Mirko from My Hero Academia, Mikasa from Attack on Titan, Yukina from Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress, and Noi from Dorohedoro. There’s a wave of muscular women hitting the scene, and it’s begging the question: are we opting for gym girls or is this a new coming trend?
When it comes to the portrayal of women, anime loves tropes. Usually, the visuals match the type to a degree. If she’s dainty she probably has long hair, and if she’s a fighter it’s probably shorter, but the body type stays relatively the same. She could be a full-fledged ninja but we likely wouldn’t see that in her body type. She’s slim with a bit of definition in the arms, and that’s where we pull the plug on muscles. Or, that’s where we used to pull it.
Certain girls had spunk, but it was centered in their personality and not their physique. Buff girls and dainty girls usually didn’t fit the same role, and the more muscular they were, the more likely that muscle was to define them. Unfortunately, it was predictable to expect a girl with big muscles to be seen as almost masculine — deprived of the term “cute”. Then again, it didn’t always mean they couldn’t be seen as beautiful.
Gender-fluidity or ambiguity is probably one of the main staples of anime, which makes for space when it comes to gender non-conforming girls. Still, the world was stunned when Noi stepped on the scene, as she’s ripped and often mistaken for a man partially because of it. She is perceived to be beautiful despite her large muscles and stronger look. In the early 2000s, Noi likely would’ve been minimized to her strength; in other words, muscular would’ve been the defining point of her character. Instead, she rides the line of gender in a positive way. She’s ripped, and it doesn’t take away from her beauty.
Maybe you’re thinking, “Lauren, we’ve seen buff anime women! Yoruichi wasn’t gentle. Major General Armstrong wasn’t gentle either!” And you’re right. They weren’t! The difference is that we’re seeing a deeper fusion between the dainty and the strong. Muscular girls that could kick your butt in battle but also snuggle up in their scarves are rising with time, and it’ll probably change the way we perceive the new girl. Take Mikasa.
She isn’t tripping on rocks or yelling for Eren to save her. She’s determined to save him when necessary. While still occupying the role of Eren’s love interest, she moves like an assassin — because she is one, technically — and it amplifies her appeal. There’s even workout routines inspired by her on the internet. Why? Because the fandom knows she’s not to be messed with and they like it. Her strong physique isn’t posed as a comedic point nor is it seen as a pre-makeover look — she’s meant to be strong and she shows that both mentally and physically.
Sometimes she appears cute, and sometimes she appears willing to break your neck. She isn’t solely either. We could see this shift if we compare her to Kagome from Inuyasha. You’ve probably seen the yelling meme for both of them. You know: the scream of, “INUYASHA! KAGOOMMEEE! INUYAAASHHAAAA KAGOOMMMEEE!” Well, Mikasa has it too for Eren. The only difference is that Kagome is yelling out of concern or need for rescue in most cases. We don’t see her as someone who could slaughter her captors, and though she shows strength in other ways — she saves Inuyasha at least twice in the series — you wouldn’t assume her ability by visuals alone. When Mikasa’s yelling, she’s yelling out of concern and, well, concern. We’d be better off saying a prayer for the ones who kidnapped her.
Now, to say that anime is done with girls who stand with their hair blowing in the wind would be wrong. As a community, we still love that girl and we see her in almost every show. She’s just becoming less and less helpless. If she’s meant to be strong, it’s possible we might see that in more than just her arms. The early 90s were determined to keep women slender even if they were meant to be the strongest women in the universe. Now, some of the cute girls are gaining definition, and they’re not defined by either trait. Two years from now, the ripped girl could be seen as the cutest of the bunch, and for girls who can’t wait to hit the gym, this may be a long-awaited change.
Lauren is a 23-year-old cosplayer and writer from Chicago. Her favorite shows include Wolf’s Rain, Terror in Resonance, and Samurai Champloo. If you can’t reach her for whatever reason, she’s probably reading or figuring out how to turn her kendo skills into functional ones. She’ll be back in a minute.