So here's a weak start to a post: I was thinking about a thing.
In this case it was work for Room 801 (it's never too early, right?), which led me to lose myself in trope pages for Ouran High School Host Club, one of my all-time favourite shows. And that got me thinking about something much bigger; the issue of pandering to women versus the issue of empowering women. I feel like there's a climate, amongst anime and manga fans in particuar, where there are two distinct groups amongst the female base - those who are mostly just about prettyboys, and those who have a more actively feminist bent, and disdain pretty-boys as being a dumb childish fascination.
(By the way, let's just assume that when I talk about men and women in this article, I am talking about the general mainstream of cis het (or at least cis bi). Not to belittle the people outside of those groups, but the language for this stuff is fuck awkward and in any case I am talking about heartless marketing demographics, not who people actually are.)
Anyway, admittedly the boy-lovers are often kind of immature - it's positively Twilight-ish to let hot boys blind you to a particular series' creepy misogynistic tone, or just overall mundanity (be honest, Final Fantasy VII was a decent-but-flawed game at best). But in fairness, the bishounen-disdainers are also kind of assholes. Why the fuck shouldn't you want something designed specifically for your aesthetic tastes, exactly? The male gaze dominates popular media worldwide, and reversing that is also a kind of empowerment, no matter how shallow.
Which brings me to Ouran, a reverse-harem shoujo anime about a young heroine who accidently falls in with a cadre of HELLA SEXY young men with whom she has varying degrees of chemistry. Traditionally, HELLA SEXY young men are not really a good sign in anime; so help me, I love the crap out of delicious bishounen, but I'd be the first person to admit that Kuroshitsuji is hilariously gothy wank, and Gundam shamelessly uses a pretty-boy cast to excuse deeply ingrained sexism, and Inazuma Eleven features hands-down the worst actual soccer playing I've ever seen on screen. That didn't stop me from watching each of them all the way through, because sometimes you just love looking at a thing. There's more than a few anime where I've barely followed about the plot, but amassed an extensive fanart collection of their lovely character designs.
and that's the problem, of course. Anime producers know they can sell us soulless shallow bishounen garbage, exactly the same way they can sell soulless shallow moe garbage to the guys. They don't have to make it properly good - just good enough that it will generate individual character or pairing fandoms, and they're off to the races. Thus anime aimed at girls gets shoehorned into a really shitty false dichotomy: you can have an anime with either a good story and strong female characters, or an anime with hotsexy mandudes. But you're not getting both.
Don't get me wrong - I don't want to go back. While dividing genres along gender lines is mildly horrifying, at least it's a recognition that there is a huge female fanbase for comics and animation, and maybe you should make something they like. Western comics and video games are still unable to handle the idea of a female fanbase with the slightest hint of grace, not even able to grasp the basic idea of pandering to both demographics for fear that their "hardcore" base will die of girl germs. Of course I want producers to keep treating ther female base like it matters - I just also want them to treat it like it deserves more than shallow sex appeal. In other words, I want it all.
And why shouldn't I?
Cus here's thing; if Ouran was a mean-spirited parody, it would be awful. It's not hard to make fun of something you don't like, especially when the dumbfuck boys' club contingent of the fandom will immediately get behind anything that disses on the female-oriented material they are so desperate to hate. It's another thing entirely to create a work like Ouran, an affectionate parody that simultaneously mocks the tropes and indulges them, without failing at either. Instead of trying to make you feel bad for watching stupid shows about hot guys, it's just going to be a funny, subversive, clever show about hot guys, and bet that you'll like that better. It's not "you like shallow vapid crap - GET OUT!", but "so about that shallow vapid crap - I get what you see in it, but let's see if we can't improve on it".
We need shows like this. Maybe if we keep getting behind them - and if the idiot manchild brigade can stay the fuck out of it - we won't have to settle for shallow garbage just to get our sexy fix. It fills me with joy that Ouran was a success, morseso because I see this attitude coming through in more shounen works, too - Fullmetal Alchemist, for example, is more than happy to provide man-candy without compromising on "girly" stuff like emotional development and relationships, and without once using that that to buy pardon for trivialising its female characters (who are fucking amazing). Cousins Baccano! and Durarara! are at once stylish and clever and exciting and badass, and not at all afraid that this will be undermined by waving gorgeous men in the audience's face. And mysteriously it's not.
I want to believe this the spirit of anime in its current era, because it should be. It should be the path that leads us to a place where there's no real centreline between "boy" and "girl" anime. Let's expect "shounen" to look great and have emotional depth. Let's expect that "shoujo" be smart and meaningful. And let's demand that both of them contain developed and interesting women who do real, meaningful things, no matter how hot they are or aren't. Why the hell not? Let's eat our cake and have it too, because frankly that's what made up stories are for.
And all the whiny little babies who pipe up with their whiny baby whining about "it's more realistic" or "it's part of anime's heritage" can lick my fucking sack.