Anime History #2: The Genealogy of “Kawaii” Created by Anime Heroines

Dec 6, 2021 | Anime

The history of “kawaii,” a word that originated in Japan, is deeply related to anime, Japan’s representative subculture. In particular, it goes without saying that the many highly original anime heroines that appeared in the 20th century helped push Japan’s “kawaii” to the global standard.

Here, we would like to introduce four of the most popular anime heroines of the 20th century.

Lum / Urusei-Yatsura

The Synopsis of Urusei-Yatsura

The Oni aliens are trying to invade the earth. They possess overwhelming technological and military power, and it would be too easy and uninteresting for them to easily take over the earth by force. Therefore, the representative of them and that of the earth fought in single combat and declared that if the earth one won, they would go home quietly, and if he lost, they would occupy the earth.

This battle is decided by playing “Oni-Gokko” in accordance with the tradition of the Oni aliens. In the battle, if the earth grabs the horn of the Oni’s within the deadline, the earth wins.

A high school student, Ataru Moroboshi, was chosen to be representative of the Earth in the “0ni-Gokko”. At first, he had no intention of participating, but his girlfriend Shinobu Miyake persuaded him to join the battle. However, Lum, that of the Oni-aliens, mistakenly thought that Ataru had asked her to marry him during the battle, and she accepted.

After winning the battle, Earth escaped the Oni invasion, but Lum ends up living in the Moroboshi household without permission. The endless “Oni-Gokko” between Ataru and Lum, begins, and the town of Tomobiki, where the Moroboshi family lives, becomes embroiled in various disasters and strange events.

Innocent Lum Invader

Lum is an alien who has the ability to fly, shoot electric shocks, and has two horns on her head. She is a beautiful girl who always wears a sexy tiger-print bikini and long boots.

She is deeply in love with the unfaithful protagonist Ataru Moroboshi, whom she calls “Darling,” and has become his intrusive wife. She is so devoted to Ataru that she sometimes gets jealous when he shows interest in other women and punishes him with electric shocks.

She also calls herself “Uchi” and adds “Daccya” to the end of her words, giving her a unique dialect-like way of speaking.

The most appealing thing about Lum is her innocence, her straightforward personality, and her clear sense of joy, anger, sorrow, and pleasure. In the late 1970s, when the original story began, Japan was a country where male dominance was strong and females’ self-assertion was not socially acceptable. Therefore, Lum, who clearly expresses her joy, anger, sorrow, and pleasure, including her intense jealousy of Ataru, was also projected as a pioneer of women of that time.

Achievements of Rumiko Takahashi

Rumiko Takahashi is one of the pioneering female manga artists in the field of shonen manga, and her representative works have all been made into TV anime series that have become huge hits and long-running series. The total number of copies of her comics sold worldwide was 100 million in 1995 and exceeded 200 million in 2017.

The genres of Rumiko Takahashi’s works range from comedies, love stories, and battles to horror stories. Her unique characterizations, such as Lum, an alien wearing a tiger-print bikini, and Ranma, a martial artist who transforms into a woman when he wears water, can be seen as outsiders and oddballs, but her depictions of them show that minorities have a chance. This unique worldview is also known as the “Lumic World”.

In 2019, she won the Grand Prix at the Angoulême International Manga Award, which is called the “Cannes of Manga”. She is the second Japanese artist to win this prize since Katsuhiro Otomo, who created “AKIRA” and other works, won it in 2015.

In 2020, she was awarded the Medal with Purple Ribbon, which is given to people who have made inventions and discoveries in the field of science and technology, as well as outstanding achievements in the fields of academia, sports, and the arts. In 2021, she was inducted into the Harvey Awards Hall of Fame, one of the oldest and most prestigious awards in the comics industry, established in 1988 in the U.S. Osamu Tezuka was also inducted in 2020.

Nausicca of the Valley of the Wind

The “Valley of the Winds” is protected from the poison of the rotting sea by the wind blowing from the sea. One day, a transport airship attacked by an insect (Ohm) crashes into the Valley. On board was the core of the “Giant God Soldier” that destroyed the earth in the final war called the “Seven Days of Fire”. Soon, a struggle for that breaks out, and Nausicaa, Queen of the Valley, is caught up in the warring conspiracies.

Although the film was first released in 1984, it is still loved and has the power to attract even young audiences. Its appeal lies in the strong originality of the film.

The apocalyptic view of the world reminds us of the use of nuclear weapons and the damage caused by radiation, and the subsequent environmental pollution. There is also a strange forest that emits poisonous substances that are harmful to the human body, and the insects that protect it. These are all environments created by man-made factors such as environmental pollution and war, and are very much related to the problems of modern society.

The Ideal Leader in Nausicaa

Nausicaa may look like a little girl, but she has a very brave heart. If her country is in danger, she will take action before anyone else. She will risk her life to save not only her country and friends but also any person or animal that has a chance of survival.

There are many scenes in the film where she confronts an opponent who is clearly armed with a gun or a weapon, but she does not have a weapon, and she stands alone to stop the conflict. The opponent is so moved by her appearance that he stops his attack.

She has such bravery and beauty, but we should not forget her problem-solving ability.

Nausicaa always faces difficulties, but she also searches for solutions and ways to coexist. The final scene is a perfect example of this. The insect (Ohm) that appears in the film has been thought of as an animal that attacks people. However, she takes good care of Ohm, and through her close relationship with them, she realizes that they have the power to heal human wounds. In that scene, Nausicaa, who was wounded and thought to be dead, is brought back to life by their mysterious power.

As you can see, Nausicaa is an ideal leader who is trusted by all and has a high level of courage and problem-solving ability. In fact, in 1984, when this movie was aired, Japan was experiencing rapid economic growth, and women’s participation in society was also a hot topic.

Madoka Ayukawa / Kimagure Orange Road

Timeless “Youth Literature”

Kimagure Orange Road was serialized in Weekly Shonen Jump from 1984 to 1987 and is a science fiction romantic comedy featuring Kyosuke Kasuga, a boy with mysterious superpowers. Kyosuke falls in love with a delinquent girl named Madoka Ayukawa at his new school, but Hikaru Hiyama, who adores Madoka as his sister, approaches him fiercely, and due to his indecisive nature, he ends up going out with Hikaru. Kyosuke and Madoka develop a relationship that is more than friends but less than lovers, without Hikaru knowing.

The story is told from Kyosuke’s point of view, but when you look at it from Madoka’s point of view, you realize that the original theme of this work is “balancing love and friendship,” which is an eternal concern of adolescents.

In that sense, this work is a legitimate piece of coming-of-age literature, like Goethe’s “The Sorrows of Young Werther”.

The Heroine, Madoka Ayukawa, is overwhelmingly “Kawaii”

In this work, the image of the heroine Madoka Ayukawa is very strong. She is said to be the original “tsundere” heroine, a beautiful girl with a brilliant mind and strong fighting skills.

However, Madoka’s true charm lies more in her purity of heart than in these specs. Madoka takes it upon herself to be in the shadows in order to avoid hurting both Hikaru and Kyosuke. She is the complete opposite of Lum from Urusei Yatsura.

In addition to Madoka Ayukawa, there are other attractive female characters in this work, such as Hikaru Hiyama, a single-minded junior, and Kyosuke’s twin sisters, Manami and Kurumi, which is one of the reasons for its popularity.

Still, Madoka Ayukawa is by far the most popular. Madoka, who has both a whimsical and mysterious atmosphere and an honest and pure face hidden behind, is a character that will never go out of style, no matter how much time passes. She is also said to be the cutest heroine in the history of Weekly Shonen Jump, which boasts an overwhelming share of the comic market in Japan.

Kimagure Orange Road TV Series

Kimagure Orange Road TV Series

Media Type: Blu-Ray
Author: Izumi Matsumoto
Availability: Amazon(US)

Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon

The girls fight in their sailor-type costumes. Their dignified and beautiful appearance was tremendously vivid. The sparkling story reflects the multifaceted image of girls like a prism. Sailor Moon taught us that girls are not only cute, but can also be strong and cool.

Media Mix Effect with Manga and Anime

In the 1990s, “Sailor Moon” was a social phenomenon in Japan, and in recent years it has gained a global fan base and is expanding further. The manga by Naoko Takeuchi was first serialized in Kodansha’s “Nakayoshi” in the February 1992 issue, and the TV anime started airing almost simultaneously in March 1992. The story of Usagi Tsukino, a crybaby and ordinary junior high school student, who transforms into Sailor Moon and fights have been well received, and both the manga and TV anime have been produced up to the fifth part.

As many fans know, the content and style of the original “Sailor Moon” manga and the TV anime that aired in the 1990s were very different. The TV anime, which was aimed more at the children’s audience, featured comical expressions with lots of gags, and the story focused on the friendship and bond between the Sailor Soldier.  The story also differs from the original in many scenes, and both manga and anime have succeeded as media mix works by creating their own unique lines.

The Cosmic Worldview

While the TV anime focused largely on the friendship between the Sailor Soldier, the manga focuses on the fated love between Usagi Tsukino and Mamoru Jiba (Tuxedo Mask), which has been a pillar of the story since their previous lives. While emphasizing romance, “Sailor Moon” also incorporates the essence of works for boys and young men, giving it a fresh reading experience not seen in traditional girls’ manga.

The most famous example is probably the influence of “Sentai”. Takeuchi, a fan of tokusatsu sentai (special effects) series, used “Himitsu Sentai Goranger” as a reference and brought team play into works for girls for the first time. Until then, the main character of magical girls fought alone against the enemy, but “Sailor Moon” was the first to introduce a style in which multiple characters work together to fight, and it would change the course of the genre. In the color illustration for the 48th episode of the manga, there were 10 Sailor Soldiers lined up in a row, and it was a memorable visual that condensed the charm of the Sentai series.

She also has a science background and has been fond of models, plastic models, and astronomical telescopes since she was a child. Reflecting the author’s hobby, the items that appear in “Sailor Moon” have a somewhat scientific flavor to them. It was also unusual for a girl’s manga in the 1990s to reflect a maniacal interest in science, with the Sailor Soldier using space as a motif, and the names of the enemies derived from minerals such as zoisite and kunzite. The props that appear in the manga are mechanical and beautiful, such as the trinkets worn by them and the star-shaped moon phase pocket watch that appeared as an item to connect Usagi and Mamoru. The gritty and cosmic worldview depicted in the mature and delicate designs creates a charm unique to the manga version that is different from the anime.