Saturday, May 30, 2009

On why my anime watching can get frustrating

Most mecha anime is equal parts male wish-fulfillment and a boys coming of age story. There's nothing inherently wrong with writing shows like that and a lot of my favourites are just this type of story. There is a universal quality in the stories of Amuro or Kamille being trust into war, essentially adulthood, and realizing that their actions and inaction affect others, or Simon learning to believe in himself, or -- Well you get my point. I like these stories, but sometimes the focus on men gets annoying.

The problem with a lot of mecha anime is what they do to the female characters. Since they are written about boys/men for boys/men, the women often end up being entirely defined by their relationships with men. For example, Lalah Sune isn't important as a person because all that matters is her impact on Char and Amuro. Even worse is the tendency to make a female character's entire inner life about romance or supporting her man (See: Ranka Lee. Everything I do or don't do depends on how things are going with Alto).

The can sometimes become very frustrating to me as a woman watching these shows. Which is why I tend to fall in love with the few shows that do it right. One of these shows is Bubblegum Crisis. I can't remember what made me love the show as a 14-year-old, it could have been the gritty cyberpunk setting or simply because rampaging robots are awesome, but I know that I keep coming back to the show years after because I get to see women who are as fully human as any cartoon character can be kicking ass. Priss, Linna, Sylvia, and Nene aren't the cute girls sitting on the sidelines cheering their men. In fact, there is no romance for the lead characters. They kick ass. They have their own life, interests, and day jobs. They aren't just there because the guys need a romantic interest or attention and I love them for it.

Oh, who am I kidding. The really important part of Bubblegum Crisis is the cheestastic 80s music:



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P.S. If you are remotely interested in anime, check out We Remember Love. I've spend a good part of my day reading the archives of this blog and at this point I gotta say it's my favourite animeblog.

10 comments:

ghostlightning said...

Thank you very much for the shout out!

I've attempted to add you on gtalk as well.

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On topic: Regarding Gundam and lousy writing of female characters, I daresay Tomino Yoshiyuki is quite the misogynist for most of his career; reaching a low point in Mobile Suit Victory Gundam. All her females up to that point are liabilities, save for villains (with the exception perhaps in Lady Hamon and Matilde in Mobile Suit Gundam but you may remember how they ended up though).

Tomino wrote very impressive female characters in Turn A Gundam. Truly, it is a Gundam anime where the females really carry the narrative. Quite impressively done, really. In all cases, the Tomino weirdness is ever present though.

Among newer mecha anime, I suppose Yoko Ritona of TTGL is not bad at all. Also note Talho, perhaps Dianne, and notably Ray (Beams) from Eureka SeveN.

But if you're looking for female dominated mecha anime written for men, do see GAINAX's Gunbuster and Diebuster OVAs. Those are quite relevant to your interests I wager.

Toaster Sunshine said...

I have tried, with Foolie Coolie and Ghost in the Shell, to find good things about anime. But somewhy I just cannot get past the absolute standardization of the animation. I mean, Mike Mignola's Hellboy series is drawn completely differently than Ben Templesmith's Wormwood series, but I could pick up any two mangas or turn on any two animes and I'd have a difficult time telling them apart. And it is true, indeed, that Marvel and DC Comics are virtually indistinguishable in style. As such, it is very well possible that the reason I have found anime monochromous is that I am just seeing the Marvel and DC of anime?

I'm not trying to dump all over your parade here, I honestly want to understand and perhaps you can explain?

LostMarbles said...

ghostlightning,

The thing is, it's not just Tomino being a misogynist. It's an entire genre geared for men and a social structure that tells men that women are wives, mothers, daughters, sisters, etc. while missing that they are also independent human beings. It makes it unusual to find female characters who aren't largely defined by how they relate to a man in the show.

As far as TTGL goes, I stopped watching it a few episodes in because Kamina annoyed the hell out of me and I can't make a very educated comment on Yoko, but from what I saw it was looking like she would turn into another female romantic interest.

Eureka SeveN, Gunbuster, and Diebuster are all my way too long "to watch" list.

LostMarbles said...

Toaster,

I think it's probably that you're see a very small slice of the anime and manga pie and assuming that it's representative of a whole body of work. You're also probably looking for similarities rather than the differences and seeing X characteristic as common to anime/manga and therefore concluding that it's all the same. Part of it is that there is a certain "style" that comes from the need to simplify the art. Over several decades some things have become standard. But it's more of a starting point and each artist/studio does their own thing to it. It would be insane to say, for example, that Leiji Matsumoto's work looks the same as Hayao Miyazaki's.

Toaster Sunshine said...

OK, that's entirely fair: I probably haven't seen a very broad spectrum of anime. I quite liked the "Ghost in the Shell" movie, but turning on G4 at night and finding yet another anime of people waging war through mechas seems annoying. If you looked at DC Comics, it could very easily be said that the pre-Crisis X-Men looks almost exactly like Joss Whedon's "X-Men".

So where's a good place to start?

LostMarbles said...

So where's a good place to start?

I don't even know where to start. It depends a lot on your tastes because there are several sub-genres that very, very different and some may be off putting. There's also the question of length. There are relatively short movies and there are 100+ episode shows. But I've tried to make a list of some of my favourites:

-Cowboy Bebop: I honestly don't know anyone who hates this show. It's got style, awesome music, and bounty hunters in space.
-Serial Experiments Lain: I really have no idea how to explain this series except that it's weird in a good way.
-Death Note: A brilliant but bored high school student gets a notebook that allows him to kill anyone he wants. He then sets out to cleanse the world of criminals which pits him against the world's best detective. There's also a manga which you can read here
-Fullmetal Alchemist: Wiki summarizes it pretty well as "Set in a fictional universe in which alchemy is one of the most advanced scientific techniques known to man, the story follows the brothers Edward and Alphonse Elric, who want to restore their bodies after a disastrous failed attempt to bring their mother back to life through alchemy."
-BECK: Kid has shit taste in music, meets a brilliant guitarist, learns better, forms a band.
-Aria the Animation: On a terraformed Mars covered in water a girl wants to become a gondolier. I have no idea why this show is so charming, but it is.
-Legend of Galactic Heroes: If you can devote yourself to 110 episodes of epic space opera and politics, watch this anime.
-Anything by Hayao Miyazaki: My Neighbour Totoro, Princess Mononke, Spirited Away, anything really

And the obligatory "people waging war through mechas" because it's kind of my favourite genre:
-Neon Genesis Evangelion: It's not so much about the mecha as it is about the psychology of the characters who are all monumentally fucked up in a somewhat believable manner. It's basically Freud with mecha.
-Macross Plus: It's not about waging war. It's about relationships, fighter jets, crazy AI, and music.
-Mobile Suit Gundam Movies: This is the classic "people waging war through mechas" and the beginning of my favourite anime metaseries.
-Turn A Gundam: This is "people waging war through mechas" set in the future where we've gone back to Victorian era technology. Also, it proves mecha can be used for transporting livestock, doing laundry, and all manner of peaceful stuff (even if they can wipe out all technology from here to Jupiter)

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