Today is a real treat! Riffing off a comment I made, friend of Yuricon John B. has graciously let me print his email to me about The Problem of Writing “Serious Drama” for Female Casts in Anime. I have not edited this with the exception of the link in the beginning.
Erica’s observation about the apparent discomfort with ;writing serious drama for female casts reminds me of something I noticed with female action roles in late-80s OVAs and shows.
Admittedly, I was looking at it through a very small lens: the particular selection of shows that were making it over here at the time, and the portion of that selection that I was able to see. The shows involved ranged from television series based on very popular manga to original OVAs with a much narrower audience in Japan, and I wasn’t always clear on the relative times between when they were written or produced and when they made it over to the States, so I was never certain if I was looking at a real pattern, or just an artifact of how they filtered over to me. With that disclaimer, here’s what struck me:
It seemed like they couldn’t really envision, or didn’t think their audiences could envision, a woman in a genuine action role, so they basically took standard male archetypes and grafted female characters onto those roles. Priss (BubbleGum Crisis) was the Street Tough With Heart. Noa Izumi (Patlabor) was the Earnest Neophyte With Talent. Leona Ozaki (Dominion) was the comedic twist on that, the Gonzo Rookie. The entire cast of Gall Force sprung from assorted “one of this type, one of that type, etc.” roles. Familiar-enough types that the mostly-male audience could empathize, but with varying levels of sex appeal thrown in. “Boys with boobs”, so to speak.
Even roles that didn’t fit the “bwb” characterization showed a lack of clear concept for a feminine action-oriented character: in City Hunter, Kaori was a sidekick pining for Ryo. The Dirty Pair couldn’t just be special agents, there had to be frequent breaks for Cheep Laffs. And at the tail end of this, how many times did Sailor Moon need to get bailed out by Tuxedo Mask? Eventually, though, we got Rally Vincent (GSC version), Motoko Kusanagi (Stand Alone Complex version), Utena, girls with guns on the run, and others, so it’s not necessarily a permanent state. The pattern can change once writers and producers (and audiences, for that matter) evolve a new familiarity that doesn’t rely on crudely-pasted-together bits of previous familiar types.
With drama it will take a breakout, or series of them, to make it more attractive than the timidity and retreat to familiar tropes that you were speaking of. Action roles had Sigourney Weaver, Linda Hamilton, Buffy and Xena to help wrap peoples’ heads around the concept. For drama, I have no idea where they might come from. I tend to be a latecomer to things, so I’m the last person to prognosticate.
Thanks John, I think you’ve said concisely what we’ve all thought at some point or another. I defined “strong woman” recently as a woman in control of her circumstances. This differs significantly from woman in sexy leather body suit shooting big-ass gun. A woman shooting big-ass gun has already lost control and is fighting to regain what was hers. Of course she never can…she and her family have had their lives destroyed and you don’t ever come back unscathed from that. What I want so desperately to see is stories of women who have made it past the scarring, have learned to not lose control of the situation, even when things are falling apart around her. A leader. A calm in the storm. Not the storm itself. Perhaps writing that story is too complicated, too “boring,” too alien for most male writers or male audiences. It has been done – Utena took control over very weird circumstances indeed, Yumi did it with compassion and charm. It will be done again. In between, I’m afraid we’re just going to have to wade through a lot of panty shots and big-ass guns.