Kimiko is breath of fresh air in a film and television industry riddled with sexism and racism, especially when it comes to comic book movies.
In The Boys, Kimiko subverts four common television and movie tropes that the MCU has historically played into. The hit Prime Video superhero satire series The Boys, which follows the conflict between mortals (led by the vigilante group The Boys) and Supes (led by the corporation Vought), recently wrapped up its third season. Kimiko (Karen Fukuhara), a Supe member of the Boys, plays a major role in helping her fellow vigilantes secure a key weapon to use against a powerful Supe enemy.
The Boys expertly characterizes Kimiko as a determined, three-dimensional woman—a vast improvement from The Boys’ Female, her underdeveloped (and unnamed) comic book counterpart. However, many female characters in television and film fail to receive this same narrative treatment. Instead, they tend to fall into one of two tropes: the manic pixie dream girl—an eccentric, mysterious love interest—or the girlboss—a strong, often distant hero. Asian women are often further characterized by two parallel, race-specific (and overly sexualized) tropes: the lotus blossom—a submissive, soft-spoken woman—or the dragon lady—a venomous, sly seductress.
Kimiko successfully subverts all four tropes. Though Kimiko has a traumatic childhood that makes her unique and emotionally complex, she is never utilized as an eccentric prop—a manic pixie dream girl— to help self-actualize a male romantic interest. For example, in The Boys season 1, episode 6, “The Innocents,” Kimiko rebels against her infatuated coworker Frenchie (Tomer Capone) who treats her like a project, and Frenchie ultimately apologizes for trying to “fix” who his boss (Karl Urban) refers to as his “feral pixie dream girl.” Kimiko also could’ve been characterized as a girlboss, but The Boys showrunners are careful to balance out her Supe toughness with a realistic sensitivity, as demonstrated through her imagined dance number in The Boys season 3, episode 5, “The Last Time to Look on This World of Lies.” The Boys also avoids fetishizing Kimiko’s Asian heritage à la the lotus blossom or dragon lady trope by giving her verbal agency (through sign language) and prioritizing her physical autonomy, and by dressing her in loose-fitting clothing and characterizing her as a loyal friend, respectively.
Why Is It Difficult For Comic Book Movies To Get Female Superheroes Right?
Kimiko is a much-needed breath of fresh air in a film and television industry riddled with sexism and racism, especially when it comes to comic book movies. The comic book industry has historically been run by and geared toward straight white men, and despite recent progress, contemporary comic book movies continue to pander to their primary target demographic. The MCU is a repeat offender. Instead of thoughtfully adapting female characters from their outdated comic book counterparts (as The Boys does Kimiko), the MCU plays into sexist tropes, notably that of the girlboss. Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) is a primary example. In every movie she’s featured in (except her solo film which, unsurprisingly, is the only one written by a woman), Natasha dons a revealing, skin-tight suit and is reduced to a “boys will be boys” pseudo-feminist with little personality outside touting “girl power!”
The MCU is not innocent of tapping into Asian-fetishizing tropes, either. Prior to the release of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, the first Asian-led MCU film in the then-13-year-old franchise, there had never been an Asian (human) female main character in an MCU movie. Though Shang-Chi was certainly a major step toward diversity in the MCU, Asian actors and creative contributors on set still had to work around reductive hair and makeup choices. For example, Meng’er Zhang had to advocate for her character Xu Xialing not to have red hair streaks, a styling choice that plays into the dragon lady trope by associating bold style with campy rebelliousness (while lotus blossoms are often styled with natural hair symbolic of meekness). The MCU must reevaluate its approach to writing women and prioritize mindful, diverse storytelling like The Boys. Comic book screen adaptations need more Kimikos.