Never before has a television show landed so hard and fast on my Favorites list. On a scale of one to Avatar: the Last Airbender, The Dragon Prince is a solid nine. Which is hardly a surprise, since they're both created by Aaron Ehasz.
The reason the aforementioned assassin--an elf named Rayla--is sent to kill the princes and king is because the king killed the Dragon King of Xadia, Thunder, and destroyed his egg.
Except it turns out the egg wasn't destroyed, it was stolen. Kept in an underground dungeons by the humans.
The three kids find the egg and travel to Xadia to return it to its mother, in the hopes that this will end the war between humanity and Xadia. As such, the biggest themes in the show are forgiveness, the endless cycle of revenge, and how good intentions can lead to the worst villains. Seriously, every villain on this show really, really believes they're a good guy.
Season one is primarily just laying the groundwork, introducing all major characters, and building the relationship between our three heroes. Rayla is an elven assassin who's never actually killed anyone and is primarily motivated by the need for redemption, not just herself but her family. Her parents were part of the Dragon Guard and failed to protect the egg when the humans attacked.
The two human princes are Callum and Ezran, half-brothers from their mother. So even though Callum is older, Ezran is next in line for the throne because he's the one who's actually descended from the king. While this causes zero friction between the brothers, Callum does have a somewhat awkward relationship with his kingly stepfather. One of those "aw, they love each other so much but have no idea how to express it" kind of situations.
Ezran is a little kid who has to grow into his role as new king very quickly. Meanwhile, Callum wants to be a mage, picking up one spell at a time with what limited resources he has on the road.
Fun fact: the voice actor for Callum is Jack De Sena, who also played Sokka. And yes, they do make a boomerang joke.
The biggest villain opposing our trio is Lord Viren, who takes over the human kingdom after the king is murdered and immediately proceeds to escalate the war with Xadia. This at first seems reasonable. After all, his king and best friend has been murdered, and for the first few episodes it looks like the princes are also dead. Why wouldn't Lord Viren take control and strike back?
But after news gets around that the princes are alive--and therefore, next in line for the throne--Viren sends his adult children to steal the egg back and kill the princes, officially putting him in villain territory.
What makes Viren so terrifying is his manipulation. He has almost everyone convinced that he's a genuinely good person, using lies, gaslighting, and, if necessary, dark magic to get his work done.
Each season has nine episodes, although the latest season probably could have benefited from an extra episode, as there was more than one point where it felt a bit rushed. This is most clearly seen in the romantic subplot between Callum and Rayla. It came out of nowhere. The flirting started a few episodes into season three and by the last episode they were already in an established relationship and exchanging "I love you's."
Although I will admit: once those two get together, they are an adorable couple.
What immediately caught my eye in this show was the cast's diversity: Ezran is the most obvious example, being one of the main three characters and black.
Women and men both hold positions of power--queens, kings, soldiers, generals, mages, assassins, etc.--and there are several characters of color.
There are two same-sex couples, which is huge for a kids' show.
Finally, to top it off, there are a handful of minor characters with disabilities. My personal favorite is General Amaya, Ezran and Callum's aunt who is mute. She communicates through sign language, takes none of Viren's bullshit, and spends most of her time on-screen beating the crap out of elves and villains.
So far there are three seasons, and while it doesn't end on a massive cliffhanger, there are a handful of questions that need to be answered. This is good, because we have a confirmed season four. But because it's Netflix we have no idea when that's actually going to happen, and that was before coronavirus screwed everyone's schedule.
Motherland: Fort Salem
What if witches ran the United States military?
That's the question asked and answered by Motherland: Fort Salem. It's set in an alternate America where witches are not only real, but they're running every aspect of the United States military.
Three hundred years ago, the immortal witch Sara Alder told the Founding Fathers "Hey, I'll help you win your little war for independence if you stop burning my friends and family." Now she's the head general of all armed forces, and every witch born in America is forced to serve in her military.
This makes for some spicy ethical issues, because forced conscription is generally frowned upon, especially in a nation that's supposed to be about freedom. But there's one group of witches in particular, called the Spree, that decide murdering hundreds of civilians is the best way to gain them freedom from military service. They're the main villains of the show, since terrorism is even more frowned upon.
This directly affects our main trio of characters, three young witches who spend the season trying to finish basic training and fight the Spree. Raelle is a powerful healer whose mother was killed in combat during her forced service, so she has some personal issues with the military and is only in basic because deserters are hunted down and killed.
Tally genuinely wants to serve, in part because she's the kind of soul who wants to help others, and in part because the witches have had an excellent PR team for the last three hundred years, so she believes all the propaganda about the glory of witch service until it gets dismantled throughout the course of the season.
Abigail is from one of the most famous and powerful witch families in America, her mother being another general and the head of intelligence, so she's been quite literally born and raised for this.
Since all three of them are randomly assigned to the same unit--which fails or succeeds as a unit--there's a lot of friction in the earlier episodes, especially between Raelle and Abigail. It gets worse when Raelle starts dating another witch Scylla, who, as we find out in the pilot, is actually working for the Spree.
The set-up gives for a lot of rich character interactions and conflicts, but occasionally the writers sink to petty cattiness. I'd say that bullcrap is about 10% of the entire show, which could have been used to explore the history and worldbuilding of this alternate America.
General Alder is immortal, and while she never stops rubbing the "I saved your asses three centuries ago" in everyone's faces, we don't know much else about her backstory, which is a shame because she gradually becomes a central figure over the course of the season, even arguably turning into a villain.
In the credits we see this world's map of America that includes a long strip of land called the Cessation, but we have no idea what that is.
Abigail's family is descended from slaves, but obviously such slavery is no longer a thing in the modern day, so how did the witches handle the Civil War and all other parts of American/global history? How does that affect her personally, and all the other black witches we see running around?
However, there is great storytelling going on here. The characters are real and flawed, and the acting is great when the dialogue isn't forcing them to be catty or petty. While the theme never goes into outright "the military is bad" or "government is bad," it does look at these institutions through a very skeptical lens, handling it with care and nuance. None of the individual soldiers are outright evil, and in fact when a soldier dies later in the show it's a tragic, honorable moment.
Better yet: almost all the characters are women and half of them are women of color. The woman playing Raelle has a scar on her face from an incident with an earlier acting job (shattered glass panel) that the make-up artists make no effort to hide.
This show has a lot of potential, so it's a good thing they've gotten the green light for a second season. This is great, because season one finale ended on a plot twist that I genuinely did not see coming, and introduced a whole new set of villains potentially more dangerous than the Spree with a personal vendetta against Alder. And since Freeform hasn't shied away from showing lesbian and gay relationships on this show, I'd like to see some trans representation. What happens if a witch is assigned female at birth but identifies as a man, or vice versa?
Motherland: Fort Salem is definitely a show to look into. If you like girls being awesome, a unique magic system, and interesting worldbuilding, you're going to want to check this out.
Castlevania is a grimdark historical fantasy about vampires in 15th Century Wallachia (historical Romania). And I mean very grimdark. No children should be watching this show, especially in season three. Dracula--all-powerful, terrifying vampire--got married to a woman doctor, who was then burned for witchcraft. Upon hearing the news, Dracula decides humans suck and opens the gates of Hell to completely wipe them out.
This simple plot gets a little more complicated when other vampires get thrown in the mix in season two. They oppose Dracula's plan not on any moral grounds, but because without humans they won't have anything to eat. Then, in the middle of all this, we have our trio of heroes who want to stop Dracula from wiping out humanity because they're trademark heroes, and also the only ones who can.
Trevor Belmont is the last of a noble family of monster hunters who were all excommunicated from the church because they occasionally used magic to do their jobs. Sypha is the designated love interest who serves the greater purpose of blowing up bad guys with magic. And finally Alucard, the half-vampire son of Dracula, knows that his human mother wouldn't stand for any of this and so decides the only thing to do is kill his evil father. They're all pulled together by a prophecy that says they'll kill Dracula, but it's never adequately explained where this prophecy came from, and such handy future-seeing powers are never mentioned again.
Problematic magic systems notwithstanding, I love this show. It's dramatic, it's bloody, it's intense. You're pretty sure that Trevor, Sypha, and Alucard are going to win, and then the show will take a suddenly dark turn and they're back to square one. Alucard especially ended season three in a way that makes me worried he might turn out more like his genocidal father, but he might be able to pull himself back. The side characters and villains are all interesting, for sure, but I can't really root for them because they're horrible people. The main trio is primarily who I root for and why I binged all three available seasons.
Season three brought more women villains, giving the vampire queen Carmilla three kickass advisors who are each deadly in their own way. But so far the only characters of color are either dialogue-less evil minions, anti-villains, or sympathetic villains. Season three added two interesting Japanese good guys, but they only existed for Alucard's narrative development and will not be coming back for season four. Isaac is far more prominent, but he was working with Dracula to destroy all of humanity back in season two, despite the fact that he himself is a human.
As of the end of season three, Isaac is building his own undead army (being a Forge Master he can do that) and gearing up for a confrontation with Carmilla, who is 100% villain. So he's...sort of an anti-hero? Given that everyone he's murdered so far have been worse villains, you could argue he's a Punisher-flavored anti-hero. But he also still wants to destroy all of humanity, so I have no idea how to categorize him. Hopefully season 4 will help with that, and I also hope that we get more diverse characters who exist for their own story rather than to prop up our gloomy, pasty-white half-vampire.
All of the characters are captivating, but the heroic trio is especially fun to watch. This show has a lot of blood and gore, dark themes and bad situations. And then in the middle of all this Trevor will make a jab at Alucard, or Sypha will poke fun at Trevor, and suddenly everyone--characters and audience--will be giggling. Such moments are indicative of a larger theme: the world can be in a really bad place, and the human race can absolutely suck at times. But there are still bright moments, and there are still good people. Little reasons to celebrate humanity.
That's about as subtle as Castlevania gets. Everything else is pretty blatant. Everyone's motivations and intentions are plainly stated so there's very little mystery behind the people. The Christian church as an establishment is not a good thing in this world. They're the ones who killed Dracula's wife because she's smart, then denied any fault when Dracula got pissed, then continued to make matters worse by blaming Sypha's people, the Speakers. Which a cursory glance at a history book will tell you is a pretty in-character move for the Church as a whole. I have yet to see a single good (or at least, not awful) priest or nun in this series.
Castlevania is getting on my Favorites list because of its excellent storytelling, Sypha, and the potential I see in Isaac. I will be tuning in to season four as soon as it comes out. Which, since this is Netflix, will be a long, long while.
The Good Place
The Good Place is a town where those who have been good throughout their lives go once they have passed away. Michael is the architect who oversees the town--and this is the first one he has been in charge of creating.
Eleanor arrives at the Good Place and realizes they have her name right, but everything else is wrong. She isn't meant to be there at all. With the help of Chidi, her soul mate, Eleanor tries to right her wrongs, seeking to finally earn her spot in the Good Place.
(Quick reminder: anyone who still wants to participate in the giveaway can. Prizes include books, posters, notebooks, and more. Click here to learn more.)
This is officially my favorite comedy, and currently my favorite fantasy show, hands down. It is four seasons of absolute perfection.
It kicks off with Eleanor being told she's dead and now in the Good Place, basically Heaven, which she very quickly realizes is not where she's supposed to be. She spent her life as a human trashbag, stealing, lying, and cheating, all of which absolutely horrifies her soulmate Chidi. But she manages to convince him to teach her ethics, anyway, since he was an ethics professor in life and doesn't want to see her condemned to the Bad Place (Hell) if there's a chance of redemption.
What follows is a hilarious series of misadventures involving Eleanor and Chidi trying to dodge Michael (the Architect and all-powerful supernatural being in charge of everything), as well as the chaotic mess of the other major characters: Janet, Tahani, and Jason.
One of the greatest strengths of this show is its theme of morality. What--exactly--does it mean to be a good person? Eleanor isn't the only one who struggles with this, especially when later in the show the characters discover some major issues with the system of determining which souls go to which Place. Given the amount of scholarly debate surrounding ethics and morality in the real world, it's no surprise that the show plays around with several different issues, dedicating entire episodes to exploring major themes while progressing the plot. The general conclusion it comes to is that morality is subjective depending on the situation, and also comes from your connection with other people. All of the characters are horribly flawed and fall into bad behaviors when they're on their own. But when they're together they're an ethical, demon-fighting machine.
Another thing that caught my attention right away is the complete lack of toxic masculinity and abundance of women and characters of color. Though we never see her in a relationship with a woman, Eleanor is definitely bisexual. The show passes the Bechdel and Mako Mori tests for both women and characters of color. None of the leading male characters display the toxic traits seen in most other major male characters.
There are, in fact, only two characters who display toxic masculinity. One is a demon who helps run the Bad Place, and is 100% villain. The other is a soul we meet in season four who's destined for the Bad Place specifically because of his toxic masculinity traits. Namely sexism, racism, and self-centeredness.
The story itself is excellent. Even though all the characters start off dead, there's some real stakes involved. Namely, eternal damnation. All the subplots--even the romantic ones--are designed to further our understanding of the characters and/or contribute to the main story. And almost every episode ends on a cliffhanger. Which was bad for my health, because I lost quite a bit of sleep binge-watching this entire show in two weeks.
There is only one real criticism I have, and that's the frequent memory wipes. For one reason or another, several major characters lose their memories at the end of each season, which means they lose most of their character development as well. Story-wise, it makes sense. I won't get into the specifics because of spoilers, but this isn't the medically inaccurate soap opera amnesia. The memory wipes are built into the magic system and work well with the story. And when they happen, the story usually shifts gears to focus on the character(s) who don't lose their memories, allowing them to go through a new part of their narrative arc while the amnesiacs are brought up to speed.
But it can get a little tiring and frustrating to see the characters' progress suddenly get ripped to shreds, especially where Chidi and Eleanor are concerned. I'm not counting it as a spoiler: the soulmates have a romantic subplot and eventually get together. Several times. Because their memories keep getting erased. We'll see them get together, then someone snaps their fingers and they're strangers again. Get together, memory wipe. Get together, memory wipe. Get together, memory wipe...
Other than that...it's excellent. If anyone likes off-hand humor that dives into deep moral philosophy while telling an engaging story that will occasionally make you cry--especially in the season 3 and season 4 closers--then this is the show for you.
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"Worst Tropes" started as a playlist on my YouTube channel. I'm now also including it on my written blog. Basically I discuss all my least favorite tropes in speculative fiction and list ideas on how to do them right. Enjoy!
So. The title of this week's post might be a little confusing. After all, I’m a feminist. I like femme characters. I’m constantly advocating for more femme characters in positions of power. Why on Earth would I object to female/femme mentors?
I don’t object to them. I object to how they’re written.
For the most part, mentor characters in our speculative fiction media are men. When you hear “mentor character” in relation to sci-fi, fantasy, or other action-based genres, the first image that pops into your head is Obi-Wan, or Gandalf, or some other old white dude. Sometimes they get to be Asian or Black, in which case their already-slim chances of surviving to the end of the story drop to nearly zero.
Whatever the case, it’s usually a guy. And from a cultural perspective, this makes sense. Guys are “supposed” to be smarter than girls, and they're expected to be better or at least more experienced at all the fighting and survival stuff than the girls. Why wouldn't the action mentor be a guy?
Since it’s the twenty-first century, we’ve been getting better at subverting sexist tropes and ideas such as this. It started with “Why can’t a woman be good at fighting,” and has gradually been turning into “Why can’t she be the awesome mentor character that everyone idolizes and looks up to?”
And this is great! The idea of the female mentor is coming from a good place. There are so few of them out there that any writer who wants to give their mentor character a bit of estrogen should be encouraged to do so.
The problem is in the execution. Broadly speaking, male mentors are allowed to stand with their students, while female mentors stand behind them. Basically, and this is not exclusive to mentor characters at all, the guys are allowed to take a more active role in the story. And also aren’t shunted off into a romantic subplot with their protégés. That happens a lot, even when the female mentor is done right. (See, Avatar: the Last Airbender and Edge of Tomorrow.)
It’s difficult to find examples of this trope, simply because, as stated previously, there are so few female mentors in SFF. One of the more iconic examples is The Matrix.
Trinity isn’t actually a mentor per se, not the way Morpheus is, but she does help Neo navigate the ins and outs of the Matrix and the real world, so in the fundamental way, she counts. She’s got a great opener, she jumps out of helicopters, she helps Neo murder a bunch of innocent security guards in a lobby, all that jazz. She's your standard "strong female character" who manages to have a solid characterization and more personality than a brick wall.
And yet, her biggest contribution to the story is...kissing Neo back to life? And then cheering him on from the sidelines?
I get it, I get it, it’s Neo’s story, not Trinity’s. The fact that Morpheus also has to stand aside in the climax takes a lot of the sting out of it. But you can have an amazing movie centered around a guy who works with the women rather than shunting them off to the sidelines. Go re-watch Black Panther and you'll see what I mean.
But there’s this...thing...in modern media. It's not even really a trope, but we've all seen it. You've got an action movie that centers around Joe Average, an ordinary guy with an ordinary job and an ordinary life. Through a series of weird events, he ends up being caught in some sort of spy conspiracy theory or supernatural underworld or whatever. All well and good, until he's suddenly shooting terrorists and fighting vampires right alongside the people who have been training to do this very thing for years. Joe Average gets maybe one scene where he's in over his head, and then after a brief training montage he's James Bond.
It's a power fantasy, designed to delude the audience (particularly the male audience) that if they were plucked from their everyday lives and tossed into a death trap, they'd be totally fine. The best, even.
You can throw all the “chosen one” crap you want at me, but at the end of the day, you need training to win wars and battles. Years and years of it. Joe Average's fifteen-minute morning yoga ain't gonna cut it. Just make another James Bond sequel and be done with it.
It’s one of the reasons why I sympathize with Tiger in Kung-Fu Panda. She puts in a lifetime of work to become a great warrior, and then this guy—literally by accident—steals the title from her? And then after one training montage covering—at most—a couple weeks, he manages to defeat the big bad who defeated the five best fighters in the world?
No. I call bullshit.
An even better example of this is one of the most infuriating movies I’ve ever seen: Ant-Man.
I love Marvel, but I hate this movie, and this is the reason why.
Hope Pym is just better. At everything. She knows how to use the suit. She knows how to control the ants. She knows how to fight. She’s been in the company the good guys are trying to take down for years, so she knows the people, security, and weaknesses better than anyone else.
But no. Clearly the best person for the job is the random thief who broke in last week to steal the Ant-Man suit.
I can already see the comment section: “But Christina! She’s Hank’s daughter! How could you expect him to let her do something so dangerous as to break into a high-security facility run by a sociopath?”
First: “let her”? Let her?! She’s a grown-ass woman. Why is Hank treating her like a little kid who doesn’t know how to do jack shit?
Second: remember all those “chosen one” stories that center around a guy? It always seems to me that the other characters can’t get the boy out the door fast enough. “Well, son, seems you’re chosen for greatness. Who am I, your parent/guardian, to stand between you and a mountain of horrors and bloodshed that will, at worst kill you, and at best, traumatize you for life? Go fulfill your destiny, boy!”
More than often than not, the guy will be “burdened” with the chosen one thing, and the support characters will literally have to force him to take up the mantle because “no one else will.”
But if it’s a girl?
“No, she’s too precious and pretty to put at risk! How could you even think such a thing?”
Even Moana suffers from this. It's not an in-universe problem in her case, as her island culture practices excellent gender equity. That's more of a "this movie was created by Americans who don't practice such gender equity" problem. Moana has to jump through hoops that her male counterparts (think Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, Neo, etc.) never had to deal with.
Here come the comments again: “But Christina! Marvel made a sequel that does make Scott and Hope equal! Ant-Man and Wasp.”
Hank had superior technology like wings and blasters and didn’t give them to Scott when they were all risking their necks—including the neck of his daughter that they made such a big point about protecting—to steal the yellow suit in the first movie? He made Scott fall through a tube toward deadly lasers without wings? What a dick! No wonder Howard Stark didn’t like him.
More comments: “But Christina! Ant-Man is about Ant-Man! It’s about Scott Lang becoming a hero! Not about Hope Pym. She’s just a support character.”
Well, that’s an easy fix. Take out Ant-Man.
I’m serious. They should have just made a Wasp movie. The primary tension would have been her strained relationship with her father. Hank has to come to terms with the fact that his wife chose to sacrifice herself, just as he was going to, and he has to respect the fact that Hope might do the same thing. (This is something that families and friends of enlisted soldiers could easily relate to.) While working on the heist, Hope will grow closer to her father, atone for the mistakes she’s made in the past, and be the one to go super-small to defeat the villain, just like her mother did.
Only unlike her mother, she gets to come back. And in the sequel, Wasp and Ant-Man, while she and her dad work to bring Mrs. Pym home, their technology is stolen! Some jerk named Scott is trying to sell it on the black market!
Then it turns out that Scott is only doing it to get back to his own kid, Cassie. And once he realizes what that stolen technology is for, he helps them, putting aside his own needs to reunite the Pym family, and become Ant-Man. With his mentor, the Wasp, showing him the way.
Also, this way Marvel would have beaten DC to the honor of “First Female Superhero Movie in Theaters,” and we all know how much Marvel loves beating DC.
Back to the original point. Female mentors in action genres are very few and far between. Which is why it hurts even more when their characters and arcs are botched. When they’re used just long enough to turn Joe Average into Joe Chosen One, and then tossed aside to cheer him on in the background.
If you’re going to create a kick-ass woman awesome enough to train your main character, then you can use her in the story beyond training the main character.
And here’s how to do that.
Female Mentors Done Right
Edge of Tomorrow--an awesome sci-fi action movie with an even better soundtrack--has a female mentor who trains unwilling time-traveler Tom Cruise to fight the aliens. What’s interesting here is that while Cruise’s character has the “chosen-one-ness” power of live, die, repeat, his mentor, played by Emily Blunt, used to have the same thing. By the time she’s finished training him and it’s time to take on the head alien, she doesn’t stand aside and let him do it alone. She goes with him. In the end, they’re both equal.
Doctor Strange also re-vamped The Ancient One as a woman, instead of keeping her as a man as in the comics, which is pretty cool. And, unlike Edge of Tomorrow, there is no romantic relationship between the Ancient One and Dr. Strange. Unfortunately it loses points for casting a white actor to play this Asian character, and also permanently kills her off so our dude hero can save the day, so I give it a B+ for effort, D for execution.
For our final example, let’s bring out the ol’ broken record and talk about Avatar: the Last Airbender.
Of Aang’s three main bending teachers, two of them--Katara and Toph--are girls, both of them beautifully written, one of them with a major narrative arc and striking character growth. In addition, the writers practiced power balance within the group. Aang may be the "chosen one," the master of all four elements while all the other benders only get one element. But the other members of the group, especially Katara and Toph, specialize in certain abilities that Aang does not have.
Aang cannot use his powers to heal injuries, nor can he bloodbend. Katara can.
Aang cannot bend metal, a material used in abundance by their enemies. Toph invented metalbending, allowing her to crush entire ships.
This creates a power balance in the group as a whole, where each character remains vital to the quest because of their unique abilities. Katara and Toph can’t hang back and cheer Aang on as he fights the villain. Their specialized skills are mandatory for the team’s success.
In other words, while the story centers around a guy, if the Avatar writers had treated Toph and Katara the same way Marvel treated Hope Pym, the entire world would’ve been taken over by the Fire Nation.
Know any other good femme mentor characters in sci-fi and fantasy? Drop them in the comments so I can check them out!
One day, my roommate Sunny had a friend come over our apartment, and they decided to watch anime (Japanese cartoons). I, sitting at my desk in the corner of the living room, had every intention of tuning it out. I had my laptop and several books at my disposal, so I figured I'd get a bit of work done and be anti-social as usual.
That decision lasted all of two minutes.
To the Abandoned Sacred Beasts is one of those stories that is simple and to the point, but it sucks you in and keeps you in a vice grip from the very beginning. Our friend left after the pilot episode, but Sunny and I kept going. We ended up completing the entire first season in three days. After that, we read the manga (Japanese comic) which it's based on, and which is ongoing.
I'm not going to do an entire compare-and-contrast thing. So far, the manga and anime are very similar. But even though the manga is obviously farther along and is going deeper into the world-building and background--and despite my usual belief that the book/comic is almost always better than the screen version--I will say that as of the end of season one, the anime is better than the manga.
There are two key differences. The first is the presentation of the story. The manga opens with Schaal finding Hank--the man who killed her Incarnate father--and shooting him in the chest. It's ineffective, as Hank himself is an Incarnate, but it definitely gets the readers' attention.
The pilot episode of the anime, however, starts with the Incarnates' first battle during the civil war. There we see Hank as a leader, get introduced to some of the Incarnates, and watch their happiness and sanity fall apart. By the end, even though the war is over, Hank is hunting down and killing each of his former comrades as they all lose their minds and start killing innocent people. Episode two then goes into Schaal's backstory, how her father left for war a human and came back a dragon, which sounds cool on paper but is rough in reality. Hank shows up, kills him, and Schaal vows revenge. Her explosive introduction to Hank happens in episode three.
Because of this order, the anime has a lot more emotional weight than the manga. Hank and his unit were, ironically, very happy during the war. The Incarnates teased him about his love life, the doctor who created them took care of their injuries, and everyone was looking forward to a life of peace after the war. The difference between pilot-Hank and episode two-Hank is stark and brutal. He barely cracks a smile and only laughs once after the pilot. The flashbacks he has about each of the Incarnates he's trying to kill are physically painful, in large part because of the differences in him.
This is the other big difference between the anime and manga. Manga-Hank has retained some of his lighter attitude and is even a bit goofy, which causes a bit of a tone clash. And it's another reason the anime is better: by episode twelve, Hank and Schaal are friends on a mission. She's realized the severity of the situation and why the Incarnates need to be killed, and Hank, no longer alone, is able to smile and laugh again. It's really sweet.
The show's not perfect. You probably saw the busty blonde on the poster up top. I don't mind the author creating a sex symbol here, as Liza is a full character critical to Hank's mission and we get just as much shirtless Hank as we do sultry Liza, so it balances out. But there is a moment in both anime and manga were a boy yanks Liza's top down to reveal her breasts, says she was asking for it when she gets visibly upset, and goes unpunished. (He does get his ass kicked by a gargoyle for an unrelated event that same episode, but still, that rankled.)
The show also utilizes some power-of-friendship power-ups (cheesy, but fun) and the dead fridge trope (less fun). But otherwise, I'm counting the days to the end of 2020, which is supposed to be the season two release date. It'll be interesting to see where the anime goes once it catches up with the manga. That can be very hit-or-miss, and the track record for such projects isn't good (looking at you, Pandora Hearts). But given that this anime has already changed the manga in smaller ways to make the story better, this might be the lucky one.
DZA Marie's personal favorite romantic subplots in sci-fi and fantasy
Ah, early February. Living in Minnesota, I can see why Hallmark decided this was the prime time to start a romantic holiday: it's too cold outside to do anything other than snuggle with your significant other. (-50 degree windchill. Thanks, climate change.)
Now obviously, in the spirit of the holiday, the next couple of blog posts and this month's video will be relationship-oriented. However, I do not read romance novels. I read romance fanfiction, but in my movies and published novels I vastly prefer hard sci-fi and fantasy. Luckily (or unluckily, as this month's YouTube video will argue) you cannot open an SFF book or movie without there being at least a 95% chance of a romantic subplot popping up. And while most of them are very annoying and have no place in the story at all, some of them are downright adorable.
So, I have gathered a list of my personal favorite romantic subplots in the sci-fi, fantasy and superhero genres. They're not really in any particular order, and the biggest qualification is it has to make me go "Awwww" with a bare minimum of eye-rolling.
Nakia & T'Challa (Black Panther)
Most blockbuster movies with romantic subplots--especially superhero movies--tend to either ignore the woman's growth and character development, or make said growth and development all about the love and romance she bares for the hero.
This is not the case with Black Panther. Nakia is a fully fleshed-out badass who doesn't have so much of a narrative arc so much as the moral of, "Bitch, you should have listened to me from the start. Would've saved you a lot of trouble and Killmonger wouldn't have had a chance."
Also noteworthy is the fact that, at the time the movie starts, Nakia and T'Challa are exes. And while it's clear that T'Challa still has strong feelings for her, he does not whine and cry about it. They both act like adults, both respect each other, and they have a strong friendship that they then use to re-build their romance. (While they never go into it, I'm pretty sure the break-up came from clashing ideologies and world paths. Nakia wanted to go out and save the world, T'Challa wanted to hide behind his vibranium walls. That's not going to create a very stable relationship.)
Rapunzel & Eugene (Tangled)
Disney has several really good relationships, especially in recent years: Tiana and Prince Naveen, Kristophe and Anna, Mulan and Captain Shang...but my favorite is Rapunzel and Eugene (a.k.a. Flynn Rider). A lot of it has to do with Eugene's character development. Rapunzel manages to influence and change him into a better person, without going out of her way to "save" him. In fact, no romance starts until most of this change happens. At the same time, Eugene helps and encourages Rapunzel into taking charge of her own destiny.
Then there's the fact that Disney broke its own "married within three days of meeting each other" rule in order to clearly state that Eugene and Rapunzel didn't get married until years after the fact. Rushed marriages rarely work. Cinderella and Prince Charming probably got divorced three months after their wedding. But Rapunzel and Eugene? That's going to last forever.
Also, "You were my new dream." *cries*
Will Solace & Nico di Angelo (Percy Jackson series)
This relationship doesn't actually get started until the very, very end of The Blood of Olympus (book five in the Heroes of Olympus series), and we only see pieces of it in the first Trials of Apollo book. It's utterly adorable and one of the few romantic subplots that I really, really want to see more of.
This one gets points for being an LGBT relationship rather than the usual hetero stuff, without it being such a big freaking deal. We find out Nico is gay and had a crush on Percy in House of Hades, both of which he tried to ruthlessly squash down (the kid's from the 1930s, so it was definitely ones of those yikes moments for him). Blood of Olympus is him not only coming to terms with his sexuality, but also coming to terms with who he is as a person. You see, the son of Hades has had it in his head for a long time that nobody likes him, people are scared of him, everyone will be much happier if he just stays away, et cetera. But, by the end of Blood of Olympus, he's come to realize that while some people may be a little scared and even freaked out by him, nobody actually hates him. He can have friends. He can even have a boyfriend. And that's exactly what he gets.
Will Solace doesn't get nearly as much character development. He just kind of pops up and calls Nico out on all of his shit, and then enables bad behavior and rule-breaking when they start dating. So if there was one thing I'd change about this relationship, it'd be more insight into Will's frame of mind.
Edward & Winry (Fullmetal Alchemist)
(Please note: I'm going off of the manga and the anime Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. Not the anime that's just Fullmetal Alchemist. Yes, they are very different.)
This one is kind of weird. Primarily because, while both characters admit to themselves that they have a crush on the other, they never get to the point where they're actually dating before the end of the story. But while we're not entirely sure how they would act in a romantic relationship with each other, we still get a pretty good idea. Edward would continue to be an obnoxious (short) badass, while Winry would call out his obnoxiousness, fix his metal limb when he breaks it, and also be badass.
One of my favorite moments between these two is during Winry's breakdown, when she meets Scar and realizes he was the one who killed her parents. Edward has to stop her from trying to kill him, largely because he knows that she'd never forgive herself for it, even if that execution is arguably well-earned. It's a moment that shows that these two have each other's backs and bring out the best in each other.
Tormund & Brienne (Game of Thrones)
Fun fact: the show's writers never intended for Tormund or Brienne to be interested in each other at all. This was purely the actors and how they interacted with each other without any dialogue in season six. The writers saw that and thought, "Welp, guess this is going to be a thing," and wrote it into season seven (and hopefully season eight!).
Tormund is obviously head-over-heels in love with Brienne. She, on the other hand, does not seem to return his affections at all. But I'm really hoping she'll change her mind, and here's why: Brienne has been scorned all her life because she's not beautiful, she's good with weapons, and she doesn't take anyone's shit. She's grown up in a society that idealizes the women who are pretty, demure, obedient, et cetera. Worse, she's learned that any time a man does show interest in her, he's just making fun of her, or (in the case of the books) trying to win a bet.
Tormund, on the other hand, did not grow up in that society. In wildling culture (for the most part), the women are encouraged to be big, strong fighters just like the men. No wonder Tormund fell in love at first sight: Brienne is a powerfully-built, amazing fighter who's smart. That is the ideal wildling bride. And hopefully, Brienne will realize that all of the aspects that make southern men hate her are exactly what draws Tormund to her and return his affections.
Aang & Katara (Avatar: the Last Airbender)
I am not going to get into the Zutara debate. We're sticking with canon here. (And frankly, I prefer Katara and Zuko as really good friends. He need more friends than girlfriends.)
All of ATLA's relationships (all of ATLA's everything) are really great: Suki and Sokka, Sokka and Yue, Zuko and Mai...but the one that the writers spent the most time on is, of course, Aang and Katara.
For a kids' show (well, "kids' show," just like Pixar is "kids' movies"), their relationship moves at glacial speed, even though it's obvious that Aang's harbored a crush on Katara since the first episode. And while Katara loves him as a friend, she seems pretty oblivious to the romantic side and doesn't seem to reciprocate for a long time. We get a little "did they kiss, they probably kissed" moment in season two, but they don't have a first actual kiss until the Day of Black Sun in season three. And how does Katara react?
She slaps the "pause" button like a whack-a-mole because they're in the middle of a war and she doesn't have time for this shit, a decision that Aang--after some minor protest--respects. He doesn't persistently nag her, or keep flirting with her, or spite-date someone else in the hopes that she'll get jealous. He gives her space to work things out, and doesn't make another move until she instigates.
Also, in the post-series comics, they call each other sweetie. And my parents call each other sweetie. It's just really cute.
Bob & Helen Parr (The Incredibles)
This relationship is so strong it can handle all of Bob's issues in two consecutive movies. First his overwhelming desire to relive the glory days of his superhero youth, and second his jealousy at Helen being able to do that before him. There's obviously a lot of character development that happens with him--and he would've gotten a divorce at the end of the first movie if there wasn't--but if their relationship and commitment to each other had been any weaker than it was, then they wouldn't have lasted.
Also, these movies get huge props for having the main romantic subplot center around a married couple that have been together for fifteen years. Most romances happen when the two characters are pining for each other and trying to start a relationship, or at the height of "maximum drama" (someone cheated, they just broke up, et cetera). While their relationship has to weather some storms, the relationship itself is not the storm, if that makes sense. There's the minor blip where Helen thinks Bob is cheating on her with Mirage, but for the most part, all the problems they face in The Incredibles and The Incredibles 2 stem from Bob's personal issues and bad guys trying to destroy the world. Which is a good thing, because everyone knows that beating up the villain of the week is great couples' therapy.
What's the best romantic subplot you've ever seen/read in a sci-fi/fantasy/superhero story? Let me know in the comments so I can check it out!
Game of Thrones season seven starts this Sunday.
After all this time, at long last we can finally resume our natural form as Sunday night couch potatoes! Rumors and theories have been flying around all year. Some are a given, and some are just plain ridiculous (Who the hell came up with the idea of Lord Varys being a merman? And where can I hire them?).
These six are my personal theories, having read the books and obsessively watched the show for years. I’d bet a solid hundred dollars on each of them coming true. Which means George R. R. Martin is now going to re-write book six just to contradict these theories. The glorious bastard.
6. Jaime's going to kill Cersei (and then himself)
Cersei has to go down in order for Daenerys to take over Westeros. Given the staggering number of enemies Cersei has made in the last six seasons, the only question is who’s going to get to her first? Well, according to the books, her little brother.
We got a part of the prophecy that’s been plaguing Cersei since childhood in the season five premier, where the witch told her that her children would die young. What you may not know if you’ve never read the books is that is only half of the prophecy. She was told, “And when your tears have drowned you, the valonqar shall wrap his hands about your pale white throat and choke the life from you.”
“Valonqar” is High Valyrian for “little brother.”
Cersei automatically assumes that this means Tyrion, but that’s a little too obvious for George R. R. Martin. And there’s the fact that Jaime, while Cersei’s twin, was born after her. Therefore, he’s also her little brother, and he now has a motive for killing her. After all, he killed the Mad King because he was going to burn down the city. And what does Cersei do while Jaime’s away? Burns down part of the city. And we know she’ll have no qualms about destroying any other part of Westeros. Jaime may love her, but that’s too much even for his morals. And once he kills Cersei, we’re probably going to get a Romeo and Juliet-like ending.
5. Bran's going to take down the Wall. #Oops
He may not physically bring down the seven hundred feet of ice and snow, but he will certainly accidentally destroy the magical barrier keeping the ice zombies at bay (as told to us by a zombified Benjen Stark).
How would that happen? Remember that episode that made all of us cry? Oh, wait, let me narrow that down. It’s the one where one of the most beloved characters of the show died heroically. Well, technically two. Also the one where Bran was a bit of an idiot. Am I ringing any bells?
The episode’s called “The Door,” the one where Bran is Marked by the Night King, thus allowing him to enter the protected cave and kill the Children of the Forest, the Three-Eyed Raven, Summer, and Hodor. As far as we know, Bran still has that Mark. So what happens when he crosses the Wall?
Bad things. That’s what’ll happen. And because this show is written and directed by sadists, it’s probably going to be the last episode of the season.
4. Jon and Daenerys are getting married
Let’s do a little roleplay, shall we? We’ll pretend to be Daenerys first. She gets to Westeros, destroys Cersei, and with the help of Highgarden and Dorne gets all the lands south of the Neck under her control. But what about the North? The Starks and their followers may decide to follow their ancestors and bow to the dragons, but they’re still a very prickly bunch who will only ever truly follow one of their own. What better way to bring peace between North and South than for the Dragon Queen to marry the King of North?
Jon, meanwhile, is going to think, What do we do about the zombies? What do we do about the zombies? What do we...oh, look! Dragons!
3. Tyrion is a Targaryen
The dragon has three heads. That’s a prophecy Daenerys received in book two, A Clash of Kings. Given all the animal symbolism going on, and the fact that the Targaryen symbol is a three-headed dragon, it’s safe to assume that each head represents a Targaryen.
So far we have Daenerys and Jon. We need a third. In the books, we do have a third (but I won’t spoil it here). Since that character doesn’t appear in the show, we need to look elsewhere.
Tywin may have hated Tyrion for more than just the rough childbirth. It could be that Tyrion isn’t even his kid. In the books we learn that the Mad King reeeeally liked flirting with Lady Joanna Lannister. And we never did find out why Tywin betrayed him. Given how he managed his sadistic grandson, it wasn’t an issue of morals or dealing with an unpredictable ruler. Strategy? He saw Aerys as doomed and decided to join the winning side? Maybe not. King’s Landing is a strong city, and with Tywin’s army, they had a solid chance of defeating Robert and ending the Rebellion.
That leaves personal issues. If Tyrion’s birth killed Joanna, whom Tywin had genuine feelings for, then Tywin may blame the man who impregnated her. If that man is Aerys, then the sack of King’s Landing would’ve been excellent revenge.
Also, in the books, Tyrion is described as having very pale hair, almost silver. And while one eye is green, the other is black, but in the right light it’s said to be purple. Those are the trademark traits of a Targaryen.
This also explains Tyrion’s interest in and affinity for dragons. So far the only other person who’s managed to touch our favorite lizards has been their mother, yet Tyrion managed it on his first try. Speaking of...
2. Jon and Tyrion are getting dragons
It only makes sense. Dragons needs riders, and those riders have to be Targaryens. Even the dragons’ coloring is a clue. Drogon is Dany’s favorite and black, which is one of the Targaryen colors (black and red). Viserion is white, which is not only one of the Starks’ colors but also the same color as Ghost. And every Lannister has green eyes, just like Rhaegal’s scales.
1. The "handsome young man" talked about in this scene is Gendry
It’s hard to keep track of all the conspiracies going on in this show, and most of us don’t even remember this vague, unexplained exchange between Littlefinger and Olenna Tyrell in season five. After his brothel was destroyed by the High Sparrow’s religious fanatics, Littlefinger offered to give Olenna a “handsome young man.” Considering the death count on this show, the amount of available young men is slim, and that’s before you factor in noble bloodlines.
The only person alive who fits that bill is Gendry. If you can’t recall, let me save you the time of googling him: Gendry is Robert Baratheon’s last bastard child and therefore another person who has a claim on the Iron Throne. He hung out with Arya on the Kingsroad and in Harrenhall, before he was sold by the Brotherhood Without Banners. We saw him last in season three, when Davos smuggled him out of Dragonstone in a rowboat before Melisandre could host a Baratheon barbeque (a BBBQ?).
Here’s what probably happened: Gendry made it back to King’s Landing hoping to return to a normal life. However, Littlefinger has almost as many spies as Varys and managed to get his hands on him. He’s kept Gendry hidden all this time, and has probably been feeding him ambition. Not too much, since he wouldn’t want Gendry to try to stake his claim, however slim. But if you can’t be a king, why not be a lord?
It’s no secret that Littlefinger wants the Iron Throne. He’ll need the Stormlands to get it, which are ruled by, you guessed it, House Baratheon. Since Gendry is the last living Baratheon, that makes him Lord of the Stormlands.
I don’t know about you, but Littlefinger can jump off the Wall. Lord Gendry for the Iron Throne!
What are your theories for season seven?
Who do you want to see rule Westeros?
This post was first published in February 2016 on the original Dragons, Zombies and Aliens website on Blogspot.
I’m gearing up for the CONvergence-Con in July, which I am super giddy about because it’s going to be my first time on a panel. It’s also going to be my first Con. I admit I’m a little nervous, but since the topic is “New Hollywood Tropes,” I should be fine. I probably won’t be cosplaying, but I will be enjoying other people’s outfits. I’ve already started browsing online, and I am impressed. The theme for this year’s CONvergence is To Infinity and Beyond, so we’re going to be seeing a lot of Whovians, both sides of the Force, and Trekkies.
The first time I saw a Star Trek uniform for women, my first thought was Oh, that’s cute. And it is. Those dresses are adorable. But then my second thought was, Wait, why is a government uniform "cute"? I thought back to the movies and the show and realized that all of the women are wearing miniskirts. In the military. At work. 300 years into the future.
Yes, yes, I know. Starfleet isn't actually a military despite the guns and wars and ranks. But they are a government program with a ranking system based on the U.S. Navy, and its people spend an awful lot of time traipsing through strange wildernesses and fighting hostile aliens. Have you ever done any of that in a skirt? Not fun. Not fun at all.
I can understand the original series (TOS) having the skirts. It premiered in the 1960s, just when women empowerment and second-wave feminism were starting. And I give full props to the writers for having so many women characters, the first interracial kiss on television, and all the other progressive values and philosophies that we all love, from a time period where that kind of thing could've easily gotten them fired. Or worse. So I'm not going to go nuts over the costume designs of a brilliant TV series from fifty years ago, even if they are a bit objectifying.
It is now the 21st century, people.
Starfleet is supposed to be a peaceful, quasi-military based off of the U.S. Navy, right? Well, here's a modern-day women's uniform worn by officers in today's Navy:
Here is the Starfleet uniform for men. Note the lack of skin showing and objectifying the body, because these are work uniforms.
And now, Starfleet standard issue uniform for women, both in the original show and from Into Darkness:
I don't know about the rest of you girls, but I would freeze my ass off in this. And running away from aliens and monsters and all around the ship? Forget it. So I'd petition for long pants for the winter wasteland planet and shorts for Vulcan, something the guys should have, too. We don't want anyone getting heatstroke here.
Now, in researching this blog post, I did see a few exceptions. Whenever a captain or other high-ranked woman outside of The Enterprise appeared on the original series, they were often in pants, not a miniskirt and tights with knee-high boots. Next Generation (which aired in 1987) had women who didn't wear miniskirts either:
I had to wade through a lot of little tight dresses and questionable Halloween costumes to find this, so I hope you're happy.
This means we went from having some women in miniskirts and some women in pants in the 1960s, to most women wearing realistic quasi-military uniforms in the 1980s, to all miniskirts all the time in the Alternate Original Series in 2009, with a few exceptions from Uhura and one scene from Carol--after being shown in a bra and panties--that put them out of uniform.
The miniskirts look great and are sexy, yes. But woman officers do not get their position by looking great and being sexy. They get it the same way Kirk and Spock and McCoy and all the others did: hard work, talent and skill, and an unhealthy dose of stubbornness. They do not deserve to be objectified by skin-tight dresses.
There is no way in hell that miniskirts would be the standard issue quasi-military uniform in a society as progressive as the Federation. When the next Star Trek movie comes out, I really friggin' hope that we see some more realistic uniforms. It's probably not going to happen, but I still hope.
What do you hope to see in the next Star Trek film? Leave your comments below!
Growing up, I loved hearing the words strong female character ("SFC"). By the time I'd hit middle school I was boiling with anger. Not just because of awkward adolescence, but because I was sick and tired of seeing the same old damsels in distress and sexualized romantic interests in my favorite movies and series. I wanted more Mulans, but instead I got a truckload of Sleeping Beauties. And occasionally, an action movie or sci-fi book would deliver my semi-regular SFC.
Except they didn't. As I grew older and better at writing stories myself, I began to notice a problem with the "strong female character."
They weren't characters at all.
They were tokens. Something to get the "feminazis" off of the writers' backs, and maybe throw in some overused sexual tension for the main (man) character. Worse: they were grossly sexualized. Jessica Rabbit's exaggerated curves and revealing dress speak volumes.
So we need to get rid of the very idea of the "strong female character" for a variety of reasons. These are the big three.
The first problem is the term itself: strong female character. Not everyone with a uterus is a woman, and not everyone with a dick is a man.
Strong female character?
And what does strong even mean? Physical muscles? Confidence? Emotional endurance? Why do we need the word in the first place? It's never in front of "male character."
Easy answer: men are automatically assumed to be "strong," and women weak. So when producers and directors say that they have a "strong female character" in their movie, it's like saying, "Regular women are pathetic wimps who can't do anything. But this person is strong and capable." More on this later.
Second problem. Let's assume that strong means "capable of looking after/rescuing herself." Essentially the writers are trying to create the exact opposite of a damsel in distress. That's a noble effort, so long as the character doesn't end up needing to be rescued anyway. Not that she should be invincible; she'd be boring if she was. But she should rescue the man at least as often as he rescues her. You know, that whole equality thing.
Good examples of this give-and-take are the characters of the Percy Jackson series, particularly Annabeth Chase, daughter of Athena. For all her intelligence, she does need help getting out of tough situations from time to time. The entire third book The Titan's Curse was dedicated to Percy going on a rescue mission after she was kidnapped, and he got critical help from Thalia and a couple of Hunters of Artemis, all of them girls. This was one book after Annabeth rescued Percy in Sea of Monsters when he was turned into a guinea pig by a witch and two books after she saved him with her intelligence a half a dozen times in The Lightning Thief. In all the books after Titan's Curse, Annabeth routinely battles and outsmarts monsters, Titans, and giants, often saving Percy's life as a result.
But as for stories that aren't written by Rick Riordan, an embarrassing number of "strong female characters" need rescuing by the man, and at no point is she given an opportunity to return the favor. Worse, she who has trained for years in the military, or was designed to be a weapon, or is otherwise entirely qualified to do whatever dangerous thing she and the other characters are doing, she must be rescued by a bumbling beginner. The guy who just entered the adventure, who has zero experience and very little idea of how to defeat the bad guy, ends up rescuing the supersoldier. In what world does that make sense?
The entire point of the SFC's existence--being a kickass woman who "don't need no man"--is completely undermined by falling into the ancient damsel in distress trope. Just look at Gamora in Guardians of the Galaxy (twice!) and Valka in How to Train Your Dragon 2 (also twice).
The third and final problem with SFCs is the most aggravating to me as a professional writer: it's lazy storytelling.
Black Widow (a.k.a. Natasha Romanov) in Age of Ultron was so disappointing because the writers didn't go into her complicated, mysterious past as much as they should have. During her conversation with Loki in the first Avengers movie, she mentions that she's on the team to balance out the "red in my ledger." To which Loki replies, "Can you? Can you wipe out that much red? Dreykov's daughter, Sao Paulo, the hospital fire? Barton told me everything. Your ledger is dripping, it's gushing red, and you think saving a man no more virtuous than yourself will change anything?"
There are three things in that single line of dialogue that make us go wait, what? It's the doorway to an excellent redemption story not unlike Tony Stark's. But instead of doing that, the writers decided that Black Widow's story in Ultron would be how sad she is that she can't be a mommy, and that that's what makes her a monster (which is a whole other rant altogether). The romantic subplot between her and Bruce Banner made her flat and two-dimensional, when she could've been one of the most intriguing and awe-inspiring characters in the movie.
Unfortunately, Natasha has lots of company. There are dozens of other intriguing women who've been doomed to a dull love interest: Trinity from The Matrix, Tauriel from The Hobbit trilogy, and Grace in Armageddon.
Not to say that all traditional SFCs in books and television are flat and undeveloped, or even those caught up in romance. Buffy has to juggle school, family, friends, love life and work with her Slayer duties, putting her and her friends through rigorous character development throughout the show. Annabeth cuts down more monsters than almost any other demigod in Camp Half-Blood while struggling to overcome her personal demons of pride and betrayal. Brienne of Tarth is loyal to a fault, yet she does not play well with others; in fact, she usually cuts them in half.
So, yes, you can have some kick-ass heroines with swords and stakes and guns. That is not the issue here. The issue is when that is all that defines them.
Buffy isn't a classic character of the vampire genre because of her karate skills. It's her ongoing struggle to try to live a normal life with friends and family while everything else is (literally) going to hell.
Annabeth doesn't inspire thousands of Percy Jackson fans because of her knife, but because of her strong sense of purpose and confidence.
Brienne's story in Game of Thrones is interesting not because she's hacking sexist jerks in two ("It's a bloody woman!"), but because of the difficult choices she makes. When she and Jaime were on opposite sides of the siege at Riverrun, she told him that she would do battle with him despite their friendship (and her crush) because "honor compels me."
But I don't consider them "strong female characters." They all have strength, of course; physical and emotional. But why would you use "strong" to describe someone like, say, Hermione Granger? The first words that come to mind for this classic witch are intelligent, stubborn, brave, arrogant, compassionate, and loyal. Not once does strong ever pop into my head.
"I think the major problem here is that women were clamoring for “strong female characters,” and male writers misunderstood. They thought the feminists meant [Strong Female] Characters. The feminists meant [Strong Characters], Female."
A character--man, woman, or anyone else--does not become a memorable, flesh-and-blood person in the eyes of their audience just because there's a sword in their hand. What makes them great characters is that they drive the story.
For example: the blind fighting champion Toph Bei Fong from the Nickelodeon series Avatar: the Last Airbender embodies all the stereotypes of the "strong female character": she's cocky, a total tomboy, loves fighting and dirt, she's stubborn and often arrogant, but deeply loyal and loves her friends. And those stereotypical features work because she has clear motivations and a narrative arc. She wants to get out from under her oppressive parents and save the world, and while that largely includes teaching Aang (the main boy character) how to earthbend (basically earth magic, for the uninitiated), it also involves fighting alongside her friends while they storm castles and kingdoms, inventing an entirely new branch of earthbending, discovering a passion for teaching, and trying to reconcile with her parents. She does finally get back on good terms with her father, but only when he accepts her as who she is, instead of her "softening up" (re: becoming more feminine and taking a back seat).
Opposite of Toph is Daenerys Targaryen from Game of Thrones. She's very feminine, wearing dresses and makeup and chatting with girls about boys in her down time. She has no military training and relies heavily on her bodyguards if she's caught in a physical fight. But she doesn't need a sword. She doesn't even need her dragons to be badass. She takes what she has--essentially nothing--and ends up with a massive army, three dragons, and ultimate authority over half the continent. She refuses to be tucked away into the Dothraki Sea when the horse lords capture her, and instead kills all of their leaders in one blow with a couple of friends and some kindling. And now the seventh season will be completely defined by her invasion of Westeros. As it happens, her main opponent is also a woman: Cersei Lannister, another great (though certainly not good) woman character.
The main takeaway is this: the strength of a character is not determined by how many bad guys she can kill or how sexy she looks with a gun. It's determined by her power over the story. If she has none and is only there as decoration/sex appeal/tokenism, then she needs to be rewritten. Maybe give her some girlfriends so she's not the token of the boy band. But if she has significant influence over the plot, then she truly is a strong, woman character.
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Interesting counterargument to Valka being a damsel in distress: "Why How to Train Your Dragon 2 is a Radical Feminist Triumph"
Know any good movies, shows or books with badass women? Comment below!
The first Dragons, Zombies and Aliens blog was started in 2015. Somewhere between college coursework, paying rent with door-to-door sales, and keeping up with my sorority sisters, I wrote reviews, rants and commentaries on books, TV shows, and movies. Now, this blog has moved, improved, and the sky's the limit!