Here in this post is a list and a gallery of female anime characters I hold in very high esteem. I’ve profiled them without using spoilers when I can, and I’ve provided warnings when I cannot avoid spoiling. Recently otou-san asked if there’s a place for ‘real’ women in anime, and I had found it an interesting question. First of all, what could he possibly mean by ‘real’? Surely this cannot be a distinction of ‘real woman’ vs ‘super woman’ the way I’ve been talking about real robot and super robot anime.
Rather I suspect that part of what makes otaku a bit shameful is a (not that big of a) secret that female characters in anime exist primarily to titillate them as sex objects. A hasty generalization, I think; but it is undeniable that a vast number of female anime characters do serve this purpose. That said, it is not difficult to find examples of characters who, despite Rule 34 being in full effect, exist as excellent and exemplary fictional characters above any other consideration. After all, Miyazaki Hayao has made a habit of using heroines to lead his highly acclaimed films, from Nausicaa to Mononokie, from Kiki to Chihiro; Miyazaki makes women and girls who are inspiring to watch. Kon Satoshi does so as well with the likes of Fujiwara Chiyoko and Chiba Atsuko of the subdued maturity of adult characters; and even a notable downer like Anno Hideaki gave us Noriko and Nono, hot-blooded embodiments of hard work and guts.
But awesome as they are, none of these characters are mai waifu, but the any of the following could be:
Dianna Soriel and Kihel Heim, Turn A Gundam
Loran help me, I can’t pick between them. The dark and wretched history that makes up the Universal Century of the Gundam metaverse seems justified even only for giving us two of the strongest and most charming female characters in Gundam, Tomino or no Tomino. I’ve almost completed watching Turn A Gundam, which marks one of the biggest turnarounds in terms of my attitude over the show. In the case of Eureka SeveN I dropped it after 7 episodes out of indifference; I had dropped Turn A Gundam after 9 episodes out of disgust and frustration. Now it’s making its presence felt in my table of favorites and I don’t know what to do because I’m utterly captivated by it, recency bias be damned.
And yes, a big part of this happiest of problems (ranking awesome anime in a list of favorites) is the presence and dynamic of Dianna Soriel and Kihel Heim: two blondes who look dangerously alike and devastatingly beautiful. The survival and future of the human race is both delicately held and courageously championed by these two ladies, who, even if they may not have all the information to make the wisest of decisions, nor the smarts to best all their enemies, they have the compassion and humility to walk miles and miles in another person’s shoes. And how this plays out is nothing short of amazing.
Balsa, Seirei no Moribito
I wrote about her recently:
a rarity in anime: a 30 year-old woman that while is fit, strong, and handsomely rendered, is not fetishized nor portrayed sexually for fanservice. She possesses grit, resolve, courage, wisdom, and yet remains vulnerable which makes her hard not to love. I find this quite the achievement given that she’s quite quiet and untalkative – and yet the narrative establishes her character very well without resorting to shortcuts such as having other characters talk way too much about her.
Age-appropriateness for the freaking win (I may be forever 29 like Roy Focker in my mind, but yeah I’m actually 32)! She plays the single mother for most of the series, but without the ‘Erin Brokovich’ kind of pluckiness and histrionics. She had to be both mother and father to her charge, the delightfully written Chagum, while never having had a mother figure herself.
Endo Kanna, 20th-Century Boys
Yeah I know it isn’t an anime, but my she beat out Nausicaa, and Nina Fortner (Monster) as my favorite manga heroine. It’s so difficult to write about her without spoiling my favorite manga ever, but I’ll say that she is tough and resillient, has an excellent way with people despite not being gentle or refined. She gambles like no other pro, and takes on two mobs and the church. Also I find wonderful is her dedication to her family, notably her uncle Kenji (pictured with her) whose lone recording she listened to constantly on her beat-up Walkman cassette player every day as long as she possibly could.
Gin-Rei, Giant Robo: the Day the Earth Stood Still
Very little of what makes Gin-rei really awesome can be shared without spoilers. But what I can share without spoiling isn’t bad at all: a hard-hitting Expert of Justice who fights the good fight against The Magnificent Ten of the evil Big Fire organization. She becomes a good friend and guardian of Daisuke, who gathers and determines for himself what it means to fight for justice thinking of her and her own selfless acts.
One of the wonders of Giant Robo: the Day the Earth Stood Still is a core made of a specific kind of love: the kind that is for and about family, the kind that redeems and calls for heroism — and brings light in a world plunged into darkness. This isn’t some kind of moral that the show forced down on me. Part of why I enjoy it so much is because this very idea came to me while looking for something to say about a fetching woman in a dragon-print cheongsam.
Please trust me, I’ve kept the very best for you to discover in this gem of an OVA.
Cornelia Li Britannia, Code Geass
I totally stole her from mechafetish lol. If Kururugi Suzaku is the main rival of main protagonist Lelouch Lamperouge, Cornelia for a season was his biggest antagonist. She had valor, fighting ability, strategic and tactical competence, and political and administrative ability. To me she represents what was good about the Britannian Empire, her initial bigotry aside. There isn’t much discussion about family much, particularly familial love, as a theme in Code Geass; instead there is a lot of discussion about incest, partly due to the arguably blatant subtext in the show.
But there is a lot of notable familial devotion: from Suzaku’s guilt and subsequent mania about his father; Lelouch’s devotion and obsession with her mother Marianne and his sister Nunally; and Cornelia herself with Marianne (less notably for her brothers Lelouch, Clovis, and Schneizel) and most especially her sister Euphemia. It’s right there and it is quite powerful if you know what to look for.
I particularly admired her when she spoke to Villeta Nu near the end of R2 and she said, “There are more important things than peerage,” speaking of her knowledge of what motivates Villeta and has driven her to multiple betrayals and overall compromise of her own character. Cornelia would never be compromised. She can be wrong, and can be beaten, but I do think she always acts from her own values and principles.
And yes, she upgraded her own Knightmare Frame by herself, in a cave, with a bunch of scraps.
[End of spoilers]
Hildegard von Mariendorf, Legend of the Galactic Heroes
Sure Frederica Greenhill is awesome too for many many reasons, but I was never attracted to her the same way I was with Fraulein Mariendorf. One of the things I noted about her is how her bold choices saved her own family from ruin, from her choosing to side with the Lohengramm faction at the onset of civil war in the empire. I remember her penetrating insight into the empire’s strategical and political situation, which also convinced her father to devote their family’s allegiance to support the newer camp lead by Reinhard von Lohengramm.
Also, this bit: As she left for the imperial capital, Hilde thanked her father for having given her life at those turbulent yet captivating times, allowing her to witness the great tides of history. Wow, who does that! Despite her own brilliant talent, her appreciation is that of a witness, and he tells her father just as much. This humility is part of what I think allowed her to affect history herself, in no small way.
The organizing principle of this list is that many of the attributes of these characters, I find in my own 3D flesh and blood wife: a high appreciation for family and a devotion to its welfare; and work in public service (whether in the military, the administration, or enforcement). I find these things a happy coincidence, as I didn’t go through life looking for someone with a specific set of qualities in mind (except maybe for a few very important ones), but rather these are things I discover in people and characters the more I spend time with them, the more I observe them. I’m still getting to know my wife, and this is a good thing as I have the rest of my life to find out all about her.
Who’s NOT on the List:
I have made a pair of deliberate omissions. Here they are and why:
Lafiel Abriel, Crest of the Stars
Ultimate waifu material, with the very best qualities: the best of behavior, honor, breeding, and genetics. Problem is, the Abh don’t marry.
There were couples — people who loved each otehr and lived together — in Abh society. And sometimes, these relationships lasted long enough to resemble marriages, but a ” ’til death do you part” arrangement was extremely rare.
The Abh were more likely to burn with passion, hot and quick enough to drive themselves crrazy. Like incinerators, the fires of Abh love left little behind.
Because they tended not to remain coupled for long, the Abj had no real concept of what it meant to have a pair of parents […]
–Morioka Hiroyuki, Crest of the Stars Vol. 1: Princess of the Empire
If they don’t marry, Lafiel can’t be mai waifu. That said, I would otherwise want her. I think she is one of the best characters in all anime.
Lynn Minmay, Super Dimension Fortress Macross
Yeah yeah, she’s a bit of a dimwit. She’s a fluff-headed idol singer obsessed with her own fame. Obvious reasons to not like her right? No, I actually find Minmay a lot more loveable than how many Macross fans see her.
Many Macross fans hate Minmay (most Robotech fans hate her with a passion). Not me. I wanted her to achieve everything she dreamed of. Kawamori himself said that “Misa is the Heroine, while Minmay is the Star [of Macross].” Yeah, well, not good enough for me. While Minmay achieved fame and stardom, the world shrunk instead of expanded due to the devastation of the Great Space War. Misa got her man and a starship to boot.
Minmay learned too late how weak and impaired she is as a human, in terms of her personal maturity. Whatever growth she has, will have to happen in the future because up until the end she was selfish and perhaps petty. She wanted Hikaru to give up flying, probably the most important part of his life — because she was at the time burnt out as an idol singer herself. Consider that she was the one who pushed Hikaru to join U. N. Spacy, when Hikaru was very much a pacifist. She argued then that it was the only way he could fly — which was true, but she was completely oblivious of the moral and psychological costs of flying into combat. Hikaru worked out his issues, but not because of her. She wasn’t much of a contribution to his life, though a good part of the highlights of his life were spent dedicated to her, spent proving himself to her. While this happened, she was mostly unavailable to him.
The organizing principle of this list of characters who I won’t marry (LOL) is that I feel very strongly about the ‘ships’ they have with their respective male partners (or male characters I want them to end up with).
Ichijyo Hikaru x Lynn Minmay
I’ve said above that Minmay was mostly unavailable to Hikaru. Mostly…
BUT NOT ALWAYS. She doesn’t get enough credit. Here’s a series of critical moments: Hikaru was shot down by friendly fire — coincidentally, it was Misa who pulled the trigger and Hikaru’s VF was shot down by an Itano Circus (best way to go down IMO). Hikaru was pretty much confined at the hospital for some time, and his aniki Roy Focker pulled a favor from Minmay to have her visit him. Guess what? It Minmay treated it as a favor to her. Hikaru’s bedside was the place she’d rather be. Consider that this was in the middle of her filming ‘Little White Dragon,’ leading to the peak of her idol career. So she went and visited Hikaru, who was of course so very happy to see her.
And then Roy got killed. I can’t forget how Hikaru found out while still on that hospital bed. He was playing with his yellow Fokker tri-plane kit, and when the news broke, he dropped it and it fell to pieces. Who was there with him? Minmay. This was probably the worst moment of his life, and Minmay was the one by his side.
Is this enough to counteract all of her petulance and insensitivity towards him? No. Even though she acted the part of the ‘famous too soon teenager’ and could get some slack on account for her age, it doesn’t justify Hikaru choosing her in the end given that Misa is really a wonderful person and is outright devoted to him. The tragedy is that I can’t hate Misa, and I can’t blame Hikaru ;_;
[END OF SPOILERS]
Lin Jinto x Abriel Lafiel
This is easily my favorite anime couple. From a series of seemingly coincidental events (no, it was JUST AS PLANNED by well-meaning individuals) a near instantaneous intimacy develops between very different beings, which is revealed to us slowly, deliberately, and very beautifully over three linear shows and an OVA. Lafiel is my favorite female character in anime, but I like the idea of her being with Jinto for the rest of his days even more. I think fans of the show have been remiss for not writing much about Jinto who is a very good character on his own and is totally a good man for Lafiel. I’ll see what I can do to address this.
If you haven’t seen Crest of the Stars yet, by all means do so. It’s a show set in a world that has exceptional breadth and depth, told in excellent dialogue and narration, and yet remains charmingly accessible to viewers not particularly inclined to science fiction or space opera.
This post was inspired mostly by my rewatching of Crest, and Banner of the Stars. But the method of it is very much influenced by the following:
- A search for a place for real women in anime (Otou-san 2009/06/20)
- A poll for the most outstanding anime babe of all time (Don 2009/05/07)
Love for Lafiel is not new to WRL [->]
A few things about Seirei no Moribito [->]
My childhood has been very much informed by Hikaru x Minmay, and I actually sometimes enjoy other works from them as a frame of reference [->]
Haven’t seen any Gundam at all? Don’t know where to start? Find your Gateway Gundam!