No matter how hard an author or director tries, it’s impossible to make a character who everyone universally likes. Even famed favorites like Goku and Jotaro Kujo have haters for one reason or another, but sometimes, a particular character is so divisive that they split entire fandoms apart and garner a reputation that even people who haven’t seen their show can recognize from a mile away. Today, let’s learn about five of the most controversial anime characters of all time!
5. Tooru Honda from Fruits Basket
- Episodes: 25
- Air Date: April 2019 – currently airing
Compared to Westerners (particularly Americans), Japanese people have very different ideas about overworking. While we focus on the self-destructive toll it takes on the individual, they value how much the work benefits the larger group. So it is with Tooru, the hardworking teenager who stretches herself thin between school, housework, and a part-time custodial job when the wealthy Soumas could easily provide for her if they wanted to.
Some anime fans dislike Tooru because the story seems to glorify the fact that, along with her unfailingly polite and positive attitude, she toils herself to the bone for no real reason. And for the 2001 anime, this was a very valid criticism. But once the new anime adapts the later parts of the manga, detractors may realize that Tooru isn’t as much of a Mary Sue stereotype as she seems. Trying to live up to this perfect image while working so hard for others is tearing her apart inside, and it’s part of her character development to let her friends help out for once. However, whether or not that redeems her completely is up to viewers to decide.
4. Haruhi Suzumiya from Suzumiya Haruhi no Yuuutsu (The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya)
- Episodes: 14
- Air Date: April 2006 – July 2006
Haruhi is eccentric, obsessed with psychics and extraterrestrials, and very “my way or the highway” when it comes to group activities. She also may or may not be an all-powerful god who’s unaware of her own powers, so her fellow members of the SOS Brigade reluctantly play along with whatever zany scheme she cooks up just to make sure that reality doesn’t fall apart.
The club’s adventures often end up as enriching and exciting experiences for everyone by the end, but the controversy among fans comes when Haruhi forces her friends into situations where they’re clearly uncomfortable or in danger. She regularly molests Mikuru by feeling up her body and dressing her up in degrading outfits, and Yuki’s suffering through the infinite time loops of the Endless Eight arc only goes unaddressed because she’s too quiet to speak up about it. Do these moments ruin Haruhi’s charm or are they just part of the absurdist comedy? Hmm...
3. Near from Death Note
- Episodes: 37
- Air Date: October 2006 – June 2007
The enigmatic detective L, who was embroiled in a tense cat-and-mouse conflict with Light to expose the young man as a serial killer, is widely regarded as one of the best antagonists in anime history. So when he was replaced with a new lead detective named Near partway through the series, the new kid had some gigantic shoes to fill.
Fans of Death Note are mixed on whether Near and his partner Mello are fascinating new foes or inferior retreads of their predecessor—proponents point out that their new methods of tracking and baiting Light lead to showdowns that couldn’t have happened with L, while those who are less enthused about these two think that Near’s final confrontation with Light is full of cheap loopholes and tricks that only work because everyone is acting wildly out of character. Regardless, most of them can agree that L was better.
2. Kazuto Kirigaya/Kirito from Sword Art Online
- Episodes: 25
- Air Date: July 2012 – December 2012
Escapist fantasies can be some of the best entertainment out there, and Kirito pretty much embodies escapism with every fiber of his being—he’s unnaturally powerful and skilled, has a harem of beautiful ladies to choose from, and can even defy the rules of the world through sheer willpower. The main controversy revolves around whether this boundless strength and charisma fit with the rest of the story or not.
Is Kirito’s characterization the cherry on top of a big dumb shounen romp that shouldn’t be taken seriously? Or does it hinder the drama of a show that otherwise has real stakes and drama? Fans who treat Sword Art Online as a complete escapist fantasy tend to be just fine with Kirito’s OP abilities, while those who view it as a serious story are annoyed that the protagonist destroys any narrative tension whenever he’s onscreen. What do you think?
1. Shinji Ikari from Shin Seiki Evangelion (Neon Genesis Evangelion)
- Episodes: 26
- Air Date: October 1995 – March 1996
Shinji is such a controversial character that yelling at him to “get in the damn robot” has been a well-established meme in the anime community for many years. But is he just a whiny and ineffectual protagonist, or is there something more going on?
Tying in with the psychological themes of the show, Shinji is nearly a textbook case for severe depression and anxiety. He internalizes everything as his own fault, feels paralyzed when forced to make important decisions, and runs away from the source of his fear (his dad) because he isn’t emotionally capable of confronting it. This behavior can come off as obnoxious to viewers, but anyone who has suffered from a similar mental disorder can relate to Shinji’s struggles. Does that make him a flawless character in retrospect? Of course not. But he certainly isn’t without merit!
What did you think of our list? Do you have any strong opinions about these controversial characters? Are there any we forgot? Let us know in the comments, and thanks so much for reading!