I just found a paper I wrote a few years ago for a class on Women in Pop Culture. I wrote about the depiction of women in anime, done as a magazine with multiple articles. Here is the -full pdf- and below is an excerpt of my section on stereotypes. I wrote this a few years ago, so don’t judge me on my design skills… or writing for that matter. But the info is still good.
Anime Women: Common Role Models and Stereotypes
Anime was once seen as a boy’s past time. An anime convention consisted of a bunch of guys getting together to watch anime and not shower for a weekend. These days though, girls have taken over the anime scene. Women have always been a crucial part of anime itself, shoujo making up a large percentage of manga sales in Japan, but over the last ten years in America, the female otaku has come to dominate the marketplace.
With this influx of female viewers, it’s important to look at the women on the screen, the women that young otakus are seeing and relating to. Are the women of anime only the hentai school girls that are being raped by tentacle monsters? The ditzy bimbos who follow a guy around to fulfill his every wish? No. The women of anime are much more than that; they represent a broad spectrum of women and types, from the smart best friend, the ditzy but world saving magical girl, to the head of a vampire hunting organization. Women in today’s anime are taking a dominate role in their stories, both in anime aimed at women, and that aimed at men.
When looking at the women of anime, we see a variety of types. There is the passive girl who only lives for a guy. This type of girl most usually shows up in shounen anime, usually as a member of the main boy’s harem. A few shoujo mangas might get close to this though, with a main girl who seems incapable of doing anything without the male's help. In a shoujo manga though, the main girl will usually learn to stand on her own by the end. In the same stereotype of shounen harem girls, we have the aggressive girl who goes after the boy and won’t let anything stand in her way. Ryoko from Tenchi Muyo is like that, and as shown on our reader survey, women have a very mixed opinion about her for this. Some respected her for the way she goes after Tenchi, while others thought her love for him made her weak. Because of her multi-facets though, she is a good role model for girls. Many of these women can be either a positive or negative role model, and it’s up to women to know *why* they like or dislike a chosen girl. Through analyzing our responses, we come learn a lot about ourselves.
Because of the many different types of anime, shoujo and shounen, we will stick to some of the basic groups below, and some of the stereotypes of women that appear in them.
Centered on a nice guy who is a klutz around girls, some circumstance always conspires to surround him with women. These can be action series like Tenchi Muyo where there is a galactic sub-plot or high school dramas like Oh! My Goddess and Love Hina but the central plot is the relationship between the guy and the girls. Here we mostly either see the very passive girl who gets shy and quiet around the main guy and the aggressive girl who either pursues the guy or gets violent when (often accidentally) pursued by the boy. Misunderstandings are often major plot devices and the other girls around the guy and main girl(s) tend to push the main pairings together, while getting crushes on the guy.
Somehow or another, the main girl finds herself forced into saving the world. And along the way, she needs the help of some incredible hot guys. Like the shounen harem, usually at least one of the guys is aggressive in pursuing the main girl, and the girl is always forced to choose from at least two guys. Typically, this choice is between the rogue and the prince. One who she feels passion for and the other who she knows will treat her like a queen. Fushigi Yuugi is a central example of this, with Miaka the priest being protected by her seven male guardians. Her rival and best friend Yui has some females in her guardian group, but Miaka only has males, two of whom actively pursue her and a third that seems intent on doing so also, until circumstances get in the way. Miaka’s downfall is that she tends to be rather weak without her male protectors, as is usually the problem for girls in these anime. At the end, they always get themselves together when the lives of their friends are on the lines though, but these women are often seen as weak and helpless by the fans. This isn’t helped in America by the fact that the dubbing is usually done by very high pitched girls, one of the quickest ways to turn fans off of a female character.
Another less offensive girl is Himeno from Pretear. She is better role model because she takes a larger part in her own role, refusing to just be slated as the new Pretear. A retelling of Snow White magical girl style, her seven dwarfs are replaced by seven hot guys (well, three are adorable kids). As a magical girl, she actually has power, thought it is reliant on “merging” with one of the guys, to create a more ultimate form of his elemental power. Still, she is an active participant in her destiny, unlike Miaka who only exists to be the priestess and let the guys do her work.
The above shoujo harem series can also be seen as magical girl series, in which an ordinary girl finds out she is the inheritor of great power, or sometimes she makes it for her self. Sailor Moon is the most classic example, being extremely popular around the world and the first female oriented show brought to America. In this, Serena finds out that she is the Moon Princess, and along with her four sailor scouts she must protect the world from the evil of the Negaverse. Spanning around 200 episodes, it is a tale of love and friendship. Serena resonates with a lot of teenage girls because she has flaws; she is clumsy and scared, yet willing to stand up for her friends and do the job when it’s needed. She doesn’t get the hang of things right away, but has to learn how to take over her new role. For girls just entering the new world of high school, she and other magical girls are great role models for how to take on the scary aspects of life.
Along with the main girl, if the anime contains a group of magical girls, then we have another set of stereotypes. Someone always has a fiery temper, while another is boy crazy, and yet another can’t be dragged away from her books and actually reads the instruction manual before trying out a new magical item. This is another reason why the magical girl genre connects with so many girls, because there is usually a character for everyone to connect with.
High School Drama
Just like American high school drama books, the manga and anime ones deal with the trials and tribulations of being a girl or guy in high school. Filled with tests and love, friends and betrayal, these women must struggle with growing up while still being treated like a kid by their parents. The typical shoujo high school drama centers on either a “normal” girl or a very shy girl. If she is a shy girl, she typically ends up falling in love with the school bad boy, who of course has a heart of gold, and he transforms her into a self confident woman. This can be both a negative and positive role model, since she needs the man to help her make the transition, but at the same time she accepts the transition and finishes it herself, the man usually is only the instigator. The other kind usually involves an average high school girl, who like in shoujo harem anime, must choose between two guys. It’s usually pretty easy to tell who she will choose, but some books are very good at keeping the reader in suspense. These are popular with women readers because they tend to be the most similar to their lives, and many high school girls like to read an idealized romance.
Adventure anime and manga tend to cross gender lines more than anything else. Shows like InuYasha, Slayers, and Fullmetal Alchemist blur the line between shounen and shoujo, but the closest way to tell is to look at the gender of the main character. Even then, these shows are enjoyed by males and females a like and usually contain many strong women.
Every adventurer needs a best friend or traveling companion of the opposite gender. This person usually works to be their love interest, though the adventure genre doesn’t usually spend a lot of time pairing them up. Shows like InuYasha are more obvious that by the end the couples will be together, but other shows like Slayers require the fans to read between the lines. This is why fan fiction is so popular for these types of show, the fans want to finish the romances since the authors won’t finish them before the series is over. And these series can run for years.
The strong and wise female is another stereotype, typically not traveling with the group but necessary to give them advice and courage. Often a teacher like Izumi from Fullmetal Alchemist she can serve as a surrogate mother since adventures seem to rarely have living parents.
The strong sidekick woman is another necessity, like Sango in InuYasha or Amelia in Slayers she is there to help with the fight and fulfill the role that the main girl can’t cover. She can be a fighter like Sango or a healer like Amelia, but she usually has talents that are opposite to the main girl. These women are usually strong, like most of the women in adventure anime, and while they might face some trials, they will get through them better than ever. Family trauma tends to follow them, with lots of reasons to angst and feel sorry for themselves, yet they battle through and don’t spend nearly as much time as they could justify on angsting.
There are many other anime styles, mecha, apocalyptic, horror, etc, but most of those women fall under the styles listed above, especially within adventure. Most of the women in anime begin in these models, but break out of them with careful characterization and carry-through by the authors. Overall, anime is an excellent place for young women to see female role models and learn to respect their characteristics.