Mostly I’m loving Teen Wolf‘s Season 5 with the Dread Doctors. (MANY SPOILERS AHEAD.) They are legit creepy-ass mofos and the “operations” they perform are frightening. I also adore the idea of a book that changes your reality after you read it. It’s a wonderful metaphor for what writers try to achieve, and bonus that it’s super spooky.
But while the main storyline is tearing up viewer veins with adrenaline, my favorite character, Kira, is suffering some incredibly poor storytelling and treatment. Not totally surprising because she’s a female wielding a sword.
Jesus, this thing is stupid. I get it. She needed a way to carry the sword that wouldn’t bring attention to it. But think about it: how many inches around the belt line is Arden Cho? 26 inches? 30? Do you know how long the sword would therefore be? Your arm. Not much longer than your dad’s favorite bread knife. Compare that to my iaito, an actual albeit unsharpened katana, which is 40 inches. I mean, there’s dope, and then there’s dopey. This is the latter.
But whatever. Let’s just pretend this isn’t ludicrous. I mean, idiotic weapons seem to be the norm in film and TV these days. If they want to turn Teen Wolf into Batman Lite, fine. There are more serious problems with the character this season that reflect the typical biases against women with swords.
The Sword Girl Ghetto
Speaking as an experienced swordswoman, I’ve written before about how Kira is portrayed as a fancypants sword juggler that can’t hit the broadside of a barn when she should be the most powerful character on the show. (If you haven’t read my previous Kira article, you should before commenting on this one.) With so many fantastic, competent female fighters in the series, this seems strange. Why does she have this problem? I’ll answer that question in a minute.
In Season 5, before Kira arrives, Stiles and Scott discuss how Scott has hardly heard from her all summer. Despite the glut of life-threatening horrors they face on an ongoing basis, he isn’t worried? At all? Not even that she might have met someone else? The extreme implausibility of this boggles the mind. Sure, they haven’t been attacked in six months. But it doesn’t logically follow that Kira, too, experienced nothing on the East Coast.
She later reunites with Scott under the bridge before they head to the Senior Scribe event in the library. A creature battle ensues. She whips out this crazy sword belt thing and no one bats an eyelash. Who made it? How? And why does this thing not slice the living shit out of her belt loops? There is zero discussion of where the sword came from or who she was with in New York that could have made it. Maybe it will come out later, but so far her story’s gotten short shrift.
The worst part is that it’s clear during their fight with the creature under the bridge that she hasn’t learned a thing about how to use her sword over the summer. Unlike Scott and Theo, she doesn’t get in a single real blow. She makes two dinks as the bad guy brushes away her blade. No cuts. She then lies on the ground for the rest of the fight. While every other character on the show has grown, she still sucks.
Hold On There Little Miss
Thankfully, when they’re battling Tracy the Kanima, Kira’s sword finally makes effective contact with something. She cuts off the kanima’s tail.
FFS THEY FINALLY LET KIRA HIT SOMETHING WITH HER DAMNED SWORD YAY JESUS #TeenWolf
— Maria Alexander (@LaMaupin) July 7, 2015
This is the second time in three seasons that they let her actually hit something, and finally she did it on her own merit. Compare that, however, to Malia. Or Kate. Or, hell, ANYONE AT ALL. They’ve reigned in Kira so tightly, either it doesn’t matter that she’s there or it’s a disaster (e.g., their visit to Eichen House).
Then, just after she shows a glimmer of competence, she’s turns evil. She suddenly becomes this Kitsune Flambé that almost delivers a killing strike to Tracy. Scott stops her because it’s not okay in his book to kill the kids who’ve been operated on by the Dread Doctors. We don’t kill the victims. Fair enough.
But the message is clear: a woman with a blade must either be incompetent or straight up evil. There is no in-between. That’s consistent with the messages we get in most photos, drawings, TV and film dealing with women wielding swords. It’s getting a wee bit better in TV, but Kira is one of the weaker portrayals.
More to Come
Granted, it’s only a third of the way through the season. And believe me when I say how much I love the Dread Doctors storyline so far. They are fantastic villains, beautifully conceived and created by the writers and designers. I’m also enjoying Liam’s growth and the inclusion of his friend Mason. The actors are all very talented and fun to watch.
The show’s been accused of whitewashing its characters, and there is definitely some truth to that. However, I could totally relate to Kira complaining that she’s both Japanese and Korean yet she can’t speak either language. I experienced something similar growing up. My father was fluent in both Greek and English, yet never taught my sister and I a single word of Greek. The only connection I had to my heritage — besides its relentless misogyny — was the food. We see the food thing in Kira’s family, too.
Still, I’d like to see her develop in a way that’s not framed by her relationship to Scott without demonizing her. They’ve been able to do this with Allison, Malia, Lydia — pretty much every other female teen on the show. Why not the girl with a sword?
I probably won’t get my wish, given the plot telegraphing, but I’ll keep my fingers crossed until the end.
I now have a term “Sword Girl Ghetto” and you are right about so many limited portrayals.
I wish there was no term, you know? And you read my other article about photos and drawings of women with swords, right? I hesitate to say they’ve sexualized Kira, but it’s borderline because of her relationship with Scott.
Agreed! But now with a name to it, we can call it out.
I was sort of impressed that her mother finally – FINALLY – seemed to do something proactive with her. You’d think she’d be a lot more interested in actually telling her about what she can do and who she is and working with her but this is basically the first time we’ve seen her do anything that wasn’t practically forced out. It also annoyed me that when she asked Scott to check her aura he lied to her when she clearly knew something was wrong – if he’d told her, she could have gone to her mother and asked about it. Not that she’s ever really done that before, of course. I love her relationship with her dad, but everything about how she and Noshiko relate to each other annoys the hell out of me.
And you know… it’s actually only now that I clicked what the hell was with her belt because the idea of her belt being her sword was just so freaking implausible that it didn’t occur to me. (I can’t always see what’s happening properly because of how dark the lighting is, it’s extremely annoying.) I thought the only special thing about it was that she shot a grappling wire or something out of it and was confused why that made it so important! I guess that explains why her sword suddenly has a bunch of holes in the blade…
I know, right?!? Jesus, Mom! Where the HELL have you been for three damned seasons?
In that two-minute (if that) sequence between her and her mom, they do TWO of the four dumbest things ever done with swords in film and fiction:
1) IT IS PHYSICALLY IMPOSSIBLE TO DRAW A KATANA FROM YOUR BACK. PERIOD.
2) Practicing with sharp blades is both impractical and idiotic for lots of reasons. (Although, can’t blame mom for wanting to take a chunk out of her.)
The linked article is short and worth reading. Also: SHE LOST HER SWORD? AGAIN? WTF? I just hope that her character arc entails some mastery and reconciliation. Otherwise, this characterization is ultimately misogynistic.
Anyway, you’re absolutely right about the lighting, too. Sometimes it’s great and creates the perfect, ghastly mood, but then we lose chunks of the action in the murk. Maybe it’s just as well with poor Kira.
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