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Enough with the androgynous characters

posted on November 22nd, 2006 by jay

Team Ninja is obsessed with breasts. This happens to be an obsession most American men (and women) share. Game after game, Tecmo and many other publishers give us girls that make Dolly Pardon look prepubescent. Most thoughtful gamers (or prudes) have already declared this tendency absurd, or at least unrealistic.

Arguing that Team Ninja should be neutered is a position that is seen as pro-women and inclusive. Call Final Fantasy characters effeminate, on the other hand, and you invite accusations of homophobia and narrow-mindedness. Before I justify my stance on the character design of Final Fantasy games and many other Japanese titles, let me first establish what I mean when I say the art is effeminate.

Squall from Final Fantasy VIII looking coy in his furry coat is a good example. Notice how pretty his hair is and his elegant stud earring.

Tidus from Final Fantasy X leaning back, his hair wet, almost exploding in orgasm. What beautiful porcelain skin.

Someone from Final Fantasy XII with a rounded face, thick, pouty lips and beautiful skin. Sometimes I wear my hair like that.

Sephiroth has a distinct lack of muscle mass for a big bad guy. He does, however, have more than enough flowing silver hair and exposed pectoral muscles.

Even Locke from my beloved Final Fantasy VI was very girly.

The typical explanation for all of these androgynous men is “culture.” Japan has a culture from different America and thus they can draw womanly men until the cows come home (I hear they have excellent beef). Japanese women, it is said, find effeminate boys attractive and will buy more products if they’re chock full of estrogen. Yaoi is perhaps the culmination of Japan’s interest in homosexual characters. The term is derived from “Stop, my butt hurts!” (not a joke) and is marketed primarily to women.

According to recent research, women (or British women) seem to be more attracted to effeminate men, so the phenomenon may not be limited to Japan.

Now on to my point. Large breasts tend to be preferred by American men (and Japanese men, if their anime indicates anything) yet this fact does not stop me and many others from criticizing games with special breast rendering engines. Based on this premise, declaring any criticism of Japanese effeminate game characters to be culturally ignorant and insensitive is baseless.

Perhaps more importantly, designers should be bored by the archetype by now. Why do they refuse to experiment with character designs? If the soundtracks in Final Fantasy VI through XII sounded identical, wouldn’t it be valid to suggest Square be more creative?

There is a very slight chance (read: no chance) that Square has continually designed girly men in order to fight the muscle bound stereotype seen in Western media. Even if this were true, fighting a stereotype by creating another does not seem to make any sense. This doesn’t necessarily mean all game characters should be realistic. A particularly gay, busty or fat character in a game is not an issue. It’s when most of the characters (all of the main characters) continually look the same that valid complaints may be raised. If one game has a unique art style of all breasts or all beautiful man-hair, that’s fine. It becomes grating when series that have existed for decades refuse to alter character types.

I dislike the effeminate male character design for the same reason I dislike the character design in Dead or Alive. I find them to be both aesthetically boring and repetitive as well as distasteful. I hope Japanese designers put more effort into making original looking characters and leave the stock characters behind. I also hope gamers stop calling anyone who dislikes a style of art a culturally ignorant xenophobe.

What I personally find also upsetting is that not only does Square constantly repeat their designs, the designs are crappy. A look at a high res Tidus should be sufficient to prove this. His outfit is completely absurd, in a bad way. His overall things aren’t part of his pants nor part of his shirt, which seems to be a quarter vest thing that just barely covers his nipples. The outfit is liberally dotted with crosses and chains, each limb has a different clothing design, and he seems to be wearing thermal socks. It’s hard to decide what’s worse, his garish leather gauntlet or the fact that his pants unzip midway down the thigh (which Tidus has happily made use of). But really, this last argument is for a different article.

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  1. Zinco said on November 22, 2006:

    I read that the main character of Final Fantasy XII was originally going to be big and beefy, but as the development cycle wore on (and with demographics concerns) he evolved into the man you see in that screenshot today.

  2. TrueTallus said on November 22, 2006:

    Zidane was pretty girly to….  At least ff12 has (up to the point I’m at) less emphasis on its token Meg Ryan-alike, and Bosch at least is pretty manly (though perhaps strangely dressed).

  3. Matt said on November 22, 2006:

    It was funny, when I first saw the preview for Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children, I thought that Yazoo was Sephiroth. They look almost exactly the same. The only thing somewhat different is their hair.

  4. Zinco said on November 22, 2006:

    Spoiler?: I’m pretty sure Basch finds that outfit off of a corpse that’s lying around.

  5. GoldenJew said on November 26, 2006:

    What’s frustrating is that Square has been at this for so
    long, it’d be hard for them to change.  They need a gradual evolution over
    the next 5 or so FF’s to something more manly in order to keep the fanboys from
    bitching about the change, but to go in the right direction.  I understand
    the desire for consistency, but consistently bizarrely metrosexual isn’t really
    a good thing.

  6. Patrick said on November 27, 2006:

    Jay o Jay. Why don’t you every email me?

  7. AK said on February 24, 2008:

    u have got it all wrong. two main reasons the characters look effeminate: they are after all BOYS and truth be told many eastern women tend to prefer ‘gentlemen’ (call it metrosexual if u want) not ur steroid-buffed ox. so, it works on two levels. even tho there’s no age limit to game playing, just accept the fact that the majority of players ARE adolescents AND the youthful look sells, so if u’r neither young nor goodlooking then just be quiet!

  8. jay said on February 25, 2008:

    So after the face lift I will like Final Fantasy character designs?

    I did say Japanese women and British women and probably many other kinds of women prefer effeminate men. Most boys do not look like women, so I am not convinced by that explanation. I also don’t ultimately care exactly why the same design is recycled ad nauseam, I am more interested in calling for originality than understanding cliches.

  9. christian said on February 25, 2008:

    Another point to support Jay – the Japanese can take it to far, to the point where it isn’t just looking effeminate, but having the physical traits of a woman. Watch the trailer for King of Fighters XII and tell me Ash Crimson does not have child bearing hips.

  10. TrueTallus said on February 27, 2008:

    But if they keep going, they’ll eventually get so crazily metrosexual that it actually WILL be innovation at a character design level. Look at what Hyung-tae Kim (Korean forerunner in the field of gender bending male character design) did in Magna Carta. : )

  11. Jeff said on April 10, 2008:

    Ignorant xenophobe ass!

  12. Christian said on April 10, 2008:

    Jeff: oooook? Care to explain that a bit?

    or is this just an off the cuff remark from a Japanophile?

  13. Xenobia said on April 13, 2008:

    I disagree to an extent, to some of the replies, really. Where a few of you have said that “most men do not look girly,” I beg to disagree. I live in the States and yet most of the guys around my area have very feminine features and are tall with a thin build. It’s quite rare to see anyone “buffed up” as you would say.

    The gaming design for the characters really isn’t that different. Plus, if you look at the males in Japan they, too, are very feminine in their appearence – that’s just the natural look. I think in the beginning they were designing off of the common build for a Japanese male. Since it ended up being a huge success, they ran with it. It’s still a success and so they’ve kept it going.

  14. NorthernWolf said on July 21, 2008:

    I agree with Jay, the characters in these games are way to feminine. I don’t think it really matters if many males in this world are in fact feminine. The fact is the protagonist in the game is always a hero with almost supernatural strength. It would just make sense to have them with muscle on them, maybe a few scars. I mean everybody here is making a comparison to real life. In real world athletes and fighters are ripped an built. If the Japanese kid playing DDR is feminine, I don’t necessarily think he wants his FF character to look the same way.

  15. unico said on May 16, 2009:

    Final Fantasy’s character design, is starting to become repetitive and boring.
    It’s basically the same “Face” and “Body”; with different hair and clothes.

    And for me… Vaan was the last straw.

  16. GoldenJew said on May 18, 2009:

    Nonsense Unico, Vaan’s nipple covering armor is both sexy, masculine and provides valuable defense of his delicate man-teats. Rumor is Jay is dressing as Vaan this Halloween.

  17. Cunzy1 1 said on May 19, 2009:

    Nah, androgenous still beats generic monosyllabic beefcake. Yeah, that’s right, FUCK YOU most games.

  18. Red said on December 23, 2009:

    Cloud in FFVII looked quite manly, especially his face.
    They made him so feminine looking in AC and Crisis Core.

  19. gsdbfdfhb said on March 21, 2010:

    whats so androgyny on them? for example on sephiroth

  20. EyE said on March 21, 2011:

    To be honest i hate when all the males are macho and buffed up. If that is what you want then just stay to western style games. I think its crazy how people always try to impose what they want on other people. Its like i let you in my house and give you free food and you complain about the food i gave. AND THEN you come to my house the next day and do the same thing. Why? If you do not like something simply avoid it. That is what i do. I avoid many western games and super hero cartoons. I hated seeing things that always portrayed the male as the buffed up, bad ass, overly impulsive individual. So if people want to speak about it being closer to reality (which games are usually meant to escape it) then we all know that is not reality by a long shot either. I am a reserved guy who usually keeps to myself and yes i do care about my looks. I think ANYONE who can step outside looking like a ragbag needs to be beaten. Me being to myself, intellectual, and silent does not mean i am weak. I liked squalls persona and tidus. If i did not then i would have quit playing the FF games and found something more my liking. Me complaining because a company is doing something how i like is just crazy. I will not call you a xenophobe…Though it would be apt, instead i will refer to you as a bigot.

  21. christian said on March 24, 2011:

    Despite the fact that this post is so very, very old, I’m going to treat the latest comment as being genuine.

    In that case, EyE, your post is an awful, baseless attack. The author of the original post shows his distaste for androgynous characters, but at no point does he say that he prefers “macho, buffed up males”, to use your own words. Nor is it true that disliking one means you must like the other by default. What the author wants from his male characters is the same as what he wants for female game characters – more realistic proportions, and a well rounded cast with people of all shapes and sizes.

    Your post rings of bitter japanophile auto-defensiveness. It isn’t necessary, or cool, and the only person who thinks you are on any sort of moral or intellectual high ground is yourself.

  22. pat said on March 24, 2011:

    comment seems genuine. spam doesn’t usually relate to the content of the post this well.

    my problem with the comment though: whats a ragbag?

  23. EyE said on March 25, 2011:

    @ Christian
    The post is old. That being granted the comments were NOT locked so i assume its still free to post ones thoughts.

    You said “more realistic proportions, and a well rounded cast with people of all shapes and sizes.”
    GAMES are not meant to be realistic. Even in most military games they are not realistic.

    You also said “Your post rings of bitter japanophile auto-defensiveness”
    But before that you said
    “but at no point does he say that he prefers “macho, buffed up males”, to use your own words. Nor is it true that disliking one means you must like the other by default”

    You wreak of hypocrisy. So i will use your logic. By saying i like this form of how they do things does not mean i like all things Japanese by default. Now unless you want to go back on the words you said i do indeed have a point. I will also add we are speaking about games and NOT Japan. Yes the Game did COME from Japan but not ALL games from Japan is like this. This is exactly why i said if they dont like how THIS company does things then find a company they do like. ITS common sense and simple to do. If i did not like Tekken well hell i would find another fighting game with more powers like KOF or something.
    You also said “the only person who thinks you are on any sort of moral or intellectual high ground is yourself.”

    I will say congratulations on bringing absolutely NOTHING to the argument on that last sentence. I did not say anything about my intellect or ANY intellect for that matter. Whatever YOU derive from what i said is strictly on you. Maybe you want to try to keep it less personal and more on target.
    I stand my ground.

    Pat a Ragbag is someone who dresses in bad clothing. Or a ‘i dont care’ type attire.

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