Manic Pixie Dream Ninja Girl: TMNT (2012): “New Girl In Town” (Spoilers)

So there had been a lot of discussion in the lead up to this episode about Karai–how her design looked, what approach would be taken with her, what her personality would be like.  Now, with the episode finally upon us, I can say two things with certainty.

I like this incarnation of Karai.

I don’t like that this characters is actually supposed to be Karai.

Yes, yes: new incarnation, new rules.  April established the precedent: if she could be turned from a young adult into a teenager, then Karai can transformed from a somber, all business ninja into Young Justice‘s Cheshire.  And yet, I don’t feel that the two are equivalent.  To me, April’s core is that she is the turtles’ everywoman friend and confidante, which is something that can be shown no matter her age or profession.  With Karai…

I suppose it’s the 4Kids’ cartoon’s fault.  Their version of Karai, when one gets down to it, is also rather drastically different from her original comic book incarnation.    To quote myself…

However, there are two notable changes to her character: not only is she no longer a mom, she instead the Shredder’s adopted daughter. While the first one doesn’t really have much of an effect except to make her substantially younger—she comes across as somebody in her early- to mid-twenties here, while her original version had to have been somewhere around thirty five–the second shifts her role immensely, turning her into a foil for the turtles by allowing the series to explore the question of what would have happened to them had they been raised differently, by a person whose teachings did not align with hir actions.

However, even with these changes, it made sense to me for the ninja character introduced in season 2 of that ‘toon to be Karai, as she is introduced playing the role that the original Karai played in the original “City at War” storyline.  Not only that, I feel that despite their differences, they share a voice; faced with similar circumstances, I see them reacting in much the same way.

However, here it feels like the character may have been taken a step too far, in a way that makes me wonder why she couldn’t have been an entirely new character.  Yes, she is meant to be the Shredder’s daughter, but that, to me, never felt like a core part of Karai–just a core part of her 4Kids incarnation.  It gives me the feeling that the creators feel that Karai can be reduced to “the Shredder’s daughter”–or worse, as “the female Foot Ninja”, which feels like missing the point of the character.

And it’s a shame, too.  I mentioned after the pilot that I appreciated that the writers had seemingly decided to make Karai and the Shredder’s daughter–who was by then being referred to as “Oroku Miwa”–two different people; I thought that having one more woman in the Foot than what we usually get would be a rather good thing, and would allow for a version of Karai more in tune with the original while still allowing for all those good plot points that come about by giving The Shredder a daughter .  However, that no longer seems possible, which means not only that fans of Karai don’t actually get her, but that it’s very likely that she will now again have to bear the burden of being a Strong Female Character.

As for the episode itself…

Like I said, I liked Karai.  I’m less sure of her interactions with Leo, which feel a tad artificial, as if both characters have already decided that they know each other without actually getting to know each other.  I’m also not a fan of how the writers imply that a bond with one of the turtles must be romantic in nature.  Still, she’s an interesting character, the most competent villain we’ve gotten so far, and she helped make this what is probably my favorite episode so far.

Random Thoughts:

  • A lot of e-ink has been spilled writing about Karai’s design, and I have to say, that personally, I like it, in theory.  There’s some stuff about it which would have looked fine in hand-drawn animation, and less so on CGI–specifically the hair, which looks stiff and helmet-y here–but aside from that, it’s mostly fine.
  • With Karai now here, the number of women with actual roles to play in the show has risen to a grand total of…two.  While progress is progress, the fact that it took fourteen episodes to get this far remains nothing short of shameful.
  • Snakeweed’s survival in the pilot had left me scratching my head a bit–I didn’t see him as the sort of villain with potential to be developed further.  He seemed, basically, tailor-made to fill in the role Cinderblock and Plasmus played in the Teen Titans cartoon: big, destructive, time-filling villain.  Given what we see of him this episode: yup.
  • While I’ve been on the record about how much I don’t like April / Don, I did quite like Leo and April’s interaction here.  It feels unforced and fun.
  • This incarnation of Raph has always felt like a bully, and this episode did absolutely nothing to change that.  Yes, some amount of teasing between siblings is to be expected (although not necessarily accepted), however, Raph’s propensity to threaten violence over every single thing and the way the show plays it for comedy  feels incredibly wrong, and is the episodes only major misstep.
  • Aside from that, the B-plot was fine.  A bit less subtle than I’d like, but then I’ve already come to accept that TMNT don’t do subtlety.

7 Responses to Manic Pixie Dream Ninja Girl: TMNT (2012): “New Girl In Town” (Spoilers)

  1. Scott says:

    I think the 4kids version of Karai has almost become the default version now, over the Mirage one. That’s why every incarnation now depicts Karai as Shredder’s daughter rather than having no relation to him and being a leader herself.

    4kids cartoon: Had Karai as Saki’s adopted daughter

    4th TMNT movie: Never mentioned in the movie itself, but on the Playmates figure it said she was the daughter of Shredder.

    IDW comics: She is Shredder’s granddaughter

    Nick: Again, she’s Shredder’s daughter (although its probably likely she’s Miwa as well)

    I guess the whole idea of Karai’s Mirage origin has been thrown out the window in favor her being Shredder’s daughter in every incarnation now. Also kind of funny how Lotus Blossom in the original toon shares so many similarities to her, even down to the Leo crush.

  2. Ian says:

    Hello, Scott. You now officially hold the record for being the person to most quickly respond to a post of mine. Thank you. 🙂

    Yes, that bit has become more or less the default, hasn’t it? It’s a development that leaves me a bit cold, to be honest–with the exception of the actual 4Kids version, it feels superfluous most of the time–heck, her film incarnation loses nothing if one doesn’t know that particular bit of info (and personally, I choose to ignore it.)

    I’ve never seen any of the Lotus Blossom episodes, so I’ll have to take your word for it regarding similarities. Could you expand on what you believe those are?

  3. thatotherguy says:

    As someone who’s enjoyed this show more than you have (which is fine, you have your right opinions) I don’t completely understand your complaints about the number of female characters in this show, especially considering your fandom of the 2k3 series (which I also really liked).

    There are probably more background characters from the 2k3 series that are female (honestly, I rarely pay attention to background characters in any show) but in terms of main and recurring characters?

    I can name five: April, Karai, Angel (who I believe was limited to something like 4 appearances in 7 seasons), Quarry/Sydney (One of the monsters from the underground city, appears in only 4 episodes – the initial three parter from that arc and a season 2 episode), Joy (Season 5 only, existed mostly as a love interest for Raphael, and if you ever review season 5, I may post a major rant about her and the other acolytes a specific one of those episodes), and Starly (Recurring character in Fast Forward in which she does…nothing).

    By this point in the 2k3 series, only April, Angel, and Quarry had appeared. Angel had gotten her first episode and Quarry had gotten her 3 episodes. We don’t even know her name by this point. Honestly, in terms of female characters, this version of Karai has already been given more character development than either Angel or Quarry ever would be given, and she already has more of a purpose than either Joy or Starly.

    Other than that your critiques of this show have been more or less accurate as far as I’m concerned, I just don’t think I’m as bothered by them as you are.

  4. Loudo says:

    Actually if we count female characters that *speak* in the first 14 episodes of 2k3 TMNT we have:
    1) April (major character)
    2) a TV reporter (only a voice in these first episodes, but she will appear later on and is a recurring character)
    3) a lady Casey Jones helps (almost a background character, but she speaks)
    4) the scientist who created Nano (recurring character and has an important role)
    5) a member of the Council of the Utroms (recurring character and has an important role)
    6) Angel (recurring character, arguably a major character)
    7) Angel’s grandmother (very minor character, but she is relevant to the plot, she’s not just a background element, and she is actually seen and speaks)
    8) a lady the Turtle Titan helps (almost a background character, but she speaks and inspires Mikey to get a costume)
    9) Sydney (though technically we discover she’s a girl only in the 15th episode, recurring character, arguably a major character).

    No one denies that major female characters are scarse in the 2k3 show, but at least they do not seem to be a minority instead of 50% of the population.

  5. Ian says:

    Hello The Other Guy. I can always appreciate constructive feedback. : )

    Your observation that 2k3 series was far from perfect when it comes to female characters is well taken, as is the point that I consistently criticize one series more than the other. While I won’t say a double standard doesn’t exist, because it does–I didn’t care about this issue back when the older series was airing, meaning that I did not find its problematic aspects as glaring back then as I do these problematic elements now–I also feel that there are substantial differences in the way both series deal with the issue which go beyond pure numbers.

    Yes, female characters in the 4Kids series are far outnumbered by male characters–especially in the last two seasons, which are just as shameful as the Nick series in this regard. Yes, the series very rarely passes the Bechdel Test. Yes, it continues the tradition of fridging Tang Shen. Yes, women are barely represented in several groups (Foot Clan), or not represented at all (Triceratons, as far as we know). And yes, by its fourteenth episode, it had only managed to introduce three prominent female characters (and Nano’s creator, who is important but not prominent). These are all criticisms that can be levied at that series, and things I wish had been different.

    However, there are also a bunch of things I feel it does right. With Quarry / Sydney, it pushes back against the idea of men as the default gender. With Abigail Finn, it pushes against the idea that women have an “normal” body type. I also like that it does stuff like making Chikara the Ninja Tribunal member embodying physical strength, and that it establishes opposite-sex bonds that aren’t sexual in nature (although shippers may rather naturally disagree 🙂 ) .

    (Personally, I don’t think Joi was at all intended as a love interest for Raph.)

    There are also a few reasons why I think it’s more worthwhile to rail against the Nick series. First, new episodes are actually being produced, meaning that there’s actually a chance for improvement if enough people rail against the problematic elements. Second, I think its issues with women go deeper.

    First, there’s the issue with extras. I’ve mentioned this before, but part of the reason why these are important is because they help reveal the creators’ view of the world and what they consider “normal”. If a show, for example, were to portray New York as a city populated by uniformly white people, when the reality is that it is anything but, then its a solid indication that People of Color are not considered “normal” in the show’s worldview. Similarly, women make up fifty percent of the population, and a creator who wants to show a sample of humanity but doesn’t include them in those numbers reveals quite a bit about hir biases.

    (Note that almost no work actually portrays women in proportions resembling those existing in real life. Very few, like Avatar: The Last Airbender manage it or come close, while others, like Batman: The Dark Knight Rises, fall ridiculously short of the mark. The Nick toon is among the latter.)

    Now, it was rather clear from the beginning that the Nick cartoon didn’t start out with the resources to properly populate their version of New York. However, even that being the case, it was also clear that of the few extras we were getting, none of them were women until the reporter in the Leatherhead episode. It’s a stark contrast to the 4Kids toon, which while not Avatar:TLA level, has a fair amounts of diversity in its depiction of New York, as Loudo mentions.

    On a related note, since it plays into the same ideas of men as default and women as the exception there’s the matter that both April and Karai are pretty clearly positioned as love interests for the turtles, which is the sort of role which absolutely positively cannot be given to a guy.

    (Well, that’s obviously not true, or wouldn’t be if people in charge of animation weren’t cowards and finally admitted that gay people exist).

    Granted, they’re not just love interests, and the fact that they are is almost certainly among the lower-ranking reasons for their inclusion. However, the fact that they are hints at probable bias when it comes to the way the creators decide which characters to feature–that they, when faced with the question: “what gender should character X be?” are very likely to choose “male” unless there’s some reason for him not to be–which again, is presenting men as normal or default, and women as exceptions.

    Again, the 4Kids toon is far from perfect in this regard. However, it also has its share of characters, who are women because they’re women. Angel, for example. Quarry/Sydney. Abigail Finn. Viral. All of them could have been written as men, had the writers wanted to. In contrast, the Nick toon has no original female characters to their name, and the two characters that have been introduced have have had their love-interestness beefed up considerably–heck, the very first thing the writers tell us about April is that Don finds her hot. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with being a love interest, there is a problem when all of a work’s female characters are.

    There’s additional stuff, but this post is getting long enough as is, and would likely repeat stuff I’ve said elsewhere, so I’ll leave you with one final point. Even if one would make the case that both shows are equally as bad–or equally as good–when it comes to gender, I probably still find that unsatisfying and worthy of criticism. Being just as good means that no progress has been made, which when one thinks about it, is pretty dang disappointing.

  6. Ian says:

    …and then there’s what Loudo said. While consensus on which of the listed characters count as “major” (thank you, by the way 🙂 ) may be somewhat hard to establish, they, along with the extras in non-speaking roles, help make the argument that their world, like ours, is one where women–be they young or old, homeless or well-paid, victims or criminals–are normal.

  7. Pterobat says:

    This episode was a mess. Leo and Karai’s relationship was such blatant shipper bait, and even though they just met, it already seem like a whole bunch of stuff must have happened for them to get to the point where they are, er…”battle-flirting”, and *especially* for Leo to consider just meeting her alone. The result is something that feels rushed, unnatural, and totally insincere.

    Equally one-and-done are Leo’s troubles with leadership, or Raph taking charge. None of these rivalries and conflicts were engaging at all, and like always, they were dropped by the end of the episode.

    A major problem I’m having with this series is that there are several big conflicts, but they are started and stopped as the writers need them to, and the result is that it feels stagnant. What, exactly are the villains waiting for? When will we get an emotional issue that actually has some compelling payoff?

    As for Karai’s design, I was amazed at how much digital ink was spilled over it. i suppose it really is true that many fans will go ballistic if a female character has even the remotest of potentially unflattering traits.

    I didn’t have a problem with that, for the record.

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