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Archive for the ‘Female Characters’ Category

47347 I believe it’s safe to say that Attack on Titan was the hit anime series of the season. Dramatic, stylish, and shocking, the series grabbed the audience with a titan-strength grip and wouldn’t let go, even after a season finale that went down with a boom! For those of you who don’t know the set up, the series is centered in an alternative world where humanity has been pushed to the brink by things called titans–human-like beings that tower above humans, making them look like dolls in comparison. For some unknown reason, titans began rampaging long ago, making humans their prey. Driven to desperation, humankind secluded itself within a space sectioned off by three impenetrable walls to stave off further titan attacks. In addition, they created a special military group trained in combating titans, although with little success. Despite the warnings from his mother and his adopted sister, Mikasa, that he’d get himself killed, young Eren dreams of joining the most ill-fated sectors of the military that venture outside the Walls. His other friend, Armin, also dreams of going outside the Walls, although doing so through the military is the last thing on his mind.

But after living in relative peace and safety for some time, Eren, Mikasa, and Armin’s lives are forever changed when a colossal titan breaks through the first Wall, once again releasing the horrors of titans on humanity. They manage to escape to the solace of the second Wall, but not without experiencing loss–Eren’s mother and later, Armin’s grandfather. Eren’s father has disappeared, too, but before that, he leaves Eren with a key to their basement and a mysterious message that Eren find out for himself what is hidden in the basement. Seeking revenge and the answer to his father’s strange demand, Eren becomes a military trainee with his two friends and begins the fight of a lifetime.

Balancing combat sequences in which the threat of death is very real with intense moments of character interaction and development, elements of mystery, and even some humor, Attack on Titan quickly became my addiction of the season; it’s the full package. One of the best surprises of all was the way the series has handled its female characters in relation to its male characters so far. It’s been a trend in shonen manga/anime (that is, series directed at boys) to star a large cast of characters who fight alongside the male hero. Within that group, there have been a good number of female characters in the ranks of fighters, albeit significantly fewer relative to the number of male characters. The catch is, however, those female characters are often differentiated from the male fighters as intelligent and technically skilled, but lacking in prowess and actual battle ability compared to the men. That’s not to say there are not exceptions, but I often run into that type of set up.

That’s why it was nice to see Attack on Titan playing with this trend and switching things around a bit. Instead of making the hero’s female friend the strategically skilled but physically weak character and the hero’s male friend the super skilled, battle prodigy, as happens with popular series such as Naruto, the series flipped the stereotypes. Mikasa acts as the prodigy soldier whose skill excels her comrades and Armin plays the role of the physically weaker genius strategist. I like this change because it removes those skill sets (combat skill/intellect) from a stereotypical connection with one or the other gender. Guys can excel at using their heads instead of their fists and aren’t always great at combat. On the other hand, girls can be great–even better than their male comrades–at combat.shingeki_no_kyojin-06-mikasa-blade-sword-looking_totally_badass-crowd-scouting_team

That brings me to my thoughts on Mikasa. Mikasa, if nothing else, is an intriguing female character. Cool and collected to an almost alarming degree, you’re not going to see this female character hesitate in the face of danger. She’s shown over and over to be more than capable, starting in the first episode when Mikasa scares away a group of bullies who are about to hurt Eren and Armin with her mere presence. (Yes, you read that right: the female friend saves the guys for once.) In later episodes, she’s shown to have the potential to rival one of the best fighters in the military, a battle-hardened man named Levi. She’s not just physically strong, but also mentally as strong as steel. She’s able to rally herself to fight on even in the face of devastation.

She’s certainly far from perfect (she is human after all). Her devotion to Eren is at times worrying–sometimes it seems like Eren could tell Mikasa to jump off a bridge and she would–but it’s made clear that Mikasa has not made herself a mindless servant to Eren. Most notably, Eren tells her repeatedly that he doesn’t need or want her to protect him anymore, but that hasn’t stopped Mikasa from following her own wish to do so anyway. This absolute devotion does, however, make me pause and think of trends of female characters devoted to an extreme–romantically or otherwise–to a male character, which isn’t my favorite.  At least in Mikasa and Eren’s case, the devotion is a result of a traumatic event, which makes Mikasa’s reaction, and the strong bond that forms from the event, more understandable than simply being an unhealthily love-crazy girl. I also like that, from the beginning, Eren and Mikasa’s bond is founded on helping each other, instead of one (aka the girl) always hanging on the other for survival. So far, Eren and Mikasa’s has been fairly even give-and-take. With any luck, the series will keep it that way. In addition, rather than make the tough-as-nails Mikasa vulnerable, a gimmick used frequently, the revealing of her tragic past serves to depict how she became so tough. The use of Mikasa’s background (as well as Levi’s) brings difficult questions about what it means to obtain the strength we often see in action-driven series like Attack on Titan.

But Mikasa isn’t the only dynamic female character in Attack on Titan, not by a long shot. The series is full of female characters who are just as skilled and active as their male comrades. From fellow new recruits to veterans to zealous researchers, there are many types of female characters popping up to play significant roles. Without spoiling anything, there’s a particularly nice twist involving a female character at the end of the season.

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Imagine that. Practical uniforms for both men and women!

And can I just say that I am extremely happy that for once the female characters don’t get a cute/sexy, feminine version of the military uniform in the series? Creators seem compelled to give female officers miniskirts or pink versions of whatever uniforms the male officers are wearing, even combat operatives. Just because they’re female doesn’t mean you have to give them a cute uniform. It was refreshing to see a series that isn’t afraid of treating the female characters just like the male ones: they are treated seriously and don’t exist as attractive things to drool over. In fact, not only do the uniforms not objectify them, but the character designs themselves show that the female characters aren’t just there as eye candy. While there are some female characters in the cast that are cute or beautiful, there are also a number of female characters that don’t fit traditional and limited ideas of beauty. There are also no conveniently angled shots of female butts or boobs nor any unrealistically large female anatomy present. The female characters are treated just like the male characters. To me, that pretty much sums up how Attack on Titan succeeds with its female characters.

It’s violent. It’s brutal. But with interesting characters that break gender roles, good mix of character building and action, and a compelling plot that keeps you begging for the next installment, Attack on Titan is without a doubt my favorite series of the season. Give it a try if you haven’t already. You can watch the entire season for free (and legally) on Crunchyroll.com now.

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images-85What do you get when you mix a multiple layered cat-and-mouse chase, one motorcycle, and a girl and an outlaw with nothing in common but the quest to find one man and nothing to lose? You get one stylish anime called Michiko & Hatchin. Hana, a.k.a. Hatchin, is a ten-year-old girl with no mother, no father, and a foster family who is more concerned about the money brought in by volunteering to take care of Hatchin than they are about her. Now, Hatchin is a practical girl, but after suffering the bullying and abuse of her foster family day after day, even she can’t help but daydream that maybe her long-lost father will show up some day and sweep her out of that crummy little house. No father shows up, but a certain outlaw named Michiko does come literally crashing in. Michiko knows Hatchin’s father and she’s come to get Hatchin with the hopes that the girl will be able to help her find him. A reckless criminal on the run isn’t what she’s imagined as the person who would come to get her, but Hatchin takes a chance, marking the start of one of the craziest rides of her life. 

Much like Michiko herself, the show is bold and, at times, brutal. Full of cops both dirty and devoted, gangsters, honest workers and criminals alike, there’s more than a fair share of shoot outs and close calls. While Michiko searches for Hatchin’s father, Hiroshi, a childhood friend-turned-detective is hot on Michiko’s heels, driven by more than just the job description to catch her. On top of that, poking around for Hiroshi inevitably means poking the hornets’ nest since Hiroshi was involved in a violent gang and made some pretty nasty enemies as a result. In their search, the two make their way through rough areas in what appears to be South America, viewers are shown a dark world where kids no older than Hatchin tote guns for gangs and steal to make a living, revenge is common and merciless, gangs kill without mercy, and the powerful abuse their status.

But while there is plenty of action, the characters are what truly shine in Michiko & Hatchin. On their wayward journey, Michiko and Hatchin images-87encounter a myriad of people, from Hiroshi’s childhood friend, Satoshi, who survived the streets as a kid by becoming a ruthless gang leader, a young woman willing to work at a strip club and steal for her sister’s sake, a girl abandoned by her family and adopted by the circus, in love with the young man who taught her, and many more. Just as Michiko and Hatchin struggle to reach their goal, so to do the various characters along the way, each trying to reach different goals in different ways.

At the center of this bright cast are Michiko and Hatchin. The two appear completely mismatched and get off to a rough start; where Michiko is forceful and underhanded, reckless, and confident to a point of naivety at times, Hatchin is more honest, careful, and skeptical. Michiko is the first person in Hatchin’s life who is there to protect her, but Hatchin is filled with doubt about Michiko’s motivation and dislikes her dishonest ways of making a living. Likewise, Michiko wants to take care of Hatchin, but is unused to it and unsure of Hatchin’s reactions to her actions, making Michiko extremely awkward. Neither are particularly honest with their feelings to each other and both get themselves into trouble as a result, but they slowly learn to understand one another. The relationship that grows between these two different, but equally strong and independent ladies over the course of the 22 episodes is the true star underlying the action. It was nice seeing a series focus on the relationship between two female characters in a positive light for a change; yes, there’s the search for the guy and yes, there is bickering and headbutting, but none of those typical aspects takes over.         hatchin-animestocks[com]-11

Now, Michiko and a good number of the other young female characters to appear in the show are repeatedly portrayed as sexy, the worst of which can been seen in the show’s opening, which reduces Michiko to a nude figure over and over. This made me worried initially, but while I never warmed to the opening, I felt the depth of the female characters behind the sexy masquerade more than balanced it. The sexiness was over the top at times and having a couple of more young female characters who weren’t sexy would have been nice, but it didn’t ruin it. The show is full of interesting female characters with realistic problems that include but also range beyond men, which made up for it. In fact, the diverse and strong cast of female characters in Michiko & Hatchin are one of the most striking things to me about the series.

It’s not perfect, but Michiko & Hatchin has a lot of excellent things going for it. There’s plenty action and drama to be had for those who want it, but its strength lies in the relationships and characters, both male and female. And focusing on the relationship between two female characters gave the series an almost “girl power” vibe without feeling forced or cheesy. If you don’t mind realistic violence and some brutal reality, give it a try; it’s streaming on Hulu.com for free.

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I have a confession to make: I can be a bit of a doormat, a people pleaser, a pushover. In the effort to make others happy and/or lacking the backbone to speak my mind, I have a habit of letting others run right over my true wishes and thoughts without so much as a peep of objection. When people ask me, “What do you want to do,” even if I have a preference (which sometimes I just don’t), I smile politely and say, “Oh, whatever you want to do is fine with me.” Or worse, someone will ask me if I’ll do something and, while in my mind, I’m screaming my loathing of the idea, my feeble subconscious automatically moves my lips in the pattern its grown accustomed to and, before I have time to rally my thoughts, its formed the detested words, “Yes.” And with a smile plastered on my face, of course.

images-82So, how is a feminist who’s a confessed doormat like myself supposed to feel when I see a classic doormat female character letting herself be dragged through the course of a story? To be honest, I have mixed feelings. Like everyone else, I like to see characters who I can relate to, even if that means they are not go-get-’em girls who have a healthy amount of backbone at the beginning of the story. While I admire and praise the female characters who get out there and take action, whether that action is starting her own business or taking back a kingdom, I often see more of myself reflected in those female characters who are too nice for their own good and who seem to be waiting for others to make something happen. That has made me hesitate to take the pen against certain characters despite seeing the problems with the messages those characters send.

Of course, just because a female character is passive doesn’t mean I automatically feel something like kinship to her; passive female characters pop up in fiction a fair amount, from classic princesses from fairy tales to modern action flicks and it’s something that I’ve complained about over and over and over and over and over—well, you get the point. But there are times when they strike a cord within me. For example, one famous character who I have a bit of a soft spot for, but who also has some very reasonable complaints lodged against her because of her doormat behavior is Tohru from Fruits Basket. Tohru is a classic doormat at the beginning of the series; always smiling and putting others before her, she is sweet to a fault and will do whatever others ask of her. She’d let herself be tricked and treated poorly if that somehow helps the other person or because she feels she must have deserved that treatment and she apologizes even when she’s done nothing wrong. As unrealistic as that sounds, there is a degree of her character that rings true to me, especially as the series goes on.

The problem lays in the fact that these types of passive heroines reinforce old notions about gender roles and relationships that just aren’t healthy, notions that suggest that an ideal, good woman is someone who does whatever she can to make others happy and does what she is told. These are, of course, very traditional ideas that aren’t as popular as they were, say, in the 50’s, but still manage to surface in fiction as an ideal. To me, doormats are the worst of the breed of passive female characters because they are presented as saint-like in their benevolence in a way that just isn’t possible for even the nicest human being to behave and feel all the time. In addition, in stories like Fruits Basket, she even has people who will stand up and protect her when she won’t herself. Like classic stories like Cinderella, somehow or another the girl with the “purest” heart eventually wins via living happily ever after. Thus, when girls read or watch stories with doormat heroines, they’re supposed to admire and long to be like them with the promise of praise, protection, and “happily ever after” floating around in their heads. Sadly, reality isn’t nearly so sweet and letting others do whatever they want while lowering your own desires and feelings can be dangerous, if not simply unhealthy, whether you are male or female (of course, males who are passive are mercilessly considered “weak” while women still get the message that passiveness can be an attractive trait in them).

However, I don’t think doormat female characters are inherently harmful role models, the likes of which should vanish from fiction. Rather, I think how we present these characters in fiction images-84should be altered. Instead of depicting a complete lack of a backbone as something to be admired in a woman, it should be shown as a type of behavior that some people have, with all the trouble it can bring upon those people. If a doormat character is to be admired, it’s not because she’s so nice that she’ll let others walk all over her, but for, perhaps, her struggle to stand up for herself and gain a backbone. A woman can still be nice without being passive and it takes real effort to flex those assertive muscles after being doormat for some time; as a confessed doormat, that’s one of my biggest struggles. In fact, one of my favorite stories, Fuyumi Ono’s The Twelve Kingdoms: Sea of Shadow, largely centers around the internal struggle of Youko, a girl who has spent her life trying to be non-offensive to others, even if it meant ignoring her true thoughts and feelings. (Edit: Even Tohru is revealed to have problems of her own and she is forced to face those problems down the line, something that adds depth to a doormat character that isn’t always depicted.)

So, show me doormat characters, I won’t deny that they exist in reality, but don’t feed misconceptions about what it means to be a doormat. Better yet, give us doormats some extra inspiration by creating more characters who come to recognize the problem with their own behavior and fight it.

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35348Valvrave the Liberator is a shiny new mecha anime to hit the screen (in my case, the computer screen) this spring 2013 anime season. With colorful, humanoid machines, wars fought in space, teens from a neutral state getting caught up in the fight, and even an opening theme by T.M. Revolution, I was reminded of a certain angst-ridden anime with questions about war and peace called Gundam Seed when I first came across this series. Intrigued by the art and curious to see how this new series would handle similar issues, I began to follow it…and soon became concerned about how the female characters would be represented.

The story is centered in a world where the majority of humans live in space and are broken up into three groups: two large groups, the Dorssia Military Pact Federation and the Atlantic Ring United States and a small, neutral group called JIOR. The series begins with a feeling of teen drama and romance, introducing Haruto, our super nice and unimposing protagonist, and his friends at school living a life in JIOR, oblivious to outside troubles. That is, until Dorssia, a militaristic country (which appears oddly reminiscent of Nazi Germany at times throughout the anime), invades the peaceful nation of JIOR, including the school Haruto attends. When it appears his childhood friend and crush, Shoko, has been killed in the attack, Haruto recklessly gets into a military machine secretly being kept on school grounds and, accepting the mysterious condition posed by the machine’s system of relinquishing his humanity, he becomes the pilot of the machine and the only defense the students have. Add in a deadly Dorssian spy with his own unknown motives to the mix and you have the beginning of Valvrave the Liberator.

!!Spoilers for Valvrave the Liberator season 1 ahead!!

While the two protagonists are both young men and all the main antagonists so far are male as well, there are a fair amount of female characters populating this series (which, unfortunately, is saying something since there seem to be a good number of fictional stories with maybe one or two female characters total). From a reclusive hacker who monitors the school and lets the outside world aware of what’s happening to JIOR to an ex-idol who isn’t afraid to take control of another machine and become a pilot herself, this show doesn’t appear to be short on female characters. In fact, unlike some series in which the main female characters may be passive and dependent except for on one or two rare occasions, if at all. I was pleasantly surprised to see not just one but two female characters become pilots, taking on active roles within the plot that are usually occupied by male characters. More typically but still nothing to squeeze at, one female character becomes the prime minister for her group. Therefore, a number of the female characters are given positions of power.

Unfortunately, while I had moments where I felt that rush of excitement that the show was doing something right with its female characters, I can’t say I came away from season one feeling that the female characters were particularly empowered, despite the number of female characters in powerful positions. Too often, the female characters were reduced to sexual objects for the male characters and audience to drool over. Not to be confused with a woman who is simply presented as confident and sexy, this trend takes the focus away from the female character’s other attributes such as a skill to lead or her intelligence and puts everyone’s attention on the fact she has big boobs or a nice butt. It reminds me of the stereotype of the guy that looks at a girl’s breasts instead of her face when she’s talking. Who cares who she is or what she’s saying, she’s got breasts. It’s as if this series was made by that guy.

!!Trigger Warning!! Discussion of sexual violence ahead

But even barring those issues, I found one particular scene toward the end of season one unacceptable. Throughout the season, Saki, a female character who is the second person to become a pilot and help Haruto defend the school, is largely defined by being the aggressive rival for Haruto’s affection against the always smiling and energetic Shoko, something that bothered me throughout the series. Anyway, Haruto appears to truly love Shoko, not Saki won’t give up and tries to win his heart, doing her utmost to be near Haruto and creating physical contact by grabbing onto him at times and even kissing him once. I suppose this is supposed to justify the fact that Haruto, overcome by a strange side effect brought on by the machine he uses that causes him to lose his senses, rapes Saki. However, the series has yet to be clear about defining it as rape. In fact, the way it’s presented is like something out of the 50’s.  “Even though Haruto did not have consent from Saki, she’s okay with it because she loves Haruto” is the message the show sends. In addition, while Haruto feels guilty, viewers can absolve him of any fault by chalking it up to the fault of the side effect and not Haruto himself, just like some people blame alcohol when someone has been drinking and assaults another person.

This scene reeks of the mythical and seriously misleading idea of a rape that can be excused or even justified. Everything is okay because it wasn’t really Haruto who did it and Saki has romantic feelings for him and understands him. From the way the show presented it, one could even argue that old, harmful argument that, “from the way she acted,” she may have wanted to go to that level anyway. In fact, that’s just the kind of argument occurring in Crunchyroll.com’s comments on the episode. “It wasn’t rape if the other person accepted it” is another kind of comment I saw several times when another person defined what happened in the episode as rape. Contrary to Valvrave the Liberator’s message, even if someone loves another person, forcing yourself on that person without explicit consent is not okay under any circumstance. And as for the whole “she accepted it so, it wasn’t rape,” how do we define “accepting it” when another person forces himself/herself on that person? If some kind of media entertainment or person ever say “it wasn’t rape because she accepted it,” that’s what I call an excuse. Rape is still a huge issue in society and when people in the entertainment industry want to put a situation of rape in their fiction, they need to be very careful about how they do so. There needs to be clear messages that this type of behavior is not acceptable, no matter what.

In closing, in combination with the rape and the general fixation on female characters as sexual objects, I came away feeling there was a big problem with the way the female characters were presented. Things like fanservice that I find undermining to female characters anyway, but can brush off as simply annoying, becomes a larger problem when the rape scene and its tragically terrible handling of the issue is factored in. If female characters are constantly being reduced to sexual objects and then a rape is shrugged off as not that big of a deal, the creators of Valvrave the Liberator need to take a step back and think about what kind of message they’re sending about women.

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In this series, I analysis princess characters who defy the stereotypical representation of princesses in fiction, the beautiful, kind, and romance-focused princesses like those in Disney movies (click here for a refresher). When it comes to destroying the princess stereotype, it’s hard to get much further from the traditional type than Avatar: The Last Airbender‘s Azula. Unlike the other complex princesses I’ve discussed who were characters one could consider “heroes,” this princess is ruthless and completely proud of it. In the well-known Nickelodeon series, Azula plays one of the main antagonists and boy, does she make an excellent one! She’s the pride and joy of her father, leader of a nation that has systematically invaded and taken control of other societies and a man cold enough to burn and exile his own son. Rather than sit around a palace in a puffy dress waiting for others to take care of her, Azula has been charged with an important mission to capture the greatest threat to her nation–the Avatar–and she thrills at the chance. This is obviously not your average princess character so, without further ado, let’s break down her characteristics.

TYPICAL PRINCESS TRAITSimages-76

Honestly, there isn’t a whole lot of typical princess material in Azula. She’s attractive, but that is never the focus of her character and most of the series she appears in armor or something else that’s easy to fight in (the picture to the right is one of the rare instances when she looks more traditionally feminine). She’s a perfectionist, but she’s not perfect like some of Disney’s earliest princess characters. While she would like to be perfect and tries her hardest to be, it’s clear that Azula is human and therefore imperfect, much to her frustration. Romance is never a factor so, Azula doesn’t fall into the category of prince-crazy princesses who give up everything for them or whose whole story revolves around romance. And as for kindness…

NON-STEREOTYPICAL TRAITS

AzulaAzula has followed closely in her father’s footsteps; she’s an egoist who knows just how to manipulate, threaten, and control those around her, even people she calls “friends.” Is that something to be admired? Most of us would probably say no, but one of the things I like about Azula is that she’s not nice. She has high ambitions and won’t let anything or anyone stand in her way, even if it means hurting someone else. It’s not unusual to see this trait in male characters, but rarely is it seen in female characters. So often female characters, whether they’re princesses or not, are supposed to be nice. Sometimes they’re obviously nice and other times they’re tough girls who come off as cold, but are revealed to be softhearted girls who have been put into a difficult situation and forced to toughen up. If a female character is ever mean, it’s almost always in a petty, shallow way (i.e. the mean girl who torments the nice girl because they both like the same guy). But where are the merciless girls, the mean girls who have more on their minds than making a nice girl look stupid in front of a guy? Azula is one of the few I can think of and she’s actually quiet complex.

In addition, she’s extremely capable, unlike many of the classic Disney princesses. Azula is given big responsibilities by her father/ruler of her country and she handles them excellently, to the horror of the protagonists. Arguably, she does a better job of hunting the Avatar than anyone, beating out her older brother and a decorated admiral, and (without spoiling anything) accomplishes some amazing feats for her country. She’s also one of the most skilled firebenders (think of it as magical martial arts) in the series. Besides her father, the Firelord, Azula is the second-baddest villain in the series. If a series has a female antagonist, she typically doesn’t play a huge part and is usually one of the weakest enemies. The fact that Azula is a princess just makes her badness all the more amazing since princess characters are most often depicted as damsels in distress or (if we’re lucky) heroes; either way they’re supposed to be good people.

To sum it up, Azula is the anti-Disney princess princess character. She has power as a princess and she uses it to her fullest advantage. She’s brutal, capable, complex, and one of the best female villains I’ve come across. So, if you’re looking for princess characters who destroy stereotypes, Azula is definitely one to check out. She won’t disappoint.

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merida-brave-new-lookRecently, Disney released images of a new Merida (Brave) design, which will be used on merchandise along with the original 3D version, according to reports. If you need a reminder, Merida is the feisty, bow-and-arrow toting princess from Disney’s Brave (click here for my review), a 3D Pixar adventure that came out last summer. For a story about a young woman rebelling against tradition, including making herself up for the sake of looking beautiful by others’ standards, I was surprised and disappointed with this new version. Rather than accept Merida as she is, Disney felt the need to make her “fit in” with the rest of their princesses–that is, they’ve made this new Merida sparkly, pretty, and glamorous just like all the others. untitled folder18

Just compare this new look to Merida’s original design, as seen in the movie. Part of the difference is of course just the change in media, but the face of this new Merida looks slightly older, as if she were wearing makeup. If you look closely, Disney has made her paler with perfectly rosy cheeks as if she’d just applied blush with a demure, cheeky expression, instead of the natural, red-cheeked round face full of enthusiasm and energy that we all know and love. Disney may have been trying for attitude in the way they designed the expressions and body position in this new Merida, but I’m not getting teenage rebelliousness from these images. I’m getting cute and pretty. Her expression isn’t strong enough to suggest determination or stubbornness nor is it energetic and loud enough to show Merida’s bright personality. It’s just…subdued, which isn’t Merida’s personality at all. I guess a big smile or a set jaw and furrowed brow just didn’t make her look pretty enough.

In addition, Disney appears to have slimmed Merida’s waist so her hips and chest look more pronounced. It’s a bit hard to tell in the image with her arms crossed, but look closely at the original Merida in comparison to the new image with her hands at her hips. I swear the new Merida must be wearing a corset! That really bothers me since she’s perfectly slim in the original version. I’m not sure if Disney has heard, but we have a little issue called anorexia among girls in the U.S. and in many other countries as well. Part of the problem is that girls see so many unrealistic portrayals of beauty, including how thin is beautiful. I was reading comments on blogs from readers’ reactions to Merida’s new look and one person mentioned that if Merida were a real person, these new images would be like an airbrushed and photoshopped version of the real person. I completely agree. This is the slimmed down, smoothed out, and amplified Merida. To add insult to injury, Disney also made Merida show more skin in a dress that shows shoulder and cleavage that the original dress does not. Thanks Disney.

The interesting thing about this issues is, if these images were completely unrelated to Merida from Brave or weren’t official images from Disney, I wouldn’t be half as fired up about it. I’d probably say, “That’s pretty,” and move on. The problem lays in the fact that Disney doesn’t seem to understand that a female character doesn’t have to be ultra-glamorized to be popular. There is more to a female character than just making a pretty face with a sparkly dress. Disney doesn’t seem to get that audiences, both female and male, love Merida for her spunk and sense of adventure. More kids have actually started picking up archery in the U.S. because of Merida and other strong, bow-and-arrow wielding female characters that have hit the big screen in the past year or so. That should give Disney the message that it isn’t Merida’s sense of style that is inspiring viewers. In fact, while the original Merida is accessible to both genders, this new Merida screams, “I’M FOR GIRLS!” (Because, you know, only girls like sparkles and boys couldn’t possibly be interested in a female protagonist.)

This isn’t the first time Disney has done this to a female character that is as brave as any male character, rejects gender roles, and could easily be marketed to both boys and girls, even in this very gender stereotypical and gender segregated market. Disney’s Mulan told the amazing story of a young woman who was gutsy enough (despite her fears) to take her father’s place in an army and go to war while trying to hide her identity and find herself, but the only thing Disney wants to market is a pretty girl in an elaborate gown. (If you want to read more about that, click here and here.) That was more than a decade ago and now Disney seems to be making the same mistake in 2013. So, if Disney wanted to rip away everything that makes Merida stand out and make her look like one of the crowd, they’ve accomplished that splendidly. all-disney-princesses

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images-74Gurren Lagann is one of those anime series I’ve long heard praised so, I decided it was high time I found about for myself what all the fuss was about. The series takes place in a world where humans have moved underground to flee the Spiral King and the “beastmen” who use machines to wipe humans off the earth. Thus, the humans secluded themselves into small villages with no contact with the surface or other humans. Simon, a small, unimposing young man who spends most his time digging, and his outspoken, reckless friend, Kamina dream of leaving their dank village underground and going to the surface.  One day, after Simon comes across a strange object that turns out to be a key to a machine like those the beastmen use. After a girl (Yoko) fighting a beastman falls from the surface into their village, Simon and Kamina use the newly-found machine to defeat the beastman and break through to the surface. Together with Yoko, they begin to wage war against the beastmen.

While Gurren Lagann is unique in many ways, at the halfway mark of the second season, I’m feelings a bit disengaged as a female viewer. Of the cast of female characters that have been assembled, almost all of them are heavily subjected to fan service and/or fall victim to the damsel in distress cliche to give the male characters motivation. That’s not to say that the female characters sit on the side lines all the time (Yoko and two side female characters do participate in battles), but somehow I feel the way they are presented undermines them.images-71

For instance, there have been two episodes that either had good portions or the full episode devoted to fan service. One takes place at a hot spring and involves Kamina and Simon trying to figure out how to catch a peek of the girls naked. Later, the girls are held hostage dressed in towels, reducing them to not only sex objects, but sex objects that need rescuing. The other episode involves bathing suits. Need I say more? The guys drool over the girls since it’s a chance to see them less covered. Yoko, who is usually in little more than a bikini top and short-shorts, actually wears a bathing suit that covers her more than usual and is disregarded as a result. To be fair, the show mixes in a fair amount of zaniness, which these episodes were playing up, but by focusing so much on the female characters’ bodies, it reduces them to fan fare.

yokoAs the two main female protagonists, Yoko and Nia, both suffer from female character clichés. Yoko is no helpless maiden. She’s been fighting the enemy for some time now in what seemed to be a losing battle. Once Simon and Kamina join the fight, new life is breathed into the resistance. At that point, Yoko could have just relied totally on the guys from then on, but she doesn’t. She is put into more of a supporting role, but she’s good at watching her comrades’ backs. Unfortunately, Yoko’s strengths, both inner and outer, take a back seat to her exterior appearance. For some reason, this character who’s fighting a war dresses in a bikini top that’s slightly too small for her and short shorts. Viewers are constantly getting shots of Yoko’s breasts, even when she’s in battle, taking a shot at the enemy, the view is such that we (conveniently) get to see her boobs bounce from the kick-back of her gun. Thus, Yoko largely gets reduced to eye candy.

On the other hand, Nia is more traditional, playing the part of the girl with inner strength that relies on the male protagonist. Don’t get me wrong; a female character doesn’t have to shoot a gun or punch people to be strong. In fact, if she can pick up a gun, but has nothing beyond that, I’m not sure I could call her a strong female character. There’s something to be admired in characters like Nia who show such inner strength. Nia has been abandoned by the people she knew and her own father. She’s told she was little more than a pretty doll to him, something to be admired for its beauty and discarded when one grows tired of it, and she has been thrust out into a world she knows very little about as being sheltered for so long. Her whole world has been turned upside down yet she has the strength to assess the situation and make her own decisions. The problem occurs here: whenever Nia is in trouble, she’s not worried in the least, not because she has a plan to save herself as Iimages-72 initially thought, but because she has such strong faith that Simon will rescue her and anyone else in trouble. It’s nice that she has such faith in Simon–one of the first besides Kamina to recognize it–but that total reliance, or rather dependence, and expectation that someone will come to her aid is pretty cliché.

As I watch Gurren Lagann I do see hope for its female protagonists. While I’m not sure it will ever be excellent in terms of female characters given the way the show has treated them so much as fan service, I’m hoping for more development to take these characters to the next level. I’ll keep my fingers crossed.

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