Unsung Heroes: Great Parental Figures in Anime

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It’s perhaps stating the obvious, but anime parents don’t typically get much in the way of positive screen-time. Mostly they’re just sort of there in the background, or in some cases are absent altogether – either because our main character has been tragically orphaned at a young age, or else because they’re apparently just that unimportant to the story. Other parents have more of a presence but are abusive, mentally unstable, or at the very least serious assholes – your Kiryuin Ragyos, Shou Tuckers, and Ikari Gendos of the anime universe.

Of course, since the largest demographic of anime viewers in Japan is still made up of males between roughly 10 and 18 years of age, this should come as no real surprise; much of the audience simply doesn’t want to watch anime in which parents play a major and/or sympathetic role. Nonetheless, there are still some fantastic parental figures in anime – whether they get the amount of screen-time they deserve or not. This post is a celebration of some of the most supportive, unique, or just all-around awesome of them.

Kinomoto Fujitaka (Cardcaptor Sakura)

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This is probably the first parent in an anime series that really stood out to me in a positive way. Single father of two ever since his wife died at a very young age, Fujitaka tries to spend as much time as possible with his family despite his busy job as a university archaeology professor. He’s not just the breadwinner, either – he cooks, he sews, and he even finds the time to participate in Sakura’s school life. Above all, Fujitaka is kind and caring, never appearing to get angry or upset, and keeping the promise he made to his wife upon her deathbed never to cry over her. He is perhaps a little too perfect to be entirely believable – there’s no denying that Cardcaptor Sakura idealises a lot about the real world – but regardless, Fujitaka makes for a wonderful father and a fantastic, albeit quite understated, addition to the cast.

Yadomi Atsushi (AnoHana)

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Couldn’t even remember this guy’s name? That’s okay, I had to look it up as well – which probably gives you a good idea of how overlooked a character he is. Atsushi is another father whose wife has tragically passed away; his son, Jinta, eventually became a shut-in after the death of both his mother as well as a close childhood friend, refusing to go to school or even leave the house. Precious little is known about Atsushi as a character – in fact, the number of scenes he appears in could probably be counted on one hand. His very mild and kindly but absent-minded persona means that he does tend to fade into the background a bit, but Atsushi is clearly a strong man in his own way, and sees far more than Jinta gives him credit for. (Also, I think we can all agree that Atsushi’s general awesomeness is only amplified by that hat.)

Takasu Yasuko (Toradora!)

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Everyone’s favourite eternal twenty-three year old might raise a few eyebrows, but like Atsushi, Yasuko knows a great deal more than she lets on. While her general klutziness and childish, airheaded nature isn’t just a façade, Yasuko is far from stupid, and works at a hostess bar in order to financially support her family – determined to earn enough herself so that her son doesn’t have to work and study at the same time. Her upbeat and energetic personality despite some of the difficult choices she’s had to make in her life are a testament to her inner strength and resolve, and most importantly, she obviously cares very deeply for Ryuuji and wants him to be able to reach his full potential. She also seems to care for Taiga nearly as much as she does her own son, which speaks further as to Yasuko’s caring and naturally generous spirit.

Kawachi Daikichi (Usagi Drop)

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Any list of anime parents without Daikichi on it isn’t a list worth having. Daikichi may not be the actual father of the adorable Rin, but that makes his character all the more amazing – a 30-year old bachelor who adopts Rin after witnessing everyone else blatantly reject any responsibility of the young child thought to be his grandfather’s illegitimate daughter. Daikichi knows next to nothing about parenting, but he well and truly steps up to the plate: he quits smoking, cuts down on his work hours, stops going to work parties, and generally showers Rin with all the love, time, and compassion that she so badly needs in order to grow into a happy and emotionally secure child. The scenes where they cook together, or when Daikichi attempts to quell her anxieties about school or once again being left alone in the world, never fail to move me.

Balsa Yonsa (Seirei no Moribito)

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Balsa is another notable anime character who does the best she can after essentially gaining a son through circumstances outside her control. A hired bodyguard, Balsa saves the life of Prince Chagum when his own mother is killed, and continues to protect him from numerous assassination attempts throughout the series. Approximately 12 years old at the beginning of the series, Chagum is a respectful but occasionally rebellious boy, whose eventual trust in Balsa is not misplaced; she is both strong and pragmatic, and a firm yet also patient and caring teacher. More than a role model however, Balsa also becomes a mother-figure to Chagum, and eventually comes to love him as a son. Though a fantasy series, Moribito takes on an extremely slice-of-life feel at times, and in large part because of the relationship between our two main characters, these episodes are some of the best of the entire show.

Lovis (Sanzoku no Musume Ronja)

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Last but certainly not least, Lovis looks after not only her daughter but also the rest of her ragtag ‘family’ – who in this case just happen to be a clan of good-natured thieves. Clearly the glue that keeps this family together, Lovis is a sort of mother to every member but never allows herself to be bossed around by anyone – she’s a practical woman with a sound head on her shoulders and a firm moral compass to go with it. Through thick and thin, Lovis keeps it all running smoothly and is quick to say so if there’s anything she doesn’t agree with, particularly when it comes to her husband. However, she rarely lets her temper get the better of her, and can be just as nurturing as she is strong-willed. Although she never coddles Ronja or lets her emotions cloud her judgement as Mattis is wont to do, Lovis undoubtedly loves her, and Ronja grows to inherit some of the best traits from both of her parents.

Of course, listing every single great anime parent out there would have made this post far longer, but here are a few honourable mentions: Maes Hughes (Fullmetal Alchemist), Fujioka “Ranka” Ryoji (Ouran High School Host Club), Shibuya “Jennifer” Miko (Kyou Kara Maou), and Professor Kusakabe (My Neighbor Totoro).

Question of the post: Who is your favourite anime parent, and do you think he/she is showcased as much as their character deserves?

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40 thoughts on “Unsung Heroes: Great Parental Figures in Anime

    • Same here. Not that I’m discounting the others on this list or the need for more positive parental figures in anime, but Daikichi is definitely my number one and probably always will be.

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  1. I like your least. I too often bemoan the lack of adults in general, and parents in particular in anime. “My parents went abroad and left me home” is all too common, but at least it makes more sense than parents who are supposedly there but whom you never see, unless it’s all a form of social criticism about the long hours parents spend at work, and children at work, and as a result the children and parents really never interact.

    I think I discussed it with Zankyou no Terror and Mahouka (both of which have parents too), that adults are usually put there only to be portrayed as villains to be overcome, or as incompetent, so our young heroes will be able to win the day.

    Anyway, I definitely feel anime parents don’t get as much time as they deserve. Before I move to two of my favourite entries, I’d like to mention a couple of shows: Nanoha season 1 and 2. They have both types of parents, both the type that is imperfect and villainous, and the type that’s a happy family, a normal family, overall. In both cases, it’s not a “fire and forget” past family, but one that stays in the picture.

    The other family I absolutely adore is the one from WataMote (It’s your fault I’m not popular). Not just Tomoko’s parents, but also Tomoki, her brother. They know Tomoko is not in the best of places, they see her with a vibrator she’s using to massage herself, making self-porn, and they just accept her, and hug her, and try to steer her in the right way, and slap her when she absolutely demands it.

    Would the show be improved with more time with them in it? Not this show, because it’s still Tomoko’s show, but a show about the entire family, with her receiving slightly less time in it? I’d take it, I’d take it in a heartbeat.

    Looking back on it, quite a few of the shows I’ve rated 8+ have parental figures, much more than is common, certainly if you look at non-villainous. I’d probably give my #1 vote to WataMote’s family as a whole, for how real, resigned, and persevering they are. They’re not great characters, but they’re great parents.

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    • The father from Watamote is a great example – I hadn’t thought of that one. That scene with the self-made porn and the ‘vibrator’ when the father walks in to find her asleep was one of the best of the series I think, mostly just because of his complete non-reaction of what he no doubt assumed went on. As comedy goes, it was probably also one of the least cynical moments of humour of the show.

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  2. Very pleased to see this article, and even more pleased that Atsushi and Daikichi get the recognition they deserve. Good parental figures are rare in general, it seems, and especially good father figures. I’m also pleased to see Maes Hughes get a mention, because although his family is in a sense window dressing for other events he is also obviously invested in them.
    And yes, Daikichi is probably my favourite too.

    Good post.

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    • I did want to mention Maes Hughes, because although we don’t really see all that much of his family other than in the aftermath of certain events, and despite the fact that we also don’t see a lot of direct interaction between him and his daughter, it’s easy to tell that he loves and dotes on her like the excellent father he is. His daughter clearly feels the same way about him as well, which is lovely to see.

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  3. Ah, Daikichi, he’s awesome. I also liked the main girl’s father from Clannad (can’t remember his name). He gave up his dream of acting to raise his frequently-sick daughter, which meant taking over his wife’s dream of opening a bakery once she found out she can’t bake for crap. And when his daughter became an actor, he didn’t resent her, but pushed her forward. And in season 2, when his son-in-law drops the ball on parenting, he takes in his granddaughter and raises her, too. And he still thinks of that son-in-law as a son of his own throughout the series. That’s a three-time dad!

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    • That does sound like a really cool father. I haven’t watched much of Clannad – really not my kind of show – but I’m glad to hear about another great anime father.

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  4. How delightful that you even *thought* to write about anime parents. As noted, they’re few and far between, and often entirely invisible.
    Example 1: in all of Azumanga Daioh, you see *one* parent: Kaorin Aida’s mother, and just one quick scene at that. Example 2: *Nil* parents in Haruhi Suzumiya.

    I could go on at length about the absence or near-absence of parents in children’s literature*. I myself did it from my very first book (mum was overseas), and fifteen-odd books later I’m *still* doing it (father mysteriously disappeared).
    Rare indeed is the kid with two normal parents!! ( * There are good reasons, BTW.)

    My fave anime parents? 1) The father in ‘My Neighbour totoro’. (Not super pro-active, but doing it right).
    2) The mother in ‘Ponyo’. Remarkably competent and *with-it*! One of the best.

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    • Yup, as noted, the father in Totoro definitely gets an honouable mention from me. He’s not the focus of the story, but he plays a good part in it and is portrayed extremely well. Ponyo’s a good one too – I had more or less forgotten about the mother in that movie, so cheers for mentioning it in your comment.

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  5. Whatever you do, do NOT read the Usagi Drop manga. I was warned against it, told it will ruin the show for me, but I thought, “How bad could it be?” It was bad. I loved the show, but I can’t look at it the same way again. 😦

    I also like Haruhi Fujioka’s dad in Ouran High School Host Club. Despite his eccentricities, I do think he’s a good father who wanted the best for his daughter.

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    • Oh, I’ve already been told all about that manga. It’s not much of a problem for me since I don’t read manga as such anyway, regardless of how much I love any given anime – but yeah, even if I did, I wouldn’t for Usagi Drop. The anime is absolutely perfect just how it is, and I have no need of change or further embellishment.

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      • I heard of the Usagi Drop manga; the mangaka admitted that she was running out of ideas near the end. Maybe that’s why the 2nd half of the manga became that bad.

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  6. Despite what most people would say, I would have to argue that Takasu Yasuko is the highlight of this list. How often do we see the single mom in anime? The answer, often enough. However, most are the perfect homemakers, always there to support our young protagonist, while the mysterious father is always off at work or abroad. Yasuko reverberates with me as a character because she’s a mom who worked her ass off to support her child. She doesn’t have time for cooking, cleaning, all that other superficial and empty roles that a mother traditional fills in entertainment. As a result, Ryuuji has to grow up that much more quickly and take care of much of the homemaking chores. She is real because she is far from the perfect idealized mother, and Ryuuji has to compensate for this role. It makes their mother and son relationship incredibly tangible for the viewer.

    Great post!

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    • That’s a good point you make there. Yasuko isn’t my favourite anime parent of all time (mostly because the relationship between Daikichi and Rin is just too amazing and I tear up every time), but she is perhaps the most ‘real’ of all these figures. She’s not perfect or super idealized, and she’s made mistakes and doesn’t fulfill traditional motherly roles in the same way that most other anime mothers do. She is, however, totally awesome regardless.

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  7. Daikichi is my favorite anime parent, and probably my favorite anime/manga character next to Mei Tachibana. You can meet someone like him; by a different name, by a different appearance; but you’ll only find him in Usagi Drops.

    I think one aspect to Daikichi that doesn’t get mentioned enough is how he allows Rin opportunities to help out and function on equal terms to him. I commonly watch American parents prevent their children from participating in tasks that legitimately assist the household, which delays the development of important life skills; and in some cases it handicaps an incumbent person’s ability to function without an authority figure/external directive.

    For a single parent, raising a child to become independent ASAP is an absolute necessity. It alleviates the parent from doing absolutely everything over 15+ years and breaking under the stress, and it secures the child with skills, knowledge, and independence in the event the parent dies/gets injured/becomes functionally impaired.

    Generally speaking, a child grows up happier and more confident when he/she enters his/her teenage years equipped with relevant life skills and a standing in the household as an equal member to the parent.

    Yasuko conflicts me. I like her. I think she represents the merits of caring and dedication; and also where it goes too far.

    She absolutely did not want Ryuuji to sacrifice his education for any reason whatsoever, because her life experience placed “work” and “school” into separate dichotomies that could not co-exist together.

    Stepping back, I think it’s obvious that Ryuuji’s personality can handle work and school together without sacrificing quality of performance. His sense of happiness is dictated by achievement, not pleasure; and short of an abusive presence such as a bad boss/co-worker or bad teacher, I don’t think mental stress was ever really a threat to Ryuuji. Most of his stresses came from the conflicts between him and Taiga.

    I think Ryuuji was correct in going behind Yusuke’s purview and working part-time without her knowledge. He wanted it, he handled it, and it was on Yasuko to accept that he was both capable and on par with her.

    (My experience with Toradora stems from the light novels and I don’t know if there is/isn’t any difference between the novel and the anime. I apologize if there’s a discrepancy.)

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    • Daikichi is definitely my favourite anime parent as well. And you’re right, it’s fantastic to see Daikichi treat Rin as the thoughtful and highly responsible person that she is. He treats her as a child but without speaking down to her, and I think this definitely helps Rin get the kind of development she needs.

      I haven’t read the light novels, so conversely I only know Toradora from the anime side of things. To be fair to Yasuko, I don’t think her primary concern was that Ryuuji wouldn’t be able to handle both school and work without sacrificing the quality of either – I think Yasuko’s primary concern was for her son being happy and having the time to himself or to be with friends like a normal teen would be able to do. I don’t necessarily think it was a terrible idea for Ryuuji to go behind her back like that, because he’s emotionally older than a lot of his peers and was clearly very determined, but I also don’t think Yasuko was wrong to try and handle the money side of things herself. That’s just the way she shows that she cares.

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  8. Aw! This is such a good list idea! I need to see some of these, epecially Usagi Drop! I would include on my list Hanna from Wolf Children as well, she was the best mom ever! 🙂

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    • Great example, I had fogotten about Hanna! She is indeed a spectacular mother. But oh my goodness, if you like good anime parents or just very sweet anime in general, you NEED to watch Usagi Drop. Everybody does. It never fails to get me teary-eyed, and I’ve watched the show several times now.

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  9. Both of the Mankanshoku parents in Kill la Kill stood out to me. The whole family was a huge part of the reason I kept watching, because I personally haven’t seen a whole lot of dynamic anime families and they really warmed my icy heart.

    There was also Madoka Kaname’s parents, but they were favourites for a totally different reason. “What’s the matter, honey? Don’t you like your eggs?” might have been the most inappropriately funny thing I’ve ever heard. Sick, but surreal. Bless their hearts.

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    • Haha, I didn’t think of Kill la Kill. Both of the Mankanshoku parents there were indeed pretty awesome, albeit more in a comedic than serious way. I perhaps didn’t notice them as well as I should have – too blinded by the awesomeness that was Mako, no doubt – but good examples nonetheless.

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  10. Daikichiiii! Awesome dad! All of these are great, in fact!

    I would add Nagisa’s parents from Clannad, who self-sacrificially care for her and later, other members of her family.

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    • Yeah, somebody else has mentioned Clannad in the comments too. I dropped Clannad pretty early on so I’m not familiar with Nagisa’s parents, but they do sound like great people.

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      • A little off topic, but if you ever consider it watching it again, stay tuned for the last 13 episodes – the series morphs from a moe fest to a remarkable series.

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        • I’ve heard that numerous times and I have no reason not to believe it, but I highly doubt I’ll ever go back to Clannad. However fantastic those final 13 episodes are, I simply don’t have the patience (or, increasingly, even the time) to sit through several hours worth of moe-boredom in order to get there. I hope I don’t sound too harsh about that – it’s just that I’ve heard the exact same thing from a lot of people before, and I’m getting a little tired of having to explain myself when it comes to Clannad.

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  11. I was actually thinking about Ryoji/Ranka Fujioka as I was reading this! Nice to see they’re in the honourable mentions 🙂 It’s definitely a nice change to see good parents among all of the Gendos of the anime world.

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    • It definitely is a refreshing change. There are plenty of reasons why good parents, or even just fully-realised anime parents at all, are in the minority of anime characters, and I don’t mean to discount those reasons, but I also think the anime-verse could use a lot more decent parental figures in general.

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      • Yeah, I agree! Parent issues do tend to influence a lot of anime protagonists’ actions, and a lot of my favourite series wouldn’t be the same with a functional family unit but sometimes it’s nice to see supportive parents.

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  12. Sometimes I wonder if anime and manga tend to be too youth-oriented, to the point that parental figures are removed entirely or twisted into villians. It’s almost if mangaka and their editors are worried that putting in a older parent figure will cause their readers to shun the series.

    The worst offenders are the ones that design a parent (esp. mothers) to look TOO young until they are lolis/shotas. Then the idea of that character being a parent becomes completely ridiculous.

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    • I think anime is probably a little more guilty of this than manga, if only because manga generally has a much wider audience – everyone reads it, so the demographic is considerably more varied than it is with the majority of anime. But yes, I’d be inclined to agree; if teens are the primary target audience, then it’s less likely that parents are going to be either major characters with their own storylines and development or just decent examples of parents at all.

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      • In this case I wonder how the majority thought process in writing manga differs from Western comics, where not only can the main characters have close connections with their parents, or parent figures (like Superman and his adopted parents), but sometimes the parents get character development too.

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  13. I’m really surprised Ranka didn’t make your main list. 😄

    While largely absent (tragically so), that makes the good parental figures stick out so much more, and if I started listing them, I would be here all day. Allow me to just point out how much I love Prince Mom from Uchouten Kazoku. All Mom, all Prince, all fabulous.

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    • I kind of did want to put him on it, but I guess I feel like I don’t really know his character that well. Despite probably having more screen-time than, say, the father from AnoHana, Ranka’s character (as a father rather than in terms of general personality) is still something of a mystery to me. The guy is clearly awesome in a lot of ways though and cares for Haruhi to the point of obsession, so I did still want to give him a mention.

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  14. I totally love cute fathers and father figures in anime! I discovered that they are often voiced by Keiji Fujiwara – he plays cute dads, teachers, and uncles or sick bastards, and in the Heartcatch Precure movie he was both at one, and it was lovely! I especially liked him in Kyou no Asuka Show, he was a standard doting father of a teenage daughter, but due to the show being about his daughter being unintentionally lewd, it was extra amusing. I also liked his Ryoma Sakamoto in Ryo, not very much a parent, but a guardian to the main character, and the most adorable portrayal on the historical character I’ve ever seen. I also liked him in Umishou, it’s a wonderful series and he was a wonderful, eccentric dad to his eccentric daughter. He was also one of the most famous fathers, Maes Hughes, but I am too weak to watch Fullmetal Alchemist, so I don’t know the guy, I only ever heard the praise, though. I just noticed that Fujiwara even voiced Balsa’s father 😀
    As for the mothers, I really liked the one from Uchouten Kazoku, and Lady Koto from Kyousougiga, she was so warm and accepting! I also liked Kai’s mom in Piano no Mori – despite being a prostitute in a really bad situation, and giving birth at 15, she still cares for her son and roots for him and his dreams.
    It really is hard to find some really awesome parents in anime. They are either background, like most of them in Non Non Biyori, jokes like Honoka’s father in Love Live or Maki’s in Love Lab, obstacles, like Miho’s or Hana’s moms in Girls und Panzer, or are dead or never mentioned. It just made me legit sad.

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    • Oh man, I completely forgot about Eccentric Family. I adored the mother in that, she was so funny and sassy (not to mention undeniably stylish, haha). I’m only sad there weren’t more scenes with her in them.

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