Anime Feminist Roundtable: Trash Characters

Have I mentioned I’m a part of Amelia Cook’s AniFem project? No? Well, I am – and I’m proud to be a part of a collection of such amazing feminist bloggers. This week, we had our first round table discussion about the colloquially-termed “trash” characters.

Read the full conversation on Anime Feminist!

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Missing Miss Hokusai

Most people are familiar with the works of Katsushika Hokusai, particularly the iconic “Great Wave off Kanagawa” ukiyo-e print, but few know that his daughter, Katsushika O-Ei, was a talented artist in her own right. She spent most of her life assisting and working with her father and was best known for her prints of beautiful women. Miss Hokusai, based on the manga Sarusuberi by Hinako Sugiura, tells a fictionalized version of her life, one characterized by her devotion to her blind younger sister as well as to her art.

Miss Hokusai eschews a traditional narrative structure, instead opting for an episodic approach. It’s an unusual approach to a film, one that has been widely criticized, but I thought it worked beautifully for the subject matter. The vignettes provide a more complete picture of O-Ei as a person; without having to unite them through a story, it gives snapshots of her personal and professional life and relationships. We see how she relates to her father, to her colleagues, to her sister, and to her art, without her being defined by any one aspect. O-Ei is certainly a woman who defies simple definition. From the very outset, she makes it clear that she is a woman with little interest in traditional femininity. She strides across a bridge over the Sumida River with her arms at her side, rather than the delicate, pigeon-toed gait with hands folded in front favored for women at the time. Instead of maintaining the home, as would be her expected role, she works side by side with Hokusai, explaining that neither of them cooks or cleans; rather, they just move when things get unlivable.

Historical fiction rarely focuses on women, so I especially applaud the decision to tell O-Ei’s story rather than that of her legendary father. That’s part of why I was so baffled by the number of reviewers who came away with the impression that the movie was about Hokusai himself, rather than the title character. This review by Brian Tallerico on rogerebert.com exemplifies that mistake. Tallerico seems unable to conceive that the movie is not Hokusai’s story told through the eyes of his daughter, but her own story. He claims the film “allows us to see him through his daughter’s eyes.” Hokusai is a prominent character and influence in her story, but make no mistake – O-Ei is the one driving the action in every scene. The dissonance between expectation and reality makes it difficult for Tallerico to fully immerse himself in the world of the movie and enjoy it for its own qualities.

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Baku-“Man have drive, woman give in easy”

Summary: Mashiro and Takagi have decided to devote their energies toward a mainstream battle manga, despite their editor advising them against it. Miyoshi continues to insinuate herself between the two as her relationship with Takagi deepens. Meanwhile, Miho starts to see some modest success, but at what cost?

Content Warnings: Lots of jokes about Miyoshi’s big boobs, but not much otherwise.

Part 3: Baku-“Man Dream Big, Need Supportive Woman”

Remember when I said I liked Miyoshi a lot? And that I was gearing up for her downfall? Well, turns out it took a lot less time than I thought!

The third volume of Bakuman opens with Mashiro and Takagi brainstorming a new concept for their mainstream battle manga they’ve decided to make. Miyoshi remarks on their work ethic, “You guys really are something… How can you be so positive about your chasing your dream?” She tells them about how despite her success at competitive martial arts, she quit in middle school when she discovered how many people were better than her.  It’s a relatable enough concept, feeling discouraged and quitting because you feel like you’ll never be the best.

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