The Problems with Kira and Her Katana on Teen Wolf

I love MTV’s Teen Wolf.

I know what you’re thinking. Shut up and read.

I’m not sure what it is about this show, but even when it’s bad (like parts of Season 4, alas), there’s always something wonderful about it — namely, the characters. For those not familiar with the series, it’s a relentlessly dark-sexy-bloody take on the “high school boy becomes a werewolf” story. The main character is Scott McCall, played by the utterly charming Tyler Posey. Scott’s an adorable kid who gets bitten by a big, bad alpha werewolf. But it turns out Scott’s a “natural alpha,” which we gather is because of his moral courage and loyalty to his loved ones. This grants him a special position in the supernatural realm. It’s totally Buffy the Vampire Slayer for this generation, complete with MTV hand-feeding each episode terrific new musical tidbits.

While Scott’s first romance with Crystal Reed’s character, Allison Argent, was delightfully squishy and heartbreaking, it’s his second romantic interest that I really adore: Kira Yukimura.

Played by the talented Arden Cho, Kira is brave, intelligent and achingly sweet all at once. Seriously, as much as I love Stiles, Scott, Lydia, Coach and the lot, Kira is my favorite.

She’s a supernatural creature by birth known as a thunder kitsune. This means she has the ability to control electricity — also known as “foxfire.” We see her do this repeatedly on the show. With her bare hands, she reforges a shattered katana given to her by her mother, who is a 900-year-old kitsune. That very katana becomes Kira’s personal weapon. She displays some flashy moves to Scott in one episode of Season 3b, explaining that she is “picking it up quickly.”

Unfortunately, no matter how much she swings at the bad guys, she isn’t effective with her weapon. And when she does hit them, she does no lasting damage except in the episode “The Divine Move.” Even then, she doesn’t deliver a fatal blow without Scott’s help subduing the bad guy. (Can you see me rolling my eyes?) Eventually, she’s able to use it to deflect arrows, which is okay, but that’s not hitting people or monsters.

This move here? You do this with a bo stick, not a sword. Bringing back the arms and turning away from your opponent? That’s actually a very weak position. There’s your katana lesson for the day.

If you’ve been reading this blog, you know I have a lot to say about women with swords and how they’re depicted in the media. In the  episode “Silverfinger,” which was beautifully researched and written by Moira McMahon Leeper, the characters learn that the pinky finger is the strongest in holding a sword…which is awesomely fucking true. The outer fingers anchor the tsuka. You don’t choke up on it like a bat, squeezing it with your thumb, index and middle fingers. I was really happy to hear this detail and enjoyed how it was used metaphorically in the plot.

What I’m not happy about is the flashy-splashy swordplay that they choreograph for Cho. Opposed to the bad guys with swords, she looks like a ballerina with a swizzle stick rather than a badass samurai. The katana is a two-handed sword. It “works” because it leverages the cross pressure of your opposing hands. But Kira is flinging that thing around with one hand like it’s made of paper. (And it might be, although it’s more likely aluminum.) The choreography of her fights doesn’t reflect any actual Japanese swordsmanship like Shinkendo, which would really make her look super freaking badass. While one can tell just by the way they let her choke up on the handle like a bat, it’s especially evident in that very scene with the arrow deflection. They have her chopping downward repeatedly rather than down and up in a natural kiriagi pattern, which would have been much faster and more elegant. (And, again, more badass.)

I suppose it’s possible that the MTV execs just don’t want her to look too scary. But that would be weird because the other women in the show — especially the werewolves — are incredibly tough fighters. You see them take down one opponent after the next without breaking a sweat. In fact, I otherwise totally dig the fight choreography. It’s always exciting, brutal and engaging, no matter who’s slashing whom. It’s another reason I love the show.

As mentioned in my admission about the character Michonne, I’m willing to let a lot slide if the audience perceives the character as strong. I’m sure fans see Kira that way. In my opinion, the things that make her strong have little to do with her fighting ability. But here’s the thing that super fucking annoys me:

WHY DOESN’T SHE RUN FOXFIRE INTO HER KATANA?

Because here’s the thing: let’s say she’s even somewhat effective with her katana. If she channeled foxfire into the nakago (tang) and therefore into the blade (a ready and perfect conduit), she would be arguably the most dangerous character on the show. Are they keeping her from doing this on purpose? Or have they not thought of it? We all know about the foxfire. It’s not a secret. In the episode “Weaponized,” she even loses control of it temporarily. If it were an ability she needed to work on harnessing, wouldn’t she totally be focused on trying to turn that katana into a megawatt-shitting electrical weapon? She knows how electricity affects the werewolves. She would have figured this out. (And if she didn’t think of it, Lydia sure as hell would’ve.) She could have definitely dealt with those Berserkers that she and Liam were messing with so feebly. She could have also got the whuppin’ on Kate. (Come to think of it, in the fight scene where she was wielding a chain, the same thing applies.)

But no.

I have been a major pain in the ass to a friend who is a co-producer on the show. I feel terrible for bugging him about this. But by all rights, Kira should be a far more powerful character at this point. I know that Cho has studied swords of some kind as part of her extensive martial arts training, but that only makes her easier to work with. It doesn’t let her enact the full power of the character if it’s not written for her. It’s possible Jeff Davis and his writers are still trying to figure out foxfire, but I kind of doubt that.

Of course, I’m also assuming they’ve thought of this possibility. Maybe they haven’t.

So, here’s my appeal to Sensei Davis. Man, I love your show. You’re great. Everybody’s great. Please let the genie out of the bottle and have Kira don her true badassery.

Domo arigato gozaimashita.

(Follow Up: “Kira, That Dopey Belt, and the Sword Girl Ghetto“)

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17 thoughts on “The Problems with Kira and Her Katana on Teen Wolf

  1. As much as audiences love the female action hero, there are unspoken rules, expectations, and stereotypes (tropes) that govern how the female action hero is portrayed. One of the rules is that she cannot be the strongest, otherwise there is a risk of losing audience. Some men will hate the female hero for it and some women will be unable to identify with her.

    Concerns come up such as:

    o why would she want to do that?
    o where is her husband? And more importantly, is it ok with him that she’s an action hero?
    o she seems cold
    o she’s surrendering her femininity
    o she’s no different than a man

    As to fighting style, it stuns audiences to see (read) a female use a blade in the way it is meant to be used (by men). To see such unladylike body movement can verge on being seen as frightening and even insane. This kind of power is reserved for the alpha-male.

    At bottom, the psychology of a female warrior is something few books and hardly any films delve into at any level. The female sidekick is understood to be the (male) hero’s friend. The trope in many books and films (such as “The Samurai Trilogy”) is for a final battle toward the end of the book–maybe some kisses after the duel–and it jars most readers to see that the proverbial “last man standing” is a woman.

  2. There’s a lot of truth here. The show, however, does have an extraordinarily scary and powerful female villain at the moment, who has risen above the alpha males on the show. She’s the third in a succession of scary-ass chicks to terrify and challenge the characters each season, plus she’s been a scary-ass character on the show from the beginning. I’m beginning to wonder if it’s a combination of race, the sword women issue you describe, and just poor world building. As you probably already know, Asian cultures tend to portray female martial artists more formidably. Americans aren’t as comfortable with female martial artists, with a few exceptions. Our stereotype of Asian women as tiny, delicate flowers might be at play here. (I was just searching for articles about Teen Wolf on Racialicious, and didn’t find anything about Kira per se. There’s still time.) But at the end of it all, Teen Wolf has had some major plot problems, this last season being the most painful. This could be nothing more nefarious than, “Oops! We created a character too powerful for this story arc. Let’s pretend we didn’t do that.” At least until they can justify bringing in her strength.

    If they can, I bet that’s when she becomes a foe.

    • Interesting! If you’ve ever read my fiction, you’d see I can’t be one to talk about messing with myth. 🙂 I’m pretty guilty of that myself. But I do love to hear more about new-to-me myths like this one. Thanks for that!

      • The kitsune in particular is a creature I’ve done a lot of research on due to my own projects. There are many who promote the idea that kitsune are alligned to one of 13 elements, but that is simply untrue and the source of that info is a solitary shrine maiden–not the traditional stories.

        Nogitsune do, however, exist in lore. They are fox spirits who do not follow the path of Inari, often tricksters and mean spirited to human perception.

        A kitsune is not inherent good or evil.

      • Yes. And there’s varying types of fox creatures depending on the country. Vietnam, China, Korea all have their own version. I believe, also, India, somewhere has the fox in their lore too.

  3. Somebody really should point out to producers that women have served in war for many centuries. There is a very good recent programme on the public channels about the women who served America in combat since the Revolution. Not to mention the Legion of Death (WWI) and all the Russian women snipers and the “Nachthaxen” (as the Germans called them) night bombers who flew unarmored open cockpit planes against German troops at night. There is a HEMA group called “Esfinges” comprised of swordswomen from all over the world. Plenty of opportunity to learn a thing or two.

      • I’d say some are good examples, but not all. It was specifically a terrible Esfinges/HEMA photo I saw on their Facebook page that pushed me over the edge to write the original article. Because it’s not a living art per se, some folk have no idea how to use or treat a live blade properly. That’s when they fall into some habits where it appears they have no respect for or real understanding of the weapon, and hence look demeaned without even realizing it. It’s just something to keep in mind. I wouldn’t recommend that TV producers seek out these groups. I’ve trained with some excellent professional fight choreographers that would be far more appropriate and effective, especially Anthony DeLongis, who is a black belt in my Shinkendo dojo. He is a seasoned sword choreographer who could seriously straighten out much of the nonsense here and for a reasonable price. But often producers don’t feel they can afford people like him. I wish we could clear up that misconception.

      • Just scanned the Esfinges FB page and didn’t see anything that matches your description. Are you referring to someone holding a katana, or a longsword? While there are some postures that are similar, the techniques are very different. And to condemn an entire group of people on the basis of one pcture seems pretty extreme. I know Mr DeLongis is a good fight choreographer with a great breadth of knowledge, but a black belt in shinkendo doens’t make him an expert in longsword, and I think he’d be the first to say so.

      • This was almost two years ago. They might have even taken down the photo, which was of a woman putting her fingers on the blade of a rapier. And I didn’t condemn a whole group based on one picture. I said that some of them are good examples, but not all. Accuracy, as ever, is important.

        Also, your comment appears here under a post about the Teen Wolf character, Kira, and her katana. So, I was talking specifically about katana work. A black belt in Shinkendo would, indeed, give him the expertise he needs to straighten out Kira’s character. I apologize if there was a misunderstanding.

      • In rapier technique, grabbing the blade is not uncommon. There are wide variations in how much of a raper blade was sharp, but it was a standard tactic to hold on to your opponent’s blade while you maneuvered for a thrust or cut or a disarm.
        I was referring to your comment that you wouldn’t recommend HEMA people for stagefight instruction. A number of HEMAtists have made the point that, based on experience, real fights don’t last very long. Which is as true of Asian as well as European weapons. While this may be the case, there is no reason why authentic historical technique cannot be choreographed exactly the same way as current stagefight methods.

      • I know about the blade grabbing, but that’s not what she was doing. Trust me. And, no, real fighting techniques are far too dangerous, especially if you’re working with actors who aren’t as experienced as the stunt people, but to stunt people, as well. This is a common misconception. I’ve worked with the difference, and I can tell you it’s a very bad idea. Please check out the conversation I had on the original article on this topic for more information. Thanks!

  4. Maybe she will like said she is still learning and in the episode that she almost killed the guy until scott stoped her she is probably still learning about her power and ability and they really don’t have to make her that strong she could eventually send electricity threw her blade or a chain or whatever but they can male her have limits like everything else she can only use so much electricity until she drains herself or something but I agree she should learn to do that and I think it would be badass to show sometimes her and scot training and become stronger together him be able to withstand some electricity or something but to just see them running through the woods him as a wearwolf her with that awesome foxfire cloaking her with her katana and they become stronger and she learns to control her power and abilities they showed a little when scot was being thought and then scott teaching his I guess protege but they can show how she can also hear and smell things or something like when she learned and was focusing on her mother that told her how she can heal like the other’s just saying it would be badass to see her and Scott running threw the woods training and her enveloped in the foxfire thing that you see now but they are starting to make her badass I believe I don’t know but I know I just can’t wait to see what happens when I see her pull the belt off and it becomes a sword and in the episode wear scott stoped her from killing that guy you can see she is getting stronger

    • Thanks so much for your comment, Timothy! Unfortunately, what’s actually happening on the show is that she’s at first totally incompetent and now suddenly she’s “too dangerous.” Seriously? This is really bad writing, and even insulting to the character. To your point(s), they aren’t showing her growth. It’s not part of the story. She just goes away to New York, gets a really dopey “sword belt” (I’ll write a post about why this is bad later), and suddenly the potentially most powerful character on the show is not allowed to use her power. Compare her to the development of Alison, Lydia, Malia, and any of the werewolves, male or female. Kira totally gets shortchanged. That’s how I see it, anyway.

      Maybe you should write some fanfic showing the things they’ve left out! 🙂

  5. Pingback: Kira, That Dopey Belt, and the Sword Girl Ghetto | Maria Alexander

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