Manga Mondays: The Portrayal of Masculinity and Femininity in Manga and Anime

From an historical viewpoint, just about every culture on the planet has idealized males as dominate figures, while dismissing females as the lesser sex. Japan is certainly no exception to this way of thinking. Though in recent years, while the gap between both genders has slimmed, it is still there, and the Japanese reflect this ideology in their manga and anime. Manga has been around for quite some time, and anime first appeared in the last century to represent manga on the television screen. While manga has an incredibly wide fan base that continues to grow each year, it normally targets either boys or girls. Manga for boys is called shounen, and for girls it’s shoujo.

Both may display similar characteristics regarding gender roles, but they are quite dissimilar in their portrayal, and normally cater to different genres. Shoujo, for instance, tends to center more on romance and finding true love, while shounen, even though it may also have romance, focuses more on action and adventure. This is not to say that shoujo has neither action nor adventure; those are just not the main focus in a typical shoujo.

So what I’m going to talk about today are two different shounen, Kisimoto Masasi’s Naruto and Takahasi Rumiko’s InuYasha. I also hope to explain why they are both shounen and not shoujo. Obviously, Naruto is a shounen, but there are some discrepancies about what category InuYasha falls under. And you’re going to have to brace yourselves, but I’m also going to be discussing gender roles.

Okay, let’s get to it.

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Snow White and the Poorly Executed Great Idea

So on Saturday I went with my family to see the much-hyped Snow White and the Huntsman, starring Kristen Stewart and Chris Hemsworth in the eponymous roles.

So we all know the plot of Snow White: evil stepmother takes over a kingdom, princess escapes, goes into hiding with seven dwarves, poisoned apple, magic coma, true love’s kiss, happily ever after. This movie attempts to lend the titular princess a little more agency—she attacks her captor (the evil Queen’s brother) to escape; she storms the castle to take back the throne clad in armor and wielding a sword; and she slays the Queen herself before ascending to the throne. The movie ends with a coronation, not a wedding. It does succeed in a lot of ways, and it had some really great ideas—it just didn’t put them together very well.

Let’s start with the dialogue. There were long scenes, it seemed, without any. Each character got a rousing monologue at some point throughout the film that was really emotional and great, but in between those what lines they had seemed stilted.

The only character who was really well-developed was the Huntsman, who doesn’t actually get a name (he was even The Huntsman in the credits). He has ups and downs and memories and reactions. Snow White is fairest of them all, but it’s unclear whether she’s fairest because of physical beauty (which the Queen seems to think) or because of her kind heart, which is pretty much her only distinguishing feature. I don’t blame this on Kristen Stewart, by the way—I thought she did pretty well, given the script she was working with.

Her boyhood friend William is blander than white bread, and the dwarves are all just steretypically dwarfy in a way that’s not new or exciting. The Evil Queen (name of Ravenna in the movie) has one of the character types that pisses Lady Geek Girl off more than anything: the “I’VE BEEN EVIL SINCE I WAS BORN AND I JUST WANT POWER” type—she has no relevant character motivation or background besides “I am beautiful and want to rule things and kill people.” Also, her brother was annoying, unnecessary, and had truly atrocious hair. Like seriously.

The world-building was sketchy for me; there’s magic, and faeries, and Faerieland; it’s unclear whether the Dark Forest is magic or just filled with hallucinogenic dust, and there are also medieval-era-looking Catholic priests, and one of Snow White’s first lines is the Lord’s Prayer. Are the dwarves an actual different race of magical people, or are they just short miners? Is this the real world with magic, or a completely different world? There’s some sort of weird symbolism about three drops of blood, but what does it mean? These things are addressed late or not at all.

Finally, it seemed like they just tried to shoehorn all of the plot elements of Snow White into the movie whether or not they were necessary. The movie was fine without dwarf sidekicks or faeries; especially tedious was the poisoned apple bit. First of all, the queen leaves her castle to tempt and trick Snow White into eating it, which completely ruins the whole idea where she had to send the Huntsman after the princess to begin with.

And then Snow White is comatose, and not awakened by the kiss of her boyhood friend William as we’re supposed to expect, but by a kiss from the Huntsman, following an anguished monologue that actually makes you feel for his character. (Whether the cure for her coma is actually true love’s kiss is up in the air; this isn’t addressed at all for the rest of the movie, except in the final scene, where she doesn’t seem to be happy at her coronation until she realizes the Huntsman is there.) Hemsworth delivers a great performance of the Huntsman possibly realizing he’s in unrequited love with this girl, but Stewart’s character doesn’t give me any rationale for his loving her. But anyway, I was still annoyed that she had to be awakened by a kiss rather than, I dunno, overcoming the curse with her latent healing magic or something? She seems to have that in this world, so that could have been a thing.

It’s just, she attacks her captor and escapes, but barely scratches him and is caught by the Huntsman as soon as she gets into the woods. Okay, that’s fair. She’s been locked in a tower for ten years; she can’t have been doing battle training or learning woodsmanship in that decade. But she travels with him and other warriors for a while, and you’d think she’d try to learn some fighting, but even when she finally carries a sword and rides into battle, she never really fights anyone but the Queen. There was a moment right after Snow White meets the Huntsman where he teaches her one defensive move, and since we never see her training or learning to defend herself in any other way, it’s obvious from that scene forward that this will be the move she uses to kill the Queen an hour and a half later.

This movie was a step in the right direction for strong princesses with agency. She abandons her dress for first leggings and then plate armor; she fights her own way out of the palace, and rouses the country’s small rebel force to regain her throne.  And when she finally does, she’s crowned queen with everything that entails—she’s not a consort or a trophy, but a ruler in her own right. And although there is the hint that she might love the Huntsman too at the end, they 1) could totally just be platonic friends, and 2) actually have been through hell and back together and could arguably have romantic feelings for each other if you wanted to interpret it that way. The important thing is that marriage is not the wonderful, perfect, and obvious end result of being a princess in a story.

Snow White is always going to be a problematic fairy tale for any number of reasons; Euro-centric beauty standards, women who are either evil or damsels in distress, and cure-all marriages to perfect princes are just a few reasons why. This isn’t a standard-raising example of feminist princessdom, but despite all my complaints, it’s not a bad way to spend an evening. (I’d still recommend seeing The Avengers again instead—I’ve seen it six times already and it still hasn’t gotten old.)

Sexualized Saturdays: Peeta Mellark

After I finished reading The Hunger Games, I had a lot of feels. However, pretty much the last thing on my mind was shipping (a new and shocking development). And so, although it doesn’t surprise me that the dichotomy developed, I don’t really feel like I belong to Team Peeta or Team Gale. (Can I be a rebel and be, like, Team Johanna?)

Even when there were romantic moments, the books were just so much not about romance that I didn’t have any desire to go deeper into it. But I digress.

This Sexualized Saturdays is about the wonderful, the tortured, the naïve, the boy with the bread and the crush: Peeta Mellark.

Now as far as sexuality goes, I’ll put it upfront: I think Peeta is irrevocably straight. He may not have had a chance to experience any non-hetero attraction what with having a crush on Katniss for, like, his whole life, so there’s always potential that he’s not a pure Kinsey 0, but I really don’t think so in this case.

So Sexualized Saturdays usually focuses on discussing a character with (at least arguably) a non-heteronormative sexuality, so why did I pick Peeta?

Peeta is interesting to me because of the way he performs his sexuality. While Gale is all about blowing stuff up and killing the bad guys, Peeta presents a different schema for a male lead—he is sensitive and artistic; his skills are the sort that are traditionally relegated to female characters: defense, camouflage, hell, cake decoration, and he holds a crush for Katniss unspoken for a decade—but no fan I know has ever accused him of being less of a man for doing these things. In fact, the Team Peeta cohort is expansively and massively huger (from what I can tell) than the Team Anyone Else groups. The thing that’s cool about Peeta is that he represents a role model that says that regardless of sexual orientation or stereotypes, sticking with your talents and being honest and true to yourself are the most important things. And that’s a nice break from the messages being sent by other franchises.

Theatre Thursdays: A Trip to the Ballet

So I love the ballet.  (Going to it, that is – the extent of my dancing is an ability to do para para.) I’m lucky enough to live in a city with a very talented company, and also lucky enough to have a mom who’s had season tickets since before I could spell ballet. Because of all of these reasons, I was able to see their performance of Coppelia about a fortnight ago.

The production was, of course, lovely, and I greatly enjoyed it (I’m a sucker for the formulaic ways of classical ballet, and the company is truly excellent).

Coppelia is a ballet in three acts about a small town (German or Austrian, I think).  Anyway, there’s a young couple in love (Franz and Swanilda), a mysterious girl on a balcony (the tiitular Coppelia), and a grumpy old inventor (Dr. Coppelius). Franz, despite his love for Swanilda, is intrigued by the girl who sits on the Coppelius’ balcony every day, silently reading her book and paying no attention whatsoever to the outside world.  Swanilda, who’s a bit of a firebrand, gives her boyfriend all sorts of shit for swooning over this bookworm.  Dr. Coppelius thinks the whole town is a nuisance, caring more about his inventions (no one in the town knows exactly what he does).

One day upon leaving his house, the good Doctor drops his key.  Swanilda finds it, and she and her friends sneak into his house to see what exactly goes on there, what with all the mysterious bangs and explosions and whatnot. At the same time, Franz succumbs to curiosity and climbs up to Coppelia’s window.  To the group’s great amusement, they discover that Coppelius makes toys – life size dolls – and that the pretty girl in the window is no more than a pretty puppet.   Swanilda switches clothes with the doll and plays a trick on Coppelius when he returns, making him believe his beloved creation has come to life.  Eventually she grows tired of it, reveals the doll’s body behind a curtain, and she and her posse make their escape as Coppelius laments his persnickety-old-person forever-aloneness.

The entire third act is Franz and Swanilda’s wedding.  Yes, this is a classical ballet, and that is how it is done. There is corps dancing, there is a grand pas de deux, and curtain call.

 

There’s a lot to unpack when looking at ballet from a feminist perspective – the dedication to a purported ‘ideal’ body type; the superhero-comic-like double standard of males portraying a masculine power ideal while women portray a male’s sexual ideal; the annoying stereotype that any man dancing ballet is gay and any man attending ballet is either gay or really really wants to get some; and the stereotypical hetero fairy-tale-esque love story that ends with a happily-ever-after marriage.

However, I think it’s also worthwhile to point out that ballet is a venue where stories about women tend to take preference, where women’s roles are the ones that get top billing, and where, more often than not, the girls and women who are portrayed in these stories are imaginative adventurers with dreams and (like Swanilda) sassy, not-exactly-a-damsel-in-distress personalities.

What are your thoughts on ballet, dear readers?

Pony Fandom: How does it work?!

I’m a terrible horrible no good very bad updater, and for that I apologize. But I’m back with a vengeance. Get ready.

So I’ve spent a bunch of time telling you why ponies are awesome for a lot of reasons, and addressing where they have some issues as well.  Now for my final installment in my MLP series, I wanna touch on the brony fandom itself and some of its high points.

Goodwill

Bronies have banded together for various charitable/fundraising endeavors. They auction albums, art, and other creative works for charity.  They banded together to support the Humble Bundle indie video game charity (you pay whatever you want for the games, and the proceeds go to mostly children’s charities); and dropped hundreds of dollars on original Lauren Faust artwork whose proceeds benefitted post-earthquake Japan.  Bronies have big hearts.

Visibility/Personal Acceptance

Bronies, whether they want to or not, are becoming a more visible part of pop culture purely because of their novelty to the ‘normal’ people.  But from what I can tell, most bronies are owning their bronydom with pride.  This is a refreshing change because it means that somewhere out there is a generation of young people who won’t judge their children or each other for liking things society says their gender shouldn’t like.

Creative Output

Brony fandom has exploded with creative original and manipped works from remixes and original music to art in all mediums imaginable (from felt to plushies to fan-designed pony video games) to fanfiction. One of the most impressive creative works in my opinion are the fanmade video games, simply because of the unpaid effort of designing and coding and debugging an entire game.

Fanfiction

I gave this a separate category because it’s one of the most charged areas of brony fandom.  But just as with any fandom, there is everything from cute one-shots, adventure stories, romances, and yes, clopfic (the NC-17 of ponyfic).  Some stories, both ongoing and complete, have already become famous/infamous in fandom (See: My Little Dashie, Fallout: Equestria, and the terrifying Cupcakes).  All I’ll say about clopfic is this: your kink is not my kink, and I don’t want to know that much about horse genitals.  But as far as shipping itself is concerned (especially between the female characters), I think it’s important to separate the characters from the fact that they are nonhuman, and consider that here is a community that we associate with men, writing lesbian relationships that are focused on the romantic rather than the objectifying. If Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy can be together, why not other women? (I personally don’t ship anypony, but mostly because I don’t see the ships, not out of any squick…)

Inclusion and Community Acceptance

Finally, bronies in general tend to be sweethearts.  They take to heart the idea of love and tolerance that sits at the root of the show and run with it.  From small area meetups to conventions like BroNYCon and Everfree North, bronies make an effort to find other bronies and make them feel included.  Jump into fandom and try it out, non-bronies, and I guarantee you’ll be welcomed into the herd. 😉

This concludes my MLP series, everypony, but don’t doubt that I’ll keep posting about it as I’m inspired to, and check out ladybacula’s weekly episode reviews as well!

Cosplay Questions: An Introduction

Hi again, readers! I am apparently a glutton for punishment, and my MLP series is winding down finally, so of course I’m picking up another topic that I’ve been desperately wanting to talk about: Cosplay.

Cosplay is a huge part of my life (it’s even a bit of a profession) and I know all of sorts people who do all sorts of cosplay. I’ve been cosplaying since 2005 (ohgod that’s so long ago) when I made my first costume (Lirin, from Saiyuki).  I’ve grown both as a costume-maker and a cosplayer since then, and this upcoming April I’ll be attending my fifteenth convention. I’ve gone from a lone cosplayer to the fearless leader of a group of loyal cosplay friends/minions with whom I’ve done groups as large as the Ouran Host Club.

In this series I want to look at a number of topics within the realm of cosplay, from why people do it, to cosplay’s connection to sexuality and gender expression, to the problem of objectification in cosplay.  This series is going to be a bit more open-ended than the last – I’m not going to preset any particular number of posts and topics before I begin – so if you have any ideas for a future cosplay post, let me know! I’d love to write about it.

My Little Gender Roles!

Brace yourselves, everypony! The second content-tastic entry in my ponypalooza starts now!

First let me start out with a big scary observation about gender roles in our society. I certainly agree that it is an ongoing struggle for women to be accepted into traditionally male careers and roles in society.  However, I think that because there’s still an underlying social prejudice that male=better, it’s somehow accepted that women will want to aspire to fit that ‘better’ mold. Whereas when men want to break out of their own traditional roles and seek traditionally female careers, they’re often considered less of a man for it.  To put it in sports terms, a woman who wants to play football is going to be less of a pariah than a man who wants to be a ballet dancer.

These stereotypical ideas of what is male and what is female are socialized into us from a young age when boys are given fire trucks and NERF guns and girls are given baby dolls and toy kitchens. So although it’s certainly difficult for women to find equality in male roles, it’s also frowned upon for a boy to have ‘girly’ interests because that makes him somehow less of a man. (Feel free to argue this in the comments.)

Now, to the topic at hand.

My Little Pony is easily one of the most stereotypically girl-directed franchises out there. The diminuation of manly ‘horses’ into cutesy ‘ponies’, the musical numbers (of which there are gloriously many), the pink and purple logo, and the all-female leading cast all point to a show that our culturally-enforced gender roles would pin down as a girly show.

The beauty of MLP, however, is that it has appealed to a whole different fanbase, and it is making significant waves in this demographic dubbed ‘the brony’, the high-school-through-college-age male MLP fans.  This wave takes the form of legions of boys realizing that traditionally girl-oriented media is cool too, and that liking it doesn’t immediately turn them gay, or whatever teenage boys are scared of these days. And, even better, the majority of MLP fans have really taken to heart the messages of love and tolerance at the heart of the show, and are moving past the antiquated idea that ponies=gay and that being called gay=bad, and tend to respond to haters and trolls in the best way possible: by smiling, and nodding, and then totally ignoring their worthless opinions and moving on with their lives.

There are still some problems in the fandom, for example, despite the ‘love and tolerate’ battlecry of the bronies, a lot of guy MLP fans will still qualify their ‘coming out’ as a brony with some variation of ‘no homo’ or ‘but I’m totally not gay or anything’, which just spits a little bit of homophobia back into a fandom that is otherwise working really hard to break down the stereotypical gender conventions of ‘what girls like’ and ‘what boys like’.

Pegasisters (the designation for a female MLP fan) don’t have as much of a struggle with this – they just have to explain why they’re watching a show for 8-10 year olds. Boys whowant to be open about their pony-directed love, on the other hand, have to brave the emasculation of society to do so. (The number of rage comics I’ve seen about boys having to pretend they were buying pony figures for their sisters is TOO DAMN HIGH.)

Society’s reactions in general, so far, have been a bit meh.  Despite the fact that geekiness has been becoming the new cool for years now, the desire to ridicule that which you do not understand (in this case, ‘grown men’ liking ponies, but the same could be said for news media’s attempts to explain lolcats or cosplaying) still continues to run rampant in the media.  (Although the Wall Street Journal took the classy neutral ground.)

However, it fills my little filly-fooling heart with joy to say that the brony subculture is here to stay, and is encouraging other boys to both defy ‘demographic’ stereotypes and like things on their own merit rather than on their perceived gender audience and ‘despite’ (I say that with a great rolling of eyes) the stumbling block of a nearly all-female cast, and to love and tolerate the differences between and opinions of everypony.

Previously in Ponies:

What Makes My Little Pony an Awesome Show for Little Girls (And Grown-ups)!

What Makes My Little Pony an Awesome Show for Little Girls (and Grown-ups)!

So it’s been a while since I promised I’d write this, but fear not, everypony, you are not forgotten! The first real entry in my paean to My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic begins now!

 

Here I wanna talk about the show’s appeal and why it’s a great show for kids, and also why I think it appeals to adults as well.

-But quick – let me tell you what this show is all about. So there’s this nerdy pony named Twilight Sparkle who doesn’t really know anything about friendship. Her tutor is Princess Celestia, ruler of Equestria, the country where everypony lives.  The Princess is worried about Twilight growing up in the castle with no friends, so she sends her student to Ponyville to make some.  She meets some ponies upon arriving that she thinks are totally weird and annoying, and who end up becoming her very best friends. At the end of each of their adventures Twilight writes a letter to Princess Celestia telling her what she’s learned about friendship.

Okay. Now back to the meat of this post.  Why is this awesome?

First of all, the show teaches a number of great lessons, both explicitly and implicitly, like:

Dear Princess Celestia…

  • You can have very different interests from someone else and still be friends.
  • There’s a difference between using a talent to help a friend and being boastful about it.
  • You should never let stubborn pride get in the way if you need help.
  • Good friends are sportsmanlike whether they win or lose.
  • You should be open-minded about new things. (I’m looking at you, non-bronies!)
  • Friendship isn’t always easy, but it’s worth fighting for!

There’s also just a lot of meaningful implied messages. For example:

  • Each of the characters has different interests and talents, but nopony is portrayed as more important or useful than the others.  The brainiac couldn’t have solved the problem without the help of the party girl; the shy, quiet one saves the town when no one else could; etc.
  • The story focuses on friendship between a bunch of girls and problems that real girls might face (jealousy over a best friend’s new friend, worries about what to do with their future, etc.) rather than annoying ‘boy troubles’ or unrelatable issues.
  • The Mane 6 and the supporting cast face a huge number of problems, which can be as small as making sure everyone feels welcome at a party or as big as defeating a millenia-old enemy of Equestria.
  • Each of them could probably be shunted into a stereotypical role (Rainbow Dash is the jock, Twilight Sparkle is the nerd, Applejack is the hick, etc.) but everypony actually has a really well-rounded character with a fresh new take on their archetype. For example, Rarity is the sort of catty, fashion-obsessed pony. But she’s the fashion-obsessed pony who owns and operates her own boutique and designs and makes all her own attire and merchandise, and who regularly makes beautiful dresses for her friends as gifts.

Okay, so there’s the reasons why your kids should watch it. But why do I watch it? I’m in college, for Celestia’s sake.

This is far less terrifying and far more funny in context. (Although it’s still a little terrifying.)

Well, first of all, it’s hilarious. For example, as I mentioned before, at the end of each episode Twilight Sparkle writes a letter to Princess Celestia, her teacher, to tell her what she’s learned about friendship over the course of that episode. In one episode, the last week or so has been dull and Twilight’s deadline is fast approaching, so she tries with more and more chaotic results to magic up a problem she can solve so she doesn’t get behind on her homework.  By the end of the episode she’s totally unraveled and freaking out that she’ll be sent back to magic kindergarten for failing her assignment. Of course in the end the Princess shows up and tells her not to worry about it, teaching an important lesson about not making a mountain out of a molehill. But that’s not the funny part – Twilight’s cackling descent into madness centered firmly around her inability to do her homework is.

Also, much like other awesome cartoons such as Phineas and Ferb, there are tons of nods to an older audience tucked into the show that don’t take away from the series at all. For example, when baby dragon Spike falls asleep in the punch bowl, Pinkie Pie jokes that the punch has been Spiked.  There are also cool background easter eggs, such as these poni-fied Big Lebowski characters slipped into the background of a scene where the ponies are going bowling:

And I’ll be the first to admit I’m a sucker for strong female characters, but I do enjoy watching it simply because all the ponies represent different kinds of girls so well and so positively that it makes me all bubbly inside. I mean, the main character is a huge bookworm! And that’s okay! I enjoy watching it because it has all the characteristics I mentioned earlier.

Finally, the animation is beautiful, and the character designs are cute, memorable, and waaaaaay less uncanny-valley-terrifying than the previous generations of My Little Pony. Seriously, the old generations are creepy, and their merchandise is scary. ;__;

So basically: My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic is a fresh, clever, funny, and thoughtful portrayal of friendship, real-life problems, and great role models, and so it appeals to both younger viewers and to myself.  Hopefully this post will make you check out an episode or two yourself.