existence turned into a blackmail tool against Al and Ed, etc. From the beginning to the very end, no matter what kind of grief she suffered, she was able to pick herself back up and fight for the people and world she loved with all her strength. I also loved her for her adorable nerdy side which sparked up whenever automail technology was nearby. In fact, Fullmetal Alchemist is simply rife with women I have a lot of respect for: Lt. Hawkeye, Lan Fan, Mei, and so on.

2. Yuuko Ichihara (xxxHolic/Tsubasa)

I can't think of an anime character I quote more often than I do Yuuko. Of course, Yuuko has a built in bonus of being one of the ones "who know the world," meaning that she's privy to knowledge of the dimensions and how the multi-world universe operates to the extent that your average civilian wouldn't understand. That being said, she has her own unique base of knowledge gleaned from witnessing many lifetimes of human behavior that makes her one of the most intelligent and emotionally wise characters of anime. She provides numerous insights into subjects that affect us all-- self-sacrifice, wanting to be considered special, pride, the desire to break the rules and lose control, revenge, envy, the limitations we put on ourselves using words-- and all of it hits at the heart of the matter that we often overlook. In spite of having an endless amount of perceptiveness, she's also simply fun to be around, and is at her heart an incredibly caring person towards those who truly matter to her. My only regret is that we don't really get a glimpse of her when Clow is alive; I really think there's an amazing backstory there that we don't know about.

1. Hitagi Senjougahara (Monogatari)

When Bakemonogatari was first recommended to me, I was not very interested even though I love supernatural anime. I had just been burned by several harems in a row where the male lead had no personality and the females obsessed with him were all stereotypes, and I simply just wasn't interested in yet another harem-type story. Luckily, the person who recommended it to me assured that the script would make the literature lover in me jump for joy, and that turned out to be the absolute truth. I was surprised by the fact that I could not get enough of the first lady introduced to the story: Hitagi Senjougahara. Male lead Araragi was enjoyable, and so were the other females who made up the sort-of harem who fortunately were not unbearably consumed with fighting over him. But Senjougahara was something else; shrewd, honest, perceptive, and incredibly self-aware. She easily narrows down the shortcomings of Araragi that tend to get brushed over in other harem titles, and knows herself well enough to where she can be upfront about what others may be perceive to be her own shortcomings. In the second season of Monogatari, she's already singles out the things that made me not as big of a fan of fellow character Hanekawa Tsubasa, and her insight has helped me learn how to appreciate her as a heroine (although she simply cannot usurp the awesomeness that is Senjougahara. Amen.)
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