By and large, young kids in anime annoy the hell out of me. Dealing with children in the real world? No problem, bring it on. But seeing small children in anime? Ugh, no thank you. I’m not talking about anime targeted towards the same age group, mind you – I have no issue with kids in titles like Doraemon, Youkai Watch, or Hamtaro. What I typically have a dislike for, however, are elementary school-aged characters in anime targeted at a wider audience… mostly because they act and sound nothing at all like their age.
To some extent, the latter can’t be helped. Even the most talented of voice actors are bound to have trouble sounding like a 6-year old when they’re really in their 30s, and actual children voicing major roles in anime is something of a rarity. Still, there’s just something incredibly grating about hearing an obviously fake and exaggeratedly high-pitched voice coming out of the mouth of a first grader, particularly when they laugh. It gets even worse when said first-grader says or does something that I can’t imagine anyone that age actually saying or doing, and which I notice particularly when a scene is designed to come across as ultra-cute and/or emotionally moving.
There are definitely exceptions to this though, and I can think of several excellent young child characters that play major roles among otherwise older cast members. Of course, ‘young’ can be a pretty vague word, so for this article I’ll be limiting my examples to anime characters that are still under the double digits. (Sorry ‘bout it, Chiyo.)
Kaga Rin (Usagi Drop)
Six years old throughout most of the series, Rin takes the cake for adorable anime children who I not only don’t want to kill but are actually genuinely cute. The illegitimate daughter of Daikichi’s grandfather, Rin understandably takes a while to come out of her shell and learn to socialise with anyone besides Daikichi. However, after the stability and security that Daikichi offers allows Rin to gain in confidence, she blossoms into a very mature and independent young girl, obviously kindhearted but not shy about voicing her opinions (and bossing Daikichi around when need be). After discovering a fondness for cooking, she’s often seen trying to take charge around the kitchen despite her small size. Needless to say, her voice is spot on thanks to voice actor Matsuura Ayu, who was about ten years old at the time of Usagi Drop’s release.
Kotoishi Naru (Barakamon)
A seven-year old who lives alone with her grandfather, Naru is about as energetic and bubbly as they come and is like a burst of sunshine on screen, particularly in contrast with Seishuu’s often very antisocial personality. Despite not seeming to grasp the concept of personal space, Naru epitomizes some of the very best yet realistic qualities of young children – she’s cheerful and generous, and adventurous and mischievous without being purposefully rude. Her sheer love of life is infectious, and her habit of imitating the speech or behavior of those around her – even when she doesn’t really understand it – makes for plenty of hilarious scenes. Her confident and straightforward personality means that she has plenty of friends, both girls and boys, and that she gets along well with absolutely everyone. Like Usagi Drop’s Rin, Naru’s characterisation is greatly helped by her voice actor, Hara Suzuko, who would have been around nine years old when Barakamon was first airing.
Miyauchi Renge (Non Non Biyori)
Aged six throughout most of the series, Renge is the star of the show for many viewers, and it’s not difficult to see why. A highly curious and precocious child, Renge is friendly but spends plenty of time entertaining herself, whether it’s wandering around playing her recorder or attempting to train her ‘pet’ tanuki. Despite her normally completely blank expression – she gets surprised sometimes and very occasionally sad, but is never once seen to smile – Renge is an affectionate child who loves both people and animals and is easy to like and laugh at in return, particularly when her naturally trusting nature makes her the target of some good-natured pranks. Her habit of inventing new words and nicknames (nyanpasu!) can be pretty cute too. Her voice actor, Koiwai Kotori, is in her 20s but does an admirable job of giving Renge just the right high-pitched but somewhat husky pitch.
Elicia Hughes (Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood)
First introduced at age three and six years old by the end of the series, Elicia is utterly adorable – and not just because her father (nooooo!) is even more so when he’s gushing about her to anyone who’ll listen. Enthusiastic and generally just all-around cute and lovable, Elicia doesn’t deal with or fully understand the death of her father very well, crying for the strange men at the funeral to stop burying him so that he can get back to his work, and running to the door later on in the series when she hears a knock and thinks her father has returned home. However, Elicia still does her best to comfort her likewise grieving mother, and remains an innocent and sweet-hearted girl. Fukuen Misato, in her late 20s during Brotherhood’s release, does sound a little too mature for the role but turns out a strong and fairly convincing performance nonetheless.
Kusakabe Mei (My Neighbor Totoro)
Studio Ghibli has always depicted fantastic child characters no matter their age, but Mei is one of the very youngest of them, and is about as cute a four-year old as has ever been seen in anime. Mei’s lively curiosity means she is the first character in the film to meet Totoro – probably fitting, given her innocence, much like only the purest of children are meant to be able to see unicorns – and is completely unafraid by the ginormous creature. It’s clear that Mei loves her family very much, and although upset by her mother’s prolonged stay in the hospital, loves to play with her older sister and naturally charms her father (and pretty much everyone else) with her sweet and unselfish personality. Voice actor Sakamoto Chika would have been about 29 years old when My Neighbor Totoro was released, but Mei’s voice comes across as beautifully natural and perfectly in-character at all times.
Question of the post: How do you feel about young child characters in anime? Do you have any favourites that didn’t make this list?
25 thoughts on “5 Anime Kids I Don’t Want to Murder”
As is always the case with lists, I came with my own preconceived notions to the list, and before reading the post (which I did!), checked that the top two mentions are the top two characters I thought of as well, and they are, so good job for having good taste (i.e. one that agrees with my own).
I have to agree though, taking old voice actors to do young kids so often misses the mark and makes me sigh. Go go young voice actors! Mushishi does that too, and it even seems that Mushishi, as Studio Ghibli sometimes does, picks “non-actors” for their roles.
If manga had been here, I’d have expected to see Yotsuba from Yotsubato (Yotsuba&!), which I highly recommend to everyone. I still dreams of Yotsuba x Barakamon crossover.
By the by, I do wonder, it’s not just the voice acting that is often the issue, right? I wonder if there’s some paradoxical love and attraction by the aimed crowd, seeing as so many are single children who dream of cute younger siblings, to wanting to be rid of those pests, that lead to their depictions as either stickily annoying or stickily sweet.
Yeah, I do often find myself really enjoying those shows that pick voice actors who aren’t particularly well-known, or who aren’t necessarily even professional voice actors at all. Which isn’t to say that I don’t also have some favourite famous voice actors or think the job is redundant, but it sure is nice to see a change every once in a while. With studios like Ghibli, those changes always seem for the better.
As to your last question, I guess I don’t feel very qualified to answer. I have three siblings, but I’m not Japanese and therefore not the target audience for any anime, and I can’t say what other people are thinking. If I had to guess though, I’d say you’re right on the money there.
Can I assume that every anime child that’s NOT on this list, you want to brutally murder? DON’T TOUCH MY Tae-yeon (Yona) and Ushio!
I’m sure there are one or two exceptions but in general… yes, probably. I’m perfectly willing to accept Tae-yeon as one of those exceptions btw, because I do have a big soft spot for the show. Since I haven’t read the manga though, I still really have no idea what Tae-yeon is actually like, hence he didn’t make the list.
I’ve read the Yona manga; unfortunately he hasn’t made an appearance since. But fear not, apparently the mangaka has resolved to give everyone in the series character development. So hopefully he will appear again.
Currently the mangaka’s focused on fleshing out the backstory and character of Zeno the Yellow Dragon; I’ve been told it’s pretty tragic & emotional. I could tell you more if you’re interested. 😉
Thanks, but I’d rather save it for a potential season two of the anime.
Yeah, I also find kids pretty annoying. The exceptions are Ed from Cowboy Bebop, Hinami from Tokyo Ghoul and Conan Edogawa (does he count? ^^).
I would definitely have included Ed if I could, but I think she’s about 12? I tried to narrow down my options a bit by limiting the field to characters under the double digits.
Ah, I see. Then I would add Akira from Nagi no Asukara. ^^
Fair enough. I don’t remember him that well, but he seemed like a sweet enough kid.
I love it when kids (or anyone who’s not ‘teenager’ or young adult’, really) got to play important role, provided they’re handled nicely of course.
Love Naru too, and I really like the Dennou Coil kids, although I guess they’re a bit above your intended age bracket. Apart from them… Yuki (Tokyo Magnitude 8.0), Setsuko and Seita (Grave of the Fireflies), and Soon and Boo (Now and Then, Here and There). I’m often drawn to anime depicting kids in large-scale crisis (as long as it’s tear-inducing in manipulative way), if only because it’s an accurate representation of what happened in some parts of real world.
(also, besides Elicia, I definitely remember THAT other little girl in FMA. Still one of the most powerful and disturbing moments in anime…)
Yeah, when handled well I think young kids in anime can make for some incredibly powerful and moving moments. The problem for me is that they’re so often not handled well at all, and those scenes meant to come across as super touching and emotional make me role my eyes at the cliche and/or total lack of realism. I agree though, those other examples you mention are solid.
How about Kazuya Kasuga, Kyosuke’s cousin in Kimagure Orange Road? He’s a bit of a precocious jerk, in that charming, old fashioned sitcom fashion of KOR, but he’s ultimately a pretty cool little kid.
I haven’t seen that show actually. I’m happy to take your word for it though. 🙂
Nice list! Rin from Usagi Drop is a great choice as a good child character and a great show. So is Naru from Barakamon, however, in real life she could drive an adult crazy at times.
Yup, just re-watched some of Barakamon the other day and she sure does seem like a handful. Mostly in a pretty endearing way though, annoyances and all. 🙂
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Oh yeah, she’s a great kid, but she could wear a person out quickly.
I think it’s definitely the source writing that affects how the children are characterized; either the writer has no idea how real children behave, or they use the character as moe/shota bait to reel in their targeted otaku audience.
I did like how Naru from Barakamon was voiced by an actual child, as I feel it adds to the authenticity of the voice. Never quite understood her dialect though.
I remember watching Bunny Drop some time ago, and I do agree it is heartwarming. However, this only applies for the 1st half of the series. I hear the 2nd half of the source manga (never animated) takes a controversial turn afterwards.
Apparently mangaka Unita Yumi thought it a good idea to have a later teenage-aged Rin gradually fall in love with Daikichi in Part 2. After finding out they aren’t truly related, they both marry each other and plan to have children. Some readers felt she really dropped the ball there and turned the story into something skeevy.
Ah, yeah that dialect is a hard one. I was sometimes understanding only one in every three words she was saying, though I actually kinda liked that – it helped make the setting that much more realistic, and I quite enjoy all those variants of Kyuushu-ben.
Yes, I know all about the manga now. People are always very quick to compare the manga to the anime; all I can say is that I’ve never read the manga, will probably never read it, and am perfectly happy just thinking about the anime as a completely different story that needs no comparison point.
Great list…. I agree with all of them. Next you’ll need to make an accompaniment of the 5 children you DO want to murder. 😉 The only characters I can really think of are too old for the list, and generally fall into the category of “Friendship speech giving love interests.” 😛
I think that particular list would end up with waaaay more than just 5 kids on it. XD
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LOL. I can definitely add the girl in Black Butler… can’t remember her name, but wanted her gone, gone, gone. She wasn’t cute. She wasn’t interesting. She didn’t even perform the role of obligatory “Look, we’re “really” hetero” character. 😛
Ahh, Elizabeth? Yeah, I didn’t care for her character much either. I might have felt some sympathy for her if she had been given any actual meaningful characterization, but as it was she was just plain irritating.
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Really enjoying your site! I gotta get around to it more =)
I loooooooooved Naru. What a well written and voiced character. Super lovable and adorable. I don’t know 2/5 on your list but I agree with the other 3. I would throw Yashirō from the Shimogamo family in Uchoten Kazoku. Every time his ears and tail pop out it’s so darned cute. He’s also not murderable (is that a word? lol).
Thank you very much for saying so! I’m glad you’re enjoying it. 🙂
Ah, I admit hadn’t thought of Yashirou – nice pick! I’m not sure of his age, but I likewise found him really adorable, and it doesn’t hurt that the series as a whole is great.