For Women’s History Month, we’re featuring the incredible women of anime, from studios to characters and timeless creators.
By Chelsea Cruz
For Women’s History Month, I wanted to showcase a woman who has brought us some of the best manga and anime ever, from her first work under a pseudonym to the timeless epic that is Fullmetal Alchemist.
I’m talking about none other than Hiromu Arakawa.
An accomplished artist, Arakawa-sensei writes and draws her own work. She’s also known for valuing her private life, often depicting herself as an adorable cow instead of her actual portrait. To the manga and anime world, she’s a legend.
When she was little, Arakawa made it clear she wanted to be a manga artist, all while tending to her family’s farm in Hokkaido. Growing up, she dedicated her time to assisting with chores around the farm while taking art classes. She even made doujin manga with a close group of friends.
In 1999, Arakawa explored her interest in manga further by moving to Tokyo and publishing her first work, Stray Dog, under a pseudonym. She has stated that the reason for her changing her name on published pieces was because she was writing shounen (often more popular with a male demographic).
She wanted her work to be taken seriously. At the time, women mostly wrote shoujo stories because female readers were expected to be more interested in emotional stories, as opposed to action.
A key influence on Arakawa was the work of Rumiko Takahashi (Ranma 1/2, Inuyasha), who marked the start of companies realizing that women were writing compelling shounen. Arakawa also stated that Takahashi’s Urusei Yatsura was a major influence. It was the first book she purchased herself.
Much of Arakawa’s work reflects farm life, pulling influence from her own childhood. This is mostly recognized in Noble Farmer, a biographical manga series, and in Silver Spoon, which features a main character attending an agricultural high school.
She’s also a self-appointed nerd as a fan of series like Star Wars and Indiana Jones. Her artistic style is met with her love of drawing muscular men and voluptuous women. You can see this in Fullmetal Alchemist (Hello, Armstrong family!).
And although she has plenty of work dating before Fullmetal Alchemist, it was this series that brought her into the spotlight, diving deep into themes of colonization and humanity.
The Law of Equivalent Exchange is a huge part of alchemy, but also draws correlation to farm life, in which you put work in and you’re rewarded in the end. Fullmetal Alchemist, later adapted into two anime series, was a simple story about two brothers wanting to see their mother smile again. They end up caught in a war between humanity, conspiracy and tyranny abound.
And Arakawa’s characters consistently defy the tropes of other shounen. She makes an effort to showcase strong female characters like Riza Hawkeye, Winry Rockbell and Izumi Curtis. Each of these women live independent lives and have careers. Not only that, but they kick butt when they need to.