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10 Most Iconic Anime Heroes
The Best of the Best of Anime
By Thomas Zoth
January 12, 2010
10 Iconic Anime Heroes
© Mania/Bob Trate
The history of anime is a history of its leading men and women. Because of the preeminent position of the larger-than-life hero in anime, when a character broke new ground, his series itself broke new ground. Below is a list of influential heroes, who pioneered new styles or genres in anime, and helped expand anime fandom beyond the borders of Japan:
10. Astro Boy
First appeared: 1952 in Shonen Kobunsha. Tetsuwan Atomu, a manga by Osamu Tezuka.
His story: Astro Boy, or Mighty Atom as he is known in Japan, is an android constructed by Japan's Minister of Science, Dr. Tenma. Inconsolable after the death of his only son, Dr. Tenma created Astro Boy in his son's image in a vain attempt to replace him. Frustrated that Astro was unable to grow or change, Tenma rejects the young robot and sells him to the circus. There, he catches the attention of kindly Professor Ochanomizu, who subsequently rescues and adopts him. With jets in his feet and powerful fists, Astro is equipped to fight those who sought to disrupt the peaceful coexistence of human- and robotkind.
Why he is iconic: While not the first television anime, Astro Boy was the first animated series for Osamu Tezuka's Mushi Productions, and the first Japanese anime series to become a hit abroad. In order to compete with live-action programming, Tezuka priced the show at only 500,000 yen per episode, which set low production costs as a standard of the industry for years to come. Astro Boy encouraged Japan's love affair with robots, and many prominent scientists, such as Yasuhiro Koike, cite the Astro Boy manga and anime as inspiring their choice of career. In August 2003, the Japanese government announced it had plans to fund a 30-year project to construct an android with the capabilities of a five-year-old child. The plan is named Project Atom.
9. 8 Man
First appeared: 1962 in Weekly Shonen Magazine. 8 Man, by Kazumasa Hirai and illustrator Jiro Kuwata.
His story: Murdered by criminals, detective Hachiro Azuma's remains are taken to Professor Tani, who is attempting to transfer a human's memories and life force to a cybernetic body. The first seven experiments were failures, but in robotics, the eighth time is the charm: Azuma is successfully merged with military prototype body. With a new body a hundred times stronger than the average man, 8 Man returns to fight the international crime syndicate responsible for his death.
Why he is iconic: Before Cyborg 009, The Six Million Dollar Man, and Robocop, there was 8 Man: The first cyborg manga and anime hero. Building on Astro Boy, 8 Man helped to shape the trajectory of robot and cyborg heroes for the next decade.
8. Lupin III
First appeared: 1967 in Weekly Manga Action. Lupin III, by Kazuhiko "Monkey Punch" Kato.
His story: The lusty, lustful Lupin III is grandson of Arsene Lupin, gentleman thief, the star of a series of books by French author Maurice LeBlanc. Decidedly less of a gentleman than his forebears, Lupin and his entourage travel the world in search of riches to steal. Lupin always announces his arrival by sending a calling card beforehand, which sets his dogged but incompetent archrival, Inspector Zenigata of Interpol, on his tail. Whether or not he scores the treasure (or with lover and rival Fujiko Mine), Lupin is always on the hunt for the next big caper.
Why he is iconic: Lupin is star of five manga series, three television anime, five OAVs, six films, and 21 television specials, with no end in sight. Hayao Miyazaki's feature film directorial debut was the Lupin film The Castle of Cagliostro. The interactions between Lupin and his comrades, and the episodic caper format of the show, inspired the later Cowboy Bebop.
7. Joe Yabuki
First appeared: 1968 in Weekly Shonen Magazine. Ashita no Joe, by Asao Takamori and illustrator Tetsuya Chiba.
His story: As a child, Joe Yabuki fled from an orphanage to the streets of Tokyo, where he survived as a petty thief. He meets up with an alcoholic boxing promoter Danpei who sees potential in the young boy. Unfortunately, Joe only sees an opportunity for free food and shelter. He plays at training, all the while continuing his life of crime. Joe is arrested and sent to a juvenile prison, where he realizes that Danpei actually cared a great deal for him. He continues his training regimen with the help of Rikiishi, a former boxing prodigy. Once released, he returns to Danpei to fulfill his new goal: To become bantamweight champion.
Why he iconic: All but unknown in America, Tomorrow's Joe captured the zeitgeist of 1960s Japan. The story of Joe's rise from nothing touched a chord with Japanese audiences, who were seeing their country prosper after a long period of postwar devastation. When a major character in the series was killed, more than 700 mourners, dressed in black, held a vigil and funeral outside the Tokyo offices of Kodansha publishing.
6. Duke Togo
First appeared: 1969 in Big Comic. Golgo 13, by Takao Saito.
His story: Duke Togo, alias Golgo 13, is the world’s best assassin. Real name: Unknown. Age: Unknown. Nationality: Unknown. Like an amoral James Bond, he travels around the world, carrying out hits and sleeping with any beautiful women available. His code name was chosen to cultivate an image of malice and dread: Golgo is short for Golgotha, the hill where Christ was crucified, and 13 is an unlucky number. A crack shot with a sniper rifle, and almost invincible in close combat, Duke Togo never quits a mission, and never he fails to make kill his target.
Why he is iconic: Golgo 13 is an exemplar of the gekiga style, as opposed to manga style, of graphic novels. Artists of darker and gritter tales rejected the light sounding “whimsical pictures” (man-ga) for “dramatic pictures” (geki-ga). The gekiga Golgo 13 is still running to this day: Duke Togo has been an assassin for hire for over 40 years.
First appeared: 1972 in Shonen Magazine. Devilman, by Go Nagai.
His story: Akira Fudo was a gentle soul until his life literally became a living hell. The demon Amon, frozen in the Arctic, awakens and attempts to take a human host. Akira is Amon's chosen vessel, but the demon is unable to take full control due to Akira’s pure heart. Akira’s friend, Ryo Asuka, convinces him that it takes a demon to fight a demon, so Fudo uses his powers to fight the growing demonic threat. Unfortunately, summoning the powers of Amon proves to be costly: The once timid Fudo, who hid from bullies, is growing more aggressive and vengeful. Akira Fudo finds himself not only facing a threat from demons without, but also from the Devilman within.
Why he is iconic: Shonen manga developed a dark tone with Devilman's graphic violence, casual blasphemy, and theme of using evil itself to fight evil. These themes prove popular to this day, in series as diverse as Hellsing, Chrono Crusade, and Evangelion.
4. Captain Harlock
First appeared: 1978 in Play Comic. Space Pirate Captain Harlock, by Leiji Matsumoto.
His story: Captain Harlock is less a man than an archetype, unwilling to be constrained by mere causality and the linear time. Because creator Matsumoto is well known for continually revising and updating his “Leijiverse”, Harlock has several different, yet complementary, stories. In the original series, he faced off against the threat of a race of plant women; in Arcadia of My Youth, he attempts to fight back against the Illumidas occupation of earth. Regardless of time or dimension, the ideals Harlock stands for remain the same: To be a true man, one must fight for what is right against impossible odds, even if you know you face defeat and certain death.
Why he is iconic: As befitting his archetype status, Harlock has inspired many other manga and anime characters with his strong, stoic appearance and manner. Such characters include parodies, such as Captain Napolipolita from Project A-Ko, as well as tributes, in heroes such as Tuxedo Mask from Sailor Moon and Alex Row from Last Exile.
3. Ataru Moroboshi
First appeared: 1978 in Weekly Shonen Sunday. Urusei Yatsura, by Rumiko Takahashi.
His story: Ataru Moroboshi is the unluckiest human being on the planet earth, so it's only natural that he would be caught up in a contest to decide the fate of the earth. When space aliens invade, Ataru is forced to compete with the Oni princess Lum in a game of tag. The stakes are high: If Ataru fails to tag her within one week, the earth will be destroyed. Ataru wins at the last minute by stealing Lum's bikini top, and tagging her while she's stunned. Lum mistakes Ataru’s victory cry as a marriage proposal, and decides to move in with her new Darling. Though the earth is saved, Ataru’s troubles are just beginning, as a host of alien in-laws intrude upon his once-peaceful life.
Why he is iconic: There had been loser characters in anime and manga before, but few as completely worthless as Ataru Moroboshi. Against all odds, he finds himself the target of affection of beautiful, powerful women, making him the first protagonist with a harem. Later refined in Tenchi Muyo and Love Hina, the harem genre continues to be popular to this day.
2. Amuro Ray
First appeared: 1979 in Mobile Suit Gundam
His story: Universal Century 0079. The earth and its space colonies are embroiled in a war between the Earth Federation and the Duchy of Zeon. Amuro Ray is an ordinary 15 year old boy living on Space Colony "Side 7" with his scientist father. When Side 7 is ambushed by Zeon forces and Amuro’s friends are put at risk, Ray climbs aboard RX-78 Gundam to fend off the attackers. Due to the devastation of the surprise attack, the warship White Base takes in Amuro and a civilian crew in an attempt to return to earth. Ray proves to be a natural pilot, and is later discovered to be a Newtype, an advanced, evolved form of humanity better suited to life in space.
Why he is iconic: Mobile Suit Gundam was the first series that attempted to deal with giant robots in a mature and thoughtful way. Because of this, Amuro Ray was the first teenage pilot with moral qualms about the war he was fighting. His arrogance, capriciousness and self-doubt paved the way for the isolated, troubled characters of Neon Genesis Evangelion.
First appeared: 1984 in Weekly Shonen Jump. Dragonball, by Akira Toriyama
His story: Inspired by the Monkey King in the Chinese classic Journey to the West, Son Goku is a young boy with a big heart and a big appetite. After his grandfather's death, Goku lived alone in the mountains until he meets Bulma Briefs, who is on a mission to collect seven magical balls scattered around the world. Eager to explore and continue his martial arts training, Goku joins Bulma on her quest. Naive and good natured, Goku gets in a great deal of trouble when he misunderstands others' often selfish motivations. Fortunately, his fighting skill and determination see him through all of the challenges he faces on this world and beyond.
Why he is iconic: Goku and Dragonball completely revolutionized the shonen genre. The authors of “One Piece” and “Naruto” credit Dragonball for inspiring not only their series, but their main characters as well. Goku's earnestness and naivete is readily apparent in Monkey D. Luffy and Naruto, as well as countless other young heroes.
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