What’s In A Name? Various Name-Related Puns In Japanese Cartoons

When I first decided that I was going to start running panels at anime conventions about ten years ago, I kicked around all sorts of ideas of what to talk about. Early on in my fandom, even longer before I went to anime conventions, Dragonball fansites often discussed the trivia related to Toriyama Akira’s puns when it came to naming characters in his epic. As I started watching more anime and reading more manga, I started noticing more and more of these puns and I thought this would be a fun convention topic to present. But when I started with even the most rough draft of this, I found this was a real short topic indeed and wouldn’t fit a convention format very well. Which means it’s perfect for Free Talk here at Akihabara Renditions.

When an author is developing  story and need names for characters, they might reference any number of resources. When Fujishima Kousuke was writing his manga, Oh! My Goddess (Aa! Megamisama ああ!女神さま), he referenced Norse mythology for characters of his goddess sisters. Or Takeuchi Naoko using associated planetary symbolism on all of her main Sailor Senshi’s surnames. Breaking down these constructs is always fun while keeping in mind if a pattern or pun for naming conventions may have canonical meanings or connotations (Sailormoon) or some stylistic theme (O!MG).

When I first mentioned Toriyama Akira, it’s partially because it was a series early in my fandom where I went into a deep dive of gathering information; it’s also partially that because of my lack of access to much of the series proper, I was spending a lot of time on the Internet to learn more about it, filling my head with goofy, useless trivia. Like the fact that Toriyama-sensei used things like food and underwear to name his ever-growing cast of characters. This is consistent not just in Toriyama’s manga and anime adaptations but continues to this day with anime-only sequels, like Dragonball Super.

A Person, Not A Number

From an English language perspective, using numbers to formulate a naming convention for fictional characters seems odd, as it feels we don’t have many natural sounding names that incorporate them. Numbers; however, play a part in 1995’s Mobile War Report Gundam Wing. Very popular when it debuted in Japan, it’s release in 2000 in North America played a crucial part in popularizing Cartoon Network’s Toonami programming block and became a staple of anime fandom for a generation. Featuring five pilots from five space colonies come to Earth, several of the main pilot’s names are plays on different numbers, as well as many of the extended cast. Pilots such as Duo Maxwell (2), Trowa Barton (3), Quatre Raberba Winner (4) and Chang Wufei (5) were introduced and a little bit of thought with applied language skills – Trowa and Quatre from French, the Wu in Wufei from Chinese all symbolized their names. Indeed, other characters like Lady Une (1) came from French, Treize Kushrenada (3) from Spanish and initial villain Zechs Merquise (6) and Lucrezia Noin (9) both come from German.

One of my favorite manga (and anime) is Takahashi Rumiko’s 1980 romantic comedy, Maison IkkokuIkkoku is the story of loser, ronin university student Godai Yusaku and his neighbors at the old apartment building, the Ikkokukan, when the new landlady arrives to oversee her deceased husband’s investment. Godai falls for the young, beautiful landlady, who isn’t quite reciprocal of his feelings due to being a recent widow and all. The Ikkokukan is also full of characters – of the literal and figurative sense – and them getting involved in between Godai and the landlady gives an interesting spin on the premise as only Takahashi could. But one thing I noticed on a subsequent reading was a pattern on many of the characters names. The Ikkokukan residents all had a surname featuring the unit number they lived in.

0 Otonashi 「音無」 Kyoko
1 The Ichinose 「一の瀬」 Family
2 Nikaido 「二階堂」 Nozomu
4 Yotsuya 「四谷」
5 Godai 「五代」 Yuusaku
6  Roppongi 「六本木」 Akemi

When the anime adaptation added a character for a story arc, they used the unused room 3 for the inspiration of his name, despite 3 being used for Godai’s rival, Mitaka Shun「三鷹 瞬」. Other prominent cast members also fall into the number game: Nanao Kozue「七尾 こずえ」, Yagami Ibuki 「八神 いぶき」 and Kujou Asuna「九条 明日菜」 (7, 8, 9) all follow Shun by having numbers a part of their surname while not living at Ikkokukan.

Space Is The Place

So, while the typical convention in Maison Ikkoku is to have characters’ surnames follow a numerical convention, there is one more convention that I may have dug up. During a trip to Japan in 2009, I connected through Yotsuya station to get back to my Tokyo hotel every trip. As Yotsuya is my favorite character in Ikkoku, it stuck with me. I looked  up other stations on the map and I was finding a lot more familiar names – Roppongi (which is a neighborhood district, too), Mitaka and Godai. Sure, the kanji in Godai Station were different than Godai Yusaku but the pun still works. But then researching more and I found an Ichinose Station, Nikaido Station, Nanao Station, Yagami Station and Kujo Stations; though none in the Tokyo area. But prior to 1987, all of the railways and stations in Japan were nationalized, so finding the names of stations all across the country was something feasible with some research.  Of those stations, Ichinose and Yagami are the only ones with Godai that don’t use the exact same kanji that Takahashi does for her character names.

While we’re on place names, one that always intrigued me was in Sailormoon, our heroines names usually reflect the planet that they represent as Sailor Soldiers: All of the inner senshi, except for Sailor Venus, that is. I suppose it is fitting, as the design for Sailor Venus is based on the pilot work Takeuchi Naoko wrote, Sign wa Sailor V. Aino Minako’s kanji for her surname, 「愛野」 , can be broken down as “of love”, which is a nice allegory for Venus, named after the Roman goddess of love and beauty. However, it is less straightforward than her compatriots: Tsukino, Mizuno, Hino and Kino all use the first kanji in Moon, Mercury (Suisei), Mars (Kasei) and Jupier (Mokusei) respectively. The Outer Senshi continue this pattern: Ten’ou, Kaiou, Meiou for Uranus (Ten’ousei), Neptune (Kaiousei) and Pluto (Meiousei) with Saturn, Tomoe Hotaru, being their outlying member.

On Brand

Anime is noted for its product placement, whether direct placement (like Pizza Hut in the beginning of Code Geass) or any number of parody placements from countless other series. In Fujishima’s Oh! My Goddess though, he takes things to the next level by embedding some product placement in some of his secondary characters. Fujishima is a noted petrol-head, loving cars, motorcycles and engines, and is often reflected in his work. Typically, petrol-heads are avid plastic modelers, which is sometimes the only way they can get their hands on a classic American muscle cars, the Italian super cars or the Japanese drifting machines of their dreams. Fujishima, I think, is no exception. Fleshing out his cast of characters beyond Morisato and the Goddesses, we see a theme that ties back to lots of plastic modeling companies:

  • Tamiya Toraichi – Keiichi’s senior in the Nekomi Institute of Technology’s Motor Club, named after Tamiya Corporation.
  • Ohtaki Hikozaemon – Another of Keiichi’s seniors in the Motor Club, named after Otaki Plastic Model Toy Company, which went defunct in the 1980s.
  • Hasegawa Sora – A junior of Keiichi who inherits the leadership of the Motor Club, named after Hasegawa Hobby Kits.
  • Fujimi Chihiro – The founder of the Nekomi Motor Club, from Fujimi Mokei.
  • Aoshima Toshiyuki – Keiichi’s early rival and founder of a rival motor club, named for Aoshima Bunka Kyouzai.

As I noted in my opening, this is an idea I’ve wanted to talk about for sometime now but haven’t had a good opportunity as it doesn’t make a very in-depth panel topic or probably even something worth discussing on the podcast. But it’s a lot of fun to think about and find patterns in how creators name their characters. Have some favorites we didn’t talk about? Head down to the comments and post them there!

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