Oh, So Tropical: The Soul Girl

I don’t know how many times I’ve looked at a trio of characters and seen them forming a classic Mind-Body-Soul trio.

Sure. How about Blossom, Buttercup, and Bubbles, right?

One thing about those roles is that two of them are stereotypically male and the other stereotypically female. Is that morally right? Heck, no. But tropes are tropes because people use them over and over and they keep working.

So you end up with classic trios like Jim Hawking – Gene Starwind – Melfina from Outlaw Star. Mind (boy), body (boy), and there she is, the soul girl.

From there it’s one step to a female character whose only real function in a story is provide or have emotional characteristics. The character is not especially bright, not particularly talented physically, but she has some personality characteristic that enables her to contribute to the success of the team.

Sure, you can think of a million of them once you start to try. I made a REALLY short list that could get a lot longer real quick:

Usagi Tsukino (Sailor Moon)
Rikka Takanashi (Love, Chunibyo, and Other Delusions)
Yoshika Miyafuji (Strike Witches)
Touru Honda (Fruits Basket)
Melfina her own self
Himari Takakura (Penguindrum)
Yuki Takeya (School-Live!)
Mikuru Asahina (The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya)
Tsukimi Kurashita (Princess Jellyfish)

Notice I didn’t say “Sailor Moon.” In her magical girl guise Usagi is a powerful and potent being. But in plain clothes? She’s totally uncoordinated and last in her class in grades. The only thing she brings to the table as a civilian is her kind heart.

And it’s obviously not all “Male-Male-Female” trios. All the girls in School-Live! are pretty well all female, as some of the inset art work in the manga makes perfectly clear.

The Soul Woman exists because she is a complementary member of a team contributing in a way considered appropriate for a female by Japanese writers and directors for their audience of Japanese boys. To them, “smart” is a boy’s job and “strong” is a boy’s job. But “kind” can be a girl’s job.

And it’s an important job. Characters get formed into triads like Mind-Body-Soul because of the dramatic potential that creates: Because their strengths are different, they differ in their approaches to winning the day. That creates conflict within the trio, and a little conflict is a good thing. At the same time, because their strengths are different, as a group they have whatever resource they need to win the day. In fact, they often win on their third try, after the other two approaches have failed.

As with any trope, there’s power in using it but there’s also power in subverting it. You could gender-bend it, as in Neon Genesis Evangelion, where you have Mind – Rei, Body – Asuka, Soul – Shingi, but a male character who is all soul can easily fit into a heroic role, as a wise old man archetype, right? (Not that EVA does that, either!)

But how about the character who is strong of body, strong of mind, has a poor personality, and is female? The anti-soul girl, if you like.

Sure, you know her and I know her.

Haruhi Suzumiya, right?

She’s an Anti-Soul Girl!

I mean, she a great physical specimen, really cute with great hair and a hot bod, plus she’s an athletic marvel all the sports clubs want to recruit. And yes, she’s smart: She finishes all her homework in the blink of an eye, and can you imagine the Closed Space she might open if she ever got a bad grade?

But when you get right down to it she’s a bully and a spoiled brat. Kyon doesn’t much like her at all, and it’s not that great hair putting him off, right?

Is Haruhi a memorable character or what?

Now, I didn’t say, “great” (although I think she is) or “likable” (I like her, but I like women with complex personalities). I said, “memorable,” and whatever else Haruhi is, she’s memorable.

Tropes are tropes because they work. But if you turn a trope on its ear, you know, that might work, too. People got sick of The Princess in Peril and now we have Self-Rescuing Princesses. Someone got sick of Soul Women and gave us Haruhi, and the religion based on her worship.

Makes me wonder if there’s a trope out there I can subvert. Hmmm….

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.

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