14 Shows With Kickass Character Designs

Gunslinger Girl

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Character Designer: Aida Yu (Original), Abe Hisashi (Adapted)

Gunslinger Girl would not be nearly as good of a series were it not for the character designs, which is a large part of why the second season of the anime adaption sucked for changing them. Aida Yu achieves a perfect balance of ‘cute’ and ‘real’ that keeps the characters from ever looking like they were meant to be seen as cute anime girls, yet does not condemn one from adoring them (as Aida Yu definitely would not want to do.) Because the characters aren’t forcefully cute, their place in a brutal and tragic story never feels like a forced attempt at sympathy, but like a grueling look at the truth and reality of something that the viewer can easily buy as a potentially true story.

The clothes that each character wears does not reflect their own personality, but the personality of their handlers who hand the clothes to them (with the notable exception of Claes, who doesn’t have a handler and dresses conservatively of her own accord.) Henrietta always wears girly clothes because Giuseppe treats her like a little sister. Rico wears plain and sensible boys’ clothes because Jean treats her like nothing more than a tool and is interested her effectiveness above all else. Triela wears very professional-looking men’s clothes because Hillshire didn’t really know what to get for her. However, Triela’s style has become a part of her personality, as when Hillshire asks her if he should get her normal girl clothes, she explains that she enjoys the feeling of her professional attire.

In all three cases, though, the clothes may not have been chosen by the girls based on their own personality, but have instead created the girls’ personality, as it is the treatment from their handlers that develops the way that they act. There is definitely a conscious level of complexity to the designs in this series, as is true for Aida Yu’s storytelling in general, which is why Gundlinger Girl is such a blast to read and watch. At first, my favorite design from the series was always Henrietta for the simple reason that she is the cutest, but it has since become Triela as I’ve read more deeply into the story and seen the way that her design effects her interactions.

Darker than BLACK

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Character Designer (and other shows that I liked their designs in): Iwahara Yuji (Original) (King of Thorn, Cat Paradise), Komori Takahiro (Adapted)

I am a fiend for cool-looking eyes. My own (young and developing) art-style focuses a lot on making ‘intense’ eyes, and Darker Than Black is one of my influences. One could say that the eyes define the nature of the series itself along with the personalities of characters who are completely numb to the terrors of their ever-gruesome world. But the eyes speak louder than words in some cases – there is the difference between the eyes of a contractor, who is incapable of emotion, and the eyes of someone who is merely suppressing their emotions to try and deal with their reality, or the eyes of someone who has grown tired in their long years. And of course, the wild eyes of one who loves every minute of their own insanity, or on the opposite side, the eyes of a woman whose strong sense of justice puts her at ends with it.

Besides the incredible eyes, Darker Than Black is constantly stylish, dressing it’s characters up in every manor of classic ‘professional killer’ attire, from Hei’s black trenchcoat and action suit look to November 11th’s white pimp suit. The show lives and breathes ‘gang drama’ style, and is even willing to lampshade this by including characters who have nothing to do with that style in a comic way, or as something more. It’s worth mentioning that even the talking cat character looks like a badass in Darker Than Black, which can almost certainly be attributed to original designer Iwahara Yuji whose manga Cat Paradise (being released stateside by Yen Press) is literally all about badass-looking cats. My favorite design in the series, without cheating and using the loli heartthrob Suou, has got to be the lead himself, Hei. It takes a certain kind of awesome to earn the ‘Batman’ nickname moniker, and Hei has completely earned it. Especially with his mask that brilliantly contrasts his attire and usual surroundings.

Heartcatch Precure

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Character Designer (and other shows the I like their designs in): Umakoshi Yoshihiko (Casshern Sins, Mushishi, Mari and Gali)

To be fair, a big part of why I love the designs in this show so much is because of Casshern Sins. I realized that it was the same designer semi-instantly, and thinking about how this series connects to classic action hero designs just makes me all giddy, but if I were to pick a favorite between the two series, then I would pick Heartcatch Precure, for the easy reason that I like adorable girls just a bit more than 70s robots. Umakoshi Yoshihiko is both a genius designer and incredible art director, though he only performs the former for this series. His style is very pointy, with harsh, jutting lines defining long, lanky limbs. The villains in Heartcatch Precure (not pictured because I failed at image searching and had to take some quick screen shots) bear his obvious old-school influence, but he makes the heroins and other lead characters feel more modern by, well, rounding them out a bit more.

Besides my love of Umakoshi’s design sense in general, he (or some other art staff) also has a great fashion sense. Everything the girls wear is turbo-cute, as it has to be with one of the lead characters belonging to a family of top designers. What’s more, the magical girl outfits are probably my favorites from the whole genre, being as they perfectly balance frilliness with sensibility and cuteness with mobility without losing any of the glamor that comes with these usually-overdesigned costumes. Admittedly, I have been kind of sad so far that we haven’t seen the girls in more outfits, with them having a fairly standard out-of-school wardrobe, which is probably related to the show’s goals in toy sales. My favorite design is aforementioned fashioness Erika, who is everything that I wish I was ;_;

(Continued on page 5)

44 thoughts on “14 Shows With Kickass Character Designs

  1. The Eureka 7 getups, specifically the Gekko-go people, are just as surfer as urban. I mean look at Hap and Moondoggie for chrissakes! You wouldn’t want to be wearing those threads in the inner city.

    • Lulz, well, forgive me. I have a hard time telling the difference >_< I more make a separation between 'black urban' and 'white urban'. Black being real urban style, like Soul Eater, and white being like rich people who wear urban just as a fashion (how I see Moondoggie and Gidget (was that her name?))

      • Surfer is NOT urban! They look like they’re always on the beach! Only that they’re sky surfers… but they took the surfing part into account when outfitting themselves. Hap is wearing a wetsuit-ish kind of top and Moondoggie is wearing a beach hat and clamdiggers or some shit.

        • MAN FUCK IF I KNOW, DO I LOOK LIKE A GOD DAMN STYLIST?!

          Seriously, though. I don’t know this stuff. I live in the least stylish low-end suburb imaginable. I have never actually seen style up close in my life, and I am not joking or overstating that.

    • I’m not a huge fan of CLAMP, actually, and to be honest, how often are their designs well-represented in anime?

      I thought about putting up Card Captors Sakura up there, but the only designs I really care about from that series are Sakura and Tomoyo. Then I thought about putting X, but then I’m not really that big a fan of those sort of overly-extravagant designs. And the Rayearth stuff is too shoujo for me.

      So yeah, no CLAMP. I knew someone would bring it up.

    • Dear god man.

      honestly, even if I did like that weird pudgy look and the crazy floating boobs, I could fail Queen’s Blade just on the hair. Most of the characters have completely appalling hairdos. And their armor is garish.

      I’m sure most guys don’t care. But most guys don’t seriously wish that they were a 12 year-old girl so that they could dress in fashionable clothes and wear striped spectacles.

  2. Extremely happy to see the Original and Adapted sections for each character design heading. The two can be quite easily mixed up.

    Tried to find out who the character designer for Fushigiboshi no Futago Hime is, and only found that a company named Birthday was responsible for the original concept. This company specializes in character designs and PC game and TCG production, so my guess is that the staff of this company collectively worked on the original designs and story for Fushigiboshi no Futago Hime. That would likely mean that the adapted designs were done by the two people credited under character design in the ANN entry, that is, Kobayashi Akemi and Kazui Hiroko.

    As well, the original designs for Baccano! was done by Enami Katsumi, the illustrator for the novels from which the anime was adapted. Since the large majority of the costumes (for the main characters, anyway) seen in the Baccano! anime was adapted from the novel illustrations, the credit for their conception goes to Enami.

  3. I must agree that all of these anime have great character designs. A few more that I would include would be:

    Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei: Back when I was actually doing posts about cool looking characters, I was going to make one dedicated entirely to this show. I love literally every characters’ appearance, personality…..it’s just great. Although, a lot of them do simply just have school uniforms.

    Hyakko: Orange, tan, and black. I ate it up.

    Black Lagoon: I think Revy’s costume kicks more ass than any other costume ever. That’s that.

    • Yeah, I gave an honorable mention not to SZS because I love the signature style but, well, every fucking character looks exactly the same lol

  4. I had a similar initial reaction to Higurashi’s designs as well. They just looked too ridiculous and out of proportion. But I feel like the show did a good job using the fluidity of the character designs to emphasize the more macabre or disturbing parts of the show.

    One scene that stands out to me is when Shion – or was it Mion? – is holding K1 on a ladder, shaking it viciously for no apparent reason. The way her face contorted was simply vicious and actually made me feel scared.

    • Actually that scene makes me laugh every time, because it is such a poorly-animated mess. The first season of Higurashi has some really piss-poor animation (which is why Studio DEEN gets so much shit these days) and they re-used clips and scenes like there was no tomorrow. The ladder scene is particularly bad because it’s jut a 1-second animation being repeated over and over, and the flapping of Shion’s lips doesn’t match up to anything she’s saying, so while I appreciate the intensity of the facial expression, I always end up laughing at the horrible animation when I watch that scene. Luckliy the budget picked up in season 2, and the character art war far more consistent throughout.

    • I started on it at about 11 PM, when Ghostlightning told me I should do a ‘simple post that would be easily accessible.’ By 9 AM, there were 5000 words and 100 images and it was the most epic post I’d done in a while. FISSION MAILED but it was a lot of fun anyway.

  5. Nagi from Eve no Jikan, TK from Angel Beats, dare I say Kampfer(a select few), and of all the clamp works i’ve seen Mouryou no Hako imo had some sweet character designs.

    • You missed the part where I saif you had to like the WHOLE cast, not just individual characters. And yeah Mouryou no Hako is one of the best from CLAMP I think, though I am not a big fan of them altogether.

      • Oh yeah guess I did my bad. The pretty pictures drew my attention away before I could read the whole intro. And yeah about clamp, since my friend can’t ever remember the name Code Geass he refers to it as the show with the noodle people.

  6. Nice post brah. The first show that I fell in love with the character designs for has definitely got to be Tenchi Muyo. Ryoko to this day is still one of my favorite designs ever. Plus she gets lots of cool outfits. I also have to say Clannad cause I’m a sap. I don’t care if their eyes are huge, I love all those damn girls. Kaiba for most avant garde design. I like Gintama’s too, I mean the art isn’t amazing but I think each design is distinct and interesting. Also boo for no yoshitoshi ABe, though I understand why.

    Omo has yet to dance but is offering free stuff…hmm toouuugh choice.
    good luck brah

    • You know you don’t have to vote for omo to be eligible to win, right?

      Those shows all definitely have some interesting and distinct designs. Gintama is lol because on the one hand, you know they’re ugly, but on the other had, they just work so damn well.

      Also I DANCE FLOWER’d, man!

  7. Hi first time surfing here. I just got here from “Aniblog Tourney” and wanted to take a look at Omonomono rival in the next match.
    So i read this post that looked interesting. Oh nice a post about Character design. Usually it’s left on a second note in any blog as everybody usually write down about the plot and story. Indeed the visual side of the anime is important too as it’s the side that connect to the viewers senses and stimulates it. Indeed anybody would just reject an anime that turn out ugly, despite how good the plot would be. The post introduction pointed in this direction and it looked quite interesting. But ther remaining of the post turned out so shallow and superficial. You start speaking about your favourite chars as they’d be in some fashon saloon. I like this, i like that, and all the deepnes of thought was already gone after the nice introduction. Why not to take a step forward and ask onself something more? You said that “visuals” are important nowadays cause of the huge market that’s related to a certain character, so why not to analyze how these chars are made to gather interest and sell goods? You could also write about how side aspects of the personality is made obvious from its graphics. (i.e. why the vilains usually wear black outfits or why main char have more colours than side chars, or something like that). There’s plenty of material to deepen your thougts on this matter and i suggest you to think about it.

    • Welcome to my blog, Solaris. I highly recommend you visit the page on the left entitled ‘new visitors should come here!’ So you can get a better idea of my blogging. The truth is, trying to read any of my posts without having read me for a long time is dangerous, because I write on the assumption that my audience knows me and what I’m all about, and therefor knows what to expect from a post by me. I also sort of assume knowledge on the part of my audience, and have sort of a high expectation for them as anime consumers.

      I have read a lot of stuff about why character design is important, and it’s relation to sales. My favorite is an essay in the English edition of manga-novel magazine Faust, wherein the author gets deep into detail about the character market. I have many posts explaining the intricacies of the psychology of otaku, i.e. character consumers and why they are obsessed with characters. If you had read enough of my blog in the past, you would know that those subjects are already old to me, and I wouldn’t need to write about them again.

      I wrote this post for purely selfish reasons. If you knew me, you would know that I have a freakish obsession with making lists. I have attempted, in the long history of this blog, to list my favorites of every aspect of anime that I could think of. In this post, I wanted to write about my favorite shows by character design. I didn’t particularly care what that might entail for my readers. However, knowing that it was a post with the potential to get a lot of traffic (and it did, the highest traffic I’ve ever gotten in one day), I made it very nice looking and easily accessible for people who would be coming in from the tournament.

      You may think the post shallow, and I don’t blame you – I consider my list posts to be the most shallow posts that I ever write, but nonetheless I feel an incredible compulsion to create them out of the pure desire to understand myself better, and for other people to understand me better. The more that you read my blog, the more knowledge you collect about myself, and the more you can read deeply into my posts by understanding the meaning of what I say and how I say it.

      If you were looking for something intelligent, this was the worst possible post to read first. Please do not make assumptions that all of my posts are the same. I have written over 750 posts. Until you’ve plowed through some of that archive, I’d rather you didn’t pigeonhole me.

      • Don’t need to close yourself in high level defensive mode. I’m not an aggressor coming here (your home) to start a mess. That wouldn’t be very polite on my side, you know?
        I just reported my first impression to you and now it’s your choice to acknowledge it or just ignore it. You don’t need to tell me what you wrote on 750 other posts. I just read one and i’m speaking about that one i read.
        Just give me some to apreciate your blog, but don’t get any criticism as a personal attack, please!

        • nono, it’s not my intent so seem like I took it personally, but I just wanted to make sure that you were aware that there are good reasons for this post not being what you expected it to be, and I wanted to really express that my blog is best enjoyed as a cumulative experience.

  8. I’ve seen about half of these shows (wow!) and I agree these character designs rock. A couple of things: to say that the coolest design in Soul Eater is black-room Soul, well, that just doesn’t make sense to me: dude, like, what about Tsubaki and Medusa and Eruka and Blair etc etc.

    Also, neither Konata nor Kagami are lesbian. Konata is asexual and Kagami is heterosexual. I know you didn’t say they were lesbians, but I just wanted to remind you that they weren’t…aren’t and never will be lesbians. Sorry.

    • Tsubaki is less about ‘cool’, and more about ‘hot ninja’. Medusa is cool, but less in the strict sense of ‘cool’ as an objective. Eruka and Blair are almost more goth chic. Black-room Soul is the definition of the word ‘cool’ itself.

      Kagami is a lesbian. Period. You aren’t going to ever prove otherwise.

      • Oh boy..I tell you what, when you accept Kagami’s heterosexuality you’ll be on your way to adulthood. Do you think I didn’t suffer when I found Lena and Yulia from tATu weren’t actually lesbians?! The news broke me. I remember crying so much the next morning my Teddy Ruxpin was all wet from the tears. But eventually I accepted it. Now I’m older and wiser. I’ve gotten rid of Ruxpin and I can call myself an adult…though the sadness still lingers. It remains. You’ll see…

        • Dude, just prove to me Kagami’s heterosexuality, and I’ll accept it. Seriously. That’s all I ask. Until you do that, I will be enjoying my pictures of her vagina and Konata’s vagina rubbing together (and even if you prove that she isn’t gay, I’ll still enjoy those pictures. Knowing that Mikoto probably doesn’t love Kuroko back hasn’t stopped me from loving those doujins, and it shan’t.)

            • I have no hard evidence. I only have heavy hinting, however, and given the conditions of the series existence, those hints can be construed as evidence. For one, 4-koma staring a largely female cast are extremely prone to including lesbian characters – see: Hidamari Sketch, Ichiroh!, S.S.Astro, Azumanga Daioh, Working!!, among those I’ve read – and ones that don’t spell out a lesbian character often have many jokes and hints at lesbianism. The reason is simply that when the cast is so overwhelmingly female, the only way to create some form of sexual tension is to have gay characters or jokes about being gay.

              I haven’t read very much of the Lucky Star manga because it sucks hard (at least, Bandai’s translation of it does), but the point is that it’s genre is very much a breeding ground for these things. Now, the Lucky Star anime does not do a terrible amount to make Kagamin seem gay. Konata makes some embarrassing jokes to that nature, which are obviously in the field of ‘lesbian jokes’ and not really ‘lesbian characters’ (though I would be damned if Konata wasn’t bisexual, or at least open to experimentation. The anime doesn’t make a point to explore her sexuality, representing her as believably ‘asexual’, but that’s only because canonizing her sexuality when dealing with the kind of show it is and the kind of audience receiving it could have been dangerous and received mixed reactions. If we explore the nature of her character beyond the immediate canon, then we can interpret her as bisexual with no contrary evidence – I digress) – the closest thing we get to any kind of ‘gay hint’ from Kagami is her lack of total denial in those situations, but that’s not really anything to be take seriously, and obviously just meant to pander to the tastes of some viewers.

              However, if we look at Kagamin from another standpoint and try to analyze her life situation as a whole, some of her actions get taken into question. For one, why is she good friends with Konata when they seem to be at-ends with each-other so often, and Kagamin does not approve of her lifestyle? The two obviously met through Tsukasa, but they spend more than enough time together to prove that they are personal friends, if not on friendlier terms than Konata and Tsukasa herself. The reason is that Kagamin is not a shallow friend with Konata. Shallow friends spend time with one-another because they share interest, but Konata and Kagamin do not share interests. They must have some kind of deeper connection than that.

              Now consider Kagamin’s life. Does she ever show any interest in men? Offhanded comments about not having a boyfriend aside, she doesn’t give us any reason to believe that she has ever pursued a relationship. When she thinks she is going to be confessed to, she does get very flustered, being as she has never experienced this before and is wondering what kind of things the situation will bring – will this be her first time experiencing love? But the situation capsizes. It is acceptable to believe that if someone pursued her, she might go along with it, but I would not think of Kagami as someone to pursue a relationship herself. She has no guy friends, and she probably has very, very little experience with men, having grown up in a household with 4(?) sisters. She is used to women – she feels comfortable with them, and she understands them.

              Now, let’s project Kagami’s future. Her only real friends appear to be the girls in her circle, but among them, the only one who I feel she shows true closeness for is Konata. We still do not have any reason to believe that Kagami is definitely gay, nor that she would be interested. However, we CAN interpret Konata as bisexual, and we know that Konata, too, has no truer friend than Kagami. Now, consider this – as the two girls move into the future, as they no longer have school and such a large clique to be around, they will end up probably spending even more time together and become even better friends – the kind of friends you make when you’re adult and all the bullshit other stuff is taken away. Now, having so little other influence in their lives, they will both feel a certainly loneliness that will make their own connection even stronger – she is my best friend, and that is what alleviates my loneliness. That’s when their relationship takes on the meaning of ‘love’, if just from a ‘I love my best friend’ standpoint.

              Taking Konata’s aggressive yet understanding personality into account, her vast experience of anime and dating sim games, and the fact that she would be more likely to take interest in a relationship, she would be the one to come on to Kagami. She would do this, because Konata would be less likely to make ‘new friends’ then she would want to delve deeper into the lives of her current friends, as is part of her otaku nature. The question we have to ask ourselves is actually less of ‘is Kagami gay?’ and more of ‘will she accept Konata’s love?’ We have little basis to go off of. We neither know of Kagami’s interest in guys, nor her disinterest in women. If she is bisexual or gay or even just THAT lonely and THAT close to Konata, there is a chance that she would accept Konata’s love in this situation and they would become a couple.

              Now, if I have no grounds to determine Kagami’s sexuality, then why assume that she might be bi or gay? As you said, statistically, heterosexuality is the norm. However, this is also anime/manga, and the context of it’s existence must also be taken into account. I already went into detail about the 4-koma situation above. The next thing is official art. A number of sexually suggestive posters and art for Lucky Star heavily imply the couple’s validity, from the simple one of Kagami blushing, flustered, as Konata gropes her on the beach (which I have in wall scroll form just above my bed on the wall), and perhaps more importantly, the picture of the two of them in wedding garb (Konata dress, Kagami tux) which can be taken as a joke, but can nonetheless be taken as suggestive. Official art is seen as canon, therefor these images seem to suggest something about the relationship of the two girls that they may be sexually open towards each-other.

              Nothing is concrete. However, there is more than enough reason that if I want to believe that Konata and Kagamin are a couple, then my idea cannot be disproved. As you know, I am an operative of ‘interpretation within canon.’ That is to say, I am willing to let my imagination run as wild as the canon allows, so long as I remain in those bounds. Therefor, without substantial proof of Kagami’s heterosexuality, I feel that I am justified in assuming her lesbianism based on the above contextual evidence.

              One of my favorite quotes: “The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.”

              • Assuming she is a lesbian, could you make her switch? Could I? Could anyone? Or would you rather she kept her lesbianity intact…while you watched from a distance?

                • I want her and Konata to be gay for each-other. I want no part in it, I just want to see porn of it.

                  I have a very hard time mixing fantasy and reality. I see anime characters strictly as ‘anime characters’ and cannot relate them into personal experience – i.e. while I can fantasize about what it would be like to have sex with a character, I cannot fantasize that it is actually happening. I call Itou Nobue my ‘waifu’, but I have no delusion that her existence is human. When I think about her, I more think ‘I wish I knew a girl like Nobue’ then ‘I wish I knew Nobue.’ Hence, I enjoy lesbians sort of vicariously – it has nothing to do with a fantasy of getting myself into the situation, and more of my wishing that I could possibly be in that situation. If I had my choice of how to live life, I would be a little lesbian girl. But I have no confusion about what I am. Therefor, I only experience these things from a distance.

                • the datestamp is a permalink, but haha, yeah, I thought the same. I might actually make it into the post in the near future.

  9. never say pigeonhole around me, now I’m imagining you as one of the goodfeather pigeons from animaniacs

    • i think she’s in the top 10 of my loli goddess series (see: revolving header banner) yeah, she is hot as fucking fuck. I seriously have that pajama scene frame-by-frame ingrained into my skull.

  10. (sorry I’m late commenting. I’ve been Internet-less the past couple of days)

    Amazing post! It must have taken you quite a while to not only write everything, but to gather all those images and make those slide-shows.

    You have some of my favorites on your list, like Shana and Haruhi (Noizi Itou!), and Lucky Star (KyoAni!)

    I voted for you of course ;) My first match of the tourney is tomorrow. Getting a little nervous XD

    • Don’t worry! Late comments are always better than none! And it’s really nice to see when my posts have staying power enough to be commented on days down the line.

      Noizi Ito is totally love, I don’t know what she does to make everything she draws hot as fuck but it works.

  11. This is a pretty epic post you have put together! When I watch anime, I tend to not pay as much attention to character design as maybe I should. It may work to me more on a subconcious level, i.e. if the design is bad, it may push me to not want to watch it further. So your post is pretty fun to read to highlight the good designs that have been going on in various animes.

    As for the show that I like the character design… That’s a little difficult since you have already covered most of the one that pop into my mind at first! (Cowboy Bebop, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, Baccano!) I might have to Berserk for this one. I just think the designs are so elaborate and very recognizable and that goes from the Band of the Hawks, the monsters and even the God’s Hands. I guess I am also a sucker for good medieval fantasy design so this nicely fits that bill. Will ever put the second season of this thing out? Digging deeper into my childhood memory is Saint Seiya. The cloth design of this show is just so amazingly good and that alone is good enough for me. I have always dreamt of owning my very own cloth and the Cloth Myth line is partially fulfilling that for me:) The 5 bronze saints are very distinct from each other (having different colour helps) and I just love the design of Sagittarius and Gemini. I might find the actual character design pretty dated if I have to go watch it again but that will never erase the impression I got from it:)

    Have voted for you. Hope you progress and good luck with future rounds…

    • Those are some awesome choices! Berserk indeed has great designs – Guts is sort of the classic huge-dude character, but that makes his later character development all the more interesting. And Griffith provides the perfect opposite of his body type, which make shim both a great foil and a great villain.

      I’m glad you liked the post! Thanks for the vote!

      • Another one I just think about that is Azumanga Daioh. I know it may get into your no-school-uniform territory but you make an exception for Haruhi so that’s not so sacred! I just feel that the whole cast is so recognizable and memorable (from students to teachers) and that’s as much as one can ask from a character design perspective.

  12. Pingback: 2010 Anime Review | My Sword Is Unbelievably Dull

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