Strong Female Characters in Anime

As visual entertainment and gender equality awareness has been expanding in insight at almost the same rate, it has become increasingly obvious over the past decade or so that the depiction of strong female characters is nearly non existent. Even in anime.

It seems like the writers are stuck in their old ways and are unable to effectively write consistent female characters that the mainstream audience can relate to.

WHAT EXACTLY IS A STRONG FEMALE CHARACTER?

That’s the question that everyone attempts to answer whenever they write a story with a female in it, isn’t it? (Or at least I hope so). I like to think that a good depiction of a female character or any character at all must be one that viewers can either relate to or be able to evoke some sort of strong emotional response.

In order to understand what makes a good female character we need to first look at what has become the de-facto template for the “current” female character.

How To Write A Strong Female Character

THE CHARACTER MUST BE PHYSICALLY ATTRACTIVE

Now I have no qualms with whatever a character looks like as long as it is implemented well into the story and not used as a clutch to represent her character. “This character is hot” must not be a character trait for any female unless it has a major role to play in the overall arc of the particular character. A good example of this trait implemented well would be Fujiko Mine from the new Lupin III anime. Fujiko uses her sexuality as a weapon and this has a major role to play in her overall character arc. A woman’s physical appearance is the most egregiously overused and blatantly lazy way to try to write a character.

THE LOVE INTEREST

We have all seen it before; this is the Princess Peach equivalent of most badly written female characters in anime. I am specifically referring to the female characters that have no other role to play in the entire show than just be the “prize” at the end or the chick the dude gets to scoop and carry along on his adventures. These females are usually so 1 dimensional that all their lines have to have something to do with the love interest (who is most usually a dumb male harem lead) or something similar to that. The example that swings right off the top of my head would be Orihime from Bleach.

Her origins story which is seen in the 1st season of Bleach doesn’t even add any nuance to the plot past the hollow arc which is much, much early on in the series. Her role in the entire show is to be saved or be the “prize” at the end of the series.

THE SIDEKICK

Much like “the love interest” role I mentioned earlier this type of female character is one that when used correctly can be perfectly okay, but using it on its own as a way to define a character is just wrong.  This type of character is also a major reason as to why we do not see many female lead characters in anime or games for that matter.

THE BAD ASS

Ever noticed how whenever we do get an anime with a female character that is meant or supposed to be viewed as a strong female character the writers try their very best to make her an ultimate bad ass? Having a female bad ass is cool and all, but being a bad ass and having nothing else to define the character apart from that one particular trait is just lazy writing. I’m reminded of that blonde sidekick from Legend of The Legendary Heroes whose character for 9/10’s of the entirety of the show was just bad (and oh yeah she was a sidekick too, nice way of mixing it up there writers). I think the writers thought that by making her able to beat up all the guys she met that would somehow make her a strong female character, I call that the Lara Croft effect.

The sad thing is that there are plenty of ways to make this kind of character interesting, take Riza Hawkeye (Full Metal Alchemist) or Chie Satonaka (Persona 4) for example.

THE CUTE/MOE CHARACTER

This is obviously a difficult one for me to complain about because its no secret that this kind of character trait strongly appeals to me. Used in the right context, in the right show, at the right time its perfectly fine but using it as the sole way to define a particular character is also a form of lazy writing. These kinds of characters are usually used as mascots for the show to sell more figurines or merchandise. The unfortunate truth is that this is the kind of era that the modern Japanese anime community is currently stuck in, so we will see more and more of this. However, there is still a way to please this fanbase while still maintaining the decency of a well written script.

Mayuri Shiina from Steins;Gate is  a perfect example of this. Tragic events that happened to her in the past are the main reason she behaves the way she does and the writers use her cuteness in this eerily grey and dark world as a way to lure you to like her before they unleash their shocking twist. Worked like a charm.

HOW TO GET IT RIGHT?

Im no expert on this subject but as a fan that has been consuming this media en masse for the past 5 years now I can confidently say that I have seen my fair share of very well written female characters in all kinds of genres, and that it is very possible for most writers to “get it right” if they just paid more attention to the little details, such as;

No Character Should Be 1 Dimensional!

Just because a female happens to rough up a dozen guys on her own doesn’t make her a full blown character. The reason we find something in common with most people is because they have more sides to them than just the one thing. Two isn’t enough either I must add.

They Must Have Flaws

No one is perfect, so when a character comes along that’s too goody two-shoes and has no ulterior motives throughout the entirety of a show they just come off as fake. One of the best (the best IMO) depictions of a female character Asuka Langley (Sohryu) Shikinami is very popular because of these reasons. The fact that Asuka showed some vulnerabilities didn’t make her a weak character, in fact it had the exact opposite effect. I found it a lot easier to relate to her character because of it.

They Don’t Have To Be Supermodels

I remember mentioning this in a previous article about overlooked anime but not every show is a fanservice one so its okay to have a cast of regular looking females. Ai Nanabe’s (Planetes) character would not have worked had her character design been super hot. I realise this is a subjective thing but it’s important to note that having the polar opposite will result in having a show that has a cast similar to the 1st Twilight movie. (everyone in that movie was hot even the extras..geez Hollywood)

Just Give Us More Female Leads!!

They are bound to get it right someday right? Right?

Conclusion

Hopefully I’m not the only one who notices this problem with anime (and video games) and if you disagree or have anything else to add let me know.

You can also listen to a podcast I recorded a while ago in which I discussed Character Development with my co Author Ian.

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~ by kiddtic on September 26, 2012.

4 Responses to “Strong Female Characters in Anime”

  1. I think in general depiction of the female in anime is just fine. And has been somewhat more progressive than a lot of other entertainment. Sure their are plenty of 1D female characters in anime, but there are also a lot of 1D male characters. And more often than not when a show is full of 1D characters the males are always the weakest depicted. Now physical strength does not strong make of course, but its a start.

    That said the female lead seems to be dying off again in recent times. It was slowly on the increase for a while across the 2000s, with shows such as Witch Hunter Robin, Ergo Proxy, aforementioned Moribito, R.O.D, Bee Train’s Girls with Guns series of shows etc. You could usually find something around. Whereas last couple of years it seems to be dying off again. Only thing that comes to mind immediately is Madoka.

    • its true that anime does have its fair share of 1D male characters as well but the truth is that it is more common to find well written male characters than female ones.

  2. To me, a strong female character is the same as a strong character in general; interesting, dynamic, easy to relate to, and most importantly, displays some kind of character growth throughout the story, i.e, overcoming flaws or inner demons. However, while I love seeing strong female characters as much as anyone else, they’re not the only kinds of female characters I could like. Entertainment value is still a big determinant for whether we like a character or not, regardless of whether they’re particularly well written – so sometimes I can like “moe” girls simply because they’re cute or funny. But variety is the spice of life so we shouldn’t only be seeing the kinds of female archetypes you mentioned. They’re of course important to please their respective fans but strong female characters, especially lead ones, would certainly be nice.

    Balsa is a good example of a strong female character as is Asuka. Another favorite example of mine are the girls from Noir and Lina Inverse from Slayers (she’s not only strong but funny too). They can be found in slice-of-life anime too from time to time (Taiga from Toradora! for example). I would disagree about Orihime though; while she did fit the “damsel in distress” bill early on in Bleach, she became a stronger and more complex character later on (even if she did end up getting rescued again).

    • Its true variety is good and just like you (probably worse actually) I love me some moe so yes, I am part of that fanbase that just wants simple fluffy stuff. Its possible to mix the two though like Taiga for example she was really moe but still a very complex character.

      Also please don’t try to defend Orihime lol

Well said but my Opinion Is...

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