Den of the Cyphered Wolf

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Anime Gender Round Up

So as a guy I'm never felt fully comfortable talking about gender politics mostly because I don't spend a lot of time thinking about them, most the the time at least. I'm a guy.  But I like talking about media. While depending on my mood I might make some claim as to this blog being about news that's not really its purpose.

Its purpose is to be a place where I feel emotionally safe enough to talk about whatever is on my mind without the fear of crickets or confused stares. Sure a lot of the time that's politics because I always had an interest in how things work and a lot of the stuff we take for granted is hashed out in chambers and debates or spreadsheets and emails.I get a kick out of looking at that stuff.

But I also love media. Movies, video games, television books I can't get enough of that stuff and so often "whatever is on my mind" is that movie or show I saw last week.

Often times what makes a show or movie or whatever stick on my mind are its gender politics which are often so important to the work you can't separate them from any real discussion so before I start talking feminism or gender further I thought it might be a good idea to get an idea of how this stuff got on my mind in the first place, at least via media, so let's do it.

Rin: Daughters of  Mnemosyne

For a long time Rin was the best piece of "serious" science fiction anime I had seen since GitS:SAC.

It's a show about the adventures of eponymous IMMORTAL (that's important think a cross between Conner MacLeod and DBZ's Cell) paranormal investigator Rin as she and her partner Mimi take on cases.

Some have accused the show of being basically porn but its raison d'etre is to talk about sex. Not just t&a though it has plenty of that but how sex affects our relationships, culture and identity. Metaphorically it's all about sexual dimorphism and by extension the difference between sex and gender. Heck by the end of the subtext just becomes text as the progtagonist and antagonist who are male and female respectively gain genitalia of both sexes. More or less his entire M.O. for six episodes was to get her in a position where he could rape her, kill her and cause the end of the world or something. The ending is kind of weird. Something about ragnorak and Rin being analogous to Freyja and/or Frigg with the villain playing the role of Loki... I think as we watch him try to off an aging despondent Odin figure in 2050. And I never got into the eddas. So let's stick to gender.

The show is all about exaggerating and then blurring the biological differences between male and female to make its point about what sex and gender means. The show also delves into what makes sex enjoyable. Two of the main characters are shameless flirts and bonk a lot. All the same there is a lot of rape imagery. What makes sex harmless or harmful is control over one's own body and the case of transsexuals that might be an eternal frustration.

Oh and shit tons of post structural feminism.  And oh my god the visual references to the uterus, ovum and vagina, as Rin begins the path to become the hermaphroditic mother/father to the world. Did I say the end is weird. The end is weird.  First time I saw it I pretended the last two episodes didn't happen. The end is weird. Not bad but without a sex ed class it makes no damn sense. And even then you have to be smart enough to understand that the show posits the only meaningful difference between the two sexes is or should be the biological. And for some, especially, those uncomfortable discussing that crucial difference, that might be a leap.

The entire point is blurring the line between male and female on a sexual level so you're going to see some lady parts.  Not so much dude parts as the show is more concerned about what the feminine means (i.e. the womb), but you're going to see some lady parts. Especially in the end when the show decides to tell the audience what it really is about rather than laying on subtext.

As I hinted at the show is all about the body, its utility, its connection to and potential imprisonment of the mind or soul or whatever. Most of the really bad stuff happens whenever one of the villains manage to divorce Rin's soul from her body making her vulnerable without the obvious physical tool to fight back and then regenerating the flesh and trapping her within it.

And those mind body references are through out the entire thing.  Does a clone retain the soul of the original? In a world of the digital what is the importance of the physical?

Interesting stuff.

Avatar the Legend of Korra
The point I'm trying to make is that these shows put me in a position where I have to talk about gender because its so important to the perception of the work as a whole. One of the most interesting things about the Legend of Korra is it's protagonist defy's gender convention and does so in a way that feels organic. She isn't going to punch a guy because she's trying to prove herself against the patriarchy. She's going to punch a guy because her default tool to solve problems is her body and ...her fists are part of her body.

"I'm not oppressing anybody're oppressing yourselves".  Not one for rhetoric and debate is she? "That didn't even make sense"

It's just how she operates. The show doesn't frame it as weird though sometimes it is troublesome. Not because of gender roles but because Korra is rash and has a tendency to get in over her head.  Something that would happen to a guy with her personality. Subtley and restraint aren't her strong suites and punch it until it stops being a problem doesn't always work.

The show made me think about how personality traits are deemed masculine or femine and showed a character kind of divorced from that. Korra is just Korra.

Puella Magi Madoka Magica

So this show is a deconstruction of the magical girl genre,  which on occasion has been a guilty pleasure of mine. Hey the later seasons of Sailor Moon were pretty good, better than DBZ's filler arcs at least. Go home Garlic Jr. Nobody likes you. You literally got your ass kicked by a 3 year old throwing a temper tantrum. You can NOT hold up to the god kings of this show.

(But Cell was pretty badass and lost to Gohan at 12. Shuduuuup. Cell beat every other opponent that came at him.  Trunks, Vegeta, Goku, Android 17, Android 16. Android 18. He earned his rep. Gohan sucker punched him... to single bit of his name wait I'm forgetting that time he came back from hell. Or the fight he lost to Pikon in hell. Damn it.)

Madoka  Magica made me think about how magical girl shows work and made me that divorced from thier hypersexualized (masculine vs feminine not actual sex) nature both shonen fighting shows and magical girl shows work on basically the same rules. Crazy transformation sequences and a lot of stock animation.

Our masculine speeches about honor, friendship and fairplay could be substituted for their feminine speeches about honor, friendship and fairplay.

I say anybody who bitches about Sailor Moon can't go on a nostalgia trip about Power Rangers because they were basically the same damn show with different uniforms and minus the dinozords ...and the megazord. Okay so it didn't have giant robots. Not everything can have giant robots... Though everything should have giant robots. Magical girls with giant robots.  I got to get in on that. Could be the next big thing. Maginoids.

Lupin The Third: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine

The reason why I wrote a 10-page review on this one is because as a Lupin The Third show I was going to watch it no matter but rather than being a straight revival it was a deconstruction of Fujiko Mine and women's roles in media especially legacy media. The show was trying to pose the question what the role of gender politics should be in writing.

You can't have Fujiko feel like Fujiko without at least a little fanservice. As a character she creates an interesting dilemma. And the show tackles her head on trying to find a balance between the character and the gender politics of her literally being a walking boob joke.

Thelma and Louise and Michiko and Hatchin
Again because of the director I was going to watch Michiko and Hatchin anyway but it felt wrong to talk about a Japaneses TV show based on a Brazilian movie without watching the Brazilian movie.  And while I was at it I figured I might as well watch Thelma and Louise.

I still feel that Thelma and Louise misses the boat on race and class but what I failed to consider when I reviewed it is that the dynamic between the two leads is the closest the audience could expect to seeing a lesbian relationship on screen at the time at least for a mainstream film. Maybe I should cut it a little more slack than I do.

As for Michiko and Hatchin its a critique of the empowerment fantasy posed by T&L.

Soul Eater and Soul Eater Not
So like I said Shonen fighting shows shows tend to be hypermasculine. Soul Eater wasn't. The main cast featured 7 characters 4 of whom were girls. The story is arguably about the female lead's coming of age. What wierds me out about Not is that it takes the gender neutral original and goes the other way with it. I'm still trying to puzzle out how I feel about that.

Shows like Dragon Ball Z and Card Captor Sakura have gotten a rep as being pretty silly by today's standards. I tend to give Dragon Ball a pass because as a guy I seldom have to deal with gender identity issues, or at least so I keep telling myself.

But I have to ask are shows like Card Captor Sakura harmful. And if they are isn't hyper feminized Soul Eater Not harmful as well?

I don't know.

Its the same as asking if Sleeping Beauty is harmful. Eh probably. But after all the injustice in the world its hard to muster real rage at Aurora or Walt.

Look like I said at the outset I'm not a girl. But I've always dealt with that by aggregating feminism with discussions about race and as a black kid growing up in the suburbs I can tell you rap depictions of the thug life tempted me to the dark side.

Oh, now I realize I wouldn't last a day on the actual streets but 12 year old me might be too stupid to get that. The life of the gangster age of hiphop was a calculated lie. An empowerment fantasy the masses wanted to buy. But deriving what it means to be black from a 50 cent video is stupid.

I always wondered if hyperfeminzed magical girl shows and Disney princesses were the equivalent for girls. Do they derive what it means to be female from that stuff I don't know.

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