Archive for December, 2011

To ring in the New Year I’m doing something a little different from my normal posts. I thought I’d end the year by shining the spotlight on some movies, books, manga, and anime that I found satisfied both my need for a good story as well as my need for awesome heroines. As I’m sure you all know, it’s not easy finding strong, realistic female characters in fiction all the time and while everything I’ve chosen may not be perfect, I’d like to give some suggestions for those of you looking for some satisfying fiction (and some non-fiction) for the coming year. I’d love to do individual posts on these suggestions in the future to further explain why I found them appealing, but for the sake of quickness, here’s the list:

Fiction Books
  • Abhorsen trilogy (by Garth Nix)
  • Fire (by Kristin Cashore)
  • Graceling (by Kristin Cashore)
  • Harry Potter series (by J.K. Rowling)
  • Moribito series (by  Nahoko Uehashi)
  • Pride & Prejudice (by Jane Austen)
  • Song of the Lioness series (by Tamora Pierce)
  • The Twelve Kingdoms series (by Fuyumi Ono)
Non-Fiction Books
  • America’s Women (by Gail Collins)
  • Elizabeth I (by Anne Somerset)
  • Enlightened Sexism (by  Susan J. Douglas)
  • The Mysterious Life of Private Thompson (by Laura Leedy Gansler)
  • When Everything Changed (by Gail Collins)
  • Nana
  • Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind
  • Ouran High School Host Club
  • Paradise Kiss
  • Sailor Moon
  • Skip Beat!
  • Usagi Drop


  • Avatar: The Last Airbender
  • Beast Player Erin (streaming legally on Crunchyroll.com)
  • Cross Game
  • Library Wars
  • Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind
  • The Twelve Kingdoms
  • Revolutionary Girl Utena
  • The Rose of Versailles
  • Usagi Drop


  • Elizabeth (2008)
  • Fried Green Tomatoes
  • The Heiress (1949)
  • Disney’s Mulan
  • Offside
  • Persepolis
  • True Grit (2010)
  • The Young Victoria

This list will be posted as a page labeled “Recommendations” from now on. Some of these I chose based on the thought-provoking messages dealing with gender while others simply presented strong female characters. I enjoyed (or am enjoying in the case of a couple of those on-going manga) all of the stories in the fiction I have on this list. As for the non-fiction, I listed a couple of books dealing directly with feminism and a number of books about women in history that I found inspiring. If I have done a more thorough review of something on the list, I will put a link to that review on the page (there aren’t many right now). Finally, because I’m always looking for more stories of strong women, this list will certainly grow (I’m positive I’m forgetting a ton as well). On that note, if you have any suggestions for me to look into, I’d love to hear them and will try to read/watch it when I can. I wish everyone luck in the coming year and hope you’ll continue to support Gagging on Sexism! See you in 2012!

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Last week, I discussed the manga of Sailor Moon and it’s surprisingly feminist themes. But Sailor Moon was also made into an anime and a good majority of people are probably more familiar with the anime than the original version, the manga. I myself was first introduced to this series not through the manga, but through the anime series which ran on Cartoon Network years ago. Unfortunately, unlike the manga, I wouldn’t dare call it feminist. It was one of the first anime series I’d ever seen and I have to admit I thought Sailor Moon was pretty cool. But even as a kid I remember feeling a little let down with the plucky heroine. Usagi (or Serena as she was called in the English dub) was presented as extremely ditzy and whiny in her average day. A perfect character wouldn’t be any fun nor very relatable, but Usagi’s faults were played on so strongly, she could be pretty annoying (even her fellow characters often became frustrated with her behavior). Only in her serious moments could I see the character I admired. And our strong Sailor Moon and co. seemed to fall victim to the enemy almost every episode only to be saved each time by the intervention of the mysterious Tuxedo Mask, the sole male hero of the series. Although I watched the series, I couldn’t help but wish these aspects were not as prevalent as they were.

That’s why I was surprised upon reading the manga version of the series years later. While the basic story is the same, there are some details that completely changed my impression of Sailor Moon. For one, while the Usagi from the manga may have been lazy about her studies and a crybaby, she was not nearly as ditzy of her anime counterpart. The first volume of the manga isn’t the best example of this; it’s so bad in the first few chapters, Usagi’s quickness to tears is turned into a superpower of sorts. The superpowers in Sailor Moon are on the corny side with Usagi and her friends shouting things like “Flower Hurricane!” and “Moon Tiara Boomerang!” but sobbing that created high frequency waves is still pushing it. Keep reading the manga though and you’ll be pleased to see this “power” vanishes as Usagi and the story matures. However, watch the anime and you’ll see plenty of this behavior throughout the show. Perhaps because the anime strays from the original story, the anime retains Usagi’s comical ditziness and crybaby antics which detracts from the strength of her character. I’m not extremely bothered by Usagi’s crybaby/lazy attitude in the manga because I know her character grows, but, on the other hand, the anime Usagi seems incapable of growing and maturing and is thus extremely irritating; she becomes your stereotypical airhead.   

Another major differences in details is the role Tuxedo Mask plays in battles. Take the first episode/installment; in the manga, Usagi is obviously feeling overwhelmed trying to fight the enemy for the first time, but she ultimately beats the enemy all on her own (utilizing that crying power I mentioned). Tuxedo Mask is present, but only as an observer. In the anime, she is also overwhelmed, but in a comparison that makes that crying power look good, Usagi just starts sobbing for help (no superpowers) and gets saved by Tuxedo Mask. This arguably small detail makes a big difference in how people view Usagi. Sure, she starts crying in both scenarios, but in one she ultimately fulfills her duty as a superhero while in the other she, the hero of the story, must be saved.

Interestingly enough, out of the first four episodes of the series, the first time Usagi actually defeats an enemy without Tuxedo Mask’s aid is when she is motivated by the idea that fighting them will make her lose weight. The episode in which this takes place, the 4th episode, centers around girls and women trying to lose weight. Well, besides one of the girls in the episode who is just slightly on the chubby side, none of the female characters concerned with their weight look like they need to be in the least. Luckily, the show throws in a message about becoming too thin and dangerous dieting (at one point, Usagi faints in front of her crush after going a day without eating; when the said crush hears that Usagi is worried about her weight, he rightly tells her that she doesn’t need to be worried and that she isn’t fat). However, the episode ends with Usagi in comical tears after weighing herself, crying, “I’m fat!” This was likely done for comical purposes, but having a slim anime character spilling tears over her body weight is probably not the image to throw out to a world filled with girls/women obsessed with their weight. In the end, the message I received from the episode was “A girl should be unreasonably concerned about her weight, but just shouldn’t try extreme dieting.” While I don’t think every person who watches this will internalize a message from a cartoon, girls/women are thrown this message about their weight and looks so often that it certainly won’t help those out there who are sensitive about their weight. The manga inserted messages like this in the earlier chapters, but managed to conclude them with definitive and positive messages for girls.  

The question is why did the creators of the anime change these details?  I believe some elements like Usagi’s ditziness/quickness to tears were amplified because it was thought to be more comical. The manga utilized these traits as both a way to humanize Usagi as well as for perhaps some comedy, but these traits slowly lessen as Usagi and the story mature. On the other hand, the anime decided to make these elements more pronounced and with more time to go off the main plot, the goofiness is retained much more. The part that’s harder to explain is Tuxedo Mask’s role as the girls’ ever-needed rescuer. Did the creators think it would open the show up to a wider audience if the characters fell into more traditional roles or was it just to give Tuxedo Mask more airtime? If it was just to give him more airtime, was there no other way they could have done it besides making him save the girls?

For me, the anime of Sailor Moon takes aspects from the manga that could have been annoy if they had been focused on too much and amplifies them, focusing more on things like Usagi’s ditziness and more traditional aspects. If that weren’t bad enough, they also took away aspects that made me love the manga such as the girls being able to handle the enemy without being saved every time by a male character. This combination made the entire show feel more stereotypical to me. Maybe I’m crazy, but when I watch the anime I just feel like I’m looking at the reserved image of the manga.

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Image from Amazon.com

Sailor Moon is perhaps one of the most well-known anime and manga series ever. Honestly, what other manga/anime can you name that is mentioned in an American song (One Week by The Barenaked Ladies)? For any of you reading this who haven’t been exposed to Sailor Moon before or just don’t know too much about it, you’re probably glances doubtfully over at that picture to the left with its pretty uniform complete with a miniskirt. Bare with me and I’ll explain. I’m about to propose that this manga is feminist.

Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon follows the story of a 14-year-old Japanese girl, Usagi Tsukino. She’s an admitted crybaby and prefers sleeping and video games to studying, but when Usagi finds a strange cat with a crescent mark on its  forehead, her life is changes completely. The cat is no ordinary cat and tells (yes, tells; I told you it wasn’t ordinary) Usagi she must become the guardian Sailor Moon in order to protect Earth and a long-lost princess from the evil forces at work (isn’t it refreshing to have girls protect a princess for once?) as well as find her other comrades. And Usagi thought school was hard!

I’ll be discussing solely the manga this week. This manga became an icon and it’s noteworthy to say that it also successfully combined elements of “girl’s” manga with that of “boy’s” manga. (If you want to know more about that, I suggest reading Jason Thompson’s piece on Sailor Moon on Anime News Network.)

Superficially, Sailor Moon doesn’t appear in the least feminist. Usagi and her friends shout “—- Power! Make-up!” to transform and their scout uniforms are loosely based off a sailor-style school uniform (now with a mini miniskirt) with accessories like tiaras, earrings, chokers, and fashionable shoes. Granted, this is part of the genre of “magical girl” manga in which the heroine and her comrades transform into pretty outfits that wouldn’t help them in a fight whatsoever. At least in the first volume, Usagi also can use her magical powers to disguise herself and two out of the three times she does so in the first volume, she disguises herself in stereotypically sexy outfits like a nurse showing a lot of leg. Sailor Moon is known for showing some leg. But in this case, the saying “You can’t judge a book by its cover” is completely correct. The outfits might not help them much, but Usagi/Sailor Moon and her friends don’t seem to need that help. Admittedly, I don’t read much from the “magical girl” genre, but I did read one with similar aspects to Sailor Moon called Tokyo Mew Mew (which also recently has been rereleased). Tokyo Mew Mew‘s heroine eventually falls into the pitfall of being in need of a knight to save her even though she herself is supposed to be a superhero. Luckily, Sailor Moon and her friends don’t. This might sound crazy, but Naoko Takeuchi decided to create girls who could fight evil and protect themselves. In fact, at times the girls are the ones rescuing the guys.

As I read through the manga, I was also impressed by the strong messages for girls in Sailor Moon.  In one of the earlier installments in the manga, one moment Usagi and friends are wistfully thinking of weddings, sighing, “Ohh! I want to be a briiiide!” while later in the same chapter, one of Usagi’s comrades says, “It seemed there was something far more important…even more important than falling in love…that was waiting for me here.” Also in that chapter is Usagi’s friend Rei shouting, “You will refrain from underestimating women!” to the enemy. Thus, they have their girly moments, but stronger, perhaps more meatier, messages are always given. This isn’t entirely surprising when you hear the creator of the series, Naoko Takeuchi has said things along the line that girls need to be strong for the guys as well.

On that note, the relationships in Sailor Moon are done very well. As is standard in shojo (girls) manga, there is a big focus on romance, but Takeuchi did a great job of balancing the romance with the rest of the cast and plot. What I mean by that is, unlike some romances I could name, Takeuchi created a heart-felt romance that is crucial to the story without overwhelming everything else and making all the other characters unimportant chopped liver. Usagi’s friends are still very important to her and the plot. While it’s fine to have romances where the only two that seem to matter are the lovebirds, the scenario in Sailor Moon gives the impression that girls can have serious relationships with guys without dumping their friends. (Thank you, Takeuchi!) Friendship is also crucial to Sailor Moon’s story. I also appreciate the fact that Usagi’s love interest Mamoru is never mean to her; he teases her at first, but it’s real teasing like calling her “Bun-head.” I wish I could say that about more love interests. The love and power in the relationship is balanced for neither character overwhelms the other.

Mamoru and Usagi

But like I said, friendship is also a major thing in Sailor Moon. In past posts, I’ve complained of too much fiction depicting the rather catty relationships between girls. It’s not so much that fiction shows girls being mean to each other because god knows they can be, but rather the absence of cat-fight-free friendships between girls. Sailor Moon gives a good helping of the latter. Usagi has girlfriends at school and as she performs her duties as Sailor Moon, she finds not only allies but also good friends. They support and assist Usagi through anything. Notably, there aren’t any female characters thrown into the story just as mean girls either (although her friend Rei does tease her).

Note this is the Tokyopop edition in which some names were changed (Rei/Raye).


Finally, I wanted to discuss the princess of Sailor Moon. Usagi/Sailor Moon and her friends must find and protect a princess, but because she’s been reincarnated, they don’t know who she is. Well, in what is one of my favorite twists, it turns out Usagi is the princess. What I love about this is usually when a princess needs protection, she’s completely helpless and is saved by men. By making Usagi herself the long-lost princess however, Takeuchi is letting Usagi take care of herself. So, rather than giving girls a princess (a classical female character) who is dependent on a knight (a classical male character), Takeuchi shows readers that a girl doesn’t need a man to protect her, but can be her own knight. Can you make another manga soon, Takeuchi? I think the world could use some more of your attitude! Usagi may act like a bit of a ditz early on, she matures with the story and becomes a strong heroine.


As I write this, I’ve discovered there is so much to talk that I’m going to have to break this into two posts. So look for my post next week in which I’ll discuss the anime and the differences between the manga version and anime version. Man, are there some differences!

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