The Nolans System

In the early 1980s, five sisters took Japan by storm. The Nolans sold 9 million records, and appeared on TV, singing in Japanese. Their biggest hit was “Dancing Sister,” which we know better as the Christmas party floor-filler “I’m in the Mood for Dancing”.

Anime producers fell in love. Some shows already had five-man teams modelled on Thunderbirds, but the video market favoured all-girl action. Soon the Nolans’ media-friendly archetypes, expressed in their costumes and made-up Japanese puff articles, were incorporated into the Five Ideal Anime Women…

Big Sister: Anne Nolan. Mature, sophisticated, maternal, intelligent. The one that the others look up to, but not the heroine. Like Nagumo in Patlabor, more likely to be married to her job than the anime’s love interest.

Tomboy: Bernadette Nolan. Tough and feisty. The life and soul of the party. More likely to have short hair, more athletic, good with firearms. Bernie’s Japanese cousins include Deunan Knute in Appleseed and Motoko Kusanagi in Ghost in the Shell.

Girl Next Door: Linda Nolan. The middle one, and the main focus of the plot. Most likely to be the same age as the target audience. Often presented as a kind of ugly duckling who eventually wins through. She’s also the love interest and fanboy pin-up – she’s Sailor Moon!

Maiden: Maureen Nolan. Sweet, girlish, and meek – actually too girlie to be a love interest. Instead this character tends to be a snooty madame, like Princess Ayeka in Tenchi Muyo, or a computer geek like Sailor Mercury.

Child: Coleen Nolan. The baby of the group, the shy one, the one everyone still treats like a little girl. But Coleen’s dark side includes the scary blue mutant children of Akira, and Laura, the transforming girl in Genocyber. NB: NEO’s lawyers have asked me to stress that Coleen Nolan is not a living biological weapon.

The Nolans became a secret shorthand for anime writers, with five archetypes to cater to every male fan’s taste. Twenty years on, they’re still there, lurking in the background of everything from anime to dating sims. Tell your parents. It’ll scare them.

(This article first appeared in Neo #14, 2005)

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