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Manipulation and Morals: Danny and Vlad as Foils in Danny Phantom

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In literature, foiling what happens when a character contrasts another (usually the protagonist) in order to highlight an attribute that character shares. If you went through Danny Phantom, I’m sure you could find a lot of characters that foil one another, but there is none more poignant than the way that Vlad Masters foils Danny Phantom. Vlad foils Danny in two important ways: he highlights Danny’s manipulative streak, and Danny’s heroics/morals. Let’s dig into why that’s important.

We’ll start with a similarity both Danny and Vlad share: a manipulative streak.

Manipulation

“Using your opponent’s weaknesses against him – I am teaching you something after all.”

-Vlad Masters in Bitter Reunions

From his introduction, it’s clear that Vlad Masters is a chess master of epic proportions. Who else arranges a high school reunion so that he can win back the woman he feels was “stolen from him” and murder his best friend all in one go? He manipulates Danny on a regular basis – and from the start of the show, in fact. Remember those ecto-pusses that show up in the first few minutes of the pilot, when Danny’s father is talking to him and his friends about ghosts?

If you don’t, here’s a picture for clarification:

danny phantom the ectoplasm ghosts

What you might not remember is that Vlad sent those, to test Jack’s skills in ghost hunting – which led to him discovering Danny’s existence:

DANNY: Skulker? The ectopusses? I don’t understand!

VLAD: Of course not! You’re, what, fourteen? Too young to drive and not in college yet! I sent those ghosts, and others, to test your father’s skills. Imagine my surprise when I find *you*; the second ghost hybrid his foolishness created! (Bitter Reunions Transcript)

The dialogue implies that Vlad knew about Danny before he arrived at the manor, and there’s a familiarity in his dialogue when they first fight (“Danny Phantom, right?”) that suggests he has continued to send ghosts to test not Jack, but Danny. Considering this is 7 episodes in, a lot of Danny’s early ghost encounters are likely Vlad-generated, which means he’s been manipulating Danny since the beginning in a way. That’s creepy.

malfoy scream reaction

Vlad’s chess master antics continue throughout the show. He gives Valerie ghost-hunting gear in Shades of Gray as a means to cause Danny trouble – and later uses her to his advantage to get a hold of Danny’s DNA to clone him. In Maternal Instincts, he arranges a fake scientific convention, and then crashes Danny and Maddie’s plan, stranding them in the woods with him to get his hands on them. Reign Storm is essentially a master game of manipulation, where he uses both Valerie and Danny to manipulate his way out of the mess he’s made by angering the Ghost King – he gives Valerie a ring he stole so that she’ll be targeted instead of him, and ends up getting Danny to imprison the Ghost King for him. Danny almost loses his life in the process. There are probably like a million more examples I could give, but I think these two encompass how manipulative Vlad can be, and how he’s willing to use people and situations to get what he wants.

So you’re thinking: “Okay Mel, we get it, Vlad is a stinky manipulative cheesehead. But how does Danny fit into this? Isn’t he the hero?”

Well yes, Danny is the hero. But Danny is just as manipulative and underhanded as Vlad, and what’s telling is that Danny’s most manipulative moments come out when he’s in direct combat with Vlad. Vlad even comments on this on multiple occasions, such as this one:

danny phantom vlad points out their similiarities

Take Bitter Reunions, for example. Vlad has overshadowed Danny’s father, and later tries to kidnap Danny’s mother. Danny realizes that the only way he’s going to get Vlad to scram is to threaten something Vlad values, which leads to this lovely exchange:

DANNY: (as Jack) How’s it going, V-man?

VLAD: (mocking) Ooo, you overshadowed Jack. Ooh, I’m so scared. Now what’s next? A card trick?

DANNY: (as Jack) Listen to me. I swear I’ll walk out of my dad right now and expose us both, unless you agree to a truce.

VLAD: …You’re bluffing.

DANNY: (as Jack) No I’m not! My parents will accept me, no matter what. But if I expose *you*…Well, heh, what would my *mom* think of you?

Vlad makes a face at the thought of that. Danny sets Vlad down.

DANNY: (as Jack) You’ll be miserable and alone for the rest of your life, unless you call a truce.

VLAD: (amused) Using your opponents weaknesses against him. I am teaching you something after all. Very well. Truce. (Bitter Reunions Transcript)

This is especially wonderful because earlier in the scene, Vlad gives Danny the idea inadvertedly when he tells Danny that he would never expose him, because exposing Vlad would mean exposing Danny’s own powers. Danny challenges his assumptions with his ploy, and while he impresses Vlad (which I don’t think he intended to do), it shows Danny’s character. He’s being manipulative, but also honest. He knows that his parents would be more likely to accept him, because even though they’re a bit extreme, they love him unconditionally. He would reveal his existence to them in a second if it saved them from Vlad, because he knows it would be worth the risk. Danny’s trust in people is something that Vlad doesn’t share. That trust and faith in the people he cares about strengthens Danny and weakens Vlad.

Another great example (and one of my favorites) is in Maternal Instincts. Vlad spends a lot of this episode getting the upper hand: luring Danny and his mother right where he wants them, zapping Danny clear of his powers long enough to scare him and stop him from interfering in his plans, and seems to be (in his mind) nearing victory. However, Danny takes a lesson from Vlad.

Earlier in the episode, Vlad takes great pleasure in bragging about one of his inventions, the Plasmius Maximus, which can incapacitate ghost powers for about four hours at a time. He demonstrates by using it on Danny and then sending wild ghost creatures after him.

danny phantom vlad and plasmius maximus

Vlad brags a little too soon, because Danny proceeds to pull a similar ploy on him later on, with an invention of his mom’s called the Specter Deflector:

Danny: But first– [going to the clock, he pushes the hands so it looks like it’s 15 until 12:00, then approaches Vlad, still reading his book.] Hey, um, Uncle Vlad?

Vlad: Oh, please, Daniel, don’t try to butter me up. Especially with your powers shorted out [glancing at the clock] for another fifteen minutes. You’re barely a threat to me with them. Without them? [Laughs, then his eyes gleam red] Well I wouldn’t need fifteen seconds, would I?

Danny: [innocently] How can you say that? You think my mom made the decision to come back on her own? We’re a family. We both talked about it last night, and I want to stay here with you too.

Vlad: [Brightening, his eyes tearing up] Really? You don’t mean…

Danny: Yes, I do. Come on, give me a big hug, new Dad!

danny phantom danny's ploy 1danny phantom danny's ploy 2

[Vlad goes in for the hug, and Danny locks the Specter Deflector around his waist.]

danny phantom danny's ploy 3danny phantom danny's ploy 4

Vlad: [screaming] You little rat! You tricked me! You know what this will mean for you, don’t you?

danny phantom danny's ploy 5

Danny: [looking at his watch] Oh, yeah. [The clock goes to 12:00, and Danny transforms to ghost mode.] A much fairer fight! (Maternal Instinct Transcript)

By fiddling with the clock and lowering the time, Danny lowers Vlad’s defenses by letting him think his powers aren’t back yet, then preys on Vlad’s very personal motives by pretending to apologize and offering him exactly what he wants, only to proceed to incapacitate him in a way that allows Danny to overpower him and win the battle. How very Slytherin – or Vlad Masters, I suppose – of him.

But there’s something important to note. While Danny is manipulative, his reasons for being manipulative often have heroic intentions: in both of these cases, he’s trying to stop one of Vlad’s plans, and protect his family. His morality is very different from Vlad’s, which we’re going to explore next.

 

Morality

[Vlad wakes up. He sees Danny and Valerie both out cold. And his first thought?]

danny phantom vlad's priorities 1danny phantom vlad's priorities 2

Vlad: The ring! [Close-up on Valerie’s hand.] It’s gone! (Reign Storm Transcript)

 

Later on, shortly after above scene:

Danny: All of my enemies. Everything I thought I could handle, but couldn’t.

Tucker: Dude, you can’t blame yourself for this. It’s not your fault.

danny phantom danny's remorse

[Danny’s expression changes from worried and guilty to angry.]

Danny: Maybe not. But it is my responsibility. (Reign Storm Transcript)

danny phantom danny's hero momentdanny phantom danny's hero moment part 2

As evidenced in the quotes and images above, morality sets Danny and Vlad apart as two different very people. How and why they use their powers is very different.

Vlad uses his powers for personal gain: to achieve wealth, to achieve power, to try and murder his best friend so he can ‘take back’ the woman he loves…the list goes on and on. This is established early on in Bitter Reunions, when Jazz asks about his overzealous Packers styled manor:

JAZZ: I don’t understand. You have billions of dollars. Instead of buying this stuff, why don’t you just buy the team?

VLAD: (irritated) Because the Packers are owned by the city of Green Bay and they won’t sell them to me! (Bitter Reunions Transcript)

He later straight up confirms this when he goes on his ‘join me’ rant to Danny, telling him how he has experience, and “the money and power attained through using those powers for personal gain.” Later on in the show, we discover that he’s overshadowed prominent businessmen to get them to sign over their companies to him, that he’s used his powers to commit robberies, and he even uses them in Eye For an Eye to overshadow his way to being mayor. Whenever we see Vlad using his powers, it’s for his own personal gain, or to further his motivations. Even when he’s on Danny’s side, like during their reluctant alliance in Reign Storm, it’s because he’s trying to save his own skin, and realizes siding with Danny is his best bet for success.

Danny’s motivations are very different. While Vlad’s are selfish and self-centered, Danny’s tend to be selfless. While he does have brief moments of selfishness – as most people do – Danny overall motivation is using his powers in order to help people. He wants to save the day. He stops ghosts from attacking his town time and time again, even though for a large chunk of the show, Amity Park as a whole seems to really hate Danny Phantom.

It’s worth noting that Danny could’ve easily been Vlad. They started out very similar: smart teenagers with a love for science, who have two fantastic best friends. The triad of Danny-Sam-Tucker and Vlad-Maddie-Jack is a great reflection of how once upon a time, Vlad was a bit like Danny. Danny could’ve easily resented his parents for his ghost powers, because it was their portal that caused it, much like the proto-portal caused Vlad’s powers back in the day. Vlad is a cautionary tale: he’s the path Danny very well could’ve taken, had things been different.

danny phantom vlad maddie jackdanny phantom danny sam tucker

However, whereas Vlad loses himself in resentment and his lust for power, Danny begins to become more moral and empowered as he learns to use his ghost side to help people and make a change. While Vlad isolates himself, Danny grows closer to Sam and Tucker, relying on them – and later Jazz –for help. Where Vlad sees people as pawns he can use and manipulate, Danny sees the people in his life as friends and allies. Vlad forces people into alliances under false circumstances, by lying to them and manipulating them (ex: Valerie, Dani). Danny helps people, like Wulf and later Dani, and gains their alliance because he helps them out of the tough situations they’re in. It’s a really great contrast, and Vlad’s villainous actions help to showcase Danny’s heroics and morality.

There’s actually a great visual example of this in Maternal Instincts: what I like to call ‘the mirror scene.’

Now, mirrors in media and literature tend to be very symbolic. They show us the truth. Often in supernatural shows, they show us the monster behind their façade. A great example of this is in The Little Mermaid, when Scuttle sees ‘Vanessa’ in the ship singing, and sees that her reflection is Ursula, revealing Ursula’s plan to pose as Vanessa and force Eric into marriage to ruin Ariel’s quest.

little mermaid vanessa is ursula

In Maternal Instincts, the mirror scene shows Danny and Vlad in both human and ghost forms. But we also get a sense of who they are deep down inside.

danny phantom mirror

The initial view in the mirror is Vlad, standing tall and confident, with a superior smirk on his face, with Danny behind him, curled into himself on the chair. It shows who they are at the start of the show. The Danny we get at the very start of the show isn’t confident in himself: he’s clumsy, struggling with his powers, and has a lot of self-esteem issues. The Vlad we get from the start is manipulative, cunning, and arrogant: all traits we can see in his appearance. He’s confident in his powers to the point of being egotistical about them.

Then the mirror flashes and we get a different scene: purple flames, from a fight. This Danny is confident, with his fists out, ready for a fight. In this scene, he’s our force of good, because he looks appalled at Vlad’s actions. This Vlad is more sinister – he’s taller, grins wickedly at his opponent, and is sure of his victory. I think it’s important that Vlad is the one looking in the mirror in this scene, because he’s seeing himself as victorious. He takes up the majority of the space in the image, while Danny is relegated to the background. It shows Vlad’s ego, and how his own self-interest is most important. Everything else comes second.

If Danny were the one looking in the mirror, I’m sure we’d get a very different image.

Vlad’s foiling of Danny accomplishes two things: he highlights his manipulative side, and contrasts Danny’s heroics and selflessness with his villainy and selfishness. The two different paths these characters take, despite how similar their origins are in some ways, is really quite interesting. Character makes all the difference here.

danny phantom danny verses vlad pic

Who are your favorite animated foils? Can you think of any other characters who foil each other in fascinating ways on Danny Phantom? Let us know in the comments.

Follow Animated Meta on Tumblr and Twitter. Have a fantastic Saturday!

Cheers,

M&M

 

Works Cited

Bitter Reunions Transcript. (n.d.). Retrieved July 10, 2015, from Danny Phantom Wiki: http://dannyphantom.wikia.com/wiki/Bitter_Reunions/Transcript

Maternal Instinct Transcript. (n.d.). Retrieved July 10, 2015, from Danny Phantom Wiki: http://dannyphantom.wikia.com/wiki/Maternal_Instinct/Transcript

Reign Storm Transcript. (n.d.). Retrieved July 10, 2015, from Danny Phantom Wiki: http://dannyphantom.wikia.com/wiki/Reign_Storm/Transcript

The majority of my screencaps were from this wonderful site: http://dannyphantomscreencaps.weebly.com/

 

 

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You Need to Watch Star vs. the Forces of Evil RIGHT NOW

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star vs. evil trying to use her wand

Star vs. the Forces of Evil had its official premiere on Disney X D last night, and even though I’m still squealing, I attempted to pull together and give you guys a cohesive review of the show, or rather, why you should be watching this show right now.

The Flawless Intro

star vs. evil star and marco 2

This show first won me over when the introduction was previewed months ago. It was shaky cam footage, but despite that, it conveyed exactly how amazing and adorable the show was. The theme song (which I’m embedding below for your viewing enjoyment) conveys what the show is about: it’s weird, it’s adorable, our main character (Star Butterfly) is a princess from another dimension (and uses a magic wand as a weapon), while our other main character (Marco Diaz) is a karate master. (Or rather, a green belt with one stripe.)

It also lets us know that the main characters have the ability to hop dimensions. We get to see a little bit of this in the first two episodes, and the various scenes we get to see during the intro hint at more dimensions to explore. Pirates! Caverns with light-up bugs! A cloud dance club! A demon’s house! Each world we’re shown is as quirky and fun as Star and Marco are, and gives the viewer something to look forward to in the future. It’ll be interesting seeing how the intro ties into the rest of the show.

 

The animation is wonderful.

star vs. evil dimension-hopping

The animation on this show is fluid and bright. The characters are animated very expressively, and their body movements and facial expressions tell us a lot about who they are as people. Each world also has its own little flair, from the darker world that Ludo the antagonist inhabits, to Star’s bright colored home, to Earth and how the creatures from other dimensions stand out against it when they interact with it. There’s a lot of pretty, dynamic animation. I couldn’t even take notes for this review because I was too glued to the screen for most of the two episodes to focus on my laptop. But I mean, so pretty! So bright! So quirky! See?

star vs. evil this adorable rainbow girl

star vs. evil dancing

star vs. evil shriek

 

I think it’s really important to mention that this show’s main characters are a female warrior princess and her not-white sidekick, and that the show has a female creator.

We don’t get enough cartoons created by awesome women, and the fact that Daron Nefcy is only the second animated show creator for Disney Television Animated (the first was Sue Rose, who created Pepper Ann, if you were wondering) is pretty sad.

star vs. evil sad face

I mean, it’s awesome that she created this show. But it’s sad that she’s only the second woman to do this. I think it’s really important to have more women in animation, and it’s also important to have more diversity. Star Butterfly and Marco Diaz add some uniqueness to the Disney animated landscape, especially because of how complex and wonderful the characters are (which is kind of the best part of the show).

 

Star Butterfly and Marco Diaz: Quirky, Badass and Adorable

star vs. evil marco and star

I’m going to admit now that I expected to come out of this show with Star as my favorite character, since she’s voiced by Eden Sher (who is amazing and whose voice acting gives so much life and quirkiness to Star). Also, she’s a princess with a wand that shoots rainbows and hearts out of it, which is awesome. But honestly, Marco really grew on me in the two episodes that premiered, so I have two favorite characters now. Clearly, they’re the best when they’re together though, which is evidenced by their adorable friendship.

Star Butterfly is a warrior princess who fights monsters, as evidenced by her introduction, when we see her attacking monsters before she rides a rogue unicorn into the castle. It’s always nice to get a female character that can be strong without sacrificing her femininity, and Star is exactly that. Her magical attacks usually involve typically “girly” things, like butterflies and hearts, and when she uses magic for non-battle uses, she enjoys conjuring up things like a room extension. And puppies!

star vs. evil lazer eye dogs 1star vs. evil lazer eye dogs 2

Of course, if Star had perfect control of her magic, the show would be less interesting, so it’s established at the start that she’s not exactly adept at controlling them, despite her reassurances to her parents.

star vs. evil i can handle it

star vs. evil i can't handle it

So it’s off to Earth, to figure out how her powers work. That’s where Marco comes into the picture.

Marco is a lot of fun as a character. He’s a self-proclaimed bad boy, but his actions say otherwise, like when he rants to Star about how he doesn’t understand why people think he always plays it safe, while steering Star out of danger in the hallways.

star vs. evil safe kid 1

star vs. evil safe kid 2

star vs. evil safe kid 3

But while Marco is cautious, that doesn’t stop him from stepping into a fight if he needs to. He uses his karate to fight against Ludo and his forces, while Star uses her magic.

star vs. evil marco

star vs. evil heart attack

They both have different strengths: Marco keeps her out of trouble and guides her in this strange new dimension she’s not accustomed to, while Star gives him the excitement he’s looking for and uses her magic to protect him and help him out when she can. It’s a nice symbiotic relationship, and these two are adorable together. Just look at them!

star vs. evil star and marco

The show also plays around with gender roles. Marco cooks. Star is a brutal fighter.

star vs. evil star and marco 1

star vs. evil warrior

It’s nice having a show with dual main characters where the characters aren’t fully feminine or masculine: they’re fully fleshed out people with varying traits and interests. In my opinion, the best characters come when gender stereotypes are challenged and interesting people like Star and Marco emerge on-screen.

 

Ludo and his interactions with Star are hilarious.

Ludo is initially set up as a tough, menacing antagonist. We’re introduced to him facing away from the audience, on a large chair, with his eyes glowing in the darkness. Then he turns around, and the illusion is ruined by the stack of pillows he’s sitting on, and how tiny he looks. Granted, he does look creepy, but he’s not exactly as tough as we imagined he’d be.

star vs. evil ludo

Like most cartoon antagonists and heroes, Ludo and Star share some great banter between them. There’s actually this great moment in the premiere when Ludo shows up to attack Star and she asks how he knew where she was:

star vs. evil ludo star banter 1

star vs. evil ludo star banter 2

star vs. evil ludo star banter 3

Like most cartoon villains, Ludo also has a really weak group of henchmen, which he often grumbles about. Watching them trudge away as Ludo berates them about they “even retreat like losers” made me chuckle quite a bit. And then there was this great moment:

star vs. evil star and villain 1star vs. evil star and villain 2

From how he’s been set up, Ludo seems like he’ll end up being a fun Chuckles-like antagonist and I can’t wait to see where the show goes with him.

 

One last thing before I wrap this up: one of the minor things I enjoyed was that way that the show poked fun at technology.

Even Star’s other dimensions have technology in some form, and the show takes great pleasure in poking fun at technological things in our pop culture. One great example is the game Marco plays against Pony Head is called Joust Joust Revolution, a play off Dance Dance Revolution.

star vs. evil lance lance revolution

The show also pokes fun at apps like Snapchat, and voice recognition when trying to call someone and your phone (or magic mirror, in Star’s case) just can’t get their name right. I await to see what else they’re going to tackle in the future.

 

Conclusion: You Should Go Watch This Show, Because It’s Adorable and Promising

While there were a few aspects I wasn’t quite as fond of (such as Marco’s friends), I think Star vs. the Forces of Evil had a strong promising premiere. Its strong characters, gorgeous animation and diversity give it an edge, and I’ll definitely be tuning in to see where this goes next.

Star vs. the Forces of Evil airs Monday nights at 8/7 central on Disney X D.

For those of you who’ve seen the show, what did you think? For those of you who haven’t, did my review inspire you to check it out? Let us know in the comments!

Follow Animated Meta on Twitter and Tumblr. Have a lovely Tuesday!

Cheers,

M&M

10 Reasons ATLA is Amazing

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If you can believe it, it’s been 10 years to the day since Avatar: The Last Airbender sprang onto TV screens and made an impact. This show is one of my absolute favorite animated shows ever and this milestone is worth celebrating. Thus, I’ve created a list of the top ten reasons why Avatar: The Last Airbender is both revolutionary and also quite amazing. Enjoy!

atla flower crowns

1. The cast is incredibly diverse.

Despite what the white-washed movie adaptation may have you believe, ATLA does a remarkable job of being diverse. Each nation draws from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds, resulting in wonderfully diverse characters of all molds. The Air Nomads are based on Tibetan monks. The Fire Nation draws from many Eastern cultures, most prominently imperialist Japan. The Water Tribe draws from Inuit and aboriginal cultures, among others. The Earth Kingdom is mainly based on China, but also contains other influences, since it’s the ‘melting pot’ of the four nations.

This diversity extends to the cast. For example, Katara and Sokka, our two secondary leads, are people of color. Toph is blind. Teo is in a wheelchair. But just as Sokka and Katara’s skin color does not define them, Toph and Teo’s disabilities do not define them. Toph learned to use her other senses to enhance her bending experience and fight in a way that no one had ever considered, while Teo uses his inventiveness to fight and navigate without ever having to use his legs.

atla teoatla toph's bending sense

And while the scales were a bit unbalanced gender-wise in season 1, season 2 turns the tide and introduces us to a stream of amazing female characters. And by the end of season 3, the final Gaang is split 3:3 gender-wise.

ATLA’s diversity is absolutely one of its biggest strengths, but it’s not its only strength.

2. The show routinely tackled hard topics with grace.

For being a children’s show, ATLA tackles a lot of heavy topics. Some examples:

Katara tackles a cesspool of sexism in the Northern Water Tribe in order to gain a waterbending teacher, while Sokka overcomes his own internalized sexism and learns to see women as equals.

Aang must deal with the genocide of the Air Nomads, and his own feelings when a group of non-benders attempts to rehabilitate one of the Air Temples, essentially erasing parts of his culture from existence in the process.

Sexism, abuse, the harsh realities of war and warfare, genocide, culture erasure…the show tackles so many amazing things, and it tackles them with such class and an unflinching strength.

It doesn’t forget that the main characters are survivors of a Hundred Year War: rather, it hones in on what they’ve lost, and how the war has shaped them as individuals.

Everyone’s lost something. Katara and Sokka have lost their mother to a Fire Nation raid and their father left to fight in the war, leaving them adrift to raise themselves. Zuko was banished from his home and lost a mother and a cousin. Aang has lost his entire culture.

Something else important the show also doesn’t forget: the characters aren’t just fighting a losing war. They’re children fighting in a losing war.

There’s this amazing line in the second episode of the show, when Zuko and Aang encounter each other, and Zuko is shocked that Aang of all people is the Avatar. Since the Avatar has been missing for 100 years, he was expecting a frail old man. Instead, he finds a determined preteen.

“You’re just a boy,” Zuko says, a look of disbelief on his face.

Aang, unnerved, retorts, “And you’re just a teenager.”

The main cast is made up of kids, and like most kids, they don’t always know what they’re doing. They’re lost. They don’t know how to cope with the harsh reality of their situation. They make huge mistakes, and they fight, and they can be immature and insensitive. But ultimately, their youth is also a benefit, because they have a hope that the older generation, hardened by years of conflict, doesn’t share. Their hope and determination is what turns the tide and wins them the war, and it’s what saves their world from utter annihilation as well. Pretty good for some kids trying to fight a war, huh?

3. There was no black and white, only shades of gray.

In tackling war in media, it’s easy to be very one-sided, and focus on good vs. evil, rather than fleshing out both sides.

ATLA focuses on both sides of the war.

While Firelord Ozai is undisputedly the absolute worst, the show time and time again proves to us that the Fire Nation itself is not purely evil. Characters like Zuko and Iroh show us grayer members of the Fire Nation, and season 3 takes time to give us a glimpse of Fire Nation citizens and show us the propaganda that fuels the war, and that not everyone is all for it.

The show also takes time to show us that the other nations aren’t always purely good either. Antagonists like Long Feng and General Fong are opportunists, who use the war and the main characters for their own purposes to further their agenda. Other characters, like Jet and Hama, seek revenge against others for wrongdoings, but in ways that aren’t always morally right.

Even the main characters are forced to deal with morality. For Aang, deciding whether he can kill the Fire Lord or not to end the war is one of his biggest moral dilemmas. For Katara, it’s deciding what to do when she finds out that her mother’s murderer is still alive. Even Zuko is forced to decide more than once between his family and his beliefs. Their decisions help shape who they are as characters, and showcase their own mortality.

4. The show is inspired by Eastern culture and mythology, rather than Western culture and Western myths, giving it a distinct and unique palette.

One of the fascinating things about ATLA is that unlike many shows, it’s inspired mainly by Eastern culture and mythology. Bryke (aka  Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino, the show’s creators) purposely wanted to tackle a different side of the world on their show, and focused on Eastern philosophies and mythology in order to craft the world of ATLA.

The three main Eastern philosophies ATLA draws from are Hinduism, Buddhism and Taoism. The main idea of the show is actually derived straight from Hindu mythology. The term “Avatar” comes from a Sanskirt word (Avatāra) which means descent. Why is that important? Well…

“In Hindu mythology, deities manifest themselves into Avatars to restore balance on earth, usually during a period of great evil” (Influences on the Avatar series).

Hmm, now that sounds familiar, doesn’t it? That’s the entire concept of the show. 😉

The four elements the show focuses on are also exactly the same as those used in Hinduism, although the fifth element, space – or the Aether – is different than energy. However, the concept itself is quite similar to an element introduced late in the show: energy-bending. And let’s take a look at something Aang sees while exploring his chakras:

atla spaceeee

The imagery is very cosmic, which might be a reference to space. Creative little shout-out to where the writers got their inspiration from.

Speaking of chakras, the concept of chakras comes from both Hinduism and Buddhism. Chakras are centers of life force and energy, and guess what? That’s one of the issues Aang deals with as an Avatar: unblocking some chakras in order to unlock the Avatar State freely.

Guess what else is inspired by Buddhism? The process of finding the new Avatar, surprisingly enough, which reflects that of finding the new Dalai Lama. Items are presented to, and choosing the right ones unearths who the future Dalai Lama is. There’s a similar situation shown on the show, when Aang is told of his Avatar status: the monks tell him about how they presented toys to young Airbenders, and Aang picked the four that belonged to past Avatars, thus showing his connection to them and his familiarity with them.

Taoism influences a lot of the characters’ ideals, including the ‘go with the flow’ mentality waterbenders hold dear, the concept of chi as energy, the Taoist concept of wuwei (“doing nothing” or rather, acting without direct action), which both Bumi and Toph utilize, the existence of a spirit world, and the concept of yin and yang (Influences on the Avatar series).

atla tui la

Pretty interesting, how ideals can shape a show into something so diverse.

5. The bending!

Like I mentioned above, there are four main elements that the characters can manipulate: water, earth, fire, and air. Each facet of bending comes with its own unique traits and strengths – and, going off of that Eastern influence, each style is based on a different style of Chinese martial arts. Bryke even consulted a martial arts expert, Sifu Kisu, to make sure that each one was portrayed accurately and to find styles that would ideally fit the style of the bending and element itself.

For Airbending, the creators chose Ba Gua, also known as “circle walking.” Essentially, this means airbenders use circular movements when bending. This causes the style to be more about defense rather than offense.

atla goading zhao

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Since they’re always moving, no one can get in a hit. Air could easily be a deadly element, so thankfully it’s wielded by pacifists like Aang. 😉

 

Waterbending draws from Tai Chi. It’s “less about strength, more about body alignment, structure, breath, and visualization” according to Sifu Kisu. Water is used like a whip. Waterbending is such an interesting element, because it can heal, but it can also hurt.

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atla katara's water arms

Katara herself is both a warrior and a healer, and manages to represent both sides of water: its beauty and its strength.

 

Earthbending is mainly influenced by the HunGar style of Kung-Fu. It’s a style “known for its strong stances and its rooting to the ground.”

atla earthbending bumi

atla toph

Interestingly, we also get a second style – Chu Gar – used for Toph. Because of Toph’s blindness, she uses her other senses to compensate and thus bends in a way that other earthbenders don’t. She listens and then acts, using her other senses as a sort of Spider sense or echolocation in order to root out attacks before they happen. It’s quite fascinating to watch.

 

Finally, firebending draws inspiration from Northern Shaolin Kung-Fu. It’s a “strong, dominant style that uses powerful hand and leg movements” and “[emphasizes] long-range techniques; wide stances, quick advances and retreats, kick and leaping techniques…” along with “quickness, agility, and aggressive attacks.”

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atla zhao

Fire is often painted as an element of aggression, but bending lightning, a much harder sub-skill, is defined by peace of mind.

atla azula

Much like waterbending, firebending has dual sides to it. Both aggression and peace are required, and keeping emotions in check can be handy, but knowing how to unleash them is just as necessary. Zuko has plenty of issues with this, especially when it comes to conquering his temper. Lucky for him, he has the master of Zen to instruct him, who is willing to put up with his outbursts (and offer him tea.)

atla calming jasmine teaatla zuko season one

 

 

6. The fight scenes!

Okay, this might seem directly connected to the point above, and it kind of is, but every time I rewatch this show, the fight scenes suck me in. They’re choreographed in such a masterful, beautiful way, and whether it’s an Agni Kai, a water-fire duel, or just two swordsmen sparring, it’s beautiful to watch. Instead of going on a long ramble, I’ll just post some glorious gifs, so you can see what I mean:

atla blue and orange agni kaiatla fire dancing

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atla katara-pakku fight (1.18) atla ty lee's fight style

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Beauteous, isn’t it? You know what aids those fight scenes? The show’s score.

7. The score!

The score of this show is so, so pretty. There are intense instrumentals for fight scenes, somber sounds for the show’s darker moments, lighter-hearted melodies for when things are going good…

The score of the show is something that really defines it. It really fits the Eastern high-fantasy epic feeling of the show, and certain bits come to mind whenever I think of the show. In order for you to get the ATLA score experience I’m posting one of my favorite bits of the score below. Enjoy! I hope it leads you to search for more. 😉

 

8. The writers showed us all kinds of women.

ATLA’s dedication to developing its female side of the cast and giving us lots of amazing, diverse ladies is one of my absolute favorite elements of the show. We get all kinds of women on ATLA.

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Grandmothers. Mothers. Daughters. Sisters. Wives.

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Girlfriends. Best friends. Girly-girls. Tomboys. Fierce warriors. Ruthless antagonists. Stoic women, who hide their emotions behind a mask.

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Emotional women, who aren’t afraid to let people see them cry. Strong women – and not just Strong Female Characters.

I’m talking about women who are strong in all sorts of ways.

Women who are physically strong: the ones who can lift mountains and channel lightning through their veins, or the ones that fight with fans and knives and bare hands, not letting their lack of bending deter them from success.

Women that are emotionally strong: the ones that are the rock of the group, and hold everyone together when the world is falling apart around them. These are the women whose strength lies in their compassion and empathy for others.

Women who are mentally strong: whose determination and wit and peace of mind allow them to be more than anyone could ever imagine. Smart women, who bury themselves in books and plot and manipulate and influence the world in profound ways. They’re the ones who stop and think before they act, and thus keep others out of harm’s way.

The women of ATLA are all these things and more!

9. The characters!

I have such a strong love for the characters on this show. Everyone is so wonderful and so fleshed out and so just…ugh, I have so many feelings about them. I could probably write a whole meta about the characters, but I’ll try and be brief here.

In ATLA, every character has a purpose. More importantly, every main character has a point. Just like the Golden Trio in Harry Potter, each member of the Aang Gaang holds the group together and brings something to it that would leave a void if they were gone. For the sake of avoiding a ton of spoilers for those who haven’t watched the show, I’ll stick with the main trio that we start out with in season 1.

Sokka is the group’s strategist. He calls himself “the plan man” and really, that’s what he is, because without him, they would be ambling around without much direction. He has a very analytical mind, which leads him to spot things that others can’t. He can also think on his feet, which is a very handy trait to have during conflict. It helps that he’s handy with a boomerang. He’s also the humorous one, although his wit tends to be more sarcastic than anything, and people don’t always quite get it.

atla sokka calculating

Katara is the one who holds everything together. She’s the hopeful one. She’s a healer. She’s compassionate. She’s the one who always tries to find the best in people, no matter what, and refuses to give up on the people she loves. Without her, there’s a lot that wouldn’t have happened. She’s also an amazing waterbender, who basically teaches herself and ends up becoming a waterbending master and teaching the Avatar himself the intricacies of waterbending. She’s stubborn, motherly, and wonderful. Like Hermione, she can be a bit of a know-it-all, but even she’ll fold when she’s wrong and admit it.

atla katara as the painted lady

Aang is our hero, but he’s so much more than that. He’s the innocent pacifist caught up in a Hundred Year War, with great power waiting to be unlocked. As the Avatar, he can bend all four elements, which is pretty handy, except at the start of the show, he hasn’t learned them all yet, which is part of why he ends up with Katara and Sokka in the first place. Aang is impulsive and naïve, silly and kind-hearted, with the weight of the world on his shoulders. Without Katara and Sokka, Aang wouldn’t have a support system, and he’d also be missing out on some pretty amazing friends as well. 😉

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The Aang Gaang holds each other together and aids each other in amazing ways. And the more members they take on, the stronger they grow and the more they learn. But enough about that. Let’s get to the last element…

10. The shipping!

The shipping on this show is actually really cute. The main canon relationships are built up in a wonderfully healthy, unique way, and all three main ships are slow-burn to some degree. During the airing of the show (and even now, I’m pretty sure), people got fired up about their ships. Zutara or Kaatang? Taang or Tokka? I’ll admit that I wasn’t too bad in the shipping wars, and I’ve grown to the point where I accept all ships. Well, except the incest ships, which kind of give me the willies.

So I’ll give a quick glimpse of my favorite ships.

Katara/Aang (which makes Kataang) is one of those ships that gradually grows on you over time until the cuteness gets to you and you finally give up and start waving the shipping flag for it. It’s slow-burn (aka, it takes them forever to get together), but the slow-burn effect works well, considering all that’s going on in-show. They’re a very cute couple, and they’re unique in a way because it’s one of those few ships where we get an older female character with a younger male character. Also, just look at these two!

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atla kataanggggatla cave kiss

I shipped Zuko/Katara as well, mainly because like Mic, I sometimes like shipping those characters who start out disliking one another and grow to understand each other. The fact that they’re opposites in a lot of ways, but also very similar in others, makes them an interesting match to me. And they have some great moments together.

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Suki/Sokka is one of those underrated ships that everyone seems to like no matter what, and I’ve really grown to appreciate them when re-watching the show. Suki is a character who’s very confident in her sense of self. She’s a warrior who is proud of her femininity and finds strength in it. She’s also the one that knocks some sense into Sokka and takes his ego down a notch, which leads to him respecting her and also starting to respect women in general more than he did before.

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atla Sokka-and-suki

Like Aang and Katara, their relationship is a slow-burn one, and it takes time for them to find their way back to one another. But once they do, it’s a beautiful thing.

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ATLA handles their relationship in a wonderful way, especially in consideration of Sokka’s previous relationship, and makes it less of a competition and more Sokka learning how to get past what happened with Yue and finding love again with Suki. It’s very sweet and realistic, and in the end, very adorable.

It also leads to hilarious moments like this:

atla awkwarddd

What do you think guys? If you haven’t seen the show: has my post inspired you to check out Avatar: The Last Airbender? If you’re already a fan: what is your favorite aspect of ATLA? What are your ships? And who is your favorite character? Let us know in the comments!

Remember, you can follow Animated Meta on Tumblr and Twitter. I hope you all have a happy Saturday!

Cheers,

M&M

Works Cited

Influences on the Avatar series. (n.d.). Retrieved February 20, 2015, from Avatar Wikia: http://avatar.wikia.com/wiki/Influences_on_the_Avatar_series

(Note: the quotes used in #5 were all derived from the ATLA: Creating the Legend videos embedded in the post.)

Avatar: The Last Airbender and Sexism in Season 1

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I’ve wanted to talk about Avatar: The Last Airbender for a long time. And now that I’ve been rewatching season 1, I thought it would be interesting to explore one topic that comes up quite a few times during the season: sexism.

Sexism is discrimination based on gender, or the belief that one gender is superior to the other. For the sake of this Meta, I’ll be focusing on discrimination against women, and how men view themselves as superior to them at varying points in the series.

Avatar: The Last Airbender tackles a lot of issues, but I feel like sexism is a really important one, especially in regards to the other characters, most importantly, Sokka and Katara.

Let’s start with Sokka, because part of his character arc for season 1 involves sexism, or more specifically, how his discriminatory thoughts about women are proven false over time.

Warning: this post contains some spoilers from three season 1 episodes: episode 1 (The Boy in the Iceberg), episode 4 (The Warriors of Kyoshi) and episode 18 (The Waterbending Master).

Sokka’s Character Arc: Pride Before The Fall, or How Sexism Fades Over a Season
When we start the show, Sokka is hilarious, but also unfortunately very sexist. Now why do I love Sokka, despite his internalized sexism in early season 1? Well, because he overcomes it, and becomes a better person for it.
The Sokka in episode 1 is very set in his ways, and very condescending toward his sister. He dismisses her waterbending as weird, and then expresses annoyance at bringing her along fishing when they get off course: “Leave it to a girl to screw things up!” (Transcript: The Boy in the Iceberg)
Katara (and the creators) do not agree with his sentiment, because after he says that, Katara goes off on him:

atla katara goes off on sokka (1.1)
Katara is the first person in the series to call out Sokka on his sexism. We don’t get much time to address how he feels about this though, because that’s when the two find Aang, and they get distracted by that.
We revisit Sokka’s sexism in The Warriors of Kyoshi, or as I like to call it, “Sokka’s pride takes a nosedive and his internalized sexism is called into question.”
First, there’s a moment early on in the episode that’s particularly enlightening:

Sokka: Stop bugging her, airhead. You need to give girls space when they do their sewing.
Katara: [Close side-view shot of Katara as she casts her brother an annoyed glare; irritably.] What does me being a girl have to do with sewing? 
atla sokka being patriarchalatla katara pwning sokka
Sokka: [Protesting and pleading.] Wait! I was just kidding. [Sticks one arm through the large hole in his pants.] I can’t wear these! Katara, please!
(Transcript: The Warriors of Kyoshi)

Here, Sokka’s views are laid out: girls are better at doing feminine things, like sewing, and boys are better at hunting and fighting. Katara, as a girl who can hold her own in a fight (and can catch fish better than her brother) decides to teach Sokka a lesson, and from Sokka’s pleading and protesting, we can see the lesson having an effect on him.

But because this is an episode devoted to changing up Sokka’s views on sexism, this isn’t the only issue he encounters. When the group is ambushed by the Kyoshi Warriors, they’re blindfolded.

atla show yourself

When the girls are revealed to them, Sokka demands to know where the men who ambushed them are. When Suki (the leader) tells him that it was them who attacked him, he laughs at the idea, mocking them and saying there’s no way they could’ve taken them down. That’s impossible, he thinks; girls aren’t good at fighting. It’s only Katara and Aang’s intervention that keeps Sokka from getting thrown into the water to become fish food.

Sokka spends a lot of this episode sulking. His internalized sexism is being torn apart. First Katara teaches him a lesson about gender roles, and now this group of girls kicked his butt in a fight. He’s determined to prove that he can take them on, and thus he heads to where they’re training in order to prove himself. Unfortunately, what happens is that he gets his butt kicked, again. And again. And again.

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It’s pretty painful, and by the end, when Suki mockingly asks if he’s got anything else to teach them, his cheeks are flushed with humiliation.
It’s a painful lesson (and a painful blow to Sokka’s pride), but it’s one that he needs, because the next time he approaches the girls, he’s timid and ready to learn:
Sokka: [Sokka…humbly drops to his knees in front of her.] I would be honored if you would teach me.
Suki: [Frog view of Suki; hostile.] Even if I’m a girl?
Sokka: [Averting his eyes.] I’m sorry if I insulted you earlier. I was … wrong.
(Transcript: The Warriors of Kyoshi)

 

Sokka is one of those characters who absolutely loathes admitting he’s wrong, so for him to get down on his knees in front of a girl, apologize and admit his wrong-doing is a huge character development for him. Even when Sokka is wary about wearing the Kyoshi warrior uniform due to its girly nature, it’s Suki’s description of the meanings of the uniform (“The silk threads symbolize the brave blood that flows through our veins. The gold insignia represents the honor of the warrior’s heart”) that turns him around and makes him proud to be one of the rare men able to wear it.

atla sokka learning from suki
It’s Sokka’s willingness to learn and work past his sexism that makes him a strong character, and the moves he learns from Suki lead to him finally being able to beat her in a fight.

And when we last see Suki during the season, we get this wonderful (and adorable) moment:
Suki: There’s no time to say goodbye.
Sokka: What about, “I’m sorry?”
Suki: [Surprised.] For what?
Sokka: [Close-up. Regretful.] I treated you like a girl when I should’ve treated you like a warrior.
Suki [Side-view.] I am a warrior. [She leans over and kisses Sokka on the cheek, before continuing again. A surprised Sokka touches his cheek where Suki just kissed him.] But I’m a girl, too.

atla Sokka-and-suki
(Transcript: The Warriors of Kyoshi)
Sokka has realized that women can be warriors and that all along, he should’ve been treating his sister, Suki, and the other Kyoshi Warriors as the warriors that they are, rather than girls he underestimates and mocks. It’s a huge step of development for the boy who said “leave it up a girl to screw things up” in the pilot, and an especially big step for the boy who thought a group of girls could never get the upper hand on him. Sokka has a ways to go, but he’s on a great start, and after this, he’s learned not to underestimate women, and more importantly, to treat women as equals, both on the battlefield and off.
Now, let’s move onto Katara’s more external battle against sexism.

 

The Northern Water Tribe and Katara’s Stand Against Sexism
Out of all of the locations in the world of ATLA, the Northern Water Tribe has always struck me as the most patriarchal (and sexist). While the South is in shambles, the North is all about tradition and gender roles. Men fight. Women heal. So when Katara shows up there looking for a waterbending teacher, it’s an uphill battle for her.
When she shows up to Pakku’s lesson with Aang, he instantly shuts down her hopes of learning waterbending: “In our tribe, it is forbidden for women to learn waterbending.” (Transcript: The Waterbending Master)
Naturally, Katara is furious. Katara’s main goal in season 1 is getting up to the Nothern Water Tribe to find an instructor in waterbending. Back home, in the South, Katara is the last remaining bender, which means any waterbending she’s learned has been by her own instruction, or via the scroll she and Aang nabbed in The Waterbending Scroll.
But despite her protests, Pakku won’t relent:

atla pakku being sternatla katara thinks his rules suck (1.18)

 

Aang clearly agrees, because he’s ready to quit and find a new teacher before Katara insists that he needs the lessons as the Avatar. The two get around the rules when Aang (on Sokka’s suggestion – see how much Sokka has grown as a character?) to teach her what he learns from Pakku, but Pakku finds out, and in order to get Aang his lessons back, Katara needs to “swallow her pride and apologize”.

Does Katara do that? Hell no, especially after he patronizingly calls her a little girl. Instead of apologizing, she challenges him to a fight, taunting him right back: “I’ll be outside if you’re man enough to fight me.” (Transcript: The Waterbending Master)
What occurs next is an epic waterbending dual between waterbending master and determined waterbender in training.

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atla katara-pakku fight (1.18)

Pakku taunts her throughout the fight, at first telling her to go back to the healing huts where she belongs, and then telling her that he won’t hurt her. Katara ignores the taunts and fights back, holding her own pretty well against a waterbending master. Consider this: Katara has been learning on her own the entire season. And Pakku has obviously been a master waterbender for many years now. The fact that Katara holds her own against a master waterbender proves that she’s a worthy student, and yet Pakku still won’t teach her.
It isn’t until Pakku sees Katara’s necklace – the betrothal necklace she’s worn for years now – that he realizes the necklace belonged to the woman he was supposed to marry: Katara’s grandmother. Katara’s words about her grandmother obviously give him pause.
“It was an arranged marriage. Gran-Gran wouldn’t let your tribe’s stupid customs run her life. That’s why she left. It must have taken a lot of courage,” she says. (Transcript: The Waterbending Master)
Pakku obviously agrees, and this is where he has a turn-around. He’s already lost one thing to these traditions: the woman he wanted to marry. Maybe the traditions aren’t as sound as he thought. And the girl he fought is incredibly skilled. Those two factors lead to him agreeing to teach Katara. It’s slow progress, but Katara gets her teacher, and Pakku begins reconsidering his views.
They’re validated next episode when she kicks his students’ butts and proves herself his best student, despite not being taught nearly as long. The change is slow-coming, but slowly, Katara has begun eroding the traditions and sexism of the Water Tribe, one man at a time.

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It’s only a matter of time until it gets better (and it does).

Two siblings, two separate struggles with sexism, and progress with both: what could be more epic than that? Sokka overcomes his internal sexism, and Katara beats external sexism in the Northern Water Tribe. Pretty amazing wins on both ends, if you ask me.

 

Do any of you guys watch ATLA? (And if you don’t, did my post make you want to check the show out?) If so, let us know in the comments!

You can follow Animated Meta on Twitter and Tumblr. I hope you guys have a happy Tuesday!

Cheers,

M&M!

 

Works Cited
Transcript: The Boy in the Iceberg. (n.d.). Retrieved December 30, 2014, from Avatar Wiki: http://avatar.wikia.com/wiki/Transcript:The_Boy_in_the_Iceberg

Transcript: The Warriors of Kyoshi. (n.d.). Retrieved December 30, 2014, from Avatar Wiki: http://avatar.wikia.com/wiki/Transcript:The_Warriors_of_Kyoshi

Transcript: The Waterbending Master. (n.d.). Retrieved December 30, 2014, from Avatar Wiki: http://avatar.wikia.com/wiki/Transcript:The_Waterbending_Master

 

I got a lot of my Kyoshi Warriors gifs from Avatar Gifs and Avatar Parallels so I thought I’d give a shout-out to both of them as well:

http://avatar-gifs.tumblr.com/ and http://avatarparallels.tumblr.com/

Kim Possible: Subverting Gender Roles While Saving the World

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As a 90s baby, I feel like I’ve grow up with access to a lot of animated female characters that influenced me greatly, and one of my absolute favorites was Kim Possible.

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Kim Possible is probably one of my absolute favorite animated series. It’s one of those shows that still holds up on a re-watch as hilarious, adorable, and generally well-crafted. One of the things I’ve noticed as I catch KP reruns over Christmas break is that it subverts gender roles in a really interesting way through its two central characters: Kim and Ron.

On another show, Ron would be the hero and Kim would be our damsel in distress, but here, a wonderful swap occurs: Kim is our heroine who saves the day, and Ron is her sidekick (and sometimes dude in distress). Kim and Ron are also fleshed out in a way that subverts stereotypes about masculinity and femininity, and makes them both very compelling characters.

So before we start, let’s tackle masculinity, femininity, and gender roles in general. What defines someone as masculine? What defines someone as feminine? And what are gender roles?

Masculinity, Femininity, and Gender Roles in General

Masculinity is traits and behaviors that we associate with men, while femininity is traits and behaviors we associate with women. Gender roles are the way men and women act in our society. They’re our expectations for men and women. They vary from place to place, but every society has them. They’re not always easy to spot, but once they’re pointed out, they’re glaringly obvious.

One example is the notion that women are nurturers and mothers, while men are providers and moneymakers. It’s wholly unfair considering many women work very hard to balance a career plus family life, and many fathers do, too. Another, smaller example would be colors. There’s often an association with girls wearing pink and boys wearing blue. A lot of gender roles place people in boxes, but a majority of people do not fit into those boxes, and when they stand out because of it, it disrupts the status quo.

One of the main things I want to cover today is how Kim and Ron don’t quite fit into the box of traits that go along with femininity and masculinity, and how their gender roles are often reversed throughout the show. So let’s start with the role reversal and work from there.

Kimberly Anne Possible: The Heroine

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Kim is really interesting because unlike a lot of female leads, Kim saves the world and doesn’t sacrifice her femininity to do it. Let’s face it: there aren’t a ton of badass feminine characters out there. When a female character kicks ass, she’s often written as more masculine and tends to reject her femininity. (Some prevelant examples of this would be Brienne of Tarth from Game of Thrones, Lizbeth Salander from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and Katniss from The Hunger Games.)  This isn’t the case with Kim.

Like a lot of girls, Kim has traditionally feminine interests: she likes shopping, make-up, and dressing up/being fashionable (as evidenced by the vast wardrobe we’re subjected to throughout the show). She’s a cheerleader, and she’s damn proud of it.

Let’s take a second and talk about Kim’s cheerleading. One of the best things about this show is the fact that cheerleading isn’t disparaged. In fact, cheerleading is one of the reasons that Kim is so adept at her job.

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According to the creators, they wanted Kim’s “[effectiveness] in the action world” to be realistic, so her strength lies in “gymnastics, cheerleading, physical activity, something that any kid, any girl, in the world could do” (Schooley & McCorkle). Her expertise in gymnastic, cheerleading and martial arts are all things that boost Kim’s credibility as a world-saving teenager.

Cheerleading and gymnastics are both things that would help Kim build strength and increase her agility, and martial arts would explain her hand to hand combat skills. Despite the lack of realism the show often illustrates, the creators paid a lot of attention to realism when it came to crafting Kim and her character, and it really shows.

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We’ve established now that Kim is feminine, and that she’s also a strong character. Now let’s take a look at some traits commonly associated with femininity, and see if they remotely match our little Kimmie Cub.

When I decided to talk about femininity and masculinity, I decided to do some research on common traits associated with both. Thanks to Planned Parenthood, I came up with a list of 9 words associated with femininity:

• emotional
• passive
• sensitive
• quiet
• graceful
• weak
• nurturing
• self-critical
• accepting (Parenthood)

Now, let’s take a look at Kim in terms of those nine words.

I think we can agree right off the bat that Kim is not weak or passive. Kim is an incredibly strong character, both mentally and physically. Weak isn’t a word in her vocabulary. And she’s definitely not passive: if she was, would she be out there saving the world? Would she be constantly fighting to balance school and work and extracurriculars, too? I think not.

Is Kim emotional? Definitely. Kim’s someone who doesn’t hide who she is. She’s very upfront about how she’s feeling, and she’s never been good at hiding her emotions, especially if she’s jealous or angry about something. She also finds it hard to keep her emotions in check at times, which ties in with the sensitivity. Sometimes, Kim can be a little… brash and blunt. Take a look at some of the fights she’s gotten in with Ron. Kim speaks without thinking, which can get her into trouble at times. I think Kim’s a very empathetic character, especially when it comes to saving the world and helping people out, but is she sensitive? Not really.

Quiet? Kim is the opposite of quiet. Kim is loud and bold and speaks her mind, and she doesn’t let anyone silence her. She calls out bullies who harass Ron. She calls out Bonnie for being rude. She calls out villains for their schemes…the list goes on and on. Kim is an extravert, and she’s definitely not a quiet one.

Accepting? I think so, but sometimes it’s something she struggles with, just like all of us. She gets jealous of people spending time with Ron, like when Ron starts hanging around Felix and Yori, because she’s not used to sharing her best friend. But aren’t we all a little jealous when our besties make new friends and suddenly we see them less and feel out of the loop when they make private jokes? So I think for the most part, Kim is very accepting, it just isn’t always easy for her to accept new people into her circle, especially if she’s not fond of them at the start.

Nurturing? I’m not really sure I’d consider Kim nurturing. There’s often this association with women as nurturers and mothers, but I don’t necessarily think this fits Kim. For one, she’s still in high school, so I really doubt she’s thinking about kids at this point. There’s also the fact that I’ve never really seen her as very motherly. She nags Ron at times about schoolwork, but we all nag our procrastinating friends to get their crap together. That doesn’t make us nurturing.

Graceful? Well, when you’re a cheerleader and a gymnast who saves the world, I think graceful is a very fitting description.

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Kim does some pretty intricate choreography for cheer practice, and she’s also pretty graceful on her missions as well. Well, as graceful as you can be on missions, when there are always things tripping you up.

Is she self-critical? Definitely. One of Kim’s most realistic issues is being self-critical. She wars with herself over things. She lets people get to her. Bonnie’s “dump Stoppable” speeches have affected her more than once in the past, and she often gets down on herself if she fails a mission or can’t accomplish something. But Kim is also a very confident character. She’s confident in herself, her abilities, and her appearance.

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It’s one of the traits I admire most about her. Everyone has bouts of self-doubt or criticalness, and Kim is no exception. She bounces right back from those though, and always manages to work past her inner critic to get done what she needs to get done, whether it’s saving the world or some smaller sitch.

Now that we’ve tackled Kim, let’s move onto the yin to her yang: Ron Stoppable.

 

Ron Stoppable: The Sidekick

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Ron is the Robin to Kim’s Batman. He’s her sidekick, and how many shows do we get with a male sidekick to a female heroine? Not many. So Ron is truly unique in that regard. Ron is also not traditionally masculine in the way that many male leads are.

First, let’s look at Ron’s interests: video games, arts and crafts (Camp Wannaweep, anyone?), cooking and food (he’s an exemplary chef and frequents Bueno Nacho), and television (some examples include American Star-Maker and Agony County). Ron’s always been a fun character to me, because his interests are varied. He loves playing video games, but he also loves cooking. He does arts and crafts. He’s interested in a variety of TV shows, just like most of us are. His hobbies may not be super masculine, but that’s what makes him great: he breaks out of the box of what society labels as masculine by having hobbies and traits that contradict that.

Let’s take a look at some words typically associated with masculinity, according to Planned Parenthood:

• non-emotional
• aggressive
• tough-skinned
• competitive
• clumsy
• strong
• active
• self-confident
• rebellious (Parenthood)

The three that stuck out as truly Ron Stoppable-worthy to me were “competitive, active, and clumsy.” Part of the humor of Ron’s character is his clumsiness: he loses his pants, he trips over things, he bumbles his way through missions at times… but his clumsiness is also an advantage. How many times has Ron taken down some ‘take over the world’ invention simply by accidentally ripping off a piece of it, or bumping into the off switch, or some other Ron-worthy antic? Many times. Ron’s “essential Ronness” is one of the things that helps Kim out on her missions. In his own way, his clumsiness is one of his strengths.

Is Ron competitive? Heck yes. Just look at him playing video games. 😉

Is Ron active? In a way, yes. Ron’s actually a very lazy character at times. He procrastinates. He’d rather sit in front of the TV or play video games than write a paper.

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But if you think about the way he globetrots with Kim on her missions, he’s not really lazy. He’s actually pretty active to keep up with Kim the way that he does. He may not be as athletic as her, but he’s definitely part athlete. He was Middleton’s Mad Dog Mascot, after all, and that requires coordination and hard work. In season four, he becomes Middleton’s running back, thanks to all his mission experience. He also holds various jobs. He works at Bueno Nacho at one point (which is a great fit), and later works at Smarty Mart, where he excels working in retail. So yes, he’s active, just not always in an athletic way.

Now let’s tackle the other six, which don’t quite fit Ron as well.

Is Ron tough-skinned and non-emotional? Does he abide by conceal, don’t feel?

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No, not really. There’s plenty of times when Ron is disappointed or upset about things, and although he sometimes tries to bury his emotions, he’s always been more of a ‘wear your heart on your sleeve’ kind of guy. He and Kim are both very emotional characters, and they sometimes clash over that. Ron gets his feelings hurt easily, especially around Kim, because home girl doesn’t always think before she speaks. I’ve always thought Ron being emotional made him very real: he doesn’t pretend to be something he’s not, and when he has in the past, it’s gone pretty horribly, because he feels awkward not being himself.

Is Ron aggressive? Not often. The only real times when we see Ron being aggressive are brought on by exceeding circumstances, such as when he finds out about Shego’s plot to break up their friendship in A Sitch in Time, or when his Mystical Monkey powers come out. There was also that brief stint as Zorpox the Conqueror, but that was Ron minus his good side, which… is pretty rare. So Ron’s not often aggressive, unless the circumstances push him over the edge.

Rebellious? Definitely not. The few times Ron has tried to be “a bad boy” or “rebellious,” it usually ends badly, because neither of those personas fit Ron whatsoever.

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Ron is a pretty sweet guy (despite bluntness and cluelessness that rival Ron Weasley), and he’s not really much of a rebel. That said, if he has to break some rules to save the world, he’ll do it. World saving comes before everything else.

And now we come to the last two traits: strength and self-confidence, which are the two things Ron struggles with most throughout the show. Ron is a character that isn’t physically strong in the way that Kim is. Kim is agile and graceful and can hold her own in a fight. Ron, on the other hand, tends to be a bit clumsy, and often spends more of a fight improvising and deflecting rather than engaging in hand to hand combat the way Kim does. However, despite that, he’s incredibly valuable on missions.

Like I mentioned earlier, his essential Ronness (his ability to be a spanner in the works, which basically means he causes mayhem and foils plots just by being his awesome self) is incredibly helpful to Kim. And although he’s often freaking out on missions, the fact that he engages on them week after week shows that he’s courageous enough to accomplish them. The proof lies in the show’s creators, who “tried to highlight from time to time in the show that even though Ron is not a great action hero the way Kim is an action heroine, he goes along and puts himself in this danger, so he’s still very courageous” (Schooley & McCorkle). In Kim and Ron, the show shows us two very different kinds of courage: the confident kind of courage is shown with Kim, who charges into a situation believing that they can handle it (“So not the drama”). The other kind of courage is shown by Ron, who isn’t always confident in himself and doesn’t always know what he’s doing, but he does it anyway, because he wants to do what’s right.

There’s also the fact that Ron himself has saved the world before. So Not the Drama is a great example of this. Ron is the one who uncovers Drakken’s plot. Ron is the one who steps in, gets Kim free, and knocks some sense into her when she’s tricked by Eric and feeling like there’s nothing else she can do to save the day. Ron’s strength is in his optimism: he motivates Kim, and he refuses to give up when it comes to things like saving the world, because he knows that that can do it.

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One of Ron’s main issues though is that while he’s confident in Kim’s ability to get things done, he often underestimates himself. We often deal with female characters that are self-conscious or lacking in self-confidence, but on the show, Kim is often the confident one, while Ron is the one struggling to be confident in himself and his own abilities. He worries that Kim will upgrade and move on from him, because he’s not popular the way that she is. He doesn’t always know what to do without her. He isn’t sure if she would like him, and so much of the struggle of So Not the Drama is Ron’s insecurity when it comes to his and Kim’s relationship: whether he wants to take the risk of telling her how he feels, even if it means losing out on their friendship. But one of the great things about the show is that Ron gains confidence in himself over time. He finds his strengths, and a lot of season four is about Ron coming into his own. Ron and Kim are equals: they both have their own strengths, and together, they make a great team. That’s also part of why they work so well as a couple: they balance each other out in a wonderful way.

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(And they’re super cute together as well.)

Without Ron, Kim wouldn’t be quite as successful at world saving and vice versa. Kim being the heroine while Ron is the sidekick is a great example of gender role subversion, and the fact that both have their strengthens and weaknesses makes them a great, fleshed-out duo. The creators set out to establish a show where “the girl is… the action lead and the guy is… funny”, and what that resulted in was a brilliant show that subverted gender stereotypes and showed us two fully-fleshed out teens, ready to take on the world (Schooley & McCorkle). As animation diversifies and we get more female-led creations, I hope to see more shows tackle gender roles, femininity and masculinity in a creative and clever way just as Kim Possible has. I guess we’ll see what lies ahead.

Who are your favorite animated heroines? What animated shows or movies do you guys love that toy around with gender roles? Let us know in the comments!

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Have an excellent Tuesday!

Cheers,

M&M!

Works Cited
Parenthood, P. (n.d.). Gender & Gender Identity. Retrieved 12 21, 2014, from Planned Parenthood: http://www.plannedparenthood.org/health-info/sexual-orientation-gender/gender-gender-identity
Schooley, R., & McCorkle, M. (n.d.). “Kim Possible. She can do anything.” Retrieved from Televizion: http://www.br-online.de/jugend/izi/english/publication/televizion/21_2008_E/schooley_eng.pdf