SPOILERS THEREIN FOR CHAPTER 297
Orihime is about to yell "Kurosaki-kun" for the nth time and Nnoitra sticks his (very large) fingers into her mouth and gags her.
A joke? Another typical manga-genre degredation of a female? Impied rape? Typical Kubo?
My first response, as a woman and an Orihime fan, was to get the creepy-crawlies and the heebie-jeebs from these panels. Is that what Kubo wanted me to feel? In chapter 297, he spanned Hueco Mundo and showed us all our lovely heroes in dire and humiliating situations. Surely, we're supposed to feel OH NOOOOOES, not just for Orihime. Every main character thus far has been physically tortured--and some, (one might argue Rukia, Orihime and Ishida) have been emotionally tortured as well.
There's been a minor tempest at my beloved Bleach Asylum over interpretations of the Nnoitra gagging Hime scene. The usual over-the-top fan reactions to what is a very common dramatic scenario in modern entertainment--the humiliation of a pretty female. But the panels and the reaction are interesting, from this feminist's POV, so I'm going to discuss them rather than the more stupendous plot developments of 297 (Sorry Ken-chan).
First, some readers (and Orihime fans) have been taken to task for interpreting the scene as a joke.
I wrote at BA:
I also dont think it's a stretch to see "Kurosaki-kun" censoring as a joke on Kubo's part. No, this isn't the real world and no one should make light of a REAL person who incessantly says "Kurosaki-kun" but fact remains, Kubo's audience does and he's aware of it---just as he's aware of the BL audience that slashes Uryuu every which way but right. I find it hard to believe that a learned and clever man like Kubo Tite would be above a few pokes at his audiences. He's already proven himself a tease with plot happenings and cliffhangers, a punner with chapter titles, and a master of the sexual innuendo (Szayel is his masterpiece!)--so why not a few jabs at his audience?
So, I can, on one level, take the scene as a textual joke, even though the scene is meant to engage our sympathy for Orihime. Ishida, it's been noted, by commenters here, has been undergoing similar humiliation. I know of a couple fans who are ready to quit the manga because Ishida is the butt of homosexual jokes in the HM arc. His hair being fondled and his body being tentacle-groped by Szayel--is that comparable to what's happening to Orihime? How about the joke made when Pesh pulled a glowing phallus out of his Hollow-diaper and dared to compare it to Seele Shneider? Wasn't that a joke? Didn't Ishida himself say "I'm lying here with my insides crushed and he calls me a coward. Isn't that a bit extreme?" And wasn't Ishida's assessment funny? Especially given the fact that he's supposed to be lying there in excruciating pain?
My point? Kubo can been terrifying AND funny at the same time. What's the matter with you people? Tis the season of Halloween. Haven't all the reruns of slasher-monster-don't open that door flix reminded you that horror and humor can go hand in hand? That sexual punning is a mainstay of the horror genre? That no matter how much we try to keep serious, there is something funny about writhing snakes and their threat to penetrate the orifices of main characters.
Now, the topic of female objectification and humiliation. It happens. Particularly in shounen manga.
I wrote at BA:
I don't see how people can argue that Orihime HASN'T been objectified--either in that taudry S&M scene she had when Grimmjow bound her or now in this humiliation by Nnoitra. I didn't hear anyone in the manga thread say Grimmjow was a great guy for roughing up Hime or that Nnoitra deserved a number one position in fan rankings for sticking his fingers into her mouth and calling her "pet." I think that we all see Orihime being humiliated here--whether or not we call the author to task for that (he's put Hime in cliche roles of submissiveness before--don't even get me started on the boobexplotation Kubo's famous for--but I'll argue that Kubo has USUALLY been kind and understanding of her character type and any ... um... sexploitation of Orihime's humiliations for the sole titillation of shounen audiences is ... if not the author's only intent, then part of a culture that enjoys seeing women degraded this way---a culture that makes manga and anime and detective shows and romances , etc, etc)
I was immediately chided by someone who saw a post high-fiving Nnoitra for his despicable deed:
@debbiechan: There actually was at least one post in the 297 thread bashing Orihime, someone who said in regards to Nnoitra shoving his fingers in her mouth: "can't say she deserves much better". Nope, I don't really have a point in bringing this up, but I thought I would anyway. XD
My response was:
oh Good Lord. My mind must just freeze at sexist crap like that. Or its gotten used to that level of Orihime hate so it just wanders over it. *snorts* Anyway, my position has always been if you're going to bash a character do it with wit and intelligence, don't just go "SHE SUX, SHE SHLD DIE."
And so hereby I indict the boys who go "weee" when Hime is gagged and still defend my (mostly female) friends who, with hilarious paragraphs comprised of full sentences and a vocabulary over the seventh grade level, can cut down Orihime as a pitiful example of girlhood and argue that she is a grotesque role model of obsession and passivity for the impressionable Japanese girls who read Bleach?
Errrr...... my hypocrisy alarms are going off. Can I indict all the boys? The bound and gagged Orihime of the Grimmjow scene was fanservice---does that mean that the thirteen year old fans who like a little bondage titillation hate women? The extended torture of Ishida by Szayel with all its homoerotic implications--I personally found it horrifying but also sort of hot. For some reason, I have the feeling that this is what I was supposed to feel. I don't hate Ishida. I adore him.
So, naturally, part of me is furious with my sadistic boyfriend, the manga-ka Kubo Tite, for hurting my favorite character and making my favorite character's situation seem hopeless.
The sensible me, though, the one that is outside suspended disbelief and total engagement in the manga storyline, knows that I'm just being strung along. I'm not watching newsreel. I'm audience to a story--and one told within a strict form--so I have every reason to expect that things will be alright.
Someone on BA compared Kubo to the director of a well-known rape movie with Jodie Foster (the name escapes me at the moment). The argument was that showing Orihime's humiliation is necessary for the character's later triumph. Essentially, this is how I, as a fan and a fanficcer, like to read and write sexual humiliation--those of you who know my work know that I don't write rape for pure titillation purposes (although that's a genre in and of itself---porn, by definition, is written for the sole purpose of getting the reader off.... there's rape porn.... it exists... nothing wrong with that.....I just personally, want my fiction in which rape occurs to do something else). I believe it's a bit puritanical to say that sexual violence should be shown ONLY if there's going to be a moral recovery from it. What about all the yee-hah violence of exploding trucks and dismembered limbs and volleys of gunfire in our entertainment? Is all of it supposed to be a grim commentary on the social ills and base nature of humankind? Nah...... some of it is just damn fun.
Shounen manga is chock full of sex and violence. It's full of fanservice. It, as a genre, is also morally instructive (it was conceived that way, and unlike some more explicit manga aimed at older audiences, it aims to teach young Japanese boys how to behave.... it aims to show them the rewards of self-reliance, discipline, courage, faith in one's friends and the virtue of treating others, even ones enemies, with dignity).
So let's take our lessons with a spoonful of gratuitous sex and violence.
As for Kubo Tite, I believe in him. He's not just a showman and just not a caterer to adolescent appetites. Bleach fulfills the shounen requirements and in many ways, overcomes the stereotypes.
Trying to reassure myself over what I see as the horrific degradation of Orihime in the HM arc, I wrote this in BA:
Kubo has already shown us that he overcomes stereoyping to a great deal and delivers developed, meaningful gutsy female characters. The prominence of Rukia in the plot says that well enough--never mind Mats, Tatsuki, Yoruichi. Orihime's importance to Bleach has never been one of pure "eye candy." Like everyone else, she's poked fun at and used for that over-the-top manga humor, but NO one in Bleach is beyond that--not Ichigo, no one. At the moment, we've had no jokes at Aizen's expense but when all is said and done, the final joke will be on him, right?
Orihime's healing of Lolli and Menoli gave us character insight; Orihime's suffering on the battleground when Ichigo went Hollow gave us character insight. In both cases she ended up INTERACTING with whatever tormented her. In the first case, she healed those who had hurt her, and in the second, she made a connection to the one she was afraid of and reached out in support.
Now, this "connecting' and "interacting" with her sources of her plight make her a real character, not just one to whom stuff happens. Her helplessness in HM is plain, but I don't think people see how she IS reacting. She's not fighting--that in of itself is frustrating, especially when we're used to heroes giving it their all against incredible odds (Ishida is suffering similarly--people complain that his character is being humiliated and that he should do more than just lie there without a stomach). Orihime IS reacting, even if she's not fighting. The reason I think a lot of her fans find her interactions with Ulquiorra so satisfying is that she meets him face to face, word for word. She doesn't allow his taunting her without responding. She STANDS UP TO HIM. They interact; we see it. And even though Orihime is a prisoner and even though she is second to Ulquiorra in terms of brute strength, her emotional strength against him is plain.
I just want that for her. I want her to give me signs that she's going to recover from this mess. I trust in Kubo--I trust he's going to pull Orihime out of this in an UN-stereotypical way. He's not going to have her rescued by a bunch of white knights. Well, they might defeat some of the bad guys for her, but character development demands that Orihime defeat her own inner demons and be AT LEAST PARTIALLY responsible for freeing herself. She'll show her stuff--I'm sure of it. The Kubo I know isn't going to turn Orihime into another beautiful manga babe; she's not going to be a tragedy; she's not going to be the helpless princess for long.
Now, there are some who are defending Orihime who don't see why some women readers are frustrated, period, with Orihime's not fighting. I would like to use a big brush stroke and typify these readers as young, idealistic girls who are quite cozy with the passive Princess stereotype and who don't see Orihime the way Kubo has shown her. "But she's not a fighter," say these girls. Oh yes she is. There are numerous incidences in the manga when Orihime has fought with as much grit and gusto as any of the boys. Tsubaki is a PART OF HER. Tsubaki is a little dagger of a fighting machine; therefore, part of Orihime (even though the majority of her is manifested in healing and shielding fairies) is an aggressive FIGHTER.
There are those Orihime fans who don't see Orihime's feelings for Ichigo as destructive. Here we get into the messier shipping battles because some folks just plain like Orihime with Ichigo and see that his eventually returning her love to be the culmination of a decent love story. Well, excuse me if some of us out here (who prefer Orihime with anyone else--Ulquiorra, Ishida, Chad, Tatsuki) don't want to see a girl rewarded for doing nothing but pining for a boy. She fantasizes that Ichigo is a prince all decked out in the goofy pantaloons of some child's fairy tale and then she's rewarded for these fantasies by having him fall in love with her? When she and Ichigo have hardly exchanged words or had interaction in the manga AT ALL?
Just put me down on the list of people who believe that Kubo's intent is to show us a girl, a sympathetic believable girl with a very likely crush on a hero-boy, who has been tortured with jealousy, self-doubt, and feelings of incompetence because of her crush. Orihime swore before the HM arc that the next time she saw Kurosaki-kun, she wouldn't rely on him to save her but that she would fight alongside him. Her very failure to live up to this vow hurts Orihime fans.
I believe that Kubo, in all his wisdom, wants it to.
Because he's working up to something bigger. The inevitable triumph of girl over ego. Orihime is going to aim Tsubaki with killing intent BECAUSE she has a higher purpose. And anyone who knows these martial arts genres knows that it's ethical and good to kill for the greater purpose. Orihime will fire Tsubaki to protect one day.
It just can't come soon enough for this frustrated Orihime fan.
EDIT: so la-dee-dah, here I go all content with my libertarian idea that there's nothing wrong with a little sex and violence for entertainment. I excuse everything but snuff films, ho ho ho.The actual hurting of people is wrong, right? Oh there's that fuzzy area where real women are contributing to their own degradation and objectification while simultaneously flexing their own sexual power muscles.... but for the most part, either art mirrors life or it doesn't and that's just aesthetics. The representation of women in media isn't the same thing as what women REALLY really undergo..... Is it?
I'll just stick to two dimensional story people while my mind tears over the issues. Easier that way.
Still, I somehow can't get my mind to accept some of those sexual humiliation pictures I see on y!gallery--they're ... just... drawings.... nothing wrong with them... oh no... just look away, debbie..... Arrgh, not two minutes after typing out this post, I wander away to prowl fan galleries and I come across the most vile depiction of Ishida torture (I won't even link it here--seriously, you don't want to see). Then I look at what I myself have written--stories like Necrophilia that are supposed to be about love but just have the most horrible things happen in them--and I have to worry about what, if anything, distinguishes me here.