Over the past few days, you may have seen various articles discussing a recently analyzed sci-fi and fantasy trope that we can now call “born sexy yesterday.” The trope, examined thoroughly and eloquently by YouTuber Jonathan McIntosh (aka Pop Culture Detective), is when a female character in a sci-fi or fantasy film possesses the innocence and naivety of a child yet inhabits the body of a fully mature and sexualized women. This character is usually the love interest of a male protagonist who tends to be a pretty average human being, but he looks extraordinary in the eyes of this female character since they have never interacted with other men before.
This trope supports a male-power fantasy of desiring a woman who isn’t equal in terms of experience with living in the “normal” world and sexuality. The innocence of a character who is “born sexy yesterday” is also sexualized since the character does not understand her sex appeal and needs to have it explained to her by the male hero. This trope overlaps with others such as the student-mentor relationship trope and the manic pixie dream girl. McIntosh examines the flip-side as well, where the male character possesses this naivety, but is ultimately never sexualized in the same way and is often comic relief.
In the end, McIntosh pushes future science fiction writers to create characters that are equal in experience especially when it comes to love, sex, and sexuality. He also advocates for male characters that enthusiastically embrace women that are their equals.
In the spirit of this notion, I would like to examine a film, an animated series, comic, and a game that buck this trope and support equality among various characters. Hopefully future science fiction and fantasy writers can use these examples as a reference for how to write balanced characters that experience their worlds and relationships on equal footing. This first part will focus on a particular film and animated series.
So let’s begin…
Mad Max: Fury Road
Mad Max: Fury Road
The most recent Mad Max film is one of my favorite movies to come out in the past few years. Not only is it an excellent action movie, it also handles the characters of Max and Furiosa beautifully. If there is anything this film proves it is that a science fiction film does not need a love story in order to succeed. What makes Fury Road stand out is the fact that Furiosa and Max are equal in every sense of the word and the relationship they develop is not one of romance, but mutual trust and respect.
Throughout the film you can see their relationship build from adversaries to reluctant partners to respected confidants. Both characters start out with significant trust issues. Furiosa finds it difficult to trust anyone, especially men, for how she was treated at the hands of Immortan Joe and Max distrusts everyone because he knows the world to be a terribly cruel place. The first time these two encounter each other it is with combat and violence. They try to kill one another since they both want control over a tanker for their survival and to escape the forces of Immortan Joe. The fight scene that occurs is actually one of my favorites in any movie because of how balanced it is; neither one is more overpowering than the other and each holds their own. In fact, the only reason Max overcomes Furiosa is because Nux intervenes. Check out the scene in the video below, it is brilliant:
From there they become reluctant partners since Max cannot control the tanker without a special ignition sequence that only Furiosa knows, but over the course of several trials and close calls the two come to respect each other’s abilities. This is especially prevalent when Furiosa teaches Max the ignition sequence to the tanker during a confrontation with a biker gang and when Max returns to help Furiosa take over Joe’s citadel. Reflecting on the later moment, the handshake between Furiosa and Max at this point in the film is especially relevant.
Typically a handshake like this is immediately accompanied by one character being pulled up by the other; one in a place of power and the other in a position of weakness. Here we see Furiosa and Max on equal footing as the agree to ride and potentially die together for the sake of the cause. Later on Max even goes as far as to give his own blood to save Furiosa’s life and, in his biggest display of trust, he reveals his name to her which he had refused to do prior to this point.
Ultimately through the course of the film, Furiosa and Max revitalize their faith in humanity within an overwhelming hostile world not through romantic love, but through a strong mutual respect.
Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood
As McIntosh rightfully states in his analysis, born sexy yesterday is a very common trope in anime; Chobits being the best example of this trope at work. There are other animes, however, that go against this relationship dynamic and present characters that experience, grow, inspire, and love each other in a very genuine manner. One of the first anime series that comes to mind for me is Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood and the relationship that between Edward Elric and Winry Rockbell.
While Edward and Alphonse Elric are the central protagonists of the series, Winry plays a vital role as a close friend to the boys and happens to be Ed’s automail mechanic. These characters have grown-up together, and through the series we get to see how their bonds change from adolescence to adulthood. The bond between Ed and Winry is especially potent since their progression from friends to eventual lovers is explored in a natural and real way. These two need each other for so many reasons and the bond they have is one supported by love, inspiration, and mutual experience. Winry and Ed consistently push each other to be the best version of themselves possible at every turn.
There are quite a few occasions where Ed protects or saves Winry and others from danger with the use of his superb alchemy and combat skills; such as when Winry is kidnap by a deranged killer. Ed, however, is only able to achieve these feats because of Winry’s exceptional abilities as an automail mechanic. Without Winry present, Ed would not even be able to move or function since she keeps his metal arm and leg fully intact; often having to replace Ed’s limbs completely after devastating battles.
Winry even goes above and beyond to make sure Ed is okay when she feels his life may be in danger. For instance, she faces the harsh environment of the Northern territory when she learns the Elrics are traveling that way. She knows Ed’s automail is unsuited for such weather conditions and puts herself in harm’s way in order to ensure he gets the necessary upgrades. On the other hand, without Ed’s constant support and need for repair Winry wouldn’t progress as an automail mechanic in the same way. Ed is a vital resource for her to continue honing her craft and he pushes her to become the best she can be. Ed’s determination to help he and his brother restore their bodies is also a constant source of inspiration for Winry.
The two also possess a very deep romantic love for each other that neither can fully admit to for most of the series. They often tease and argue with one another in the same way an actual couple would, but any mention of this from supporting characters causes them to get flustered and deny the possibility. This is very reminiscent of actual adolescent relationships that take place in the real world. The following video shows several clips depicting their relationship:
There are many great moments in the series where these two start to better understand their emotional and physical attraction to the other. As the series progresses, these two characters are eventually able to discover their shared love. Winry is the first to realize her feelings for Ed with him following suit toward the end of the series.
What is so potent about the progression of their relationship compared to those in other animes is that it is continuously balanced throughout with both characters being able to come into a romantic and intimate relationship on equal footing.
And that concludes part one! Tune in next week for part two where I’ll explore the relationships in Tokyo Ghost from Image Comics and CD Projket Red’s The Witcher 3.