Saturday, 10 August 2013

Major Motoko Kusanagi and female badasses who are pulled down

Long, illness-induced break from blogging. Anyway, that's all done and dealt with.

That aside, I've been looking at the Ghost in the Shell series. Both the 1995 adaptation by Mamoru Oshii and the 2002 and 2004 Anime series have a great deal to recommend about them. Superb animation, excellent storylines, and a fantastic blend of philosophy and action. The 2002 and 2004 anime series are actually better in English than in the original Japanese - the quality of the dubbing is that phenomenal. But if there ever were a sore point, it has to do with the Major's wardrobe and her sexualization. I haven't seen the brand-new ARISE, so I am not going to comment on that.

Even with my very limited knowledge of Anime (or Movies, or TV shows, or any entertainment of that sort, for that matter), I have to say that Kusanagi is one of my favorite female characters. She's a badass in the sense of being able to do crazy things that no one else could ever do (justified - she's been a cyborg for a very long time). She is unquestionably the boss in Section 9, and never have her male colleagues questioned her authority or her unparalleled hacking or combat skills on the grounds of her gender. Even Batou, for all his protective gestures towards her, is pretty clearly not in her league.

One might argue that Kusanagi's gender is irrelevant - she's a full-body cyborg and the only thing that's organic about her is her brain. Everything else is artificial, and she might as well get into a male body without much further ado. However, this is at odds with the way she's portrayed. Kusanagi's portrayal in the 1995 movie makes her seem more like a doll than anything else. Even after an establishing shot that shows that her body is purely artificial, the camera places her in a whole lot of silly 'fanservice' shots, including one of her chest as the plastic covering her peels off to reveal...more plastic, just shaped like human breasts. That after the establishing shot showing there's nothing underneath but plastic sacs. Sheer ridiculousness of the shot aside, the blatant sexualization of Kusanagi never sat down well with me. The 2002 anime adaptation made her go about in what's best described as 'battle lingerie' complete with shots of her 'assets'.

She's not the only major female character to suffer from this fate - a whole bunch of the women in Code Geass run into the same trouble, and then there's Yoko from Gurren Lagann (who is subject to the infamous 'Gainax bounce').

Not to sound like a prude or a fanatic, but what, really, is the point in turning such a powerful and fully fleshed out female character into sexualized eye candy? The Major is light-years ahead of so many female Anime protagonists in the other aspects of her portrayal, but turning her into a doll to drool at seems like a major disservice for a woman who can take on tanks, cyborgs, terrorists, and world-class hackers. Why must a tough woman be treated in this way? Is it as though having a powerful woman is somehow dangerous to the men watching it? Is it just a puerile attempt to cater to a potentially immature viewer demographic? I'm not impressed.

There are indeed women who are very tough are competent in Japanese anime and who are portrayed in a far better way. Riza Hawkeye and Olivier Armstrong in Fullmetal Alchemist are worthy of respect without having to be taken down for the sake of 'leering fanboys'. Hayao Miyazaki's female protagonists are probably some of the best in the animated medium - and never has he done anything remotely vulgar with them. Leave aside Gainax's endless merchandizing and look at the original Neon Genesis Evangelion - women like Misato Katsuragi and Ritsuko Akagi are as powerful and as well characterized as any of the men (but this being Evangelion, they're as ridden with issues) and they're a far cry from the various Rei Ayanami dolls on sale. It's perfeclty possible to create strong female characters without turning them into objects for male gaze.

How would I imagine Major Kusanagi? A little more badass and maybe a little less of the godawful battle lingerie.


  1. I don't understand how sexualization of this sort is bad. Is it not implying that to be sexy is inherently degrading for a woman? Is it not cut from the same mold as the attitude which asks women to cover up and blasts them for dressing in a way that tempts men?

    Objectification comes not from what is shown, but from what is not shown. You'd have a better case if Motoko was not a full character in her own right, used only as a vehicle for tit and ass shots, but she is not that, she is in fact more developed as a character than most of her male colleagues, so what does it matter if she can be sexy at the same time?

    1. You've raised valid criticisms here. As for the first part - is this the same attitude that asks women to cover up and blasts them for dressing in a way that tempts men? No, I don't share the Taliban's attitude to these things, and neither do I share the disgusting and despicable question posed for rape victims, "What was she wearing?".

      My gripe is that several of the shots are calculated to make her "Miss Fanservice" - to show off her 'assets' in a way that makes her a sex object. It just doesn't look right. It's more of "I know it when I see it" than something I can put in words.

      Regarding the second point, you're completely right. Motoko is a far more developed character than any of the male characters, far more complex and interesting. And she's tough as hell, too. That's what I like about her character - she's so much more human than the other characters. Even Batou (who is often hilarious and lovable) seems like a caricature next to her.