Oversexualizing women in anime

The genre deserves better

In the ninth grade I went through an intense anime phase. I watched all of ‘Naruto’ in roughly 90 days, watched all the seasons of ‘Fairytale’ available on Netflix, ‘Blue Exorcist’,  ‘Sword Art Online’, ‘Erased, Soul Eater’, ‘7 Deadly Sins’, ‘Bleach’, ‘Black Butler’ and a whole host of others.

For an entire year, I gobbled up every story I could get my hands on. Then suddenly, I stopped. 

For years I wasn’t able to put a finger on what made me stop watching — I still have Kakashi fanart in my ninth-grade sketchbook. My little brother just turned 12 and is going through a massive anime phase just like I did. He even talked our parents into getting a Funimation account to feed the new obsession.  

In doing so, I revisited many of the animes I watched when I was 14. That was when I noticed a disturbing pattern: scant clothing, barely-covering bikinis and nonsensical armor designed after lingerie. 

Finally, I was able to put a finger on what bothered me: the depiction of women. Women tend to fall into rigid archetypes; think moe, tsundere and yandere that rarely differ and are often wholly based around affections for a male protagonist.  

For my non-anime watchers out there, moe is a feeling of strong affection, usually romantic. Yandere is going to extremes for a relationship. An apt example would be killing off romantic competition. And tsundere is what I would describe as acting rude and cold to cover up deep romantic feelings.

Are you seeing a trend?

Not every single anime is guilty of this. Some show nudity in a tasteful way, or do so in a way that discusses this very issue. More often than not this is used as an excuse for undeveloped female characters and appeal to the male gaze. 

Instead of writing a well-rounded story that gives all characters individual motivations and aspirations, it’s easier to write women into a stereotype that largely centers around the lust women have for the male protagonist.

It honestly makes me, a female viewer, feel very isolated and disconnected from the story. I feel the diversity of the female sex is underrepresented. 

There is some hope, though. I watched ‘Demon Slayer’ with my brother and even took him to see the movie. For the most part, characters seem to be dressed appropriately with respect to modesty and the time period it was inspired by. 

I cried during character deaths. I really love the dedication the brother has for his sister. Even still, you could argue that it falls into overdone anime tropes of tying up women, and of course, has the typical large-breasted, soft-spoken women. 

Did I still enjoy the show? Yes! Was it well written? Yes! I just hope it doesn’t fall into the trap that I have seen many of my favorite shows fall into where the more they sexualize their female characters, the more the writing suffers. 

Instead of writing a well-rounded story that gives all characters individual motivations and aspirations, it’s easier to write women into a stereotype that largely centers around the lust women have for the male protagonist.

Still, there are anime I like watching and I don’t think anime itself is a bad thing. You can love something and still see its flaws. But for me, this is something that hinders my enjoyment of these stories. 

And I am not the only person who feels this way. Even other men have brought this up to me and they feel alienated from the genre as well. 

So what characters do I want to see more of? I want to see less women being written to be ashamed of their bodies or figures, then only overcome these insecurities because of a man. 

I am constantly seeing women being written as feeling insecure about their chest size or forehead or any other number of insecurities. 

I want to see less women being afraid of their power. It’s okay for women to be powerful, to push the limits of their abilities and do so unapologetically. 

I want to see women dressed appropriately for the environment they exist in. No woman is wearing a bra and panties in a medieval time period. The sex appeal and fan service is obvious and demeaning. 

I want it to be okay for women to be fierce. No, they don’t need to be tamed by a romantic interest. 

I want to never see another skirt in the wind showing underwear. No more panty shots. 

And for the love of god, I want to never see another brother-sister relationship with sexual overtones.

And finally, I want to see less perverted main leads whose nasty behavior goes unpunished and is laughed off; it’s disgusting, breaks my suspension of disbelief and is not funny.

Consider this a calling to all my future screenwriters. The best advice I can give you to avoid these tropes is to write about women you know. How does your mom, your sister or your girlfriend actually behave? If women in your life sat down to watch it would they be embarrassed?

Write to real people. Have them struggle with complex issues to make for an interesting character arc. Let them be human.

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