Ideal Feminist Scenarios in Anime and Manga

My goal this week was to write about several anime and manga titles that I thought touched on various aspects of feminism across a variety of genres.  I picked a fantasy, a comedy, and a historical romance to 1) illustrate that examples of interesting and competent female characters do exist in anime/manga, and 2) to encourage critical investigation and discussion on the feminist qualities of a series.

‘Cause, really, anything can be discussed under the lens of feminist critical theory. Even porn.  Especially porn.

I was somewhat hesitant to write about feminism in the first place; that article just got me so annoyed since it seems that the writer was working from such a shallow view of feminist thought and behavior. Most of the feminist series that she cites have female characters that are warriors or fighters of some sort — which is great, mind you — but what about the rest of us females? Are we less feminist because we don’t carry swords or because we’d rather make cookies instead of fight in battle?

Anyway, instead of continue to nitpick, I thought I should actually write down for myself what types of feminist-positive scenarios I’d like to see more of in anime/manga. Feel free to chime in with your own examples and recommendations, since I obviously have not seen everything and maybe you have a series that you think fits my examples to a t.

Female characters should have an opportunity to form solid, platonic relationships with other male and female characters.
Inspired by K-On! but I think Aria is another great example of a series where all the characters have an opportunity to form strong bonds with others, regardless of their gender. I think there’s even the added bonus in Aria that there’s two generational sets of  friendships (Akari, Aika, Alice vs Alicia, Akira, Athena) as well as a mentor-student dynamic between the older and younger girls.

Obviously, Sailor Moon and other subsequent multi-member magical girl series also fit here well.

Not having a romantic relationship should be a viable and acceptable choice.
Believe it or not, I think this actually applies to a lot of female characters in shounen series. Robin and Nami are only paired up with one or the other Straw Hat Pirates in doujinshi and fanon, right? I don’t think neither have the time nor inclination for romance when there’s a lot of pirating to be done.

A female character’s competence should be strengthened, not diminished, because of her emotions and principles.
A good example of this is Rukia, way back when in Bleach when she had to be rescued by Ichigo from being executed (wow, I’m dating myself and the last time I cared about that series). Rukia, who was supposedly a genius soul reaper, was pretty much incapacitated because of her moral conviction and faith in the system. She really didn’t need Ichigo to rescue her, because I’m sure if she found out the truth what Aizen actually planned, she would’ve kicked his butt to the curb herself.

Maybe Erza Scarlet from Fairy Tail is a better example; she’s considered one of the strongest in the guild, despite having an emotional/romantic attachment to one of their arch-enemies.  They don’t think any less of her or condemn her because she actually has, gasp, feelings!

She should be able to make decisions on her own terms and with her own capabilities.
See: Card Captor Sakura, Puella Magi Madoka Magica, Revolutionary Girl Utena

Her physical appearance should not be an obstacle or barrier to her goals.
I feel this applies to all of the females in Princess Jellyfish, heck, I think it even applies to Kuranosuke. Twin Spica is another perfect example!

She should be allowed to flourish and to grow in a safe, encouraging environment.
Hagu from Honey and Clover was the first person that came to mind. Despite an semi-unfortunate childhood home, she was able to grow as an artist at the college and to find a supportive group of friends who care for her.

As I mentioned above, these are just a sampling of scenarios that the majority of anime/manga actually do include within their existing narratives. It doesn’t mean, though, that they all do. There are still a small handful series that are problematic, and that’s why it’s valuable to keep the conversation going. If we are able to see the problems in our entertainment media, then identifying and resolving them in our own lives should probably follow naturally.

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7 thoughts on “Ideal Feminist Scenarios in Anime and Manga

  1. I like your reasonable approach to the issue, Contemporary feminism often seems too taken up with rejecting the existing norms and forgets about those who are not at all interested in “sword swinging”.

    I find it good practice to emphasize the “do’s” rather than the “do not’s” in inter-gender dialogue, so I liked your list. On the other hand, I consider the last two points less essential to a fair portrayal than the preceding ones. There are plenty of people facing hardship because of their appearance and circumstances, Rather than avoid the topic, good fiction should probably show those people facing those difficulties while retaining their dignity.

    “should not strengthened, not diminished” <— the first not is a typo, I think?

    • Thank you! I really appreciate your comment. I didn’t notice the typo till I looked over it again, so I’m glad that you caught it.

      I think the last two points came out of situations in anime where I felt female characters would not have been fairly presented unless those were addressed. I agree with you that good fiction should show people with various backgrounds and how each individual deals with it. This list really was more of an exercise to ‘codify’ my personal definition of feminism, so I am truly glad that you liked it.

    • It’s not a perfect list, I admit, but in my mind, having the last point fulfilled would then create an optimal scenario to encourage feminist behavior and thought. I still subscribe to many of the points in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

      • I think it’s hard to say in absolute terms in a lot of these cases, so I think I get what you mean. In Hagu’s case, I see that she has certain things prioritized in a certain way, and given her circumstances, character and constitution, she lives a life that is already quite limited compared to a normal woman in her situation. I suppose in the end it’s just a matter of contextualization, because I see it both that she lives in that figurative, proverbial cage, but also has dudes who are sacrificing their ambitions and livelihoods to keep her doing what she wants to do. So that’s a very nuanced example, but perhaps because of that H&C can be a very enjoyable thing to read/watch.

  2. Just as important as being able to make decisions on her own terms, in general I think it’s important that female characters have goals they’re working towards. There are quite a few female characters who only care about getting a boyfriend and never give any consideration to what they want to do with their lives (Mizuki in Hana-Kimi comes to mind). And so many series only feature female characters who are rivals that I love when I find a strong female friendship in anime. Obviously, the girls in Azumanga Daioh and Nana come to mind, and I also like the friendship between Meiko and Miki in Marmalade Boy and Risa and Nobu in Lovely Complex – they’re really sweet and relatable.

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