I feel that all too often the media portrays femininity in a bad light. Either a woman is written as weak and pathetic, or she is a ridiculous OP for the sake of fan service. Where is the balance of being a fierce woman who retains her feminine identity without being an object of lust? Anime often objectifyies women, but I’ve met a few powerful anime females who have beautiful messages to teach us about what it means to be a woman.
Lady Bishamon from Noragami is the goddess (神) of war. She rides a mighty lion and wields many powerful weapons (regalia). She wears garb that may be questionable in the objectifying women department, but her physique still speaks a strong message that empowers women. Bishamon’s style harkens back to the romantic land of the ancients where powerful goddesses danced with mortals in little-to-no clothing. Think back to high school where you learned about classic art that often depicted women as either naked or in minimal clothing, such as “The Birth of Venus,” painted by Botticelli in the 1400’s. Lady Bishamon is a modern retelling of the sacred goddess who has influenced art, poetry, and myth to great lengths. She represents femininity in a powerful form, but still beautiful in its stagnant simplicity.
But Lady Bishamon is so much more than her long flowing hair, mighty weapons, and fierce personality. In season two of Noragami, we get to meet a much softer side of her. Lady Bishamon is secretly a mother figure. She protects her many regalia as if they were her own children. Like a good parent, Bishamon gives her children a physical under her protection. She also takes responsibility for their shortcomings. In Noragami when a regalia sins the master is struck with a painful blight that corrupts their divinity. The difficulty in having so many regalia is there is much more of a chance of getting blighted. Lady Bishamon has to suffer through much physical pain when her many regalia harm her unintentionally.
Like a mother going through childbirth this goddess puts her physical heath on the line for her children. She displays a great love for those in need—a love that comes from the sacred heart of an empathetic woman. Lady Bishamon is powerful not because she can fight, or because she is beautiful, but because she has something to fight for.
One of my favorite anime characters, Sakura Haruno, receives way too much criticism. The most inspiring aspect of Sakura’s journey in my opinion is how patient she is with herself as she grows into a fearless woman. Sakura had great potential from the start with chakra control, but she lacked power. Through hard training under Lady Tsunade, Sakura learned how to use her natural talent to become remarkably physically strong as well as skilled enough to summon a giant slug and store chakra in her forehead for emergencies.
Sakura taught me that it’s okay to be weak. It’s okay to be smart in some areas and lacking in others—that’s what it means to be human! I find it so disheartening when people make fun of Sakura for being “wimpy like a girl” or “useless.” She is far from both if you look at her story without comparing it to the ridiculousness of Naruto and Sasuke’s overpowered genetic abilities.
Even if she isn’t the best fighter in the beginning, Sakura plays a vital role in Team 7. She continues to grow even while being the damsel in distress—a situation that also helps evoke the fighter spirit in Naruto and Sasuke. This isn’t an attack on a woman’s ability to fight; rather, it is an inspirational depiction of selflessness for Sakura to sacrifice her own pride and desire to prove herself in order to let her team take the glory. Sakura realizes, as much as it pains her, that those who have someone to protect are stronger then those who do not. This is made clear when Rock Lee begs her to let him protect her. Sometimes, a man’s emotional strength manifests in him taking up a physical role in defense of a woman’s honor. Sakura ended up blessing her teammates by allowing them to fight for her. After all, teammates are supposed to sacrifice for each other, and in the very end, they all saved the day —together, as equals. When Naruto, Sasuke, and Sakura finally team up once again we see just how munch they’re grown. We see how the boy’s protection over Sakura has given her the opportunity to love them in return which leads to Sasuke’s redemption. Sakura is both able to physically assist in the battle as well as emotionally heal Sasuke.
My favorite anime woman of all time is the character after whom I named my cat! Tomoe is the first love of Kenshin Himura. Her role in Rurouni Kenshin: Trust and Betrayal is to act as Kenshin’s “sheath,” a person who emotionally protects him from his own guilt. Kenshin is an assassin suppressing the reality in which he is a savage murderer. Tomoe’s gentle feminine spirit is the only thing that can reach into Kenshin’s broken soul and begin to heal him. She embodies the spirit of women who invite relationship and vulnerability. In our culture, this is often seen as weak. An emotional woman is both “too much” for a man to handle as well as “not good enough” to have the ability to be emotional. I believe this kind of femininity is truly fierce. Tomoe is a woman who is strong enough to handle the pain of others when others find it easier to ignore and run away. This side of women is desperately needed in the brokenness of this world, and I find it a shame how often our culture labels this side of femininity as clichéd or weak.
I feel that in this world, we’ve forgotten the power of a gentle, redemptive woman. Women can be physically strong and powerful like men; anime has plenty of examples. But women also possess a delicate, nurturing nature that harbors the power of peaceful healing. This is part of how women are made in the image of God. The sweet, soft side of a feminine heart reflects the sacrificial and gentle love of Jesus.
When God created Eve, he called her an “ezer kenegdo” which often gets translated as a “help meet”; however, a more accurate translation is a “sustainer” or a “lifesaver counterpart” (Genesis 2:18). Tomoe’s femininity doesn’t just “save” Kenshin; it comforts, inspires, and nourishes him. In many ways, it completes him. Together, they are a team. Without each other’s strengths they couldn’t serve true justice. Just because Tomoe can’t physically fight like Kenshin doesn’t mean she’s worth less as a character. In fact, I believe she is more powerful because she can feel emotion so deeply. She changes Kenshin’s heart for the better.
Women are powerful wonders who often get overlooked. Anime has shown me that I don’t need to try to become an OP man in order to be “equal” to him, I just have to embrace what I know makes me fierce. I am a very emotional woman, and I get most of that from my dad. Still, my dad raised me to know how to fight—with my writing, my brain, and my karate. I’ve found that it is possible to be a strong woman both physically and emotionally. Anime depicts this truth well, and I’m glad that I have such realistic examples to strive after!
Featured image by 名前シフター | Phinyx (reprinted w/permission)