WARNING: The following contains spoilers for Season 4 ofThe attack of the Titans, streaming now on Crunchyroll, Funimation, Hulu, and Amazon Prime.
With Attack on TitanAs the end gets closer and closer, it becomes easier to assess the legacy of the franchise as a whole. While the powerful and torturous tale of Hajime Isayama’s survival against all odds has garnered praise for its intricate storytelling, acting, and characterization, as well as criticism for its fascist and imperial subtext, its portrayal of women and those that are not part of the binary genre (Hange Zoe) is comparatively under-discussed. And it really is shouldbe discussed because perhaps contrary to what the uninitiated may expect,The attack of the TitansCharacters in either of these categories are mostly on a par with their male counterparts.
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For the shonen demographic, which caters to boys, the Isayama series is relatively free from all of the usual pitfalls that routinely drop female characters – if properly included.at all. In general, such failures are not clearly intentional or malicious; rather, the product of an ingrained cultural belief that boys and men care little about girls and women who do not serve male characters in one way or another: the sex object, the young lady in distress, the tenacious partner, the mother figure … or a horrible combination of all, and more. Some of the most heinous examples can be found in the likes ofThe seven deadly sins andFire force, who use women’s bodies for ecchi punchlines and even sexualized cannon fodder. Others, like the isekai genreSword Art Online,start strong before nerfing their heroines lest they eclipse the male lead (although the most recent season made up for that somewhat.)
Even shonen behemoths loveDragon Ball, whichfeatures brave and capable women like Bulma and Chi-Chi, andA piece, with Nami, Robin and Boa Hancock, are far from gender parity, and this one is … artistic appreciationproportions of the female form should make Milo Manara’s Spider-Woman blush. Yes, shonen has seen an improvement in recent years –Jujutsu kaisenThe cast is pretty balanced, for example – but you’d be hard pressed to find a lot in the action / battle series category that doesn’t make the female characters feel like just, well, “the female characters.” . Additions rather than integral pieces in the story.
By comparison, howeverThe attack of the Titansis certainly anchored by Eren, and later Zeke, Jaeger, characters like Mikasa, Hange, Historia, Ymir, Sasha, Pieck, Yelena and Gabi among others have a wide variety of roles to play and don’t feel embarrassed by their gender identity. Although they occupy a world deemed dark and vicious, there seems to be little room for sexism or sexual violence, which is often heavily supported in the fantasies of male authors in the name of ‘historical realism’. ‘. Isayama’s worldisdeeply rooted in racism, and the cast are far from racially balanced, but in this desperate battle for freedom, there are at least equal chances for men and women to live and die side by side. (Lampshade, in Season 3, Historia d’Armin’s disguise almost results in an incident of sexual assault … only for the perpetrator to realize that the “ girl ” he kidnapped is , actually, a boy.)
According to the myth of the creation of Titan, the very first Titan was female: Ymir Fritz, the owner of the founding Titan from which all Titans hail. The Eldians who carry his genetic potential to become Titans refer to themselves as his “subjects”. She eventually becomes a symbol of Eldian subjugation and, in her quest for liberation, empowerment – although the cost of this is extremely questionable. It’s tempting to point her out and fight girls like Mikasa, iconic of the Strong Female Character archetype, but that reductive label would do them a disservice.
Much like their male counterparts, these characters are not simply “strong,” but complicated, imperfect, and varied in their quirks: Sasha loves to eat and is fiercely loyal; Hange is a mad scientist struggling with leadership; Historia is a secret queen from an abusive family; Ymir is a warrior with a mysterious past; Yelena is a sociopathic henchman; Pieck is a wise powerhouse; Gabi is a child soldier on the verge of blossoming, and Mikasa is a military wonder consumed by unrequited love. It’s rare to see not only such a large cast of prominent female, non-binary characters in a shonen story, but also such lifelike characters – and without drawing inspiration from common gender stereotypes to do so. The same can be said in their designs: ranging from the most androgynous to the most feminine; simple in appearance to conventionally beautiful.
It’s even rarer to find a shonen story that includes someone like Hange, whose gender identity is deliberately left to the interpretation of the reader / spectator by its creator. Not only that, but their identity is never questioned by any other character. Ironically, for a world in which humans fight for their existence, Hange’s personal existence is never an issue – or even a question – for those around them.
Why is itThe attack of the Titansso well balanced in this regard? The answer to this could lie in the fact that Isayama’s world is eerily asexual. Despite the constant problem of overexualization, romance is often a footnote in high-action shonen.The attack of the Titansis no exception, with its core “will they, won’t they” subplot continually failing to come to fruition. Perhaps because of the historical context and the end of the world, the clothing is also quite conservative, but even if it wasn’t, no female presentation body is ridiculously proportioned. The women’s appearances are certainly commented on, passes are made and attachments are formed, but they aren’t overly objectified or the butt of sinister gags.
Nitpicking this, one could argue that female sexuality (andallsexuality) is rather suppressed accordingly. There is certainly nothing wrong with women being sexy, sexualandpowerful. But when you look at the way similar series likeGame of thrones, for example, rooting so much of the power of its female characters almost solely in their sexuality, you can see how objectification can easily mask itself as empowerment.
More than The attack of the TitansThe flaws are highlighted in the plight of Historia and Ymir – his only canonically queer female characters. Shonen is not a genre trailblazer for LGBTQ + stories, which makes it notable for the inclusion of a budding dynamic more than just friends between the pair in Seasons 2 and 3. Although the two did not Being physically explicit about their relationship, their words – and other actions – made it too clear what they were feeling. And as with Hange, there was never any discernible judgment on the part of those around them. Sadly, Ymir was the victim of an end of Bury Your Gays (andoff screentoo) while Historia was entrusted to the role of royal baby-maker and extradited to the outskirts of history. Downer terminations are very suitable for the brandThe attack of the Titans, but given the pair’s marginalized status, a closer look is warranted.
They are not the only ones either. In fact, one of theThe attack of the TitansMikasa’s big failures are arguably Mikasa – a woman who has a central role to play in the story but doesn’t have a real arc or autonomy to talk about it, it should go with it. You could argue that his Ackerman brothers, Levi, are also largely unchanged as a character by most of his experiences through the series, but his part is really just to “ kick Eren and d ‘look cool’. Her distant relative, however, is a third of the center trio and half of a potential major romance. She begins the story as an incredible fighter with a shy demeanor and hopeless devotion to Eren. None of these things have changed.
Externally, Mikasa is still an undeniable force to be reckoned with and most of the progressThe attack of the TitansAll in all, we must applaud. When it comes to this type of performance, shonen fans should continue to demand more from his contemporaries and successors.
Continue Reading: Attack on Titan Exposes the Depths of Zeke and Yelenas Evil Genius
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