The following questions were taken from my Ask.fm page, and in both of them the question is posed in a way that seeks to apply a certain label to anime, and I answer that it’s hard, and not all that fruitful. The reasons in each case are different, but I think both answers work well together as an exhortation to look at how we look at things, and to identify that as more important than the result itself.
Which anime works would you consider feminist?
The long and short of it is that, often, answering such questions (and also, “What’s a libertarian work?” or “What’s a socialist work?” when dealing beyond outright manifestos) means something sort of weird, because all these things are ideological goggles to view other things throughout, rather than labels that apply to things per se. Even “Libertianism” which I said Mahouka espouses the ideals of. It’s mostly that these works contain some of the things these things aim for, or the ideas they use as basis.
I could list a lot of “feminist works”, and since feminism means so many different things to so many different people, there’ll be people who will disagree with every single one of them. I won’t try to answer “What is feminism?” for instance.
I mean, is Fairy Tail feminist? I think it might very well be. Is Avatar: The Last Airbender (I know it’s not an anime, I’m making a point)? I think so. Is Kyousougiga any more feminist than Uchouten Kazoku? Not by some definitions I know.
And most works are far too layered. Is one non-feminist or even anti-feminist moment in a show enough to make it “non-feminist”? I don’t think so, some people do. Is Princess Tutu feminist? I actually don’t think so, on various angles.
It’s a mess. If you’re trying to use this question to gauge my thoughts on what feminism is in general, or how I judge shows, it won’t help you, because it truly is taking in the whole of a thing. I also don’t try to think “Is this show feminist or not?” because not only does it miss the point, and not only does it not yield much of interest as a label, it’s also not very useful for discussions.
Guy: I actually wish I could’ve avoided posting the following question, but I can imagine my comment section otherwise.
Fairy Tail is the most fanservice heavy shounen out there, and you feel it may be feminist? Is that because of Erza’s character?
Who’d have thought an answer detailing why applying or arguing about which show is feminist, and going to length at explaining that not only each person’s criteria will be different, but that each person’s criteria for deciding what is /not/ a “[feminist] work” ( could be filled with any ideology-goggles), would net a result at someone disagreeing with one of my opinions.
I’ll be very brief about answering your “question”. Fan-service in and of itself does not make a work non-feminist (at least as far as I’m concerned), just as lack of fan-service does not make a work feminist. Erza is but one character. There are more things to something being a feminist work or not than to whether it has female characters (think about “feminist diplomacy” or “feminist ecology”). And on female representation in that show, it has so many strong female characters, and weak, and human, and a great variation of roles for them to fill. Erza, Levy, Wendy, Minerva, Kagura, Cana, and the list goes on. Some are sexualized, some not, and almost never within the show’s world itself.
In case it’s not clear, we could be here all day arguing about whether a specific show is or is not “feminist”, and it won’t be terribly productive or useful. As such, I’m not interested in engaging in said activity.
Which anime works do you think have good writing?
It might not seem so hard on first glance, but this question is actually quite hard to answer. Think of it like this, when you read a book, everything from the scene-setting to the character interaction exists in the space between the words the writer provided and your interpretation of them/filling in the blanks. Since we consider ourselves static, we attribute our changed perspective to the writing.
So far so good, but what about an anime? There exists the writing, ourselves, the medium in between, as before, and also the directing, and the acting, and any other number of things.
Let’s say you dislike a scene, is it possible that it was well-written, but poorly directed? Is it possible the scene itself was well-written, but poorly attached to the one before it? Is it possible it was just well-acted or well-produced and thus lacked impact? Yes. And it could be true for a scene you like in spite of poor writing as well.
Is a well-written show well-written for its overarching plot? For its thematic discussion? Well-written as a show in terms of how everything is constructed, or its dialogue?
I just think it’s incredibly hard to actually point out at “good writing” in anime. A good example for me would be The Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-Kun, which has well-written sketches, but I don’t find it funny due to the delivery. I find Madoka Magica’s overarching plot well-written, but not everything about it is. Same for Steins;Gate – That those two involve time travel isn’t accidental, because it shows a certain form of narrative construction.
I find Durarara!! to be well-written on multiple angles, but I’m certainly mixing it with direction, but part of it is that it is the adaptation, beyond the source material, that is well-written, in terms of well-constructed, in crossing everything together.
Questions for readers: To flip it about, what use do you get out of labels? And which shows do you think are well-written?