Warning: Spoilers for Aquarion EVOL in this post
Amidst fears that a television series starring the matron saint of anime femme fatales would be mired in an inescapable well of sexism, Lupin III: The Woman Named Mine Fujiko manages to assuage those worries through extremely sharp characterization. Say what you will about nudity or Fujiko as an object of sexual desire, but the show makes it clear that they all have the skills and the smarts to succeed in their mutual world of thievery. Even if trust is at a premium (as is often said), there is no shortage of respect between Fujiko, Lupin, and the rest, and with mutual respect comes a sense of equality.
I’m not about to decry anime and manga as being polluted with unequal male-female relationships, as I can think of many examples to counter that idea, enough so that they don’t collectively turn into “the exception that proves the rule,” but this very idea of representing gender-egalitarianism has me thinking about what goes into portraying such relationships. For example, if a boyfriend and girlfriend each alternate being “dominant,” then is that “equal” or is it merely just multiple instances of inequality? Does breaking things down for comparison defeat the idea of equality between a guy and a girl by putting too much emphasis on haves and have-nots, or is ignoring it a bigger mistake?
As far as recent anime goes, the other show besides Lupin: Fujiko which has me really considering the concept of equality among opposite sexes is Aquarion EVOL, particularly that of Yunoha and Jin, the (literally?) star-crossed lovers who seem to have taken Pixiv by storm. Yunoha is an extremely quiet girl whose very shyness translates into her power (invisibility), and when she meets Jin (an enemy spy whose power is to keep others away), the two form a bond which gradually grows stronger.
Between Yunoha’s diminutive size in multiple respects (in a series full of toned and busty girls, her proportions are significantly more subdued) and her personality, Yunoha can seem to carry a potential problem that is similar, yet in a certain sense opposite to that of Fujiko in the sense that she can come across as the girliest girl, harmless and pleasant and easy to dote upon. Yet, despite the awkwardness of some of her interactions with Jin which can come across as her being dominated (notably the part where he tries to kidnap her out of love so that she can be the mother of his children and save his woman-less population from dying out), I don’t get that sense from their relationship.
While Yunoha can seem weak, and even her willpower and inner strength aren’t particularly impressive, Jin in many ways seems even weaker despite the basic idea that he’s an extremely skilled pilot and a deadly fighter. There’s something to his personality, perhaps a combination of naivete and extremely subtle yet numerous emotional scars, which make even his “domination” seem weak. In that sense, I find their relationship to be a very equal one, but in the sense that the two seem to grow to understand each other, a resonance between similar, yet complementary individuals.
One of the big ideas I keep running into when it comes to portraying a character well with respect to their gender is “the right to be a weak character.” By that, I mean how weakness (mental, physical, emotional, etc.) is generally thought of as a trait which makes one character “lower” than another, and which implies that their appeal is in their “lower” status, but at the same time that weakness can resonate on a more “equal” level with those who perhaps find themselves similarly weak. I think this is probably part of what makes arguments over moe so volatile, but let’s leave that for another time.
(Please don’t argue over moe.)