Posts Tagged ‘books’

A year or so ago my need for great storytelling and strong, realistic female characters was more than satisfied when I came across an anime called The Beast Player Erin. Frankly, I’m not sure how I found it; the book series (by Nahoko Uehashi) which it’s based on has never been translated and published in America*, the anime hasn’t been released on DVD either, and on the one site that streams it legally (Crunchyroll.com), it’s currently tucked away on page 5, overshadowed by super popular shows like Bleach and Naruto. However it is that I happened upon The Beast Player Erin, I’m glad I did as it’s become one of my favorite anime and the heroine, Erin, is definitely one of the strongest heroines I’ve seen. So, without further ado, let me introduce you to it!

When it starts, Erin is a very bright 10-year-old living with her widowed mother, Soh-Yon in a quiet village. In this fantasy country, the country is governed by the Shin-Oh, a queen said to be a god, while the military is left to the direction of the Taikoh whose army utilizes giant dragon/lizard-like creatures called Tohda to protect the country. This is a key point because it just so happens that Erin’s mother is the best care-taker in this village of the Taikoh’s precious Tohda, something that Erin aspires to do herself one day. Eager to learn and very observant, Erin has all the potential to do so.

The Beast Player Erin begins as a somewhat slow-paced tale about an intelligent young girl with an insatiable hunger for knowledge and leads to much darker times with political intrigue and plots that Erin unwittingly gets drawn into. The first several episodes follow Erin through a series of small adventures within the village, exhibiting her inquisitive and observant nature and her relationship with her mother. This part is more setting up the series and although I wouldn’t call The Beast Player Erin a fast-paced series, the beginning feels more like a more innocent slice-of-life type story. However, there are hints of deeper issues that will play a large role in Erin’s life staring with the discriminatory behavior some villagers show toward Erin’s mother, Soh-Yon who comes from an aloof group of people known for their distinct green eyes who are believed to have magical powers and are thus feared.

Gender issues are also introduced early on because Soh-Yon’s position as a beastiarian gives her power that women don’t usually have. As we are shown in one of those early episodes, girls are usually married off in their teens and are limited to more traditional, domestic roles. These two issues will be part of Erin’s journey and, after some shocking events, the series shifts from its set up to a story of a determined girl with a goal.

But while we watch Erin grow and learn, we as the audience are also given glimpses of another set of lives; those in the political sphere such as the Shin-Oh, her nephew Damiyah, and her granddaughter, Princess Seimiyah, as well as the Taikoh and his two sons and a couple of other very important characters connected to these political parties. Slowly, the tension builds as we watch Erin and the rest of the cast go about their lives; the story acts in a way that makes the series feel as though it’s all in preparation for the moment when these two groups meet (but don’t disregard the journey to that point). The stakes get higher as the series gets into the darker half of the plot where Erin’s strength, which was ever-present and impressive before, grows to whole new levels. By the end, it’s an all-out drama involving the entire country.

It’s hard to go into such a complex story without spoiling it, but I’d like to talk about a few specific reasons why I loved this anime as a feminist.

First and foremost, the main character, Erin and the messages that accompany her character; as I said, even at ten-years-old Erin shows an interest in life and learning about things. She avoids being a stereotypical genius and instead we see her naturally observant nature and her enthusiasm to learn aid her. Erin never lets life or society take her for a ride, but shows initiative, following her heart and living for goals that go against the grain. For one, she pursues an education. In a society in which pursuing an education isn’t what girls typically do, Erin definitely takes a very different path and this is something that is pointed out at several points in the story. At a crossroad, Erin is given the choice to be adopted into a wealthy family by someone who becomes a father-figure/mentor to Erin. Erin declares with firm conviction that although it is difficult, she would prefer to live on her own and get an education rather than be adopted which would lead to a traditional education in domestics and later, an arranged marriage.

The other characters add to Erin’s story greatly, often either taking a stance contrary to Erin’s which makes Erin’s strength and determination shine all the brighter or support Erin, helping her grow. For example, being so different isn’t always easy on Erin, but Erin’s friend encourages her to be herself and says there is nothing wrong with who Erin is, a message I always appreciate a story for telling. Over the course of the show, Erin matures from an inquisitive girl to a highly intelligent and independent woman with responsibilities. And unlike so many other heroines, I never once felt Erin took the backseat in her own story, upstaged by a hot savior. In short, she’s a very refreshing character.

But Erin isn’t the only strong female character in the show. There are several that enter the story, starting with Erin’s mother, Soh-Yon. As I said earlier, Soh-Yon holds a unique position in the village as a person originating from a group of people who are looked upon warily and being a woman who has a job that is vital to the village. This causes resentment in certain people, but Soh-Yon takes it all in stride, showing strength by not letting it get to her and going about her job. Her job is not without dangers either; not only are Tohda dangerous creatures, but they are so important to the country that failure on the job, i.e. the death of a Tohda in her care, means severe punishment. She is also a single mother and has raised Erin since birth on her own after the death of her husband.

Speaking of which, Erin’s relationship with her mother is also something I like about The Beast Player Erin. Soh-Yon acts as an influence on Erin all throughout the story and sparks Erin’s initial interest in what becomes her goal to take care of and study animals. Seeing Erin’s interest, Soh-Yon encourages and teaches her daughter, endowing knowledge on her that will be indispensable down the road. It’s not an understatement to say that Soh-Yon is a huge part of the story, something that’s nice to see when a very big portion of fiction hardly mentions good ol’ mom.

Gender issues aren’t the main subject of the story, but rather one of the larger theme of society caging people (and animals) in with laws, traditions, prejudice, etc. Erin is unwilling to let herself or others be chained by these unfair circumstances. (Can you tell why I like this anime?) The show presents these ideas wonderfully, giving the audience a cast of complex and realistic characters that each add something to the story. With a refreshing heroine, strong cast (including a lot of good male characters as well) and story, and thoughtfully done themes, The Beast Player Erin is one of my favorite anime. And get this: there is absolutely no fan-service! None! So what are you waiting for? Check it out on Crunchyroll.com!

I love the art, too!

*Speaking of books, if you’ve heard of Moribito, a series that has been translated into English and stars another very strong female lead, The Beast Player Erin was created by the same author, Nahoko Uehashi.

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Warning: some spoilers for those who have not read/watched up to 6th Harry Potter book/movie!

It’s amazing, for all the stories centered about kid/teen protagonists that’s out there, how few of them have mother characters. Sure, there may be a side reference thrown in there about some deceased mother or kind mother, but how many solid, involved mother characters can you name? Disney fairy tales? Dead. The Inheritance Cycle (Eragon)? Dead. For those of you who read manga, specifically shonen manga, it was pointed out that in many major series such as Naruto, Bleach, and One Piece the mothers are either long since deceased or never even mentioned. Ok, so maybe we don’t want parents in every story we read, but this trend is reminding me a bit too much of Neverland–a bunch of kids running around without a parent in sight.

That’s where the Harry Potter series stands out for me (or at least, one of the many things that stand out for me); Harry Potter has moms and lots of them! From the normal mother to the mother who picks up a wand and fights, there are moms a plenty from the get-go. What’s more, these moms play a very active role in the story.

I think I can safely say that many of us Potter fans think of Molly Weasley, the tough, but loving mother of all those Weasley kids, when the topic of Harry Potter moms is brought to the table. Mrs. Weasley is certainly one of the main mother figures not only to Harry, but to the readers and watchers of the series. In many ways, she’s the typical mom–fretting over her kids (and Harry), sending them away with a kiss and a snack, sending them a Howler when she can’t be there herself to give them a talking to–which gives her a warm, homey and loving feeling, something that is far more important than some realize.

But Mrs. Weasley can also use that toughness and perseverance that got her through taking care of seven kids to get them through hard times. Mrs. Weasley does not sit idly by when the others start a resist against Voldemort, but actually becomes heavily involved in the Order of the Phoenix. And when Molly Weasley can, she will fight to save her children as many of us know from the famous scene in which Bellatrix Lestrange attempts to kill Ginny Weasley in a fight and Mrs. Weasley rushes forward, hurling curses, screaming, “Not my daughter, you bitch!” Don’t underestimate the fierce protectiveness of mothers.

Then there are characters who appear little or not at all until later in the series such as Narcissa Malfoy. Mrs. Malfoy is very different compared to Mrs. Weasley–prim and stiff to Mrs. Weasley’s slightly frazzled and warm–but her love for her child is no less than Molly Weasley’s. When her son Draco becomes the unlucky target of revenge on the Malfoy family from Voldemort after the failure (yet again) of Draco’s father and Narcissa’s husband, Lucius Malfoy, she snaps into action. Though the Malfoy family have supported Lord Voldemort (if only out of fear) for years and protecting her son at this point means going against Voldemort, Narcissa would break her pact with and even betray the most feared wizard in the world rather than sacrifice her son.

Finally, there’s Lily Potter, one of the most influential characters in general in the series. Yes, she’s dead and is dead from the very first page of the series, but Lily Potter is different from all those other dead moms of protagonists. Lily Potter could have saved herself, but instead sacrifices herself to save her son, Harry. Her influence doesn’t stop there though; her sacrifice and love protects Harry more than just that one time and her actions embed themselves deeply into Harry. Lily Potter represents a mother’s love and sacrifice for her child. She’s not a small side note in the story, she is at the very heart of the plot and meaning of the Harry Potter books. I also appreciate that, unlike some fiction where the male protagonist is said to take after only his father, Harry takes after both his father and mother. Furthermore, Lily Potter is not the only mother long since deceased who holds great influence over the characters of the series. Voldemort’s mother molded the life of her son in ways as well.

Mothers play a great role in the Harry Potter series and are one of the embodiments of the theme of love throughout the story. So, with the last Harry Potter movie coming out this week, go see those amazing mothers in action (and maybe bring your mother with you).

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What makes a good female character? Because I have now done several posts on potentially good female characters undermined by various factors (in my opinion), I’ve decided to try to map out what I think makes a good, solid female character. To be honest, it’s a difficult question. There may be some characters I bring up as good examples that you will disagree about, but I will try to pinpoint the actions and characteristics that bring them to a realistic and strong level.

Original book series

She accepts or ends up accepting herself for everything that she is and isn’t. 

Great example: Yoko Nakajima from The Twelve Kingdoms by Fuyumi Ono

“A young girl who is pushed beyond her limits physically, emotionally, and mentally” –Tokyopop

Yoko Nakajima is a 16-year-old honor-role student from Japan who tries to please. She tries to please her parents, her teachers, and her fellow classmates, but in the process,  isn’t really honest with herself or others. But through a series of events, Yoko is taken to another world where suddenly, she is under attack by demons and confront espionage, terror, betrayal, and herself on a harrowing journey.

Yoko’s story is a brilliant mix of action and psychological adventure. She is lost in this new, strange world and travels alone for good stretches of time where she has a lot of time to think. She’s forced to confront her fears and doubts, not to mention how she behaved previously. However, instead of letting that destroy her, Yoko becomes stronger by realizing her mistakes and not letting her fear defeat her.

The other great thing about Yoko is that despite being utterly lost in this other world, she isn’t helpless. She figures a lot out on her own and, although it’s a skill bestowed upon her, Yoko fights off the demons after her by herself.

Here’s how the author of The Twelve Kingdoms series, Fuyumi Ono says she created the story and character of Yoko Nakajima:

Many of my readers end up writing to me and they often share their personal

Anime adaptation which I also recommend

problems. I was never able to write back to them, so instead, I wrote Sea of Shadow. As for the events that befall Yoko, I feel that all people end up experiencing, to a greater or lesser extent, the kinds of mental and emotional trauma that Yoko does as they grow and establish themselves in the world. – Fuyumi Ono (Interview with Tokyopop)

She can think and decide things independent of the influence of society or other people, is intelligent, and an equal.

Great example: Elizabeth Bennet from Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen

“Do not consider me now as an elegant female, but as a rational creature speaking the truth from her heart.” – Elizabeth Bennet

Elizabeth Bennet is her own person and not afraid to show it. She’s intelligent and witty and isn’t wholly concerned with marriage. She also “demonstrates her intelligence by acknowledging that marriage does not always bring happiness.” (College Term Paper) That’s part of what makes Elizabeth Bennet different to me compared to other heroines in romance novels, but that’s not all.

BBC adaptation which I highly recommend

Whenever I pick up a romance, whether it’s just my bad luck or a trend, the heroine rambles on about how she’s not worthy to have such a fine man, etc. While there is a point when Elizabeth realizes Mr. Darcy is a better man than what she first judged, she never wallows in feelings of inferiority. Even when they were picking at each other, it was an enjoyable banter of equal wit. Also, I appreciated that the two become friends first before it turns into a romance.

As for Darcy coming to Elizabeth’s family’s rescue, it’s a period piece written at a time when women would not have the financial power to handle that issue even if they wanted to. It just wouldn’t be realistic. Furthermore, the way Darcy handles it is not with a big ego and sense of superiority, but with love and a bit of awkwardness or embarrassment.

She plays an important role in the story (whether she’s the main character or not) and is not limited to love interest.

Great example: Hermione Granger from Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling

“Just because you’ve got the emotional range of a teaspoon doesn’t mean we all have.” – Hermione Granger

Hermione is a wonderful character. She’s not the main character of the series, but she holds an important spot in the story. (Can you imagine a Harry Potter without Hermione?) She is the last of the threesome to be introduced and is initially a bit conceited when it comes to her knowledge (because, let’s face it, Hermione could beat even that computer on Jeopardy). But soon she becomes one of the group and the real brains behind the operation. She’s also the only girl in the threesome, but that doesn’t make her the weak link nor just an object of awkward flirting. Sure, there is a bit of romance later, but the romance doesn’t become the essence of Hermione and consume her completely (Look! She still has friends!).  

As Kathleen Sweeny notes in her article Supernatural Girls, “Harry Potter provides a consistent storyline of cross-gendered teamwork that is not trivialized as flirtation. Harry not only encourages Hermione’s role in the acquisition of power–he depends on her.” Depend he does. There are key things that Hermione figures out and moments when Harry may have been lost without her.

She’s human.

All three of the examples above show a sense of realism that really anchors them in my mind as complete and strong. They all have aspects everyone can relate to and/or admire. None of them are superheroes in the sense that they are supremely better in every aspect than all the other characters and certainly, none of them are the weak female character that borders on ridiculous. Each has her own personality and her character is wonderful and able to stand on its own. I’d also like to point out that her strength isn’t necessarily physical or limited to physical strength.

These are what I would probably consider some of the most important factors in strong female characters and only three examples of female characters that reach this level for me. This is obviously all just my opinion so I would love to hear what you think makes a strong female character and/or who some of your favorite female characters are.

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On my never-ending journey in search of strong women to read about, fiction hasn’t always come through for me. Sure, they exist, like some kind of beautiful, fleeting dream, but these elusive characters (borderline myths) just don’t appear as often as they should. But with the easy switch of a genre at last this starved woman is beginning to find the satisfactory story she’s been looking for. Forget fantasy, bring on the fact!

The women of history; do we really know them? We met some of them in school, of course. Queen Elizabeth I, Marie Antoinette, Mary Washington, etc., but behind the dry pages of high school’s history textbooks lie amazing, daring women with lives that play out as well as any drama or romance. But unlike Pride & Prejudice‘s Elizabeth Bennett or True Grit‘s Mattie Ross, these women were real, starring in stranger than fiction lives!

For example, remember the story of the mysterious Chinese warrior, Mulan? Based on a poem about soldiers who later realize their friend from the army is a woman, the adventurous tale was brought to most of us through Disney. The pretty young woman who doesn’t fit in takes up the guise of a man and enters the army in place of her frail father. There she eventually finds comrades, action, and after her gender is revealed, comfort in herself.

Sarah Emma Edmonds

Now meet Sarah Emma Edmonds whom I met recently in Laura Leedy Gansler’s The Mysterious Private Thompson: The Double Life of Sarah Emma Edmonds, Civil War Soldier. At seventeen, this Canadian farm girl vanished to become Frank Thompson in order to avoid her father and an arranged marriage he had planned. Unlike Disney’s Mulan, Emma was unaided as she fled to the U.S. and made her own living until the Civil War began in 1861. Out of love for this country (and perhaps a large sense of adventure), Emma joined the Second Michigan Infantry.

For a woman who loved a good tale, Sarah Emma Edmonds’ life could beat even the best adventure novel, something so full of action, cunning, close calls, friendship, and even a bit of romance that it couldn’t have been made up half as well.

"Frank Thompson"

There are good, strong fictional female characters out there, but, if you ever get a bit tired of searching for those needle in the haystack girls, don’t pass up a good chance to get acquainted with inspiring and entirely real women. So, let me leave you with a quote from Emma, who was herself inspired by a fictional heroine as a girl:

“I felt as if an angel had touched me with a live coal from off the altar. All the latent energy of my nature was aroused, and each exploit of the heroine thrilled me to my finger tips. I went home that night with the problem of my life solved. …I was emancipated! And I would never again be a slave.”  -Sarah Emma Edmonds (The Mysterious Private Thompson: The Double Life of Sarah Emma Edmonds, Civil War Soldier)

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