I attended an excellent panel at Sakura-con last weekend about Sexism in Fandom and Geekery. The panelists quickly covered sexist imagery and in comic media and video games touching on how the portrayals that we have come to expect can perpetuate bad tropes or oversexualize otherwise good characters. Then, the conversation shifted to personal experiences and the panelists both shared their experiences and opened up the floor to discussion.
It really excited me that the panel room filled. This is a conversation that people are eager to have and I’m optimistic that this interest can lead to some in depth discussions and change. There were few trolls and the atmosphere was genial throughout, so I’m really getting stoked to deliver this panel at Otakon.
That said, here are some things that I am interested in adding to a version I’d give:
Focus on the importance of allies - Probably the strongest piece of literature I’ve read on this is “No Flat Girls Allowed” which drives home what should be expected of allies and how every member of the community needs to stand up to bad behavior if we want to foster a welcoming environment.
I really want to be a little more vocabulary heavy. The talk about Bayonetta and Amanda Waller was a good initial example, but I think I’d personally like to show some more common imagery to anime. There is plenty worth talking about within this medium that most of us consider commonplace
I really want to talk about cosplay. It came up briefly and continues to come up. The two articles I wrote here are worth exploration, ESPECIALLY in the presence of actual cosplayers (okay, maybe I just want to pitch for a slutwalk at a convention?).
Conceptually, I think anime fandom deserves a 103 or 201-level class in feminist ideas, since the fandom is pre-gendered in many ways and that requires a more nuanced approach. These are just some ideas that I am getting down while I turn over this panel in my head. Any thoughts from the peanut gallery?
The Incredibles feminist review overall rating: 2.5 stars (see bottom for detail on rating)
I don’t know what it is with Disney having really blatantly off-putting statements in their beginnings and endings these days (oh Tangled proposal…
all i want to add to this is that 1, i agree with the second commentary, NOT the first, and 2, Helen/Elastigirl had a best friend, from whom she borrowed the jet. he was ultimately cut from the film because his story line added too much to the overall running time. and no, her friend wasn’t a female, but not all women have female best friends. you can just hop off of Pixar’s nuts and enjoy a movie everyone in the family can watch and appreciate, and when you write and produce a feature length film that doesn’t offend anyone, please give me a call.
I might eventually get around the responding to the earlier criticism this reblogged, although it was long and badly formatted so I’ll probably put it off for a while. But in response to this one:
your logic here for why I shouldn’t be writing about this doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. If she had a friend, but he was cut from the film, then that isn’t a part of the film I would critique, because it’s not a part of the filmand we end up with the same end result: her friendships/outside relationships are not seen as “as important” to include (which is not singular to this movie, but an overall trope found with mother characters in film). Otherwise, this would be like me saying “Inception had a good ending, I like that it was ambiguous!” And then you reblogging that saying, “NO ACTUALLY, they originally made the ending clearly a dream but decided that didn’t work with the pacing of the film/distracted from the overall plot.” Again: it’s not a part of the movie, not a part of what audiences are seeing, it’s something that was intentionally removed from the movie, so it’s not really relevant.
Again in comparison to Inception and why the second point doesn’t work out so well: if I said to you, “Leonardo DiCaprio did an okay acting job for x, y, z reasons, but I think he did better in _____ film,” would you say to me, “LISTEN, you are not allowed to critique his acting abilities until you have becoming an actor and have acted better than he has in a major motion picture. Until then, shush up and ‘hop off his nuts’.” Of course you wouldn’t say that- because I am a blogger, not an actor- and not a film producer who has millions of dollars at hand to produce a better, less offensive movie.
Whenever people start to get huffy feeling over film criticism, I would just caution them to remember: The character of Ariel in The Little Mermaid was crafted directly in response to feminism and general criticism of the passivity/underdevelopment of their earlier female lead characters. Think about what life would be like, without the song Under The Sea. Criticism isn’t bad in its many forms- in fact it can often, collectively, help companies/individuals/whatever improve what they are doing. Noting the reasons something is potentially offensive or problematic isn’t condemning the Pixar studio to die- it’s challenging them to do better.
[TW: I am out of my depth on some of this more subtle trans* and gender stuff, but don’t mean to offend. This post is me sorting through my thoughts. You have been warned]
I continue to be intrigued by Masasumi Honda (from Horizon on the Middle of Nowhere), but as I have NO real grounding in trans issues to speak of, I have been keeping my mouth shut. But I still want to talk about zie.
So, the quick run-down of the character goes as follows: Masasumi was slated to take over zir father’s position as head a the Masasumi family, a powerful clan of retainers to the feudal lord of Musashi. In preparation for this, Honda started sexual reassignment surgery before the lord—in a move that no one understood, dismissed all his vassals. Honda was stuck, mentally prepared to change genders for the good of zir family and halfway through the physical transition.
For most of the series, Honda appears a sprung trap—so far as the audience is concerned. We know she’s a girl, biologically, but she wears a make school uniform and makes little or no issue of zir gender. This fascinates me, as most of the cast acts on Honda assuming that zie is a guy, and zie does nothing to dissuade them. In many ways it seems like zie has assumed the role that was denied: male scion of his family.
Of course, at the end of the show, zir’s assigned sex is revealed and zie acts in a feminine way: blushing, screaming, acting embarrassed, and is encouraged to adopt a female identity. I am a little confused by this whole line of events. It’s unclear (nor made issue of) how Honda identifies. The cast seems accepting, as they don’t spurn or admonish zie, but it seems they’re more interested in zie choosing her assigned sexuality?
Truth is, I have no idea what I watched. Honda’s gender was made a note of and brought up again at the end. I wanted to write something about it, but have no coherent thoughts because I just don’t understand all the sides of this issue. Such a fascinating (if brutal) idea for a character. I am going to assume it was handled poorly because the rest of the show is so over-the-top, but why make Honda a main character? Why add this wrinkle?
SO. I’ve joined the intellectual and charming aniblog “The Untold Story of Altair and Vega”. They were mostly interested in my work here on waifuz (which flatters me more than I little), so I am going to start writing longer things for them.
What does that mean for this little slice the internet? Not much at the moment. I will still probably post shorter things and interact with the tumblr SJ and anime communities.
In the mean time, check out the rest of Altair and Vega. It’s full of interesting perspectives.
Mostly because it’s true. I don’t understand how these men can just give up liking a voice actress just because she has a boyfriend and start calling her a slut basically. “my Azu-kyun isn’t pure!” fucking hell, are you pure? The idol culture within Japan really sickens me. I know I should chill because Bakuman is fictional but I know this happens and it’s awful.
[A short, brown haired girl stands in a pink kimono with purple obi, her eyes closed with blooming white flowers against a blue background. Picture from http://randomc.net/]
So, Chihayafuru is on it’s way to being in my Top 5 anime. It’s gonna push out K-On!! and cause me to re-think how I order the list. It’s just that good. Chihaya forms much of the core of the series’ appeal, but my preference for secondary characters has me fascinated by Kana Oe and her charming mother.
Kana joined the Misusawa Karuta Club to indulge in her love of classical poetry (Karuta is a game that centers on 100 famous poems from Japanese history) and classical apparel. Her mother owns a kimono shop and the Oe ladies have conspired to make the formal dress into the uniform of the Karuta club.
The message really hits home in episode 18 when the show takes time to focus on Kana’s bearing and performance on the Tatami when in traditional garb. The sequence is fascinating. The normally reserved and defensive girl is aggressive, precise, and flawlessly graceful. And her mother opines:
Chihaya-chan is very beautiful, but she’s beautiful no matter what she wears. Kanade isn’t necessarily beautiful, but she knows how to use a kimono.
The change that comes over Kanade is immense. Her meek manor evaporates and she replaces it with a fire that makes her a formidable opponent on the tatami. This transformation struck a deep chord in me. One of the accusations levied against feminism from time to time (usually by people who’ve not taken time to understand it) is that they’re against the feminine. That we don’t want girls and women to wear pretty clothes and act demure. That’s patently false. I’d never take that from Kana, who shows her true self most in traditional clothing and sporting traditional mannerisms—all of which are heavily gendered. When she says “my obi supports me”, there’s a vein of defiance and pride that raises a shout from me instead of coos of appreciation.
For this young girl, the grace, poise, and poetry of these classical women forms a central inspiration. She wants to live a life full of passion and fire while exuding proud elegance. It doesn’t matter what her dream is, seeing Kanade pursue it should make us all happy.
I really got into manga in high school. I spent my days sitting in the back of Spanish class reading Nausicaa, Dominion Tank Police, and Ranma 1/2 and using my quick wit to pass the conversational activities without any prep. It’s in this time period that I came in contact with Battle Angel Alita (known as Gunnm in Japan) and have been fascinated with it ever since.
Alita (who goes by Gally in the Japanese version) belongs to a list of complicated and capable heroines that dominate the manga I love and a more interesting subset of cyborgs for whom gender is wholly divorced from biology. Alita has even more bodies than Matoko Kusanagi*, some little more than vehicles with humanoid form (her Motorball body, for example), so the question bears asking what makes her female?
[A girl with shoulder-length black hair and silver highlights under her eyes looks at the reader. She is saying “I believe that I am human. That is all the proof you need”, Battle Angel Alita: The Last Order Volume 1]
Kishiro’s gender politics are pretty straightforward on some fronts. Alita’s combat-focused jobs (hunter warrior, motorballer, and time as a “Tuned”) put her in spaces dominated by men with a thirst for violence and excess of pride. In all these cases, the intrepid Alita defeats bigger, more powerful opponents mainly with the help of a martial art designed to fight bigger, more powerful opponents**. But beyond that, Kishiro doesn’t really play favorites. Alita’s vulnerability and sensitivity make for a good hero as much as an accurate portrayal of a woman. Moreover, she gravitates towards employment that involves the use of her combat skills and is not really, by nature the nurturing type (arguments could be made that she’s that way towards Koyomi, but it’s a stretch). So where does her sense of gender come from if it’s not signified in a “traditional” manner through characterization that would be incompatible with everything else Alita is?
Her subconscious. As we learn in Last Order, she believes herself to be female. When her body is given shape by the workings of her brain (the Imaginos body), she chooses to be female. For Alita, knowing who and what she is serves.
Others’ perceptions of her. Figure finds her attractive, most of the motorballers underestimate her, the regulars at Bar Kansas are smitten with her. In many ways, it matters more to her observers that she is a woman than to her. For Alita the path she walks through life is vastly more important than her gender.
I think this is one of the reasons why I find her a delight to read. No matter how picked on or dismissed, she’ll fight for what she believes in. It was refreshing to me that while being a tiny, adorable octo-lips, Alita spent most of her time focused on the bloody and violent path ahead.
* Okay, okay. Makoto ARAMAKI has like a billion bodies, but she’s a distributed machine intelligence merged with a human consciousness, so I think she’s a special case and not the original Major.
** I refuse to call Panzer Kunst deus ex machina when talking about a series that has at least two machine gods.
I love Kurogane for his copious use of screenshots and clever asides. The blog itself uses some problematic otaku language (“rape face” is pretty common), but overall a good, standard commentary on the week’s airing shows.
Why I’ve linked this post however, is that it provides a good example of the different types of fanservice. Notice the difference between the shots of the dudes at the top and the ones of the ladies at the bottom.
"The Arrow" is a reference to this post which is ostensibly about the FedEx arrow, but actually about social justice issues in fiction. I am bringing it up here because I think that my awareness that the arrow MIGHT exist (although I don’t see it in every case) makes me reluctant to hold up many of the female characters I love as good examples of characterization. I worry mainly because I fear that I fall into a trap of privilege. That I don’t see the arrow in this case just means I’m another clueless white dude.
At the same time, I feel that taking a stand on alternate interpretations opens both an opportunity for good characters to be highlighted AND a discussion of where maybe they fell short. So, with that in mind, let’s talk about Iria.
[A Red-Haired girl in a poncho is shouting into the camera. Image courtesy of Anime-Planet]
Disclaimer - I love Iria: Zeiram The Animation. A lot. I owned it on VHS. I own it on DVD and will buy it on BluRay if it comes out before I get the version I can download into my brain. Iria is capable, fiercely independent, and a crack-shot. She also looks fantastic in a cat suit, but the OVA doesn’t seem to make much of a deal of it. But what I really love about the whole thing is how well the plot maps onto her development as a character. She starts out as a callow and overconfident apprentice bounty hunter only grow into a brave heroine capable of saving the galaxy from a nigh-unstoppable monster by the end (spoiler: she wins).
For as long as I remember, I attributed her emotional development and insecurities to her circumstances: Her only brother dies within the first episode, leaving her alone in the world, facing a terrifying creature. She struggles to find her footing in the way that many of us do when we become adults. Are we doing it right? Can I use these things I’ve learned when the real world calls for action? When she balks during the middle portion of the OVA, it was clear to me that it comes from the trauma of seeing her brother’s face again after watching him die.
To me, NONE of this was gendered (not to say that gender isn’t a part of Iria, but I read it in a different manner). Iria’s moments of emotional weakness stemmed from her trauma not from her extra X chromosome and they make her character arc MORE enjoyable than if she had been a wooden, stonefaced killer. What we have here is good characterization. Aided by some gender considerations, but in the end I feel that a male character who acted in the same way would be just as interesting to watch (see: Naruto). So, for me: No Arrow.
That said, there is a gendered interpretation which I find valid and instructive. There are two pieces. First, the piece that I openly agree with is that her gender does come into play in her need to prove herself. Operating as a woman in a male-dominated (assumed? The three other bounty-hunters we meet are male, but that does mean that there isn’t parity? damn my patriarchal programming!) profession possibly drives her to out-perform her peers. The second piece is more subtle: That she’s ALLOWED this complex and engaging development BECAUSE she’s a woman. A male character would have to set his jaw and act stoic. Because women are have emotions (according to traditional gender roles), she can take time to reflect and do target practice, or balk when Zeiram calls her name in her brother’s voice. And while, true, maybe this illustrates an overarching inequity in characterization I would point at it and say, “why?!” Let the men cry a little, it will help those of us with feelings empathize.
So, this post isn’t JUST an excuse to show a confession about Tamaki (although I love Tamaki). What I really want to talk about is asymmetrical objectification. See, shoujo anime has, thanks to its root in shoujo manga (yay Tautology!) supposedly represents the feminine view and therefore should contain healthy doses of objectification and sexualization just like comics for dudes, right?
Yes, well… Kind of. See, David Willis gets HALFWAY there in his brilliant send up of gender roles on Shortpacked!, but doesn’t follow through by demonstrating how characterization and the “gaze” of the work contribute to objectification. And here, the tropes that indicate the work’s pedigree as shoujo (manga for girls) actually eschew the kind of degrading sexualization that women receive in many shounen (manga for boys, see Fairy Tail, for an example).
Ouran provides a particularly good example, because unlike, say, Kaichou wa Maid-sama (which has a completely DIFFERENT set of problems) the boys here are appealing, but not objectified. All five guys are “built for speed” as Amber of Shortpacked! put it and they all have large eyes (true of all anime, of course, but again, if you compare Tamaki Suoh to Takumi Usui, you get what I’m driving at), but the devil is in the details and this time, it’s the poses. See, when Tamaki rushes in to save Haruhi, or Mori mugs for the camera shirtless while chopping wood, what we see is men doing and our admiration for and attraction to them comes from displays of bravado/strength/competence. Contrast this to panty shots of fallen girls or pans over them in their swimsuits on the beach and you’ll see where the problems lie.
True, Ouran offers us plenty of fan-servicey spreads when we introduce the boys in their costumes, but it still adheres to the unspoken rules of male sexualization. Notice that the butler outfits and kimono from the garden party show very little skin in comparison to the short skirts of maid cafe employees.
SnippetTee on Yi’s blog. The article points out a “biologic” model in the reverse harem which I had never considered. Sippet points out an interesting example of the kyriarchy as it relates to reverse harem anime.
“Out of the otaku population, female otaku have the most spending power, which is one of the reasons why you see an increase of boy love publications and anime featuring good looking guys.” - Danny Choo on CNN GeekOut
Over the past couple of years, I have noticed that things were changing in the anime/manga world. There were more and more titles that seem to have attractive male characters. Even though “moe” series targeted towards males are still running rampant, the anime/manga world has been filled with titles (such as Blue Exorcist, Naruto, BLEACH, Gintama, Black Butler, Katekyo Hitman Reborn, Bakuman, Axis Powers Hetalia, and Tiger & Bunny) that have a variety of male characters for female fans to swoon over. Especially females who are into yaoi and boys’ love. This has led to the rise of the fujoshi, a community of fangirls that has the power to shift the gender balance for the better. Some male otaku have felt threatened and intimidated by the fujoshi, but this is just another example of how strong the purchasing power of women is despite the state of the global economy.
You really need to read the whole article. At the beginning Tony really builds a strong case for the fear-driven divide between anime fandoms. Here, the idea that what comes out/is published is zero-sum preys on the fears of male otaku in the same ways that idea that gender equality is zero-sum gives rise to Mens’ Rights Activists (MRAs) in the non-anime world.
I find it particularly interesting that anime fandom has—in perception—divided along the lines of moe versus yaoi and never the twain shall meet, since deep down, we are all anime fans. AND many of the shows operate under the same set of common tropes (here, my assertion would be better supported if I’d gotten around to watching Kimi to Boku, but I suspect that this is the case given what I know about Hetalia).
I think the vast appeal of Gintama shows the supposed dichotomy of fujoshi-vs-otaku exists on a more complicated spectrum. Gintama is a core JUMP title that mercilessly skewers ALL parts of anime and yet also appears to be a an important BL-shipping work. As a result, I think it’s fair to argue that the rise of the fujoshi doesn’t signal the end of fandom as we know it.
[A Pink Haired girl with pigtails looks into the camera wearing the burgundy blazer of a school uniform. Picture via Anime-Planet.]
Or: I am not a Prize to Be Won
Was that a subtitle that gave me an excuse to link to Feminist Disney? You bet your ass.
So, I got into it a bit with the guys over at Beneath the Tangles about Inori’s role in Guilty Crown. This was awhile back, but my complaint remains the same: Her role in the plot is as a jar. I bring this up now because the most recent episode has elevated her from an unfortunate main character in Shu’s coming of age story into a full-blown plot token. And I think this angers me.
To catch all the non-watchers up to speed, the basic shape of the plot is as follows: Shu Ouma lives in Japan that exists under military dictatorship designed to contain a strange virus released on “Lost Christmas Eve” about five years prior. Due to a strange series of events, Shu comes into possession of something called the “Void Genome” which grants him a mysterious power that a terrorist group called Undertaker wants him to use to help liberate Japan. With me so far?
The power known as the “power of the king” allows him to use “voids” that exist inside of people younger than 17. These voids are objects that represent the deepest fears and inner desires of the person from whom they are drawn.
Which brings us to the problem with Inori. Like many of the characters in the show, she currently has a mishmash of interesting traits banging around: She’s well-trained in firearms, she’s a pop Idol, she’s bad at cooking. But she’s also 1. painfully quiet, and 2. her main use to the story is her way over-powered void.
We’ve had ample opportunity to learn why Shu likes her and see how he feels about her, but what we know of Inori is very little and most of it inferred. So, when she’s abducted at the end of the eleventh episode, the audience empathizes more with Shu’s plight: That Inori has been taken from him.
From where I sit, this development reinforces Inori’s primary role as a jar, less a leading lady and more a prop. True, there’s lots of interesting other plot-related chaff flying around, but Shu’s relationship with his father and the conflicts surrounding GHQ and the Undertakers were plenty interesting as it was. Moreover, the show now needs to walk a fine line if it wishes to provide good characterization to Inori and still close out its other threads (there is only so much time to devote to her versus Shu versus everyone else).
These characters were plenty interesting as they were. Reducing Inori to a plot token via her capture all but eliminates her potential development and all of her agency (although, maybe this whole thing is Magic Knights Rayearth?). This development is both unoriginal and unfair to the series female lead.
thepatches asked: I’d be really interested in how Mattie defends herself at this point. I’d love for you to post on her column with these criticisms. ;) That said, I am leery of critique that doesn’t come with evidence. Mattie uses the text of the game to build her case, so dismissing it as invalid because “she doesn’t understand” without evidence seems unfair to her.
be thankful you dont have to leave where they cut off your power randomly in the middle of night （；￣ェ￣） now to type all that again, first i dont like posting randomly, i replied because i followed your blog. secondly implying my critique is invalid and unfair because i didnt quoting and dissecting from a buch of otome games blogs is well pretty dismissing imo. if you have enough interest just take a look at that tumblr, you’ll see the evidence. i’m not blaming you if you dont though, as i wont touch yaoi blog with a pole either. but then that is why i keep quiet and collecting opinion until i know the gist. then there is the problem of choosing subject as well, would you play a game from the 90s to analyze modern game trend?
I would like to point out that zie’s probably right that my support of Mattie’s article comes from a stance of ignorance on the state of modern Otome games, so I overstepped. Oh well. I will limp forward with this remaining foot.
Hopefully, I can get you all some half-formed drivel on Guilty Crown before I leave for a short vacation.
"Maybe this game hints at changing the structure in an attempt to figure out what women want in a dating sim? On the other hand, perhaps it’s a serendipitous product that shifts the agency and game away from the player in favor of the suitors? Either way, this prompts an exploration as to how dating in games would differ for women, or if the current method is appropriate for all genders."
It turns out, I feel that Mattie Brice is kind of brilliant.
The brilliant tumbler feed Women Fighters in Reasonable Armor has inspired me to add my two cents to the discussion.
Why does my opinion matter? I’m an armorer. I make actual armor that people wear when they hit each other with swords. When making armor I have to strike a balance between comfort, protection, range of motion, and appearance. My experience has made me more than a little opinionated on the subject of fantasy armor.
I intend to set the internet straight. See below for how to do it wrong, how to do it right, and why you might care.
[A pink-haired girl keels in a Japanese bath, looking into the camera, picture provided by cassiesheepgirl]
[TW: references to sexual assault]
Now, we come to the second half of the problem with breasts: The idea that women are obsessed with them. While the scene referenced above has all the assault-y overtones of the one referenced in my earlier post it’s also upsetting because it’s part of a larger trope that’s so common an unimaginative as to proceed in the same manner each time.
"As fans, sometimes we need to remember that the things we like don’t define our worth as people. So there’s no need to defend them from every single criticism or pretend they are perfect. Really loving something means seeing it as it really is, not as you wish it were. You can still be a good fan while acknowledging the problematic elements of the things you love. In fact, that’s the only way to be a good fan of problematic things."
Got this from pax_valkyrie’s tumblr. It so completely sums up how I’m starting to feel about anime. The more I learn about feminism and kyriarchy, the more it seems like I am of two minds when I watch some shows (Ben-To, I’m looking at you), but it doesn’t mean I don’t love them.
The Proliferation of Panty Shots - this is deplorable, but part of the landscape. We all know it’s awful and whining about it seems a waste of time.
Unrealistic Body Proportions - These are cartoon characters. I understand that images can give people unrealistic expectations for their bodies, but for real? Have you SEEN Lucky Star/Manabi
So, since this blog is primarily a learning exercise for myself, I am reserving the right to rescind statements I made earlier. When I originally posted this, my interest was to prevent the blog from becoming a laundry list of sexual objectification in anime. Were I to point out the transgressions of every harem or ecchi show there would be no space for interesting examination and frankly, I’d get bored.
But I do think that these portrayals for anime women deserves some examination if only as a way of bringing to light their toxic consequences if they are taken as “normal”.
(Four young women stand in a line in bright military uniforms. The girl on the left, a blonde is saluting, picture courtesy of anime-planet.com)
Part of the problem that popular media has with balanced portrayals is baggage. Not luggage, that’s a problem I have with airlines (okay, that was cheap, but it felt good, so I went with it). As a result, shows set in alternate pasts need to adopt elements of the societies they ape in order to be recognizable and those requirements bring along socially-determined gender roles.
Mad Men, gets acclaim for this approach so it feels fair to lavish praise on works that operate in the same (loosely defined) paradigm. On that note, I’m going to talk a little about Sakura Wars (which is really an excuse to write about Taisho Baseball Girls at some point in the future, but more on that later).
Set in an alternate version of the 1920’s, the Taisho government recruits six unique women to fight the growing menace of demon attacks in Toyko (Edo?). While by night or in an emergency, they climb into brightly colored power-armor and smash demons, they spend a large portion of their time masquerading as a theater troupe, putting on plays for the population of the city and mugging for the “camera” in cute costumes.
The earlier post on REDLINE begs the question WHY? Why not make them a regular military unit? Why not make the power-armors in less “girly” colors? We did it with Last Exile/Sora no Woto, why not Sakura Wars?
Part of this comes from the narrative: The underlying story of the series (and the first OVA for that matter) is how a group of disparate characters can come together into a fighting unit. They are irregulars, they should look like irregulars.
But more importantly, they are blatantly operating outside of the gender norms for their time period (especially in Japan). Each of these women (or girls) is extremely peculiar in her own way and the theater provides excellent cover for their strong personalities (in addition to a convenient excuse for importing the foreigners who make up crucial parts of the team).
The show trades heavily on the uncertainty of the Taisho Era which works well with its themes of technology versus magic (see also: Otome Youkai Zakuro), and part of maintaining the feel of the time relies on assuming that the social conventions survive the conversion intact. Blowing them out of the water for the sake of female equality would make the show into something else entirely. And, the show gets to use the tension between these women’s socially-proscribed gender roles and their core task—fighting in an elite military unit—to provide character development to Sakura Shinguji.
Now, this isn’t to say that Sakura Wars is without problems. As it was adapted from a dating-sim-cum-TRPG, it’s got some issues (mainly with the haremy role of Ogami), but I would argue that since the show offers an excuse for the women as sex-objects (it’s a cover story!) it allows us to focus more on their actual mission-killing some demons.
Side note: This is the only show that I’ve watched solely because I loved the OP.
edit: KiraKira pointed out that I COMPLETELY misremembered the uniforms in Simoun. So I picked another example…
So, I attended a panel on “Con Creepers” at AnimeUSA. It was a pretty enlightening look into how cosplayers themselves feel about the unwanted attention and the environment of being at a convention.
The panel itself was about taxonomy, and served as a kind of PSA about the types of unwanted attention cosplayers could get at or around conventions. While most of the information wasn’t terribly new to me or caused any revelations, there were some interesting bits in the edges.
For me, particularly, it was the sense of inevitability and lack of confrontation that accompany the bad behavior that was particularly surprising. I need to ask some further questions, but I find the passive attitude of cosplayers toward harassment disturbing especially in light of the fact that security doesn’t seem to care to take action against offenders.
In addition, judgement seemed quick against underage participants who chose costumes perceived to be overly sexual. If our goal is to reach cosplay-as-hat (described in the first post about cosplay) we should be working against poor character design on the whole. See, you can’t claim that a pandering cosplay isn’t pandering on you and then claim it is on a 14 year old.
What I think it means is that conventions might be yet another good space for a Slutwalk movement. The goal would be divorcing the sexualized nature of the costumes from the act of cosplay because, sadly some of the most fun and interesting characters end up in fetish costumes…
Not sure if there’s anything to this, just an idle thought. To come: More about actual anime shows. I promise. ;)
“These are issues of privilege, after all, and privilege means never having to have the slightest iota of self-awareness. As a geek/nerd/etc., though, I find it especially disappointing when my fellow geeks wallow in what entitlements they do get.”
I missed this angle. I think there is a magic to perfectly executed cosplay (I saw the Kefka again and AUSA and loved zie’s rendition), but it’s a bonus not a right.
This is the second post on cosplay. Read the first here.
So, Leon and I differ on this piece, but I think it has to do with a fundamental disagreement on how fashion works. See, I would argue that what you wear communicates, whether or not you intend for it to do so. The message delivered is heavily context dependent, and requires an eye for it but to dismiss this wavelength refutes a large part of culture (see Noah Brand on this subject).
As an example of how context can amplify these signals, I present the following example: Wear a blue sweater vest, big black glasses, and a brown jacket at a coffee shop in Brooklyn, and you’er a simple hipster. Wear the same outfit to a showing of the Rocky Horror Picture Show, and it means something else. Costumes are particularly loaded, since they’re meant to reference the core character and can therefore encourage assumptions about the wearer along with carrying any problems with character design into the 3D world.
Now, before we get any farther, I want to make a few disclaimers:
I am not encouraging or condoning any untoward behavior on the part of the observer.
Nor am I saying that it’s the costume wearer’s fault for the assumptions/behaviors being levied at zie. This is not about victim blaming, it’s about the examination of the message.
I do NOT want to get deeper into the relationship between fashion and kyriarchy. This is an anime blog. That discussion will quickly get away from us.
So, with that out of the way, there are two core issues that come from the translation of a character design into the real world and onto your body. Of the two, I find the complex interaction between recognition and simulacrum more interesting, but as it’s more subtle we’ll leave it for later. Bad or pandering character design also presents problems because it bakes objectification into the costume that you seek to put on. Since this problem is a little more straightforward, it’s easier to talk about and we’ll lead with it.
(Cammy. A blonde woman wearing brown boots, a blue bathing suit, and red boxing gloves poses with her ass out. Background text says: “Hey everybody! Look at my ass!” Picture by Kevin Bolk)
So… Cammy. Sure, she kicks ass and does alright when in the hands of a capable player, but seriously that outfit? It’s designed to leave no curve on her athletic body to the imagination and the result is anyone standing around in it broadcasts the same “look at mah seeexxxyyy!!” message that’s built into the character design. Whether or not your legs are toned and your stomach so firm you could bounce a quarter off of it, you’ve made a declaration that we should look at those things since the artist drew the character in a manner that encouraged players to do just that. The same is true for any school girl costume that uses zettai ryouki. Or Boob windows. Or bikini tops. Thing is, it’s hard for you to claim that you don’t want to be looked at when you put on a costume engineered for maximum oggling.
I would argue that this is slightly more complicated than the traditional arguments of slutwalks. When a woman chooses to dress herself in a particular outfit because she looks good in it, there is no implied meaning. However, when you present as a character who’s outfit was chosen by an artist specifically to entice the male gaze, then I think we have a problem.
These portrayals can fall out-of-joint with characterization, of course, but that’s really at the hands of character creators (there’s a reason why many fans of Lightning found Jonathan Jacques-Bellete’s take on her particularly offensive—the sexualization of her character clashed harshly with her personality and the artist in this case indicated that fuckability was more important than consistency between design and personality). It doesn’t really matter that Tsukiumi is the most badass and independent of Minato’s sekriei, when you dress up as her, people are gonna notice your rack, because, frankly that’s what the outfit she’s wearing is designed to do (there are SO many problems with Sekirei, but we’re going to ignore them for now because I could do a whole post on it).
When I reflect on this, I find that the easiest place to point the finger is bad design. So long as we normalize pandering, pointless outfits for the majority of female characters it will be hard to cosplay them with a straight face, making the statements in the first post all the more important. And all this occurs at a level before we apply a problematic characterization to the mix. But, as this post already got long, I will save that last piece for later.
Hush, Hush as sitting at the extreme end of an ongoing societal fantasy in which women go through character arcs of various types that inevitably end in heteronormative sexual relationships. The end result? No always means yes. Yes always means yes. No, No, No, always means yes.
If that doesn’t sound like the arc of tsundere, then I’ll eat my hat. The problem, as she identifies it, comes from the fact that the canonical western romances cast all relationships as tsundere ones.
Undoubtedly, this time around I had the ideal costume for me. having chosen a character that was closer to my actual size, any insecurity I had about being a fat version of a character instead of just the character itself was nowhere to be seen. For once, I actually thought I looked pretty decent…
From a personal post on Cassie’s Anime and Manga Blog: Link (Mild TW for fat-hating language). I find this post interesting because (as I want to write more in depth later, but am waiting for some input/guidance/other points of view), part of the importance of cosplay for the viewer is the simulacrum. See, cassie noted that when she cosplayed a character who shared her body type that it brought someone to life that no one expected to see at a convention and that, in itself, is a form of magic.
What’s interesting about her experience is that her time as an “accessory” heartened her towards a more ‘spotlight’ cosplay. From the positive reactions in her tentative first step, she decided to take a bigger jump and pushed her fandom to a new level. There, she used her body as it was to bring happiness to many fans. I count that a success.
"A blonde girl sits on a bed, wearing an oversized pink t-shirt and engrossed in a pornographic magazine."
[TW: Sexual Assault]
So, Ben-To. If I didn’t believe it before, the show’s fourth episode demonstrates this show to be equal parts deeply sexist and an immensely good time. The anime trades heavily on tired high school tropes and features all kinds of misogyny and casual misandry (I’m starting to buy Noah Brand’s thesis that our narratives about sex-crazed men are ALSO demeaning) along with a strong dose of sexual assualt.
The problem with sexy anime costumes and objectification is not in portrayal or the implied male gaze, it’s with the implied males. You’re reading too much into the costumes.
But first, we have a story:
My roommate and I were in high school when the Columbine shootings occurred. While this meant little to me, my roommate, who we will call “Leon” for this story (because he loves Leon Kennedy) had a decidedly more harrowing experience. See, Leon liked (and still likes) to wear a trench coat for reasons he can tell you if you ask politely (if you’re rude, punching may or may not happen).
Well, needless to say, after the shootings it took relatively little time for the school administration to round up the misanthropic, trench coat wearing kid and ask him pointed questions about whether he’d shoot up the school. See, despite all his talk of violence, Leon is one of the most upstanding and considerate people I know. I think I’ve only ever seen him hit someone once, in anger and he immediately regretted it. So, when the authorities accused him of being on the verge of shooting up the school, the persecution he felt was very real.
The takeaway here is that Leon’s reasons for wearing a trench coat were different than the reasons assigned to him for wearing it. And, had the administrators taken the time to ask him in a more polite way or maybe consider that he just might like trench coats this all could have been avoided.
What does this have to do with anime cosplay?
Well, too damn many character designs and portrayals reduce their characters to sex objects, making it on the surface impossible to to cosplay any of these characters without objectifying yourself. Only not. See, there is a person inside that costume, who is actually wearing clothes. There are two consequences to this argument:
First, we all need to remember to treat cosplayers male or female with respect. Zie is only dressed as Miko Mido (look it up, NSFW) because zie thinks she looks great in green and likes her pink ribbon/ponytail combo. Do not treat her like zie wants to show you zir sexcraft and take the time to find out why zie has chosen this particular cosplay.
Secondly, cosplay cannot be pandering or objectifying. Since the cosplayer remains in control of the message (anyone who disagrees with zie’s portrayal is flat out wrong). Conversely, all cosplay is empowering if you choose it to be so. Sure, dress up as Soga Kena from Demon King Daimao, or Mikuru Asahina. These characters are passive plot tokens and exist mainly to titillate, but since that’s not your purpose, you’re not degrading yourself by choosing to dress up as them—unless of course that’s your thing.
The onus, then is on the observer community. Those women Felicia and the dudes as Grimmjow all have their own reasons for wearing (or not wearing in the case of Felicia) their costumes and you should approach them as people in particularly good looking t-shirts, about which they might like to talk.
EDIT: Removed my suppositions for why Leon wears a trench coat at his request.
So, I’ve written mostly about stuff I’ve seen before and have logged away in my memory, but now there’s a new season. So, I’ll post my ‘watching’ list and my initial thoughts on it.
I loved the first season and by extension had to watch this show. Moe slice-of-life is supposedly a blight on the medium and the source of the evil objectification that causes otaku to treat women like playthings, but fuck it, this show is hilarious.
The primarily female cast is comprised of people with one personality trait and played heavily for laughs. I give this show extra points for Kyouko who as a violent ex-bancho, makes the best floor manager I can imagine.
Bakuman 2 -
Bromance at its best. Takagi and Mashiro drive each other to pour their all into making manga and a good time is had by all. There is a lot of interesting stuff here to talk about ranging from masculinism to relationships. I will probably write about this show as it goes on.
Despite the occasionally cringe-worthy high school romance moment, this show is just plain good television.
Squid Girl 2 -
Morita-san Wa Mukichi -
All girls. Simple gags, short episodes. Whether or not you have a problem with this series has to do with whether it bothers you that all these girls come from the standard bins of broadly-drawn stereotypes. It does earn bonus points for not passing judgement on Morita for being really quiet.
Gundam AGE -
All Gundam pilots are boys. More on the wimminz as the series goes on.
That’s a lot of dudes (also: the series needs a TW for violence against little girls). But it’s supposedly about Saber, who is awesome? Having not seen Stay/Night I will withhold judgment until I’ve seen more.
Horizon to the Middle of Nowhere -
There are a lot of tits on display here. I have no idea what this show is on about and so might be dropping it. The girlies kicking ass here seem to lack personality, but then again, so does everyone in the show.
Shakugan no Shana III -
I want to write about the Chanter of Eliges because I find her interesting. True, the core of this series is one gigantic Bechdel Test failure, but besides Yoshida (who I really, really hate), most of the female characters in this show do well for themselves.
Not sure how stupid this one is going to be. It’s pretty foolish at the start, has an unhealthy obsession with zettai ryouki, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that we’ll get a cardboard-cutout female cast (just makes it very likely).
Guilty Crown -
Intrigued, but will need to see more. I should probably write about girls-as-experimental-test-subjects because there’s a fun little dichotomy where the boys tend to get badass, where the girls tend to get tortured.
Sorry this is kind of cursory. I just wanted to give a short little update on what I’ve seen so far this season. Expect something on Last Exile, as well, once I’ve watched it.
“It’s only recently that the homo-social concept of “bromance” has opened up some emotional space. And even then, it’s most often played for laughs (see: the new Sherlock Holmes movies). Males simply struggle with the freedom to feel.”—by 2DTeleidoscope who continues to amaze me as an aniblogger.
I realize that this is a double-post for people who follow my personal Tumblr, but I wanted to say something more here:
The implied viewer is both one of my favorite things in comics/cartoons and a source of this problem. Shows like K-On!, Lucky Star, and Penguin Musume Heart trade heavily on the knowledge that someone is watching to leverage their humor by brushing up against or breaking the 4th wall. The fact that these girls (and sometimes guys see: Takumi Usui) and objects of desire and highly marketable leads them to fall into the sexualization trap outlined at the end of the article. This self-awareness can either be cute when played in earnest (Ladies versus Butlers), funny (Penguin Musume Heart) when lampshaded until it hurts, or creepy (Yosuga no Sora—shut up, Dan!).
In the end, I think the problem of poses and roles is what draws me to Deunan and her soul-sister Leona Ozaki. Sure, they mug for the camera, but it’s generally in riot gear. And that, is probably the way forward for ‘balanced’ female characters. Of course, the realities of our current culture means that feminine representation is complicated. And on that note, I plan to cover Sakura Wars TV Next.