Sunday, February 04, 2007

Equality in death

One of the main ‘defenses’ I’ve read about the treatment of women in comics is that ‘bad things happen to males too’. And that is true. It’s hard to explain why the death of a woman, such as Phantom Lady, can be considered a bit misogynistic, and on the other hand, the death of Superboy is not a show of hate against males.

Thinking about how to make the argument on how it’s not that female characters die, but how they die, I remembered one of my guilty pleasures, Battle Royale.

Now, Battle Royale is a gore fest. Out of 42 sort of main characters, 40 die. And they don’t die in their sleep, no. We get to see their faces blown off, ripped open, riddled with bullets, stomachs torn in two, and so on. Of the three incarnations of Battle Royale, the manga is the bloodiest. My partner in the Oubilette, Aurea D’Nabe, correctly classified it as a ‘morbid’ manga. It’s designed to shock the viewer, and it doesn’t pull any stops to do so. If it has to be violence, its with violence, and if it has to be with sex, its with sex.

All of the volumes in English were sold wrapped up because of the violence, but there are certain chapters, particularly in volume 8, that get really close to a hentai comic. Girls get naked and show their panties a lot here.

But ignoring that little fact –that right there would be a mark about how Battle Royale is indeed sexist, because the girls get naked for no apparent reason than to get naked- it is a very good example of how one death is not the same as the other. After all, the 42 kids are neatly divided, 21 girls, 21 boys, and the survivors are one girl and one boy.

The exact same number of female characters and male characters die on it, so we can see how their deaths are different, and if that matters.

Needless to say, there will be a lot of spoilers.

1.- Yoshitoki Kuninobu, boy 5. Two shots in the head. We get to see his tongue ripped open with the first shot, his eyeballs go out of his skull with the second. Dies defending Noriko. Killed by the Program Director. He didn’t kill anyone.

2.- Fumiyo Fujiyoshi, girl 18. Knife in the middle of the forehead. No gore at all except for the pool of blood under her head. Dies for trying to ask a friend the rules of the Program. Killed by the Program Director. She didn’t kill anyone.

3.- Mayumi Tendo, girl 14. Arrow on the side of her head. No gore except that we see the arrow sticking out. Killed by Yoshio Akamatsu when leaving the school. She didn’t kill anyone.

4.-Yoshio Akamatsu, boy 1. Arrow on the side of his head, we see his eyeball pop out. Killed by Kazushi Niida. Killed 1 girl.

5.- Megumi Etou, girl 3. Throat cut open with a sickle, we get to see the whole process. Killed by Mitsuko Souma. She didn’t kill anyone.

6.- Hiroshi Kuronaga, boy 9. Killed by bullets, we only get to see the body. Killed by Kazuo Kiriyama. He didn’t kill anyone.

7.- Ryohei Sasagawa, boy 10. Killled by bullets, we only get to see the body. Killed by Kazuo Kiriyama. He didn’t kill anyone.

8.- Izumi Kanai, girl 5. Killed by bullets, we only get to see the body. Killed by Kazuo Kiriyama. She didn’t kill anyone. The translation hints that she was going to be raped by Hiroshi and Ryohei, but readers of the original say that was added by the adaptation.

9.- Mitsuru Numai, boy 17. Killed by bullets, we see the process for five pages. Killed by Kazuo Kiriyama. He didn’t kill anyone.

10.- Sakura Ogawai, girl 4, and Kazuhiko Yamamoto, boy #21. Suicide by jumping off a cliff. No gore. They didn’t kill anyone. She decided when to jump.

11.- Tatsumichi Oochi, boy 3. Head split in two with a machete during a fight with Shuya Nanahara. Quite gorish, but not extreme. He didn’t kill anyone.

12.- Kyoichi Motbushi, boy 20. Arm blown off by shotgun, then a shot to the stomach. We see the blood, the bone and the intestine going out (later in a nightmare scene, we see a second hole in his chest). Killed by Shogo Kawada. He didn’t kill anyone.

13.- Yukiko Kitano, girl 6 and Yumiko Kusaka, girl 7. Shot to death, from the back, then shot in the head while trying to call the other students to stop killing each other. Their agony lasts 9 pages. Killed by Kazuo Kiriyama. They didn’t kill anyone.

14.- Yoji Kuramoto, boy 8. Got his head shot off while on top of his girlfriend. Brains and all are seen on panel. His girlfriend tries to put the brain back into his head. Killed by Mitsuko Souma. He didn’t kill anyone although he held his girlfriend at gun point.

15.-Yoshimi Yahagi, girl 21. Head blown off, shot through the eye, after we get to see her past as teenage prostitute. Killed by Mitsuko Souma, she didn’t kill anyone.

16.- Kazushi Niida, boy 16. Beaten, eye out of his socket, arrow pushed through the back of his head all the way to his tongue, completely graphic. Killed By Takako Chigusa. He killed one boy, tried to rape one girl.

17.- Takako Chigusa, girl 13. Shot in the back, after she killed Kazushi when he tried to rape her graphically. Killed by Mitsuko Souma. Killed one boy.

18. Kaori Minami, girl 20. Shot trough the side of her head after she went insane due to her acne. Killed by Shogo Kawada. She didn’t kill anyone, but one girl died in part thanks to her actions.

19. Sho Tsukioka, boy 14. Head blown off, cleanly in two, by collar explosion. Killed (indirectly) by Kazuo Kiriyama. He didn’t kill anyone. It’s made a huge deal that he’s gay.

20. Hirono Shimizu, girl 10. Thrown in well, drowned. Also, had a terrible infection at the moment. Died trying to climb back out. Killed by Toshinori Oda. She didn’t kill anyone.

21.- Keita Ijima, boy 2. Shot in the head, graphically. Killed by Shinji Mimura. He didn’t kill anyone.

22.-Yutaka Seto, boy 12. Shot in the head, repeatedly and graphically. Killed by Kazuo Kiriyama. He didn’t kill anyone.

23.- Shinji Mimura, boy 19 . Shot in the stomach, in the head, back all over, and suffered an explosion, and shot in the head once more while trying to kill Kiriyama and destroy the program with a bomb. Killed by Kazuo Kiriyama. He killed one boy.

24.- Tadakatsu Hatagami, boy 18. Head cut in two with sickle. Killed by Mitsuko Souma. Almost killed one boy.

25.- Yuichiro Takiguchi, boy 13. Shot in the stomach by Tadakatsu, then raped by Mitsuko, and had a sickle run through his head. Killed by Mitsuko Souma. He didn’t kill anyone.

26.- Toshinori Oda, boy 4. Shot through the groin by Kiriyama. Quite gory. Killed by Kiriyama. He killed one girl.

27.- Yuka Nakagawa, girl 14. Accidentally poisoned by Yuko. Killed by Yuko Sakaki. She didn’t kill anyone.

28.- Chisato Matsui, girl 19. Shot to death through the stomach. Killed by Satomi Noda. She didn’t kill anyone.

29.- Yukio Utsumi, girl 2. Shot to death through the chest. Killed by Satomi Noda. She didn’t kill anyone.

30.- Haruka Tanizawa, girl 12. Shot to death through the side. Killed by Satomi Noda. She managed to kill Satomi with her last breath.

31.- Satomi Noda, girl 17. Shot to death through the head. Killed by Haruka Tanizawa. She killed 3 girls.

32.- Yuko Sakaki, girl 9. Jumped to her death. Caused the deaths of 5 girls, and her own.

33.- Mizuho Inada, girl 1. Shot in the head by Kiriyama while in her underwear. Killed by Kazuo Kiriyama, didn’t kill anyone.

34. Kaoyoko Kotohiki, girl 8. Lets herself be shot by Kiriyama after he almost kills Hiroki Sugimura. Killed by Kazuo Kiriyama, didn’t kill anyone.

35.- Hiroki Sugimura, boy 11. Shot by Kiriyama, after Kiriyama and him fought and Hiroki was almost beat to death. Killed by Kazuo Kiriyama, didn’t kill anyone

36.- Mitsuko Souma, girl 11. Shot in the head by Kiriyama, after she got naked to try and seduce him. She also was raped as a child, something that is shown many times in the manga, AND tended to get naked and touch herself. Killed by Kazuo Kiriyama, killed 3 girls and 3 boys.

37.- Kazuo Kiriyama, boy 6. Shot in the head by Shuuya Nanahara, after a 2 volume fight. Killed by Shuuya Nanahara (With a lot of help from Shogo Kawada, and using Noriko as a human shield). Killed 6 girls and 8 boys (Or maybe 9. See below)

38.- Shogo Kawada, boy 5. Shot in the stomach. No idea by whom, but probably Kiriyama. Saved Shuuya and Noriko. Killed 1 boy, 1 girl.

Survivors: Shuuya Nanahara, boy 7, and Noriko Nakagawa, girl 15. Is worth of mention that Noriko didn’t kill anyone and was dragged along the way for the 15 volumes.

Now, the problem here is that for a story that shows that everyone can do the unthinkable when pushed far enough, girls are still considered weaker and passive. In the original novel, at least, Noriko is the one who pulls the trigger on Kiriyama, showing that she was along not only as the symbol of all that was pure and nice and to be the main characters’ future girlfriend, but in the manga she’s the perfect damsel in distress. She gets shot, she gets sick, she gets to cry a lot, and that’s all she does. And the only reason why I can stomach her, is because Shuuya is pretty much the same, even when he does get action scenes.

What really bothered me now that I did this list –and that I honestly didn’t notice on first reading, when I was doing the reading one volume at the time- was that girls do nothing. There’s one girl who really fights against his would be male killer, Chigusa, and that’s because her would be killer is also her would be rapist. If he hadn’t threaten her with that, she would’ve let him go. Most of the girls don’t kill anyone, and the three with the high body count are a girl who kills her friends in a hysterical panic attack (All victims are girls), a girl who poisoned accidentally one of her friends and caused the mentioned panic attack, and Mitsuko Souma. She’s touted by the fans as one of the two ‘cool’ characters, being the evil girl as opposed to the evil boy Kiriyama, but not only she has a much lower body count, when one does examine the deaths, one can think that Mitsuko managed to kill them almost by accident. Not to mention that, to explain why a girl could become such a dangerous killer, we have to know, repeatedly, that she was raped as a child, by her step father, became a prostitute as young as 13, AND her real father abandoned them. She dies, naked, begging to her ‘daddy’ to fulfill the promise that ‘it would never hurt’.

(As a contrast, Kiriyama is such a dangerous killer because he can’t feel. He has brain damage, and doesn’t feel any empathy towards anyone. He’s a sociopath, who nevertheless was loved by his father. However, apparently in the final shooting, Shuuya manages to hit the nerve connections back in place as his final words are ‘I can feel again’. Somehow, I can’t help but feel that Kiriyama was given a lot more thought as a villain than Mitsuko)

And that’s the difference, see? It’s not that horrible things don’t happen to male characters when they happen to female characters. It’s that horrible things happen to male characters when they try to prevent them from happening, while horrible things happen to female characters when they’re just sort of standing there. All of the ‘good’ guys were forming teams and planning to try and destroy the program; all of the ‘good’ girls were… hiding. The ones who formed a team was a team to see if they could last until the third day, and then… well, either wait for someone else to have a plan or die together. As friends. And they managed to kill each other in a panic attack brought by hysteria. Guys roam through the island trying to find their loved ones and defend them to death, girls… cry a lot when found and stay around doing nothing when there’s a psychotic killer with a shotgun on the lose even if they have a gun. (And of course, guys get their clothes ripped a little bit. Girls get naked)

And while I do understand that Battle Royale comes from Japan, who doesn’t really has a very equal culture (‘Baby making machines’, anyone?) and thus it deals with a very different kind of sexism than American, European or Mexican comic books, I thought this is a perfect example of what not to do. Hey, Mitsuko is a perfect example of what I was saying about T&A not being inherently sexist. I wouldn’t have minded her parading herself naked at every single chance, if it hadn’t been for her rape backstory. Her rape backstory makes her a tragic victim, who was twisted so much that she does equal sex with taking advantage before they take things away from you. Without the rape backstory, she could’ve been a girl who knew she was gorgeous, and in a ‘kill or be killed’ situation, knew to use all the weapons in her arsenal. (And there's also a lot to say about the fact that apparently, the translator, Keith Giffen, decided to add a lot of extra mentions to rape across the story. What? Beheading and shots through the brain weren't shocking enough?)

As I say, I like Battle Royale. Its gory, it’s violent, and the story has some resemblance to Lord of the Flies and The Long Walk, which are one of my favorite reads. Given that its based on a book that criticizes Japanese culture, I understand why girls are nothing more than ornaments in the plot, mostly used to show how gentlemanly are the good guys.

But now let’s examine the deaths of Pantha and Superboy the same way. Pantha dies, rushing into battle without a plan, and gets beheaded with a backwards punch, that the guy who threw doesn’t even realize how strong it is. Superboy dies, heroically, saving the universe.

One is doing something, the other has something done to her.

Is it really that hard to see the difference?


3 comments:

kalinara said...

I don't think you can really use Pantha and Superboy as equivalent characters in this though. Superboy was an A-list sort of character, a lead in a popular selling book, tied to important characters like Superman and Lex Luthor.

Pantha wasn't. She, Risk, Bushido and company were D-list cannon fodder and they died/were maimed like cannon fodder. Ultimately meaningless.

The comparison that would be apt would be to Bushido, who is of equivalent (lack of) importance. Bushido died in the same battle. In the same aftershot, meaningless way. There really wasn't a gender difference there. ANYONE who died at Superboy Prime's hands that wasn't Superboy (his opposite/equivalent) was basically a cannon fodder death.

I do think the Battle Royale sort of phenomenon can be seen in Infinite Crisis. But not with Pantha. It's when the Freedom Fighters died that this becomes terribly obvious. Phantom Lady put up the least fight, got the most gratuitous showing of her impalement, and went out with a pathetic whimper of "why?"

The men may have died as quick, but none of them were made to lose their dignity in that sort of way.

Adalisa said...

Thank you so much for the comment, and you're right. While I had the Battle Royale manga to do the list, I never bought IC -I read it when it came out, but it's not in my collection- so I latched on the two main deaths I remembered. But you are right, Phantom Lady is the more adequate equivalent.
(Especially since, as far as I remember her -my DC knowledge is seriously lacking- she was one of the most experienced fighters in that particular group)

jlg said...

Although if I may jump in, the Superboy Prime fight didn't get fatal until Pantha was killed. Her insult caused Superboy Prime to accidentally kill her, in front of her son and husband. Showing her head roll along was like that pathetic whimper (especially after her making a quip), rubbing in how extreme she died and milking it for the shock on SBP and others. Bushido and Pantha's kid Baby Wildebeest were killed when things had been escalated, he was trying to fight against a now lethal Superboy Prime. BW was going for vengeance seeing his mother killed, and Bushido at least did get one shot in in the TT tie-in, while Pantha was killed immediately, without intent, and effortlessly. Risk is still alive and has a major role in Titans East.

I think her point still stands, because Phantom Lady and Pantha are the major female deaths in IC, and there really isn't a equivalent for Superboy. And I think you can still compare Pantha to Superboy - Pantha's death and Superboy's death are major points in IC's narrative where things turn around. And Pantha's death is at the expense of her character so SBP can go past the point of no return. Superboy's death, however, is an inspiring event that also legitimizes Superboy's character.