Women characters in shonen anime see big shift in representation


For years, female anime viewers have watched as female protagonists in shonen anime are relegated to the role of a damsel in distress or a side character. The reason being is that the shonen genre is mostly targeted towards 14-18 year old boys. However, some anime are changing the way female protagonists are portrayed.

Shows like Naruto and One Piece have had such a big impact on the anime community. These shows have produced a crazy amount of merchandise, films, and adaptations of their own.  Naruto, especially, has been a huge stepping stone for anime. The women in the show have proven to be very much capable of holding their own.

The show gave us women like Hinata and Sakura. The letdown is that these two women are only there to be the love interests of the main protagonists, Naruto Uzumaki and his best friend Sasuke Uchiha.

For the better part of the series, Sakura did not have a goal for her future. She did not care for her training or anything else. All she cared about was Sasuke who treated her terribly, as shown when their mentor Kakashi asked them what their goal was in life. She lost every single fight that she had because she lacked in training and her mental fortitude made her lose those fights.

When you compare Hinata to Sakura, they are the same. They are teenage girls who are only there for the male protagonists development . Hinata never had enough screen time like sakura, but when she did her words would be “Naruto” and that’s it. Hinata is a support/side character and she does just that from time to time by supporting her own crush who is Naruto when he is dispirited.

However “shows”,  like Jujutsu Kaisen, are revolutionizing the shonen genre by pushing previously standard formulas for modern audiences.  One notable example is the treatment of the main protagonist Itadori Yujji. Itadori doesn’t possess the power to save the ones he loves. So he lets the cursed spirits inside of him take control of his body and fight for him.

The recent season 1 episode “Kyoto Sister School Exchange Event Group Battle 3” , which debuted on Crunchyroll on Feb 5, talked about another way that JUJUTSU KAISEN is straying away from normal cliches, not just with the; main protagonist, but with the women in the show as well.

Women have always had a love-hate relationship with anime, particularly with the shonen genre, because they don’t really treat women right. Sexist tropes and fan service plagues the genre. While sometimes they do depict women with strong powers, personalities and also with cool powers.

When the show aired, there was no reason to think JUJUTSU KAISEN would be any different, but it was. In the latest episode named “Kyoto Sister School Exchange Event Group Battle 3” Nobara Kugisaki and Maki Zenin are put against other students from another school. Nobara fights Momo Nishimiya, a girl with witch-like powers, and Maki fights her little sister, Mai Zenin.

Momo talks about how for women, being a jujutsu sorcerer isn’t about just about being strong, it’s also about looking pretty.

“ They don’t demand strength from female jiu jitsu socercers, they demand perfection”, she says.  She goes on and says that for people like Maki and Mai, who are members of a patriarchal clan, the expectations are  much higher for them. As the show already explained, Maki has the strength of a sorcerer ranks above her, but hasn’t been promoted because her clan won’t allow it. The two continue to fight. Nobara, who shoots floating nails imbued with her cursed energy, struggles to keep up with momo, who is flying around on a broom.

After some going back and forth, Nobara manages to grab a hold of Momo’s broom, which is enough to let her take control of her cursed energy ability. Nobara responds to Momo’s talk shouting. “ What makes us obligated to meet their perfection or such absurd demands? I dont give a damn about ‘Men’ this and ‘ women’ that! I love myself when I am pretty and all dressed up! And i love myself when i am strong!” It’s a big character moment, but the action sequence that goes along with it is beautiful and powerful as well and some of the best we have seen so far in the series.

The scene has a very strong message because the show goes a step further than just avoiding gender tropes by presenting a variety of female perspectives. These two characters don’t really have any right unique way of the pressure they face. The plot/show lets them fight and, disagree for their perspective and their places.

Seeing Nobara claim her confidence is very uplifting. The show has clearly touched a nerve. Fans have been pouring out words of praise for the episode. Tiktok and twitter in particular  have been talking about the episode. JUJUTSU KAISEN has been changing the way we see women in the shonen genre, which is a good thing. It is also the number one most viewed anime on Crunchyroll 2020 in the United States.