Superheroins in Japanese animations – Superhuman and sexual objects

Aena Cho

In her essay “A Cyborg Manifesto”, Donna Haraway sees the cyborg – transgressive combination of the organic and the mechanical – as capable of challenging the dichotomy between nature/culture, reality/virtual, organic/mechanic, etc.   Particularly, as a feminist, she hopes that the cyborg will liberate the self from the gender categories and gender norms which she explains as an attempt of separation created by the authority in society.  At the same time, the cyborg – either humanized machines or mechanized bodies – can be used for further accentuating gender identities, gender performances, sexual desires, and sexual objectification, rather than eroding them.

sailor_moon_render_by_anouet-d5e58cu           sailor moon body

Many characters in Japanese animations or manga are good examples; particularly, I think that the characters from ‘magical genre’ animations, such as Sailor Moon, particularly represent well the mixed characteristics or identities of cyborgs – which are stronger than normal human beings and sexually objectified at the same time.  Sailor Moon is a Japanese manga series written and illustrated by Naoko Takeuchi.  The main characters are teenage girls who can transform into heroines named for the Moon and planets; they frequently change themselves from normal and naïve girls to magical warriors who “are supposed to save the earth” from evil forces with an enhanced physical body and supernatural power.  The anime has been credited as empowering women and feminism by featuring independent, supernatural females who fight against masculine powers for the first time in the magical genre animations.  Meanwhile, it is also criticized in that it still features sexual objectification of female characters, which is typical in many other Japanese animations.  All the main characters are ideally feminized through their transformation to the magical superwomen which heavily emphasizes jewelry, make-up, and their highly-sexualized outfits (cleavage, short skirt, and accentuated waist).  Also, there are lots of scenes in which they are sexually assaulted or physically damaged by their male enemies.

sailor moon vitimized                 salyor moon (trying to kiss)

Such mixed identities of cybernetic or superhuman characters in Japanese animations – as both super heroines who fight against male evils and sexual objects for men with hyper feminine features – might be seen as one of the ways that “sex is put into discourse” (Foucault , 1990) in public and society.  In this sense, people who do ‘cosplay’ for such characters might be also seen in the similar way.  Cosplay is short for costume play – a subculture of Japanese anime and manga fandom.  By dressing up as the characters with such mixed identities, they attempt literally to embody the characters, as way to realize their sexual fantasy.

Sailor-Moon-Cosplay-VI-421x280      anime cosp

Hayles, Katherine. How We Became Posthuman. Univ. of Chicago Press, 1999.
Foucault, Michel. The History of Sexuality: An Introduction. New York: Vintage Books, 1990.