Created Equals

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.)

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5 thoughts on “Created Equals

  1. (Please don’t argue over feminism?)

    I think the bottom line is there are multiple interpretations to a lot of the stuff. I think part of what fascinates me in this overall discourse about gender and feminism and power in context of anime is how a lot of the times it is the viewer’s perspective that ultimately colors the conclusions the viewer find. So it’s easy to see how someone can see the same things and arrive at opposite ends of the scale. This is why when someone opens their mouth about “girl power” in this context I invariably will roll my eyes because I find their examples often as counterexamples to their own causes.

    Times like this I am more inclined to reach way, way back and look at the overall picture. Does the message reinforces societal norms for the respective genders? What are the roles these boys and girls, men and women, play in the story? Or among similar shows? How is this one show different than the rest?

    Of course, some of the more charming stories I’ve found in relation to this topic often is about how these stories can have a positive influence in the life of a real-life person. For example, like how someone can find the story in CLANNAD entirely uplifting and encouraging, because that person can take strength from the characters portrayed in the story into the viewer’s singular context, divorced from the galge roots, the moe connections, and the legion of Key fanboys that characterize the franchise. But in those cases I don’t think that person can’t speak for anyone but him or herself.

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    • That Clannad example is very much in line with what I was thinking of, because I know that it happens all the time. In that respect, it’s never my intent to take away the power of the viewer and the power of personal interpretation. After all, even within the context of just key games, I could see how someone could argue that Clannad is the least exploitative of them (and keep in mind I like the key anime).

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  2. There’s a SMBC cartoon strip that sums this up.
    http://www.smbc-comics.com/index.php?db=comics&id=2373#comic

    I think that is ultimately what happens once you frame any of these narratives, either personal or from media, within the word “feminism” or “sexist” or anything like that. And it is very much like what you’ve said, more power to you if you can find Catwoman or Poison Ivy or Queen’s Blade or Urosukidouji empowering or helpful to you personally.

    What’s more troublesome is the inverse case. Just because someone find something sexist doesn’t necessarily mean…it is? I don’t know.

    But yeah.

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  3. I thought at some point you’d mention the fact that both shows share the same head writer, Mari Okada. She seems to be one of the few writers in the anime industry who try to do innovative stuff when it comes to gender equality, like a female Yoji Enokido.

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    • Wow, that totally slipped my mind. Thanks for pointing that out. Maybe her work can put her in a position to inspire people in the industry as well, especially given how well-received her shows have been.

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