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Old 2012-10-11, 22:56   Link #1
Kaioshin Sama
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"Action Girl" Characters in Anime (Are they still sexist?)

This is a topic I've actually wanted to create for a while, but first I think it's best to start off by explaining just what exactly I mean by Super Flying Sex Doll. It's actually something of an in joke between myself and some friends from the forum who tried to decide exactly what we should classify a certain character type as. It actually sprang from the character Inori Yuzuriha from Guilty Crown who was depicted as an almost custom made attractive female that could leap through the air and do all sorts of improbable feats of combat. Feel free to suggest a better term, but I mostly use it because I think it's an emerging trend and I don't know what else to call it at the moment.

Not all characters of the type fit Inori's personality and growth though (in fact they tend to be quiet the opposite) and I've actually come to jokingly apply the term to a type of female character that I feel we're seeing a lot more of lately and am not sure fits directly under the original definition of moe which as I recall has something to do with the feeling of wanting to protect something innocent. These characters tend to be amongst the more capable in the context of whatever it is they are trying to do, tend to be perceived as the most physically appealing amongst fans and even in the show but also as amongst the most interesting character and personality wise, but for all their big seasons showcasing martial prowess or general competence they also tend to get a lot of fan service scenes as well that show off their sex appeal, and development wise it could almost be argued that if viewed from a certain perspective they could be considered to be the actual leading heroes of their shows or at least equal to the male lead. In general they tend to really stand out and be the breakout characters for the series.

The question is is this still an overtly sexist portrayal of women? Are these characters an example of stronger female leads that are independent and interesting in their own right (some complain there's not a lot of these in anime) or does the nature of their costumes and obvious design for sex appeal cancel out these particular qualities. Here are some examples from the past few seasons that I feel illustrate the type of character I'm talking about.

Akemi Homura (Madoka Magica)
Asuna Yuuki (Sword Art Online
Sakura Ichiko (Binbogami-ga)
Yui Takamura (Total Eclipse)
Kuroyukihime (Accel World)
Morgianna (Magi)
Hakaze Kusaribe (Zetsuen No Tempest)
Layla Malkal (Code Geass Akito The Rebellion)
Most of the female cast of Horizon On The Middle of Nowhere

I'm going to let this topic stand for a while and see where the conversation goes, but personally I'll say I think these are all pretty interesting characters that don't come off as particularly misogynistic or purely fanservice material and that they represent something of an upward trend in the portrayal of female characters at least as far as Action series go. I recognize that sex sells and this holds especially true when it comes to anime, but I don't necessarily think it cancels out anything positive about a character and consider this type something of a trade off. And with that I yield the thread.
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Old 2012-10-11, 23:53   Link #2
Marcus H.
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Isn't superwomen a much less sexist term than "Super Flying Sex Dolls"?

The term sounds like some rock band or something. :P
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Old 2012-10-12, 00:04   Link #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Marcus H. View Post
Isn't superwomen a much less sexist term than "Super Flying Sex Dolls"?

The term sounds like some rock band or something. :P
Yeah a little bit lol. Okay I'll go with superwomen, that fits pretty well actually.
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Old 2012-10-12, 00:05   Link #4
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While I agree that the characters you listed are complicated and interesting characters, their clothing, posture, and camera angle do show some attempts to sell them as sex objects as well. If the anime producers wanted, these things could have been avoided and focus could have been given more to the difficult situations and complex state of mind of these characters.
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Old 2012-10-12, 00:10   Link #5
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Thread naming aside, I don't think I have a problem with powerful women. In fact, they are always refreshing when put in a world where men are normally the more powerful ones, particularly in fantasy series. I don't see a problem with them being put in situations wherein they are regarded as sex objects, either. Maybe I'm just used to them, or have accepted that it is normal, or I personally get turned on myself.

Well, IIRC Wonder Woman also got this same treatment in Western comics, right?
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Old 2012-10-12, 00:19   Link #6
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Originally Posted by Marcus H. View Post
Well, IIRC Wonder Woman also got this same treatment in Western comics, right?
Just Wonder Woman? lol

Shoutouts to Powergirl and her boob window.

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Old 2012-10-12, 00:25   Link #7
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I don't know if "superwomen" really is the right term. TVTropes uses "Action Girl" and has a separate page that analyzes it.

Also check out the Gender Dynamics Index.
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Old 2012-10-12, 00:36   Link #8
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Whatever the name, the fact is that in many recent anime series, there are plenty of scenes that seems to be more about presenting female characters as sexual objects instead of furthering the plot or delving deeper in to consciousness of the characters.
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Old 2012-10-12, 00:47   Link #9
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Originally Posted by CrowKenobi View Post
I don't know if "superwomen" really is the right term. TVTropes uses "Action Girl" and has a separate page that analyzes it.
Okay, let's go for that then... though I'm still not sure if it's quite right.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Kaioshin Sama View Post
...I've actually come to jokingly apply the term to a type of female character that I feel we're seeing a lot more of lately and am not sure fits directly under the original definition of moe which as I recall has something to do with the feeling of wanting to protect something innocent.
I think all of the characters listed have some degree of "innocence" to them, even if they are sort of "action heroes" a lot of the time. This is certainly the case, for example, with characters like Kuroyukihime or Asuna. So I think these characters are still often designed to produce "moe" feelings in the male audience. Perhaps you could say that there's a certain type of "moe" that revolves around "characters you'd want as a little sister", and another type that's "characters you'd want as your girlfriend/wife" (and of course, the amount of fan polls about those very two things are neverending).

As for the "sexist" question... I am assuming that the reason this accusation happens for "moe" characters in the first place is because it's felt that they exist as little more than a shell of traits (both physical and personality traits) to be fawned over by the male characters in the shows and the male audience perhaps by proxy. In other words, it's sexist because they're just objects and not "people" (or even fully-developed characters). But I think part of the problem in that regard may be because shounen stories generally revolve strongly around the male protagonist, so all of the female characters exist in context of that protagonist. So even if a female character is strong and capable, they'll inevitably be intertwined somehow in the protagonist's web. So it could be seen as if the female characters have little real value as a character except as they relate to the male lead. I suppose, as wontaek keeps alluding to, the "sexualization" and fanservice do not help if the goal is to not present them as simple objects.

So in the end, I'm not sure how much of a difference this makes. I think the character in my avatar, Corticarte, arguably fits into this category too, but, despite being a terribly powerful fighter in-universe, she: a) requires the male lead to act, b) is the primary love interest for the male lead in her story, and c) is certainly the "victim" of a lot of exploitative character marketing (resulting goods I have dutifully bought, being the sucker that I am!). Probably sexist, yes, though I suppose one might consider there to be varying degrees. I do think that, in spite of it all, Corticarte is an interesting character set in an interesting story and story universe, and is not just an "object" in my view.


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Originally Posted by wontaek View Post
Whatever the name, the fact is that in many recent anime series, there are plenty of scenes that seems to be more about presenting female characters as sexual objects instead of furthering the plot or delving deeper in to consciousness of the characters.
I will say, though, just to be clear, this is definitely not something limited to "recent anime series". This has been the case for decades. I'm not trying to say that makes it right, only that I don't really think this particular aspect is a recent trend.
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Old 2012-10-12, 01:03   Link #10
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I think it depends how chauvanistic your fanservice is, to be honest.

I don't think that putting an action girl in a costume like Kuroyukihime's weakens her or puts her down at all. On the other hand, you have stuff like Yui's photoshoot scene at the end of Total Eclipse's beach episode. Though I feel that in the grand scheme of things the impact on her character was minimal.

BTW, I think this rule applies to fanservice involving any female character, not just action girl types.
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Old 2012-10-12, 01:19   Link #11
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I prefer women that can participate in the action needed. "Action Girls" are just an exaggerated version of those women (just as 'helpless princesses' are exaggerations in the other direction).

Characters can be quite moe and still kick butt and take names ... absolutely.
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Old 2012-10-12, 01:24   Link #12
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Originally Posted by relentlessflame View Post

I will say, though, just to be clear, this is definitely not something limited to "recent anime series". This has been the case for decades. I'm not trying to say that makes it right, only that I don't really think this particular aspect is a recent trend.
Indeed, this has been the case for decades, but I feel it has gotten slightly more prevalent these days compared to 70s and 80s. The sad thing is that this is still prevalent.
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Old 2012-10-12, 01:29   Link #13
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I guess we could pull out Daisy Duke, Wonder Woman, and almost any character in the old Batman series ...

We have seen some progress .... more tomboyish types in bomber jackets or gear that actually protects them.
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Old 2012-10-12, 02:03   Link #14
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Positive portrayals can be bigoted too, especially if the conversion is to something that is just safe for the male audience, and ultimately consumption.

This doesn't mean a character can't appeal to a audience's taste, but when a strong female character is made strong but then still forced to suit the audience's tastes of femininity it would be sexist.

It's for this reason I despise the "faux action girl" trope, where a strong female character is strong on paper but it's really only to grant a token female position, mostly for fanservice. If a female character is portrayed to be competent, then they better actually be competent in practice, or it's just really a concept of making her still safe for the audience.

Sex appeal isn't inherently sexist either. For example, art in the Nanoha series often depicts Fate Testarossa as having an exceptionally notable posterior and the angles in a lot of pics would draw attention to that. However, this is just a feature of the character. It is not the character. It's ok to show characters as being sexy, but they shouldn't be used for that purpose. (Which is why the Vivid Manga is trash, since it went that way)

Now take Kaioshin's "Super flying sex doll" example. Inori's outfits, at least at the start, seems to have served no purpose rather than to flaunt her assets. Unfortunately it was to the degree where I simply wasn't even paying attention. Now, note, it's not even about how revealing an outfit is-- Fate's typical outfits are quite skimpy as well. I can't go into this without spoiling too much, but she definitely falls under the Rei Ayanami clone, in having very little or constantly changing personality. IMO, the majority of Rei Ayanami clones simply haven't worked for me simply because they try to focus on the sexuality of said characters and their seemingly indifference to it, except Rei was supposed to be creepy. It's not supposed to be moe inducing or for one to do something inappropriate later tonight for.

Overall, this is an pretty sensitive issue to me, since practically every favorite female character of me tends to be under the action girl category. I think they just stand out more in a world dominated by male protagonists. In general, for it to not reach an insulting and condescending portrayal is to have these characters do to fit the bill on paper, and also have a certain will. Essentially, they can't just spend all day doing cool stuff on screen. This is true of both males and females-- I mean sure, MD Geist is badass and all, but he's a terrible character. When I mean will, I mean they aren't just puppets meant to spread appeal to the audience. True appeal works on its own.

I would write a diatribe about each one of my favorite female characters individually but I think we're good for now-- you don't really want to scroll down for a few years, anyone?

But honestly, it seems anime handles this a bit better than say... Hollywood.
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Old 2012-10-12, 02:11   Link #15
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Take my Super Asswhopping Sex Dolls away, and I will curse your firstborn to eternal damnation in Hell.


Just sayin'.
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Old 2012-10-12, 02:13   Link #16
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why people associates action woman with independant , strong etc
I'd love an action woman wich is married and loves his husband (or her wife whenever)
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Old 2012-10-12, 02:46   Link #17
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why people associates action woman with independant , strong etc
I'd love an action woman wich is married and loves his husband (or her wife whenever)
I don't see how those traits are opposed in any way. Independent, strong, married, loves her mate? That all easily works together.
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Old 2012-10-12, 02:57   Link #18
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In real life, do people generally prefer to be perceived as physically attractive, or as physically unattractive? The obvious answer, for both men and women, is "physically attractive".

So I don't see any harm or sexism in having an "Action Girl" character that's generally portrayed as being physically attractive, and hence as having "sex appeal".

That being said, nobody (male or female) wants to be seen as "just a pretty face".

But in a way the "Action Girl" characterization combats this at an intrinsic level. At a bare minimum, a reasonably well-written Action Girl is good at, well, action! She's good at kicking ass, to put it bluntly. That clearly distinguishes her from the classic damsel in distress, and shows that she is more than just a pretty face.


Mind you, it is possible to screw this up, and take a portrayal that should be inherently empowering to women and turn it into a sexist caricature.

Do you know why I object to fanservice in action scenes? The main reason is indeed that I find that these two "tastes" (erotic arousal, and thrilling combat) clash nastily for me when they're mixed together. But a very important secondary reason is that I do think that you hurt the image of an "Action Girl", and risk having her come across as a sexist caricature, if her action scenes are fanservice-loaded.

Remember that what makes an "Action Girl" stand out from "the Damsel in Distress" is that the Action Girl is not "just a pretty face". But if you take the Action Girl, and emphasize her sex appeal even when she's doing things that shows that she's not just a pretty face, then that just inherently undermines any perception of her being more than just a pretty face.

Why? Because it shows that even as she is being more than just physically attractive, what is the camera choosing to focus on? If it's choosing to focus on her sex appeal even when she's in action, then the production is basically saying that her sex appeal trumps everything else about her, which does come dangerously close to saying "Yeah, she's just a pretty face".


So in my view a character may become a sexist caricature if their beauty, handsomeness, or sex appeal is overemphasized at the expense of other positive character traits. But sex appeal alone is not a negative character trait - It only becomes one if it starts to override everything else.

Thankfully, that's not the case for just about all of the girls on Kaioshin's list that I've personally watched, so neither one of Akemi Homura, Asuna Yuuki, Yui Takamura, or Kuroyukihime are sexist, imo. In fact, I think that Homura and KYH are two of the least sexist female characters in all of anime, if not in all of fiction. They're very strong and well-developed characters, and KYH is extremely well-rounded.

I haven't seen enough of Zetsuen no Tempest to take a strong position either way on Hakaze Kusaribe, though.


So, tl;dr, most action girls in anime are not sexist. And the basic concept itself is certainly not sexist either. The key, imo, is to not allow sex appeal to override everything else. Sex appeal in and of itself is fine, but it shouldn't define the character. If it does start to define the character, then yeah, we're probably now into sexist caricature territory.
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Old 2012-10-12, 03:56   Link #19
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Do you know why I object to fanservice in action scenes? The main reason is indeed that I find that these two "tastes" (erotic arousal, and thrilling combat) clash nastily for me when they're mixed together. But a very important secondary reason is that I do think that you hurt the image of an "Action Girl", and risk having her come across as a sexist caricature, if her action scenes are fanservice-loaded.

Remember that what makes an "Action Girl" stand out from "the Damsel in Distress" is that the Action Girl is not "just a pretty face". But if you take the Action Girl, and emphasize her sex appeal even when she's doing things that shows that she's not just a pretty face, then that just inherently undermines any perception of her being more than just a pretty face.

Why? Because it shows that even as she is being more than just physically attractive, what is the camera choosing to focus on? If it's choosing to focus on her sex appeal even when she's in action, then the production is basically saying that her sex appeal trumps everything else about her, which does come dangerously close to saying "Yeah, she's just a pretty face".
I think, if you take this too far the other way, it's just as bad, because then you're just saying that a capable female action hero can't have her femininity emphasized when she's in combat. Which means that, basically, whenever someone turns into "action hero mode", it's like they're automatically male. Now, I'm not saying that this excuses gratuitous fanservice by any means, but by the same token I think a female action hero actually has a lot of sexual appeal when they're in combat. So if you try to deny their sexuality during the action scenes, but choose to emphasize it every other time... it seems odd -- almost like your female character has a split personality or something. I don't really see how that's any more empowering, really. I think the point is that a female character can be both a "pretty face" and a formidable character/contender/opponent at the same time; no odd dichotomy involved. But this basically depends on being a fully-fleshed out character throughout the story, and not just given "perceived depth of character" by inserting random action scenes. In that case, it wouldn't actually be the fanservice that's out of character, but the perception of empowerment.

(That said, I recognize that the mixture of fanservice with other elements in anime is something that a lot of people have a lot of different opinions on. There are some combinations that just bother some people for various reasons, whereas they may be fine with others.)
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Old 2012-10-12, 04:07   Link #20
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An action girl is still an action unless a lot of panty shots and torn clothes and skin are exposed... then that's fanservice girl.
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