I understand that this may be a sensitive topic for many people and I just want to make the clarification that I am not speaking on the overall quality of any or all animes. Art style and story (character and otherwise) are separate qualities that are not impacted by how women are represented in the show, and in no way am I saying a show is good or bad solely due to how women are represented.
But a lot of these animes are definitely trash for how dirty they did women. (I’m kidding). Like, yes, Demon Slayer has nice art, yes, HunterxHunter has a good story, but their absolute disregard for women and sometimes outright sexism just drags the quality to the dirt. (Okay, I’m not kidding). Like people really are just blatantly ignoring these horrible qualities in 2021 and making these shows their favorites, as if there aren’t other shows with equal quality that don’t treat an entire group of people like a bad joke on a candy wrapper.
Anyway, I’m heartbroken to say that most major animes are absolutely horrible in the feminism department. A lot fall into (incredibly) old tropes such as making their (small number of) women characters damsels in distress, healers/supports, or stepping stones for the male characters to reach their true potential. Since I’m sure this topic will be nothing but trouble, I’m going to just quickly run through a few popular animes and the biggest issues involving their women characters. If this topic interests you, keep an eye out for future posts, because I am most certainly able to say a lot more about each show.
My Hero Academia
This show prides itself on being clever with it’s combat and abilities, basing the world’s “quirks” on science and logic, and giving each quirk a balance through a negative effect. As discussed in my tiktok, Momo is one of the many women who are in contrast to these rules in order to make them more attractive or feminine. She uses her lipids to create things and thus should have a large body to compensate, since eating and working out a lot would create a larger body frame. She would want to store lipids for emergencies, so being as skinny as she is for as smart as she’s portrayed just doesn’t make sense. Also, I think this Men’s Journal article about why low body fat percentage is unhealthy might be helpful. Super powers or not, Momo’s body type in general can have health issues, especially considering what she does for a living and that she can be in life threatening situations that would require a lot of physical exertion.
A few other things to consider: many of the women are given passive abilities as opposed to the many aggressive and active abilities of the men, and when comparing the quirks of the characters, the men are given more powerful quirks with less negative side effects. For example the women’s quirk list has levitation, healing, creating plants, being a frog, creating objects, bubbles, and putting people to sleep through exposing skin. Meanwhile men have: literal explosions, super strength, controlling fire and ice, super speed, shooting electricity, and having a shadow demon companion.
In terms of negative effects, the women are always hampered by their negative trade off than the men. Using your own body’s fat can quite literally kill you, and even some of the more tame negatives such as becoming violently nauseous can be pretty detrimental when in a fight. Meanwhile dry skin is the worst Mr. explosions has to worry about unless he’s stupid enough to let himself dehydrate, and while Icyhot might freeze or burn himself, of course his double quirk is self-regulating.
This is the one that broke the camels back. This is my 13th reason, and it is the reason I am writing this blog post after digging into this topic for over a year. If the fact that the main female character is muzzled doesn’t speak for itself, there are many, many other issues with this show that quite honestly make me hate it.
Are you trying to defend the muzzle? Look, I get it, she starts turning into a demon and it’s used to prevent her from turning and eating people. It’s a passable reason, and I overlooked it for the first five episodes. But then she sleeps for two years while our main man is training to become a demon slayer. Then she gets brainwashed into thinking all humans are her family so she won’t eat them. Okay…a little uncomfortable but I could deal with that. She won’t eat people now, right? So…what’s the muzzle still on for?
Just like an anime to make a powerful woman and then muzzle her. At least she gets to be strong and fight demons, right? That’s right, she’s fighting side-by-side with her brother! But the one time they split up to fight separate demons, main man is getting tossed around like a rag doll while she…plays ultimate kickball. She also can’t come out into the sun so she’s sleeping in a box most of the show and…she rarely comes out at night as well. Yikes.
Even the demons are just so poorly done. All these strong demons with different abilities and the demon girls got illusions and super powered kick balls while the men get super telekinesis and a trans-dimensional house that can teleport and rotate beyond the laws of physics. Oh, and the demons based on spiders (you know, the insect-like things, the species where the females eat the males?) have all the men incredibly strong and even abusing the females. Spider daddy is ultra buff, and the son has near indestructible webs that cut through anything, meanwhile mom turns people into puppets with her webs and the sister cocoons people where they slowly dissolve. They really set themselves up for some easy feminism points and just shot themselves in the foot, didn’t they?
As much as I’d love to drag Hunter X Hunter, Dragon Ball, Naruto, and Bleach, they all really run into the same exact issues: weaker and fewer women. Considering the world is pretty split down the middle, it’s startling to see that most shows rarely have an even amount of men and women. Even a 40/60 ratio would be acceptable but often it’s actually closer to 20/80 especially when it comes to high ranking roles like the 13 captains in Bleach (10 men and 3 women until later in the show).
Overall a lot of these shows can be quite disappointing due to these downfalls. Yes, they have many other redeeming qualities but in reality a poorly written female is a poorly written character, period. Character’s make up a majority of a show’s content and story, and even the well-written ones are dragged down when they’re only empowered through stepping on their female co-stars to reach their full potential.
I invite everyone to be a bit more critical of the content they watch. Not just for the sake of feminism, but to demand better quality of the content we consume. This post isn’t to be like “All these animes are trash, how dare you watch them”, in fact I enjoy many of these animes as well, but almost nothing is without flaw. Tropes of any kind are detrimental to the development of well-written stories, female-centric or not, so keep these issues in mind when you watch your next anime. I promise you these issues are a lot more prevalent than you might realize.