Let’s be honest, there are far too many anime with overly-sexualized female characters and gratuitous fan service. Anime is important to a lot of different people all around the globe; but despite this diversity in the community, the industry still seems to solely cater to certain male viewers. That’s not to say that all anime are guilty of this, and there are popular shows that avoid doing this almost entirely. Still, it’s important for us to recognize these flaws in the anime industry, especially considering the ongoing #MeToo and #TimesUp movements. Thankfully, we’re starting to see more intelligent, empowering, and story-driven anime that uphold feminist values.
March is Women’s History Month. So, in support and solidarity with women everywhere, I’ve listed five recent anime, in no particular order, that are both great to watch for the average anime fan and do a great job of empowering women.
LAND OF THE LUSTROUS (Studio: Orange)
LAND OF THE LUSTROUS is, at its core, about a society of sentient Gems. The Gems are at war with another species, the Lunarians, that want to turn them into jewelry. People have often compared the anime to the western cartoon STEVEN UNIVERSE, especially with its strong femme characters and progressive vibe. Those comparisons are well-deserved, despite some minor differences. The anime boasts an impressive 3D/CGI animation style that lends itself to almost distracting visuals and sequences. But beyond the physical beauty of this show lies an even more exciting story and universe that will make you want to keep watching.
It’s important to note that the main characters in the show are genderless, so they use gender-neutral pronouns (like they or it, for example) when they refer to each other in dialogue. These gender-neutral characterizations challenge societal gender rules and predispositions. The Gems also inherently value teamwork and compassion for their comrades. They always have to work together if they want to avoid becoming some Lunarian’s bling. The show does a great job of empowering the Gems through these strong relationships and bonds, as well as, through their skills as mighty warriors.
ACCA: 13TH TERRITORY INSPECTION DEPARTMENT (Studio: Bandai Visual)
Of all the show’s on this list, ACCA: 13TH TERRITORY INSPECTION DEPARTMENT is the only one with a male lead. Still, the anime conveys superb feminist themes with its female characters.
ACCA: 13TH TERRITORY INSPECTION DEPARTMENT takes place in the fictional Kingdom of Dowa. Dowa is divided into 13 independent states but is overseen by a civilian bureaucracy known ACCA. The main character, Jean Otus is an ACCA officer working in the soon-to-be-disbanded Inspection Department. Jean’s boss, Mauve, orders him to investigate a possible coup within the Dowa territories. Mauve is arguably one of the most interesting characters of the show. She is the Director-General of ACCA, only outranked by the Five Chief Officers. Mauve hails from a matriarchal Dowa territory where government positions and leadership roles are controlled by women.
You may think that the show includes an all-female territory to satiate a male fan base. However, the show uses Mauve and this all-female territory to empower and highlight the female characters. Mauve commands respect from Jean and the rest of her peers. Her female compatriots are also an extremely proficient and powerful force in Dowa and they are further proof that gender doesn’t define a person’s abilities.
A PLACE FURTHER THAN THE UNIVERSE (Studio: Madhouse)
A PLACE FURTHER THAN THE UNIVERSE is one of the many early breakout hits of 2018. At its core, it is a character-driven anime. The show really pulls you in with intricate dialogue and truly strong, believable female characters. A PLACE FURTHER THAN THE UNIVERSE revolves around the epic journey of four girls as they search for a mother lost during an expedition to Antarctica.
In A PLACE FURTHER THAN THE UNIVERSE, the girls are refreshingly relatable. Each girl is deep and compassionate, but not without personal flaws. One of the four girls, Mari Tamaki, for example, is an enthusiastic and curious individual. However, she sometimes doubts herself and flakes on her plans. Mari’s friends help her overcome her trials, which is a key component to the anime’s theme. The bond these girls have is what the show is really about. They use teamwork and dedication to help one another and to achieve their admittedly lofty goals.
The anime refuses to inappropriately trope and eroticize these high school girls. It’s further proof that you can produce a successful, engaging, and intelligent anime that empowers women without using sexuality and fan service to sell it. The four friends have an incredible journey ahead of them and they’ve handled it with maturity thus far. Sure the show deals with issues that make the girls seem vulnerable, but they are never reduced to one-dimensional sexual objects. This is one anime you don’t want to miss out on.
GIRLS’ LAST TOUR (Studio: White Fox)
You have to look beyond the cutesy character style of GIRLS’ LAST TOUR to really appreciate its feminist vise. The main characters, Chito and Yuuri, traverse a post-war wasteland in search of food and supplies. They ride around on a German motorcycle-tractor hybrid called a Kettenkrad. Forget stereotypical gender roles in GIRLS’ LAST TOUR, Chito and Yuuri are as tough as they come. Chito is a skilled mechanic and engineer. She also enjoys reading, unlike her illiterate counterpart. Yuuri, on the other hand, is the brash one. She is a skilled sharpshooter with a streak of gluttony akin to ONE PIECE’s Luffy, or Goku from DRAGON BALL. Chito and Yuuri face a dreary, desperate situation. Yet, precious moments of camaraderie between the girls balance their circumstances well.
The show does an exceptional job of empowering these two girls. Their trials in exploration and endurance go well beyond any notion of gender roles. The show’s slice-of-life style also helps sustain interest in the show despite the bleak setting. Yes, the almost chibi animation and art might seem off-putting, especially for a post-apocalyptic sci-fi anime. But, there are moments of intensity and conflict, as you would see in any other survival story. Any anime fan who picks up on GIRLS’ LAST TOUR would be doing themselves a favor.
RECOVERY OF AN MMO JUNKIE (Studio: SIGNAL.MD, INC.)
RECOVERY OF AN MMO JUNKIE mixes a fine blend of comedy, romance, and mature themes. The show does all this surprisingly well without sexualizing its characters. The primary themes of the show revolve around dealing with anxiety and living up to society’s standards, but there are strong feminist tones throughout it as well.
The narrative follows Morioka Moriko through her struggles with anxiety and mental health. To avoid the tribulations of daily life, Moriko quits her office job to take solace in the MMO world of Fruits de Mer. In a subtle touch of blurring gender roles, Moriko’s in-game character avatar, Hayashi, is a male knight. This direction makes for some solid, and hilarious moments in the show. This gender blurring is a thematic element throughout the series as well. In fact, several other characters have in-game avatars with the opposite gender like Moriko, furthering the idea that gender, in the end, is rather superfluous. The situations she finds herself in are interesting because she often asks her MMO friends for dating advice as her male avatar Hayashi. While Moriko is rather defensive and reserved, her positive interactions in Fruits de Mer help her gain confidence in real life social interactions.
Overall, RECOVERY OF AN MMO JUNKIE makes for an intriguing and intense show seen through a woman’s eye. Moriko’s life seems so normal, and that’s what I like about it. Who is more relatable than a 30-something-year-old who just wants to play video games all day every day?
Anime For Empowering Women
It’s safe to say that many people have grown up with anime as an integral part of their lives. So many classic fan-favorite anime are riddled with poorly portrayed women and overt sexualization. And typically these situations aren’t particularly relevant to the story. It’s important for the anime industry to flip that status-quo. The anime fanbase consists of more than just one demographic, and it’s also important for children to see equal representation in the shows they watch. With anime constantly growing in popularity, the industry’s leaders must take responsibility for producing shows with a gender-neutral eye.
It’s easy to point out anime with misogynistic characters and storylines. It’s hard to argue against the gratuitous sexualization in anime, as the problem persists in western media as well. It is blatant, excessive, and unwarranted. The idea that “sex sells” isn’t a good enough reason to undermine and objectify women. Movements like #MeToo have sparked a global discussion about gender-bias and equality, so it’s only a matter of time before the anime industry follows suit. Access to more inclusive anime and manga is important for the industry’s future, and especially for the fans and community overall.
If you’re looking for more thoughts on feminist-friendly anime and the state of the anime industry overall, check out the Anime Feminist blog.
Featured image courtesy of Amazon.