Based on the majority of anime that becomes popular and the recent Kyoto Mayor’s suggestion that “men should be the ones going to the grocery store because women are too slow”, it’s hard to imagine a trend in which we see more empowered women who aren’t also bursting out of their teeny weenie bikinis. But times are changing and just how many television shows, movies, and life in general have changed their MO in a post #metoo world, so too have the ripples of the new egalitarian mentality reached Japan. Now we see the reflection of that shift in the anime industry—it is an art after all—where we have seen a rise in women’s empowerment, from Sword Art Online to The Promised Neverland and Darling in the Franxx, and now Arte.
While not completely unprecedented—stay tuned for an upcoming 6 Anime Like Arte, where we recommend other headstrong female-led titles—this Spring 2020 has brought us not one but several anime in which we find women facing the struggles of a world run by men and where women are often undervalued. Today we discuss some of the female-empowering anime airing this season!
Set in 16th-century Florence, Italy, it’s not easy for the titular Arte to follow her dreams. Especially since her dream involves being a painter and apprenticing at a workshop in the city. Arte is based on a real Italian woman by the name of Artemisia Gentileschi who also pursued an artistic career and stood her ground to achieve her goal in 16th-century Italy. A high-class courtesan named Veronica in Arte is also based on a real woman who lived life her own way and succeeded at it even in misogynistic renaissance society. She was, in fact, very educated and wrote many books! And as Veronica says to Arte, she “worked very hard to attain her status, as women without a man to care for them usually do.” A powerful statement that rings true still today.
Arte is laughed out of most workshops she applies to for being a woman, she’s looked at weird for even trying, and judged for wanting to do art in general and not being “ladylike”—rolling up her skirt to do heavy work and so forth. She’s basically humiliated for following her dreams until she finds Leo and then, still, carries clay sacks all by herself to earn a temporary spot at a workshop she wanted to work at. It has nothing to do with art, they just wanted to stop her but they couldn’t. Arte stands her ground and works harder than any of the men because she had to just to be treated—almost—equally. This is less to paint the patriarchal society as evil and more to showcase the strength of will it takes to follow your dreams in a world that rejects them outright, or at least that’s how we see it!
This historical comedy anime version of The Cannonball Run is set at the end of the 19th century and mostly focuses on the two main male characters and their antics when they decide to participate in a cross-country race across the USA. But we have already gotten to meet a talented, driven lady who loves to race but is stifled by the “no girls allowed” rule of racing. Xia Lian Jing still goes off on her own and races when nobody can see her, but after Appare supports her and basically tells her “who cares what they say or what the rules are, if you want to race, you should!” Again, we see a young woman who starts to question and defy the patriarchal rules of her time.
Otome Game no Hametsu Flag shika Nai Akuyaku Reijou ni Tensei shiteshimatta… (My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom!)
And then we have Katarina from My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom! Who is alive in our time but is isekai’d to a society that expects her to follow certain rules—that will eventually cause her demise—and she refuses to follow them, simply sticking to being herself by farming, climbing trees, making a ton of friends, and inadvertently making said friends fall in love with her regardless of sex or gender because she just wants true friends and not to die. Katarina doesn’t care about societal expectations like , she sticks to her guns, which happen to be farming, reading, and chatting with friends.
Keep in mind Appare-Ranman and Arte are set 200 years apart, yet the women in both shows face the same difficulties. All these women are merely searching for what makes them happy, for a happy life, and they struggle to pursue it just because they are female. It’s wonderful to have anime that focuses on a female perspective in a patriarchy and the hardships that it entails and why we continue to push away from that mentality as a society.
It’s hard to tell if these instances of female empowerment are simply a commentary on the times that the anime are set in to really place us in the moment or if, indeed, the creators mean to awaken society to the fact that it’s time for those ideals to disappear fully from the still very reserved and somewhat old-fashioned Japan. Either way, the message is clear: Women can be independent and strong and pursue their goals and ideals just as much as the next shounen MC and without losing most of their clothes, and anime is getting more and more behind that idea! Love the girl-power movement? Think it’ll stick? Tell us what you think in the comments below!