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Posts Tagged ‘anime’

Image from Crunchyroll

Image from Crunchyroll

If you’ve been reading manga or watching anime for a period of time now, you have probably watched, read, or at least heard of some kind of reverse harem anime/manga centered on a chosen teenage girl’s journey to gather a band of handsome young men. Perhaps most famous of this fantasy/harem genre is Fushigi Yugi, infamous for its helpless (and rather unlikeable) heroine, Miaka, who is made the victim of multiple attempted rapes for the sake of drama. Whereas other heroines in this genre have ultimately been limited to playing the kind girl who touches the hearts of her warriors while relying on them to provide her with physical protection, Yona of the Dawn offers viewers a refreshing twist to this well-worn path. As if to respond to these frustratingly helpless heroines both in and out of reverse harem manga/anime, Yona of the Dawn presents viewers with a tale about a heroine who does not accept her own helplessness as inevitable.

Yona, the heroine of this story, certainly starts out as a heroine you might expect to see in a reverse harem manga-turned-anime. When we first meet her, she’s a typical pampered princess with no political knowledge nor useful skills. Her only two interests seem to be her appearance and her beloved Soo-won, the sweet cousin who she has loved since childhood and dreams of marrying. Her other handsome childhood friend, a young general with a rough demeanor named Hak, guards her from physical harm while her father, the emperor, spoils her and shields her from harsh realities. In this environment, Yona turns to worrying about her romance, such as what Soo-won thinks about her hair. Helpless girl who’s greatest aspiration is romance? Check. Handsome men who give viewers both a sweet guy and a guy with a rough exterior? Check. Throw in the fact that Hak clearly harbors feelings for the oblivious Yona and that Soo-won obviously doesn’t understand Yona’s feelings for him, and you have the cliche love triangle at the foundation of the harem that is to be built.

This highly standard set up is subverted, however, when Yona witnesses Soo-won kill her father in a coup d’etat. The superficiality of the first episode shatters along with Yona’s sheltered world, revealing a much more complex one behind it as characters emerge from behind their simplistic roles. Relationships, too, take on more depth at the same time revelations and betrayal tear apart Soo-won, Yona, and Hak. Initially, the shock of losing her father and Soo-won leaves Yona a husk, and Hak must coax along and protect her as they escape to safety. Hak gets multiple chances to act as the helpless Yona’s protector, but rather than rely on its heroine’s weakness to provide Hak permanent knight-in-shining-armor status, Soo-won’s betrayal becomes Yona’s turning point. She snaps herself out of her depression, opens her eyes to the troubled reality of her country, and begins her journey to find her purpose in life. Furthermore, while many a heroine has feared losing loved ones, Yona actually does something to combat that fear, picking up the bow and arrow in order to gain the power needed to protect them even as she steadily gains more able-bodied men capable of protecting her.

Is her change a reaction to Soo-won, suggesting Yona to be yet another female character whose development rides on her relationship with men? Clearly, Soo-won’s actions spurred Yona into territory she would never have otherwise tread, and thoughts of Soo-won creep up on occasions, revealing that his betrayal is definitely on Yona’s mind. Nevertheless, the story thus far has done a good job of depicting Yona’s transformation as one that expands beyond Soo-won. Her transformation becomes a personal journey as her loss and sense of powerlessness turns into frustration over her helplessness and ignorance, and determination to change herself.

Of course, Yona still must largely rely on the men’s strength at this point in the story, but that doesn’t mean her determination to become stronger is an empty promise never to be realized. Some viewers may be impatient to see the steely Yona previewed in the opening and in the flashforwards shown in the first few episodes, but in this case, I think a slower paced change will prove more effective. If Yona just woke up one day a strong-willed woman, the change wouldn’t be as satisfying or as believable as watching her experience situations that cause gradual change. Granted, it’s a fine line between showing a character gradually change and pushing the viewer to frustration, but when executed right, seeing Yona’s struggle to change becomes one of her character’s strengths.

Speaking of building character, I appreciate that Yona wasn’t made into some magical prodigy who’s able to master the bow and arrow on the first try. Instead, the show depicts Yona’s struggle to wield her weapon, not only physically but also mentally. She can’t hit anything at first, but practices every night while her comrades sleep in order to improve her skill and strength, and she must mentally prepare herself to kill if she wants to use her weapon to protect her friends. The emphasis on Yona’s training shows the viewers Yona’s determination, and depicts her strength in a way that expands beyond the superficial example of strength as purely physical. (I also enjoyed that one of the male characters related to Yona’s struggle to become strong in the most recent episode! This kind of character development doesn’t just apply to female characters, after all.) If Yona of the Dawn keeps up this kind of crafting of its heroine, she’ll easily be one of my favorite heroines!

Lastly, the way the show has handled its male characters has been pretty satisfying so far as well. Obviously, the show offers a smorgasbord of good-looking guys, but it develops them beyond cardboard cutouts of various types of attractive men. Two perfect examples are Hak and Soo-won. With them, the story takes the staple male love interest types and complicates them, making the caring Soo-won into an antagonist with a logical motive yet controversial methods and Hak neither a mindless bodyguard hunk nor a lovable jerk, but a colorful childhood friend who has grown to love the princess. With any luck, the good characterization and relationships won’t get bogged down as more characters are introduced. Handsome boys are nice to look at, but a lot more enjoyable and interesting when they have actual personality. Of course, it’s also pretty amusing when the series acknowledges itself as part of, and pokes fun at, the reverse harem genre, inserting humor into the plot with characters who display awareness of their bit to play in the harem.

While the characters may seem stereotypical at first, the show seems determined to overturn those expectations. Watching the group come together, and the characters flesh out and evolve–particularly its determined princess–has become my weekly treat. With any luck, this series will keep up its excellence. Anyone who likes fantasies with character-focused journeys spiced up with a blast of breathtaking action and/or a heroine who won’t take her fate lying down should check out Yona of the Dawn. Watch it on CrunchyrollFunimation, or Hulu.

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When you see a female character with a large chest, what do you think? Is it simply an artistic rendition of a curvy female body type, or does it fall under the category of fan service, and seem to exist as sexual titillation for consumers of a certain sex and sexual orientation? Leaning toward the latter line of thought, feminist bloggers such as myself often point out those big-breasted women of manga, anime, and video games as problematic. Just in my last post, I again attempted to tackle the issue, using the popular shonen manga series Fairy Tail as that week’s example of the prevalent trend.

While many previous readers have voiced disagreement with the concept that something is wrong with the fan service I highlight, a recent reader got me thinking about the issue in a slightly different fashion: where do we draw the line between “pure” artistic rendition of the human body and bodies draw for the purpose of sexual fan service?

One of the many charms of fiction like manga and anime is the varied art styles, the way the artist chooses to visualize a world. Art styles range from highly cartoonish and deformed to relatively realistic, resulting in many ways to represent the human body. Just think of comparing the artwork in Hiroyuki Takei‘s Shaman King or Gainax‘s Panty and Stocking to that of Naoki Urasawa‘s Monster or Tsugumi Ohba’s and Takeshi Obata‘s Death Note. Clearly, these artists all have distinct ways of drawing the human body. Depending on the style, the body many be more or less exaggerated, and exaggerated in different fashions at that.

Here’s where we hit a snag. Artistic expression is something to enjoy, but all too often, a line is crossed in the fictional depictions of busty women that shifts attention away from the character and onto the character’s body. Instead of just being another character who happens to have a shapely body, the minds behind the fiction sexualize her, focusing on her breasts, her curves, or what-have-you. Her body becomes a tool intended to gratify the straight male consumer and the work encourages the reader/viewer to objectify her through those cleverly placed shots.

Nevertheless, there are ways of making the majority of one’s female characters curvy without giving the series a crazy injection of fan service. Compare the depiction of curvy female characters in works such as Fairy Tail to that of Hiromu Arakawa’s Fullmetal Alchemist. FMA is full of female characters with shapely bodies, from mechanic/childhood friend Winry to highly skilled military personnel such as Hawkeye and Major General Armstrong. Unlike other works, however, their (realistically) sizable busts are not the center of attention. Is it apparent that they’re shapely? Yes. Gone, however, are convenient shots of shiny breasts, bouncing boobs, or other gimmicks intended to draw the eye to their chest. Some female characters even wear clothing that could have been used as fan service in other series, like Winry’s tube top or Izumi Curtis’ cleavage, but the mangaka chose not to focus on. Perhaps Arakawa’s female villain Lust comes closest to fulfilling fan service, acting as this series’ sexy character, but even the fan service we see with Lust isn’t as pronounced as the fan service in many other series. The fan service in FMA is slight, allowing the consumer to appreciate each character as a whole. In other words, there is a way to depict shapely women without making them into sexpots, and demonstrates that those who do fulfill that role in manga or anime are drawn with the intent that they do so.

Of course, we have to recognize that fiction has a way of showing audiences ideal body types of both sexes. I tend to focus on the depiction of female body standards (large breasts and a tiny hourglass waist), but male characters have long appeared in superhero-type fashion, boasting six-packs and muscles in areas you didn’t even know it was possible to build up. One of my favorite examples is Gohan from DBZ, who ends up with a chiseled body long before he even hits puberty. Obviously, both sexes get to see unrealistic ideals reflected in fiction. Despite the fact that those six packs often represent strength and power while the sizable female chest serves to turn the female body into something pleasurable for a given demographic, such male representations still builds on traditional ideas of masculinity and unrealistic body ideals. There are also examplesthat put male characters in the sexualized spotlight.

Here’s where all those reading this post who are ready to defend fan service can relax a bit. I’ve laid out how I differentiate fan service bodies from shapely forms, I’ve touched on why I see fan service as problematic, and I’ve pointed out men suffer from this fan service, too. Nevertheless, I don’t think that this kind of fan service in and of itself is the biggest problem. There will always be fan service and, in limited doses, it’s not that big of a deal. The issue becomes the sheer volume of fan service.

There are many different body types in this world, and it’s a good thing to pull from and represent that variety. Art even has the power to expand on the vast variety we already have in this world. Unfortunately, instead of representing various body types, some fiction eliminate that variety in their efforts to provide fan service. Others reinforce stereotypes. Even when we see a female character who supposedly doesn’t have an ideal body (which often means she has small breasts), we aren’t encouraged to appreciate variety. Rather, our attention is thrown back to sex appeal and cultural ideals. It’s not unusual for female characters with small breasts to express dissatisfaction with their body and occasionally envy toward those who have the ideal body type. Although we may sympathize with that character’s feelings, at times, traditional ideals seem to be confirmed in these tiny melodramas: it’s presented as a given that girls should be dissatisfied with smaller chests. On the flip side, female characters with big chests are often doomed to fulfilling fan service, no matter what kind of personalities or skills they possess. Seeing this type of rendition repeatedly can feel limiting, which is a shame since art clearly has the potential to expand our perceptions of the world.

I’ll finish this post by stating that I don’t claim to hold all of the answers on this issue. There’s a bit of a gray area between artistic expression and all its exaggerated glory, and the realm of simple fan service. Viewpoints on fan service itself are largely varied as well. Much of it depends on the eye of the beholder, but I hope this clarifies my personal definition. With that thought, what do you think of this issue?

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tumblr_mmje5edfpD1rw9b6io1_1280As the new series from the team that brought us the stylish, over-the-top, and immensely popular Gurren Lagann,  Kill la Kill was destined to be a hit with the crowds. It following right along with its predecessor, packing in loads of zany characters and dramatic action sequences within every episode, not to mention a healthy dose of jaw-dropping outrageousness. Kill la Kill is the story of a high school girl named Ryuko in an alternative modern Japan where the student council of Honnouji Academy have taken over much of the country through the use of super-powered uniforms, living in luxury while keeping a tight leash on the people under their rule. Ryuko, however, is about to shake things up. After her father was murdered, she takes her only lead and sets her sights on the steely Satsuki Kiryuinleader of the council and someone who seems to know something about the murder. With the help of some *ahem* unusual allies and a uniform of her own, Ryuko is ready to take on the whole school to reach her goal.

Kill la Kill is an interesting sight to behold, full of wacky allies and enemies, humorously slick undercover agents, and plenty of insanely corrupt systems/people that one can’t help but want to watch what happens next. The series boasts two very strong ladies as its leads, a fun deviation from the standard action anime/manga with a shonen demographic, which typically tails a teenage boy around on his adventures. Female characters’ roles in these tales vary and, as we have seen, sometimes act as strong allies to their male comrades that the audience can take seriously, but often end up in more traditional positions as helpless but faithful lovers/friends, major fanservice caterers, and so on. This common dilemma is something I have previously pointed out in Gurenn Lagann.

Kill la Kill, on the other had, gives both the major roles (so far) to female characters, making both the spunky underdog lead (Ryuko) and the tyrannical antagonist (Satsuki) female. Both female characters have an incredible drive to reach their goals; Ryuko is literally fighting against an entire school to reach hers while Satsuki’s unshakable demeanor and strength puts her at the top of a monstrous system, plotting her moves with confidence. Thus far, Ryuko and Satsuki are also the only ones able to handle the mysterious power of uniforms that possess a soul of sorts, feeding off the blood of its wearer in exchange for tremendous strength.  Granted, Ryuko still seems to be in the dark about what is truly going on in this topsy-turvy world while the male mentor-like character (if you can even call him that) obviously holds, and withholds, information from Ryuko. Satsuki, however, appears to be in the know about everything. Given that the series is only eight episodes in, things are bound to change and I’m looking forward to how these characters progress.

HorribleSubs-Kill-la-Kill-01-720p.mkv_snapshot_20.03_2013.10.05_16.42.50That being said, Kill la Kill suffers in the extreme from fanservice. I’ve complained in the past about unrealistically big breasted female characters, convenient panty and cleavage shots, and the like, but as a show that likes to take things over the top, this series use of fanservice truly puts it on a different level. Remember those fancy, power-granting uniforms that Ryuko and Satsuki utilize? Well, when in use, they turn the protagonist and antagonist alike into breast-baring, buttocks-showing, midriff-exposed wonders. At the same time, the audience gawks at their power, we also can’t help but gape at the kinkiness of their outfits. Focus is torn between sex appeal and prowess, and mixes sexualization of the female character with violence.

When an audience gathers to watch the latest battle Ryuko participates in, male characters are shown openly drooling at her as she fights, getsKill-la-Kill-02-01 pummeled or wins, in such a revealing outfit. In these battle scenes, Ryuko also often moves or is moved in ways that exaggerate this further. Ryuko herself is embarrassed at first to be wearing such an outfit and, in fact, is forced to wear it in a disturbing scene that seemed to make some viewers (including myself) feel uncomfortable. As the series proceeds, she realizes she must embrace the baring of her body in order to access the full power of the uniform. Now, I’m all for the acceptance of one’s body, but the situation in the show is dependent on the acceptance of sexualization and objectification rather than the acceptance of the body itself. After all, embracing one’s sexuality or body is not the same thing as coming to terms with having your body on display as Ryuko does.

Of course, female characters are not the only ones subjected to showing skin. Male characters also are revealed when they transform for battle, although the final finished product is usually covered up. In addition, the creators of the show appear to realize the ridiculousness of Kill la Kill’s fanservice and have fun with it. As some viewers have argued, one could see the extremes of fanservice in the series as making fun of the trend. Then there is a certain previously mentioned professor/undercover agent, Aikuro, who is male and who has a knack for bathing in the limelight of partial nudity. At the same time Aikuro acts as male fanservice, his character also is obviously made fun of as the music switches to a tune that screams sexy and he then begins to try his hardest to be tempting.29957-Kill6Header

However, even if the show is trying to make fun of fanservice to a degree, that does not necessarily save it from rebuke. Pulling the “we know that you know this is a joke so, it’s okay” routine still draws on sexism and it therefore becomes a fine line between truly pointing out the idiocy of something and simply further perpetuating the problem. While I’m not getting the joke so far with Ryuko’s fanservice, I clearly get it with her professor, Aikuro, a character that, in his moments of ludicrous sexiness, reminds me of all those male characters that overtly fulfill the purpose of being sexy eye candy. As I mentioned, there are cues within the show that tip the audience off that sexy Aikuro scenes are truly supposed to be seen as ridiculous, such as the heroine’s dubious and exasperated reactions. On the other hand, even if the creators’ intentions are to make fun of fanservice with Ryuko’s character as well, I’m not getting any signals that I don’t see in normal instances of fanservice. Nevertheless, the series is only eight episodes in so, I’ll be watching (and probably rewatching) Kill la Kill to see where they take this series.

With that said, what’s your take on Kill la Kill‘s fanservice and characters thus far?

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For those of you who couldn’t wait to see the finale premiere on Friday and watched it online (thanks to the generosity of the creators), The Legend of Korra Book 2: Spirits has come to an end after just about two months since it began. A new storyline begins in Book 2 as dark spirits start popping up in the physical world and attacking people, leaving it up to Avatar Korra to find and solve the problem. But spirits aren’t the only issue. Despite having defeated a couple of dangerous men from bringing chaos to Republic City, new human threats are rising and a little to close to home for Korra, bringing her back home to the Southern Water Tribe as family secrets are revealed and war looms once more.LegendOfKorra0201_Group02

Book 2 introduces some attention-grabbing new elements to an old bag of favorites, mixing things up in the Avatar with spirits. Now, this is hardly the first time spirits have come into play, given that the Avatar–the protagonist of both the original series and sequel–acts as the link between the spirit world and the physical world inhabited by humans. Fans of the original series will be familiar with Aang and friends’ various encounters with the spirit world/spirits, from Aang’s numerous conversations with past lives and spirits to the moon spirit’s involvement in a very emotional season one finale. But Korra takes things to a new level by exploring why the two worlds are separate which requires delving deep into the Avatar’s past. For those of you who missed the combination of the spiritual and physical world adventures in The Legend of Korra: Book 1, your wish has been fulfilled nicely in the second entry in the series.

images-3The adventures in the spirit world lead to several characters’ discovering new strengths, including the title character, Korra, and her mentor’s daughter, Jinora. Korra continues to grow from last season, physically strong as ever and connecting more deeply with her spiritual side. As I mentioned in my previous post on Korra, this female protagonist has never been the type that needs more physical power so, it was good to see her challenged once again to explore her connection with a spiritual, emotional side as she enters the spirit world and deals with the problems rising within her family. Korra has matured even more by the end of Book 2 and, while it is a little bittersweet for reasons you’ll have to watch to find out, the series has pushed her to a new level of independence.  Of course, I also love a good action scene and Korra is in plenty of them. In addition, Jinora, who played a minor role in Book 1, gets a fairly substantial one as she discovers that through her strong connection to the spirits she can help Korra in a way no one else can. As always, there are no shortages of strong, dynamic female characters in the Avatar world as the series brings back the old ones and adds new ones from Raava the light spirit to Kana, the daughter of Aang and Katara, and Korra’s slightly frightening cousin.

While I wholly enjoyed many of the new additions to the story, there was one reoccurring aspect from Book 1 that I could have done without: the love triangle between Korra, Mako, and Asami. I appreciate a good romance, but rather than add to the overall story, this trope takes away some of the charm of Korra for me. The fact that the creators of Avatar are employing one of the oldest tricks in the book is not so much the problem as is the execution. Love triangles exist to add drama and an obstacle to what could otherwise be a clean shot to romance (of course romance is never so simple). But as commonly used a plot convention as it is, I actually think it’s difficult to pull off in a satisfying fashion. In many cases, for example, someone in the triangle is clearly a third wheel and no real threat to the main couple’s relationship.asamikorra-1024x574

The Legend of Korra‘s love triangle doesn’t fall victim to that scenario since Mako displays confusion over his feelings for the two girls, Korra and Asami, but that leads to another problem. After pining for Mako, losing him to Asami, then ending up together by the end of Book 1, Book 2 opens with Korra and Mako as a couple. I like that the series tries to explore an established couple instead of leaving it at the misleading “happily ever after” point, but the relationship ended up feeling contrived to me. By the end of Book 2, the audience has once again been thrown into a whirlwind of make ups, break ups, broken hearts, and confusion. While I appreciate the attempt, things just happen too fast to make a real impact, although the end of the season suggests perhaps things will be more stable in coming Books.

Even with some aspects that didn’t work for me, overall The Legend of Korra: Book 2 was an enjoyable second entry in the series. It brings back a colorful cast of characters and story elements while mixing in new ones that add new charm and intrigue to the series. The finale of Book 2 leaves us with a bang and a lot of questions for the next Book so, check it out.

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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-88Most of us, at one point or another, experience a series that catches your heart upon picking up the first installment–a sort of “love at first sight” for story lovers–only to find ourselves disillusioned by the end. I have had my share of those over the years; sometimes, it was a result of growing up and maturing taste or simply the thrill of something once new and shiny fading away. The worst, however, are the cases of series that really have everything I could ask for–good plotting, interesting and three-dimensional characters, something unique, and that element that keeps me dying to get my hands on the next installment–but get tripped up and crash along the way. Unfortunately, this was my ultimate experience with the manga series Please Save My Earth or, 「ぼくの地球を守って」 by Saki Hiwatari.

Written in the late 80’s into the 90’s, Please Save My Earth started off like any other teen drama. Alice Sakaguchi is a 16-year-old who is having trouble adjusting to the recent move to Tokyo. Inhibited by her shyness and inadvertently intimidating her new classmates with her demure appearance, she just can’t seem to make any new friends. If that wasn’t bad enough, she has been getting harassed endlessly by the 7-year-old brat living in the apartment next door, Rin Kobayashi. Perhaps the only hint of something mysterious underneath the mundane is a mention of Alice’s ability to talk to plants, a secret only her family knows, and a story from two classmates, Jinpachi and Issei, about a strange dream they both seem to be experiencing that they believe has something to do with their past lives.

But things soon take a sharp turn when a job babysitting Rin goes terribly awry and Alice accidentally sends Rin tumbling over the edge of a 15th story balcony. While he miraculously survives, Rin begins to remember his dark past life. At the same time, Alice finds herself being drawn into Jinpachi and Issei’s story of their past lives: in the dreams, Jinpachi and Issei are two of six scientists from another plant sent to the moon on a mission. After she has a dream similar to theirs, it appears she too may be one of the group of scientists reincarnated and this spurs the three teens to look for the other reincarnated members. What starts as a mysterious yet fun reminiscing soon gives way to growing darkness as secrets of their past lives are gradually brought to light and Rin, unbeknownst to the others, sets up a carefully spun web of revenge for the wrongs done to him and manipulates the others for some unknown purpose.

Just as Rin masterfully manipulates those around him, Hiwatari is able to draw raw emotions from the readers with her excellent storytelling abilities. She moves the plot at the perfect pace, building anticipation as we watch the story morph from lighthearted fun into a tangled mess as the characters struggle to come to terms with what happened in their past lives. Intriguing questions confuse the reader as much as the characters. For example, are Jinpachi and the others living as their reincarnated selves or being absorbed by their past lives? Alice becomes stuck in passiveness, unsure if she really is the reincarnated form of a woman named Mokuren and afraid to find out. While she hesitates, the others jump right into the memories of their past lives and suddenly find themselves falling into the same traps their previous lives did; just as Jinpachi’s previous life fell in love with Mokuren, Jinpachi falls in love with Alice. But does he love Alice because she’s Alice or because she might be Mokuren? Issei, despite being reincarnated as a boy, can’t help but feel jealous at the sight of Jinpachi, the reincarnated form of the man he loved in his previous life as a woman, in love with Alice. Rin suffers from this the most, transforming from a bratty 7-year-old to someone utterly consumed with the anger and demons of his adult past life and in turn reminds the others of the demons of their own pasts. On top of that, nothing is what it at first seemed to be as Hiwatari skillfully turns things on their head with the simple switch of perception. Needless to say, it’s a multi-layered story with plenty of complications, but it’s artfully unraveled before our eyes.

If you haven’t read this series in its entirety and don’t want it spoiled, I strongly recommend you not to read the following paragraphs, since I will be diving into huge spoiler territory for the remainder of my discussion.

Perhaps Please Save My Earth‘s greatest strength as well as its greatest downfall lies in these terrifyingly complex characters and their unraveling. Throughout the series, readers are given a chance to experience events that happened in Alice and her friends’ past lives from different view points, the most in-depth and predominant being the perspectives of Shion, Rin’s past life, and Mokuren. Many times, it breathes life into otherwise two-dimensional characters as we get to see what one character was really thinking or how they got to be the way they are. One of the best examples of this occurs when readers get to at last see things from Mokuren’s perspective. Until this point, Mokuren is depicted as she was seen by the other characters: a perfect woman who was feminine, beautiful, saintly kind, and had all the men falling in love with her. This type of perfect yet dull female character appears fairly often in fiction so, I was pleased when Hiwatari ripped away this image like a veil hiding the not entirely pleasant truth beneath.

The saintly guise dropped, Mokuren is revealed to be a rather feisty young woman with a rebellious spirit who is tired of being made out as perfect. As one of a handful of people with a power considered holy, she has been idealized, idolized, and isolated, unable to get others to see past her image as a holy woman. In truth, she has problems and questions of her own and doesn’t always approach things in the right manner. Yes, Mokuren is a romance-obsessed young lady at times, but it’s shown as a quirk developed through her past experiences and her wish to reject constraints that dictate she cannot love someone as a holy woman. And indeed, Mokuren’s idea of romance is shown to be a bit simplistic and idealized. Shion’s character development is a lot more typical, showing his harsh exterior to hide someone desperately in need of love and comfort, but is nonetheless well done. His darkness alienates him from every chance of love that comes his way and we watch as he slowly pushes himself further into darkness by committing successively worse offenses to others.

Yet something that started so good slips into an extremely convoluted and repulsive development. Another huge shock rocks readers’ perception of the fairy tale-like romance that we are made to believe existed between Mokuren and Shion. The engagement of the ruthless Shion with the ultra nice Mokuren appears like any other formulaic romance nowadays, but as secrets of their past life come to light, it is revealed that Shion actually raped Mokuren. To the bewilderment of Shion, however, Mokuren lied and told the others it was their misunderstanding, that she and Shion are engaged. In other words, what the others thought was rape was not. This is perhaps the ultimate turn of events in the story and readers are left wondering what Mokuren was thinking for volumes. After all, her actions don’t make sense. But the final reveal ended up smashing this beautifully sculpted world to pieces for me.please_save_my_earth_v11p140_copy

Mokuren, who really did love Shion, is naturally crushed to think he didn’t actually love her. At first, we’re made to think she hates Shion for this, but this feeling is warped into devotion for a man who she not only thinks doesn’t love her, but who also has committed the greatest act of violation against her. At the same time, we’re told Shion used his hatred as an excuse to rape Mokuren, but really just wanted to love someone. Did Hiwatari run into a writer’s wall, in which she needed to make these two love each other despite the plot twist that suggests everything but love? I’ll likely never know, but what I do know is we’re left with a scenario that not only contradicts itself, but also supports a sick misconception about rape. Somehow, some people seem to be under the impression that a victim of rape can fall in love with the rapist, which is about as far from the truth as possible. In Mokuren and Shion’s case, Mokuren loved Shion before he raped her, but the idea that there is love in a relationship where one person rapes the other is simply preposterous.

While Mokuren does appear naturally confused at times, her love and devotion seems the strongest emotion even in the wake of the rape, which conflicts the other messages sent about how terrible an act the rape was. Yes, it is clear the rape hurt her, but the reaction Hitawari constructs for Mokuren undermines the crushing affect rape has on the victim. At the same time, Shion is almost excused for his unforgivable act by the end by the sympathetic yet highly flawed reasoning behind his actions. Did he rape her? Yes. Do we all agree this is bad? Yes. Oh, but by the way, he’s just a sad, empty guy who really did love Mokuren and thought in his selfish, twisted way that rape was the only way he could be loved by her. The reactions and reasoning seem forced and unnatural and send a horrible message about rape as excusable, forgivable, and above all, as something someone who really loved another could do to that person. To add insult to injury, when Mokuren lies about the engagement to save Shion from punishment for raping her, she acts as if she is in the wrong for forcing Shion to pretend to be engaged to and in love with her.

There are other issues such as Alice’s development later in the series and her relationship with Rin, a relationship in which she is constantly being manipulated, but Mokuren and Shion’s relationship was the biggest smack in the face for me. It’s quite unfortunate because there are plenty of wonderful things about Please Save My Earth. In fact, it was one of my favorite series up until I reached the rape incident and its subsequent handling of the issue. There are some things that can be overlooked, but presenting a rape and then essentially sweeping it under the rug just doesn’t cut it.

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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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