This will be the penultimate part of my series about anime heroines. It has been interesting (for me, at least – I hope I haven’t bored you) to remember the sort of female characters that made an impact on me and also the development that has happened in anime over the years. Part 1 covered some of the classics from the early 90’s like Mysterious Cities of Gold while part 2 covered releases from the mid-90’s when the Sci-Fi channel began broadcasting anime.
In the late 90’s I regularly watched anime on the Sci-Fi channel when it was broadcast every Thursday evening. I caught a lot of classics but my nascent taste in anime was growing in certain directions, mostly military themed stories, but this post details when Production I.G. and Mamoru Oshii caught my heart.
Noa Izumi Patlabor 1 and 2 Spoilers (Production I.G.)
Voiced by Toni Barry, she reminded me of Leona from Dominion Tank Police. Noa is the focus of a lot of the Patlabor franchise but not the Production I.G.’s films where I encountered her. Production I.G.’s movie adaptations of the Patlabor television show and Yūki Masami’s 1988 manga broadens out the focus of the narrative giving the cast more to do and whilst the romance between the prim and proper Shinobu and the laconic Goto was diverting and the mix of politics and mystery of Mamoru Oshii’s stories was interesting, I was really cheering for Noa.
The ending for the final movie has a punch the air moment. After an epic battle in a storm battered tower involving copious amounts of mecha carnage where the oh so fragile humans are under threat of being squashed, Noa has the final say downing a mecha with a shotgun.
Fay Valentine and Radical Edward – Cowboy Bebop (Sunrise)
2002 saw the broadcast of Cowboy Bebop and Outlaw Star on cable channel CNX, a spin-off channel from the Cartoon Network. It was in a double-bill with Outlaw Star and while Outlaw Star was a lot of fun, Cowboy Bebop is the one that has stuck with me because of the characters and scope of the story – inter-planetary bounty hunters affecting a style somewhere between Godard and Michael Mann in a solar system influenced by so many retro American flavours.
Main protagonist Spike was my new cool but I loved Faye and Edward more and when the dramatic back-stories of both were revealed I was moved close to tears.
A bounty hunter, a gambler, a cheat and a con-woman with no memories of her past and few morals, and although she cares about the crew of the Bebop, she always put herself ahead. She would have fallen into the generic tough girl role except the revelations of her past were a real emotional body-blow which culminated in an episode which left me emotional.
A young genius computer hacker who might be a boy, might be a girl. Initially the crew of the bebop are unsure but the voice actress… gave it away as a girl. She spends most of her time with a Welsh Corgi named Ein and is incredibly fond of speaking in bizarre rhymes which might have been irritating but wasn’t thanks to the script.
Asuka Langley Sohryu – Neon Genesis Evangelion (Gainax) Spoiler
The last gasp of anime on the UK’s Sci-Fi channel could be said to be Saturday morning’s Saiko Exciting (actually it was Excel Saga dumped in the graveyard slot at 5A.M.) and this is where I encountered Evangelion.
Now the main protagonist is a boy named Shinji Ikari who is so painfully introverted and psychologically brittle that watching a show about his psychological growth veered on tiresome. I mean, honestly, if given a giant robot you kick ass right? Blow stuff up. Break buildings. Especially if a giant monster from the deepest darkest parts of show creator Hideaki Anno’s mind is coming to get you. But Shinji spent most of his time screaming. His fellow pilots were girls and far more effective but while Rei Ayaname was a doll, Asuka was a super hero!
Ace character designer Yoshiyuki Sadamoto (Wings of Honneamise, Nadia Secret of Blue Water) made such a distinctive fire-haired vixen. Tiffany Grant brilliantly essayed the character throwing saucy English and German vituperative at characters which was always amusing! Compared to the other characters she has more life but then I’m drawn to aggressive go-getter girls.
Hitomi Kanzaki – Escaflowne (Sunrise)
When Fox Kids aired the anime Escaflowne I met long-limbed Hitomi Kanzaki. Long-limbed? Is that how you’re going to introduce her? Well I remember the first episode introducing her as some sort of track-star with burgeoning psychic powers. She can read tarot cards through her abilities she managed to access the magical world of Gaea where conflict is brewing between various kingdoms. As the series progressed her abilities grew so that, although completely shocked at being transported to another planet, she was able to overcome obstacles and grow through combining her powers with her intelligence. Starting from a position as good-natured and uncertain she grew into a self-confident person with a harem of long limbed androgynous bishi boys as well as becoming a key character in stopping the war between the kingdoms.
Saya – Blood (Production I.G.)
Late at night on Channel 4 in the early 2000’s after a documentary on AMV’s I encountered Blood: The Last Vampire. In less than an hour, Saya, a vampire-hunting girl clad in a sailor suit uniform dispatched a group of vampire with such brutality, cunning and flair that she made an impact not just on me but on everybody who has viewed the film. Set in a US Air Force base just before the Vietnam War, Saya is a vampire herself and works with her handler David as part of a government organisation named Red Shield hunting creatures named chiropterans (vampire monsters). The gritty, bloody animation was startling, her superior physical and mental abilities and use of a katana subverted the iconic image of the Japanese school-girl clad in a sailor uniform.
Major Motoko Kusanagi – Ghost in the Shell (Production I.G.)
The Sci-Fi Channel’s premmiere screening of Ghost in the Shell introduced me to Major Motoko Kusanagi. The stunning opening sequence involving a special ops raid to take out a defecting computer programmer created an icon when a naked and invisible Kusanagi leapt off a hotel roof and sailed through the air to perform a graceful and brutal execution and she has never looked back. Throughout the first Ghost in the Shell film, she gets the chance to flex her muscles in brilliantly animated scenes of combat culminating in an epic battle with a tank set to some languid music by Kenji Kawai. What I like about Kusanagi is that although she’s a whiz at hacking and combat, she’s also introverted and thoughtful, introducing elements of existentialism based on the concept of her humanity. I’m all for explorations of existentialism in film so having a kick-ass cyborg do these things in between taking on tanks is great.
Then in 2003 came a break with anime. I stopped watching anything that wasn’t Production I.G. and it wasn’t until 2007 that I picked up on it again. The next and final post of this series details some of the more recent heroines.