The 5 Most Formidable Women in Anime

Whether she is an anti-hero, a strong leader or a braniac that saves the world at the last minute, a formidable woman can definitely hold her own. If she’s in a tough spot, she’ll MacGyver her way out of it; when in doubt, her crew will turn to her and ask her what to do, because she’s the only one who can do it; countries will follow her to the depths of the ocean because their loyalty to her goes beyond logic; if you piss her off, she’ll roundhouse kick you without question and if you try and kill her, she’ll shoot a bullet in your brain. Formidable women come in all shapes and forms and, in truth, they are a force to be reckoned with in their own unique ways.

Anime has been criticized for its terrible portrayal of women, and rightly so. I have seen a fair amount of series that have weak, infantalized female characters whose only roles are to support the male hero as a love interest, sibling or mother-character. And on the flip side, the same series’ only other female character is hyper-sexualized with the personality of a blow-up doll. I think it is time to point out that there are some great anime series/films with fantastic female characters that are well-rounded, interesting, kickass, intelligent and have more than just a “romantic” goal. 

Lucy from Elfen Lied

Elfen Lied is one of the violent and extreme series that I have ever seen. I was visiting a friend in upstate New York when he mentioned, “Hey, I think you might like this anime!” Now, I am a big fan of gore and blood, but from the opening credits I would have guessed this series was a slow-paced, dramatic romance. The opening credits are truly beautiful: a Latin song is sung over different adaptations of Gustav Klimt’s paintings where the series’ protagonist, Lucy, is inserted. But within ten minutes of watching this series you’ll will quickly realize that it is far from a “slow paced drama”.

Are you the type of person that enjoys watching people be dismembered within seconds of an opening sequence? Well, this series is for you! The series revolves around, Lucy, a new “type” of human called a Diclonius, which physically are almost identical to run-of-the-mill human beings, save for the short horns protruding from their heads. Genetically, Diclonius are very different from humans, as they have a special power, dubbed “vectors” by human researchers. Vectors are invisible arms that can be used to touch, move, pull or brutally murder anything tangible. The amount of arms differs from Diclonius to Diclonius, and the amount doesn’t necessarily equal the strength. Lucy is considered a “Queen Diclonius” due to the sheer amount of power and strength she has. Having four vectors only, she was able to murder at least thirty different armed people within the first nine minutes of the film.

Lucy is your a-typical anti-hero. She grew up an orphan, believing that her parents had abandoned her. When she was young, she lived at an orphanage where the other kids teased her. She had taken to feeding a wild puppy in the woods near her orphanage, and after telling a girl she perceived to be her friend about the puppy, the girl told her secret to the boys who were bullying her, who ended up kidnapping and brutally beating the puppy to death. Even though the girl told Lucy she didn’t realize the harm the boys would cause, Lucy saw the girl’s mischievous smile and in a rage unleashed her vectors for the first time, killing all of her tormentors.

Lucy, in general, is amazing. She may be a mass-murdering Diclonius set on exterminating the human race, but she lived her entire life locked up and used as a test subject by human beings who saw the Diclonius as a threat. She was reacting to the way she had been treated her entire life, a victim and captive of humans who saw her as sub-human and treated her like a monster. She defends herself when threatened and, later on in the series, admirably defends the people she cares for, even if it does mean brutalizing a dozen or so bodies in the process.

Lady Eboshi from Princess Mononoke (Mononoke Hime)

Lady Eboshi is everything I want to be as a woman. She a respected leader of Iron Town and is calm, cool, collected in everything she does. She buys woman who were purchased by brothels and gives them work that initially was meant exclusively for men. She also treats other outcasts of society, such as lepers, and is respected by all the men and women who come to hear of or know her.

Lady Eboshi is not the female protagonist of Princess Mononoke, San is, and while Eboshi causes a threat to the forest with her mining, her good works with all the “lower class” people of old Japan make it hard to hate her. San is a young woman who was raised by wolves and believes that Iron Town needs to be destroyed before it can destroy the forest. Eboshi shot and killed one of the giant Boar gods, which caused a demon boar to rampage throughout the rest of the country. The demon boar ended up being killed by the film’s male protagonist and main character, Ashitaka, who is then cursed by a spell that gives him incredible strength, but will inevitably kill him.

At the end of the movie, after Iron Town is almost destroyed by a mindless god of death, Lady Eboshi realizes her wrongdoings and promises San and Ashitaka that she will rebuild the town, making it “better than before”. And apparently Republicans hate this film because it pushes an “environmental communist message”, which makes me love it even more.

Lady Eboshi is awesome, I actually idolized her for a long time. If I ever lead a city or a town, I hope I can do it with the same attitude she does. All she wants to do is help people who the rest of society has excommunicated, and it consumes her entire life in the best way possible. Messing with Lady Eboshi means messing with all of Iron Town, and Iron Town manufactures firearms as their main industry. Yikes.

Alita from Battle Angel Alita

Battle Angel Alita is a classic anime that set the tone for a lot of future series. If you’ve seen Akira, you’ll note that the art style and animation in Battle Angel Alita is very similar to it, as the production team was heavily influenced by Akira.

Battle Angel Alita is a post-apocalyptic sci-fi series that takes place in a world where technology is advanced enough to have cyborgs acting as a part of society. Alita is a cyborg who lost all of her memories and is found in a pile of garbage missing half of her body by a man who, as a cybernetics doctor, decides to bring her home, rebuild and take care of her. Alita, despite her mind being wiped completely void of all other memories, seems to have a lingering memory of a cyborg martial art known as Panzer Kunst, which leads Alita into becoming a bounty hunter. She lives and hunts in the Scrapyard, where the “lower class” people live (unlike the upper class, which live in Salem, a city high above the Scrapyard), their bodies altered heavily by cybernetics to help them cope with their difficult lives.

Alita is not only kick-ass at martial arts, but she is also a master of a popular Scrapyard sport known as motorball. Motorball is a violent sport than involves rollerblade-like skates, heavy balls called “motorballs”, racing, and beating the shit out of your opponents so you can be the first person to cross the finish line carrying the motorball. All in all, it’s a very violent and gruelling sport, but due to Alita’s near unparalleled cyborg abilities, she is able to succeed at the game over and over again.

Alita is not just an emotionless cyborg, though. She cares about the people around her and strives to make people’s lives in the Scrapyard a better place by taking down criminals and defending what she believes in. You learn later on in the series that she was actually instrumental in the development of the world in which she lives in.

Sadly, there is a Hollywood remake of Battle Angel Alita set to happen with James Cameron at the helm. For now the adaptation has been put on “hold” so that Cameron can focus on Avatar 2, but I am hoping and praying to the film gods that it will be slashed all together. My biggest fear is Battle Angel Alita being turned into a bad remake of “The Running Man”. Alita could kick Schwatzenegger’s ass any day.

Motoko Kusanagi from Ghost in the Shell

Like Battle Angel Alita, Ghost in the Shell is a cult classic and favourite of many anime fans. Technically it is an entire franchise spanning across two films, three manga series, three television series and two video games. Ghost in the Shell, for me, was probably the first time I saw a seriously bad ass woman in an anime series in command of anything other than her pet Digimon/Pokemon partner, her children or her school work (back in ’01, very few series even had women in control of their love lives).

Ghost in the Shell stars Motoko Kusanagi, also known as “Major Motoko Kusanagi” or just “Major Kusanagi”. She is considered Major by her peers because she is the squad leader of a “faux” futuristic subset of a very real Japanese agency known as the Japanese Public Safety Commission.

Because Kusanagi’s personality and physical characteristics differentiate across the entire franchise, I decided that I would primarily focus on the telvision version of her for this article. Unlike her serious, brooding, black-haired counterpart in the film, “television” Kusanagi shows a little more spunk, although she is still respectful of her superiors and maintains a commanding and professional presence. Out of the three “variations” of her character (manga, television series, film) the television version is the moderate version. In the manga, Kusanagi is extremely sexual, having lesbian cyber-three ways while not working. She is vivacious, a little immature and incredibly disrespectful to her superiors. In the Ghost in the Shell film, Kusanagi is serious, androgynous and brooding. She is an excellent tactical commander and rarely shows any emotion, making her perfect for her job. In the television series, Kusanagi is a healthy mix of both worlds. She is regularly seen waking up in bed beside women, so we know she has a healthy sex life; Kusanagi always dresses provocatively, but none of the other characters seem to ever comment on it, save for the one time her Chief cracked a sly comment, which was otherwise ignored.

Kusanagi can handle any rough situation while calm, is able to execute detailed tactical operations with the respect of her peers and at the same time, maintains a healthy social-life outside of her work. She is truly amazing, and could probably kill you within moments of meeting you if you posed a threat.

Edward Wong Hau Pepelu Tivruski IV (née Françoise Appledehli, née”Radical Edward” ) from Cowboy Bebop

I really wanted to include Ed in this list because rarely are “braniac” characters included in “best of lists” when it comes to kick ass characters or characters that you wouldn’t want to go up against. She may not possess much physical strength, may appear to be thirteen years of age and regularly run around barefoot or in handstands, but Ed is a genius beyond the level of any other character in the Cowboy Bebop universe. She is a self-taught genius hacker that controls the Bebop’s computer, regularly interacting with the entire interface with her high-tech goggles alone. Her computer, the Tomato, is presumably named after her childhood best friend.

Ed’s best friend is a Pembroke Welsh Corgi named Ein, who early on in the series was brought aboard by Spike, the series’ protagonist, after his efforts to capture a bounty failed and all he ended up with was Ein. Ed and Ein routinely play Shogi; Ed plays against the Bebop’s computer (in the television series) and Ein against Jet Black (in the movie).

Ed regularly refers to herself in the third person and is fearless, despite her lack physical prowess. She won’t hesitate to run headfirst into a suspicious situation, and most times, will end up besting the obstacle all together. Often times in the series she has taken control of the Bebop or other spaceships remotely when bored or when trying to get the Bebop crew’s attention (like when Faye promised Ed she could become a part of the Bebop crew, but tried to get Jet to speed away without her).

While hacking or dancing around, Ed is regularly singing or reciting weird poems as presumably this helps her concentrate. Often times you will see her off in the distance, doing somersaults and humming to herself, or sauntering around outside of the Bebop looking for food. Ed’s father is a cartographer, which is an interesting and difficult profession, considering that Ed’s family is from a planet where the terrain changes daily due to the high-impact rate it has with asteroids.

All in all, don’t mess with the Bebop, or you’ll have a super-braniac, hacker whiz kid to deal with who can disable your entire computer system in a matter of seconds and gain complete control over your ship. Edward Wong Hau Pepelu Tivruski IV, I salute you.

Runner-ups: Canaan from Canaan, Revy from Black Lagoon, Theresa from Claymore, Saya from Blood the Last Vampire, Saber from Fate/Stay Night

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