We at Mediolana take a special interest in how entities from corporations to cities brand themselves, and are usually amongst the first to applaud any imaginative initiatives in this context. However, a tourist promotional flyer for the central Japanese city of Minokamo raises more questions than answers. The poster features one Kocho Yoshida, a character from the anime series No Rin – a comedy set in Minokamo’s entirely non-fictional agricultural high-school – but with one key alteration: extreme breast augmentation. The outcry at the degree of anatomical distortion is such that according to Asialyst, the Yoshida-fronted campaign has been suspended.
In retrospect (and this really should have been apparent before the poster’s promulgation), it is easy to see why this piece of artwork is inapposite, particularly for a general audience. But the Kocho Yoshida scandal serves to highlight what we at Mediolana believe to be a much, much bigger problem: the near-total dearth of compelling female characters in contemporary popular culture.
For much of the twentieth century, women were perceived through primarily aesthetic lenses; however, this did not always preclude strong characterisation. Indeed, the appearance of an arresting female on stage or screen could be the cue for a definitive performance: that sublime combination of physical beauty and technical skill. However, we then moved into an era where technical skill was abjured in favour of a short-term marketing hit: as Jonas Ridderstråle and Kjell Nordström noted in their 1999 classic Funky Business: Talent Makes Capital Dance, one cannot explain the success of the Spice Girls phenomenon with reference to its music.
More recently, some have claimed that we have entered a post-Velina age, where women are once again being valued for something other than their material properties; however, after some contemplation we remain unconvinced of advancement, and not merely because of the profusion of Ridderstråle and Nordström’s big-breasted, anorexic electronic warriors (despite her dimensions, Ms Yoshida probably does not quite fit this description).
Our somewhat uncomfortable observation is that a largely two-dimensional template for female characters is being supplanted by a new model that – although embellished with far-fetched detail – is even more shallow than its predecessor. Commissioners and creatives alike are mistaking dysfunctionality for depth. This is no peripheral issue: by consistently introducing female characters who are complex but not ultimately likeable, they are effectively doing three things: (a) killing the longevity of their creations (cf. the ephemera of Desperate Housewives, Sex in the City et al); (b) discrediting the idea of prominent female roles; and (c) pushing the media as a whole back towards an anatomy-based model, only this time without any other redeeming features. Ms Yoshida may be the perfect symbol of this epoch.