Oh, So Trope-ical: The Sexually Aggressive Gal

Yeah, I started spelling it Trope-ical. There’s no point in a pun no one gets.

But yeah, there are a lot of tropes in storytelling. That’s not an accident. Tropes are tropes because they work.

I’ve said that – tropes are tropes because they work – a few dozen times, and not just in the blog posts. I have a life outside of blogging, I’ll have you know! I pretty much have to, since my income from blogging adds up to one big fat zippo and I have this annoying habit of eating. So I do presentations at cons and belong to writers’ groups and so on, and I say that in all of them. Tropes are tropes because they work.

One trope that works in anime and manga is the sexually aggressive girl.

Sure. She knows what she wants and she knows how to get it.

You can usually tell who she is right off because she’s usually a Gal: You know, dyed hair, Western clothes, enormous bosom, total lack of traditional Japanese modesty.

Plus, you know, she’s sexually aggressive. She pushes her body and especially her breasts up against the boy. She teases the boy with sexual talk. She flirts outrageously and shows off the curves in a variety of situations.

Okay, the trope works. Works for what?

Look, okay, let’s be frank about it. One way the trope works is that it attracts the target audience.

Right, I mean, manga and anime CAN speak to many, many audiences. All you different people who read this blog are good examples. I mean, seriously, I’m a writer and an American and a university professor and I love this stuff.

But the primary audience is teen-aged Japanese boys.

That’s not completely true, of course. We know about shojo and josei, for example, for Japanese girls and women, respectively. That’s one thing media like anime and manga that release a lot of product can do: search out smaller, better defined audiences that are profitable market niches. “Narrowcasting,” we call it.

But the primary audience is teen-aged Japanese boys. And not JUST teen-aged boys. These boys are a little geeky, right? Popular, confident boys have actual RL friends to do stuff with. Athletic boys have practice to attend. Serious students have serious studying to do. Nope, we’re looking at the geek boy here.

Okay: What are the chances geek boy has an actual, RL girlfriend?

So that’s one way the trope works, the most important from the standpoint of the industry: It attracts the audience’s attention. Because, you know, that girl is SO BAD, right? And given all the cheesecake associated with the trope; our boy gets to check out the curves.

He may be a flop with the chicks, but he has an imagination, right?

Ranko Saoji from Sankarea, progenitor of thousands of imaginative situations

And not only does he like what she looks like, he likes what she does. She walks right up to the male character and makes her interests – sexually – plain. If you’re an introverted geek boy, that’s like, “Oh, yeah! If she’s giving it away, I want it!” It makes it easy for the viewer to look at the male lead – who is typically either a hard-core loser or totally oblivious – and look down on them. “He doesn’t even know she’s hitting on him. I’m smarter than that guy, ho ho ho!”

Wish-fulfillment. Don’t leave home without it.

If that’s all there was to it, we’d probably see the sexually aggressive girl all over regardless of whether she works as a storytelling device, because, after all, anime and manga companies are in business to make money.

But she also works narratively in certain specific ways.

One is as a contrast. In a lot of stories you see ye olde Eternal Triangle, right? Often times there are two girls chasing after one boy, and there needs to be a contrast between the girls. I know, let’s make one of them a Gal and one of them a more traditional, modest girl, a Good Japanese Girl (TM). That solves that!

Making one traditional and one a Gal creates a tension there between the two. That’s makes them very different from the boy’s point of view. BOOM! Conflict! Even if the girls like each other, the contrast between their styles makes the choice between them difficult for the boy, because they are so very different. He has to figure it out.

The second way she works is that she’s unusual, and being unusual she creates a tension between her behavior and normative behavior. Gals make terrific comic characters because they don’t act like Good Japanese Girls (TM), so there’s a constant tension between what they are supposed to do and what they actually do. All the writer needs to do is cue humor and they should be able to get instant laughs, at least from our teenaged Japanese boy.

And what that does is reinforce the idea that whatever the Gal is, we know what she isn’t: She’s not a Good Japanese Girl (TM).

There are, of course, Gals in Japanese society. The trope comes from the cultural subclass, not the subclass from the trope. So, by making the Gal a comic character, the manga and anime culture also reinforce the idea that girls who live this way are silly. In my racket we call that “Transmission of cultural values,” and it’s one of the functions of mass media.

To my, Western, eyes, the Gal is actually not so funny. I’ve known women who were like that; after all, they’re supposed to be Westernized. I suspect this makes those of us Westerners who look at Gals in manga and anime and wonder, “What the hell is wrong with the boy here? She’s letting him know what she wants and he’s too afraid to give it to her?”

To us her behavior is normative. But to a Japanese boy, she’s non-normative. And non-normative is scary, and bad.

Hmm. Interesting. Anyone want to write an MA thesis on this stuff? I’ll volunteer to be on your committee.

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.

2 thoughts on “Oh, So Trope-ical: The Sexually Aggressive Gal

  1. For me, the first exposure to such a girl was Anko Miterashi from Naruto. Though much like almost every female character she was tossed aside later, she had a wonderfully terrifying (and to my teenage-self, arousing) introduction.

    I think A Certain Magical Index has a lot of such girls, one of which is not just western-inspired, she is from outside of Japan.

    But I don’t come across this trope too much, mostly because I don’t watch as many Shonen anime as I used to.

    Liked by 2 people

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