I asked for help with blog posts while I am recovering from surgery and a few people were nice enough to oblige! First up is Kristin Bomba, a writer and the head editor for ComicAttack.net. She writes a column called Bento Bako Weekly/Lite/Bonus on that updates Monday, Wednesday and Friday, respectively. She also has a collection of anime reviews at girlg33k.blogspot.com or you can follow her on Twitter under @girlg33k_Kris. Take it away, Kris!
While the lovely Daniella is recovering, I offered to step in with a guest post. In an effort to generate intelligent discussion, I roamed around my manga shelves and tried to find a theme to focus on. I decided to try my hand at a little semi-feminism. I had considered talking about Fumi Yoshinaga’s Ooku The Inner Chambers, but I really want to save that for a MMF (hint, hint). So rather than focus on a single title, I’d like to look at several titles, and a few anime (just to expand the pool I’m drawing from), and talk about the roles of women, particularly strong female characters. My goal is to point several of these out, and try to compare them to other female characters that tend to sit around and wait for the men to do everything for them. Well, let’s see how it goes.
I think we’ll start with a couple of my favorite female heroines. First we’ll look at a very unconventional heroine – Haruhi Fujioka from Ouran High School Host Club (Bisco Hatori). Haruhi is the exact opposite of the traditional heroine and the series frequently points this out both within the story and as in 4th-wall remarks. She’s oblivious to male attentions, indifferent to the differences between males and females, independent, boyish, apathetic and incapable of asking for aid. Haruhi is exceptionally perceptive to the feelings of others, which allows her to save the male characters from the darkest sides of their emotions. It is with Haruhi’s astute (and often unfortunately blunt) observations that the boys around her change and grow. The twins, Hikaru and Kaoru, especially, who begin the series withdrawn and with a self-made barrier between them and everyone else. Haruhi breaks this down almost single handedly. Without a mother, Haruhi took on many responsibilities growing up, always trying to do everything alone so as not to worry her father. Even when she needs help, she doesn’t know how to ask. This frustrates the guys, who try to teach this fiercely independent young lady that even someone as capable as her needs a little help sometimes. She’s a wonder woman, but not Wonder Woman.
Another favorite female character of mine is Juliet from Gonzo’s Romeo x Juliet (Reiko Yoshida). To be honest, Romeo is a bit of a pansy in this version, though he does grow a pair later on. It’s Juliet who steals the show as the Red Whirlwind, a vigilante who fights for the rights of the citizens of Neo Verona, rather like Robin Hood. The Capulet family was wiped out by Romeo’s father, leaving only Juliet behind. She must carry the fate of her family and the hopes of those who have protected her all these years on her young shoulders. She sets aside her heart’s desires to lead an uprising against the tyrannical Montague, and ends up making the ultimate sacrifice to save all of Neo Verona. All of this mostly on her own, with Romeo mostly along for the ride, or acting under the strength of her influence.
Perhaps one of the strongest females I’ve seen is female warrior Balsa, from Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit (Nahoko Uehashi). Deadly with a spear, Balsa has vowed to save lives to atone for those that were lost in her past. She kicks all kinds of ass, and she’s fully clothed. It’s unfortunate that I have to mention that detail. I think characters like Revy from Black Lagoon and Motoko from Ghost in the Shell are amazing female characters, but their clothing choices aren’t exactly modest. It’s great that they’re comfortable with their sexuality, but you can be on equal footing with the men without baring your cleavage and shaking your butt cheeks, too. Really, why does one of the most powerful women in Japan have to waltz around in little more than a very revealing strapless swimsuit? And for that matter, why must she be such a loose woman? I always found it a little odd that a pure cybernetic person, who doesn’t even believe she has a soul anymore, is so willing to have so many sexual relationships. Then again, maybe that’s exactly why, because they don’t really mean much to her. Still, you can be sexy without wearing minimal clothing or sleeping around.
Other strong female characters:
Kotobuki, Tsubasa Those With Wings (Natsuki Takaya). Though she has to turn to thievery to survive, she works hard to be a good person and have a legitimate job. She’s independent, though she does often get overwhelmed by the chaos brought about by the main male character, Raimon (I actually think Takaya writes good females regularly; Tohru, despite her very mild demeanor, rescues pretty much the entire Sohma family all on her own in Fruits Basket).
Kyoko, Skip Beat! (Yoshiki Nakamura). Kyoko starts out living her life for a man, and then sets out to get revenge on said man, which is the driving force behind much of her ambition for a good while. But she eventually gets beyond that and starts doing things for herself, and becomes a strong young lady who is capable of amazing growth as a human being.
Tsukasa, Tokyo Crazy Paradise (Yoshiki Nakamura). They don’t get much better than this. Tsukasa is just as strong, and often stronger, than any of the males in the series. She’s strong, both physically and emotionally, and is capable of amazing feats in battle. She’s the personal bodyguard of the main male character, a yakuza leader, and continually saves his (and many others’) life.
Meryl and Milly, Trigun (Yasuhiro Nightow). Meryl and Milly are the top insurance agents at Bernardelli Insurance. They’re capable enough to continually be sent after the most dangerous man on the planet, Vash the Stampede. And they can hold their own decently well with him when pressed. Meryl is a whiz with her coat full of derringer pistols and Milly can knock almost anyone down with her concussion gun. Their cheerfulness often gives Vash hope for the future.
Kaoru, Rurouni Kenshin (Nobuhiro Watsuki). Kaoru runs her own dojo, and holds her own quite well alongside Kenshin in battle. While she’s not strong enough to help him take on his biggest adversaries, she’s fantastic as support, and is able to fight off and organize battles against enemy soldiers and minor “bosses.” She’s the master of the Kamiya Kasshin style of fighting, and takes great pride in the style and her students (few though they may be). Her immense capacity for understanding and compassion pulls Kenshin out of his dark past.
Youko, The Twelve Kingdoms (Fuyumi Ono). Once she stops whining about how much she hates her situation and how unfair it all is, she truly steps into her role as ruler of the kingdom of Kei and becomes a powerful force, taking back her kingdom from the conniving and corrupt politicians populating her kingdom. She journeys outside the palace to live among her people, and ends up getting involved in a revolution against a usurper to her throne.
Casca, Berserk (Kentarō Miura). The only female soldier in Griffith’s elite army, Casca leads her own troop, and is behind only Griffith and Guts in skill. Unfortunately, the fact that she is a female is driven home repeatedly in the series, as because she is a female, she can never be as strong as the strongest man. This is something that pops up in many titles, and while factually and scientifically true, it’s a little annoying that in fantasy, women can’t be as outrageously strong as the men (see: Guts). Berserk is also one of very few titles I’ve seen where the woman’s menstrual cycle has an effect on her skills. Usually it’s ignored entirely. It’s also worth noting that the worst weapon used against Casca is rape; rape begins her path with Griffith (who saves her), and later destroys her sanity.
Honorable mentions: Nadia (Nadia: Secret of Blue Water), Natsumi and Miyuki (You’re Under Arrest), Riza Hawkeye (Full Metal Alchemist), Faye (Cowboy Bebop), Chizuko (The Daughter of Twenty Faces), Kumiko “Yankumi” (Gokusen).
Ah, now that I’ve talked about all these cool women, I don’t really want to talk about the weak and lame ones. The ones who just sit around and let the men do everything. Like Misao in Black Bird, Suzuka in Captive Hearts, or almost any character in a Yuu Watase story. Here are some of the worst I’ve seen.
Aoi, Ai Yori Aoshi (Kou Fumizuki). The epitome of the perfect Japanese woman, Aoi’s greatest asset, which is commented on by multiple characters throughout the series, is her ability as a housekeeper. Yes, this woman cooks, cleans, shops, mothers everyone, is obedient, and the ultimate domestic. She has loved one man and will always love one man, and will do anything for him. She was born and raised to know and acquiesce to his desires. I found the series to be very sweet and charming, but it’s hard to ignore such a typical idealized female. Especially when you compare her to the other women in the series who are decidedly more outgoing and independent.
Belldandy, Oh My Goddess! (Kōsuke Fujishima). Oh, someone’s gonna hate me for this one. Everyone loves Belldandy, but she falls into the same tropes as Aoi. It’s hard to hate such charming characters, and I don’t hate them, but neither can I ignore their status as pure male fantasy/wish fulfillment.
Suzuka, Suzuka (Kouji Seo). Suzuka is actually a fairly strong character for a shōnen sports manga, but the fact that she gives up her dream that was the focus of the entire series, and in effect makes the guy she is with give up his dreams, just because she can’t keep her panties on, kills it for me completely. Though admittedly, I found her to be exceptionally annoying and didn’t like the series anyway.
So, what makes a strong female character? That they can stand toe-to-toe with the men? That they are the rescuer more often than the rescued? Does a skimpy outfit automatically lesson their presence, or does it have no effect? Is it more important to be physically strong or emotionally strong? And what about the weaker characters? The ones who sit around looking pretty, or cater to every whim of the male they’re partnered with. Which is the better role model? Is it a weakness to be enamored with a guy? Just about all the characters I mentioned above, in each category, are in love with someone. You can be independent and still want to be with someone. After all, it’s human to need others. But it crosses a line when a female’s entire existence is to simply please her male partner. When they’re created with little to no outside motivation beyond that. It’s certainly not right for a boy to believe that women exist simply to serve him. And we don’t always need a guy there to do everything for us; we’re not weak, we can stand on our own feet. We’re not all Sleeping Beauty, who can only live through the love of a man, or Rapunzel, who must be rescued from a tower. What stands out to you, dear readers, and defines the strength of your favorite manga or anime girl?