While Anpanman was the undisputed hero of his own anime, Hiromi Tsuru’s superbly voiced Dokin-chan was the rest of us.

One of Japan’s most prominent voice actresses, Hiromi Tsuru, passed away while driving on a downtown Tokyo expressway. The cause of death has been indicated as aortic dissection, a weakening of the aorta artery that is manageable but tragically difficult to detect until it is too late.

Many of the headlines refer to Tsuru as the voice of Bulma from the Dragon Ball series, which makes sense as it is easily the most globally recognized anime the she was associated with. However, among Japanese people it is probably her role as Dokin-chan in the long-running series Anpanman that most have a deep connection with.

Since Anpanman is geared towards toddlers, there isn’t as much awareness of it overseas. However, in Japan it is pretty much a rite of passage for all kids, regardless of gender, to go through an Anpanman phase. It would be a toss-up between Anpanman and Mickey Mouse to say which character is more popular among little kids here.

The universe of extended characters in Anpanman is incredibly complex but the episodic nature of the show is quite simple. Every time, the main villain Baikinman (literally “Germ-man”) would attack someone with his array of giant robotic machines. He would then initially get the upper hand on the hero Anpanman by making his head (which is made from sweet-bean-filled bread) wet or otherwise inedible and causing him to lose his strength.

Then, the baker Uncle Jam cooks up a new head and replaces it, thus restoring Anpanman’s power. At this point Anpanman quickly re-enters the fray and defeats Baikinman, often with a single punch – a recurring theme that no doubt inspired the creation of anime/manga One Punch Man, also known affectionately as “Wanpanman.”

This is the formula for nearly every single episode of the over 1,300 Anpanman episodes that span three decades. Yet it was this reliable repetition, combined with the easy-to-latch-onto premise of good vs. evil, as represented by delicious food and viruses respectively, that made it a tried-and-true hit with the kids.

However, early in the anime the character of Dokin-chan was introduced. A fellow germ-like creature, she was cast as the partner of Baikinman in his quest to contaminate the world, but for the most part she didn’t really share his passion for it.

Often under the guise of selfishness, Dokin-chan was largely indifferent to the good-vs-evil struggle that consumed the world of Anpanman. Criticizing and taking to task her own teammates while becoming romantically infatuated with one of the good guys, Dokin-chan was never all that bad, but not all that good either.

In other words, Dokin-chan was the most human character in Anpanman, even more human that the humans in the series. She was a morally ambiguous character with both strengths and flaws, and in this way we can relate most to her of any other character.

This is also in no small part thanks to the voice talents of Hiromi Tsuru. Surrounded by the trumpeting do-gooder cadence of heroes like Anpanman and the gravelly cries of Baikinman, Dokin-chan pretty much sounded like a regular woman, but with just the right expertly added touch of cutesiness for the cartoon world. It is a razor-thin balance but she could pull it off perfectly.

This following tweet is one of many tributes to Tsuru since her passing but it seems to have resonated with a lot of people, possibly because it aptly describes the viewers’ relationship with Tsuru’s characters.

The panels show Baikinman crying in front of Dokin-chan’s empty spaceship when suddenly she appears beside him and pats him on the head. However, just when he looks up she vanishes. The caption in the tweet reads, “Don’t cry. I’m always by your side.”

The tweet was flooded with over 97,000 likes and scores of comments like “That is the perfect picture, I can’t help crying,” and “Those images hit me like a punch to the stomach.”

Dokin-chan always existed a little outside of the world of Anpanman, experiencing it much like the viewer does, with a mixture of wonder and disbelief. The same could be said for Bulma in the Dragon Ball universe and Meryl in Trigun, all given that perfectly grounded voice that only Tsuru could provide.

Dokin-chan, Bulma, and Meryl’s lines often echoed our own inner thoughts as the main characters went about their scripted path, as if she were right there with us. The reality her voice breathed into these characters meant that we weren’t watching them; we were watching the anime along with them.

So, for a great number of people in Japan, the death of Tsuru wasn’t just the loss of a voice actress but the loss of a friend – in many cases a very old friend. That is why she’ll be missed, but that is also why she’ll always be by our side, as well as our children’s sides.

Source: Twitter/@drops0401
Photos: SoraNews24