Chickification: On the Destruction of Good Female Leads

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I’m watching a television series right now.

And it is frustrating.

It showed so much promise. The premise is phenomenal. The characters are interesting and varied. The stakes are just about as high as they can go. But it’s on a downhill slope. I plan to write a full, in-depth review of this series when I finish it, but chief on my complaint list at the moment is the female lead.

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I was so excited about this character. Strong, but not unbelievably so. Still feminine, but able to kick butt along with the boys. I love a strong female lead. And for many episodes, she continued to deliver in this department.

And then the creators decided that they needed a damsel in distress.

I saw the beginnings of this long before it actually happened. She starts as one of the strongest characters in the game they happen to be trapped in. She fights on the very front lines, trying to clear the game. She’s the co-leader of the game’s strongest guild. She doesn’t take any guff.

Then she falls in love with the male protagonist. Now this, in and of itself, is not bad. The male protagonist actually becomes much more interesting with the addition of her character. They act as foils for one another, and they are actually a delight to watch interacting on the screen. Their voice actors even seem to share some chemistry, and I like this couple. But this coupling is also where I started to see warning signs.

Sometimes, for no reason at all, said girl character would stand in a corner and let the male lead take care of business. Sometimes she would be prone to strange fits of girlie weakness. I tried to cut the creators some slack. Maybe they were trying to show a more feminine side. Maybe they were trying to balance her character, although personally I didn’t think it needed much balancing. Scenes where she kicked butt and took names began to be so scarce that it was a rare treat to see her in action.

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I know where this is going. I have yet to watch the second half of the series, but already, in reviews, I hear that her role is reduced to a damsel in distress. Why does this happen? Why did anyone think this would make a better story? The best parts of the first half were when the two leads worked together, not when one was saving the other.

I’m trying to look at this as an important lesson in character building, but all I can find is bitterness for the character that never was.

But honestly, folks, when you create a character, you are making a promise with the reader, the viewer, the audience. Characters will change, obviously, but in a gradual fashion. A character, who, at her core, is strong-willed and talented, is not going to flip a switch to become weak and helpless as soon as she has a boyfriend. Characters don’t work like that. People don’t work like that.

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I guess I should be grateful that more and more stories are including strong female leads. This was not a ‘thing’ earlier in my life. You had to comb bookshelves and shows consistently to find maybe one book out of hundreds where the main female character was tough. But this phenomenon of the flipped female character is so prevalent that TV Tropes even has a (humorous) article on ‘Chickification’.

To me, this flipping shows even less respect for the concept of a strong female lead. It’s almost as if the writers bit off more than they could chew, making a girl character that happened to be just as strong as the boys. Almost as if they found themselves saying, “So we have a strong girl and a strong guy. Now who do we save?”

In the end, this all boils down to character consistency. Somewhere I read that characters (and people) are all like onions: the outside is the easiest and first layer of us to change. To get at our core, at the very heart of who we, or our characters are, it takes time. It takes traumatic and important internal or external events. Characters do change, but not just because they become the male protagonist’s love interest.

This is just one of many betrayals this show has thrown my way. I want to love it. I even find myself enjoying it sometimes. But I don’t trust it, and this is the worst situation a team of writers can put the audience in. You want your readers (or audience) to trust you. Don’t make the mistake this show has.

And with that, I’m going to suffer through the second half and try not to argue about the legitimacy of another fictional relationship with a friend (I am such a nerd). Writer out.

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18 thoughts on “Chickification: On the Destruction of Good Female Leads

  1. Before you can blame the writers of the anime, you should probably throw some blame at the writer of the Light Novel it’s based on. The story arc of the anime followed the first two arcs in an 8 novel series.

    1. Yeah, I plan to address this more when I do a full review. That being said, though, the anime creators didn’t have to be faithful to the light novels. In fact, few anime series stick close to their source material, since often the source is not even finished when they start the anime. If the Light Novels are this bad, I really wish the anime writers had done something different with it. I wanted to actually read the Light Novels to see how much of the mess got carried over, but unfortunately they’re all too poorly translated to bother reading. =/

  2. I’m only on the second season and I’m worried about where Asuna’s development is going…after reading this it makes me even more worried to continue with the series. :/

  3. I watched episode 17 weeks ago and haven’t been able to bring myself to continue. For awhile I was waiting to see if my husband wanted to watch more, but he was so pissed off about the turn that the show took that he’s officially dropped it and now I’m stuck trying to will myself to continue but really not wanting to. Between Damsel!Asuna, ultra-creepy villain, and the brother-con sister/cousin…I may have had my fill of SAO. :\

    1. Currently that’s my tactic. I think I’m going to take the happy ending I’m assuming I’m going to get from the second arc and tack it on to the first arc, then repress that whole fairy game mess. Sounds like a plan…

  4. I was enchanted with the idea of SAO when it first came out! People getting trapped in an RPG? How cool is that? And the characters seemed awesome, too. However, you’ve perfectly expressed my feelings of how horribly it went downhill. I managed to finish the series, but still, I wish it lived up to it’s promise.

    Another issue we agree on is that of the female protagonists. I read a lot, and so have a big issue with female protagonists. There are very few who aren’t so shallow as to be non-existent, or so annoying I want to strangle them. It seems like in trying to make strong female protagonists, authors have gone too far and made them far too beefed up, and not just as boring on the other end of the spectrum.

    1. Definitely true. I finally finished it day before yesterday. I really think my chief reaction is just flat disappointment. I’m trying to master my thoughts into a blog post, but it’s hard, because I’m having to relive how much that series let me down. Thanks for commenting! =)

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