‘Peril’ Revisited

 

By Brantley Thompson Elkins

 

It's been more than two and a half years years since I posted "The Perils of 'Peril'" here Jan. 11, 2008. A lot has happened since then, and yet the issue hasn't changed.The main thing that has changed is that Zen Pictures, the Japanese studio behind Astro Girl (Seasons 1 and 2) and Steel Angel has been cracking down on those who have posted clips from those TV movies at YouTube – they may pop up again, but not for long. The links that were the basis for discussion at Supersexyheroines and Superwomenmania are gone.

At Supersexyheroines, JonX had given a rave review to Astro Girl: American Heroine, then available through either a cumbersome (and often futile) download process or as a $75 DVD that was said to take at least five weeks to arrive and play only on Region 2 or Region 0 units. Some of his comments:

I really think that this is the best amateur film since the Steele’s Awakening. Whilst I’m not into Japanese girls, the actress playing Astro Girl (Delcea Mihaela Gabriela) is not only quite stunning but has got a cracking figure to play the superheroine.

The special effects and the fighting are great and especially with the strength scenes I always felt that Astro Girl really looked strong and invulnerable.

The bullet bouncing scenes were brilliant and Astro Girl’s reaction at the end and her dialogue throughout were good.

 

Despite the subtitle, Astro Girl was actually played by Delcea Mihaela Gabrierla, a Romanian who found her way to Japan somehow and has appeared in a number of movies there, She has a killer body and a face with real character. She is said to speak seven languages fluently, which suggests that she is really brainy, too. From JonX’s review, Astro Girl I seemed to be a dream come true for our kind of superheroine fans, as we can see from this shot, found – like the others below – at akiba-heroine.com, a Japanese site that now markets the videos:

 

 

The banned clip from which that image comes may be the best bullets-and-boobs footage ever; in other clips, a bullet flattens against her eye ą la Superman Returns (2006), and a knife turns into twisted metal against her abs, At superwomenmania, djitters sure thought he’d gotten his money’s worth from the complete video:

 

Based on JonX's valuable review I downloaded and watched the movie last night. I liked what I saw. I'd say the bullets bouncing off AstroGirl's chest scenes were worth the price alone, if I knew what the price was (I don't know what the conversion rate is from yen to US greenbacks). In any case, in addition to AstroGirl 2 it appeared from some other titles listed, there might some other films featuring Superwomen. Does anyone have more information on that?

That was despite seemingly obligatory peril scenes, like that here:

 

Here's how akiba-heroine.com explains it all:

 

Born in the far-away vanished planet, a beautiful girl who has superhuman powers travels to the Earth. The name is Astro Girl; She is strong as a train. She flies up in the sky. Her body bounces back bullets. She lives an ordinary life, disguising herself as a reporter and her mission is catch a drug lord. In the meantime, an invader arrives from outer space. It is the space monster Dosbellion who destroyed Planet Astro. Dosbellion has a stone named Minerva that harms Asrto Girl's body. During the fight, Desbellion uses his bowgun and shoots arrows made of Minerva stone,only weapon that penetrates her body. For the first time in her life, Astro Girl feels a pain and humiliated. And there is the mysterious big man. Astro Girl must fight her way through in this big crisis!

 

Encouraged by Astro Girl I, djitters downloaded Astro Girl 2, which also starred Gabriela, but in an entirely different costume than the first. Alas, the costume was not the only change: 

I downloaded and watched AstroGirl 2 last night. My advice: save your money folks! This was a disappointment after AG1. The heroine wins at the end but she's on the ropes throughout most of the rest of it (i.e., she's getting pounded on). The fight scenes aren't as well done as AG1, long on yelling short on action.

 Once again, Astro Girl was a superherone and proud of it to begin with:

 

 

 

Only to be reducd to this later in the video:

 

 

And here's the magilla on the sequel from akiba-heroine.com:

 

Astro Girl's body is not yet fully recovered from the wound by the Minerva stone, but that doesn't stop her from fighting to help people in trouble. Her wounds have not healed yet completely, but she is called to solve another case when her best friend in Japan is kidnapped by mobsters. Astro Girl sets out to save her, but her greatest enemy stands in her way. He is Thunder Knights, a big, hulking man with the same superpower as Astro Girl herself! Astro Girl uses her super-strength and super-body to attack this huge man, but to no avail. Thunder Knights, cherishing a grudge against Astro Girl, refuses to kill her on the spot, however. He instead uses various wrestling moves on her, choking, lifting up and throwing and swinging her gorgeous body, grabbing her blonde hair, in his attempt to torture and beat her up. On the verge of fear and despair Astro Girl nearly abandons hope of winning the battle when heaven gives her a chance to fight back again.

From clips once available of other Japanese superheroine videos, it seems that “peril” is the real thing for most of them. Typically, the clips start with a bit of superheroine action, then move right on to the abuse. The only differences are in the costumes, which are usually tacky – in one, the heroine wears a motorcycle helmet. The stars seem interchangeable.

One exception to that last point is the Japanese actress who stars in Steel Angel. Yu (or Yuu) Saeki is her name, and she's described online as a "gravure idol" – a multi-media model. She’s as cute as all get-out in her skimpy superheroine outfit:

 

Now this is cheesy exploitation, of course, and I’m sure feminists would jump all over it. Yet it’s basically good-natured: it invites any normal man to fantasize about making love with her, and invites our kind of superheroine fan to fantasize about adoring her as a superheroine, covering her with kisses and caresses, sharing every pleasure with her.

But that’s not the sexual fantasy agenda of the video itself; in an eight-minute official trailer, since taken down, there was less than 30 seconds of superheroine action, and seven minutes of superheroine torture. It’s absolutely sickening -- watching the heroine violated makes me feel violated. Yet Zen Pictures – the same studio that made the Astro Girl videos – expected fans to get off on this sort of thing. And the online response to the trailer at YouTube was quite positive. Here's a still of what those fans enjoyed:

 

Steel Angel came out in 2006, it develops, and thus may have been the model for the Astro Girl videos a year or two later. A further element of confusion is that there are anime (cartoon) series with the same titles but (presumably) without the same fetish content, aimed at younger viewers. There are, of course, erotic and even pornographic anime. Cutie Honey, which has gone through several incarnations since Go Nagai (regarded as the father of several schools of comics and cartoons, some mildly erotic) created her for the comics in 1963, stars a shape-shifting superheroine. It spawned several animes and one live action version (2007) starring gravure idol Mikie Hara:

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FMTAhKNTCnw

 

One of the trademarks of the series is that the ordinary girl Honey Kisaragi loses her clothes with each transformation, which comes when she shouts "Honey Flash!" – much as Billy Batson became Captain Marvel by shouting "Shazam!" From my slight acquaintance (based on one of the anime versions), Cutie Honey is closer to AU erotic fantasies than those of the peril crowd. Here's a poster for the live version; I don't know who her sidekick is:

 

 

 

 

Now there are fantasies and fantasies, are people are very jealous of their fantasies. In my spiritual autobiography, I touched in the AU fantasy in particular, which appealed to me despite the fact that I had read hardly any superhero, let alone superheroine comics when I was a kid, Even so, I think I can see now why the fantasy caught me up.

It probably began with Sheena, Queen of the Jungle – not the comic book, which I didn't even know about, but the 1955-56 TV series with Irish McCalla. I was a tween then, and must have been imprinted with her, although I had led such a sheltered life that I didn't understand what I was supposed to want to do with her. Many years later, I learned that underground comics artist Robert Crumb had a sexual fixation on her. That annoyed me, because I didn't like Crumb. Anyway, Sheena was a real heroine, nothing like the housewives and dimwits populating most TV shows. I may also have been influenced even before that by Priscilla Lawson as Emperor Ming's feisty and randy daughter Aura in the first Flash Gordon serial (1935), which was playing on TV in the fifties. The innuendo went over the heads of kids like me and, seemingly, the hero hmself; but it was obvious to older fans what Princess Aura was after – fans who'd seen the serial as teens or adults back in the thirties would later tell me they'd had the hots for Aura.

There was also the 1952 movie version of Walter Scott's Ivanhoe, in which Elizabeth Taylor played Rebecca, the Jewess who comes to the aid of Wilfred of Ivanhoe – caring for him after he is wounded in a tournament and helping raise a ransom for King Richard. I wasn't thinking of Taylor sexually at age 11, but in later years I thought she'd never been sexier than in that role – and that Ivanhoe was a fool to have spurned her love in favor of the bland Rowena. But, given the reality of the time, Rebecca would have had to renounce her religion, her very identity, to have had a chance with him. If such an alternative ending had been contrived for the movie (as William Makepeace Thackeray did in a sequel called Rebecca and Rowena), she would no longer have been a heroine, and I would probably no longer have found her alluring.

When I began noticing women as women, my tastes ran against the grain in some repects; I was turned on by Sophia Loren rather than Marilyn Monroe, because Loren struck me as a real woman rather than a girl. Later, there was Diana Rigg as Emma Peel on The Avengers. I won't pretend to have been particularly enlightened otherwise; I got off on Playboy centerfolds just like other guys, I was obsessed with breasts just like other guys. (in The James Bond Dossier [1965], Kingsley Amis thought it strange that the most statistically normal fetish excited the greatest condemnaton by cultural critics. And it isn't a modern fetish either; check out John Cleland's Fanny Hill [1748].) On the other hand, the women from college that I remember were brainy women – fellow journalists and campus politicians. I could make your eyes glaze over with an account of my own career as a campus politician, on behalf of the Independents against the Greeks. I'll spare you that, but I was aware that women were regarded as second-class; a lot of guys thought they were there only to get MRS degrees. And I remember telling one of my women allies in 1963, "What you need is a revolution."

I also remember Maria Judith Remenyi, who was Miss California in the 1966 Miss Universe contest. I remember her not because she was a 35-23-35, but because she was also a physics major who spoke six languages. That made her one of my favorite fantasy sex objects. Another example is Jane Dolinger, who posed nude in men's magazines but was a true adventurer (as opposed to adventuress) and travel writer whose amazing story is the subject of a new biography by Lawrence Abbott. But, as much as I fantasized about her, I never had any desire to rape or otherwise abuse her. As I said, there are fantasies and fantasies.

The thing about the Aurora Universe fantasy, never mind its fundamental absurdity – other fantasies, as silly as foot fetishes, can at least be carried out – is that it is a fantasy of wanting and being wanted. For the male fan, it's about the superwoman – who can't possibly have any need to trade sex for protection or economic support – actually inviting an ordinary man to make love with her, out of no other motive than mutual pleasure. For the rare female fan, I think, it's about having any man she wants – without risk of pain or harm from the kind of men who rape or murder women in real life. In both cases, it's about joy. It seems significant, too, that there are relatively few dominatrix scenarios in superheroine fiction – Conceptfan, who used to specialize in that sort of thing, hasn't been heard from in years. Certainly Velorian women have no use for wusses any more than they are attracted to villains; they want men who are worthy of their love. There's an element of reality in that; women with any sense of self-worth don't cast their pearls of love before swine.

Of course, I tried to put my own spin on the fantasy from the start, making my Velorian heroines intelligent and idealistic as well as glamorous – including Alisa and Kalla, who were both creations of Shadar to begin with but whom I've practically taken over. Why not have Athena and Aphrodite in one package? And I never really got into the sort of ultra-muscular femmes favored by some writers. My ideal is more the athletic look of tennis players or ballerinas (There are counterparts in real life, including sf writer Catherine Asaro, who was once a ballerina and still has a dancer's body and awesome cleavage at 55; she's also expert in physics and has produced music videos.). Whatever else, I think the heart of the AU fantasy lies in the admiration of women. "With my body I thee worship," a line from the Anglican marriage service, applies here. And it isn't a wimpy kind of worship; we imagine laying our heroines with a will. But what do the "peril" fans imagine?

There is a German word, schadenfreude, which means taking pleasure from the misfortunes of others. It doesn't have anything to do with whether those misfortunes are deserved. Rather it is a close cousin of envy, one of the traditional Seven Deadly Sins, and is implicitly condemned in the Bible: "Rejoice not when thine enemy falleth, and let not thine heart be glad when he stumbleth" (Proverbs 24). Still, one can understand why most of us are pleased at the downfall of those who get their just desserts, from Richard Nixon to Bernard Madoff. It's less understandable in the case of, say, Tiger Woods, whose only real victim was his wife. Yet there is a more vicious form of schadenfreude that is directed at entire groups of people – blacks, gays, and of course, women. And that is the basis of so-called "peril" fiction, taking a perverse pleasure in the subjugation of superheroiones – and, by implication, any women in real life who don't know their "place."

Now the prevailing attitude towards superheroine “peril” fiction, photo layouts and videos seems to be:  “Hey, different strokes for different folks.” Another common argument is that if there isn’t any challenge to the heroine, there can’t be a story. Yet these arguments miss the real point: in legitimate superheroine fiction, whether at the Aurora Universe on in the photo stories at the Steeleverse and other sites, the fans are rooting for the heroines when they get in trouble. At the “peril” sites, they’re rooting against them. They want to see the heroines pounded on and raped – and they’re really obsessive about it. In a post at Superwomenmania about the time I wrote the original version of this essay, Kelly Johnston, proprietor of the Steele sites, offered a depressing assessment:

 

…let me tell you, in the superheroine genre, we are few. VERY FEW! The Steeles get thousands of requests every month that fall in the realm of the girls getting "ass raped" (And sometimes worse) by the villain. The superheroines in bondage/peril fans may be sickos but are legions strong. If I took half of the requests we got from those people, we'd be driving exotic foreign cars and out picking our new island by now.

 

Things apparentlty haven't changed since then. Just last April (2010), a new Yahoo group devoted to Batgirl came online. But the invitation message makes it clear that the site has only a very narrow interest in the character: "The erotic adventures of batgirl [sic, small b] – watch as supervillains capture unmask and uncostume her!" The group has close to 600 members. More disappointing, however, is that JonX, proprietor of supersexyheroines.com, has gotten into the peril video business, having announced his first such production barely a week ago. It's billed as "adult," which means he could show only the tamer stills from it. The obvious question is: why not a romantic X-rated superheroine video?

I can't find the reference right now, but I came across a blog entry or essay a while back by some feminist scholar who condemned all superheroine fiction as mysogynistic on the basis of the peril stuff. Ed Howdershelt tried to set her straight, but she wasn't buying his argument. There have been similar condemnations of erotic superheroine fantasies on the web – and you can see why by looking at most of what comes up if you Google "erotic superheroines."

 

As I wrote two years ago, it may that the peril fans are just a noisy minority, like the die-hard racists who hang nooses and paint swastikas and desecrate cemeteries. But if they are indeed the majority, even the vast majority, I still want nothing to do with them. It’s a matter of principle. I know it seems pretentious: how can I or any author of superheroine erotica bordering on porn claim to be standing on moral ground? Yet stand I must. One thing for sure. You'll never see superheroines abused at The Bright Empire.

--Sept. 1, 2010