Hey Hey Heroes, Travelers, and Wandering NPCs, it’s April and with it comes another OWLS Blog Tour! Last month during our Feminine Blog Tour we looked at the meaning of the term while also celebrating the amazing accomplishments of women. This month we’re looking at the other end of the spectrum with our April Masculinity Blog Tour!
Last month, we explored the meanings behind the terms, “feminine” and “feminism.” This month the OWLS bloggers will explore the concept of masculinity. We each have our own definition of what it means to be masculine and we will explore our definitions using “masculine” characters from various pop culture fandoms. We will discuss how these characters are “masculine” or show signs of a masculine persona. We will also share our personal stories about the amazing men that supported us in our lives as well as sharing some of our experiences growing up as a man or knowing men who struggled with the masculine identity.
Websters defines masculinity as ‘having qualities appropriate to or usually associated with a man’, but what does it mean to be “a man”? Is it physical strength? Fortitude? Having the anatomy of a man? With shifting gender norms, it’s difficult to ascribe a one size fits all definition to terms like masculinity and femininity, because there is no singular way to embody these terms. Roles that were traditionally held exclusively by men are now being taken up by women and visa versa. There simply isn’t a case for traditional masculinity or femininity in today’s evolving world, because what it means to be a man or a woman has changed. But, as a society we still adhere to a ridged gender coded system. Items associated with women and girls tend to have a pink, purple, or pastel color scheme, while items intended for men and boys tend to favor a darker color pallet. We have been conditioned to see associate masculinity with dominance, power, and strength, and femininity with beauty, grace, and poise.
The same exists in anime, shounen series like My Hero Academia, Black Clover, and Dragonball Z, with their action heavy storylines and characters, focus on more “masculine” topics, like overcoming adversity or proving one’s worth (usually through brute strength). Relationships are forged through combat or intense training, and feelings when featured are merely used to bolster a character’s drive to complete some predetermined goal. Shounen anime tend to focus on a character (or group of characters) striving to be the best at whatever it is they do, either through brute strength, dogged determination, or just plain old dumb luck. On the other side of things, you have shojo anime which tends to focus on more traditionally “feminine” topics, like romance and friendship. There usually isn’t a predetermined goal or even a “bad guy”, with the majority of these stories tackling more internal conflicts like self-doubt, finding love, or fostering relationships (romantic/platonic) with others.
But, even within these clearly gender specific genres, there is some crossover. There are plenty of shounen anime that focus on romance and dealing with more internal personal conflicts, just like there are shoujo anime that feature action and adventure storylines. These series challenge the status quo, giving us more relatable stories that speak to who we are as individuals and not so much what we are expected to be. So for this month’s Blog Tour, I went with a series that subverts the idea of masculinity, by parodying a traditionally ‘feminine’ magical girl anime genre. This time around, I’m looking at the magical boy anime, Cute High Earth Defense Club Love! and how despite it’s adherence to traditional magical girl anime tropes and overtly “feminine” themes, helps define a “new” masculine ideal.
Cute High Earth Defense Club Love! is a 2015 comedy magical boy anime that parodies the long running shoujo magical girl anime genre. The story revolves around the five members of the Binan High “Earth Defense Club (lol)”. While soaking in the local bath house, the boys are approached by a mysterious pink wombat who gives them magical bracelets that transform them into Battle Lovers. With their new magical abilities the boys are tasked with protecting the Earth from various monsters of the week and the shadow organization, The Earth Conquest Club.
Like other parody series, Cute High Earth Defense Club Love! is both an homage to and a critique of the genre it attempts to emulate, checking off a number of traditional magical girl anime tropes while also managing to be a rather entertaining experience in its own right. From the stylized costumes to the over the top battle attacks and poses, Cute High Earth Defense Club Love! is dripping with all the cutsy magical girl antics fans of the genre have come to expect from the genre. Early on in the series, a large part of the comedy comes from the fact that you have a group of boys taking on the magical girl mantle. With their love based attacks, overtly cutsy poses, and the detailed transformation sequences, the gender role reversal is always at the forefront of the series.
The first time we’re introduced to the members of the Earth Defense Club, they are soaking in a bath house tub, discussing Chikuwabu. They aren’t discussing sports or some other masculine pastime, but food. In fact most of their conversations revolve around rather mundane topics, most of which are in line with traditional shoujo topics, not to mention the underlying BL undertones and subtext. The team’s leader, Yumoto, is your typical shota character; cute, carefree, with a love of cute things and animals. He is the most far removed from the masculine ideal, and the most secure in his identity openly embracing his role as a Battle Lover, solidifying himself not only as the heart of the team, but as the heart of the series. He is the embodiment of love, in all it’s forms, the platonic love he holds for his friends and fellow Battle Lovers, the unconditional agape love he has for all creatures and even the villains, and most importantly the self love he exhibits in his convictions as a Battle Lover.
Love is usually associated with femininity, both in the context of romantic love, which is often at the center of female led stories and media, whereas unconditional love is synonymous with maternal love. However, in Cute High, love is at the center of everything they do, from their love based attacks and powers to their interactions amongst themselves and with their enemies. They don’t defeat their foes with brute force, but by empathizing with them and quite literally showering them with love. Traditionally, male led series don’t center their narratives around love, romantic or otherwise, instead shying away from love or at the very least relegating it to little more than a subplot. In fact, male led series are usually don’t focus on feelings in general only when the plot absolutely demands it, Cute High on the other hand is all about feelings.
Beneath the not so subtle subtext and sexual innuendos is a series that plays it fast and lose with gender normative behaviors, subverting our expectations by having its cast acting contrary to their typically “assigned gender roles”. In Ouran, the female lead Haruhi doesn’t act like a “typical girl”, she isn’t obsessed with love or her appearance, instead favoring more practical ideals; the same is true in Cute High, the male leads aren’t especially “masculine”. They aren’t macho fighters or particularly sporty jocks, rather, they are good looking high school bishounen. They don’t exude the usual alpha male vibes we see from male characters in shounen series, nor do they participate in traditionally masculine pursuits (ie. sports). In fact the series goes out of it’s way to show that the members of the Earth Defense Club are about as far removed from the battle hardened warriors we’ve seen in series targeted at boys.
The members of the Earth Defense Club are vulnerable, sensitive characters that aren’t afraid to show their softer side. They don’t put on airs or participate in male posturing, they are honest and open with one another, talking through their feelings and emotions. Their bond as friends is perhaps their most defining characteristic, there is a little bit of a romantic undertone to some of the relationships, most notably the friendship between Io (Battle Lover Sulfur) and Ryuu (Battle Lover Vesta). Outside of BL media, the suggestion of romantic feelings between men is usually met with denial, however, that never happens here. Both, Io and Ryuu hint that they have feelings for one another, but, rather than denying their feelings or avoiding one another, they don’t. There isn’t any of the awkwardness you’d expect, nor are they defensive when the others bring up the romantic undertones of their relationship.
There is this idea that masculinity means always being “strong”, hiding your feelings and emotions in order to exude confidence and strength. There is the belief that being a man means being devoid of weaknesses, however, that isn’t the case in Cute High Earth Defense Club Love!, here you have these boys taking on traditionally female roles and actions, embracing their sensitive side. However, that doesn’t mean they are any less masculine than say a more traditional manly man. They have the same confidence, and convictions you’d see in more by the book male characters, however, there is a vulnerability and sensibility that is usual absent in other male led series. Embracing your “feminine” side doesn’t make male characters any less masculine, in fact it makes them more so.
Series like Cute High Defense Club Love! offers a new masculine ideal, one that isn’t tied up in existing gender normative behaviors and roles. There is room for a new kind of male character, one that is in touch with their feelings, while also being able to kick some serious ass.
That’s my take on the Masculinity Blog Tour! I hope you enjoyed my post, but, I’m just one in a long line of OWLS blog tour stops! Be sure to check out Irina (I Drink and Watch Anime) post on the 10th! Also if you haven’t already, please subscribe to the Official OWLS Twitter account @OWLSbloggers and the Official OWLS Blog, to stay up to date on all OWLS news and announcements!
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