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This is going to be a long post. Got in the mood to do a thoughtful examination of how a more positive attitude toward feminism in Japanese culture is reflected in changes in female roles in shonen manga. It's especially telling in shonen manga (which is targeted at males 10-18 years old, but has gradually- as the stories became more female positive, picked up a large number of female readers.)

Ironically, while the movement to less traditional female characters who had adventures started in shoujo manga (targeted at girls ages 10-18) it's now a stronger feature in shonen manga. But there is a difference between the way those type characters are portrayed in shoujo vs shonen manga. In most shonen manga that have strong female characters that have adventures the females are sexually fetishized in some way (as in western comics, movies, TV shows). A notable exception amongst the popular titles is in Naruto- but Masashi Kishimoto has recently stated (what I had long suspected) that he gets help from his wife on how to correctly write from the female perspective- when it comes to strong willed female characters. (Mrs. Kishimoto does appear to have a definite profeminist perspective too, as Mr. Kishimoto's manga begins to take a more definite pro feminist tone around the time they were married.)

It's only the few non strong willed female characters in Naruto that kind of ring false- especially Hinata. Notably, Hinata is the most popular female character amongst American fans (especially the males)while in Japan Sakura is (the main female character and heroine of the story.

Kishimoto has expressed strong irritation at the minority of rabid Hinata fans in Japan- who apparently engage in the same behavior (but straight to Kishimoto in fan letters, where the American fans tend to just annoy other readers on online forums) that the rabid Hinata fans do amongst the American readership- lots of sexist bashing of Sakura because she is strong willed and dresses in a non sexualizing manner, and isn't of a pornographic fantasy breast size. Hinata is submissive, hero worships Naruto in a shallow way- not truly understanding him, does not have any confidence in him nor has she ever verbally defended him to others. Kishimoto does not do the typical and indulge in near constant sexually objectification of even Hinata though. Her breasts are rather large (appearing approximately a DD/E cup. Tsunade is the largest breasted woman, but her approximately G cup breasts fall with a pretty natural looking (with a bra) sag, and her clothing, isn't drawn looking like "fan service". For breasts that large it actually looks practical and comfortable (I've cosplayed it- and being somewhat smaller through the breasts (D cup), and more introverted than Tsunade I wear it at the highest level Kishimoto draws the top crossing over the breasts. But yes, it is probably the most comfortable costume I've cosplayed in. I also, strangely enough, feel at my most self confident in it.)

Sakura on the other hand, has gradually fallen for Naruto- the more she saw of his true self the more attracted she became (he has been attracted to her since they were around 7 or 8, but realized why when they were 12, but recently saw he hadn't been looking at her in as deep a sense as she had him- having missed that she had fallen in love with him, but he knows now.) she has confidence in him from early on, and was protective of him when she thought he was in real danger,and verbally stands up for him fairly early on too. Even though she's deeply in love with him now she still has no hesitancy in firmly making it clear when he's being too stupid or "pervy". The stupid she's become more gentle about- she knows now that mentally he struggles to understand some things (while in other mental centered things she knows he's pretty quick), and is more likely to just try to explain things, depending on the situation and how dense he's being- gently or with irritation.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

I'll start with the oldest shonen anime/manga most American's will be familiar with, known in the US as Speed Racer. I'll be using the western characters names for this series- You have a very traditional mom (in US adaptation not even given a name, although she has one in the Japanese original) and a somewhat non traditional (in that time period very non traditional) girlfriend character- named Trixie in the US adaptation. Trixie was quite forthright, strong and independent compared to the usual fare on American TV of that time (and not just in animation. Perhaps only Uhura of Star Trek comes close) But Trixie, despite this is still rather subordinate in her romantic relationship, and dresses in a "cute Beatnik" style of dress.

Jun/Princess of Gatchaman/Battle of the Planets is a similar type, and her uniform is a pink minidress while the guys all have body suits similar to superheroes.

Yuki/Nova of Yamato/Star Blazers is actually something of a backwards step, she is pretty submissive and traditional and not really a fighter. (Interestingly, a live action movie version of Yamato was just released in Japan, and to show how much gender role expectations have changed, Yuki is now a skilled fighter pilot, and the doctor has changed genders to a strong minded middle aged woman who has real power on the ship- I can definitely see some influences from the west with the revamped Battlestar Galatica series.)

With the women in Macross/Robotech you have the first women who take on more leadership roles, especially Misa/Lisa and Miriya. But both women are shown to "secretly" desire to become traditional subordinate wives and mothers and become so. (Although Miriya, after giving birth to and raising 6! daughters, in Macross 7, changes her mind and takes on a military leadership role, but although she is shown to be a competent leader it's also stated that this has put a big strain on her marriage to Max and they are near to breaking up, because she is no longer devoting that much time to her marriage- no negative commentary on Max's working)

Although Rumiko Takahashi was very uncomfortable with the feminist label it was obvious in Ranma 1/2 the one serious thing she was doing was exploring gender role conflicts, and the different choices girls and women made in the face of that, especially with the girls of the Tendo family. Kasumi, the oldest at 18, chooses the traditional submissive role, Nabiki at 17 chooses to manipulate the system and thinks she is in control but she is in nearly as narrow a box (without ever truly realizing it) as her older sister. It's Akane at 16, who rebels almost subconsciously. She wishes she could be content like Kasumi, but knows she can't. She doesn't want a man to be the master of her, and she certainly doesn't want to be like her sister Nabiki who tries to gain power by manipulation. (Nabiki has a moment here and there where she almost seems to realize how her path isn't going to give her what she really wants, but we see Nabiki isn't capable of actually seeing the way to a more satisfying path) Akane is the one who is struggling to figure out a better path, one where she can still be herself, not be a role. Interestingly, in Takahashi next series Inuyasha we can see a reflection of how things have changed in Japan as far as gender role expectations. Most the female characters no matter what their choices are strong and self-assured, even Kagome's widowed mother. Kikyo is one of the few major female characters who although strong, has a dramatic lack of self-assurance. Even Kagome, although she struggles at times, has a depth of self-assurance that she can call upon.

Then there is Naruto. Sakura begins, much like Akane does in Ranma 1/2, with low self assurance, and dramatic uncertainty about what she wants to do, and a crush on someone not interested in her, she even has grown out her hair long because she thinks the guy likes hair like that just like Akane does (she also gets a battle haircut, but Sakura does it herself to free herself- symbolically it does become the moment where she truly takes that first step toward self-assurance. Akane's moment was an accident, but symbolically it marks the end of her crush on Dr. Tofu, who has feelings for her older sister Kasumi- Kasumi seems somewhat oblivious to Dr. Tofu's feelings, but appears to like him a little). Sakura lives in a far more dangerous world than Akane though, and Kishimoto makes it clear that she has to get stronger, drop her fangirling over Sasuke and become more assured to survive. She does that.

Tsunade has to stop running from her past and her responsibilities and become the leader of the village- she does. Kishimoto has a strong admiration for strong willed women- he believes that men should shut up with their arrogant domineering attitudes and listen to those strong willed women. ;) He also knows that if a man loves and respects a strong willed woman he'll have a far happier marriage than a man married to a submissive acting woman that he dominates. He has Shikaku basically tell his son Shikamaru those words- right before the story arc where Shikamaru is rescued by Temari.
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nejiHolic Featured By Owner Mar 15, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
Personally, Hinata inspires me more; she's such a hard worker and she loves Naruto, even willing to risk her life to save him. I like Kishimoto's profeminist tones in Naruto. I learned to admire Tenten because of the plain contrast of her, Ino and Sakura. The endless self-reassurance, strong-will, determination and emotional strength of a female character is one of the most beautiful things I've seen in manga, even in KHR, though the females are merely reduced to failed fighters, love interests and domisticity. But I've seen KHR females take the initiative to try harder. Kishimoto's characters have influenced the way I create my own.
catsi563 Featured By Owner Dec 3, 2010
Interesitngly enough the Robotech version of Lisa is actually quite the opposite. In point of fact its made very clear that she is in charge of the SDF3 by the time of the sentinels, and Minmei is the one shown to be the oen who wants to be most submissive.

In Naruto Ino is one of the gals who uses her sexuality but retains a sense of self respect and esteem as to not be a slut, but a confident and strong woman.

Miu Ferengi of History's mightiest disciple Kenichi is an interesting contrast. Shes designed as a clear fanservice character with extraoridnary cuteness and a rack that would make the spanish inquisiton jealous. She also does all the cooking and cleaning around the dojo practically being a lvie in maid. But at the same time, she as skilled if not mroe so then the main character can even dream of being given that eh cant even lay a finger on her in sparring. And is abale to conssitently show the same work ethic that Kenichi does along with a natural talent. Shes also incredibly kind anda very nice person supporting kenichi and eventualy showing genuine feelings for him.

Belldandy From Ah! my goddess, is to me one fo the most interesitng characters ((granted shes a shoujo)) But shes simultaneously critizied as a Yamato Nadesico ((an unfair appelation IMHO)) and held up as an fantasy fullfilment character, while also being shown as a strong character.

Ive seen her as a powerful character whos so sure of and confident in her self, that she can be supportive and domestic while at the same time being able to leap into the thick of trouble, at one point nearly literally into the gates of Hell for the person she loves.

The strongest female characters much like Sakura always carry that particular character trait. That endless courage especially when it comes to that special person. and they carry that courage consistently.
ciarda927 Featured By Owner Dec 3, 2010  Hobbyist General Artist
Actually Ah My Goddess is a Seinen (men's) manga. But while I wouldn't classify Kousuke Fujishima as feminist aware as Kishimoto (too much fan service, but granted far less ugly and exploitative than the usual in both Seinen and Shonen manga) he's certainly leagues ahead of most Seinen mangaka. I actually like Oh My Goddess.

Fujishima is also was born in the generation (born in the mid 1960's-mid 1970's) that produced a very strong feminist movement in Japan in the 1990's to present- influenced by two very important older feminist Japanese women- Yoko Ono (born 1933) and Takako Doi (born 1928) who influenced in the 1980's and 90's a major swing toward support for women's equality in Japanese society amongst that then rising generation.

Rumiko Takahashi is of the generation before (born 1957) where Japanese women felt the inequality but feared being called "unwomanly" if they expressed those feelings publically.

Riyoko Ikeda (born 1947- wrote Rose of Versailles, the classic shoujo manga series that introduced the shoujo version of the tsundere female character ) and Machiko Satonaka born 1948- who has called herself a feminist, and wrote pro feminist manga stories from the time she was a shoujo mangaka through her later career as a josei- women's, mangaka.) were old enough to have been influenced as a young girls by the late western first wave feminist echoes introduced into Japan during the US occupation of Japan (1945-52).

Yoko Ono not only was old enough to have been influenced by the US occupation feminism, but one of her grandmothers was a early Japanese first wave feminist. Takako Doi was drawn to the Socialist party in Japan as a young woman because it was the party that was the most open to women candidates.

Kishimoto's Tsunade is clearly influenced by Takiko Doi and her hair, eye color and facial features have definite similarities to Hillary Clinton (have a strong sense Kishimoto admires Hillary Clinton and Takiko Doi as ideal women political leaders. Their careers somewhat overlap and both women have been fierce advocates for women's rights their whole adult lives.)
catsi563 Featured By Owner Dec 4, 2010
You Know I probably should have included Tokine from Kekkaishi In that list too. Shes a clear Shonen and considered the most ruthless of the two kekkaishi. While Yellow Tanabi writes her in the typical powers are weaker but more refined and accurate mode, he does make her smarter and much more clear headed then yoshimori.

One consistent thing Ive noticed in many feminine portrayals in manga is a tendancy towards equality between the main pairing. The lead female always strives for an equal partnership with the lead male. She may be in the background but shes like a foundation or the main support beam in a structure. essential to the main characters growth unless she is the main.
ciarda927 Featured By Owner Dec 6, 2010  Hobbyist General Artist
Interesting that Shonen Sunday has two currently two women writing manga for their magazine. Takahashi and Tanabe. Takahashi is probably in the later part of her career now where Tanabe is a relative newcomer. Tanabe doesn't reveal her birth year but she's likely in her late 20's. Takahashi is 53.

Machiko Satonaka is around the oldest female mangaka that still regularly publishes manga (Josei mangaka, started as a shoujo mangaka in 1964), but she's definitely winding down her career now. I love her one still continuing series Tenjou no Niji (Rainbow in the Sky) it's a fictionalized biography of Empress Jito from her birth and likely will finish with her death in the next volume- volume 21.(One of several powerful empresses who ruled in their own right during the 600's-700's. Jito was the most powerful of those empresses)

Satonaka posts a blog and apparently from her latest blog she found out Emperor Akahito and especially Empress Michiko really Tenjo no Niji and are eagerly awaiting the next volume. So am I. Satonaka doesn't publish chapters of it in the Josei manga magazine she is associated with- it just get published in tankobon form when she completes a volume. So it doesn't have a regular publishing date, and she's gone over two years now working on volume 21. Maybe the Emperor and Empress encouragement will make her want to get it done and get it out. :)
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December 3, 2010


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