Gender relations in manga … well, in 3×3 Eyes

Earlier this week, I came across an old essay about gender roles in manga, titled Gender and Gender Relations in Manga and Anime and written by Rei Izawa, whose website is still online in all its 1990’s glory! Seriously, check it out, it’s perfectly nostalgic! A time capsule!

Anyway, this is an old essay – it says “1997, 2000” at the bottom of the page – so the mentioned manga and anime are also pretty old. Maybe it’s a bit silly of me to write about this after so many years (chances are the writer has changed her mind in the meantime) … but it mentions 3×3 Eyes! And I’ll take any chance to talk about 3×3 Eyes, OK?

(The existence of this website also proves that no, feminist criticism of anime/manga is not a new thing at all and it doesn’t lead to the immediate and total destruction of anime/manga! ;) Aren’t you glad!)

In this essay, Rei proposes a few categories to describe the relations between men and women in manga and anime:

  • The Unequal Relationship: Where the men do stuff and the women are relegated to be support or damsels in distress.
  • Adjusting Relationship: Bringing the Woman Down: Where the woman starts out stronger, but ends up in a supportive and dependent role to the man.
  • The Stable, Equal Relationship: Self-explanatory.
  • The Initially Unequal Relationship: Where the woman is stronger than the man at first, but he rises to her level over the course of the story.

I’m not so happy with this system, actually. Two of these categories describe static relationships (equal and unequal), while the other two categories describe evolving relationships – either towards equality or towards inequality. The system doesn’t acknowledge situations where the woman is, and stays, stronger than the man – or where she becomes stronger than him over the course of the series. This is an oversight, because dynamics like this do exist. Take Slayers, for example.

Anyway, 3×3 Eyes is used as an example of the second category, “bringing the woman down”:

in the case of 3X3 Eyes, Yakumo needs to help Pai until she can become human, lose all her powers, and “live like a normal human girl.” (Moreover, though at first Pai is more powerful, Yakumo slowly becomes stronger than she).

Well … no. Even if this is based on the anime only (which only covers the first five of eventually 40 manga volumes – plus some sequel oneshots!), even considering that this was written in the late 1990’s, when the manga was only halfway complete, it does a poor job describing the actual relationship between Pai and Yakumo.

For the uninitiated: Pai is the last of her kind, the Sanjiyan Unkara – powerful supernatural beings with three eyes who are said to hold the key to immortality. She’s lonely and she’s constantly being hunted by other supernatural beings. Pai wants to live a normal human life because that would mean happiness. When Yakumo, a normal Japanese teenager, is mortally wounded, Pai saves him by turning him into her “Wu”, her undead servant and bodyguard who cannot die as long as she lives. At first, Yakumo has no skills beyond his regenerative powers, but he learns martial arts and magic along the way. However: if Pai becomes human, he will become human, too, and thus lose all his powers. And that’s exactly what he wants. Both Pai and Yakumo want to become human and live a normal life – together.

Another quibble I have is that while it’s true that Yakumo becomes a lot stronger over the course of the manga, I’d say that Pai also becomes stronger and more mature. Their relationship later in the manga feels a lot more equal – and mature – than it does in the initial chapters.

There’s … a lot more to say about this, but I can’t really staighten my thoughts today. I mean, I haven’t even talked about Pai’s other personality, Parvati, and how she relates to the whole struggle … Anyway, Yakumo and Pai/Parvati actually have a remarkably balanced and equal relationship! They both become stronger over the course of the story, and they both play active, important roles even in the final battle. They truly are a team. They don’t have the exact same skills and abilities, but they are both powerful in their own right – and they only succeed together.

3×3 Eyes is really good at female characters in general! There are a lot of them, and they play various, important roles in the story. They get character development, they have agency, they interact with one another … this isn’t bad at all for a seinen manga that started in the 1980’s, right?

I wish more people had read it. It may be difficult to get into it today, because it is a pretty old manga and it does look its age. The artwork is really rather old-fashioned and there are instances of fanservice that may not be to everyone’s taste. Especially because … this is a horror manga with a lot of gore, and there are things like, well … There are tentacles, you know? It doesn’t bother me in this manga because the female characters are well-rounded, treated with respect and given heroic moments, too. They’re not just there to be fought over, to be saved or protected.

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