Fan Service. Gainax wrote the book on fan service, almost literally (movie not book). Fan service is anything in a show, usually sexual in nature, that has absolutely nothing to do with the plot. It used to be something as subtle as a shower scene or a camera angle, then grew into having entire episodes dedicated to fan service (read: hot springs), and then entire characters were created to fulfill the need.
As soon as the titular heroine of Gainax's Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann busts onto the screen there is no doubt in the viewers mind that she is there to provide the fans with as much service as she can provide. However, despite first impressions, there is much more to the character of Yoko Ritona than meets the eye.
Number 05: Yoko Ritona
Show: Tenga Toppa Gurren Lagann
Background: There isn't much to say about Yoko before her time with Simon and Kamina (the two main characters of Gurren Lagann). She pretty much experienced the same history as they did, we just never see it. She lived in the underground village of Ritona, and had to leave because of something they couldn't help.
Yoko is a skilled sniper and gunsmith in general. Where all the other characters rely on fighting within the safety of a giant mech, she chooses to hit the ground and fly solo, and is very effective at it.
From there, the trio set off on their grand adventure to see exactly what is going on with the surface of the world above.
Why she is on my list: I don't hide the fact that I love a good looking 2D woman. But even I am put on the defensive when I see a character like Yoko come onto the scene. She is obviously designed to make me find her attractive, and as such, I tend to shy away from such obvious pandering.
However, whatever you feel about Gainax, they don't do something unless they know they can pull it off. They wouldn't design Yoko and then just have her exists as pure eye candy. They knew they could make her look good and be a great character at the same time.
In fact, despite how she dresses, her sexuality is very rarely (if ever) a factor in her day to day activities. Her reason for dressing so skimpy is because it allows her freedom of movement, and when she chooses to wear an actual bathing suit she chooses something much more conservative, much to the chagrin of all the other male crew members (and viewers), who quickly point out her daily wear is more revealing.
Although Yoko shares a few fleeting romances throughout the series, and subtle flirtation with Simon, she is never just the "girlfriend" in the series. She doesn't exist solely for a love story. She is an actual fully realized member of the story and gets by with her own smarts and skill. So while her outfit might be a few steps back in the way of woman's rights, her attitude and role within the story are certainly more progressive.
And unlike last weeks girl of the week, Yoko can't be labeled into Otaku sterotypes. She isn't Tsundere, Yandere, or any other silly otaku term, she is just a good female protagonist.
When it comes to her personality and character there is no other like Yoko, she doesn't yell obnoxiously for no reason, she doesn't swoon over Kamina, she doesn't grope other women's boobs. She goes against every single sterotype that is associated with her appearance. When she is frustrated, she lets you know. She deeply loves Kamina, but isn't all over him, and she is really actually kind of a shy girl. In other words, she is a normal teenage girl, and for that she is more interesting.
She is such her own character, I would very much like to see a spin off or alternate world with just Yoko as the main character. A badass female sniper from the future could go in so many directions.
My absolute favorite episode of Gurren Lagann is when Yoko comes back into the show after a bit of a time skip. She has been living peacefully on an island as a school teacher until a Ganman attacks her village and she proceeds to get back into character and quickly dispatches it during probably the best action sequence in the entire show. Not only is the fight visually amazing, it also gives Yoko something that no one else in the show really has, a tie to the outside world. She has her students to protect and their families, and after all is said and done, she is seen as something of a super hero to all them.
That is probably the climax to her story. Every point in Gurren Lagann after that involving her is just an epilogue. Her character surpassed everyone else on that island as she found her peace and happiness. Her further involvement in the story is just to help out her friends reach the same level that she herself reached.
Her reunion with Simon is also a high point of the show. She is the only part of his old life and old world that is left, and before she shows up, he is a broken man and about to give up on life, but her appearance rekindles the little Simon in him that was taught to pierce the heavens.
Without Yoko, Simon would be nothing. And that is the role of secondary characters, to make the lead more interesting. Through Yoko, Simon is able to find himself once again.
For a long time, Yoko was number three on my list, and she held that spot for a long time, but the last few years has had an influx of strong interesting female protagonists, and sadly she has dropped a few notches. Regardless she is a great character, and a great example of why you shouldn't judge a book by its cover (still, please enjoy all the sexy images of her on the side bar).
Seiyu: Marina Inoue
Inoue began her career in 2004 as Kanmuri Shigeru in the anime Yakitate!! Japan. Since then she has had a very steady career as a voice actress as well as a singer. Between 2004 and 2007 she worked steadily, but Gurren Lagaan arguably had a big boost to her career and from there started voicing more main characters.
Her music career also had to do with her sudden surge in popularity as Sony Entertainment picked her out of 200 other competitors to be the next big thing.
After Gurren Lagaan, she voiced lead characters in shows such as: Sekirei, Skip-Beat!, and my personal favorite, Valkyria Chronicles as Alicia Melchiott (game and TV show). Currently you can hear her voicing another busty protagonist as Rei Miyamoto in Highschool of the Dead.
Also she is gorgeous.