Yesterday, SyFy Wire writer Daniel Dockery wrote a fantastic article “Why Dragonball can be just as important as Star Wars,” examining the ways in which there is still an element of dismissal about the narrative importance of non-Studio Ghibli anime.
When it comes to some of the big Shonen anime series like Dragonball, Naruto, Bleach and One Piece, there is a dismissal of their narrative value because of how long these series go on for and also the animation value. It is easy to look at the animation of Dragonball Super compare it to something like Legend of Korra and go…well this is crap. But as someone who grew up watching more anime than some of the classic nerd cultural touchpoints (still haven’t finished Twin Peaks, X-Files or ST: TNG), my big nerd influencer has always been anime.
As someone who grew up watching anime, I found many of the things that western feminists longed for in media had often existed in anime and manga. Especially magical girl anime series.
Clamp, despite it definitely taking advantage of the lack of taboo around age difference in Japanese culture, often featured queer characters. In their manga series Wish pretty much all of the angel/demon characters are drawn without any gender. They are all having sex with each other and while some perform one gender over another, they are never labeled male or female.
Cardcaptor Sakura has lesbian and bisexual young teens. As well as asexual characters and of course, gender non-conforming.
Anime like Princess TuTu and Revolutionary Girl Utena has heroines that embrace their feminity. Even non-magical girl anime/manga like Full Metal Alchemist and Inuyasha offer fully fleshed out female leads who are not told they can’t be strong because they are women.
I can’t speak to all the cultural nuances of anime and how the narrative would be read through a Japanese lens, but as a Westerner who was guided into embracing her femininity through the women I grew up watching in anime.
(1) Usagi Tsukino: You Can Have It All
A crybaby, a leader, a queen, a princess and the savior of the world. Usagi aka Sailor Moon was one of the first heroines I saw growing up who was as human as she was powerful. While the manga does not spend as much time as the anime focusing on Usagi’s insecurities and flaws, in all versions of the franchise, Usagi is a kind, loving person who is bad at math, cries easily and doesn’t always have the grace one would image a reincarnated princess. Yet, it is the goodness of her heart, her ability to see the best in people and desire to save others that makes her the most beautiful shining star.
(2) Anthy: Princesses Can Be Witches
Revolutionary Girl Utena is one of the best magical girl animes of all time and one of the most psychologically riveting animes I’ve ever watched. Without getting into too many spoilers for those who have not seen the anime (watch it ASAP), Anthy Himemiya is an amazing deconstruction of the tropes of both the witch and princesses. Her passive, yet powerful presence in the series is compelling and once you finish the series and realize just how much was hidden behind her glasses. Not to mention to have a dark-skinned woman in an anime have such a fulfilling arc was great to watch.
(3) Ahiru: It’s Okay to Just Be a Duck
Princess TuTu is a lot like Dragonball in the sense that in TuTu world, the dances are the equivalent of battles. As a lover of fairy tales and great storytelling, Princess TuTu loves to play with tropes and it does a lot of that through its heroine Ahiru a duck (yes a real duck) who is turned into a real girl on a quest to save the prince and save the world. The “narrator” of the story, Drosselmeyer turns Ahiru from a duck to a real girl with the ability to transform into “Princess TuTu” a magical girl who is more graceful and beautiful than her actual human self. The story is both a deconstruction of fairy tales, but also watching Ahiru come to terms of owning her own power and value. Not with the glamorous powers of Princess TuTu but as Ahiru a badass duck.
(4) Riza Hawkeye: Get You a Girl Who Can do Both
Fullmetal Alchemist is filled with amazing female characters across the board. Pretty much all of them are well layered and the ones that function just to be badasses fulfill that perfectly. Riza Hawkeye is probably my favorite character in the series and an example to all shonen series of how to craft powerful, attractive female leads who are not hypersexualized with super unrealistic body types (hello One Piece) or constantly sidelining them because only dudes can be powerful in your narrative (hello Dragonball, Bleach, Naruto). Riza is a supporting character and an implied love interest, but she is also a player in the game. She is a soldier, one the best shots in the series and is just as capable as any of the guys. Despite being a “supporting” character, she gets to play a role in the final battle and like many of the other characters in the series, work towards making amends for the war crimes she committed in the name of a corrupt government. Even better, none of that stops her from being super fem when she wants to be.
(5) Bulma: The Undisputed Hero of Dragonball
The most important character in the Dragonball universe. Without Bulma, little Son Goku would be sniffing his own butthole in the forest. My favorite thing about Bulma is that she’s a brat. She reminds me a lot of Lina Inverse (who is only not on this list because I had to make cuts but she would be next) as someone who has a good heart deep down, but loves to look out for number one. There is something refreshing about the smartest person in the room being a woman who is totally into herself and not all uncomfortable about how amazing she is. Just like with Goku, we get to watch Bulma grow up from a reckless teen who wants to wish for a boyfriend to a powerful woman whose brains and technology save the heroes time and time again. Even as a wife and mother, Bulma is still true to herself. She is still as vain and a major show off, but she also cares about her kids, her husband and saving the world. She is the smartest person in the room and probably the only person Vegeta listens to.
Who are your favorite ladies from anime?
(via SYFY Wire, image: DIC Entertainment/VIZ)
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