Monday, August 25, 2014

OpEd: Male Gaze in Anime

Days to Come by Helixel

"Days to Come" by Ireland-based Helixel
Prints available for purchase from Society6. US$17.68

As a manga artist, Masamune Shirow has an excellent track record of writing well-developed female characters.  His female cast are and often the center of plots that could justifiably be characterized as "competence porn."  By which I mean they are confident, intelligent, and highly capable.  However, Shirow also has a track record of depicting the female form in hyper-sexualized styles.

The Major, or Motoko Kusanagi, is the protagonist of the Ghost in the Shell franchise. If you Google her name the search will suggest autocompleting your phrase with "is hot," "in bed with a boy," and "in bed."

So why does the fan base of a science fiction franchise deeply rooted in existential philosophy spend so much time thinking about the sexuality of a character all but devoid of personal background and know only by a military rank?  In a still ongoing series, Claire Napier of Women Write about Comics examines the Major's body throughout the various Ghost in the Shell mangas and anime series. (NSFW)

Ghost in the Shell:
In Ghost in the Shell, the Major is often nude or seemingly nude. In her opening scenes, for example, her nipple shapes are visible and she has no apparent genitalia. A line at neck level, visible in some short shots, and some possible cloth bunching during a crotch-level close-up suggest a flesh-colour bodysuit to the eagle-eyed viewer. Her breasts are individualised in a way that would have to be designed into a piece of clothing purposefully: how does the fabric adhere to the sternum? Why design a bodysuit that hugs tight as a thong?
Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence:
I adore Batou. He does not understand; he tries to be so kind. My first viewing of this film was almost entirely caught up in sympathising with Batou’s sadness — the Major’s status as post-individual disembodied lifeform alarmed me, and her presence as a Bellmer-style physicality registered, lightly, as repellant. I tried to ignore her. Her on-screen presence in the film is brief — she has only come back as a cameo, for Batou.
Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex:
Biology is not destiny; we’re all free to change our bodies to fit our self-image. A cyborg has almost no biology and is all destiny (how long might they live?). The Major’s ghost, presumably, tells her she’s a woman. What are the bodily choices she’s given? All of the female prostheses, cyborgs, and androids seen in the franchise are similarly babely along a very narrow template: long-limbed, slim, toned. Pert and rounded breasts and buttocks; pretty, low-detail face. Elegant.
The original Ghost in the Shell manga:
Panels focus on crotch-level views. Occasionally these scenes have the feeling of trying to illustrate how female bodes are used by a patriarchy (check out the “made in Japan” stamp on the gynoid’s buttock to the left)… but they do nothing to defuse what they are observing. The Puppetmaster’s appearances are little altered between the manga and Oshii’s film, and so many earlier observations may be repeated here. Think your own thoughts about the difference in nipple-deliniation.
Ghost in the Shell: Arise:
Within an illustration, or character design (a world of symbols that may or may not be helpful to real people), these breasts are less aggressive than their predecessors. They don’t project as intensely, they don’t “jut”. They’re unsupported, unemphasised; they appear more “natural” (of course, they’re not: she’s fully prosthetic). They’re not sexualised breasts! But: aren’t they?


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