I know already some of you are shaking your heads because you can name a dozen or more female lead characters in anime. Possibly it is because of the genres I prefer, but finding a female lead in action, horror, science fiction, or even fantasy, is actually quite challenging. There’s a reason so many people praise the Major from Ghost in the Shell. She stands out because she stands more or less alone in terms of a solid representation of a female character in the genre within anime (there are others but I’d challenge people to think of them off the top of their head and I’m sure more than a few of you are trying).
Admittedly, this problem isn’t entirely unique to anime. There are arguments across almost every entertainment medium for better representation of women and more diverse leading roles and certainly we can then extend that same argument to pretty much every minority group. Still, given there are some truly brilliant female characters in anime, I have to wonder why in my preferred genres they get shuffled to romantic interest, emotional support, angry girl who occasionally beats up protagonist but comes through when needed, etc. Very occasionally they get to be the strict person in charge and get to chastise and talk down to the young male protagonist giving us the illusion that we have a female in a position of authority. Usually right before the male protagonist goes and does whatever he wants regardless.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying these characters shouldn’t exist. There are some quite entertaining female supporting characters out there. I’m just wondering why we don’t have more well written leading females in these stories. And to be honest, it will largely come down to percentages. With less female leads in general if the same percent of female leads are good or memorable as male leads (lets be real, there’s a lot of poorly written male leads), that will result in very few memorably well written female leads.
Without looking it up, name 3 female
leads from popular anime.
Honestly, I would struggle with this. I can think of some great supporting characters from dramas, like the Kawamoto sisters in March Comes in Like a Lion. Seriously, Hina is just this side of a perfect supporting character with an incredible character arc in season two and she’s just amazing. Incidentally, go watch March Comes in Like a Lion.
But when going through the top 10 anime by popularity on MAL what I find is some truly great female characters but almost no female lead characters. I mean, Death Note… While Misa has her fans she’s not even close to a lead in the story. Skipping a few we get Sword Art Online and FMA Brotherhood. I would never be mean to Winry about her character, she’s awesome, and Asuna is one of my favourite female anime characters (at least in the first season of SAO). She’s actually a character I have a proper figure of, poised with her sword ready to strike. Amazing. But neither Winry or Asuna are actually a lead character.
At number seven on the list we get Steins;Gate and the amazing Kurisu Makise and the adorable but slightly less impressive Mayuri Shiina. However, no matter how you slice it, these characters exist around Okabe Rintarou and they aren’t leads (though they are highly enjoyable characters that should be celebrated in their own right).
In fact, it wasn’t until I got to number 10 on the list and saw Angel Beats that I thought we had any hope of finding a female lead. I mean, there’s Yuri in the centre of the promotional art holding her gun and looking for all the world like a leading character. But whose story does Angel Beats really tell? Almost the whole narrative is filtered through Otonashi’s experience and while the female characters certainly offer diversity (and one of the few that isn’t a harem in the process) it would actually be difficult to claim that Yuri is a leading female character.
Actually, I found that a lot. A story that seems to revolve around an interesting female character that is actually entirely filtered around a male character’s experience of the story. So Elfen Lied at 23 might count as a female lead in a horror, but I guess it depends if you think the story is Lucy’s. Certainly the opening few episodes are but then the story seems to get a little hijacked.
This begs the question:
with more female viewers watching anime
should their be more female leads?
Honestly, the answer to this, much like the question of should there be more diversity in general in entertainment, would be a resounding yes. At the same time though, creating a character just to check a box for diversity lends itself to pretty stale characters. Or characters that just miss the point of what the audience wanted when they asked for such a character.
Also, just because someone is a female viewer, does that mean they necessarily want a female lead? While I would certainly ask for a few more in my watch list, by and large I’m not concerned if the lead character of a show is male. I’m more concerned that they are an interesting character. If they are well realised and well developed as well we’re onto an absolute jack-pot of a character regardless of which box they’ll get placed in.
Female leads are scrutinised
within an inch of their life.
It is seriously tough being a female lead character (or a representation of any group that doesn’t get frequent representation). The audience that wants that type of character is frequently super critical of the way the character comes across or constructed. Doubly so if the person who wrote the character isn’t actually a representative of the group.
Poorly written female characters endless get criticism about existing only for fan-service, for being stupid or comic relief, for having no clear goal of their own… Yet there are so many more male characters who behave in the exact same way. We’re almost immune to these characters because we see them so often and we don’t bother to call them out, but when a female character comes along with the same flaws somehow this ignites the inner critic.
Criticism isn’t necessarily a bad thing mind you. Better written characters in general would make for more enjoyable stories. Very few people would say we need characters written with less integrity or care. Yet it seems counter productive to always focus on the negative when anime, or any entertainment medium, does try to branch out in their characters. Sometimes they deserve it when they are truly poorly researched or written, but when there’s a genuine attempt, should the positive not be noted? Or should we start lambasting all the terrible male leads out there and demand better representation for them as well?
It is difficult to understand what
the audience wants in a female lead.
Does the audience want strong women? Real women? Emotional women? Super women who can do everything? Vulnerable women? Stoic women? Do we want them all at various points and none at others?
Just making your lead character a female doesn’t mean that the anime is going to satisfy an audience seeking a female lead character. Just like not every male protagonist clicks with every male viewer. Again, having a range would be nice because statistically if there enough different kinds of female leads surely one would work for the member of the audience in question.
In short: The Key To Better Female Leads
Is Having More Female Leads
I’m kind of hoping this didn’t come off sounding like a rant against male leads or arguing that lack of female representation is the only representation issue in anime. If it did, that wasn’t the intention. I was just starting to short list my draft for top female characters this year and realised that other than Emma, from The Promised Neverland, I was coming up fairly short on leading female characters. I know that if I watched more CGDCT anime or school comedies or more slice of life I would probably encounter more female leads.
Anyway, I’d love to know your opinion on female leads in general and who your favourite female lead character is. Incidentally, mine is Maka from Soul Eater.
Thanks for reading
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