Self-Image and the Teenage (Anime) Girl

iwai

I know it’s a character design quirk, but I really want to give Iwai (and Mikasa, for that matter) a barrette so that they could pin their hair back. How could they stand to have their hair right between their eyes all the damn time? I only speak from personal experience — it happened to me all the time in sixth grade (when I decided to give myself bangs ’cause I thought it made me look cuter) and I swear I got cross-eyed staring at the stray strands of hair that always fell in my line of vision. Since then, I swore off bangs and have pretty much lived in a ponytail ever since.

Anyhow, there was a small moment in Red Data Girl this week that prompted this post: when Izumiko and Miyuki were studying in the library, Takayanagi strolls by and makes a little comment about Izumiko and her long her, and she reacts to this by self-consciously running her hands down her braids and looking down and away from him. It’s no secret that Izumiko has confidence issues, but even in this short meeting, with no words being exchanged between her and Takayanagi, she was able to communicate clearly her self-perception of her body.

I’ve written about adolescent issues in RDG previously, so the show’s treatment of Izumiko and her “normal” development in her not-normal situation has already primed my interest. Despite the supernatural phenomena occurring around her, Izumiko continues to live and act as a normal teenage girl. When she tells Manatsu that she’s not good at anything, she’s downplaying herself. She’s good at coping with stressful situations, bouncing back from events that would traumatize anybody else, and staying as resilient as ever. Of course, given that she’s focusing all of her energies in dealing with stress, she obviously doesn’t have the time to work on other hobbies and interests, so yes, she’s not good at a lot of things simply because she can’t. It’s also not just her — if you think about all the teenage anime characters, male and female, who’ve had to deal with their own brand of crazy situations, it’s a wonder any of them even leave their houses in the morning.

Yet, as a teenager, Izumiko isn’t proud of her amazing coping skills; she’s more worried about looking cute and blending in her new school. When Mayura changes her hairstyle for the first day of school, Izumiko follows suit, going without her trademark red eyeglasses even though she was warned by her mother never to go without them. Again, the rebellious streak returns and while it may not have been to smartest decision to go without them, at the time, Izumiko didn’t think it was going to be that bad. It’s dramatic irony that we know the significance of the glasses and that Izumiko doesn’t. In changing her outward appearance — with the glasses and the haircut — Izumiko is consciously altering her external image to match her changing self-image. Slowly but surely, she is growing up. And just as surely, she is making these small physical changes to indicate to the world (and perhaps herself) that she is no longer that little girl.

Which leads back to Iwai…prior to meeting Kiri, she had stopped going to school after being constantly bullied by her classmates for her appearance. In her case, her self-image was distorted by the idea that she was a freak because of her hair. So until the daily haircuts with Crime Edge, Iwai must have felt that there was no way to deflect or respond to the taunts and teasing. There’s no way hair could be that long! Something must be weird about her! In Iwai’s situation, the supernatural aspect is much more evident; she knew that she was cursed with this appearance and that there was no solution to fix it until Kiri came along.

With Iwai, the sense of hopelessness was more pervasive. The curse trapped her by removing her (sense of) agency. I was critical of her earlier — thinking that she was not confident enough to solve her own problems — but now I admit that I was wrong. The drawer full of scissors proves that Iwai’s problem isn’t for lack of trying. She didn’t stay in that situation because she wanted to, she stayed there because she didn’t know what else to do.

This is a topic that I think could write about forever. Shoujo series, understandably, cover this territory more frequently, but when series that aren’t primarily meant for girls also tackle this issue, it just goes to prove that it’s an situation worthy of notice. How anime presents a girl’s perception of herself is, in itself, something worth at least a passing interest.

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Anime Watching Log, Week 17

Natsume Yuujinchou San 05-13

You’d think after three seasons I would have a clearer opinion about this series. Nope. I like Natsume as narrator — I find his voice very soothing. At the same breath, I feel bad for him, getting chased and beaten up by the youkai all the time, needing a fat cat or one of his classmates/boyfriends to be his savior. Does Natsume’s ambivalence toward his relationship with the youkai correspond to my ambivalence toward this anime? He wants to help the youkai and be their bff, but it’s that same behavior which makes him look like such a weirdo to the rest of humanity. Though, at least this season he’s seen hanging out with his human friends more often. Maybe it’s easier in high school to be a little quirky or weird, which is why his muggle classmates don’t ostracize him as much when he was younger (whereas  little kids are painfully honest and harsh).

I do love it when Nyanko-sensei acts super protective of Natsume. I have a listicle idea for the “top 5 familiars in anime” blah blah, and Nyanko-sensei’s definitely one of the five. He’s such a greedy old man/cat pig, but then he sits by Natsume and changes the towel on his forehead. All my cat does is meow like a crazy thing at 6 am in the morning and sit on my right wrist when I’m trying to write a blog post.

Toaru Kagaku no Railgun 3-4 / Toaru Majutsu no Index 1

I can’t very well watch Railgun S2 without watching the first season, right? And while I’m here, I might as well start Index.

To even my surprise, I’m enjoying Railgun. A LOT. I find the music and the animation style incredibly appealing. Misaka is a fun character to watch (though more amusing in Railgun than Index, but you knew that) and Kuroko, who originally irritated me in the first couple of episodes, has grown on me. For Index, maybe I’ll need a few more episodes to figure it out.

Little Witch Academia

Really cute, if somewhat predictable story. It’s weird that they took the term “witch” literally, with the school being an all-girls academy and all. Is there a corresponding warlock academy then? I’d like to think this project came about as an offshoot from Madoka mania. I mean, that would be an awesome twist: little girl witches training in a school to be EVIL witches (or sorceresses/evil stepmothers) mwahaha. Certainly Susy the potions master has it in her to be dark and gothy.

 Fate/Zero 01-05

I can’t write about this yet, because I can’t believe it took me this long to get around to watching it. All I can say for now is that the boyfriend looked at me strange when I started making squee-y noises when Lancer showed up.

The Trouble with Monsters

Typical Haru, hurting her without even realizing it.

I’ve watched a lot of shoujo anime in my time. It doesn’t matter if it’s cliche or derivative, if it’s shoujo, I’ll give it a fighting chance. Maybe even more than that, actually. Remember how excited I was to see several shoujo series in last fall’s lineup? I had grandiose plans to write about all three of them regularly, but you know me and my unannounced blogging breaks… In any case, I wanted to write up a few last thoughts before jumping headfirst into the spring season and totally forgetting about those shows.

Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun was problematic from the very beginning, I knew that. I stuck with it out of misled loyalty to its female main character, Shizuku. I liked her — she was no-nonsense and unflappable. Even if she’s freaking out internally, you wouldn’t know it looking at her. Like many great poker players, she knows that revealing too much emotionally could cost you the game, and she’s too determined and stubborn to lose.

Enter Haru, unstoppable force to her immovable object. He enters with the force of a hurricane, disrupting her peaceful world and everything that she’s built up so far. He confesses that he’s in love with her, and then takes it back, only to repeat that cycle again. It’s one thing to be an adolescent in love, but in Haru’s case, it almost seems as if he’s using Shizuku as his emotional crutch instead of as an actual romantic partner.

In a romantic relationship, there is an expectation of a mutual give-and-take between partners. In Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun, it didn’t feel that way; Shizuku was offering more to Haru than she was receiving. Their group of friends came about because of Shizuku, even Yamaken and his friends warmed up to Haru because of her. Shizuku, despite her stoic reputation, was aware of the rules of society, and like it or not, abided by them. Haru thought that he could get through life punching and kicking his way in, failing that, he decided to stay at home and hide. When he found his new “in” back to society through Shizuku, he pushed his way in without consideration. How is that a foundation for love?

Of course, Shizuku isn’t exactly a perfect heroine either, that’s a given. Like Haru, she changes her feelings every two minutes, one minute claiming that he’s altered her worldview for the better, yet the next minute she’s doing a total reversal. As teenagers, this is typical and expected and maybe in their case, the flammable mix of hormones and feelings makes it difficult to process what role they want that other person to fill in their life.

Towards the end of the series, Shizuku mentions something about how she and Haru seem to be “out of sync,” like they can’t have the same feelings or be in the same mindset at the same time. I think that best sums up my dissatisfaction about their relationship in a nutshell. It’s bad enough to be the subject in a one-sided relationship, it’s possibly even worse to be the object of the one-sided relationship.

It’s also problematic for me how Shizuku and Haru don’t really share fundamental values: she’s extremely studious and focused on school because she wants to get a good job and succeed in the future, he doesn’t have those concerns. When he told her he loved her for the umpteenth time, he was genuinely surprised and displeased when she still chose her prep lessons over spending time with him. It’s just another example of them not being in sync, not just over feelings but goals. The classes are important to her — even at the risk of breaking up her relationship with him again, but he doesn’t seem to get it nor does he want to. In Kare Kano, Yukino and Arima were in the same situation, fighting to be at the top of the class, but even at their lovey-doviest, I don’t think Yukino ever yielded to Arima, nor did Arima ever ask Yukino to give up her competitive edge to play with him. Because they shared the same value for education, Yukino and Arima continued to challenge and support each other on the academic battlefield, which isn’t the case with Haru and Shizuku.

For a series that I didn’t love, I sure am able to write at length about it. That’s definitely one of the reasons that I keep going back to shoujo. Even if the stories are similar to something that I’ve seen or read before, there’s enough variation in the narratives to make it different. Shoujo deals very well with emotional choices and their repercussions — illustrating the same struggles that we all have to deal with each day. My frustrations with the story and the characters may help me make better choices for my own life, especially if their circumstances mirror my own. There are stories and characters that are difficult to like, much less love… and that’s all right. Stories are reflections of our reality, and not all of it is easy to like, much less love.

Female Power/Portrayal in Gargantia’s Dystopia

There’s been plenty of visual eyecandy in each episode so far, but the visual gimmicks that I love the most in Suisei no Gargantia are the sunburned cheeks and shoulders.  It’s such a small detail, but it makes so much sense; Amy is a courier, running and flying around, while Bellows works on salvaging machinery from the ocean floor. They’re out and about, so yes, they would be tanned and sunburned.

Other than a “throwaway” incident in episode 2, it appears that the females in Gargantia possess sufficient influence and agency as the males in the fleet. Bellows is respected and valued as a leader, Ridget appears to be the XO of the fleet, and even the pirates have their queen in Lukkage. Maybe I’ve just been reading too much young-adult fiction where they treat the women merely as breeding animals, but for a dystopia, that’s not too bad…

Of course, three episodes in may not enough time to provide a comprehensive worldview. These four women could just be the stand-outs, maybe all the other female crew do nothing but scrub decks and catch fish, who knows. And, as I mentioned, when the pirates boarded Bellows’ ships, one of them tore the top off one of her crewmates. Maybe it’s a throwaway incident, or maybe it’s just a way to emphasize how pirates continue to rape and pillage even in a dystopic sci-fi Earth; yet the fact remains that oppressive and chauvinist attitudes still persist.

The pirate empress Lukkage was an interesting addition to the mix. She’s dressed like a Carneval performer, has two female slaves in chains, yet operates a destructive mecha like a pro. (Though, really, it’s hard to take a mech called the Surfing Lobster that seriously.) Her defeat to Ledo, while inevitable and feeling more like a comedic effect more than anything, just drove the point across that he’s essentially undefeatable. Lukkage had a fleet of thirty pirate ships, plus submarines with underwater mecha; that’s not something that great boobs alone will get ya. Lukkage’s smart and wily and fierce. If there’s one thing I learned from One Piece, you don’t get to be pirate queen that easily.

There’s Something About Celty

image credit: デュラーーー!!! by アガハリ

In a cast filled with unique characters, one needs to have a special something to be noticed. Or maybe, like in Celty’s case, the lack of one.

I finally finished Durarara!! last weekend, and as I’ve mentioned before, one of the advantages of watching it well after broadcast is that having minimal knowledge of what the rest of the anime-blogging/watching community thought of this series. At the same time, hey, I’m not dumb — I know the fangirls love Shizuo and Izaya. They’re all right, but I wouldn’t call them my favorites. From the get-go, I was more intrigued by the trio dynamics of Mikado-Anri-Masaomi and I’m glad that the plot of second half of the series was driven by events centering around their friendship (yes, as trite as that sounds).

But what about Celty? There’s gotta be something about her that prompted me to write this blog post in the first place, right?

In the noise and chaos that is Ikebukuro, Celty is a familiar figure. She is the Black Rider, an urban legend in the flesh. A headless person clad in black who speeds along the streets on a motorcycle. Everyone in the city fears her, but as soon as she passes by, they all take out their cell phones to document their “close encounter” with her. It’s such an interesting cultural phenomenon of the 21st century: we all want to be there and to let others know when things happen, but we don’t want to get too close lest we get hurt in the process.

In a sad way, Celty is probably used to people being scared and running away from her. An early episode of Durarara!! explains the myth of the Dullahan, a Celtic fairy known to be a harbinger of death. Each time the dullahan arrives on the scene, people would probably start peeing in their pants in fear.  But in In a sense, the dullahan’s job isn’t that much different from the grim reaper or the angel of death: they only arrive on the scene when it’s the person’s time to die. They don’t show up otherwise. Maybe they’ll punish people who interfere or try to prevent death, but overall, the dullahan are neutral, non-judgmental beings who are only doing their jobs.

Somehow in the move from Ireland to Japan, Celty transformed into an entirely different being altogether. Literally “losing her head” did a number on her, but it unexpectedly brought about a ‘person’ who was more than her job.  With her head separated from her, Celty has lost her primary identity. Without her head, she has no memories of her life prior to Japan.  Though just as people who lose their eyesight in adulthood then learn to compensate with their other senses, maybe Celty losing her head was a good thing in that she then learned to think with her heart.

Okay, that was sappy, but hear me out: Celty the Irish Dullahan is not the same being as Celty the Ikebukuro Rider. In Ireland, Celty seemed to do things by rote; go to a village, call out the dead guy, move on. Whereas in Ikebukuro, without her head, Celty has more freedom to explore and to do normal things… like watch tv, play video games, or troll  chatrooms. In Ikebukuro, Celty (for lack of a better phrase) is more human. If you’re a supernatural being, do you really need to take showers and sleep? Possibly not, but because she’s been around people so long, it’s almost as if she is one.

So maybe that’s why it’s okay for now that Celty doesn’t have her head back. Maybe it’s a deliberate conspiracy that they’re kept apart. Without it, (headless) Celty has the freedom to explore and grow on her own terms, to have people to care for and who care about her, and  to experience what it fully means to be a person.