Short version: because it features this shot in a fanservice beach episode.
Yes, Valmet/Sofia Valmer is really that muscular. All the time. Notice that she has the thigh muscles to match the rest of her. I’m not sure it’d be possible for her to have boobs of that size but okay whatever, she kickflips men who try to grope her boobs into the sky while declaring her boobs are only for her and her lesbian crush, it’s all good. I recommended the series to Christine Love. She likes it too!
(The fanservice episode also features a fuckton of steroidtastic dudechests. Including the sculpted abs of a twelve-year-old boy. Uh, ew.)
You may feel some alarm at the fact that this picture contains only two women, but we’ll get to that later. As far as I recall, this team contains of some white dudes, one African dude, the kid’s Western Asian, and I think the one with the glasses to the left is Japanese. The white-haired girl, whom I initially assumed to be white (she’s an albino), is Koko Hekmatayr, our protagonist. She shares a surname with Gulbuddin Hekmatayr, “an Afghan Mujahideen leader who is the founder and leader of the Hezb-e Islami political party and paramilitary group,” so it’s likely that she isn’t exactly, you know, Aryan. It’s probably significant that her surname references that, as well; Jormungand deals with a lot of geopolitics, so I don’t think the author plucked “Hekmatayr” out of a hat. It’d be… a very specific hat.
Koko Hekmatayr is the youngest scion of a weapons-trading conglomerate. She travels the world selling weapons, getting into deep shit with military organizations, criminal organizations, and the CIA. Her endgame is unknown. All anyone knows is to be scared shitless of whatever she means to do.
Two women who aren’t exceptional at violence, I might add. Koko leaves most of the fighting to her bodyguards; Dr Minami here is a scientist who makes robots. And this is interesting, since Jormungand is an action series that gorges on gritty gunfire. In such a title, the value of a character tends to be judged according to how well she can kill people, and indeed Koko’s bodyguards are very good at that: Valmet is so superhuman she can not only dodge bullets but survive several shots to the back. However, many of the most powerful characters in Jormungand are powerful because they’re smart, and Koko in particular is both incredibly intelligent and incredibly charismatic.
She’s also completely inscrutable.
This may sound odd, but when was the last time you encountered a female protagonist who’s defined by her genius, her charisma, and yet at the same time is absolutely unreadable? “You’ve been undercover for two years,” a CIA chief asks of his agent, “what can you tell me about our target, Koko Hekmatayr?”
“To be perfectly honest, nothing. She hasn’t let a single thing slip… At times she looks smart, at times charismatic. She hides her thoughts and true self. She’s a monster.”
What Christine said. You might think this is common, the Ice Queen trope and all that. But more often than not she is thawed by a man, or if she doesn’t want to thaw she’ll be a villain. Even then, she will have emotions, generally of the ham-it-up Charlize Theron sort. Then she dies. What Koko is isn’t an ice queen, for that matter. It’s not that she’s just cold and ruthless: it’s that she can be giggly or cutesy around Jonah, the child soldier recruit, or faceplant in Valmet’s boobs for lulz. She throws fits when her phone loses signal. She also orders her bodyguards to massacre people because she’s pissed off.
But she is always perfectly in control.
This is the character type that’s usually male: the genius criminal with borderline sociopathic tendencies who has a band of loyal-to-death followers kept by their side through sheer charisma, competence, and intelligence. Their enemies fear and respect them, and so it is with Koko. She never experiences gendered threat and, more to the point, none of her actions is ever gendered. She doesn’t do that “sexual wiles are a woman’s greatest weapon” shit: if she’s manipulative, it is by being smart and outwitting other people–in one particular episode she’s pitted against another (very intelligent, powerful) woman. They part on good terms and in mutual respect, not launch into a stupid gendered rivalry where they fight over men and call each other a bitch.
I think the only time we get to see Koko “vulnerable” is when she hints that she might sincerely care about Valmet, whom she says she’s spent more time with than her own parents, and whom she regards as “a sister, a teacher, and something more.” (In the background a hundred yuri fangirls burst into applause. Me too.)
Despite Koko’s team containing exactly one woman, there is a surprising number of recurring, significant female characters: outside of Valmet and Koko we’ve got Dr Minami and her half-Chinese bodyguard Karen Low, and the arms dealer Koko goes against is middle-aged Amalia Torohovsky. Notably all these women have different backgrounds: Amalia is a former actress and Minami is a scientist, and neither is derided or considered lesser because they don’t (or didn’t always) have violent careers. Oh, they talk to each other about things other than men, of course. Actually, you’d be hard-pressed to find too many occasions where they do talk about men.
Karen Low at one point loses all her reason to be because her male boss died; Minami picks her up and recruits her almost immediately. To any extent that a man defines a woman’s existence, Valmet spends some time going after Chan Guoming, the man who killed her squad. But she doesn’t obsess over this: she does this when she has the opportunity and considers herself ready, and when he taunts her she shrugs it off saying, “I didn’t realize you were this petty.” Then she kills him stone dead. After all but single-handedly slaughtering every armed person in his compound. When she’s done with that she goes back to Koko saying she’s alllll Koko’s now–dispatching Chan Guoming was just a thing to tick off a to-do list so she can now devote all her energy to serving Koko, kissy kissy Koko? Awww.
Contrast that with Daniel Abraham’s Unclean Spirits or Saladin Ahmed’s Throne of the Crescent Moon. You know you’re in deep shit when you are men with “feminist” pretensions but are shittier at that feminism thing than an anime with beach episode fanservice. Perhaps we can administer Valmet-style kickflips to those men. With combined efforts we might even launch them right into the sun.
Another aspect about Jormungand that I enjoy is its depiction of geopolitics. All you need to know about the US and the CIA you can learn from Jormungand: the American characters are variously a contemptible and sexist CIA agent, a jingoistic psychopath who’s been shat on by the US army due to misogyny and who’s since joined the CIA (and has a thing about terrorists after she lost her fiance on 9/11–she calls the then-schoolgirl Koko “a filthy terrorist,” which I suspect has more to do with her surname than her being an arms dealer in training) and a rectangular CIA chief who eats a lot from a CIA cafeteria in which “PATRIOT’S MEATBALLS” is on the menu, presumably to go with the FREEDOM FRIES. When giving Jonah a run-down of the CIA Koko talks about ”bombings, interrogation, kidnappings, imprisonment” as some of their standard procedures; in one episode the jingoistic psychopath, Hex, is seen executing CIA’s prisoners by firing squad. The anime portrays the US with objectivity, certainly more so than the US media. As has been pointed out on to me, in a show produced by Americans, “the patriotic misogynistic cia shitstain would be THE HERO and Koko and posse [would] be the villains.”
The way Koko’s and Hex’s feud concludes (see above) is something of a mixed bag in the sense that Koko is avenging a male bodyguard (though then again she has just the one female bodyguard and I’d rather Valmet not bite it, thanks; let the men drop like flies), but there’s no genderedness to it for lack of a better word. The feud plays out in much the same way such a feud between two violent, borderline sociopathic men with access to shitloads of weapons and armed personnel might. I’m not a fan of the way R–the male bodyguard whom Koko avenges by bombing the entire fucking mountain range in which Hex hides–keeps calling Koko “princess,” nor the creepy manner with which the Bookman obsesses over Koko… but at the same time, it’s interesting how R, the Bookman, and Hex have all tried to psychoanalyze Koko without success. Hex point-blank tells the Bookman several times that he’s misjudged her completely (“You’ll remember my words when she destroys our country”); R thinks of her as deep down a young, weak girl but at the same time is genuinely frightened of what she might do if she reaches a point where she no longer has any use for empathy. Which makes no sense, but there you go.
What is remarkable about this isn’t that it’s a deep, nuanced, complex feminist series. The bars are low, Jormungand (written by a man) isn’t even interested in crossing them, and yet it comes out ahead of such pretend-feminists as Daniel Abraham, Joss Whedon or Saladin Ahmed. And it’s not trying.
Plus, it’s fun and shit. Enjoy your gratuitous crossfire!