The Sketchy Feminist

Staring down the male gaze, or: Looking at looking at women in popular culture

A Guardians of the Galaxy Reflection Brought to You by the Number 6

There are five members of the central hero team of the recent Guardians of the Galaxy movie, but for me, the most important number of the film is the number six.

I recently saw Guardians of the Galaxy (in theaters for the second time), and I have to say, I’m impressed. Not because of the action scenes or the humor or the soundtrack or the CGI characters actually being engaging or–

Well, actually, OK, I’m impressed by all of those things.

But one of the many things that impresses me about everyone’s new favorite Marvel movie is that it has women in it.

Specifically, six women, who all have either names or titles, have lines, and are memorable enough for me to remember.

Now, a man’s still the main hero (though Gamora’s doing a LOT of the heavy lifting, plot-wise) and a man’s still the main villain (though I cannot get over the gorgeous character design for Nebula–that’s quite a look) but nonetheless: women. With personalities and everything. Six of them.

There are six female characters (Peter’s mother [Meredith Quill], Bereet, Gamora, Nebula, Carina and Nova Prime) with, like, entire lines. And even if two (Peter’s Mom, Nova Prime) are referred to by title instead of by name, at least they’re important to the story. And even if we only learn Bereet’s name because Star-Lord forgets it … heck, I’ll take it.

Because in Avengers, Black Widow and Maria Hill had lines, but not to each other (except maybe “Welcome to the Hellicarrier”), and Pepper talked to Tony and then later worried about Tony, and Jane Foster was bizarrely MIA in spite of being one of the world’s only two experts on the thing the movie was about. And that was pretty much all we got for female representation in our last big Marvel team-up movie.

So it was nice to see women in this movie. I’m not sure when last I saw an action movie with six female speaking parts in it. Now, six is not that big a number. But. Most of the action movies I’ve seen recently have been either Marvel or Star Trek, and I don’t think either franchise has released anything else in the last few years with that many speaking parts for women in it. Aside from movies that target women as a kind of “special interest” group, I think that very few movies, in general, have 6+ speaking parts for women in them. And, in case you were wondering, Guardians still has well over six speaking parts for dudes. By like, a lot.

Six may be a small number to be happy about, but still, I’m happy about it.

I’m happy about it even if this movie remembered the straight male gaze (which it guided toward the lower half or Gamora’s shapely body on more than one occasion) while kind of forgetting that some people like to objectify men, too (ooh, check out Star-Lord … in his long coat and mask). And before anyone points out that Drax is showing his hulking, muscle-bound chest pretty much the entire movie or that Groot has no clothes at all, let me just point out to you that they are not sexualized characters. Yes, my argument here is that Drax is no more sexualized than the guy composed entirely of vegetable matter CGI. This has a lot to do with camera angles, characterization, body language and the fact that there are no lingering shots of their butts.

We got that one scene of Star-Lord getting deloused in the prison, I guess, as part of the “Hooked on a Feeling” sequence. That was more funny than sexy, though. (And shot in a way that evoked very straightforward, face-off masculinity more than vulnerability.) Props to the producers, however, for resisting a Gamora prison shower scene, even when they could have tied it to the plot and such.

Four of the speaking-part ladies (the exceptions being Peter’s Mom and Nova Prime) were dressed in sexually-evocative ways, from Gamora’s catsuit to Nebula’s catsuit to Gamora’s other catsuit to Bereet’s shirt and undies (I think that’s what she was wearing) to Carina’s fetish dress with wrist cuffs to Gamora’s plunging mini-dress. Huh. Gamora has a lot of clothes for an assassin on the run.

Not that I hated said clothes. They were stylish; they looked cool. Carina’s outfit disturbed me with its “living-doll” vibe, but then again, it was supposed to. And there was probably some desire on the part of the filmmakers to prove to the audience that Gamora’s green goes all the way down. (In part because of the sexy factor and in part because an alien color-makeup feels more complete if it’s not just face and hands.)

And if I had the money for cosplay, and the time to go to events where cosplay happens, I would probably dress up as Nebula. That’s one villain who’s all style over substance, but I just don’t care, because the style is that good.

So, even if the studio kind of forgot that (straight, bi) women were looking (or remembered and just didn’t care), it still felt like they remembered that we were watching. This was a much more balanced (if still really skewed) ratio of male-to-female characters than I’ve come to expect from Marvel movies, and that was really nice. It was especially refreshing to see a woman in position of political power in Glenn Close’s Nova Prime.

I do have a nit to pick, as always: Why does Drax call Gamora a “green whore” at the end, when he’s making nice with everybody? They spent the whole movie explaining how Drax’s people were super-duper literal and didn’t get metaphor, and yet, as far as we know, Gamora has never exchanged sex for money. (At least, it didn’t come up in the movie.) Was Drax learning how to metaphorically slut-shame women part of his character development or something?

And as a side note: Isn’t Gamora just kind of the universe’s most adorable assassin? She’s clearly the most ethical of the Guardians, at least in terms of her behavior in the course of the movie. (The group’s assassin is its moral compass. Makes sense.) And when she came in with “We’re just like Kevin Bacon!”, she ensured that I would love her forever. After Star Trek: Into Darkeness, Avatar, and now this, it’s starting to look like Zoe Saldana specializes in playing the sexy female “heart” of big-budget, male-led action SF cinema.

Related Reading (mostly from a few months ago, but still worth a look if you missed it then):

Some Thoughts on Supernatural, Season 10, Episode 1, “Black” or “Who the Blank are These People?”

Yep, so I saw last week’s Supernatural Season 10 premiere.

It was terrible.

And I seriously thought about ending my review right there. Because what else is there to say, really? I didn’t like it. At all. I think it had maybe one or two good lines (courtesy of Crowley) and that’s about it for the good parts.

And the show was written by long-time showrunner Jeremy Carver and directed by long-time showrunner Robert Singer, and this was, naturally, announced in the opening credits (y’know, where episode writing and directing credits usually go) so my hopes were all up.

Aaaand then I watched the episode.

The episode opens with Sam torturing and killing a woman (or a presumably female demon in a possibly-dead-but-possibly-not female human body). This, of course, pings my “SPN random-acts-of-violence-against-female-characters” detector, but this sort of thing is such a common occurrence in the SPN ‘verse that after nine seasons, I don’t have much of a reaction to it. (And maybe my lack of reaction itself indicates the insidious potential effect of these scenes, or maybe this scene in particular is just boring.) The boys, for their part, haven’t batted their long-lashed eyelids at torturing and killing the human vessels of demons for years now. And yet the demon Sam is torturing is all, “Wow, you’re far gone. You must be the demon brother.” Like she thinks that a Winchester torturing a demon is somehow an event worthy of note.

Guess she’s new in town.

My subjective opinions on the episode can be found under the cut:

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Some Thoughts on Supernatural, Season 9, Episode 10, “Road Trip”

I very much doubt I am going to get the next 13 of these things up before SPN Season 10 kicks off on the 7th, but here’s another “Some Thoughts” on Supernatural, anyway. With even more random “thoughts” than usual. It will probably be pretty confusing if you haven’t watched the episode recently. (It also might be confusing if you have watched it recently.)

“Road Trip” was written by Andrew Dabb and directed by Robert Singer.


The Title

I got nothin’.

The Premise

Dean is guilt tripping over Kevin’s death in classic self-flagellating “Global warming: that’s on me” fashion. To be fair, Kevin’s death is partially his fault. As is global warming! (Baby’s not exactly environmentally friendly.) Re-Graced Castiel comes back to the bunker and Dean tells him all about how he let not-Ezekiel possess Sam to save Sam’s life. They decide they have to find not-Ezekiel and communicate with possessed!Sam so that Sam can cast not-Ezekiel out. They enlist the captive Crowley to help them, and they all head off in Castiel’s pimpmobile car.

CROWLEY: Really? What are you, a pimp?

CASTIEL: I like it.

Dean makes Crowley and Castiel sit in the back together, and away they go.

Further “random thoughts” under the cut:

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Anime Heroines to Root For

So, I want to start a series of posts showcasing awesome anime heroines. Because sometimes when I watch anime I ask myself, “If I had a daughter, would I be willing to show this to her?” (I actually do this. I realize that this is a weird criterion for popular culture enjoyment, but just roll with it, OK? I’m not weird.) And sometimes, shockingly, the answer is “yes”.

And why is it shocking? Well, because sexism is kind of A Problem in anime. Not all anime, mind. But it’s a problem in enough anime to make it A Problem in Anime. Panty shots? Check. Sexual harassment for comic effect? Check. Supposedly powerful female characters (especially romantic leads) getting surpassed, outstripped, outranked and in other ways outdone by male protagonists? So many checks! Supposedly powerful female characters turning into damsels who have to be rescued? Check again. These things are all anime tropes. They are common (particularly in anime targeting boys). Young women falling for emotionally abusive young men? Verbal abuse as a sign of affection? Check and check. These are also anime tropes, and they are common (especially in anime targeting girls).

When I was little, I watched a lot of Nick at Nite. And it seemed harmless enough. Who doesn’t love classic TV? Then one day I made a sexist joke to my mom. Because women, right? I think my joke had something to do with women being terrible drivers. Because that was a pretty commonly recurring gag in the kind of TV I watched as a kid.

My mother was, rightfully, horrified. “You don’t really think that, do you?” she asked.

[Dramatic pause.]

“No,” I answered.

And it was true: I didn’t. Once I thought about it logically, I couldn’t think of a reason to assume that women would be worse at driving than men. But, the thing was, I had thought it, up until that moment, when my mom called my attention to my assumption. Because, according to TV Land (and this was back before TV Land was its own channel), women were bad at driving. It was an unquestioned truth that got repeated over and over again. Honestly, I thought that everyone (not just Bob Newhart) thought that about women and driving.

So, that was a bit of a wake-up call for me as a kid. It taught me to think about and question those “truths” that media laid out for me. It also brought to my awareness the fact that I could be influenced by media in ways of which I was not even conscious.

Even when I was making the sexist joke to my mom, I never would have said that I thought women were inferior to men in any way. And yet: sexist joke, right out of my mouth. I didn’t even realize it was a sexist joke.

Anyway, I watch less classic TV and more anime now. And I’m very aware that anime is especially popular with kids, teens and young adults. I’m also well-aware that even children are capable of bringing their own grain of salt to the table when it comes to consuming media, and that “kids these days” are not going to be “brainwashed” by the nasty messages in their entertainment.

That doesn’t make them immune to those messages. None of us are immune to those messages. And we pick up on all kinds of things, often subconsciously, just due to repeated exposure. And people (kids and adults) who haven’t thought about or who choose not to think about how to approach media critically may be especially at-risk for this.

So sometimes, when I’m watching or reading a piece of media, I ask myself if I would share it with my (imaginary) daughter. Would this be a helpful or hurtful thing for a young woman to see? Would it make her feel bad about herself, or would it make her feel strong? For whatever reason, I find myself applying these criteria most frequently when reading manga and/or watching anime.

So maybe an alternative title for this heroine lineup would be “Anime Heroines in Anime that I would Totally Show my Daughter if I Had One.” Please do keep in mind that I’m imagining that my imaginary daughter is super-mature, and that the presence of sexual and violent content in these titles is a non-issue. My hypothetical-daughter imago can fend for herself on that front.

For now, here is a list of “Anime Heroines to Root For,” organized alphabetically by show title. I plan to showcase these leading ladies (at least some of them) in their own posts, which will either be organized chronologically by the shows’ release dates or not organized at all (probably the latter). I also plan to update this list as I go. Feel free to make recommendations for additions to this list (or even your own competing list) in the comments, as the mood strikes you.

I’m trying to focus on shows that are either female-led or have a fairly even split (in terms of screen time, importance to the plot, etc.) between their male and female leads.

The Anime Heroines to Root For List

At the moment, this (partial!) list is limited to heroines in anime series that I have actually seen, at least in some part. If your favorite anime heroine isn’t on the list, that may mean that (1) I haven’t seen her anime, (2) I’ve seen it and left it off the list for reasons of my own or (3) I’ve seen it and would have put its heroine on this list if the anime in question hadn’t slipped my mind.

The list so far:

Saya in Blood+
Erin in Beast Player Erin
Chihaya in Chihayafuru
Clare in Claymore
Lafiel in Crest of the Stars
Maya in Glass Mask
Ririchiyo in Inu x Boku SS
Nanami in Kamisama Kiss
Haruhi in The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya
Balsa in Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit
Nadia in Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water
Haruka in Noein
Haruhi in Ouran High School Host Club
Akane in Psycho-Pass
Utena in Revolutionary Girl Utena
Juliet in Romeo x Juliet
Oscar in The Rose of Versailles
Lina in Slayers
Shurei in The Story of Saiunkoku
Taiga in Toradora
Yoko in Twelve Kingdoms
Asumi in Twin Spica
Ryoko in Yakushiji Ryoko’s Case Files

Now, these heroines aren’t perfect, and I’m not claiming that their titles are issue-free (a few of them are even guilty of one or more of the tropes listed above). But they’re a good place to start.

Recommended Reading: Shannon Hale’s Princess Academy and Princess Academy: Palace of Stone

So, I just checked out Shannon Hale’s 2006 Newberry Honor book Princess Academy, and I liked it so much that I checked out its 2012 sequel, Princess Academy: Palace of Stone.

Man, I’m glad I didn’t read the first book in 2006. Then I would have had to wait six years for the next one.

Review for both [some SPOLIERS ahead] under the cut:

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Something Like a Timeline: Feminist Frequency Stuff

March 2014: Anita Sarkeesian awarded the 2014 Game Developers Choice Ambassador Award (link to video and transcript).

Also March 2014: Sarkeesian and the award ceremony organizers receive bomb threat at the Game Developers Choice Awards. A quote from the article:

In a statement, the award ceremony’s organizers confirmed that 25 staffers received the following anonymous email early on March 19: “A bomb will be detonated at the Game Developers Choice award ceremony tonight unless Anita Sarkeesian’s Ambassador Award is revoked. We estimate the bomb will kill at least a dozen people and injure dozens more. It would be in your best interest to accept our simple request. This is not a joke. You have been warned.”


June 2014:Women as Background Decoration (Part 1)” released.

August 2014:Women as Background Decoration (Part 2)” released. (Yay!) This video comes with a special, super-strong content warning on account of its content. And I recommend heeding said warning.

Also August 2014: Sarkeesian shares some truly disturbing, stalkerish tweets that she has received with her followers, because “it’s important for folks to know how bad it gets”: Here is the scary stuff. CONTENT WARNING for threats of rape and other forms of sexualized violence, including blood drinking.

Still August 2014: Jezebel publishes “Misogynistic Trolls Drive Feminist Video Game Critic From Her Home” (article by Callie Beusman)

Still, still August 2014:Saints Row Dev Responds to Feminist Frequency Critique” (GameSpot article by Emanuel Maiberg)

September 2014: The FBI investigates the scary, stalkerish threats against Sarkeesian and her family: “FBI Investigating Death Threats Made Against Anita Sarkeesian” (GameSpot article by Zorine Te)

Also September 2014: Sarkeesian makes appearance at Portland XOXO Festival: This Feminist Gamer’s Brave Fight Against Online Misogyny Just Earned Her a Standing Ovation (Identities.Mic article by Marcie Blanco)

In other words, Anita Sarkeesian continues to earn her epic badass cred. Props to her, her family and the cool, game-loving people who continue to support her at events like XOXO and the Game Developers Choice Awards.

A Couple of “Oh No” Moments in Urban Fantasy

I like urban fantasy. I like to read urban fantasy novels. Like other forms of fantasy literature (and, uh, all other literary genres, including “mainstream”), urban fantasy novels sometimes have what can only charitably be called “problematic” gender dynamics.

Even when they have strong female characters. Even when they star strong female characters. Even when (as I believe was the case when last I checked, though I have not checked recently) women are the primary audience for urban fantasy novels.

For the uninitiated: urban fantasy is a blanket genre term for fantasy stories that take place in what is otherwise the ‘real’ world: usually a modern, technologically advanced setting. These stories do not necessarily take place in cities, but after a short-lived showdown with the term “contemporary fantasy” (which, while avoiding the trap of implying an urban environment, can also be taken to mean ‘fantasies written at the same time as one another’), “urban fantasy” seems to be the term that has stuck. Charles de Lint writes primarily urban fantasy*; so does Charlaine Harris. J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series is arguably urban fantasy, depending upon which angle you use to look at it (though I usually think of it as “dual world” fantasy, since the Harry Potter ‘verse generally drops the mundane muggle world by, like, chapter four of each book).

Anyway, the two urban fantasies I would like to look at tonight are Patricia Briggs’s Mercy Thompson novels and Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files novels.

Jim Butcher and Patricia Briggs are two of the biggest names in urban fantasy right now, and Mercy Thompson and Dresden Files are their most popular titles. I like both series. I do. But they each have something that I am going to call an “oh no” moment. A moment that I found so upsetting that it made/makes it really, really hard for me to keep reading. A moment that bothers me so much that I think about it every time I think of the series, and that, therefore, colors my experience of the series as a whole, even if it doesn’t come up until several books in. In both cases, this “oh no” moment occurs when the series’ problematic gender dynamics become crystallized in a scene which exemplifies that these are terrible universes for women and it’s not just because of the monsters.

So, rather than being a good reviewer and starting at the beginning, I am skipping most of the early stuff to focus this post on one scene from the third book of the Mercy Thompson novels, Iron Kissed, and one scene from the eighth book (yes I said eighth) of the Dresden Files, Proven Guilty. Because it’s my blog and I can do what I want.


TRIGGER WARNING for rape, assault, mind control, trauma, sexuality policing and general dickishness.

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Some Thoughts on Supernatural, Season 9, Episode 9, “Holy Terror”

“Holy Terror” was written by Eugenie Ross-Leming and Brad Buckner and directed by Thomas J. Wright.

Warning: This review is full of SPOILERS. But it is also very, very late, so it will probably not spoil anybody.

The Title

Uh, I really hope this isn’t a reference to Frank Miller’s self-professed propaganda comic of the same name.

But it seems about as likely as anything else. Here’s the Wikipedia disambiguation page for the phrase “Holy Terror.” Maybe there’s something in there:

For now, I’m going to assume that this title was chosen because it sounded like a familiar phrase and could be tied to angels, while working as a reference both to the large-scale threat of the angelic ‘holy war’ and the small-scale threat presented by specific angels.

The Premise

This episode starts out with two gangs of angels (one a church glee club, one a biker gang) facing off against each other. The church glee club (composed entirely of women) wins! The biker gang is K/Oed. Just kidding! They all die.

Sam and Dean roll into town to investigate.

When they arrive on the scene impersonating FBI agents, they find Castiel. When last we saw Cas, he was homeless and working a low-income job at a gas station. Now Castiel, too, is impersonating an FBI agent.

So many questions! Where did Cas get his new suit? Where did he get the money for his new suit? Is it a rental? How did he manage transportation to the crime scene? Is his car a rental? Did he bus here? Did he call out of work for this? Does he have a home now?

None of these questions are answered! (As in: never. Unless they address this stuff in Season 10.) I feel like the show skipped an episode.

Anyway, the boys greet Castiel. Sam looks amused; Dean looks annoyed. Castiel explains, “I still have that badge you gave me,” which–what? Dean gave Cas his fake badge in Season 5, Episode 3, “Free to be You and Me.” Which means that, even though Cas has exploded twice since then, been submerged in a lake, gotten amnesia, lost his Grace and gotten rid of all his clothes, his (well, Jimmy’s) wallet made it through intact. I guess I knew that, since he used money in Season 8’s “Clip Show” (though I always wondered if he acquired that wad of cash elsewhere) but this is still a little weird. And a little sweet. It reminds me of how Dean kept Cas’s trench in Season 7.

Aww, they’re like pack rats.

Moving right along. Cas proceeds to be painfully adorable and Team Free Will sits down for a beer–that is, until Ezekiel-in-Sam’s-body shows up to Destiel block. One of Ezekiel’s biggest plot functions is keep Cas away from Dean. This does not endear Ezekiel to me. At Ezekiel’s prompting, Dean gives Cas the “It’s not you; it’s me” speech.

Thus making all the fangirls cry.

Hey, Metatron!

Metatron shows up, removing himself from my “Missing in Action” list.

Metatron lets us all know that Ezekiel is really Gadreel. Apparently, Gadreel was the angelic guard who let “evil” into the garden of Eden, thus making him responsible for the Fall of Man and pretty much all the evil on Earth. And he’s been being punished for his failure for thousands of years. No wonder he’s always so twitchy.

And Metatron recruits Gadreel, saying that together, they can fix Heaven. This should sound familiar from when Metatron used almost the exact same rhetoric on Cas in Season 8. So this should end well. Also, the creepy music in the background is kind of a giveaway that this is a bad idea.

Later in the episode, Metatron asks Gadreel to prove his “fidelity” by killing people Metatron wants killed. And Gadreel accepts this, because–well, honestly, I think that after millenia of being blamed for all things bad, Gadreel is just desperate for approval from somebody.

Back in the Plot

There is more angelic infighting between the Bartholomew faction and the Malachi faction! This time, Bart’s people kill one angel and a bunch of vessels. OK, then.

Castiel Prays!

Castiel prays! Every which way he can think of. Like someone throwing spaghetti on the wall to see what sticks. I don’t know why he’s hedging his bets so much, considering how entrenched Supernatural is in Judeo-Christian mythology, but it’s a little hard to care about that one way or the other.

Because seriously? This is so cute. It’s wrong how cute this is.

It’s also just about the most ill-considered thing that Castiel could do, on account of how he’s Heaven’s Most Wanted and he has zero angelic allies.

Fortunately for him and all of his fans, a friendly angel does answer his prayer. She’s all, “Wow, this was stupid of you.” Here’s the reasoning he gives her for why he thought broadcasting his thoughts to thousands of superpowered people who want him dead might not be the worst idea in the history of ever:

CASTIEL: I’m warded, and my Grace is gone, and I was hoping that I would seem like just another desperate human that the … the militants couldn’t care less about.

Weak, Castiel. Very weak. There are so very many conditions that need to be met for this course of action to work out.

You’re trusting a lot to faith there, Cas.

Oh, yeah …

And the rest of my recap/review is under the cut:

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Hey, A New Feminist Frequency!

Hey, there’s a new Feminist Frequency video! And it’s been up for like, over a week (but I didn’t notice it until now)! Whee!

This is part of Anita Sarkeesian’s Tropes vs. Women in Video Games series. Today’s (er, June 16’s) trope: “Women as Background Decoration.”

::Skips off to watch::

‘Girly’ Action Figures

My dad just sent me a link to this Fast Company article, about a new line of “badass” female action figures that was funded by a Kickstarter campaign:

The line of figures is called IAmElemental (, with each figure “personifying seven elements of courage: bravery, energy, honesty, industry, enthusiasm, persistence, and fear.” IAmElemental was 200% funded in 2 days and is now 465% funded.

I don’t really remember playing with “action figures” all that much as a kid. I mean, I’m sure I did when they were around; I played with whatever random stuffed animal or toy was to hand when the mood was on me. (Yeah, I had a lot of dolls, stuffed animals and My Little Ponies. And there is nothing wrong with that.) I just didn’t own many action figures, I think. I remember a friend of mine having some of those Power Rangers toys that could transform. Those were cool. They were heavy, with lots of metal parts, and I remember thinking, “Hey, this is different.” I think I was more impressed with how well-made they were than excited by the idea of playing with them, though.

A Tip of the Hat: to IAmElemental. As someone who’s still mad there’s no “official” Katara action figure for the Avatar: TLA cartoon (though there is a plushie), it’s nice to see toymakers taking concrete steps to prove “there is a market” for action figures aimed at girls.

And a Wag of the Finger: to IAmElemental. On the IAmElemental website, both “Enthusiasm” and “Industry” (see the “Elements” page) are shown in something quite close to the “Stop Taking This Picture” pose. I mean, there’s no smoldering over-the-shoulder look, but still: bottom and breasts at once. That takes a very specific angle. I know I’m picking at nits here, and these are hardly provocative stances (and that, since one of the selling points of these figures is that they don’t have oversized bosoms and butt cracks, you kind of have to show that they don’t, for marketing reasons). I just think it’s worth noting how inescapable that pose really has turned out to be.

Now, as to how many girls (or kids in general) are going to gravitate towards such high-concept action figures as personifications of “energy” and “industry”, that’s a different question. But it’s also kind of not the point. As I understand it, the driving force behind toy profits is still more the parents than their kids, and there is clearly demand for this kind of thing from a lot of parents out there, who want their kids to have a wider range of options.

And I would have played with them. In my experience, kids play with the toys they have.