The Blog of No Return: hellyeahurasawa: themagnificentsolfi: “Hay que endurecerse, pero sin...
I love Naoki Urusawa but… what feminist approach? There are female characters who would have been really good if they had been more major, but for the most part, women seem to be sort of an afterthought for Naoki Urusawa.
I consider him feminist by Japanese standards at least, as sexism is arguably more rampant in Japan than in the West. He has done sports manga with women as the main characters (though in the case of Yawara! he was just trying to get into the industry), and in one of them (Happy!) I have been told that there is a lesbian character.
He does a lot of male-centric manga though, but even when female characters aren’t in the limelight they are treated as human. In Monster, Tenma himself has a couple of weird moments (“You’re a boy! Suck it up!” :P), but look at how he treats women in general. In his relationship with Eva (this info comes mostly from Another Monster btw), even though he was ultimately the stronger one emotionally, he relied on her to help him make decisions. As in, he valued her input. And while I’d argue that Tenma does have a mildly chivalrous attitude, he doesn’t care if a woman saves him, just as Nina did when that gardener was attacking him. He’s more secure in his masculinity than most men. :P Finally, there was the episode with the underground Vietnamese doctor. He only mentioned her gender once, and he was far more impressed with the fact that she was only 17 rather than being a female doctor. He treated her just like he would any medical student.
And hey, let’s turn to Eva again. I would argue that she is a deconstruction of the trope that women need men. Look at what her obsession with Tenma did to her: It drove her to alcoholism, she became fixated on vengeance, and she did some very nasty things. There is the character of Martin, and she did have feelings for him, but in the end she was able to move on and live her own life.
Oh and I don’t know how familiar you are with Master Keaton, but the feminism is strong with this episode. I can’t say how much input Urasawa had in the story since Hajime Kimura also worked on it, but dang…
What Toongal said, plus my two cents:
I think you’re seeing things too much in terms of quantification and less in terms of character depth. If quantity meant quality then any harem anime would be more feminist than most other fiction, when they’re usually the exact opposite of feminist. As a matter of fact, Monster is one of my go-to works when I explain to people why making something interesting to a female audience doesn’t mean filling some stupid gender quota. With its 4 or 5 major female characters, it’s one of the most feminist manga I’ve ever read (and that’s counting seinen, shoujo and shounen demographics) and, why not, among Western fiction too.
Having many female characters does not make a work feministic. Hell, having a female protagonist doesn’t make a work feministic. Lara Croft has come a long way to prove that, coming from an unatainable-yet-objectified sex kitten with huge tits and guns to a person with an actual personality, and history, and development.
The feminism I see in Urasawa’s works is the great depth and sensitivity in his female characters, which go way past the strong female character™ archetype – a term so bastardized that any woman holding a gun or a sword but also offering T&A is automatically a strong female character (as Lara Croft mentioned above). His women have strengths and weaknesses; they have their own character arcs, which may or may not deal with men; they sometimes have to be rescued and sometimes do the rescuing.
There is the occasional fanservice, yes (VERY tame for manga standards), but they aren’t so much diminishing the value of a character to fit her into the fantasies of the average onanistic otaku (cf. moe) as they are just throwing a bone to the reader: here, have some panty shots, now let’s go do something useful.
Another thing that came to mind: his female characters are allowed to grow old. It may seem an unimportant detail, but characters like Yukiji and Eva, bordering on middle age, don’t get nearly as much representation in media as a whole, let alone manga. It’s much more common in seinen and other adult-oriented material to have an older male dealing with much younger females, regardless of the type of relationships.
And finally, my main original point: if we consider feminism about equality between the sexes and not just empowered womanhood, his male characters are feminist for the mere fact that they don’t perpetuate sexist stereotypes about manhood. They cry, they show emotions, they take part in domestic life, they focus on family – and when they don’t focus in order to pursue “masculine” ambitions such as money and power, the results are terrible and disastrous (case in point: Otcho). Another example: when Tenma is staying at Milan’s house and they start talking about Japanese cuisine, they ask him (a guest, even) directly to cook them a Japanese dish, instead of, say, suggesting something and having Minh or Mrs. Suleyman cook it.
It’s subtle details like these that make a difference, you see? Urasawa’s works may not be female-centric (even if he does have works with female protagonists), but they’re inserted in a feminist framework and worldview that makes the small number of female characters basically irrelevant compared to their depth and importance.