I knew the moment I sat down to watch Cross Ange: Rondo of Angel and Dragon, I knew that I would end up doing a blog post on its titular lead. There are just those moments where you see a character who gets those creative ideas flowing. One that begs you to talk about them, or that just resonates with you. Even if that character doesn’t fully work, or ends up being one that seems to be balanced on the edge of a knife. And with that said, let’s take a look at the lead character of Cross Ange: the titular Ange after the cut!
‘Strong Female Character’ is probably the most overdone and frankly unrealized archetype that prevails in the western entertainment sphere. While there are instances of good work done, too often it is a source of lazy writing and a way to placate ideologies and fan bases with doing minimal work. Too often female characters who are considered ‘strong’ are written to be one dimensional, constantly angry at the world, better at everything than the other characters, and stripped of most of their femininity. They are almost like bubbled wrapped action figures, meant to cater to people who think that the above traits are all you need to be ‘well written.’
Readers of this blog might be familiar with the “Sarah Connor Conundrum” that I’ve brought up before. For those who aren’t, it goes something like this. The reason that Sarah Connor, the female lead of the Terminator film series, is so beloved is not JUST because she is a take-no bullshit, 100% badass. It is that the film series, specifically the first two (and only good) entries give her a full and well done character transformation that justifies who she ends up becoming. Sarah Connor is not just presented to us as the warrior she becomes, but instead we follow her transformation from a scared woman thrown into a situation she can barely comprehend, to that pillar of badassery.
We see moments of weakness, hesitation, disbelief, frustration and fear. In short we see her humanity, and it makes moments in T2, where she may have come off as arrogant, ignorant and yes, bitchy, not be that way. We got the whole picture, not just the ‘good parts’ cut up and given to us at the start. That is one reason why Terminator Genysis failed so much. It decided to skip right ahead to ‘badass Sarah’ without doing the work it needs to get there.
For Ange, our female lead of the series, we are thankfully given that journey. The Ange at the start is a spoiled, blissfully ignorant and unaware of what her world is. While she is kind and supportive, she is blinded by the brutal reality the Normas and the hell they go through. Then, when she is revealed to be Norma herself and is brutally cast aside, we see her go through the expected reactions. From the indignation of her situation, to the despair, the weeping, the desperate attempt to break free, and then trying to kill herself just to make it over. It is only when she comes to understand her mothers message: to fight and to live, that she decides to seize the hell she is in with her own two hands and ends up a better person for it.
These moments in the first episode do wonders to save Ange’s character from the pitfalls of this type of writing. Which is good, because without this, she comes off as a massive fucking bitch. Had Ange been presented as her new self at the start, with none of the backstory (or have it been fed to us later), she would have fallen into the same trap that other characters have, believing that being strong means rejecting everything that makes someone human. Instead by giving us the spoiled, entitled and desperate version at the start, Cross Ange makes her transformation more believable and helps the viewer empathize with her. What happens to Ange is cruel, horrible and deeply disturbing, and her change from a princess to hardened warrior is seen as a way to survive. Her rejection of connections, dismissal of her former life, and selfish, only out of myself attitude can be explained as a coping mechanism, a way for a girl who has been left behind to claw back some semblance of agency.
And yes, as the story goes on, Cross Ange remembers that these displays of humanity cannot just end at the start. Wisely, and to great benefit, the anime gives us several moments where Ange is able to let down her guard, and show us the person underneath. Everytime it might feel that Ange is leaning too hard into her hard-ass personality, when the ‘bitch’ line is about to be crossed, the show pulls back and lets you see othersides. When she is marooned with Tusk, or competing with Salako, we see glimpses of the woman underneath. One who is kind, eager to have fun, competitive to a fault and able to warm up to other people. Her despair at potentially losing both Tusk and Momoka shows that she has not abandoned all bonds or her womanhood. The kiss with Hilda shows an awareness and sensitivity to other feelings. She even shows mercy to her sister Silvia, understanding that they cannot go back to how things were before, but giving her the strength to stand on her own two feet, and pass on the words their mother gave to her. She even amidst her failings to Tusk, blatantly admitting she is bitter, stubborn and will triple down on her views when she wants, knowing full well that these are bad aspects of her. A level of self reflection often not seen in her contemporaries in the western world.
These moments of humanity, of Ange being a full realized character, not just a cardboard cut-out, help elevate her character from an interesting one, to a great one. It is not perfect of course, there are moments where her attitude seems counterintuitive to the plot, or just bitchy for bitchy’s sake. But what is important is that the anime has taken the time to SHOW you how she gets there, the path she has taken and why she has ended up this way. Then it does its best to remind you that a lot of Ange’s attitude is just a current state of mind, and that the person she was is still there, though now humbled and awakened to the state of the world.
Writing characters is difficult, and writing female characters is even more so. In today’s politically charged climate where everything is viewed under a microscope, it can be hard to play the long game. People wished to be validated, or be presented with what they want and not take the time to get there. Whether that is good or bad is up to the individual, but to me, I wish we had more characters who were like Cross Ange: Rondo of Angel and Dragons’ Ange. Like with Rin Tohsaka, Kurisu Makise and so many others, anime has not forgotten that strength doesn’t always come from the outside, and that a full complete story is needed to make viewers understand. Ange often feels like she is on the knife’s edge, but is thankfully a character who is given humanity, empathy and understanding, allowed to be a fully fledged human being, and not just a cardboard cut-out to placate this our that view.
At least that is what I think.