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The Art of Genderbending

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Sometimes adaptations of a work or cameos of previously established characters are less faithful than they could be for artistic reasons—adding scenes to expand the perspective of the story, altering the design of something for more practical or aesthetic purposes… changing the gender of a character? Yeah, okay. Why not? This is a hip, liberal age we’re living in. It’s been done all over the shop, from Sherlock Holmes to Hannibal to the Arthurian legends. It’s an interesting thing to do, but like many Interesting Things, it carries a lot of potential problems with its potential awesomeness.

As an example: Saber, undisputed queen (or rather king) of the Fate franchise, is King Arthur of the British legends. So, surprise! She was a girl all along! Arthur has been genderbent before, in reincarnations like Avalon High, but Fate’s case is that Arthur was a pseudonym for Arturia because a male ruler was more accepted, and so the fabricated truth is what went down in history and legend. It’s pretty awesome, nay, empowering, to suggest that one of the best known fictional figures in history was in fact a tiny girl.

However, given the treatment of her character and the original context of the Fate/Stay Night game (it’s got sexy bits because otherwise nobody would buy it… nowadays, there exists a censor patch so you don’t have to sit through them, because well-studied, jaded and eye-bleached sources tell me they’re so bad they’re an experience) I have to wonder if female empowerment was exactly what they had in mind when they wrote Saber as the Saber we know.

There’s definitely an element of girl power there—the most iconic scene in the entire franchise, possibly, is when Saber is summoned in Stay Night, standing radiant and strong in the moonlight in an armoured dress while the protagonist looks up in awe from where he’s fallen on his ass. But they spend the rest of the story periodically taking that image of power apart, which is not a bad thing in itself as character exploration, but the way it’s done comes off reeking of awkward sexism. Generally, when you’re genderbending a character, your first move should not be to smack them upisde the head with the gender roles you’re supposedly playing with. Continue reading

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