Anime With Strong, Adult Female Leads

October 22nd, 2008

Yesterday I threw out the idea of mentioning a few completely non-Yuri anime that feature adult females here, for people who want to watch anime that do not revolve around fetuses in frilly dresses. I was specifically thinking of a few series I am watching or have watched recently that star women who are closer to adult than to kiddies, but there’s at least two anime that star kids that are worth noting as well. Since so many of you jumped in on the comments yesterday, I thought I’d write this one up right away for you. (And *thanks* for the great comments, too!)

So first off, I agree with everyone that Nijuu Mensou no Musume, aka Daughter of Twenty Faces is a terrific series. Chiko is 13, so no, she’s not an adult, but this mixture of classic early-twentieth century adventure, action, scifi and mystery never fails to appeal to me. The writers never lose sight of the fact that for all Chiko is athletic, strong and well-trained, she’s still a little girl. She’s not walking around throwing men 6 times her size or anything.

I actually mentioned this series a while back in the Yuri News Report, but as a series of novels that I had begun to read. Just as I began the second Telepathy Shoujo Ran novel, an anime was announced for the series. I recommend it. Like Chiko, Ran is 13. About there all similarities end. ^_^ Ran is a typical middle-schooler, except that she’s not typical at all – she’s telepathic. And when transfer student Midori shows up, weird things begin to happen. I’m going to spoil the series a bit – in the novel, Midori and Ran become friends almost immediately after one uncomfortable encounter and, along with the creepy teacher, there’s some surprisingly Yuri-service moments in that first novel. In fact, as the teacher tries to kill Ran, it was a, erm…sexy moment. I was reading it thinking it was a little warm in the room, when Midori says something like, “Well, that was pretty hot, wasn’t it?” ^_^ And Ran and Midori have some sincerely intense feelings for one another. However, let me be very clear – this is not a Yuri story. Ran has a great boyfriend, Rui, who I like very much as a character, and Midori is attracted to Ran’s older brother Rin. (Who doesn’t look like much, but he’s smart, athletic and can cook! Good taste in men, Midori.) This series is a supernatural thriller. Again, not forgetting that Ran and Midori are children, the series is notheless about two girls with special powers who do not *need* the men in their lives, they *love* the men in their lives. A big difference.

Now onto the grown ups!

This anime seems to have flown under the radar completely. Run, don’t walk, out and watch, Yakushiji Ryōko no Kaiki Jikenbo, The Case File of Yakushiji Ryouko. This series is utterly absurd in every possible way. Oryo, as she’s called, is a police detective, and the daughter of the conglomerate that runs most of the security for Japan, JACES. She’s beautiful, wealthy, arrogant, hyper-competent, favors miniskirt suits, sexually harrasses her subordinate because she actually likes him, all while knowing everything, being better than everyone and fighting off giant monsters, mutating creatures and plants that take over people’s brains. The first 3 seconds of the opening lets you know what you’re in for here – the sex appeal is high, the adventures are crazy and if they made 1000 more episodes of this I’d watch them. *This* is quality.

We talked about Mouryou no Hako yesterday so I won’t beat it to death again. Despite the attention paid to the two school girls, there is also an adult woman who is part of the cast along with the four bishies. Just as a reminder.

A few people have brought Michiko to Hatchin to our attention. I’ve only watched the first episode and had to skip a lot, because unending scenes of child abuse really do not appeal to me. But, that’s not the point of the series. The *point* is that Hatchin is saved from her miserable life by Michiko who claims to be her mother (according to the website, Hana is actually the daughter of the guy Michiko admires.) Michiko is an escaped convict and a really bad role model, so of course I like her. :-)

Another series that is flying under the radar is Ultraviolet: Code 044. Based on the movie of the same name, which was so bad that even Milla Jovovich couldn’t save it, this anime is a bundle of contradictions. The art is very classic, almost Oniisama E style, with the long faces and the dramatic stop-action paintings, but full of violence and scifi noir dystopian settings. The character of 044, we are told, is 19, but it’s moot – her death will be any day now, because of the chemical enhancements she was given. Voiced by Paku Romi, 044 is a miserable pile of nihilism and angst. The anime isn’t as bad as the movie, but it’s not going to win any awards either. ^_^;

I don’t want to forget to mention two anime that have recently been released here in the west.


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Black Lagoon has not one, but *two* completely psychotic, violent and competent adult women. Revy’s okay, but I’m totally for Balalaika, myself. The anime has no point, it’s not *about* anything. It’s a fantasy no-holds-barred action-adventure – like Clive Cussler novels, y’know, Harlequin romances for boys. There’s Nazis and Mafia and Yakuza and turf wars and psychotic Goth-Loli child assassins and lots and lots of blood. Have I mentioned Balalaika? This ex-Russian army, now Russian mob leader makes this anime work for me.

I saved the best for last. I haven’t had much occasion to discuss this last title, since I don’t talk about the non-Yuri stuff I watch too often on Okazu. But. I briefly mentioned this series last year as the best anime I had ever watched. Moribito – Guardian of the Sacred Spirit is, hands down, the best anime *ever.* There is nothing about this anime that is not massively impressive. Characters, animation, music, story…everything. I mean it. There’s a scene about 2/3 of the way through the series, long after any other series would have cut back on the animation budget, where Balsa is looking at her spear tip. Not only is it marked up with use, it’s marked up with different kinds of use. There’s some notches, a few scrapes and a cut or two. That’s from three different kinds of attacks. As a person who genuinely and deeply loves edged weapons, this kind of thing is really important to me. But, what makes Moribito is Balsa. Her character is never compromised. And, good god, she’s 30! That’s like old age in anime! If you haven’t had a chance to see this, I hope you will take a look at it. Other people might like Studio Ghibli for the animation and epic quality of the stories, but for my money, Moribito blows every other animated work I’ve ever seen right out of the water.

Okay, so there’s my suggestions. Let’s hear yours!

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30 Responses

  1. Anonymous says:

    I’ve always liked Youko in Twelve Kingdoms. She’s not quite an adult (high schooler, I guess), and she starts out very rough and deeeeeply flawed (good luck not hating her at first), but I like her best because she works hard to change herself into that strong female lead. That’s a different kind of strength entirely. The always-idiotic and always-perfect people are boring after a whlie, at least to me. No Yuri or fanservice, and even a little gender bender going on.

    Oh, and there are swords.

  2. Katherine says:

    Kurozuka, which is currently airing, is excellent. It’s a series about a 12th century samurai named Kuro traveling with his companion, Benkei, who find a secluded house in the mountains. There they meet a chillingly beautiful woman named Kuromitsu who tells them that they can stay for as long as they like, so long as they don’t look inside her room in the back of the house. Saying anymore would constitute massive spoilers, but it’s a great, mature, intelligent action series.

    Ga-Rei –Zero- is another excellent, dark action series set (seemingly) in futuristic Tokyo, in which government agents fight paranormal beings. The action is awesome, and the series is chock full of uber-cool adults (and a couple of teens who look and act their age). One little detail that I found amusing was that one of the characters is a demon-fighting young woman with long, dark hair who always rides a motorcycle, named Natsuki. :)

    As for realistic teen characters, Skip Beat is good. It’s a shoujo series about a girl who, instead of attending high school, decided to go to Tokyo with the boy she loves so she can cook and clean and work three jobs so he can live in a cushy apartment while he pursues his dream of being an idol (this is just the first half of episode one, and it portrays the boy as being an asinine prick). One day when she goes to pay him a surprise visit at work, she hear him talking about her with his manager and realizes that he basically considers her a maid. She gets confronts him angrily, but gets carried by security away while raging futilely. She decides to get even by become an idol and beating him at his own game. It’s not brilliant, but it’s a pretty funny revenge tale so far.

    Vampire Knight Gulity, along with the previous Vampire Knight season, also features realistic teen characters (vampire bishonen aside).

  3. Winterbraid says:

    Cool, right when I was running outta things to watch. ^-^

  4. By the time I liked Youko in 12 Kingdoms, the series was no longer about her. And _ felt that Sugimoto – who was far much more interesting – was treated terribly. Her story was continued in the novels, but cut off in the anime.

  5. Katherine says:

    I forgot to mention earlier, thank you for the list, especially for The Case File of Yakushiji Ryouko. I hadn’t even heard of it before, but now it’s on my list of series to check out. ^^

  6. deanbcurtis says:

    I’ll echo the comments of the previous post, in that I really appreciate posts highlighting the depiction of women. So, stellar roundup. The Moribito universe is beyond terrific. It’s a shame that the light novels are being released at a snails pace, but the fact that they are even being translated into english is well worth it. Hopefully as the series gains exposure in the states (dvd Nov 4th), further story lines will be adapted. Even as an ova.

    Lagoon is totally, utterly, infectiously fun. Although, I would say it has a little more beneath the surface. For while its heart is thoroughly worn on its sleeve, its use of stoic philosophizing and moral gray is worthwhile. Basic action cliches, but done well, always elevate the material. And if you’re treading familiar ground, doing so under the influence of Cameron/Woo is never a bad thing.

  7. Winterbraid says:

    I liked “Black Lagoon” for the first couple episodes, until Revy started being tame and looking after others` butts, random people started running around with chainguns and throwing blades and everything turned into some kind of a Tarantino movie. Balalaika was cool, but her background was a bit too tragiheroic for my liking and she didn`t get nearly enough stage time anyway. Other characters would`ve be good, too, if they weren`t so insanely overdrawn. And no, it is neither deep nor philosophical, unless you consider Takeshi Kitano`s movies deep. I`m not saying it can not be a pleasurable series to watch, but I prefer anime like this not to try and pretend it actually makes sense. (Also, as my father pointed out, it was strange that they were breathing, fighting and even smoking inside a submarine that had been on the ocean`s floor for 50 years.)

    That`s old news by now, but I also checked out that “Shion no Ou” anime mentioned here at some point; for some reason, after reading the wiki I assumed that Shion would already be a young woman during the anime events… well, she was still an elementary school girl. The story mostly followed the usual tournament philosophy; perhaps it was just me, but everyone and everything seemed extremely cliched. There was some fake Yuri early on, as well as some fake yaoi later; at which point both the culprit and motive had been obvious for ages, so watching it to the end was somewhat of a chore (even more so because it reeked of patriarchism, as well as that particular type of “feminism” which puts up masculinity as the ultimate ideal). Maybe it`d have been more enjoyable if I knew anything at all about shougi, but I doubt it.

    Well, it seems to be an anti-suggestion so far, so here`s something positive: “Dennou Coil”, which is in fact not about adults, but kid hackers. However, they`re kids that, for once, behave like actual kids and not like a creation of some horrid mind, which in itself ups my rating a few notches. (Also, there is an adult woman riding a motorcycle. ^-^) I will not disclose anything about the story because it is really good; but the whole feels a bit like “Serial Experiments Lain” with less tension and for younger audience. I`d say the Yuri is equal to “Haibane Renmei” (which means it isn`t there if you don`t want it to be, but I prefer to call it “there and with good chance of future consumption” ^-^ ). As a proof it isn`t just me seeing things, it has already spawned at least one smutty doujin by Kurogane Ken (though that`s not a good recommendation at all ^-^;). Let`s just say it is something I really need on DVD.

  8. Anonymous says:

    I watched Yakushiji Ryōko no Kaiki Jikenbo, and loved it. But I wasn’t sure I was supposed to. I couldn’t decide if Ryoko was an incredibly great, strong female character, or if the absurd elements of the show (such as Oryo karate kicking fully-armored riot police in high heels and knocking them out cold, etc.) invalidated that. I’m glad to hear that you liked it as well.

    Unfortunately, the only non-listed examples I can think of off the top of my head are:

    #1: Himuro Keiko, school President in Princess Nine. A fiercely intelligent woman, she battles with the misogynistic school board to push forward her plans for the female baseball team.

    2#: Fee Carmichael of Planetes, which I’m currently watching. Ultra-competant, smart, fiery, and mature.

    I’m sure there are more I’m forgetting. By the way…tangental question, but did you see and/or like Air Master?

  9. Mara says:

    Two characters from Kara No Kyoukai, Shiki Ryogi and Touko Aozaki, are not just cool and adult but both also have scenes of logic defying brilliance.

    If Shiki did not have such a scene in the chapter of the original novel the makers of the movies make one for her to lengthen the shorter chapters.

    Touko, runs a supernatural detective agency. Wears cool glasses, smokes and has a personality that can change from kind to murderous in a heartbeat. Considering her character was written in 1998 I can see Touko inspiring many later characters we have already mentioned.

  10. Leti says:

    Thanks for this list :) I’ve added ‘The Case File of Yakushiji Ryouko’ to my plan to watch list.

    What is your current opinion on ‘Mnemosyne no musume-tachi’s Rin? I haven’t finished watching it yet, but I think Rin is a pretty strong female lead (if by strong I can mean she gets dismembered and put back together again without much psychological damage on a regular basis…;) )

  11. athenaltena says:

    Very good choices here. One thing that bugs me about most anime is that the girl’s aren’t legal, and I happen to like women, not girls. I pumped my first in the air when I saw this list.

    I’ll back up what Mara says about Kara no Kyoukai, especially Touko. Many of the Type-Moon heroines are great, like Rider from Fate/Stay Night and Rin from the same series, though she’s high school aged.

  12. Eric P. says:

    I always thought Re-L from Ergo Proxy made a cool Gothic action heroine, and that Haibane Renmei had a great depiction of its nearly all-female cast in a fantasy story setting. While Emma may be a quiet and reserved maid, she feels like a real character and has an actual background explaining why she’s so reserved, so it doesn’t at all feel like it plays to the cliche of the passive (maid) heroine. And maybe we shouldn’t forget the Major from Ghost in the Shell?

    Thanks for the heads-up on some of the titles, by the way!

  13. Leti – I’ve reviewed several of the Mnemosyne episodes here. I liked Rin lots.

  14. Roxanne says:

    I guess what I consider Strong females is the fact they don’t crumble under pressure so easily. And the fact that they don’t annoy me while watching them on screen.

    Rin from Mnemosyne – she definitely knows how to kick ass.
    Kino from Kino no tabi – awesome with her guns and taking care of herself.
    Chidori and Mao(2ndary character) from Full Metal Panic.
    CC and Karen(actually a good mecha pilot) from Code Geass – if only they had less fanservice shots.
    Holo from Spice and Wolf – she’s self sufficient and intelligent.
    Saya from Blood+ – kickass with a sword and then some.
    Iku Kasahara from Toshokan Sensou – strong heart and devotion to her beliefs.
    Misaki Kirihara from Darker than Black – she’s cool, a police woman and wields a gun. Kinda reminds me of more serious version of Natsuko from Re: Cutey Honey.

    I’m so glad you mentioned Balsa, she’s just SO awesome.

  15. yh says:

    Also wanted to add my thanks for the list. I started watching moribito and yakushiji–completely enjoying them so far. Female leads are very cool

  16. Anonymous says:

    Eric P beat me to Motoko, from GitS, though you could argue she isn’t the lead.

    Also not the lead, but important, is Fee from Planetes, a leader dedicated to the job and her subordinates.

  17. Winterbraid says:

    Yeah, even though she was basically a spoiled brat, Re-L had her good points, too… (one-handed pushups! o_O <3) Maybe I should finally look into "Kino-no Tabi", even though I`m not into the episodic stuff. As far as fantasy is concerned, "Sisters of Wellber" season 1 was a really enjoyable watch for me, mostly because it was an action series from start to finished and didn`t pretend to be more than that. Still, the two lead characters, both women, were depicted as strong in a realistic way, and the story had both cute and touching moments, too. (The Yuri-meter was also quite high, though SPOILER SPOILER thefinalewasabitambiguousinthataspect /SPOILER… need to get hold of season 2.)

  18. grace says:

    thanks for all the recs, especially The Case File of Yakushiji Ryouko – i’m certainly going to check that one out first. and yeah, Moribito, is excellent – i can’t help but want more. i also appreciate the comments left here – i keep adding things to my list of series to check out. thanks all!

  19. Hynavian says:

    Good choices for the first 2 strong young female leads. Both Nijuu Mensou no Musume and Telepathy Shoujo Ran have smart female kids as leads and both have enjoyable plot at the start. But I find the plot repetitive and dropped both titles half-way through. The pattern is the same : something unexpected happens, the leads come in, leads try to solve it, and the leads solve it at the end of the episode. It’s just like some vicious cycle.

    Black Lagoon? Yeah, there are plenty of strong babes there. Definitely, agree with you on this. Balalaika is so cranky ^.^

    I recommend Claymore if you’re looking for a fantasy setting series that has a multitude of “strong” woman. In the series, warriors (who are half-monster) would go about slaying monsters to protect mankind. Of course, the warriors are all woman due to the series’ plot so you’ll actually get to see a team of strong babes coming together to eliminate monsters if you can make it to the middle of the anime.

  20. GregC says:

    Thanks for the suggestions!

    Two episodes in and Nodame Cantabile-Paris is knocking my socks off. Adult characters, yay! And the water-color backgrounds are beautiful! I loved the first series and this one has kicked it up a notch.

    I had the same reaction to Michiko to Hatchin, in that it’s painful to watch that kind of mistreatment. Especially to be used in such a mundane and cliche manner. The whole show feels rather “made by committee” – like they took all the comments from a Cowboy Bebop focus group and created a show around that. “We need Faye, Ed, good music, rich colors, and lots of violence.” It’s working though, because I can’t wait to see Episode 2.

    I started re-watching the NANA anime series again. Yay! Adults! And I absolutely love the music.

    It’s hard finding a good romance anime or manga that’s not about middle- or high-schoolers. They are usually very hard for me to get into, although I liked Lovely Complex a lot. And while the Suzuka anime isn’t that great, the manga is my favorite book at the moment in all of comics, not just Japanese.

  21. Lunk says:

    What about Bounen no Xamdou? – there are two ineteresting female characters –
    One is Nakiami who, despite being a total Nausicaa ripoff (or a homage to, if you prefer), is strong, capable and empathic/environmental. Something along the lines of ‘strong, but very vulnerable’ (I think you know what I mean).
    On the other hand, Ishuu is the ‘though woman’. She is the captain of the ship, she is abrasive most of the time and she drinks/smokes heavily.
    This show is strongly character-driven, so if you like this kind of thing, you may want to check it out (pretty much all the characters are interesting – take for example the ship’s navigator who is capable of standing her own against Ishuu and is quite interesting for being a free mom – something that is not often seen in anime).

  22. Emma says:

    Gokusen. I can’t stress how amazing Yankumi, teacher of a class of hardass punks and proud future Kumicho of her grandfather’s yakuza group, is an hardcore fanservice-less thug who routinely goes into Yakuza mode when dealing with rowdy teenagers. Kicks ass. Takes names. Is hilarious in the process.

    Love this series.

  23. Tualha says:

    Well…maybe this is so obvious and well known that no one else is mentioning it, but there’s R.O.D the TV. Pretty much all the strong characters are female, and nearly all adult except for 14-year-old Anita. Ah, I see you’ve reviewed it, so you know.

    And I see you mentioned the great voice acting – wasn’t Chiwa Saito’s work just to die for? Episode 5 comes to mind.

  24. BruceMcF says:

    Also not the lead, but important, is Fee from Planetes, a leader dedicated to the job and her subordinates. … and nicotine, cannot forget Fee’s dedication to nicotine.

    An excellent advertisement of anime’s ability to handle genuine speculative fiction (though it could have benefited from a good Yuri plotline (not to be confused with the plotlines revolving around Mssr. Mihairokov)).

  25. res says:

    Amazing. No one has mentioned a character who should be tops on this list: Shuurei of Saiunkoku Monogatari. A typical anime female would spend an entire series as the emperor’s concubine, but Shuurei kicks passive shoujo cliches to the curb after the first story arc by becoming the first female government official. Through 78 episodes (split up into easily-digestible story arcs) she never compromises her principles. How’s that for a strong female lead?

  26. Katie says:

    What about Yomiko or Nancy from R.O.D.?

  27. @Katie and everypne else who wrote in with old series – Nothing wrong with them, but the point of this post was specifically to highlight anime that was new for that season. If I were to mention every anime ever with strong adult female leads we’d be here all day. :-)

  28. Anonymous says:

    Actually, An old but VERY good series is Yawara! A fashionable Judo Girl. Its made around 1990’s. It a Story about a girl whom was brought up at a judo dojo and is very strong. Problem is she wants to be a normal High school girl (17-18) yrs old in the series. unfortunately I don’t think the series is translated after episode 60.

    An Excellent series I havn’t seen in anyones posts is Les Miserables shojo cosette. Based off the novel from 1870’s. its really heartbreaking.

  29. Raya says:

    I love Moribito too, and Claymore is another incredibly good anime with strong female leads. In fact most of the characters, good and bad, are women, and the fight scenes are AMAZING. The only weakness in the series is the annoying little boy, Rocky, that follows the main character around. But in a way, it’s kind of a gender role-reversal– irritating useless boy has hero crush on mysterious strong beautiful woman, who for some reason puts up with him.

    Anyway, watch some Claymore. ;)

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