The Ten Most Recognizable TV Anime Characters in Japan article published in Animerica Extra Vol. 2, No. 1, December 1998
This article was written by and is copyrighted to Patricia Duffield and may not be reproduced in part or whole without permission.
How many do you know? Though the most recognizable in Japan, many of these characters are almost unknown to US fans. Why? It's because most of them are from kids shows aimed at Japanese family audiences, shows which would never make it on this side of the Pacific. In Japan, however, they're golden, and in more ways than one. Besides family oriented stories and longevity, another reason for the fame of these characters is merchandising. All of them are used to sell everyday products, primarily aimed at families with kids. From cocoa to curry, *bento boxes to bobby socks, you can find these characters on an amazing variety of products.
Sazai-san has been on the air since 1969. She has grown up, gotten married and had children over the years, making this beloved family series a household name. Not only will your average Japanese recognize Sazai-san, they'll probably be able to sing you the opening theme!
Doraemon is a robot from the future. His four-dimensional pouch provides futuristic gadgets to aid him in his mission: to help fourth grader Nobita Nobi become a better person so he won't ruin his decedents future. The gadgets seldom work out as expected and are the source of many of the story's amusing misadventures. On the air since 1979, Doraemon has become such a cultural icon that he now has his own set of postage stamps.
Half human, half demon, Kitaro has many supernatural abilities and five different series. His stories are filled with odd creatures from Japan's rich history of ghost stories and myths. With his adopted father, Medama-oyaji (Eyeball Pop), and other ghostly friends, Kitaro works to keep malicious and mischievous monsters from causing too much trouble in the human world.
Though the Dragon Ball series are best known for action and adventure, their high ratings suggest the whole family watches. During his decade on the air, Goku grew up, got married, had kids, became a grandfather, died a few times and became a licensing giant.
Tetsuwan Atomu, known in the U.S. as Astro Boy, is the most famous Osamu Tezuka character. Though his last new episode aired over fifteen years ago, this brave little robot has never lost his appeal. He has lots of merchandise and advertisements, was featured in the commemorative Osamu Tezuka postage stamps and even his own store.
Easily the most visually distinctive of the ten, Anpanman is another family favorite. On the air since 1988, this odd, little, edible hero has also been responsible for 15 movies and specials. But aren't kids taught not to play with their food?
Maruko Sakura is a charming little girl from another family show. Except for a two-year hiatus between her first and second series, Chibi Maruko-chan has been on the air since 1990. Her stories involve her everyday life at her school and in her multi-generational home.
With his odd, easily recognized drawl, Shinosuke Nohara is as controversial in Japan as Bart Simpson is in the U.S. As a five year old, he is able to get away with some outrageous behavior and make observations about his world no adult would dare make aloud. Though some parents disapprove, Crayon Shin-chan has been on the air since 1992.
Sexy, sophisticated and cosmopolitan, Lupin is the only one on the list not from a kids show. Lupin III has had three different series, since 1971, with a new special or movie almost every year since 1987. Full of action, humor and drama, the adventures of this ingenious thief will continue to entertain audiences for a long time to come.
Known in the U.S. as Kimba, Leo is another Osamu Tezuka creation. Although he has had the least air time of these ten, none of the others are the mascot for a professional baseball team! As the highly merchandised symbol of the Seibu Lions, Leo's image can be found in any Seibu department store in Japan.
*Japanese lunch boxes
If you don't want to use "bento boxes," might I offer "bubble bath" as an alternative?