Strength Does Not Matter! The Beautiful Warrior, Shutumon

That’s the title of episode 16 of Digimon Frontier. There are two things going on here: first the title is suggesting that strength is unimportant and the second that Shutumon is beautiful. It’s not hard to realize what the implicit meaning here is: for girls, their strength is irrelevant, what is key is their beauty. And paired up with episode 15 where the enemy digimon gains her new evolution with lots of strength but at the price of being hideous, well, these two episodes are quite loaded with gender norms and tropes are old as human civilization.

It’s actually been a while since an anime (or manga) that I’ve seen has been so overt with expectations of beauty for women versus men. It’s not at all subtle in the least; there is only 1 female enemy digimon and it is only in her case that the question of appearance is ever raised. The other digimon are all male and are not particularly aesthetically pleasing. One is a mix between a gnome and dwarf, another is an inhuman lizard-like digimon and another a metallic humanoid. None really scream bishounen in the least and when they evolve into beast form, never is there any talk about their new appearance. In contrast, the animators of Digimon Frontier felt the need to make the single female enemy digimon not only cute and resembling a young girl, but also made her into a sort of idol in the digital world. Furthermore, they gave her a vain personality. In other words, they created her in a way that put appearance at the forefront of her character.

ranamon as an idol

Ranamon is an idol in the digital world.

But the real lesson in gender norms come when Ranamon, the female enemy digimon, gains her beast form and evolves into Calmaramon. When she does, the anime takes such deliberate pains to make everyone proclaim she is hideous. From Ranamon’s own groupies, who stole the digi-destined devices for a chance to have a date with Ranamon, to the Digi-Destined themselves. See the groupies abandon their mission when they see Ranamon’s new form. Why? Because why would someone want to date such a hideous woman? Beauty is played up as the most important thing to a woman so strongly that I feel it’s impossible to miss, especially given that when the “good” girl evolves, she evolves into the beautiful Shutumon.

This binary of good girl = beautiful and bad girl = hideous is pretty damn old and places the biggest marker of virtue in a women to be her appearance. Not only is that superficial, but it’s so laughably hypocritical given that most societies, including Japan’s, stressed not appearance for men, but his virtue (as seen through actions). A samurai’s spirit was not in how he looked, but how he fulfilled his duty to his lord. Were he to be ugly or beautiful, it mattered not so long as he was willing to serve his lord. But that is clearly not the case for women. No, for women, their true character is magically reflected in their appearance. One must wonder why such a convenient method for ascertaining a person’s character does not extend to men as well. Wouldn’t it be so much easier if you could just tell who was bad by appearance? Why keep this obviously lovely binary just to women? This I cannot understand!

Shutumon is not only grogeous, but she is female. So that you don't miss this crucial bit of information, she has boob plated armour.

Shutumon is not only gorgeous, but she is female. So that you don’t miss this crucial bit of information, she has boob plated armour. Also exposed mid-rift and panties with knee-high boots.

And of course, given the pretty explicit gendered message in these two episodes, it comes as no surprise that the gorgeous Shutumon is the one who fights Calmaramon. This fight culminates everything about the bad girl/good girl dichotomy by having the beautiful Shutumon win against the hideous Calmaramon. Beauty wins in the end. If you want to win against other women, you have to be beautiful. That’s the message and there is no way you can miss it. It’s not subtle. In fact, I felt like Digimon Frontier was knocking it over my head pretty forcefully.

Such a shame that Season 4 of Digimon has fallen so far from the standards set in Season 3. While Season 3 was by no means perfect and had it’s own set of problems. It at least attempted to be more diverse and inclusive of gender and breaking the norms. I’m going to continue to watch, but let’s say I am not enjoying Season 4 as much now.