TERRAFORMARS is an anime about a group of characters who wield the powers of various bugs and animals battling giant humanoid evolved cockroaches called “terraformers.” The cast is pretty much a revolving door of interesting and charismatic characters, each with their own personalities, quirks, backgrounds, agendas, and powers. My favorite among them is Liu Yiwu, but probably not for the reasons most people will assume.
Note: This article contains spoilers for TERRAFORMARS.
Liu, who appears at 0:53 in the above trailer, is a Chinese officer on the Annex 1, and leader of Squad #4. He’s intelligent, pragmatic, crafty, and ruthless, yet has the respect and loyalty of those who serve him. He has also been given the abilities of a blue-ringed octopus, making him one of the most powerful members of the Annex 1 crew.
In TERRAFORMARS, Liu serves as an initial antagonist, betraying the other squads in service of China’s own agenda of capturing two vital members of the team for research. During his campaign, Liu shows himself to be a serious threat that rivals the terraformers themselves.
But despite all that, the reason Liu is my favorite character in the show is because of how he refers to himself.
While in English, there’s just one set of first-person pronouns (I/we, me/us, my/our, mine/ours, and myself/ourselves) to choose from, Japanese has a far more varied set of options. In Japanese, there are myriad ways in which a person can refer to themselves, each carrying their own subtle implications for personality and gender. Below are a selection of some of the more common ones you’ll hear in anime:
Watashi (私, わたし): A generic “I” or “me.” Very neutral in tone. Often used by analytical/emotionless characters.
Jibun (自分): An formal expression. Neutral, yet more regal and militaristic than Watashi (私): Often used by military officers.
Atashi (あたし): A feminine term. Used by women and effeminate male characters.
Boku (僕, ぼく, ボク): A young, boyish term. Used by young boys and tomboy girl characters. Also often used by male characters with non-combative personalities.
Ore (俺, オレ): A very masculine term. Often used by strong males or sometimes by your Vasquez-type female characters. Sometimes, when a character is particularly cocky, they will add the suffix, -sama to the end (Ore-sama (俺様, オレ様)) to vocally show just what a badass they are—usually before they get their ass handed to them.
Washi (わし, ワシ): A masculine term that carries an atmosphere of age. Usually used by elder characters.
Sessha (拙者): An older masculine term. Carries a regal atmosphere of honor. Used by samurai and ninja.
Ware (我): Another older term. Carries with it an almost divine atmosphere. Generally used by powerful demi-god or god-like characters, or characters who consider themselves in the realm of divinity.
Wagahai (吾輩): An older masculine term. Carries a scholarly atmosphere. Used by professors, bookworms, and other intellectuals.
Atai (あたい): A strong feminine term that carries a very rough and tumble atmosphere. Usually used by female gang members or bandits.
Ora (おら, オラ) or Oira (おいら, オイラ): A somewhat masculine, youthful term. Usually used by young, rambunctious boys.
Ore-chan (俺ちゃん): An oddball term which mixes the masculine testosterone of ore with the cutesy suffix -chan to create an ironic, somewhat sarcastic term. Think Deadpool, the fourth-wall-breaking Marvel character.
So, going back to Liu from TERRAFORMARS, how does this intellectual badass who is one of the most–if not THE most–powerful amongst the characters, refer to himself?
The scheming tactician who has the strength to crush a man, the ability to regenerate, can spew gaseous neurotoxin, is basically immune to poison and bludgeoning, and on top of all that, can use what can only be described as “magic kung fu,” refers to himself as a small child would.
This little quirk, while subtle, adds an entirely new level to the character that I personally find fascinating. It makes him much more interesting than your run-of-the-mill badass antagonist, and I find myself hooked on his every word and action.
Liu is obviously not the only character in anime history who does this. Still, rarely have I seen this sort of schism between how a character talks and how they act or appear to be work so harmoniously to make such an interesting and charismatic character. I went into TERRAFORMARS expecting to enjoy its plot and action. I didn’t expect to enjoy the characters so much.