I’ve generally liked the way Shinichiro Watanabe handles female characters. He seems to find a way to avoid simple tropes.
Cowboy Bebop: Faye Valentine is seriously hot but she is strong and avoids the Princess in Peril and Girlfriend stereotypes. Ed is completely unique, a free-range child.
Samurai Champloo: Fuu is small and physically weak but she is also strong-willed, bright, optimistic, and has a specific physical strength as well (being able to eat anything in sight).
Kids on the Slope: Ritsuko is actually a fairly stereotypical Japanese high school girl, unwilling to show her emotions explicitly, but at the same time Kids has a historical context and she acts like “good” girls did in the sixties. Yurika is also a type, but a non-traditional one, the girl who chases after the “bad boy.” She is a sixties “bad” girl. They are defined by their times, people who existed then, not superheroes.
Space Dandy: Scarlet kicks ass and takes names. If the name happens to be Dandy, so much the better. And I’m sure you noticed all the Boobies women are smarter than Dandy.
Carole and Tuesday: In a certain sense the girls violate my premise because they are tropes, Carole a Gamin, and Tuesday the Poor Little Rich Girl. Carole is a great character; Tuesday seems pretty dumb but I think she comes by it honestly; it flows from her back story as a protected but neglected child. Naive might be a better word than dumb. Either way, they’re good characters. They may be tropes, but they are not SIMPLE tropes.
Which leads us to his remaining series, Terror in Resonance, and its primary female character, Lisa Mishima.
Shadowed face, bright background: Lisa Mishima.
In certain ways Lisa is less a character and more an archetype. Lisa is a case study in “How a normal kid becomes a terrorist,” and in that she’s more instructive than appealing.
That has value. She’s an exploration, an attempt to understand how a seemingly normal kid could “do that.”
The boys, Nine and Twelve, are interesting but simple in their motivations. The government experimented on them, tortured them, killed their friends. Boom. Motivation.
They have a lot of good reasons to turn against their government and the society that created it, and even as they do they try to follow rules of “normality;” they try not to kill when they can possibly avoid it. That’s what makes them work as characters: yes, they are terrorists, but even as terrorists they are better people than those they are rebelling against, who have no qualms about killing.
Lisa, though, is sucked into it. She is an outsider, a loner, but the government hasn’t done anything to her one way or the other.
At the same time she IS a loner. She has no friends at school, and in fact the other girls abuse her. They steal her school shoes, a mark that they all hate her. When we meet her they are trying to peer pressure her into jumping into the school pool with all her clothes on. At home her mother is unstable at best and possibly suffering from mental illness, and Lisa has no father. She is capitol A Alone.
She is vulnerable.
Into this jumps Twelve. He’s cute and he honestly likes her. He shows her an alternative to her current life by showing her there’s someone she can be with.
He’s a symbol, of course. He represents the shiny new ideology that gives her life meaning. In the ’30’s it was Communism, in the ’60’s it was Anarchy (that pops up in Kids on the Slope, too), in the ’70’s it was Liberation. Ideology got smaller and more focused after then, but the fact remains it gives the person something bright and shining to look at and live up to and feel like they can use it to save the world. Jim Jones. Save the Whales. Climate Change. I once met a nice young woman who made her living dumpster diving (I let her clean out my refrigerator).
Lisa is reluctant at start, unsure of where she is going. And then they give her a bomb and tell her she can be an accomplice or she can be dead. Her choice.
Once she has chosen, she moves closer and closer to the ideology represented by the boys, in this case a specific brand of anarchy. But by the end she’s all in, a part of their mob. We’re supposed to think she pays for that when Twelve is killed, but in truth she’s earned a prison sentence but gets let off for some reason.
As a character, she’s not a trope. You can’t look at Lisa and say, “Oh, yeah, she’s a…(name a stereotype).” She’s an exploration: Why does a normal kid grow up to be a terrorist?
Because this is the 21st century and normal kids sometimes grow up to be terrorists.
She’s not a great character. She’s flat in terms of personality and passive in terms of activity. It’s hard to know what she’s thinking because through most of the series she’s reacting rather than thinking.
But at the same time she’s an answer to the question, “How could a good kid do this?” Because she’s a good kid, and she does that.
I think she’s a fairly superficial answer. By making her a loner, picked on, the kind of kid who eats her lunch in a toilet stall instead of the cafeteria, Watanabe has made her an obvious case. Of course Lisa hates society. Society hates Lisa, or at least that is her perception.
But at the same time she’s real. There are people like Lisa Mishima, people who are looking for something larger than themselves to follow, because they don’t or can’t follow themselves and their own hearts. The fact that she is superficial does not mean she is not real.
She’s a simple answer to the question, “What makes a kid become a terrorist?” but she’s a valid answer.
And what she’s NOT is a stereotype. Once again Watanabe shows us a female character who is not a stereotype. By god, he’s good at that.
I always look at comments and feedback, and I’m sure I’m not the first to see what I’ve seen, so have at it. Just keep it clean and keep it on target…no personal attacks, okay? Thanks.