According to Google, all the ladies in that header gif are in fact anime tomboys!
You guys know what a tomboy is, right? I feel like it’s a character archetype that’s lost a ton of popularity in the past few years but when I was younger it was super common in American and European media. Strictly speaking, a tomboy is a female character who eschew traditionally feminine characteristics favouring more masculine ones.
It’s always been an archetype with lots of variety in execution as markers of femininity and masculinity aren’t always the same from one culture to another. Still, the tomboy remained fairly recognizable across the board.
When I was younger it usually meant a girl that would wear unisex and loose clothing, that would not emphasize a feminine figure. She might have short hair or if it was long she would not fuss over it or do anything fancy, a simple ponytail is all a tomboy needs. She would be interested in sports and/or cars and have no idea how to even put on makeup. She would be one of the guys, only you know, a girl! For some reason, this was considered exotic at some point. And it was actually a super popular archetype!
Considering that I have always found it a little silly and it’s nowhere near as prevalent as it uses to be, you may be wondering why I’m even writing about the tomboy archetype today. Well, that’s because I was having “fun” using the tag and genre features on AniList and noticed that they had a tag specifically for Tomboy. I was intrigued. I couldn’t really think of a tomboy off the top of my head. Any girl that qualified, like maybe Saki from Zombie Land, was in fact much better suited to the delinquent tag. I guess it could be both but I thought it was kind of weird that the only non-feminine marker I could think of was “delinquent” so I took a look.
And frankly, I couldn’t figure anything out. It gave me a bunch of series I had watched, like Nozaki-kun but for the life of me I couldn’t figure out who the tomboy was. And then I realized that the tag was being applied in two completely different ways. And neither would have occurred to me.
Apparently as far as anime is concerned a Tomboy is either a Prince girl or a well…you’ll see. Let me try to explain this a bit better.
First, I think it’s important to remember that most anime is set in high schools or middle schools. And that all schools in Japan have a uniform. This is important because it means that clothed can’t really be used to divide tomboys from the rest as easily unless you find an excuse to have her wear the boy’s uniform and that’s going to be a big deal. That’s where the Prince archetype usually comes in.
The Prince girl is well, a prince. She’s often mistaken physically for a boy (something I had never really seen with the good ol tomboys I grew up with. The fact that they were clearly girls but not seen as feminine was an important part of the trope) and is often considered very attractive by other girls and also me. Often calm, gentle, understanding and cool, the Prince girl is framed as a net positive most of the time. It’s a character you kind of want to be like or at least want to be with.
No one would ever tell a Prince girl that they need to be more feminine. Unless it’s a very serious drama and the parents want her to get married and have kids or something. Basically, the only example I could think of is Sweet Blue Flowers and those were some very specific circumstances.
So although the Prince girl does fit the trope by strict definition the impact is completely different than the tomboys I grew up with. These girls aren’t really conflicted with societal expectations. They don’t have any lingering identity issues for the most part. There is no underlying idea that they will “grow out of it” or find true love and become more feminine. They also don’t necessarily have anything against traditionally feminine markers, it’s simply not their default style.
I have noticed that Prince girls aren’t exactly one of the boys. They often have the same social groups as other girls and enjoy their company so I would think they have quite a few things in common. The difference is usually more in the temperament of these girls rather than their interests and abilities.
On the other hand, we do have what I’m lovingly calling the jerk. Like I’ve already established, clothes aren’t a great way to mark a girl as not feminine in anime. And interests are tricky as well. Students in Japan are highly encouraged to join school clubs, In fact, it’s obligatory in some schools. And as such most schools have several sports teams for girls and other activities. If all the girls are forced to join a club then a lot of Japanese students will have grown up alongside sporty girls, girls that repair cars or are part of the robotics club. There’s nothing special about that.
I really haven’t noticed anything you would consider as a gendered interest in anime, aside maybe from being an otaku and then you’re a nerd and not a tomboy. Moreover, with the CGDCT genre often being aimed at girls in school clubs or exploring hobbies, and with so many shows coming out in that genre, we’ve already seen cute girls do everything from getting obsessed with motorcycles to being high stakes gamblers and rugged outdorsmengirls. To anyone that has been watching anime for a while, seeing a girl say she wants to join the woodworking club instead of home ec isn’t going to clue them in that she’s supposed to be a tomboy.
And that’s extra super cool. No really! I love that about anime. I honestly remember so many girls don’t like that type of stuff or girls aren’t interested in that type of stuff when I was growing up and I missed out on so much cool shizz because of that. I mean I figured out it was nonsense at some point and then just did whatever I felt like anyways but it took me a bit. I’m obedient, what can I say…
OK, so if this second type of tomboy can’t be identified through clothes, interests or skills, then what is it. Well, it’s attitude. All about the attitude. You see, Nozaki-kun is a fantastic example, that’s why I’m singling it out, because it has both types of tomboys. When I set out to understand why it was on the list I got confused as some sources listed one character and others listed another. The first is resident Prince girl in love with her senpai: Kashima. She’s there because she’s really tall and lots of people think she’s a super hot guy. She also thinks her crush wants to be wooed like in a shoujo manga because of a series of goofy misunderstandings so she’s trying to act like a leading man. She’s not very good at it.
But the second tomboy is Seo. This confused the heck out of me. Seo is very feminine-looking. She’s the curviest of the cast I think. Long hair small waist. Her hobby is singing and she has the voice of an angel. She’s very close to Chiyo and friendly with most of the cast but she’s also shown to be only romantically interested in boys. In almost every respect, Seo is the image of femininity, why is she a tomboy. Well, it’s cause she kind of rude.
Apparently, it’s a masculine trait to be rude. Which is hilarious. It would mean that the super popular North American queen bee archetype (mean girls and all that) would all be tomboys in anime. there’s something super funny about that to me. I’m not sure what.
I’m just giving you an assortment of random information here and you can derive your own meaning from it. What I got though, and the reason I’m writing this post is that Japan while having a very traditional and conventional idea of femininity nevertheless doesn’t confine female characters in the same way other cultures do. And that is very interesting to me. You can have a character like Olivier Armstrong, a badass military leader and beautiful woman, and her gender isn’t even an issue in the story. It doesn’t matter at all and it doesn’t make her less feminine in any way. She isn’t a tomboy. Now if her table manners were off…