Writing Like a Girl: Master Tigress
I’m just gonna say it. I pretty much love everything about Tigress’ character design.
So often in martial arts animation, whether it’s television, movie, or games, there is this inherent sexualization of the female fighters. It’s a fundamental part of their visual make up. Their armor is ridiculous and they bounce in odd, awkward places. Even the anthropomorphic female animals can get very…male gazey.
Tigress is a Kung Fu master. She is shaped exactly like a tiger. She moves like a tiger. She’s dressed like…well, not a tiger, but certainly not for the male gaze. I read the Kung Fu Panda Wikia article about her and it mentions that the developers did this on purpose. Her feminine traits are her tiger stripes because, and this is important, Tigress is a girl.
The hardest animal style in Kung Fu is the Tiger. From thrusting to raking, all the tiger strikes are hard, fast, and offensive. A lot of the time, they’re duel strikes. You land the punch with the heel of your hand and scratch or grab with your nails to deadly effect.
Just to put this in perspective, Tai Lung, the villain in the first movie, is a snow leopard. Leopard fists are a mixture of hard and soft energy, which means there isn’t as much force or power behind the blow. Leopard fists are meant for softer targets like the throat, solar plexus, and groin. Technically a leopard isn’t as hard of a style as a tiger.
And Tigress is a girl.
Po, the panda, may be the hero of this particular story, but his hero is Tigress. He even has her action figure. He looks up to her, he respects her, and he’s always trying to impress her. He trusts her judgement. When so many male characters make a big show of how awesome they are or how they’re the one’s in charge, it’s refreshing to watch a bit of humility. Po’s dream is to fight on Tigress’ team.
Just one last thought. Tigress makes several tactical mistakes in both movies. Not once do any of the characters blame her femininity as the reason behind her failure. They don’t tell her she’s being emotional, weak, or equate any of it to being a girl. Tigress gets to be a person first and judged for who she is and not her gender. She gets to show real compassion to her friends and grow from her mistakes–without being mocked as girly because being female isn’t a weakness.
Like I said, I love everything about her character design–especially because she’s a girl.