!!Spoilers for Barrage!!
A couple of weeks ago, a series by the name of Barrage concluded in Shonen Jump. Set in a futuristic fantasy world, slum boy Astro’s life is turned upside-down when the son of the king, Prince Barrage, runs away and wants Astro, his newly found look-a-like, to take his place as prince. Astro has little choice in the matter for it is not long after the prince proposes his idea he is mysteriously killed and Astro is mistaken by royal soldiers for the lost prince. Now forced to play the part of Barrage, he is sent on a journey to save his country from aliens. This one-shot manga brought some unique elements into the Shonen Jump world, but what about the main female character?
A trend that appears to be used fairly frequently in shonen manga is the main character usually has one main female friend or ally who is supposed to be an action girl. While the intentions may be well-meant, sometimes these female characters can end up feeling like token female characters who start off with potential for being competent, but are at some point undermined and reduced to the female character who relies on her male comrades to handle things or even a damsel in distress. We’ve seen this in Naruto (Sakura), Katekyo Hitman Reborn! (Chrome), and Rurouni Kenshin (Kaoru), just to name a few.
This always disappoints me greatly when I see it. It’s annoying to see stereotypical female characters, but it’s almost harder to be presented with a female character who could have been a very interesting one only to have that potential ripped away from me and left with the same-old, same-old. I can’t help but think what could have been. In addition, it feels like this trend says that people are willing to create stronger female characters than seen in the past, but with strict limits that keep them below the male characters in terms of overall competency. Even if you are not like me and don’t care particularly about female characters, doesn’t it get boring to see the same scenario played out repeatedly? There’s only so many times one can see any plot device before he/she develops a sensor for the trend and can see it coming.
That’s why I was concerned that Barrage would fall under the same line of plotting. It very well could have gone in the atypical direction with its female character, Tiko. Tiko is introduced toward the middle of the story as a young woman seeking revenge for the death of her adoptive mother. While the aliens may be her main enemy, she’s also got her eye on the military, specifically a group that has turned traitor and joined the aliens to enslave the town she lives in. Tiko is tough and ruthless to her enemies and is fixated on revenge, but she cares deeply for her friends and loved ones. She is the type of female character who has a tragic past that gives her that sympathy aspect, but it’s played out in a way that was no different from male heroes with tough childhoods. The hero of the story meets her when she is banishing a dangerous alien from her town single-handedly.
However, things take a turn for the atypical when the corrupt faction of the military and the aliens decide to take Tiko out before she causes any more trouble. She is horribly defeated and has to be saved by Astro and his comrade. After that, Astro asks to let them take care of ridding the town of enemies. Like many other shonen manga, the action girl of the series is stepping aside to let the guys take care of things.
But Barrage doesn’t play the trend as I’ve come to expect. Unlike so many heroines in shonen manga, Tiko decides on her own that she can’t afford to sit around waiting for the guys to handle everything and goes after the guys to help. In fact, the story plays out in such a way that Astro and his comrade, Tiamat, need her help as she ends up saving Tiamat who then helps Astro. Tiko ends up taking care of things alongside the guys. But the creator, Kouhei Horikoshi, takes things further. Once she’s saved Tiamat, it looks like she’ll take the support position and act as the distraction while the guy finishes the fight. There is nothing wrong with acting as support–it can be necessary and very useful–but female characters take this role so often that it gets a little old and once again seems to limit their strength to being only support-worthy. However, in a move that broke the trend and surprised me, Tiko actually used her male comrade as the distraction and took out the enemy. Once again, Tiko took initiative, this time by coming up with a plan and successfully acting on it. The way this sequence was handled really solidified that Tiko is an equal to the guys. This is what I’ve wanted to see with so many female characters who had the same potential but were held back by the trend.
Overall, I’m very happy with how Tiko’s part played out. I thought I knew where the story was headed, but Barrage‘s creator, Kouhei Horikoshi, pleasantly surprised me. Tiko shows initiative repeatedly and is not undermined by any plot devices that often cripple other supposedly tough female characters. By giving the story a competent action girl the plot was able to go in different directions than the typical one and adds new dynamics. So, Kouhei Horikoshi, please create another manga with a female character just as active as Tiko. We need more of characters like that!