Before we start, it has to be said – This isn’t going to be a piece dictating the way female characters should or shouldn’t be written. Instead, I wrote this as a celebration of femininity and feminine characters. Like all qualities in human beings, femininity is a wonderful asset to those who yield its strengths. It is an attribute that Honda Tohru embodies unequivocally to the benefit of the characters that surround her.
Wait, but what exactly is femininity? Well, the term itself is neutral – a set of qualities associated with women and girls, but it can really be displayed by anyone. Although the idea of femininity most definitely varies across cultures and time periods, if we strip it down, we are left a few common threads generally agreed upon like a nurturing personality, sensitivity towards others, care, consideration and selflessness. These qualities are exactly what make Tohru an exceptional character.
Perhaps most obviously, Tohru displays a natural ability to understand the feelings of those around her. She has a keen awareness of others’ mental states and effortlessly connects with them. When Momiji reveals the heartbreaking truth of his mother to her, Tohru openly cries for him and empathises with him. Similarly, for Kisa, Tohru immediately relates to her bullying situation and reassures her.
Her sensitivity towards others allows her to connect to the Sohmas on an emotional level, validating their feelings and comforting them in times of need. She is an extremely emotionally intelligent character whose words often hit right where they’re supposed to, because of her capacity to empathise.
As someone who deeply adored her mother, Tohru’s nurturing personality comes as no surprise. She genuinely cares about the Sohmas and builds a foundation of trust with them. She quickly adopts a motherly role for many of them (be it superficially or emotionally), supporting them while some of their biological parents shun them and Akito terrorists them. Notably, Yuki learns to deal with his self-hatred and experiences emotional growth because of her.
Tohru provides a sense of safety for the broken characters that enter her life. They confide in her and because of the close relationship she and her mother shared, she is then able to extend the wisdom she had received to the Sohmas and guide them through opening up and facing their trauma.
Finally, Tohru is a selfless character who chooses to outwardly cherish the people she loves. She puts her loved ones before herself and constantly strives to show care towards them, thus deepening her relationships with them. Even when confronted with the scary and dire situation of Kyo’s true form, Tohru puts aside her feelings and addresses his pain and trauma. She refuses to let her fear prevent her from helping Kyo. She admits that there is a lot she doesn’t understand about him but reassures him that she wants to continue to strengthen her bond with him.
Not only does this immediately relieve Kyo, but it also sets off the catalyst for Kyo to eradicate his hopelessness and believe in a future for himself. Tohru’s willingness to “meddle” and think about her loved ones is what allows her to be a positive change in the lives of the Sohmas.
As we move towards the strong, independent archetype of female characters in popular media, I think it is important that we not forget the value of feminine female characters like Tohru and their contributions to the stories we enjoy. Female characters can be and are good characters in diverse ways.
Shout-out to the one and only queen Kawamoto Akari