Digging into the Mystery of Mysterious Characters

The “mysterious, incomprehensible woman” character type in anime is normally relegated to…well, a woman. So, I was thinking – is this type really as restrictive as we think it is? Can I trace it back to something?

The return of Golden Kamuy (henceforth GK) brings the return of Inkarmat, the woman who uses her fox jaw to tell fortunes. The general way she’s treated in the story – like she’s unattainable and never fully comprehensible – reminded me of Miyokichi in Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu (henceforth SGRS)…”But why?” I thought to myself. Thus, a post was born.

Sidebar: The right words would be “femme fatale”, but for some reason I feel like they don’t fit Miyokichi. This is because I’ve thought of Miyokichi as being characterised like a force of nature at times, rather than a woman. Also, one of the main attractions of a “femme fatale” character is their ability to seduce men, which is the only part that doesn’t quite match what I’m trying to describe.

The first thing you have to notice about the series I mention is they’re both historically-based and told from a male perspective, so women don’t show up that often (there’s probably more similarities than that, but that’s all that’s necessary to understand the post). SGRS‘s Kikuhiko treats all women as unattainable because he’s basically married to his rakugo and dealing with Sukeroku, while most women in GK are treated in the same way as Inkarmat for some reason or another due to exactly how manly the show paints itself. (After all, between the hunting, wrestling bears and other survival stuff, you can’t get more manly than that.) Women are in their homes – or expected to be in their homes – doing domestic or childrearing stuff, especially since they’re still trying to recover after the war.

For GK specifically, the closest match to Inkarmat is either Sugimoto’s friend’s wife, who’s a character that provides Sugimoto’s backstory but doesn’t appear all that often, or Kano, who could be interpreted as transgender (for reasons the work doesn’t explain). This is probably why GK treats Inkarmat as such – she’s the only woman around Sugimoto’s age we as viewers actually see, and a fortune-teller at that, so either way we’re not going to discover much about Inkarmat’s secrets. To add to that, she wears a fox pelt and is characterised like one, right down to her makeup almost looking like a kitsune, which plays into the mysterious, almost supernatural aura she exudes.

For SGRS, the series is shown as a multi-generational tragedy of sorts, centring mostly around Yakumo 8th and the art of rakugo, so it makes sense the women shown are all treated the same way. It wouldn’t be far-fetched to say Kikuhiko may have developed a general dislike of women from Sukeroku’s antics with them, either, and kept that throughout his life.

Basically, how these women are framed is dependent on the narrator and context. So is there a way to frame individuals who aren’t women in the same way? Of course, it’s just all in the treatment of the character.

For instance, take Kado. The same kind of unattainability could be applied to zaShunina due to the anisotropic being’s inhuman nature. It’s a bit of an extreme example, but it serves to drive home what the metaphor is in the other works – women are basically alien to Sugimoto and Kikuhiko because they’re often only concerned with their own lives and, in most other cases, only deal with men.

Hmm…this idea was a bit difficult to work with, because I didn’t know whether I wanted to open the floodgates to ojou-sama characters, which aren’t quite what I’m thinking of when I specify ‘mysterious woman character’, but can sometimes have a similar level of unattainability due to how rich and/or sheltered they are.

However, this particular character isn’t restricted to anime – putting the words “femme fatale” to it really makes it make some more sense, but not entirely. Can you think of any?

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