The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
There seems to be a huge, glaring problem with most popular anime shows: the female characters. Despite the fair share of recent shows that have managed to write fun, interesting, and well-written female characters, such as Attack on Titan and Jujutsu Kaisen. Most female characters in the genre are one-dimensional, have little to no purpose in the main plot of the story, or are just plain annoying. Sadly, if you’re Sakura from Naruto, you’re all three.
This problem is predominately prevalent in Shōnen, which is expected because of its nature as a male-oriented genre. However, this doesn’t entirely exclude Shōjo from this issue, since most of the writers were male back in the early days of this anime-style branch. Generally, though not always, boys’ comics are told from a male perspective, and vice versa. Girls’ comics tend to focus on human relationships more than boys’ comics. The latter focuses more on competition or contests of will; like, for example, a detective struggling to close a case or a student trying to get to the top of his class. Lastly, girls’ comics tend to have artwork that is dreamier and softer, while boys’ comics tend to be brasher and flashier. Despite these clear gender differences, Shōnen is still the more popular branch. A third of its readers are women, so why are the female characters so often badly depicted?
In Sakura’s case, as in so many others, the problem is that the authors are bad at writing their stories. So bad, in fact, that many of them refused to even try, sidelining the female characters at any chance. Naruto suffered because of it, and even its modern-day predecessor, My Hero Academia, has this issue from time to time. Despite being a subversion of most Shōnen tropes, its lead heroine, Ochako, was sidelined from the story, so that the show could have 3 male leads: Deku, Bakugo, and Todoroki. It is completely normal for the female characters to be sidelined from the plot or to barely have any screen time. They usually don’t get to fight, and when they do, they usually lose unless they’re up against another female character. Their role in the story is typically only that of a love interest or parental figure, and their only plot importance is always tied to the main masculine hero.
Many of the female characters are brought down by cultural ideals of how women should behave in Japan. Like almost every culture on the planet, Japan has a propensity towards idealizing male dominance and female submissiveness. The notion of “men ought to be stronger than women” is a pervading theme that can sum up a lot of gender relations in manga and anime. Next time you’re reading manga set in modern Japan, count the number of times the hero rescues the heroine from unwanted advances from other men or the number of times a heroine faints from walking around in the rain while sick. The idea is that women, no matter how strong or independent they could be, are actually looking for someone, who they can depend on and who will protect them.
This is without even discussing how the characters are often used for fan service by being displayed naked or barely covered up. In the case of manga, they’re fully exposed with panty shots, nude poses, and tentacle porn-esque scenes. Frequently, the female characters used for fan service are canonically minors and are drawn to look very childlike. “Chaku Ero,” which means “erotically clothed,” is a kind of soft porn. It doesn’t involve nudity, but it can get very, very close and is frequently overtly sexual. Until 2014, child pornography was legal to own in Japan. While the law has since changed, the sexualization of minors continues. This is not exclusive to the more mature genres of manga like Harem and Hentai, which are common gags in popular Shōnen shows.
While this explains the issue, it does not negate the fact that it is fundamentally a writing problem that is constantly overlooked by fans. Ultimately, a badly written character can, at best, be of no use to your story, and at worse, be a hindrance. The truth is, even boys want well-written characters all around. Gender doesn’t matter in storytelling. There are reasons why characters like Sakura are so infamously hated. Having a story focus on a character that ultimately has little to no bearing on the plot is boring and becomes a burden to the audience real quick. Let’s keep criticizing these characters, so that, hopefully, one day, the authors stop writing female characters out of our favorite stories.