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Archive for June, 2012

!!Some spoilers for Gundam Seed and Gundam 00 1 & 2!!

In the anime world, who doesn’t know the popular franchise “Gundam?” This saga has spanned over numerous series and is still going, but today I’ll be looking at Lacus Clyne and Marina Ismail from two of the more recent series, Gundam Seed and Gundam 00*. There will obviously be similarities in two series from the same franchise, but I was particularly struck by the close circumstances these female leads share yet how different of an impression the two characters made on me. Lacus and Marina both hold political positions, both advocate for peace through understanding and talk in times of war, and both spread this message of peace through song. They also both end up having some influence on the lead male character. So, let’s compare these two!

In Gundam Seed, viewers are introduced to Lacus Clyne, a girl who screams stereotypical female anime lead; she’s pink-haired, sweet and smiley, and seems like a bit of an airhead. I was concerned at first, but Lacus turned out to be a lot more than the cotton candy substance I thought she would be.

Lacus lives in a world divided between two people–one of normal humans and one of humans who have been genetically modified to perform better. There are hard feelings and prejudice between both groups and this has led to war. She is a modified human fighting for peace and understanding between the two groups. Between her fame as a singer and her father’s position as a powerful politician vying for peace, Lacus is an icon and has many followers, using her singing career to spread a message of peace. Some people–especially politicians–see Lacus as naive and impractical. But it becomes clear that she is one of the strongest women to appear in the series, leading people toward peace with a sharp mind and clear position. When the politicians decide on more violent options, Lacus has the strength to stand her ground and take action for peace, even after the government deems her a traitor. She holds power with the people and ends up leading a faction devoted to nurturing the relationship between the two groups rather than kill each other.

In Gundam 00, Marina Ismail is a newly crowned monarch in an economically poor country torn apart by war in an unstable world. She is a pacifist and wishes to keep her beloved country out of war now that it is finally at peace. However, Marina is politically inexperienced; she grew up in a normal household and, by a twist of fate, was tracked down by Parliament and asked to govern because of her lineage. Perhaps because of this and her rather meek personality, she actually does come off as somewhat naive rather than simply idealistic. I also just don’t feel that Marina got the same amount of respect as Lacus, by politicians or citizens; people may have liked her, but I’m not sure I’d use the word “respect.” Later, Marina does inspire people with her song of peace, but it felt like she held less power than Lacus and therefore, her influence was more limited in comparison. In addition, while Marina ends up a target several times because of her position or associations, besides singing, I never felt she made any independent move  or important choice like a strong leader might. It doesn’t have to be leading an army of rebels, but just some bigger attempt to rally a movement for peace.

When I compare these two, neither one is bad, but Lacus makes a stronger impression. While both women are kind and struggling for peace, Lacus comes off as a strong-willed woman who will make it happen. Marina wishes for peace profusely, but looks meek and never felt like someone who one could rely upon to get things moving. Her song of peace has influence, but her efforts pale in comparison to Lacus’. Thus, despite first impressions, I have to give Lacus the prize for taking action and becoming a true leader.

*(Keep in mind that this comparison is based solely on the content in Gundam Seed and Gundam 00 Seasons 1 & 2. This does not include content from Gundam Seed Destiny or the Gundam 00 movie.)

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In this series, I introduce princess characters I feel defy stereotypical princess characteristics, some of which I identified in Disney’s classic princesses characters. This time I’ll be discussing May Chang, a character from a popular manga series by the name of Fullmetal Alchemist. While she may not be the main character of the series, her story and the actions she takes throughout distinguish her as an intriguing princess character. 

    HER STORY

May Chang is the young princess of an Asian-inspired country called Xing, but her title as princess doesn’t give her many special privileges like most princesses. That’s because May is not the first princess or even the fourth but the seventeenth princess born to the emperor by a concubine of the Chang family. With so many offspring of the emperor, there is plenty of rivalry between families so, despite being the emperor’s daughter, May and the rest of the Chang line have one of the poorest social standings among the royal families. In an attempt to raise her family’s social standing, May Chang braves a journey to a neighboring country in search of the coveted Philosopher’s Stone, said to grant immortality, to present to the emperor. However, upon reaching the country, May quickly finds herself embroiled in the dark schemes of another nation.

TYPICAL PRINCESS TRAITS

May does have a few typical traits, the first and foremost being her infatuation with the two male protagonists and her pure-heart. Since I’ve already discussed a non-stereotypical princess with a pure heart, I’m going to focus on the former with May.

May first develops a crush on Edward Elric after hearing of his skill and immediately pictures him as a handsome, prince-like man. After her daydreamed image of Edward is shattered, she very quickly develops a little crush on his brother. This follows more closely with the stereotypical princess characters who all seem to be in love, or fall in love, with someone during the course of their story. May develops these crushes after having spent little-to-no time with the object of her affections which also mimics a number of Disney princesses who spend little time with their knights in shining armor before developing romantic feelings (Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella).

However, unlike Disney princesses, May’s crushes are not the focus of her story and often take on a comical air. (And when I say comical, I don’t mean that May is constantly made fun of in a way that undermines her strengths.) I would also point out that while her first crush on Edward is purely based on a superficial fantasy, her crush on his brother, Alphonse, makes more sense as the series goes on; she actually gets to know him and their personalities work well together. Because of these factors, May’s quick attachments are not grating in the least and take a different route than those of stereotypical princesses.

NON-TYPICAL TRAITS

As a princess in a world that gives her more burdens than what dress to wear to the ball, May Chang has independence, responsibilities, and skills that stereotypical princesses lack. Instead of others fighting dragons or scaling towers to save her, May shoulders her own responsibilities–in this case, the duty to save her clan. While readers don’t know exactly how May came to the decision to travel to another country with only a myth of attainable immortality in mind, it’s hard to doubt that she came to the decision herself once one sees her fierce determination. She’s got a rival family member after immortality and makes new enemies as she discovers secrets in her attempts to find immortality, but even in the face of these obstacles, May won’t go home until she’s found a solution to her clan’s problems. In other words, she’s in control of her life. And while she receives and needs help at times, May does her own share of helping on her quest. These elements are in contrast to those of Disney’s earliest princesses and fiction’s most stereotypical princesses who can hardly help themselves, much less those around them.

As for skills, May has a number of them, but most notable is her expert knowledge of a foreign type of alchemy. Because she is the only one with this knowledge present among the cast of characters, she holds a certain amount of power and as a result, has a key role within the story. In addition to that, unlike the alchemy used by the rest of the cast, May’s alchemy can be used to heal as well as to fight, giving her yet another skill that makes her vital. Thus, as with the other two non-stereotypical princesses I’ve discussed so far in this series, May’s knowledge plays a role in the story like no stereotypical princess’ would.

Finally, I want to point out how non-traditional May is as far as her appearance in contrast to stereotypical princesses. She is short, never bejeweled, and is not glamorous or beautiful, although she is cute. For most classic princesses, their unrivaled beauty is one of their main traits and this is highlighted by gorgeous clothing, characters constantly speaking of their beauty, and sometimes even by the plot as in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Granted, May is only supposed to be around 13-years-old, but nonetheless, I appreciate that beauty is not the focus of her story.

To sum it up, May is a princess with real responsibilities, crucial strengths (including knowledge!), and an important role to play that doesn’t require her to look like a supermodel. I think it’s fair to say that, in most cases, a sack of potatoes could play the role of many stereotypical princesses, although I will admit it wouldn’t be as nice to look at.

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SPOILER WARNING!

Albert Nobbs tells the tale of a butler of the same name working at a ritzy hotel in 19th century Ireland with a big secret; he is, in fact, a she. Albert has spent the past decades living a careful facade of being a man, painstakingly saving every shilling she receives in tips under a floorboard in her room. However, even the best kept secrets can be broken in an instant, which is exactly what happens to Albert when her employer orders her to share her room with a painter who has come to do a job for the hotel.

This is the premises of Albert Nobbs, a movie that was recently released on DVD here in the USA. As a fan of dramas and historical pieces, not to mention someone who has read a number of history books on cross-dressing women (seriously, I have), I knew this was a film I could not pass up.

The movie starts out well, quickly immersing viewers into the prim and proper world of 19th century Europe with its strict social classes as the servants are preparing for another day of work at the hotel. The scene feels reminiscent of something out of Downton Abbey which gave me hope that I was in for a treat. Glenn Close portrays Albert as the perfect butler and shy, closed-off “man” well. Therefore, when Albert comes face-to-face with her first problem of the movie in the form of the painter, Hubert Page, I felt sympathetic and drawn in. How in the world was she going to handle this man who now knew her secret? Now, I’ve read other stories where a man discovers a woman is a cross-dresser and, after vowing to keep her secret, becomes friends with her and then romantically interested. Albert Nobbs, however, was not going to play this game and instead hits the audience with a twist; Albert isn’t the only woman masquerading as a man. At this point, I had no idea where the movie was headed. Unfortunately, it appears that neither did the people making the movie.

The next three-quarters of the movie seems odd. As I not a film expert, I can’t tell you if it was the directing, the acting, the writing, or all of the above, but whatever the case, I felt the story got a bit confused after a great start and I began to feel completely detached from the characters. Albert befriends Hubert and discovers her friend is a married lesbian. The next thing you know, Albert decides she wants a wife, too. Yet her interest in this other woman, a maid working at the same hotel, comes out of nowhere and never feels real. By this point Albert appeared almost alien to me. Her odd behavior would have made sense if the situation was reversed and the maid was in love with Albert the man versus Albert supposedly being so in love with this maid, but that was not the case. As for this maid who Albert is supposedly interested in, she obviously has zero interest in Albert, romantically or otherwise, and comes off as rather annoying. Even toward the end when viewers were supposed to feel some sympathy for her, I felt nothing. In fact, I didn’t really believe or feel anything for most of the characters as the movie went on.

To top it all off, an almost Charles Dickens-like villain appears and plots to steal Albert’s hard-earned money for himself. I have nothing against that kind of plot, but in this case, I felt the plot description and first quarter of the movie had misled the audience as to what kind of a story Albert Nobbs would be. As I said, the story feels slightly confused and I believe that created two very different feels for the beginning of the movie and the rest. I had expected more of a character journey, a woman trying to figure out who she is after living as a man for so long. If you read the description of the plot put out on movie review websites and movie rental sites, it speaks of the restrictions placed on women of that time and how Albert’s meeting with Hubert leads her to want to escape the facade of being a man. Instead, it became a story of bad guys trying to swindle the good guy.

Despite waiting eagerly for it to come to the theaters, I hesitated to see Albert Nobbs after I saw the reviews were just so-so. Now that I’ve seen the movie myself, I will say this: while Albert Nobbs is nowhere near the worst movie I have ever seen, in combination with characters that I couldn’t connect to and a plot that just couldn’t seem to decide where to go, I have to admit I’m glad I didn’t spend the money to see it in theaters. If you’re looking for an unusual period drama with all of its flaws, you might want to check it out. If you’re like me and are looking for the perfect movie, well, I think you can guess.

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