Archive for December, 2012

When was the last time you saw a boy in his teens or older cry? In the United States, this seems as rare a sight as catching a fleeting glimpse of a shooting star. Real men don’t cry, they say. Crying is a sign of weakness. But how can we deny a natural and healthy human emotion? I’ll be the first to admit, even as a woman, I hate crying in front of others, perhaps because I have picked up on social ideas that crying is shameful.

That’s why I’m surprised and happy when I see depictions of young men and older men alike shedding some tears now and then in fiction. As I was thinking about this issue, I realized that most of the depictions of this that I have come across occur in manga. There are depictions in other media occasionally, but I frequently see it as I’m reading manga. One might be tempted to think that depictions of men crying would occur more in shojo (girls’) manga since that genre relies heavily on emotional plots. However, somewhat surprisingly, I see these depictions most often in manga series aimed at boys in which, like many fiction that’s target audience is male, focuses on battles and adventurous tales of heroes. These series boast kick butt heroes as tough as the rest yet the creators aren’t afraid to show their strong male protagonists crying. Let me give you some examples:405-naruto-cries

The popular ongoing series Naruto often shows the teenage protagonist and his comrades at emotional highs and lows with tears in their eyes. I’ve talked about this series many times on Gagging on Sexism, but in case you’ve never heard of it, Naruto is the story of a boy who struggles to be recognized by others and vows to one day become the leader of his village (a.k.a. the strongest ninja), proving to them his worth. It’s no melodrama, but since the series is filled with conflict, occasionally characters die and creator Kishimoto shows the natural pain and sadness felt by female and male characters alike. In addition, it’s not just the teenage boys that are allowed to cry but also the adult men and tears are not limited to painful moments; there are times in the story when the men cry with relief or happiness. While I have complained about the under usage of the female characters in the series, I’ve always appreciated this aspect of Naruto. rave_v09_c071_p132

Similarly, the manga Rave Master shows the male characters crying often. Rave Master is an adventure story led by Haru Glory, a young man who inherits the weapon and title of “Rave Master,” the title of a man who saved the world years ago. Now, Haru must follow in his predecessor’s footsteps and save it once again. In the 10th volume of the series, we see the hero’s dad cry over the pain he unintentionally caused for someone who was once a good friend and tears over the loss of loved ones. There are tears over long separations and the realization of a father’s deep love for his son.rao_no_exorcist_01_61

Finally, in Blue Exorcist (or Ao no Exorcist), Rin Okumura is a teenage boy who has just found out that he is the son of Satan. After his adoptive father is killed trying to save Rin from being taken away to Satan, Rin decides to get revenge on the devil himself. Rin looks tough and may act in a way that gives that strengthens that impression, but one of the things that I really like about this series is that Rin is actually a bit of a softie. He fights more to protect others than anything else. At the beginning of the series, Rin’s action’s accidentally result in the death of his adoptive father, a man who he wrongly believed didn’t care for him. When he realizes his mistake at the same time he loses his adoptive father, he is overcome with grief and cries.

All of these characters are strong, hero-type characters in a genre of manga named for its target male readers. In a way, it seems silly to write down the examples I have; of course someone would cry over the loss of a loved one or over unforgivable mistakes. Yet that’s not the message many people get. If a man–young or old–cries, it’s shocking because they are taught to hold those basic feelings back and even fictional depictions of men crying seem few and far in between.  These series that I’ve discussed aren’t doing anything but express a human emotion that many men are taught to keep locked away. However, when societies like the United States insist on keeping alive the fantasy of the ultra stoic tough guy whose emotions seem limited to anger and pure adrenaline, this simple act of drawing male heroes with all their emotions in tact sends a different message to readers. Yes, guys feel sadness and cry sometimes and that doesn’t make them anything less of what they are. It makes them human.

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!!Some spoilers for Sword Art Online Season 1!!

images-59Sword Art Online is a newer anime based on a series of light novels. In this world where video games continue to involve increasingly impressive technology and technology in general is reaching the heights of something out of sci-fi, story writers seem to have taken an interest in what could happen if people were able to more physically insert themselves into video games and experience the game as a virtual world. This is the concept in Sword Art Online. A fourteen year old boy who goes by the alias “Kirito” online is one of hundreds to play this new virtual game; by simply placing certain high-tech head gear on, the player is mentally transported into the game, takes on a form there, and feels as though he is physically in the game. Unfortunately for Kirito and the other players, this new game is hijacked by the original creator who makes it impossible to log out of the game. If one dies in the game, one dies in reality and removing the head gear leads to the same result. The only way to get out of the game is to beat it and Kirito is determined to do just that.

With a gripping first episode like that, Sword Art Online had me hooked. Why did the creator do this? How were the players going to get out? I wanted to find out. In addition, from the opening and ending sequences, it appeared that the story was not going to be about the lone male hero but also include an active female character. It didn’t disappoint and soon Asuna came into the picture. Like Kirito, Asuna isn’t going to give up and is fighting to get out of the game. As the story progresses, the two team up and I was happy to see a true partnership between a female and male character. She and Kirito had each other’s backs and, while Kirito is obviously the hero, Asuna is just about as powerful.images-55

The show wasn’t perfect; the storytelling wasn’t always superb and Kirito plays the knight in shining armor for numerous other female characters. In addition, Asuna just so happens to be an excellent cook and makes things for Kirito, which is fine, but seemed to be there as a reminder of Asuna’s feminine virtue. However, none of this bothered me too much.

Enter the second season. After an exciting finale to the first season, I was excited to see what was in store for our heroes after they escaped the game. Eight episodes in and I’m disappointed. The series has fallen into a trend I like to call the “demotion” of a female character. In a nutshell, you take a fairly competent and strong female character and reduce her to a weaker position like damsel in distress. This is exactly what has happened to Asuna in the second season. She may have been one of the heroes, but after helping Kirito defeat the game, she has been taken captive. A shady young man who works in the gaming industry alongside her father has made sure Asuna doesn’t wake up from the game and placed her in a similar virtual game open to the public. Here, her mind is trapped. Of course, Kirito discovers this and joins this new game to save her. Asuna isn’t totally incapacitated and does try to escape on her own, which I appreciate, but it doesn’t change the fact that she’s been put in the damsel in distress role.

images-56There is a new female lead to take over the active role that Asuna has left. Suguha, Kirito’s younger sister, is a skilled kendo student who helps her brother on his new mission. Unfortunately, I feel like she’s not getting a lot of time to shine as a strong female character. Kirito takes almost all the action scenes and Suguha’s main drama has centers around romance so far. To add insult to injury, the show throws focus on Suguha’s large chest numerous times throughout the season and viewers were “treated” to one scene in the 20th episode in which two powerful female players show off their cleavage, trying to seduce Kirito. Yeah, this show has taken a nose dive on my list. Admittedly, the season isn’t over yet so there is always a chance that the show will redeem itself, but I’m losing hope.

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library-war-1In 2019, a group called the Media Betterment Committee has taken book banning to the ultimate extreme; they destroy books and other media with questionable content using military force without care for the harm they cause in order to protect the people from negative influence. But fear not book lovers. In the face of this disaster, the library organized their own military force to protect freedom of expression. Enter our heroine. When Iku Kasahara was in high school, she came face-to-face with the Media Betterment Committee at a bookstore as they began a raid. Iku refused to give up a long sought after book and got in an altercation with the men, but was rescued by a Library Force member whose face she cannot remember. Inspired by this man who protected freedom, her so-called “prince charming,” she made it her goal to follow in his foot steps and join the battle. Now 22-years-old, Iku becomes the first woman to become a Task Force member, a group of elite library defense personnel.images-54

Toshokan Sensou, or Library Wars, is a mix of military drama and action, romance, and even a wedge of comedy as Iku struggles her way up in the Library Force in the shadow of her mysterious “prince,” butts heads with her tough yet protective superior, Lt. Doujou, and discovers the true difficulties of being on the force. Although the library created their military force in response to the actions of the Media Betterment Committee, many people do not believe they should respond with more violence. As a result, Iku and her comrades face not only head on opposition from the Committee but also from different factions within the library system.

This series was originally a book series written by Hiro Arikawa, who paints an intricate and thoughtful world that, while different from ours, is within possibilities. It’s hard to imagine a time in which a disagreement over freedom of expression and censorship escalates to armed conflict and military librarians, yet Arikawa tells her tale with the complications and subtleties of reality that suddenly, the plot of Library Wars doesn’t seem so out there. After all, people can get pretty extreme about content, going so far as to ban and burn books. Therefore, Iku’s story becomes a window for us to look through and think, “What if…”

imagesAs for Iku, the concept of her situation is intriguing since she is supposed to be the first female member on an elite force, but I have mixed feelings about the execution (speaking strictly about the anime). She is an interesting mix. Iku excels in the more athletic portion of her training and job (strength, speed, etc.) yet she is no genius when it comes to her academics. Nobody wants a perfect protagonist, but Iku is constantly put down for her lack of academic skills by her comrades and it is made clear she is ignorant about things concerning her job that she should know at her level, which I found grating at times.

In addition, while she is supposed to be good at the physical portion of being a Library Task Force member, other characters from her unit make comments several times throughout the series about her usefulness in battle being the lowest on the force. Of course, this isn’t so different from how other main characters like Naruto are perceived by their group; they’re the underdog, but they have heart and potential. Iku is also shown to have courage and strength that the other members admire, and she isn’t stupid as she makes quick decisions that, while reckless, often lead to a good outcome.

As for the romance, admittedly, I had mixed feelings about that as well. Iku dreams of a prince charming, but not so that he can save her again; she wants to be a rescuer like him because he inspired her. However, I felt that Iku had to be protected a number of times, more so than the male characters around her, and this made her character feel a little less competent than her male counterparts. While this and other things weren’t my favorite, what I did like was that her love interest, although more skilled than her now, is shown to have been very similar to Iku in regards to her recklessness and was laughed at for making some of the same mistakes when he was younger. This not only shows Iku’s potential, but shortens the gap a bit between them.

Iku isn’t the only female character making a mark in this story; her roommate and friend, Shibaki, may not wield a gun, but the power she demonstrates through information is nothing to laugh at. Shibaki works as an Intelligence Officer in the library and more than once gives Iku and her combat group information that helps them take control of a difficult situation. She balances out Iku by providing the series with a female character who possesses the same strength of will as her combat friend Iku, but uses knowledge as her power. So, while I somewhat wish Iku weren’t belittled as an idiot, Shibaki stands out as the intelligence genius of the show. She also has the ambition to become the first female Library base commander in history.

It may not be perfect, but Library Wars gives viewers an intelligent story with complexity and mixes genres so many people can find something to like. I enjoyed watching Iku give her best and fight for freedom of expression in this alternative world. Maybe if I’m lucky, the original book series will be published in English some day.

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