Ginie’s Top Ten: (Mostly) Nostalgic Animated Crushes

I noticed that for something I really love, I actually haven’t talked much at all about animation on this website. And I’ve decided that I’m going to address that! With – what else? A Top Ten list of Hotted Animated Guys, partially inspired by Nostalgia Chick’s Top Ten “Hottest” Animated Guys list. A point Lindsay raises in her list is that while Top Ten Hottest Animated Women lists tend to be quite unanimous, Top Ten Hottest Animated Guys tend to have a lot more variation in  them and I guess are much more subjective to whom is drawing up the list. That being said she still discovered a trend: apparently we like them dark, and we like them tortured. Also we freaking love woobies (I’m totally with you there Nella). In drawing up this list I’ve come to realise that basically…yeah. Spot on. Apparently I, like most fangirls, just want to save you! And give you a hug or something. So anyway, here’s my personal and absolutely subjective Top Ten, with some nostalgic crushes and some more recent ones.

  1. Howl (Howl’s Moving Castle)
    So I’m developing a theory that Howl represents a certain character archetype that I think is really appealing to young girls – the fantasy character who crashes into your hum-drum life, grabs you by the hand and whisks you off to somewhere exciting and dangerous to have adventures together.  I’d argue that that’s definitely one of the appeals of characters like Doctor Who for instance (especially in the episode The Eleventh Hour), and I find it hard to believe that TV Tropes doesn’t seem to have come up with a name for this trope yet. (Dear TV Tropes: get on it!) Otherwise what is there to say? Animated!Howl is basically fangirl catnip: he’s handsome, he’s charming, he does magic, he’s noble of spirit – but he’s also tortured with (literal) personal demons and needs a hug! I actually much prefer his bookverse counterpart, but that doesn’t mean that teenage me wasn’t totally in love with Hayao Miyazaki’s version of Howl, especially as the English dub was voiced by Christian Bale.
  2.  Li Shang (Mulan)

    What can I say? Let’s get down to business! To deafeat – the huns! Li Shang is well, hot. But despite that he’s also got this kind of awkward thing going on which makes him quite relateable and likeable and I imagine that for most  fans of this character it’s the awkward likeability that puts him above all other similarly hot-ly drawn Disney princes(?) Also! Bonus point for being the kind of animated guy who acknowledges he was wrong and makes up for it by following Mulan’s lead into battle. And having the most awesome song in the movie while not being a Disney villain.
  3. Dimitri (Anastasia)
    Ahh, Anastasia! What a way to completely re-write history, movie! But of course, Anastasia is hardly the only serious offender in that category (*cough*, Pocahontas, *cough*). Anyway, I saw this movie long before I knew anything about 20th Century Russian history (which is why, dear animators, making animated films based on “historical facts” and getting them completely wrong is absolutely awful! CHILDREN DON’T KNOW ANY BETTER, and you’ve deliberately misinformed them). But back to what I was saying – I saw this movie when it first came out and obviously had this huge nostalgic crush on Dimitri. If Howl represents the fantasy-character-who’ll-take-you-on-adventures archetype, I’d argue that Dimitri (and Aladdin further down this list) represent the “real-world” counterpart to that archetype. As a side-note: re-watching this film as an adult is hilarious because I actually get references to 20s/30s Parisian things like the Josephine Baker cameo.
  4. Zuko (Avatar: The Last Airbender)
    Oh Zuko. Was there ever an animated woobie that needed just needed a hug more than you? Seriously though, I do love Zuko as a character and of all the characters in Avatar: The Last Airbender, he is the one with one of the most interesting and fully-developed character-arcs in the entire series. From conflicted antagonist and general bratty shit-head to ultimately becoming one of the series’ heroes, Zuko is easily a fan-favourite and it’s not hard to see why we all love him. I think one of things I love most about A:TLA though, is the amount of self-aware humour that is used, and isn’t spared when it comes to Zuko. Sure, Zuko’s story is pretty tragic but that doesn’t stop characters in-universe making fun of his obsession with restoring his honour. (Sidenote: Aang is disqualified  on account of age, basically.)
  5.  Link (The Legend of Zelda)
     Oh man, this is a long-standing nostalgic crush for me. I know this is also kind of cheating as Link isn’t a character from an animated movie or show (shut up shut up, that animated show doesn’t count!), but he is an animated character so as far as I’m concerned his position on this list is totally legit. My first introduction to Link was my step-cousin play The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time  back in 1998, and I just loved Link. He’s another archetypical character, the Hero who must go on his Hero’s Journey and I guess the great thing about Link is that you’re adventuring right alongside him on his Hero’s Journey. He is intentionally silent in all of the games as he’s meant to be your avatar into the Zelda-universe, but I actually think the animation (especially in later games like Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword) have been great for actually expressing giving him a personality and expressing emotions.
  6. Count of Monte Cristo (Gankutsuou)
    This is a much more recent one – anyone who knows my reading habits knows I love me some French 19th Century writers, especially Alexandre Dumas’ adventure stories and having finished The Three Musketeers books as a teenager I’m now working my way through The Count of Monte Cristo which I think I’ve already decided I like better than The Three Musketeers. This anime is actually a surprisingly faithful adaptation of the novel, but with a few key differences that make it its own story. First of all it’s set far into the future (where apparently there’s been a restoration of the monarchy in France?) and secondly Edmond Dantes’ drive for revenge is fuelled by a pact he made with a demon while incarcerated in the Chateau D’If. There are other differences of course in terms of the different characters and their relationships and motivations, but those two are the most notable differences with regards to the plot. The anime is quite dark, and the Counts’ thirst for revenge is shown to be a all-consuming destructive force that almost completely engulfs the good man that the Count used to be – Edmond Dantes.
  7. Aladdin (Aladdin)
    I think Aladdin’s position as on this list was solidified by an encounter I had several years ago with a IRL hot guy who actually looked like Aladdin. Despite all the race-fail there is in this movie, I do really enjoy it and I think the appeal of Aladdin is that he’s clearly a flawed character but one who learns from his mistakes and most importantly wants to take you on fun adventures. (We’ll firmly ignore the part where his character design was apparently based on Tom Cruise. Why..?)
  8. …Entire Prince of Egypt Cast
    Whether it’s Ramses or Moses or even Joseph from the less-good King of Dreams movie, I’ve got to hand it to the animators of The Prince of Egypt: all their animated characters are ridiculously good-looking. (I’ll momentarily ignore the fact that I just called a bunch of Biblical characters hot). Re-watching The Prince of Egypt makes me kinda sad that Dreamworks doesn’t do this kind of animation any more, because this film was amazingly epic and the music was gorgeous and the animation was beautiful.
  9. Dr. Facilier (The Princess and the Frog)
    Dr. Facilier is easily one of the most awesome characters in The Princess and the Frog, has one of the best Disney villain songs ever and possesses just an amazing amount of style and charisma. It also helps Keith David’s voice acting is nothing short of amazing and spine-shiveringly cool. There is a lot of race-fail in this film too when it comes to the representation of Vodou, and I take issue with how easily Dr. Facilier is defeated but regardless of these issues I can’t help but love this character to bits.
  10. Scar (The Lion King)
    What? I dare you not to love Jeremy Irons.

Honourable Mentions:

  • Prince Adam/The Beast (Beauty and the Beast)
  • Judge Claude Frollo (The Hunchback of Notre Dame)
  • Hadji and Johnny Quest (The Real Adventures  of Johnny Quest)
  • Haku (Spirited Away)
  • Gambit (X-Men)
  • Bolin (The Legend of Korra)
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Another Art Update!

Finally finished my illustration of Howl, Sophie and Calcifer from Diana Wynne Jones’ charming book “Howl’s Moving Castle”. And yeah….the castle may have been a little Miyazaki-inspired. What can I say?? Castles aren’t my forte! Check out updated the updated Fanart and Myths, Fairytales and Fantasy pages!

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Ginie Reviews Films: First Love (Thai Film)

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Film: First Love (สิ่งเล็กเล็ก ที่เรียกว่า..รัก aka. A Little Thing Called Love)
Director: Puttipong Pormsaka Na-Sakonnakorn and Wasin Pokpong
Year: 2010
Notable Actors: Mario Maurer, Pimchanok Luevisadpaibul
Rating: 3.5/5

~*Spoilers ahead*~

You know what? A part of me really really loves this movie. It’s funny, it’s sweet and it’s just so very Thai it reminds me of home. But it’s at about the half-way mark that things in this movie start to get a little bit awry and as much as I still love, let’s be honest: there are some pretty problematic things with this movie, not least of which is how the main character has a dramatic change in skin tone as part of her transformation:

To which I’m going to have to defer to Tumblr experts Damn, Lay Off the Bleach. The tale of the “ugly duckling” who changes into a beautiful swan and wins the prince is hardly a new one (hello there, She’s All That!); the fact that this transformation involves highly discernible skin-whitening is well, nothing short of awful. (Seriously, the first time I saw this film I thought they’d changed actress half-way through, she looks like two completely different people). More on this later.

First Love is a Thai teen romantic comedy about a girl called Nam and her crush on senior boy Shone.  The film follows her and her three loyal friend through all sorts of funny hijinks as she tries to get P’Shone to notice her while also becoming top of her class so that she might get to go to the States where her dad (who she hasn’t seen in five years) is currently working.

So far so typical right? But genuinely – but I really really loved the first half of this film. Maybe it’s because of the hilarious comedy. Maybe it’s because for at least the first half of the film a part of me genuinely sympathised with Nam and found her and her friends really sweet. Maybe it’s because for the first half of the film, Nam and her friends seemed playfully defiant of the shitty narrow beauty standards they were expected to live up to – even while trying to live up to them. (Hello “makeover” scene! That yellow stuff? Kamin? Yeah, I’ve had that used on my skin before.)

But mainly I think I loved it for the humour, especially Khun Khru Inn:

(Seriously though, I LOVE HER.)

But yeah. There was a line that stuck out to me in particular – a line that is uttered by Nam’s best friend Cheer. While they are waiting to sign up for Khru Orn’s traditional Thai dance show Nam remarks that it’s a waste of time – Khru Orn only ever chooses the most beautiful girls to perform in her show; “white skin, Chinese-looking and all those other qualities!” Her friend Cheer in response says “Hey! We still have to try – the four of us, we might not have white-skin and we might not have Chinese-looking faces. We’re dark skinned but we’re still beautiful, we can be the pioneer generation!” and I just thought that was so awesome. Of course I think the joke here is that none of these girls are remotely what would be considered beautiful by traditional Thai standards, but you know what? Screw you. Cheer is freaking fierce and I love her. And that is my massive massive problem with this movie. It takes this awkward heroine and her shameless but absolutely fierce friends and by the end of the movie manages to remove just about everything that made any of them even remotely engaging to watch.

Over the course of three years Nam changes from “ugly” duckling to beautiful swan (while also miraculously changing to a much lighter skin colour – hurrah for toxic skin-whintening products!) and in the process manages to somehow loose all her personality. While before her pursuit of P’Shone was funny and cute, towards the latter half of the film Nam takes an increasingly passive role in her pursuit of Shone and just allows other people’s actions (Shone’s friend asking her out, Shone going out with another girl) to guide her life. She moons over Shone while allowing life to blow her in every which direction without once taking charge. And that makes her considerably less interesting than the younger girl who at least planned ways in which she could bump into him or speak to him. Not to mention at the beginning of the film there’s this running joke of how girls pretend to sprain their ankles to get the attention of boys like P’Shone – it’s done so often I can only assume it must be satirical? But by the end of the film our heroine does just that (although I think we’re meant to take it that she  actually sprains her ankle rather than pretending – but still). Whereas in the beginning it was an action her and her friends laughed at (“Oh-ho, so drama!”) by the end she is doing exactly the same thing.

For these reasons the second half of the movie is pretty weak.

The ending is by far the worse though. Nine years later Nam is back in Thailand from the USA (where she met her father, did her studies and became an apparently very successful fashion designer). It is on a talkshow that she is reunited with Shone who has been waiting all this time for her to return – revealing that he too, had always been in love with her since the very beginning.

A few thoughts on this:

– She became a fashion designer?? Why? How? There is absolutely NO indication earlier on in the film that she had any kind of artistic talent or inclination outside of performing in Snow White. Shone’s love of photography and football are well-developed throughout the movie, so it is unsurprising that he grows up to become a footballer (and then after he leaves football a photographer) but seriously – there is not indication whatsoever that Nam likes fashion or loves to draw. None.
– In nine years they both loved each other but neither thought to get in touch or call or e-mail or something?? I mean I know she’s in America and all but seriously – skype is free!

But worse of all is the moral that I think we’re supposed to take from the film. Nam tells the talk-show host that all the things she’d done in her life – making herself more beautiful (more white!), studying harder, taking part in extra-curricular activities – all these things she did to “better” herself she did out of love for Shone. Now here’s the thing: I can understand the message that love ennobles us, that it makes us want to be better than who we are. I totally get that and I can even get behind that (though I usually think “bettering” oneself in terms of – oh I don’t know, becoming a more honest, caring and considerate person). But really? Bettering oneself shouldn’t have to involve skin bleach. This is especially insidious considering the massive skin-whitening industry in Thailand that consistently tells Thai women (most of whom aren’t white-skinned) that they look ugly because their skin isn’t fair enough.  Also: this was her only life’s motivation? Whatever happened to studying hard so that she could meet her dad? (Apparently that motivation is completely forgotten by this movie who decides to ascribe Nam’s academic achievements to love too).

To conclude, I do love this movie (I know, you wouldn’t have guessed it from the way I speak of it) but genuinely I do. It’s a funny and sweet movie that never fails to make me laugh, but I can’t help but feel that half-way through the director decided to make an entirely different movie, and I have to say I like the second movie considerably less. The second-half is not only boring but pretty much serves to completely undermine the confidence the four girls had in the beginning of the movie with a really awful message. It’s definitely still worth a watch for the laughs, check out the trailer and go see it for yourself (Although YMMV on the skin-whitening thing).

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Ginie’s Art Update!

Just added my latest Labyrinth fanart to the Fanart Illustration page

Also keep your eyes peeled for some Howl’s Moving Castle art which should be up shortly too.

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Ginie Reviews Films: The Hunger Games

Film: The Hunger Games
Director: Gary Ross
Year: 2012
Notable Actors: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth
Rating: 3.5/5

Happy Hunger Games and may the odds be ever in your favour.

I admittedly don’t have much to say about this movie that hasn’t been expressed in Nostalgia Chick’s vlog.

Other thoughts:

  •  I felt like there was a lot of relevant details that may have left some people at a loss if they weren’t familiar with the books. The fact that the Mockingjay is a symbol of subversion (and therefore not just a pretty pin that her little sister gave her to keep her safe),  or the significance of the three-finger District 12 salute, that sort of thing.
  • Or the fact that poor families can put their children’s names in for the Reaping more times in exchange for food. That seemed like a significant piece of social commentary that wasn’t really made clear.
  • Also I felt like it was much harder to feel the horror of it all because in the books you get to know most of the tributes by name, and you spend more time getting to know them. When a tribute dies, regardless of whether they were “good” or “bad”, it made an impact in the books. Few of the deaths made an impact in the film because we barely spent time knowing them as people. I guess this is a screen-time restraint, which can’t really be helped.
  • Speaking of deaths, I do wish they’d spent a bit more screen-time building up Rue and Katniss’s rapport/relationship. It just felt a little too rushed. I cried anyway, but I cried because of the character I knew in the book. If no one else, I wish the film had just given the audience a bit more time to get to know Rue and really feel the impact of the senselessness of her death.
  • Films are a different medium to books – and you can’t really get the same internal perspective in a film that you can with a book.  Jennifer Lawrence is an amazing actress, but I felt that the played-up romance with Peeta could easily have been mistaken for a real romance in the film, whereas in the book it’s a lot more clear that Katniss’s feelings and motivations are more ambiguous. Yes, Katniss cares for Peeta – but she doesn’t yet love him romantically and her romantic interactions are forced through because of her need to survive the Hunger Games. The only indication we get of this in the film is Haymitch’s note: “You call that a kiss?” which well, doesn’t say much about Katniss’s actual feelings about the whole thing or Peeta’s for that matter. I think those later scenes in the film lack the tension that I feel exists in the book as a result.
  • And yeah – the editting is a bit weird. Also, the weird censorship of the actual goriness of what is going on. You’ve got kids beating each other to death – but there’s no blood? I see. I know they did it to keep the PG-13 rating, and I’m happy that the younger Hunger Games fans will get to see it but I do think any film/book that attempts to deal with these kinds of issues does a disservice to its subject-matter when it glosses over the realities of just how horrific and senseless violence is.
  • That said, I do like the way certain things were articulated in the film that weren’t necessarily done in the books. The last quote by Cato, a career tribute, particularly: “Go on. Shoot. Then we both go down and you win. Go on! I’m dead anyway – I always was, right? Tell that to them! How’s that, is that what they want? HUH? I could still do this. I could still do this. One. More. Kill. It’s the only thing I know how to do and we pride it in my district. Not that it matters… “

But yes. Other than that – Jennifer Lawrence is stunning and the acting in this was really well-done, from everyone. Definitely worth seeing if you enjoyed the books – and if you haven’t read the books it’s still worth seeing though I’d always recommend to read the books first. My brother really enjoyed it despite having never read any of The Hunger Games, and he now wants to borrow my books. So yes. Happy Hunger Games!

^^EDIT^^
Ooh actually, this sums up most of my feels. Although I did actually quite like Peeta’s performance:

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Ginie Muses: Masculinity and Heroism in Avatar the Last Airbender

Following my previous post on women in the ATLA universe, I felt it was also important to discuss how masculinity is constructed, especially in relation to the series’ main protagonist and hero, Aang.

Discussions of mediated representations of gender usually revolve around embracing different portrayals of femininity, and I would argue that this discussion is also important when it comes to how masculinity is mediated and how rigid gender roles marginalises and (more often than not) shames the men who don’t fall neatly into those roles.

While I would argue that everyone in the ‘gaang’ are heroic and heroes in their own right (and that both Sokka and Zuko also have pretty amazing growth arcs and story-lines); I’d like to focus this discussion more on Aang as he is the only one out of the three main male gang members who I feel doesn’t conform to conventional portrayals of masculinity. This isn’t to talk down Sokka or Zuko in anyway – they’re both great characters and I love them a great deal, but they are closer to what you’d expect from male main characters and for the purposes of this discussion Aang is the one I want to focus on.

This isn’t to talk down traditional notions of masculinity in men either; but traditional masculinity in men is something that is accepted and often celebrated while different displays of masculinity are often marginalised. This post is just a celebration of a main character who doesn’t fall into what I would consider to be a traditional portrayal of what a man should be, and I think that’s a positive message for guys who don’t necessarily identify with conventional notions of masculinity.

As always, watch out for ~*spoilers!*~

Aang (Air Bender)

This isn’t to say that Aang is feminine per se, but I think Aang is usually contrasted quite effectively with Sokka, who is a more normative representation of masculinity.

He’s also a very different type of hero than what we are usually presented with, and I would argue that there are two main types: 1.) The Underdog who Succeeds Against All Odds (See: Scott Pilgrim, the Karate Kid) and 2.) The Action Man (See: James Bond, most other action movies of that ilk). Aang falls into neither of these categories. While he’s not initially as powerful as Firelord Ozai, he’s still not an underdog. We are shown right from the start that Aang is a powerful airbender; and even though he struggles with some of the other elements throughout the series, we never doubt that he has the ability to master them and that he will be good at all of them. Not to mention the fact that while he’s also at his most vulnerable, in the Avatar state he is also almost invincible.

But he’s not just an Action Man either, and his fighting style is notably defensive and evasive. Rarely does he actually attack people (unless he’s in the Avatar state, or in cases of extreme emotional duress, such as when Appa was kidnapped). The series follows his growth into his role as the Avatar, and while a large part of that growth is learning the different kinds of bending, the most important part of his growth is learning how to carry out his duties as Avatar while staying true to what he personally believes in and staying true to himself. I don’t think it’s an accident that when Aang chooses to abandon his principles (i.e. when he is asked to let go of all worldly attachments and forget about Katara) the moment he tries to actually go through with it, he is brutally brought down by Azula. Forgetting the people he loves isn’t him, and he is weaker for it. Similarly in the finale when he is asked to killed Firelord Ozai, he spends a large amount of time being conflicted between what he believes he should do and what others are telling him he should do. In the end, he defeats Firelord Ozai on his own terms, and is better off for it.

While drawing strength from emotional ties isn’t new in a hero (See: Harry Potter), I think it’s still relatively rare in an action-adventure story, especially when it comes to male heroes, who are mostly expected to be emotionally self-reliant. Moreover Aang’s extremely pacifist stance is quite unusual. While heroes are expected to be merciful, they are rarely shown to be actively pacifist and aren’t usually terribly conflicted over killing the ‘bad guy’ if their hand is pushed.  I think the fact that Aang has this conflict is an example of the show’s maturity. Killing someone, even someone who has devastated several cities, isn’t a casual matter.

Regarding gender, I don’t think the Ember Island Players portrayal of him using a female actor was an accident either. I mean aside from the obvious laughs (haha! Aang is being played by a girl!) I think the fact that the Ember Island players chose a big buff guy to act out Toph’s part and a lithe woman to act out Aang’s part actually says something about their characters. Just as Toph has elements to her personality that are traditionally considered masculine, I think there are elements of Aang that are traditionally associated with femininity.

Take for instance the palm-reading episode. While Katara gets excited and goes off to get her palm-read; Aang asks Sokka what he thinks they might be talking about. Sokka (normative male) is highly dismissive of his sister and her conversation with the palmist:

Aang: So…what do you think they’re talking about back there?
Sokka: Boring stuff I’m sure. Love. Who she’s going to marry. How many babies she’s going to have.
Aang: Yeah. Dumb stuff like that…well, I gotta find a bathroom.

This immediately piques Aang’s interest and then he is just as curious as Katara to know who he is going to marry and what his love life will be like.

Aunt Wu: Your destiny. This is incredible! You will be involved in a great battle. An awesome conflict between the forces of good and evil. A battle whose outcome will determine the fate of the whole world!
Aang: Yeah, yeah I knew that already. But did it say anything about a girl?
Aunt Wu: A girl? You want to know about love?
Aang: Yes!
Aunt Wu: I’m sorry. But I didn’t see anything… Oh, look I’ve missed something. Right here. It says “Trust your heart, and you will be with the one you love.”

We know that both boys are interested in love (through the course of the show Sokka has two girlfriends and Aang has a crush on Katara), but being seen to be highly interested in romance and actively being concerned about it (as opposed to just interested in girls/sex) is usually portrayed as something only women do (I am admittedly look at this from a hetero-centric point of view, as a lot of the media in which this dynamic plays out is hetero-centric).

Which is ridiculous of course, I know plenty of men IRL who are plenty more romantic than I am – but for some reason the admission of wanting love and romance is seen to be something that is only acceptable for women to do. (See also: the derogatory way in which we speak of boybands who mainly sing about romance; or the fact that romance fiction and romantic-comedies are seen as something only women would indulge in).

I am reminded of this article about masculinity in The Hunger Games and Peeta. Like Peeta, Aang wears his heart on his sleeve and is relatively open about his feelings for Katara. It takes a while for him to get the courage/confidence to admit his feelings to her, but once he does he doesn’t shy away from them. (I would even argue he is exceptionally-bordering-on-suspiciously mature about the whole thing considering he’s meant to be a twelve-year-old boy. I guess being the Avatar makes you grow up faster?)

Regardless, whether it is about Katara or about his flying-bison Appa, Aang is very in touch with his emotions and he isn’t afraid to show them. Once again, this is unusual for a male hero. (Because male characters are meant to be stoic, of course! Touchy-feely emotional stuff is for girls! Male characters are allowed occasionally to shed a single manly tear. Any other display of emotion must be done – with their fists.)

Aang is also remarkably comfortable in his own skin and knows who and what he is about. He does occasionally have doubts – but as we’ve stated before, he is always shown to be better off when he stays true to himself. When Sokka recommends a more macho-demeanour as a means of attracting female attention it only succeeds in doing the opposite – annoying Katara. Aang’s displays of sensitivity (which are much truer to his character) work much better and that is what Katara responds to.

This comfortableness and security in his own self also extends to when he is made to wear Avatar Kyoshi’s old uniform. Despite the lady’s clothing and make-up Aang is remarkably unfazed by it all. This is also very different to most male characters who, like Sokka, aren’t comfortable taking on different gender roles.  Men wearing women’s clothing has often been used as a comedic trope, and I would argue that while we’re meant to laugh at the sight of Aang in Kyoshi’s make-up and dress, the fact that Aang is entirely comfortable with it and the fact that the story and actions carries on (with Aang still dressed as Kyoshi) is a way of saying: it’s not a big deal. Yes, Aang in Kyoshi’s dress is an incongruous image and not what you’re expecting, but once you get over that it isn’t that big a deal. If Aang isn’t bothered by it, then why should anyone be bothered by the fact that he’s wearing a dress?

To conclude, Aang is a remarkable example of how masculinity and male heroism can be different from what it has always traditionally meant. Masculinity doesn’t only have to be the stoic, lone-wolf Marlboro Man. Male heroism doesn’t only have to be about using physical strength and violence to protect the ones you love. It can be so much more inclusive than that.

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Ginie Muses: The Women of Avatar the Last Airbender

TV Show: Avatar the Last Airbender
Creators: Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko
Years:
2005 – 2008
Rating: 5/5

Once again, I am several years behind fandom and have only recently discovered ATLA. To be fair – I partially blame M. Night Shyamalan for this. I may have ended up watching that terrible excuse for a film against my will, and it put me off looking into the TV show for a good few years (up until there was a lot of flurry on Tumblr over The Legend of Korra) and – having been drawn in by all the artwork and character designs – I ended up checking out the original series to see what all the fuss was all about.

All I can say is? Oh my gosh my feels. There are too many of them. How does a Saturday morning cartoon simultaneously manage to make me giggle-snort with laughter and also move me to tears? (Yes, I did. Just a little when Zuko was re-united with Uncle Iroh. Shut up.)

Basically, this show is good. Really, really good. The animation is stunning, the kind of research that went into re-creating a Sino-centric fantasy universe is impressive and fantastic and the characters are wholly believable and well-fleshed out with different motivations and conflicts; and as the series progresses they all learn and change a lot.

It’s also probably one of the few mainstream TV shows that features POC’s so prominently and also has a remarkable number of girls in the cast that aren’t merely love-interests and serve as main characters in their own right. Anyway, without further ado – here is my post celebrating the women of Avatar the Last Airbender.

Also! ~*SPOILERS*~

Katara (Water Bender)

Katara

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Of all the women on this show, Katara is probably the most conventionally feminine – she’s often described as motherly and caring, she has healing powers and she looks out for everybody in the group. But you know what? This is also cool. I feel too often when we think of “strong women” in the media we think of the Action Girl – she’s hot, she’s tough, and she fights and talks just like a man! And while there’s nothing wrong with this, this version of strong femininity often ignores or dismisses traditionally considered ‘feminine’ virtues such as compassion and mocks other displays of femininity, whether it be in dress or in interests. Katara takes all of that and shoves it back in their face – yes she’s motherly, yes she’s a healer and yes, she takes an interest in her appearance. But she’s also a master waterbender, a strong fighter and following the death of her mother, is someone who has had to grow up very quickly and learn to be brave very young. I also like that throughout the series she has more than one flirtation. Katara isn’t a particularly flirty character, but her interactions with Haku and Jet are refreshing in a female character aimed at young girls – finding “the One” was never her goal; she found different men attractive throughout the series and that was ok. The fact that she ends up with Aang makes sense when you consider all that they’ve been through together and the fact that they have quite compatible personalities (i.e. they’ll both always do whatever they can to protect and help people in need), that and she never really got to spend enough time with any of the other guys to see where those relationships might have led. But I liked that there was a possibility for something different, and I liked that as far as Katara was concerned, Aang wasn’t her only option.

I also like that despite all of this, Katara has her own potential for darkness: bloodbending. Although initially horrified by thought of controlling other people by bending the water in their bodies (i.e. blood – this kid’s show goes to some dark places), canonically Katara has used bloodbending twice. Once against Hamma to protect Aang and Sokka, and the second time against the man she thought killed her mother. While the first time left her anguished and horrified at what she had done, the second time she had done it was in revenge-fuelled rage, and you can see that even the best of characters have the potential to do evil things. What makes a person good is ultimately in the choices that they make, and when Katara finally comes face-to-face with her mother’s murderer, Katara makes the decision not to kill him – even though every fibre in her being wants revenge on what he had done. This level of complexity (moral or otherwise) is rarely ever shown in a female character, and for these reasons Katara is an awesome character. When people mention their favourite Katara-moment, they’ll usually cite her challenging Master Pakku to teach her waterbending (in the Northern Water tribe only men are allowed to learn this martial art) and the waterbending fight which ensues, in which Katara holds her own against a sexist waterbending Master. While that scene is awesome, I must admit that the defining Katara moment for me is when she tells Sokka:

“No! I will never, ever turn my back on people who need me… I’m going down to the village. And I’m going to do whatever I can!” – Katara, The Painted Lady (S3E03)

Because that is who Katara is. She learnt early on how to stick up for herself, but what makes her truly a hero is that she’ll always stick out for others too.

Toph Bei Fong (Earth Bender)

If Katara represents a more conventional view of femininity, Toph represents what we usually assume a strong female character to be. And just as femme heroes shouldn’t be dismissed because of their femininity, female heroes who don’t fit prescribed gender roles shouldn’t be dismissed either. She’s a tomboy, she spits, she’s sarcastic and she can kick your ass. She’s also blind and twelve-years-old. I tend to think Toph follows a more recent tradition of female action-heroes, the one where a young-harmless girl turns out to be far more deadly than anyone could ever imagine (See: Hit Girl in Kick-Ass, or Hanna). However unlike Hit-Girl (and unlike most female action heroes) Toph doesn’t need rescuing at the crucial moment by the ~real~ hero of the story. Toph holds her own in all fights, and in the season finale plays her role in defeating the Fire Nation. I must admit, that what I do love about Toph is her sarcasm. A lot of the more hilarious moments in the show are a direct result of what she says.

While being rescued from drowning by Suki.
Toph: Oh Sokka, you saved me! -kisses Suki-
Suki: Actually, it’s me.
Toph: Oh…well, aheheh. You can go ahead and let me drown now.

I also like that while on paper she is slightly in danger of falling into the disability-as-a-superpower-trope, Toph’s explanation for how she can “see” (i.e. through the vibrations she feels in the ground) makes intuitive sense considering she’s an earthbender and is used consistently throughout the show. Whenever she’s in water, sand or another element that doesn’t conduct vibrations as well as steady ground, she has trouble ‘seeing’ what she is doing and what is going on. Despite this, the show makes it clear that it isn’t her disability, her gender, her age or small stature that hold her back, but other people (most notably her overprotective parents). I think Toph’s initial clash with Katara also makes sense in view of all these things. Their personalities and experiences are very different – Katara who has had to take care of her family all her life is naturally motherly and slightly bossy. Toph on the other hand has been ‘handled’ all her life by her parents and carers and the last thing she wants when she’s finally found her freedom is to have someone else tell her what to do, even if some of Katara’s suggestions are entirely sensible. But I like that despite these differences they have quite touching moments of friendship, such as in Tales of Ba Sing Se and when they are both in prison together.

Also, Toph invents metal-bending. Basically she’s amazing.

Azula (Fire Bender)

So the first time Azula is presented to the audience, I must admit my first thought was “Wow. She is so eeeevil.” Like, I was genuinely impressed with how fucking terrifying she was, and I would happily list her as one of the most intimidating fictional characters ever created. This isn’t because she’s a firebending prodigy (which she is), or because she’s powerful (which she also is). It’s because she’s a master of manipulation, and one who knows just which buttons to push to threaten people into submission. I also think Azula is the one character who could have easily been a guy without changing a single thing to her storyline; and in any other production, they probably would have made her a guy. Tragic sibling-rivalries concerning actual struggles for power in fiction only ever seem to happen between two brothers (while female sibling rivalry is usually presented in the form of conquest over a male object of desire); and the fact that they chose to make her a girl (despite no ‘reason’ to do so story-wise) I think is a step in the right direction in terms of the way we think about representation. I think Azula presents an interesting contrast to Zuko, mainly because Azula represents what Zuko may well have turned into if he had never been banished from the Fire Nation. Of course, we’re given hints in their back story that Azula was always the more talented and the more violent one, but I think we have to remember that even though Zuko changed his mind  and decided to fight on Aang’s side in the end, he did some horribly manipulative things too. Both Azula and Zuko are a product of a self-aggrandising nation and culture that believes in its own superiority and only respects displays of  intimidation and power. While Zuko had an opportunity to experience a different kind of life, Azula did not; and moreover Azula was always rewarded for her  displays of ‘strength’, while Zuko was always punished for showing ‘weakness’. I think this is the true difference between the two siblings, and while I don’t excuse any of Azula’s actions there is something slightly tragic about her character.

The episode The Beach shows a more human side of her, the tragi-comedy of Azula trying to flirt with a boy she finds attractive while failing miserably because the only interaction with others she’s ever had has always been through coercion and intimidation. (This is also different from most female villains; while most female villains are usually portrayed as manipulative, they are usually portrayed skilled seductresses who use their sexual wiles in order to manipulate supposedly hapless men. Azula is no seductress, and at no point does she use her beauty to manipulate anyone.) The betrayal of her friends of Mai and Ty Lee drives her to near insanity; first of all because I think a part of her maybe have believed that their friendship was genuine (but how can it be when it’s based on fear?) but also because Mai’s love for Zuko outweighs her fear of Azula. Azula, who has never been able to convince anyone to love her (not even her own mother) is suddenly left in a position she has never been before: powerless. Because if love outweighs fear, than what does she have left to bargain with?

And a special shout-out…

To Suki (Leader of the Kyoshi warriors, who shows Sokka a thing or to about what it means to be a warrior), Mai, Ty Lee and Avatar Kyoshi herself. They aren’t as central to the show as the above three ladies are, but the world of ATLA has a lot of interesting women both in the lead roles and in secondary roles and that is a welcome change from the usual line-up of characters in action-adventure stories.

Things also seem set to be just as awesome in the spin-off/sequel series Avatar: The Legend of Korra which I look forward to watching and reviewing. In the meanwhile if you’re interested in exciting previews (the shows doesn’t come out until the 14th of April) sign up to Korra Nation here.

For my analysis of how Aang challenges traditional narratives of masculinity and male heroism, please click here.


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