THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS
I remember when I was really getting into anime the one thing I always heard from people was how many more strong female characters in anime than there are in American cartoons. Now with several years of anime watching under my belt I wonder if I have just been lied to all these years. Is anime just like the rest of the media in the fact that it’s practically devoid of strong female characters? Do anime fans just cling to the few strong female characters and just ignore the rest of the sexism in the rest of anime? Am I being unfair in wanting more strong female characters?
When I started getting into anime, I don’t remember anyone promising anything. With the possible exception of some cool fight scenes. However, I do get the impression that the strong female character can be a draw to anime. Heck, I would even say I’ve said the very words that anime has more diverse and independent females. I don’t think it is necessarily wrong but possibly overstated. I think with the vast amounts of anime out there you are bound to run into really amazing, note-worthy, strong women. But is it really more prevalent than other media? As my viewing continues to expand, I find myself looking for strong females and questioning my initial views.
Also, a lot of time strong female characters seem to be male characters with boobs. I’m not going to complain too much about this fact because at least it’s an attempt. Sometimes male writers can’t get their head around the concept of female characters in general so their strong female characters tend to come off as just slightly modified strong male characters.
Sure, tons of females characters, obviously more prevalent in shonen anime, that are dudes wearing chick suits.
A prime example of this would be Major Motoko Kusanagi. It’s not that she is not a strong female character. It just seems that she’s basically a very unisex character with a pretty girl body. It can be argued that she occasionally displays feminine character characteristics but most of the time she is either a very masculine or unisex character. A lot of this can be attributed to being a full conversion cyborg but it still means she a rather unfeminine female character.
Two characters that come readily to my mind are Oscar, from Rose of Versailles, and her much later protege Utena, from Revolutionary Girl Utena. I would first like to point out that I love these characters. However, I have to acknowledge that while they are female, they really don’t desire to be. Without going into too much detail, these are two women that feel their strength is diminished by their being female and so to counter act this they cast off everything feminine. While they have vast back-stories that lead them to this, it doesn’t counter act their choices to try to be as masculine as possible. But, this doesn’t make them weak characters in the least. In fact, their perseverance through adversity makes them incredible.
I know for a fact that you can be female, have a feminine personality, and still be a strong person. So what makes anime filled with weak sissy moe girls needing to be saved by their big strong male protectors?
The real idea here, I think, is to find females characters that aren’t afraid of their femininity or sexuality. Characters that embrace being female.
IMHO Top 5 Strong Female Characters in Anime – The idea is to pick 5 Female Characters from Anime that are still feminine.
Nami – I actually suppose Nami can be seen as a derivative of Fujiko Mine and the strong female thief archetype in general but I really like Nami so she’s the one I picked for the list. Nami is actually a capable fighter in a shonen series! I admit she’s one of the weaker members of the crew but she is at least equal or greater than Usopp in fighting ability. She is not a physically strong fighter but she uses her head in a fight and I like that better than winning with brute strength anyway. Luffy might be the captain in name but Nami is often the acting captain of the straw hats as she’s one of the few members of the crew with any sense of responsibility or common sense.
Tohru Honda – Is a super girly girl but a strong super girly girl. She takes care of herself and the other members of Sohma family. She is the strong rock that helps the other members of the Sohma family with their numerous physiological problems. She also stand up to the rather vicious and nasty Akito with little to no help from other members of the Sohma family. She takes care of herself when she is homeless and supports her self by working while still going to school. Infact she often goes out of her way to help others even at cost to herself.
Tomoyo Daidouji – Is also very much the Japanese Yamoto Nadesico but is not a weak character like she could easily be portrayed as. She takes all the weirdness and chaos of Sakura being a Cardcaptor with a cheerfully unfazeable attitude. She is an unshakable rock for Sakura that supports her in all of her endeavors. Even when she realizes that Li is in love with Sakura she supports their relationship despite her own love for Sakura. Tomoyo is love!
Sakura – Sakura from Urusei Yatsura is a strong old soul blessed with a beautiful young body. Sakura tends to get a lot of gruff from the rest of the cast of Urusei Yatsura but she tends to give as well as she gets. She is a powerful Shinto priestess as well the school nurse at Tomobiki High School. She is very feminine around her fiancée Tsubame but she has to be tough around her male suitors who want to have her for their own. And in Urusei Yatsura there are more than enough men who won’t take no for an answer.
Lafiel – Lafiel is a strong willed heir to the throne and a capable spaceship captain. She often has to teach the non-space faring Jinto how the world of the space faring Abh operate. When she is in a leadership role she is a very no-nonsense leader but she has a softer side when she casually interacts with people outside of a battle situation. She rescues Jinto when he is imprisoned by a Baron whose outpost they stop at to refuel. She also forms a rebellion aginst the same Baron on his own outpost.
Five strong heroines that took me hours to pick out.
Faye Valentine – A gambling, beautiful, tough, bounty hunter. She holds her own as a strong, capable, albeit brash character in Cowboy Bebop. Her abilities with a gun and her skills at flying are valued as much as anyone else’s. She took care of herself for a long time and learned to trust no one. But the fact that this changes over the course of the series is really when she shines. I think her attachment to Spike in particular is very telling. In her final moments with him as he goes off to his death, she tells him the Bebop is the only place she can come back to. As she stands there alone in the hall, you see a woman’s heart.
Lacus Clyne – You don’t get much more feminine than an idol singer. But despite the first impression Lacus is both intelligent and skilled in politics. She uses her singing to help people forget the war around them but she herself does not forget it. She uses her influence to try to tell her people about peace. She defies her own government to help both Kira and Athrun and in turn helps to end the war. She is a pivotal character in the series, one that shows true love and compassion but is not afraid to face death.
Nausicaa – A nice thing about Miyazaki’s females, is that they are usual strong and hold their own. Nausicaa is no exception, she is a princess but also a warrior. Her devotion to peace and humanity is a constant narrative, as she works to help anyone in need while also trying to save her homeland. She leads her people, as a saint or angel, to fight against those that wish to take their way of life from them while also exposing how war is destructive no matter the reasons.
Arashi Kishu – Is a high-school student, as are many of the characters in X, with the actual weight of the world on her shoulders. She is also the hidden priestess of the Ise shrine. She she has a sword hidden in her left hand, she can definitely hold her own in these battles. She is one of the first to come to Hinoto and take on her role in the end of the world. She does this with purpose and stature. And while she is beautiful, she often comes off as cold, but this is melted throughout the series by Sorata.
Ahiru/Princess Tutu – While love is one of the central themes to this series, what starts out seemingly simple becomes a complex and dark look into the hearts of many characters. A fairytale flipped, and the hero is a heroine who is both elegant and klutzy. The prince is the one who needs saving and that is the task set before her. Princess Tutu is taking on the role that is usually played my a male, but she is absolutely female. She accepts her fate willingly and has a sense of duty despite her personal feelings and the realization that once her role is played she will no longer exist.
I was really disappointed that I had to rack my brain for two days to come up with five characters that I actually felt comfortable putting into the category of strong. Maybe I was being too picky? You know, Hisui said to me “well surely in all the shojo manga there has to be strong females, right?”
I had a slightly easier time but that is because I got to choose first. ;)
While this is not untrue, a lot of shojo manga are centered around love, and to say it simply, love makes everyone weak. Those are everyone’s weak moments, and sure it can make you stronger in the end, but the pursuit of love is really about vulnerability. So I don’t think they are weak, I think they are very average and human.
You do make valid points. Shojo tends to focus on romance. Romance is greatly aided by having characters be more real. If a character is not strong all the time it helps the writer make more plot (strong characters tend to have less complicated love lives) and it also make the character more relatable to most people. We like to look up to strong characters because most of the time we can’t be as strong as our ideals. A character that has our same frailties and fears is much easier to relate to.
But I feel that secondary female characters in Shojo manga could easily be stronger characters but often times there just the same as the protagonist. Maybe I’m being overly harsh (which I think I am) but I feel that shojo in general tends to portray girls as more vulnerable that it needs to. My question to you is do you think guys are just as vulnerable in shojo manga as the women?
If we are speaking strictly of the romance sector again, then usually no. You often run into the fantasy of being protected and rescued. You know, the guy coming out of nowhere just at the right moment to help the girl out. Since this fantasy is pretty prevelant in the minds of many women, its no wonder you see it portrayed so much. And maybe that is also why it happens in other genres and it’s one big vicious cycle. Women are complicated, bet you didn’t know that, they want both things. They want to be strong and independent but they also want someone TRYING to protect them. But so many times it seems like people forget the both part, but then again it’s not like the taste of men doesn’t come in to play also.
Also as we mentioned when we talked about this in real life you tend to read a lot of romance shojo. I wonder if other branches of shojo are any better?
Oh no doubt there are! I mean just looking at our own lists, Fruits Basket, X, Card Captor Sakura and Princess Tutu are all shojo stories. So, there are definitely smart and strong females to be seen. I had a few that I was thinking about that I didn’t put on the list even. Besides, I can’t actually claim to have watched or read all the shojo there is.
At the same time, school life/romance stories don’t give me enough of a picture of the characters many times. If there isn’t an over lying plot, other than getting the guy/girl, it’s hard for me to judge the characters. I feel like it’s just a short period of time and a small snapshot of their life. Whereas something with an epic plot seems to push characters to their potential and show me exactly who they are.
I hear what your saying. Your going to get a greater chance to get strong characters when their character is being tested. But even in epic fantasy and drama you tend to get the girl character that have to be saved by their big strong man (I’m looking at you Miaka).
Oh no doubt! I don’t think we can even count how many females like that appear in anime. Often women who start out strong just end up being kidnapped and rescued constantly.
The main problem with any conversation about broad generalizations of anime and manga is that we only see a fraction of the anime and manga that comes out in Japan. I wonder if we could speak and read Japanese would our opinions be any different. I mean there are whole genres of manga that don’t get localized or fan translated. Are there treasure troves of strong feminist material we don’t know of? I have a feeling that’s not the case but the possibility still exists.
I guess all we can do is support the titles that have good strong female characters and hope they make more.
Welcome to the NHK is the best manga ever!
Hisui really wants to get punched in the face!
Listening to Dive in the Sky