To continue on the theme of the earlier post about my favorite female superheroes, here are a few more superheroines I have loved over the years.
“I am Sailor Moon, champion of justice! On behalf of the moon, I will right wrongs and triumph over evil, and that means you!”
Sailor Moon, the Japanese Anime tv show based on a manga, aired in North America in the mid nineties. The story centers around a character named Serena, who lives a superficial but relatively normal life until the day she meets a talking cat named Luna who tells her she has a sacred duty as defender of the moon crystal to fight evil as Sailor Moon. Unlike Jem or She-ra (as highlighted in my previous post), Sailor Moon is the reluctant heroine, who does not initially want to take the responsibility thrust upon her by her destiny. Of course, like pretty much all superheros, she eventually warms up to it.
Every episode Sailor Moon, with the help of the other Sailor Scouts and their cat guides Luna, Artemis, and Diana, defeats the bad guys from the Negaverse. While the female empowerment aspect of the show is sometimes flawed – Serena is constantly obsessing over her crush Darian and more than once his superhero alter ego Tuxedo Mask must comes to the rescue all the sailor scouts by throwing a single rose at the bad guy (!?) - the show remains at its root the story of a diverse group of girls fighting together for the greater good.
It again provided an example of a female superhero surrounded by powerful allies, a theme that still resonates with me today. And I recently learned that Sailor Moon actually comes from a long line of magical-girl anime from Japan. An earlier form of this is Princess Knight (1953).
While the show is full of awkward dubbing and at times confused plot lines, the campiness and the ridiculous character names make it incredibly charming. What’s more, the original manga is actually quite expansive and has some cool canonical elements that gives these stories an edge. So basically, I liked Sailor Moon a lot!
In fact, I liked it so much that at 14 I dressed up as Sailor moon for halloween. I made a costume by hand, glueing star and moon shapes on a piece of cardboard to make her broach. I even borrowed my 8 year old sister’s official plastic toy Sailor Moon Crescent Moon Wand (tripling my dork factor!). In full sailor gear, I walked around a Montreal neighborhood, trick-or-treating while sometimes breaking out the Sailor Moon catchphrase “I will right wrongs and triumph over evil, and that means you!“. Awesome!
Xena Warrior Princess
“In a time of ancient Gods, Warlords, and Kings, A land in turmoil cried out for a hero. She was Xena, a mighty princess forged in the heat of battle. The power. The passion. The danger. Her courage will change the world.”
As a pre-teen, I loved reading stories of ancient mythology and greek history. So the first time I saw Xena, I was psyched. I thought I had found a historic tv show with a tough female lead. But as anyone who has seen the show knows, Xena is to history what McDonalds is to health food. It is a ridiculous mash-up of historic characters and mythological ones, real events and pure fiction. The show defies all logic, and sometimes the rules of storytelling, for the sake of silly episodic television. It absolutely throws historic accuracy out the window. Throughout the 6 seasons on the air, Xena (played by Lucy Lawless) encounters Hercules, the Amazons, Boewulf, King Jason, the Greek gods Aphrodite & Ares, the Norse gods Loki & Thor, and Julius Ceasar. Its really just silly.
But Xena was not made to educate, it was made to entertain. Which is clear by the trashy attention-getting tactics the shows creators employed week to week: beautiful women with very little clothing, cartoon-like action scenes, buff guys in leather pants, slapstick humor, stereotypical characters, simplistic story lines with simplistic conflict resolution and, far too often, rubber chicken-style sound effects. And yet it became a cult classic.
Part of this success was due to the lesbian subtext between Xena and Gabrielle (Renee O’Connor). While not explicitly stated (but so very often hinted at), Xena and Gabrielle were lovers. They were also best friends who together travelled around ancient greece helping the helpless and righting wrongs. This was one of the first times in tv history that a show depicted this type of love between women and as a result attracted a huge cult following.
But I think the attraction to these characters was also due in large part to the independence and freedom they exhibited. The story follows Xena and Gabrielle as they roam through the villages of ancient greece. During the day, they help people solve problems or fight the gods, by night they make camp where they are and sleep on the ground in the woods. They don’t follow the traditional roles assigned to women (neither historic nor contemporary) and have no one to impress but each other.
For me, the show was appealing because it offered a live-action heroine with godlike superpowers. Xena is striking and tough, confident and powerful. And she gets to throw a cool disc weapon thing around and do full 360 fighting flips at least once an episode. Oh and don’t forget her battle cry “Ayiyiyiyiyiyi”.
Xena Warrior Princess is different from the previously mentioned superheros in that she is a reformed hero. Xena begins her story as a violent warlord, pillaging and hurting innocent bystanders in her way. At the beginning of the show, with the help of Gabrielle, she reforms and decides to change her ways. She fights the good fight for the remainder of the show, but always is haunted by her guilty past. The character of Calisto is this guilt embodied (Xena killed Calisto’s family in a raid during her warlord days) and their rivalry is one of the most exciting in the show.
While the show made good use of T&A and wouldn’t really be considered 100% empowering to women, there is something refreshing about the confidence Xena instills in the audience. Plus 90s tv is so wholesome when you compare it to contemporary gore/porn fests like Sparticus:Blood and Sand (which coincidentally also stars Lucy Lawless) or Game of Thrones.
Xena is another powerful female leader, but unlike the previous 3 examples, she has the qualities of a real-life leader. She is not a victim of fate nor was she simply granted her authority. She is a woman who has claimed her own power, one who tries to use it responsibly and understands the impact her actions will have on the people she cares about. Lucy Lawless’ stature and the way she plays this character with such directness and toughness, brought Xena to life and made her seem almost plausible. This image still inspires me today.
Next up: The best female superhero ever, the one that I still adore today: Buffy. And some other contemporary greats.