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Posts Tagged ‘Naruto’

images-63What are the things that are most important to women? Well, if you believe what the media shows, it seems we think of nothing but fashion and guys. My eyes were recently drawn to an episode of a spin-off anime of Naruto, following the comedic adventures of Naruto’s friend and comrade, Rock Lee and others in short, mini skits. This particular episode featured a skit about “a maiden’s battle” and depicted four of the major female characters of the series, Sakura, Hinata, Ino, and Tenten so, I decided to check it out. (For those of you unfamiliar with the set up in Naruto, ninja are commonplace and most of the cast, including the girls I’ve just mentioned, are skilled warriors who aid in protecting their village and perform dangerous missions. Yet, as I’ve written about in other posts, the female characters are often given more traditional roles.) Unfortunately, it quickly became clear that this skit was a cess pool of stereotypes.

In the ten to fifteen minute skit, there is a big sale going on at a department store, the kind where hundreds of people line up in front of the entrance before the doors have even opened, all prepared to charge in and grab the best deals. It is revealed in a scene with Tenten’s two male comrades that she has gone of to a “women’s battle” instead of training as she usually does. What’s this “women’s battle,” you ask? Yes, it’s braving the mob and competing with fellow women for the best bargains at the sale. We soon find out that Tenten’s fellow female comrades, Sakura, Ino, and Hinata have also come and even powerful women like Tsunade, who is the leader of the village. This extreme shopping trip is compared to a battle and the women use ridiculous tactics to try to outwit others in order to get what they want.

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I searched “shopping” and this is the kind of stuff that comes up. Look at how happy these white women are to be shopping!

So, what’s wrong with this? This is a comedy and I’m sure some people will think that I’m taking this too seriously. After all, while this is one of only a few skits I’ve seen from the show, it’s clear that all the skits play on the ridiculous. My problem with this skit is that the comedy lies in pure stereotyping of women. While the men train, the women participate in petty competitive behavior over a sale. Only one male character is suggested to be partaking in the sale while all the major female characters that live in that village are depicted along with the nameless mob of other shoppers who are depicted as women. By placing all these major female characters in this situation, it makes it seem like all women, no matter their different personalities, are drawn to “girly” activities like shopping. Not only that, but the characters and even the skit’s title verify that this is a “woman’s battle.” That phrasing bothers me beyond suggesting that mostly women show up to these things because to me it draws a line in the sand, so to speak; if shopping is specifically a woman’s battle, does that mean that serious things war, an actual battle, are supposed to be a man’s fight and some women just happen to be there as well?

There is nothing wrong with a woman who likes to shop. Even I like to do it sometimes. There is something wrong, however, with depicting only and all women shopping, especially in such a competitive fashion since that perpetrates the female vs. female stereotype as well.  While many cultures, including my own, label shopping as something women do and like to do, I’ll bet you there are men who like to do that as well. While this sale isn’t limited to clothing, in the United States, many stores will have huge sales on a day called “Black Friday,” just after our Thanksgiving Day and tons of men participate in that. And certainly there are some women who absolutely hate to shop.

Finally, as for this skit being a comedy, in this day and age when we’re trying to move away from stereotypes and be more progressive, wouldn’t it be more enjoyable for everyone to make fun of silly stereotypes like the ones I’ve discussed here? Anyway, if you’d like to see the skit for yourself, I’ve put a link to the episode it’s in at the bottom of this post. The skit starts after the second commercial break at the halfway mark. Watch it if you’d like and tell me what you think!

http://www.crunchyroll.com/naruto-spin-off-rock-lee-his-ninja-pals/episode-42-shino-loves-insects-tenten-fights-a-maidens-battle-610747

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Warning! Some minor spoilers for volumes 5-24 of Naruto!

Well, I’ve already blabbed about Tsunade and Sakura and how they unfortunately fall into some female character pit traps so, I thought it was about time I wrote something positive about the women/girls of Naruto. I don’t know about the rest of you Naruto fans, but when I think of the girls/women of Naruto I think Sakura, Hinata, Tsunade, and maybe Ino. But as I was writing last week, a character that I really never fully appreciated popped into my head: Temari. Remember her, the tough girl from the Hidden Sand Village that tags along with Gaara? She may not be the star of the female characters of Naruto, but she might just be one of the best representations in Naruto of what a good female character in shonen (boys’) manga looks like.

Art by Masashi Kishimoto

When Temari first hits the scene just before the start of a large-scale ninja exam called the Chunin Exams, by mere virtue of the fact that the group that she’s with is intimidating, she becomes a bit scary herself, but she fades into the background in the presence of her comrades (and brothers), Gaara and Kankuro. Kankuro comes off as the tough, scary guy who you don’t want to mess with only to be swiftly upstaged by the seriously blood-chilling Gaara. Temari, on the other hand, stands by coolly, occasionally offering her brothers warnings or plays referee. While her brothers do overshadow her in the beginning, her sit-back-and-bide-her-time attitude makes her look like the most stable of the three in comparison; Kankuro picks a pointless fight with a kid and Gaara ends up looking psychopathic. Temari’s rational and cool behavior also pays testament to what readers later see are some of her major strengths. Her first appearance also shows her as the fountain of knowledge that many shonen girls seem to be and she does do a little batting of the eyes at Sasuke, but she shows a bite to her character that sets her apart from characters like Sakura.

Temari really doesn’t get a chance to show off her skills until the later parts of the Chunin Exam arc. Readers get a hint of her strength when she easily defeats her opponent in a match that decides who goes on to the finals, making her the only girl to advance, but it is not until the actual finals that Temari gets to show readers what she’s made of. When she finally does, it’s an exciting match between her and the hidden genius strategist of Naruto’s friends, Shikamaru. I loved this match-up for two reasons: 1) It’s a match between a girl and a guy. Too often do story writers of all medias restrict women to go up against women and men to go up against men. No, it doesn’t always happen, but it’s common enough that I find the former scenario more unusual. 2) By pitting Temari against such a brilliant mind, it shows off her strategical skills as well. Despite Shikamaru’s muttering about how a guy can’t lose to a girl and a guy can’t go around hitting a girl, it ends up being an interesting match between two very keen characters.

Art by Masashi Kishimoto/Translation by Mangareader.net

Art by Masashi Kishimoto

 I want to stop here and bring up something up about Temari’s character: her ruthlessness. As Temari establishes herself, she comes off as tough and even ruthless toward many of the other characters. When I first read through the Chunin Exam arc of Naruto I wasn’t a fan of Temari’s because of that; however, looking at it now I actually like this aspect of her character. Temari has lived in a tough environment and, when all this is taking place in the story, she’s in the middle of a tough situation and Naruto and his friends are her enemies. (It would be strange to say the least if she had frolicked around, giggling and making friends with everyone.)  Temari is certainly not the only female character that takes on an antagonist role, but she’s the only one that returns as an ally to use her powers alongside Naruto and the bunch. This allows readers to see her toughness as an asset. Yet she isn’t one of those female characters we’re seeing more of in fiction where they end up feeling like the Terminator (aka a male stereotype) in a women’s body. She’s tough, but she’s also definitely a woman.

The other wonderful thing about Temari is she is the only girl so far to have successfully protected a guy in Naruto. Thank you, Temari! Because, seriously, if these girls are supposed to be comrades shouldn’t they be able to aid a comrade?

Interestingly enough, she comes to the aid of none other than Shikamaru who can’t help but make some remark about men and women. Temari has a few words to say on that matter as seen in the picture below.

Art by Masashi Kishimoto/Translation by Mangareader.net

Honestly, after I thought about it, how could Temari not join the ranks of my favorite shonen manga female characters? She stands on her own, undefined by the male characters around her, and doesn’t fall into any female character pit traps (if you want to know about some of those, check out my posts on Tsunade and Sakura.) She’s not the star of the show, but in the limited times she has appeared, Temari has managed to make a definitive mark amongst her fellow female characters.

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Warning!! Some minor spoilers for Naruto!

Art by Masashi Kishimoto

Naruto, Sasuke, and Sakura. Three names that are highly popular in the manga/anime community. These are the names of three characters from the ever popular series, Naruto. Naruto, the protagonist of the series starts off the oddball kid striving to gain acknowledgment, Sasuke begins as the cool and handsome type who excels at anything he tries, but has a certain darkness about him, and finally, Sakura…well, she likes Sasuke. Harsh, yes, but this is honestly the first thing we, as readers of the manga or viewers of the anime, know about Sakura. Well, that and that Naruto has a crush on her (even though Sakura wouldn’t give Naruto the time of day in the beginning).

But Sakura actually has a lot of potential. Similar to Hermione from Harry Potter, she is the brainiac of the bunch and she’s eager to let you know it, comprehending some concepts before even genius Sasuke figures it out completely. And while she doesn’t have the brute strength or any special skills (initially) like the guys, Sakura has good control over some of the finer, technical points of ninja training like chakra (a type of energy) control. (For those of you unfamiliar with the story, it takes place in a fantasy world filled with modern ninja.) Sakura teaches Naruto and Sasuke a few things, here and there.

Despite this, Sakura sits on standby through much of the first several volumes of manga. There are a few moments of glory (Sakura showing up both Naruto and Sasuke at training then essentially teaching them how she did it being the best one), but mostly, she gawks over Sasuke, snaps at Naruto, participates in some dialogues, and stands on the sidelines.

Art by Masashi Kishimoto

Sakura isn’t stupid though, as I’ve said. She knows she’s the weakest link and that Naruto and Sasuke end up being the heroes while she does practically nothing comparatively. She’s just along for the ride. In an almost palpable wave of depression, this dawns of Sakura accompanied by symbolic pictures of her watching the backs of her two comrades. Luckily, Sakura isn’t the type to wallow in despair and do nothing to change the situation. She decides to change; no more looking at Naruto and Sasuke’s backs, she’s going to walk beside them from now on and be a real asset!

Art by Masashi Kishimoto/ Translation by Mangareader.net

Finally, after sitting around uncomfortably for so long, her feet tingling with sleep, she moves somewhat awkwardly at first, but then with new-found energy that bursts forth spectacularly. Following these awakenings are beautiful times for Sakura, her real shining moments and the Chunin Exam arc of the Naruto series showcase a number of them. Protecting Naruto and Sasuke in a moment of crisis and taking on an opponet in a heated brawl of brains and brawns is one example. But while these moments are full of Sakura asserting herself, realizing new potentials, and allowing the readers to get to know her better, they are undermined ever so slightly for me. I say that because even though Sakura tries to protect Naruto and Sasuke (and it is truly intense), she ends up being protected. By the end of the Chunin Exam arc, Sakura is forced to play the damsel in distress more than ever before when she’s under the threat of being killed by another young ninja if Sasuke and Naruto don’t beat him. This kind of sequence of events (gaining power, playing a key part, but reverting back to leaving everything to her comrades) has repeated itself at least twice since the second part of the series began. It’s disappointing as a fan, watching her make a breakthrough, but having this remade Sakura yanked away just when I was getting excited.

Art by Masashi Kishimoto

The other thing that always disappoints me about the Naruto series is that, despite showcasing many times the power of friendship, friendships between females are unfortunately lacking. Sakura’s one female friend that is depicted is her rival in both love and profession and the two constantly fight. It seems their chosen greeting for each other is Ino (the friend) making some jab about Sakura’s forehead (because Sakura believes she has a large one) and Sakura calling Ino a pig. It is revealed that once Ino and Sakura were close friends, but when they realized they both liked the same boy (Sasuke), they changed to rivals. Now as a reader and fan of Naruto I understand that being one’s rival is another way of being a friend in the series, something that is discussed often about Naruto and Sasuke’s relationship, but Naruto also has a lot of normal friends who aren’t rivals, but just plain old friends. It would have been good to see friendship between girls instead of the usual jealousy depicted between girls. I think the other problem is main reason why the two became rivals. Fighting over a guy that doesn’t return either of their feelings just seems a little sad. While Naruto is jealous of Sasuke because he has Sakura’s attention, that is not the main reason the two boys are rivals. It’s true, girls can be mean to each other and fight over guys, but it would be nice if good friendships were shown in fiction because, believe it or not, it does happen.

Art by Masashi Kishimoto

Both of these scenarios undermine great potential that exists and Naruto isn’t the only manga that does this to its female characters. I’m speaking to women and men both when I say wouldn’t it be more interesting if female characters like Sakura could make that extra leap of faith and not depend so much on the male characters around her or if good relationships were shown between girls? If for no other reason, it would be less expected and provide new scenarios. As I wrote this, it occurred to me that another female character in the series, Temari is a good example. She doesn’t appear as often as Sakura and readers don’t get much of a chance to see Temari interacting with other young women, but she stands on equal footing with her male comrades and is not placed in such weakened positions as other female characters in the series. Sounds like I need to do a piece on her!

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(Read on; this title will make sense shortly, I promise.) I must admit, I’m a huge geek when it comes to manga. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, manga (mahn-gah) is the Japanese word for “cartoon,” but here in America it is more specifically associated with comic books from Japan. Americans commonly think only of big-eyed, cute manga girls, but it really ranges to every genre imaginable and some are quite sophisticated and complex. But as much as I love manga, it certainly isn’t the leading force in promoting strong, realistic women. Instead I’m often assaulted by the usual flimsy, submissive girl-next-door types, damsels, and sex kittens, all of which make me cringe in unbelievable frustration. All is not lost however. In manga and other medias of fiction characters are being pushed outside the cheap, crammed little box that is stereotyping and stronger female characters are popping up like refreshing daisies after a long winter.

Unfortunately, some of these characters start at hopeful buds and, as you will see in this article, bloom into…big boobs.

Recently, I’ve been running into female characters in manga that have all the potential to act as the powerful, admirable characters only to fall victim to heavy sexualization. Literally. These female characters are presented as tough, reliable in a pinch, commanding and are even, in cases, in very powerful positions in the story…and have breasts the size of melons on bodies as toned as Barbie‘s. Like over-sized, fleshy badges of power (that only undermine respect), these massive chests are worn proudly and openly and as often as possible. These are what I like to call “power boobs.”

Tsunade lounges in the background. Does that image say “respectable leader?”

Tsunade proudly shows off her power boobs.

Take Lady Tsunade from a well-known manga by the name of Naruto. In a world of ninja, she’s extremely powerful physically, one of the most skilled and knowledgeable in medicine, and acts as the leader of what is essentially a large, bustling community. She is also one of three of the most famous ninja in this fictional world and the only woman of the three. That is certainly a profile worthy of what I’d consider a type of strong female character. But she is also equipped with a chest that could give even Barbie a run for her money! They hang disproportionate and exposed for all eyes to see and see them we do (although at least the artist applied gravity). I looked up some statics on what Tsunade’s chest measurement would be and, although I never got an official source myself, the recurring number was 41.7 inches. To put that number into perspective, Barbie‘s notorious monsters would supposedly be a whooping 39 inch chest, an FF bra size. Ding! Ding! Ding! I think we have a new queen of topple-you-over boobs! Tsunade must be physically strong to hold up that amount of weight!

The skill it must take to wear that shirt all day without mishaps.

It is not that Tsunade has a big chest that bothers me per say. It is the body these mammoth-sized melons are on, a body that would never naturally have such a large chest. The result is awkward. Also, although it would be impossible to mask the unrealistic size, that fact is only accentuated by a shirt that acts more like a sling for Tsunade’s weighty luggage. This makes her acceptable to the masses that may not accept a realistic, strong woman and makes Tsunade just another woman with big breasts among the many in manga, certainly not a threat that pushes the limits of society.

Not only are people going to be unavoidably drawn to her busting bosom, but Tsunade is actually a 50-some-year-old woman who, through the use of what is basically magic, keeps the appearance of a 20-year-old. There are occasions when this magic wears off, however, and each and every time this occurs, Tsunade’s face is conveniently blocked from view so as not to ruin the beautiful voluptuous 20-year-old image that the readers are used to seeing. Now does that say she is to be known as a powerful woman or a sex object?

Tsunade when she really was in her 20s. Note that she’s not nearly as sexualized then (before she was a main character).

This is the animated version of Tsunade. Though she’s just as busty, her shirt does have slightly more coverage.

Don’t get me wrong; I am actually an avid reader of Naruto which I do believe has some fairly strong females (a couple of which are older women). And while I do have my beefs with what I feel are female characters that have all the potential to reach great heights only to be frustratingly held back, I do recognize at least an effort to introduce stronger female characters. I would also like to point out it’s not just manga that falls into this trap. Tons of top-heavy, stick thin female superheroes litter comics from Marvel and other American comics. It’s like women can’t have the power if they don’t have the boobs to match, as if the bigger the breasts, the bigger the amount of power or strength they are “allowed” because as long as these female characters are presented as sex objects, society will accept it. “Power boobs” are the literal embodiment of this weighting down of strong female characters and though many boys drooling over these page fillers may disagree, there are far too many female characters with “power boobs.”

(Stay tuned for more installments of strong female characters weighted down by heavy cleavage! I have a feeling it’ll be hard to miss.)

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