Really memorable female characters are hard to come by. Hollywood seems to think that to make a female character strong, she has to wear tight leather or know kung fu. Ironically, these sorts of characteristics often detract from the strength of that character. After all, if I was an expert of highly stylized hand-to-hand combat I could probably slay a vampire too. Likewise, if I was skinny and beautiful (more so than I already am) I could probably seduce the equally shallow and uninteresting guy characters. Let us then take a moment to examine some genuinely fantastic female characters and talk about what makes them so great.
Azula (Avatar: The Last Airbender) – Some of my favorite characters are those that are really on the edge of sanity. Many of the great villains are as intelligent as they are psychopathic (think Heath Ledger’s Joker). However, these kinds of characters have been predominantly male. For most of the series, the Fire Nation princess Azula is decisive, cunning, and ruthless. She is described by one of the men serving beneath her as “inspirational and terrifying at the same time”. She controls her allies and enemies with fear. It isn’t until the end of the last season that her sanity begins to slip and she takes after comic book super villains. It is then that we begin to see her brutality as a result of national indoctrination as well as deep seeded insecurity.
“Perhaps you should spend less time worrying about the tides, who have already made up their mind about killing you, and worry more about me, who’s still mulling it over.”
Margret “Margie” Gunderson (Fargo) – You wouldn’t necessarily expect a little pregnant lady with a Minnesota Nice accent would be on this list. That said, Margie shows off her incredible police smarts in pursuit of two criminals with a lot of blood on their hands. She is polite and sees the best in people, even though she is consistently dealing with the worst. She even gives a guy disposing of a body in a wood chipper a chance to come quietly before resorting to force. She shows considerable bravery and if I lived in a town like Fargo, I’d want her to be the sheriff.
“And for what? A little bit of money. There’s more to life than a little money, you know. Don’t you know that? And here ya are, and it’s a beautiful day. Well, I just don’t understand it.”
Samus Aran (Metroid) – Calling Samus a great female character may seem like a bit of a cop out. She is not the most brilliant female character ever written, but the way she has been presented was. Donning a full suit of powered armor, and being a silent protagonist, most assumed that she was a man until the surprise revelation at the end of the first game, which admittedly was a classless striptease. Except in the abysmal Metroid Other M (which I’m conveniently ignoring), Samus has been mostly a blank slate. However, this doesn’t mean we know nothing about her. As a lone wolf and a bounty hunter, we know she is tough, independent, and stands apart from society. She has no qualms about journeying into the dark unknown and battling bizarre and dangerous aliens but shows compassion through her interactions with the baby Metroid.
“I completely eradicated them [the metroids] except for a larva, which, after hatching, followed me around like a confused child.”
Katherine “Kissin Kate” Barlow (Holes) – Though she is arguably only a minor character, Katherine Barlow’s sub-plot in Holes is one of the highlights of the novel. The richness of her story is really best described in the book (go figure) but in short, it is a compelling story of how a school teacher becomes a feared Western outlaw. She loves the right man for the right reasons, even though his race made a relationship illegal (in Texas 1860). When their relationship is discovered and he is executed, she takes her revenge by shooting the sheriff and becoming a feared outlaw, amassing serious loot. Her nickname comes from the signature kiss that she gives to every man she kills. However, her death shows us that in the end she’s still a softie and all the loot in the world won’t fill that big hole in her heart. Kate Barlow is a badass, but she’s a sweetheart at the same time. Her story is as tragic as it is believable and you understand how she became what she was. Even as an outlaw, you have to pity and admire her, making her a bit of an anti-hero.
Trout: “I ain’t gonna kill you. But when I’m through, you gonna wish you was dead.”
Kate: “I been wishin I was dead for a long time.”
Lady Eboshi (Princess Mononoke) – Moral ambiguity became a prevalent theme in arts and literature of the 20th century and it is still a present and mature topic today. Lady Eboshi is one of my favorite morally grey characters. She is the most obvious antagonist in Princess Mononoke. After all, she wants the head of the forest spirit, doesn’t mind burning down the forest, and she wants to rule the world. At the same time, she buys the contracts of brothel girls and gives them a good life in her city. She also bandages and cares for the lepers that are considered abominations by the rest of the world. Those who work for her and live in her city respect and adore her, while her enemies fear her. She is one of the deepest characters I’ve seen in anime (not that I’m well versed) and she still manages to be believable.
Gonza: “But, what about the men she [the wolf goddess] pushed over the cliff?”
Eboshi: “They’re dead. Let’s get the living home.”