Monday, July 28, 2014

Ranma, Tell Akane She's Cute

I'm watching Ranma 1/2. It's enjoyable, but I have a serious issue with it. Can you guess what it is?

It's not the nudity, although I dislike that element.

No, not the gender-bending part of it, either, although I think that's why I initially marked it "won't watch" on Anime-Planet.

I take issue with the way Ranma treats Akane.

He attacks her femininity almost constantly. His most common insult is "you're so not cute."

Ranma and Akane walk to school together for the first time in episode
2. They're both frustrated about the whole arranged marriage thing,
and they take it out on each other. This setting becomes a common
one for their spats.
I know what you might think.

It's just an anime, Annalyn. Tsunderes and insensitive boys are always throwing out insults they don't mean. You should be used to it by now. 

Ranma just says those things because he's immature and can't process his true feelings. He's bashful. "You're not cute" means "you're adorable."

Akane isn't innocent, either. She calls him "baka" ("stupid") all the time, even though we all know that "baka" is practically a love confession. 

I've told myself the same things. Here's my response to the second and third defenses: Yes, the audience knows what's really in the characters' hearts. But the characters don't. Those are hurtful words.

It's just anime, you say? You're not wrong. So, why am I so annoyed by this very common comedic device?

Because I think Akane really believes she isn't cute, that she's boyish and not a desirable wife. I think she gave up on being "truly" feminine years ago, because she doesn't have traditional beauty, interests, or skills, like her oldest sister does. Sure, the guys at school are all after her. But they treat her like a trophy to be won, and they miss her heart. She's raised her defenses around her heart and invested her whole being into martial arts, because that's safe.

Yes, it's just an anime. Akane and Ranma will probably live happily ever after. I doubt that Ranma 1/2 will deal with the self-confidence and image issues that often result from these kinds of insults.

But what about the real Akanes? How many girls and women believe that they have somehow failed at womanhood? How many believe that they aren't cute, pretty, beautiful, or otherwise desirable? How many believe that they will never be married, because no one could possibly love them that much? How many married women believe they still don't measure up?

When Ranma tells Akane that she's not cute, or that she's otherwise unfeminine, he tells a lie. It's not a lie just because he really thinks she's cute. It's a lie because she is a woman. The mangaka, Takahashi, created her to be lovely. And he created her in the image of real women, who are all the more majestic, because we were created by God himself, in his image. 

God created man in his image, too, and men are thus amazing. But that's a different topic.

We're women. We're beautiful by nature, both on the outside and inside, although we don't always feel like we can show it. We're not just desirable. We're desired and loved by God. Each one of us. No exceptions. It doesn't matter if we, like Akane, can beat up boys, and it doesn't even matter if we've beaten up boys we really shouldn't have. We might, like Akane, spit out insults we shouldn't, call people baka or worse… we might not always be graceful, or merciful, or sweet. We're not perfect. We need salvation. But we're still feminine. We're still beautiful. We're still passionately loved and pursued by God.

And anyone who says otherwise, about any of us, is a liar. I don't care if they mean it, and I don't care if the perpetrator is just an anime character.

Because girls need to be told that they are lovely. We're strong, but we're also breakable. Too many women have been broken with the lie, "you're not enough of a woman." Some try to harden themselves to the insults, and when they do that, they deny part of who they are. They deny their need to know that they are beautiful and loved.

Let me speak to the women reading this blog: your need is real. Never feel silly for wanting to know that you are beautiful, you are loved, and you are womanly. If you doubt that any of this is true about you, and you're hurting because of it, then please, know that your hurt is real, and it is worth crying over.

You don't have to believe the lies.

I'm a little more passionate about this topic than usual, probably because I just read Captivating: Unveiling the Mystery of a Woman's Soul. This book, written by John and Stasi Eldredge, has been popular for years now, and rightly so. It's not like they have all the answers, but they seem to have a pretty Biblical perspective on who women are and what we need—not what we should be doing, but what we desire and why. This book hasn't told me very much that's new, but it's affirmed what I already know about myself and other women. It gives a little extra confidence to what I'm writing in this post. Here's a taste of what I read in the chapter called "Beauty to Unveil":

"Beauty is what the world longs to experience from a woman. We know that. Somewhere down deep, we know it to be true. Most of our shame comes from this knowing and feeling that we have failed here. So listen to this: beauty is an essence that dwells in every woman. It was given to her by God. It was given to you" (p. 131, italics theirs).

Essence. That's something internal, unremovable. It cannot be gained with cooking skills, makeup, or a quiet demeanor. It can, however, be covered up, as the Eldredges explain. That's why beauty is something we unveil. We are image-bearers of a beautiful God, but sometimes our beauty gets hidden, even from ourselves. Our doubts get in the way. We hide our beauty, or try to put on artificial beauty, or otherwise raise our defenses.

If beauty is our essence, that means it's a core part of us. In order to unveil more of our beauty, we have to unveil who we really are. We have to be vulnerable and open.

In the first couple dozen episodes, Akane is rarely emotionally vulnerable. She's beautiful, and that can't be completely hidden, but she doesn't feel safe enough to share her heart and essence with those around her. And how could she? She doesn't feel desired or deeply cared for—in fact, Ranma repeatedly tells her that she is undesirable.  Her beauty, her essence is constantly called into question by herself and others, because it doesn't always show up in the traditional way. She's constantly on the defense around the guy her father betrothed her to. She won't show how much the insults hurt her, so she can't be herself.

She's not at rest.

One of my favorite moments in Ranma 1/2 is when Ranma goes a little nuts and believes he's a cat. In that moment, he is honest about his feelings. He curls up on Akane's lap, content to be with the one he loves.
Kitty Ranma curls up on Akane's lap in episode twenty-three.

And when he is an honest kitty, Akane is safe. She calls to him, holds him, and treats him tenderly. Cat Ranma won't reject her. So she can unveil more of her beauty.

She is at rest.

Her beauty also shows up when she defends her friends (or even her "pig"). She holds nothing back, she doesn't bother with the opinions of those watching, and she kicks the offender into the next zip code. She's too busy being beautiful to hide.

Of course, the deepest rest, the strongest confidence, comes through a relationship with God.

God isn't written into most anime or manga. Instead, the writers create love interests to clumsily take over God's affirming role. When a girl knows that she is loved, that she is desirable, she can be a little more at rest.

It would be nice to say women don't need affirmation from anyone. It doesn't matter if anyone says we're beautiful, as long as we think we are. But that's a lie. We're relational creatures. At the very least, we need affirmation from God, and we have that—we just might not realize it. We aren't cut out to be self-reliant anymore than man is (I'm thinking of Genesis 2, when God said "It's not good for man to be alone," right before he made Eve).

In a world without God, such as an anime, women must turn to others to affirm who they are. They must know that they are desired, that someone desires to really know them, not just the veneer they wear to keep themselves safe. That is how they find true rest, how they begin to unveil more of their beauty.

That's partially why Ranma annoys me. He doesn't help Akane to be really at rest. She can't trust in his acceptance, and she can't trust in her own beauty.

If I were talking about a real couple, I'd encourage Akane to turn to God for affirmation. By drawing closer to God, she could find the love and peace she needs to let down her defenses. Then I'd turn my attention to Ranma, who would still need to man up. Since this is anime, not reality, I'll skip straight to the Ranma part.

What's with our shape-shifting protagonist, anyway? Why won't Ranma acknowledge Akane's beauty? Is he afraid he won't measure up, that he can't gain the heart of a beautiful, confident woman? Does he fear the responsibility of caring for her heart? If it's that last one, then here's a newsflash: as a man as a human being, he already has the responsibility of watching out for her heart to at least some degree. Frankly, he's failing at that right now.

Perhaps Ranma believes that Akane's words are true, he really is a "baka," and she'd like to break off their engagement.

For obvious reasons, I know less about men than women. But I've picked up on a little. Love is just as vulnerable for men as for women. Perhaps Ranma doesn't have the confidence to tenderly pursue her or to enjoy her, just as she doesn't have confidence to invite him. Perhaps he believes he'll have a better chance when he breaks his curse and becomes "fully man." But, at this rate, waiting to break his curse looks like a bad idea. And honestly, he doesn't need to wait. Even if he stops turning into a girl every time he gets a splash of cold water, he won't magically become all the man he's created to be.

Instead of waiting to have everything figured out, Ranma needs to man up now and tell Akane that she's cute—or, more honestly, downright beautiful.

When he finally does, Akane needs to affirm him for the compliment, rather than call him stupid. That might be hard for her at first, but eventually she'll start accepting his encouragement. She can invite him (and, in a different way, others) to get to know her and her beauty, encouraging him to be all of the man he is made to be. And he must pursue her, offer his strength as her defender, not only in combat, but also as a defender and pursuer of her heart.

I believe that, since God created us in his image, he gave us the opportunity to reflect who he is through our relationships with one another. We can show love, beauty, and bravery—and, through that, hopefully point to God. Or we can hide from who we are made to be, and show only hate and fear. In the first chunk of Ranma 1/2, Ranma and Akane often lean more toward hate and fear than beauty and bravery. They throw insults that would chip away at anyone's confidence—or cause them to harden their hearts. It's all the more irritating because I've seen glimpses of who they could be without those insults, if they'd only stop.

So, Ranma, tell Akane she's cute. Stop wounding her heart, and start defending and delighting in it.

And Akane, know that you're beautiful, that you're loved. And let that knowledge transform you.


  1. About 5 years ago I posted on a forum discussing Ranma and Akane, defending Akane, (since generally most people tend to blame Akane more and give Ranma a pass).

    I'll repost my analysis of Akane Tendo and why she's not your "typical tsundere for the sake of being tsundere." Understand I not one of those who sides with her against Ranma, but I do see where she's coming from.

    Akane Tendo is an interesting and complex character. Her mixed feelings for Ranma are actually quite easy to understood once you think about it from her viewpoint.

    Akane is from a family of three daughters. Each daughter had developed a specific role in the family. Kasumi was the dutiful daughter, mother figure, and the inheritor of all the feminine virtues. Nabiki became the cynical money grubber. Akane failed at the traditional feminine path, however, she was a dutiful daughter who had a position of respect and honor in the family as the supposed heir to the family school of martial arts.

    Akane always supposed that one day she would take over the dojo for her father. She trained hard and became the most powerful martial artist in the area. Even possibly surpassing her father. Imagine how it would feel to one day suddenly discover that your father had never intended for you to inherit, but instead planned to give the family dojo to the son of a friend who you have never met. Oh, and you're expected to marry him.

    Plus he is so far above you in martial skill that you can't even hit him and he just plays with you during sparring. And he has a dozen or so additional fiances, girlfriends (self-proclaimed), and rivals who all show up soon after, quickly demoting you to the lower end of the power scale. Lets be fair. That would suck. Hardcore.

    Ranma basically came in, and without even wanting to, stole Akane's entire identity and life role. To make it worse, when Akane attempts to dutifully fulfill this new unwanted role as wife and homemaker (poorly since she's not good at it), Ranma mocks her and rejects her.

    Understand, I get where Ranma is coming from too, but truthfully you can't blame Akane for harboring some resentment towards Ranma for the mess he's made of her plans for life.

    On the other hand, Ranma is also basically Akane's dream guy. A powerful martial artist who protects her, but doesn't treat her as a prize to be won, and doesn't try to force himself on her. He's also a badly abused boy who's been deprived of his mother, and has little or no friends (the few friends he does have are trying to kill him, marry him, or otherwise control him). This combination of The Woobie and The Hero is almost always a big attraction to women.

    In fact the usual response to such a lead male is for the lead female to make all sorts of excuses for the jerkass behavior by the lead, while she tries to heal his broken heart. I found Akane's tsundere routine to be much more interesting.

  2. I never articulated my view on Ranma's perspective, but I think I'll at least make an attempt.

    Ranma has several serious things going on in his life. The anime and manga plays it all for comedy, but it could just as easily be made a drama or a tragedy.

    The first and foremost thing to understand when considering his approach to Akane, is that Ranma has abusive parents.

    I don't mean typical abusive parents either, Ranma's father is regularly placed in the top worst parent list for all of anime (usually in the top 3 with Gendo Ikari, and Hayate's parents).

    Ranma's father has dedicated his son to becoming the greatest martial artist ever, and to that end has deliberately and repeatedly abused Ranma. Not only in the major incidents like the training of the Neko-ken, but in day to day living. Gendo stole food from his son, forcing his son to steal food back to avoid going hungry. From their behavior with each other it's clear that there were thousands of little occasions like this that have heavily shaped Ranma.

    One of the things that Ranma gets right is that abuse, even really bad abuse, usually does not mean the absence of love. Gendo does actually love Ranma, but it's a twisted form of love. Furthermore, Ranma learns that his mother fully condones and supports his father in his abuse of Ranma.

    Because of this abuse Ranma's social skills are terrible. And this directly effects Ranma's relationship with Akane in many ways.

    The second issue is that Ranma is male, trapped in a gender bender anime. Ranma has no gender identity issues. He is male. He is male even when in a female body. He is not confused about his gender, he is straight, male, and this is all grounded in reality.

    And the reality is changed through magic. And now Ranma has to deal with everyone else being confused about his gender. And weirdly enough it's the world that is insane, not Ranma. Ranma is correct in identifying as male, it's the world that is crazy. Furthermore, his father has continually demanded that Ranma be masculine, raising it as the highest virtue - because Ranma's mother fully intends to kill Ranma if she judges him to not be masculine enough.

    1. Thus his curse is a rather significant vulnerability for Ranma. And Akane attacked it during their first meeting. Make no mistake, Akane is the one the got their relationship started on the wrong foot.

      First she acts like the only friendly person in the Tendo household to Ranma. Causing Ranma to start opening up, probably for the first time since his friendship with Ukyo. Ranma has been in a place of constant threat, even from his own father, and yet here is this girl offering friendship.

      Which she then promptly withdraws when she discovers his true gender. She then attacks him both physically and emotionally, labeling him a perversion - attacking the one great vulnerability he has right now.

      Ranma reacts the only way he has ever been trained to deal with an attacker - fight back. Find the other person's vulnerability and crush them. Which Ranma quickly does - Akane's vulnerability is her femininity, so Ranma punches there, hard and effective.

      Yet he finds his victory is a defeat. Something that his father never taught him in either word or deed, and so Ranma becomes very confused and fumbles about trying to figure out what to do.

      This alone might have slowly improved, but then you have the third complication. Honor.

      Honor is a huge thing in Ranma 1/2, maybe the core concept. Ranma actually is honorable, and takes his obligations seriously. Something he must have decided to do in a conscious rejection of his father, who is completely dishonorable in all his dealings.

      But here is the tragedy. Ranma is honor bound to do mutually exclusive things. His is honor bound to marry Akane, he is honor bound to marry Ukyo. He can't do both.

      And that is the core moral question in Ranma 1/2. What does a man do when honor requires he do two opposed things? Ranma resorts to the lessons he learned from his father: delay, and hope a solution presents itself.

      Thus Ranma feels that he cannot allow any romantic relationship to advance without violating his honor code.

      There are other problems as well: Pride. Resentment at the fact that his obligations to marry are not through his own choice (which cuts against Akane as well). And certainly his share of idiocy - mainly due to his focus on martial arts, or on regaining his true gender permanently.

      That said, Akane is in many ways his dream girl. A martial artist. A girl who values honor. A girl who doesn't try to force Ranma to fulfill an obligation Ranma did not choose (unlike all the other girls). And a female figure in his life who is actually feminine towards him. (All the other girls interact mostly as one of the guys, or as sexy temptations - not feminine).


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