A couple days ago I listed my picks for the best anime of 2011. Here’s a list of the best characters of the year, the characters who were deepest, most interesting, most appealing, or contributed most to their respective anime. I’m limiting them to one character per show, to try to prevent things like just listing every character in Suzumiya Haruhi no Yuuutsu, or whatever. I’ve divided it into two lists, for the top 5 female and top 5 male characters of 2011, and going in alphabetical order, the females are first. Some entries may contain spoilers for the anime the characters are from.
Top 5 Female Anime Characters of 2011
5. Mikazuki Yozora (Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai)
Mikazuki Yozora is a contradiction. She wants to make friends, but she’s actively unfriendly to everyone she meets. She wants someone to understand her, but she refuses to explain herself and writes her club advertisement in code. She’s essentially a tsundere, but applied to all human interaction instead of just romance. And this turns out predictably badly for her. There is a strong but subtle melancholy undercurrent to her behavior in the series – again and again, she does things that will obviously alienate her from her friends, for no reason other than her meaningless pride. There’s something haunting and fascinating about watching people pointlessly self-destruct, I just want to pat her on the head and tell her “There, there, it will be ok, just stop sticking your hand in the blender”.
4. Makise Kurisu (Steins;Gate)
Makise Kurisu is a brilliant scientist, which is always a dangerous thing for a character to be. There is a tendency for those characters to get stereotyped as either comically insane mad-scientist types or cold ultra-intellectuals who are only focused on the advancement of science to the exclusion of all personal and human considerations. Makise Kurisu wishes she were that second type, but it turns out she’s human after all. She drinks Dr. Pepper and posts on 2channel, and (of course) she falls in love. But still, she acts as an important element of “adult supervision” for the Future Gadget Lab, and her relationship with Okabe is fleshed out much more than your standard tsundere love story.
3. Matsumae Ohana (Hanasaku Iroha)
Matsumae Ohana isn’t a tsundere at all. She’s the exact opposite: she wears her heart on her sleeve and always blurts out what she’s thinking, even if it’s not the polite thing to say or it’s the sort of thing that will break her long-distance sort-of-boyfriend’s heart. She’s honest and earnest and positive and hardworking and insecure and self-conscious. That last is the most important part; she’s always thinking about what she’s doing and she’ll share it with the audience. She won’t just decide that she needs to put forth passionate effort to achieve her goals, she’ll coin the word “bonboru” to describe that passionate effort, and then make grand sweeping declarations that she will “bonboru” to do this or that. Over the course of the show she matures a little, but she doesn’t lose these characteristics that make her bright and cheerful and a joy to watch.
2. Mifune Ryuuko (Denpa Onna to Seishun Otoko)
Mifune Ryuuko is cute. In particular, she’s the sort of cute known in Japan as tennenboke, or natural airhead. But it’s not natural at all, its a persona she affects to make herself more appealing. She’s actually quite sharp when she wants to be. But the really interesting thing about her is, she’s not portrayed as evil or manipulative at all. She’s not like Kawashima Ami from Toradora, she’s not out to fool anybody about her true nature. She’s just playing dumb because it’s cute and fun and flirtatious, and you know, it is cute and fun and flirtatious! Every conversation with her is like a game, or a comedy bit. She stands in particularly stark contrast to Touwa Erio of the same show, who is actually really naive in a lot of ways. But for my money, her artificial facade of naiveté is better than the genuine article, because it doesn’t interfere with her day-to-day life and force her to drop out of school and spend her days rolled up in a futon.
1. Gasai Yuno (Mirai Nikki)
Gasai Yuno is a yandere. She stalks the main character, Yukiteru, both through conventional means and through her Future Diary which tells her what he’s doing at ten minute intervals. She loves him and will die to protect him, will kill to protect him, will kill to keep anyone else from having him. In a way, she’s like Matsumae Ohana, in that she passionately strives to achieve her goals (make love to Yukkii) and sometimes says things that are taken badly (“you don’t need any friends but me so I will murder these people you are trying to be friends with”). She struggles to keep it together enough to avoid freaking out Yukiteru in social situations, but in combat situations, when the bullets start flying, she becomes exactly the hero he needs. That dichotomy is the core of what makes Mirai Nikki interesting; to a great extent Mirai Nikki is interesting only because of the character of Gasai Yuno.
There are the top female characters. Honorable mentions include Ringo from Penguindrum, Homura from Madoka, and Yuuko from Nichijou. Now on to the men!
Top 5 Male Anime Characters of 2011
5. Usui “Switch” Kazuyoshi (SKET Dance)
SKET Dance isn’t really an impressive anime, but it has some good points to it, and Switch is among the foremost. It says almost everything you need to know about him to note that he was simultaneously voted “most popular” and “most otaku” in his class. He loves anime and ironically bad videogames, and he never speaks out loud, preferring to communicate through text-to-speech software (unrealistically high quality text-to-speech software, but whatever). However, almost everyone in the whole school loves him, because he’s part of the SKET-dan that helps people, and because he’s always willing to lend an ear to somebody who wants to geek out about their particular obsession. The problem with nerds is that they’re too busy talking about the stuff they’re interested to shut up and let you talk about the stuff you’re interested in. Switch doesn’t have this problem, and so he’s able to treat the whole school as a network of informants for his club activities. Switch is awesome.
4. Kurusu Keigo (Mirai Nikki)
Really I wanted to put Akise Aru in the male character slot from Mirai Nikki, but we’ve hardly seen anything of him yet, there’s still plenty of time for him to end up being a disappointment. Kurusu, on the other hand, is a known quantity. We saw him scheming and plotting and playing the survival game. He did his best to accentuate the positives of his weak diary, and he had a good system of alliances going. He may have slipped up and lost it all, but at least he was trying. And his final moments in the ruined hospital were a solid close to his illustrious career. Rest in peace, Fourth. I’m sorry you are consigned to eternal oblivion.
3. Prince Baka Ki El Dogra (Level E)
Prince Baka was billed as “one of the universe’s foremost geniuses with a personality that’s bound to attract all sorts of trouble.” But that’s not really fair – he doesn’t attract trouble, he causes it. Most of the nonsense that goes on in Level E is his doing. He plays with humans like a human would play with ants, but he also plays with other Dograns like a human would play with ants, so it’s not that he’s an incomprehensible alien, he’s just a huge dick. I might go further and say he’s a charming sociopath. But a well-executed troll is a thing of beauty, and the Prince could execute some amazing ones. But I can forgive his retainers, who actually had to put up with his antics rather than watching them on TV, for wishing someone would execute him.
2. Okabe Rintarou (Steins;Gate)
Okabe Rintarou, or as he likes to call himself, Hououin Kyouma, is the self-described mad scientist at the heart of the Future Gadget Lab. He has carried his chuunibyou into his twenties, and constantly talks into a cellphone about how he’s being targeted by a conspiracy and uses meaningless code phrases. But what’s really interesting about his character is how he reacts when his mad science actually stumbles on the secret of time travel and he becomes targeted by an actual conspiracy. He steps up to the plate, faces the challenges ahead of him heroically as a Man of Science, and shows that there was a real heroic heart hidden underneath his surface eccentricities. He still ought wear more safety gear when experimenting with devices that produce uncontrolled electric arcs, though.
1. Rider (Fate/Zero)
Rider is the manifestation of the spirit of Alexandar the Great, returned to fight in the Holy Grail War. He’s comic relief, as he has trouble growing accustomed to modern technology and says silly things about wanting to conquer the world and fight against Bill Clinton. But he’s also an enormous badass. His Noble Phantasm power is that he’s such a badass that his army of heroes followed him through death and continues to fight for him. He is the King of Conquerers, and every time he’s been asked to fight he’s proven to be a force to be reckoned with. But he also has a contemplative side to him. He was the one who proposed the Holy Grail Dialogue, to drink and chat with his fellow resurrected kings before they had to fight each other. He has some opinions about what it means to be powerful, and what a king or a hero or a conquerer ought to do. And he’s even, in his own weird way, humble. He’s humble like a man who has nothing to prove, a man who just goes out and does stuff, the sort of man who decides he’ll march east until he hits the ocean or dies.
There are the male characters. Honorable mentions go to basically every other character from Fate/Zero.
Special Lifetime Achievement Award: Kyubei (Puella Magi Madoka Magica)
Kyubei is a great character, but it’s neither male nor female. One could argue that it should count as a male, based on an allegorical, metaphorical reading of the show, but I try to take things at face value, and at face value Kyubei certainly wouldn’t have any sex that we humans would understand. He’s a sexless space libertarian, and he’s here to offer you anything you want if you’ll make a contract with him and become a magical girl. And if, later, you regret that choice, it’s not on him. You shouldn’t enter into contracts if you aren’t prepared for what they entail!