Almost from the moment I became an anime fan back in elementary school I encountered The Conversation. In the beginning it was mostly from boys, but then slowly the older I got it started happening with people from all genders. It went something like this: I would quickly bond with another fan over your typical mainstream shows like Pokemon or Naruto, but the instant I brought up one starring a magical girl or, God forbid, an anime that passes the Bechdel-Wallace test? There aren’t enough nope gifs in existence to articulate how fast they would shut down.
Now as nerds, being rejected or ridiculed by our peers simply for loving something is a familiar pain. Some might even argue that it just comes with the territory. But I’ve had this frustration recounted with other shoujo fans too many times to ignore it anymore, because when you take that rejection and apply it to an entire genre centered around one gender consistently? That, my friends, is entrenched misogyny and it’s not a good enough excuse anymore.
One of the major reasons I’ve heard protests about watching shoujo anime tends to be about a lack of relatable characters (although I find it hard to believe a preteen girl is harder to relate to than, say, an orphan ninja boy who can transform into a naked teenage girl and possesses a magical fox demon, but I digress). Fine. [quote_right]a full decade before Wonder Woman even touched a page, shoujo manga was displaying girls in heroic roles through comics[/quote_right] Not everyone’s gender presentation includes the elements of femme so heavily embedded in the themes of many of these shows. That being said, as has been pointed out previously, shoujo also tends to do a much better job of fully rounding out their girl characters with traits that don’t just box them into a gender binary. For instance, in shonen examples I’m given as counterpoints it’s incredibly common that women characters are either objectified, disappear as soon as motherhood calls, or are allowed to be strong as long as they stay in the “ninja world equivalent of the kitchen” as one Tumblr user calls it.
Another rationalization given for avoiding the genre comes from the mistaken idea that the world building is limited to slice of life parameters (i.e. school, home, grocery store if we’re being adventurous) and thus the action tends to be bogged down in romantic drama. While this is sometimes true, I’d offer that it can’t be any more stagnant than waiting actual episodes for Goku to power up to Super Saiyan already. And if you say you’d rather turn on Dragon Ball Z because at least the fight scenes are better choreographed?
For anybody who wishes to label themselves a fan of anime there’s even more pressing reasons to watch shows starring girls, however. From a historical standpoint, girl heroes comprise a substantial part of being culturally literate when it comes to anime. Consider this: a full decade before Wonder Woman even touched a page, shoujo manga was displaying girls in heroic roles through comics like Matsumoto Katsuji’s The Mysterious Clover. Another example is award-winning animator Hayao Miyazaki, whose stories centered around girls like Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki’s Delivery Service, and more have been considered by many to rival Disney’s. Ground-breaking shows like Steven Universe would not have set the bar for how to discuss serious adult topics in a way that children can understand without drawing deeply from shoujo anime tropes and plots. Girl-centered anime has even inspired some artists to create Black characters as the literal embodiment of #BlackGirlMagic.
Perhaps the most important reason of all, though, is the way in which these shows stress the importance of female friendships. In a world still barely recovering from an entire history of silencing, abusing, and dismissing girls, to watch them unconditionally love one another regardless of power level, sexuality, intelligence, or influence is perhaps one of the most necessary acts humans can do. Why? Because it forces us to in turn confront that internalized misogyny and see girls as human beings all on their own.
Enough is enough already. No, a punch isn’t somehow less violent because she’s wearing high heels. No, her godhood isn’t somehow less legitimate because it comes with wings and pink hair. Yes, I am woman, I am nerd, but before that I was a girl. I believe in taking girls seriously. I believe in literal girl power and celebrating everything that that means. Let’s hope that someday we all will.