GAR (III): GAR and Gender

Redemption of Amoret
One man’s fanservice is another’s relevant artwork
(one of these people is a reverse trap)

[This is part of a series of entries considering GAR. The first one sets out what’s happening. The second one reinterprets the epic tradition through the lens of GAR.

I don't like this entry very much. It seemst to me to be a collection of disparate fragments of argument. However, I think it is worth posting in any case, and I promise that the next one in the series will be more focused.]

Manliness and GAR

Spot the Relevance

Martin (of The End of the World) wrote a seminal entry about manliness in anime, in which he suggested that

[r]eally manly characters, by their very nature, only let you see sides of their personalities that they want you to see: manliness involves hiding your emotions away because a man is judged by his actions.

‘Manliness’ in a show can be taken too far, resulting in a lack of emotion and an excess of meanlingless sex and violence. (I don’t mind meaningful sex and violence, mind you. I’m a fan of meaning.)

What I think this leads to is the conclusion that something is wrong with our concept of masculinity (always a rather tenuous item). For GAR is not really about supressing your emotions. Characters who are GAR are prepared to shed MANLY TEARS if something worth losing has been lost. There’s no shame in mourning the death of a worthy hero. Indeed,

[i]t is hard to have patience with people who say ‘There is no death’ or ‘Death doesn’t matter.’ There is death. And whatever is matters.¹

And it’s a commonplace that a character (or indeed a person in real life) who’s too concerned about his masculinity and suppressing his emotions is often actually displaying insecurity, whereas those who are GAR simply get on with being GAR. (Only a somewhat emasculated literary type such as myself would actually bother to think about GAR.) A pretender to manliness suppresses his emotions, whereas a truly manly man is prepared (when appropriate) to express them.

[Hence the image from Infinite Ryvius: as you might expect from teenagers, neither Aiba brother is GAR at the beginning of the series. Yuki maintains a facade of faux-manliness, as described above, but his childish relationship with Kouji belies his emotionless image. Kouji is an indecisive wreck, mired in bad faith.]

GAR and Moe

Shock

The relationship between GAR and moe was both raised by Stripey in this simultaneously amusing and thought-provoking (one of my favourite cocktails) post.²

The two can appear in the same character. Here’s a suitably complex example: Kawazoe Tamaki from Bamboo Blade. Tamaki is small for her age and slightly-built; she’s quiet and tends to blush silently when complimented. Moe. But upon seeing ‘injustice’, Tamaki turns into a taciturn, shizue-wielding avatar of vengeance. GAR. It’s by no means top-rank GAR, but she certainly has GAR.

But – and here’s where it gets really clever – the reason she fights injustice in such a GAR way is because she’s imitating the characters in what appears to be a superhero tokusatsu. Isn’t that just adorable?

Moe.

Because of her motivation for being GAR.

My head hurts. But, but-but-but, the two remain fundamentally incompatible because of the power relationships involved. One of moe’s essential ingredients is that the viewer feels him/herself to be in some way more powerful than the object of the moe feeling. But GAR involves admiration for someone stronger than oneself:

[in feeling GAR] [W]e feel ourselves to be less GAR than the character concerned. After all, if you really were as GAR as Kamina, you wouldn’t find him admirable, merely normal.

Tamaki in GAR mode is decidedly unadorable. Moe Tamaki is not GAR – if the two intermingled, the humour that Bamboo Blade extracts from her transformation from one to the other would be lost. A character can provoke moe and GAR, but never at the same time.

In fact, this means that someone who feels moe may think that he (I assume a male gender here) deserves to be considered GAR by others (as he feels himself to be in a stronger, protective position). Whether or not he is truly GAR is, of course, not determined by himself but by the reactions of others (real others, rather than fictional moe girls).

[I shall return to the connection between power and GAR when I consider Akagi, Kaiji and the morality of GAR. I beg your patience 'til then.]

GAR Women

Youch!

If we’re taking the nominations for SaiGAR as definition by example – and we are, because I say so – then there are certainly female characters who provoke GAR reactions. Seirei no Morbito‘s Balsa is a fine example, a character whose role as a mother-figure for Chagum combines traditionally maternal attributes with ferociously brutal defensive violence. (It’s tempting to read Chagum as moe, and Balsa as his GAR protector.)

I do wonder if there is actually a tradition of GAR female action heroines which we can link Balsa into. I have compared her in the past to Kusanagi, but I really lack the encyclopædic grasp of anime and manga required to back this up with more examples. There may not be many more – Seirei and Stand Alone Complex were both directed by Kamiyama, so maybe it’s a Kamiyama thing.

I think, however, that it’s rare to find a young female character who’s GAR; Tamaki’s level of GAR stands out, though it’s not dramatically high, for this reason. Possibly this is because GAR is – as I have established previously – relational. We feel GAR towards a certain character who we admire, so characters cannot possess GAR without an audience feeling in some way inferior. And I suspect that some of the anime audience simply can’t consider themselves in a situation where they are less GAR than a young woman (again, I lament my ignorance of Nanoha).

This is all a rather sticky issue, especially when it comes to a character like Revy, from Black Lagoon. Is Revy GAR? By all accounts, she’s violent (battle-hungry, indeed), badass and so forth. But does this constitute GAR? I’m inclined to the view that on its own it does not. Revy’s violence is rather directionless – there’s none of that striving for an impossible goal – and she seems rather nihilistic to me; I get the impression that she doesn’t think there’s much in the world that’s valuable enough to mourn its loss. Badass on its own is merely badass.

Notes

1. Thus the significance of GAINAX’s refusal to resurrect certain characters in the closing minutes of Tengen Toppa Gurren-Lagann. If death ceases to be a problem, it cheapens those remarkable exit scenes.

2. Regarding said post’s opening image, I must watch Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha sometime; currently my knowledge of it doesn’t stretch beyond its amusing TV Tropes entry, but the title is fodder for a whole slew of ‘Lyric mode’ jokes. Will there be villanelles? The People Must Know.

[No Blogiography as I think everything which is relevant is linked within the entry.]

21 responses to “GAR (III): GAR and Gender

  1. 1. No way does Revy count as GAR – she’s way too flawed in all the ways that matter. She’s not just flawed, she’s obnoxious. Kamina, Balsa et al. are all much more personable in general – I can’t think of any properly GAR antiheroes off the top of my head. (I thought Rock was pretty great when he stood up to Revy following the Nazi arc, but then I’m not sure if he was really much of an antihero at the time.)

    2. Long live England, etc.

    3. Not that this is any of my business, but most of the other anime blogs I go to seem to have bot-preventing spam filters on their posting things, is there some special reason you don’t or do you just not need it yet?

  2. 1. Alucard and Akagi (both of which more in a later entry) are more directed and focused in their badassness than Revy, and are easier to respect and less nihilistic. I’d say they were properly GAR.

    2. *hums Jerusalem*

    3. Because this is hosted by WordPress rather than a setup I’ve arranged myself, it has the filter Akismet running behind the scenes (it claims to have caught c. 170 spam comments so far). But there’s no facility to install something like reCAPTCHA or a maths-based comment field, even if I wanted to . . .

  3. One of my secret failings is an unwillingness to deeply examine the definitions ascribed to terms used by anime fans. I still don’t think I have an otaku-type grasp on the meaning of “moe.” Generally, it’s fairly easy to guess the meaning in context. Of course, a series post on GAR x Anything will provide a fairly comprehensive definition.

    As for Balsa’s GARness, I’m not sure. Admittedly, I’m no expert on GAR, but I’d have to say the definition doesn’t fit. If GAR equates to “manliness” then the simple fact that she is a woman means the definition doesn’t fit.

    We need a new term…GAR+ or woGAR? That is if the terminology hasn’t been invented yet.

    I like GAR+.

  4. Ahhh… this was a fascinating post.

    First, I have to agree that moe and GAR are definitely two serperate things. Much for the reasons you stated. But then I suppose it raises the question is Kenshin GAR? I mean Saito definitely is, but if a character shows weakness unintentionally then are they automatically disqualified from being GAR?

    On the whole GAR female characters, I totally agree that Balsa and Kusinagi are definitely GAR. The lead from Otogi Zoshi comes to mind too, except she might be a little too emotional. Misato up until the last six episodes of NGE was pretty GAR too. At least maybe, unless I’m totally misreading the idea of GAR.

  5. I don’t know about Akagi since I haven’t watched it (did watch Kaiji though), but I never thought Alucard was particularly GAR – just badass, same as Revy.

    That said, bringing up Kaiji makes me think my conception of GAR is probably a tiny bit divided from yours anyway. I’m plenty into Balsa and Kamina because I can really respect those people and feel like I’d smile to have them on my side, but Kaiji is basically a random punk who’s really good at gambling, and Alucard never made me admire him for his personality, only his blasting the crud out of things. Rock fits more with Balsa because he’s gutsy, even if his skills aren’t in the same place. My definition is maybe slightly more narrow than it deserves.

    Also, I think Motoko was pretty GAR.

    @ j.valdez: I don’t think that’s really necessary. The truth is that manliness isn’t really that gender-specific. Unlike moe, which implies the kind of affection most men can’t really feel for other men even if they have similar traits, you can definitely respect a woman for her “manliness” even if she obviously has boobs. In that way it’s related but not quite parallel.

  6. @Shiri – It’s just for the sake of clarity. =)

    Also, I just realized that my use of “ascribed” in “definitions ascribed to terms used by anime fans” makes no sense.

  7. [Warning: monster reply comment, very long.]

    @ j.valdez: I think moe may simply be one of those things which it’s easiest to leave as it is. As you say, once you’ve seen it used in context enough, you get enough of a handle on it to use it and identify its salient features. Also, I don’t watch enough moe content, so I’m not very knowledgeable about it.

    GAR women are indeed difficult. There’s no dispute that female characters can display the attributes which cause the respect and admiration which make up GAR – but we consider GAR to be masculine. I think I’m with Shiri that a female character can take on masculine attributes. And indeed I wonder why we necessarily associate certain elements of GAR with masculinity in any case – but that’s a topic for another gender theory seminar.

    I would draw an analogy here: I’m not Greek by descent or marriage – physically I’m Anglo-Celtic – but I use a set of κομπολόι to relax and the only coffee I drink was bought in Greece, and is brewed in a μπρίκι. In a sense, when I’m drinking coffee or flicking my κομπολόι around to pass the time, I’m taking on (very superficial) Greek attributes or behaviours. But I’m still not physically Greek.

    Still, as you suggest, for clarity’s sakes GAR+ might be a runner. Especially for the convenience of readers who haven’t seen the series concerned.

    @ iniksbane: Thankyou. I think we have to consider the possiblity that characters provoke GAR, or partake of GAR, at certain times, and not at others, but (much to my shame) I dropped [i]Rurouni Kenshin[/i] after a few episodes (I was being forced to watch it dubbed). I seem to recall Watsuki commenting that the original creation process for Kenshin resulted in the title character coming out ‘like a girl’, though.

    Misato’s quite GAR in End of Evangelion too, IIRC.

    @ Shiri: I think what makes Alucard GAR is that he has goals, purpose and direction (serving Sir Integra) for which he makes sacrifices. But of course he’s pretty hard to defeat, which cheapens this – but I must keep my powder dry for my next GAR entry.

    I’d say Kaiji’s basically a loser, but it’s the moments when he overcomes his fear that he becomes GAR. In a sense his GAR is more special because he’s not very good at life – and I wouldn’t say he’s more than ‘good’ at gambling – he came off the Espoir sort-of ahead, but not by much – not by enough, and he had effectively ‘lost’ before that happened.

    Kaiji’s someone who’s not especially competent, and has to force himself to be brave. Rock is a good example of someone who’s not especially competent (compared to Revy, at least) but who does indeed have guts. These characters are in a sense more admirable, because they can be courageous despite not being (as Alucard is) immortal and nigh-on undefeatable.

  8. Alright, I guess I can buy Kaiji (I mostly just find him annoying, but when you compare him to Rock like that I have to give in) but I think I’ll have to see your next article before I can concede on Alucard!

  9. Just another thought then, is GAR a definable set of characteristics or is it an emotional reaction or both? Because from what your saying GAR almost sounds like the classic hero, or at least the classic hero at the moment they’re being heroic rather than before or after. Except that if they do something that is unheroic or at least unintentionally unheroic than it nullifies their heroism.

    Okay that just made my brain hurt. But, I guess I’m wondering whether a character is GAR or if a action is GAR. For example, Paris, at the moment that he killed Achilles, was GAR, but prior to that he wasn’t really all that GAR.

    Or for another example, Misato was GAR when she ran into the overheating nuclear reactor, but she wasn’t GAR when she was pining over Kaji or her Dad.

  10. [This contains SPOILERS for Tengen Toppa Gurren-Lagann episode 8. Yes, probably unnecessary to say so, but still . . . ~ animanachronism]

    I think it has to be a combination of both. Kamina has exactly the right personality for getting up from being impaled, kicking ass, then dying and passing on his mantle to Simon to be awesome GAR. Try imagine Yuki Nagato doing it. GAR? Nah.

    Consider it something of a state of being. You can have characters that are moe in general, but that’s specifically because of A) look and B) moe things that they do. GAR characters like Kamina have GAR personalities and do GAR things. You can’t really seperate the two things out easily since people are defined by their actions.

  11. @ iniksbane & Shiri: Well, judging on the word’s supposed original use (‘I’m GAR for Archer’), I’d say it’s first and foremost an emotional reaction. [Indeed, without an audience, I'd say there's no GAR - it has to have a site to happen - but then that's what you'd expect from my reader/viewer-focused approach.] But we can identify the characteristics which provoke GAR.

    Shiri’s point regarding actions being inseperable from character is a good one. Taken in isolation, a hypothetical action (‘sacrificing oneself in battle to buy time for others to escape’) can provoke a GAR reaction – but of course we still need a character to actually enact or reify the sacrifice.

    Yuki would indeed be ill-suited to the world of TTGL, though she exhibits a certain kind of taciturn GAR in *that* fight (I think you know the one I mean).

    Regarding Paris, I’d have to say it depends on which epic tradition you look to – if it’s the one where he shoots Achilles from the walls, it’s not especially GAR, but that’s not the only version of the story. But the Misato example is a good one.

    [I've taken the liberty of adding a spoiler warning to Shiri's comment.]

  12. I was going to leave a huge comment, but then I thought better of it and put it here.

  13. Sorry about the spoiler thing, I forget not everyone watched that series.

  14. @ Will: Thankyou. Tiredness prevented me from commenting on your post as it deserved, but I did my best.

    @ Shiri: Not to worry. I’m tempted to say that anyone who hasn’t watched TTGL only has themselves to blame.

  15. Pingback: What is in a moment: On the semantics of Moe and GAR « In Search of Number Nine

  16. Thanks for responding. Editorializing is not my style, and having a distinct distaste for writing in general doesn’t help.

    Well, we have to remember there are those out there who just don’t want to get involved in “questionable” use of IP. Hopefully ADV can get their act together and make the show available to those people. I know I was itching for those DVDs.

  17. @ Will: Good point. Sometimes I forget that law-abiding anime fans won’t have seen TTGL yet.

  18. Pingback: GAR (V): Why GAR is Good For You « The Animanachronism

  19. Pingback: GAR (IV): Akagi vs. Kaiji, and Moral GAR « The Animanachronism

  20. Pingback: Concerning a certain paragon of moe | Super Fanicom

  21. Pingback: Bankrupt (Sengoku) Basara: Can the Well of GAR Run Dry? « We Remember Love

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