Today I’m gonna talk about this little lady and her characters:
Since Digiboy outed me in his last couple posts, I might as well: Hi everyone, I’m thoughtcannon (aka a taka/denpapopcorn/etc) I thought for my inaugural post on Digitalboy’s blog I would either infringe on Zzeroparticle’s territory and do a song review, or infringe on Hashihime’s territory and do a seiyuu-related post. I chose to the latter but not because of any threats or bribes on Zzero’s part, though I kindly will accept any to prevent me posting my thoughts on Immoralist. Anyway, mini-introduction over, all things being said don’t expect to ever see me post again.
“So, controversial statement warning, but I’m not really enjoying Puella Magi Madoka Magica. There are various reasons but I don’t intend to get into them, safe to say the show practically puts me to sleep.”
The above is what I’ve been saying for the past 4 episodes or so. That however has changed thanks to one thing; Nonaka Ai’s portrayal of the opportunistic mahou shoujo bitch, Kyouko Sakura. The casting decision is actually rather brilliant. Ai-pon has a strange ability to portray a character as it’s written on paper: evil, motherly, uncomfortably optimistic, dumb as a rock, or lovingly endearing; and make the character the cutest thing on screen. Her characters are inherently endearing thanks to the non-aggressive nature of her voice.
All of Ai-pon’s roles are adorable in some manner but not as the primary feature. Take Ibuki Fuuko from Clannad for example. Yes she’s cute, it’s undeniable, however that aspect is magnified with Fuuko’s primary trait; she’s dumb and goofy. She’s like some kind of moe parasite worming her way into my heart. I don’t want to love her, but I do. I even sort of care that she gets to see her sister get married.
Ai-pon’s voice really stands out in making Fuuko a engaging character. Her tone is generally garbled and slurred, sounding like she’s had one too many before the recording session. As Fuuko, she has a high-pitched voice that tends to be too loud for it’s own good. The combination can be annoying (and certainly there are those who would rather kill her with fire) but works for Fuuko because, being basically a ghost, she has to get your attention and a soft voice like Mamiko Noto’s Kotomi won’t cut it. The idiosyncrasies in Ai-pon’s voice combine with and support the goofball antics of Fuuko and create a character worth laughing at, and sometimes worth crying with.
One character of Ai-pon’s that fell a bit under the radar but I quite enjoyed was Imoko Shishidou from Sora wo Kakeru Shoujo. She is combination sister, mother, maid to the protagonist Akiha, and one of the more courageous and fun characters of the show. Also it’s hard not to find a little potato-headed robot wearing a tiny gondolier’s style hat and neckerchief adorable; just don’t call her “Boiled Potato”.
Ai-pon plays this role as largely supportive and comic relief. Her relationship with the Fukuyama Jun voiced robot Leopard is especially amusing as Imoko is always there to take him down a notch. With Leopard we see Imoko’s bad side for the first time and see Ai-pon achieve decibels we thought her incapable of. Imoko shines comedically when she is putting down Leopard whose egomaniacal antics she has no patience for. Imoko also shines when she becomes protective or downright self-sacrificial for Akiha. The emotional range Ai-pon displays can sometimes be shocking after the strength of her comedic moments. Imoko’s relationship Akiha stands out because despite Akiha having a number of older sisters, Imoko is the character to which she is closest through the majority of the series. Imoko is constantly at Akiha’s side through it all and Ai-pon really dials up the loyalty and courage of Imoko to make her the most endearing character of the show.
Another of Ai-pon’s characters that appears cute is Fuura Kafuka from Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei. She is an almost painfully optimistic genki girl. However, something about the way they zoom in on the black hollow pits of her eyes as she describes how her father “tried to get taller” surely puts the viewer off. Most of the time as Kafuka Ai-pon has the same similar cotton-mouthed tones as Fuuko, but frequently Ai-pon’s diction tightens up and becomes much smoother and flat when she has those moments of uncomfortably ominous ambiguity.
Kafuka isn’t perhaps as cute as the other characters that were mentioned, generally she’s too scary to be seriously cute, however there are moments when the show clearly ties together Itoshiki and Kafuka with the red string of fate and sometimes if the planets align correctly that interaction is endearing…in an unspeakably horrific way.
Whether she’s dumb and cute, scary and cute, or loyal and cute. All of Ai-pon’s characters are adorable. Whenever she pops up in a cameo even I tend to find that character endearing. Even when it’s frighteningly ugly in a “dear god what hath anime wrought” sort of way like this horrifying thing from Otome Youkai Zakuro:
I hate it but Ai-pon still makes me want to pat its tiny head and pray it doesn’t pop like a swollen, pus-filled zit. This is power the Queen controls and she wields it with impunity. Other’s of you may cry out for Hanazawa Kana (even I do on the occasion) or Taketatsu Ayane but until you voice something as butt ugly as that abomination (personalities don’t count Kirino) and still make it disgustingly cute, you will never take Ai-pon’s crown.
Lastly, let’s go back to Kyouko. We clearly are not meant to root for Kyouko right off the bat. She appears to have only her own interests in mind. She isn’t afraid to sacrifice a few muggles just so the witch will get nice and fat before she drives a spear through it. Yet we also get scenes of her gleefully chowing down on pocky and bustin a move on “Dog dug Reinforcement”. Even more recently she has revealed the depth of her characters emotion and the tragic downfall of her self-less wish. After these scenes we cannot look at Kyouko the same way again. She has become a character to be pitied rather than seriously hated. Thus far I feel like Kyouko is Ai-pon’s best role in quite some time. She has dialed back some of the more standard mannerisms of her voice and made the character endearing on the depth of emotion displayed rather than the fact she’s constantly snacking. With Kyouko there are no false-hoods, unlike Fuuko who in some aspects is carefully constructed to appeal, Kyouko’s traits all have meaning. Ai-pon’s skill has been instrumental in making Kyouko appealing. She has taken Kyouko through all the vocal gymnastics needed to display her as a dynamic and endearing character.
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