So I’ve, regrettably, gotten back into Fire Emblem: Heroes. I swore I wouldn’t play it until they added my beloved husband Silas, but I recently went against my promise due to… jealousy, mainly. I’m now a part of a Fire Emblem themed Discord with a couple of friends and their discussion about the game made me miss it somewhat. So I started playing again.
And it’s been fun! Even though I still can’t play as my husband, I do get to play as a lot of other favorite Fire Emblem characters. I get to pull for them in the gacha, train them up, and even back them in gauntlets. In fact, for the last gauntlet, I was excited to back up Camilla, one of my favorite characters from Fates (see the entire blog post I wrote about her).
That is, until I popped onto tumblr and saw the drama raging around her inclusion (as well as Tharja’s), in the gauntlet, mostly revolving around the fact that, as two of the most sexualized characters, they were automatically incredibly popular and thus shoe-ins for the finale. That’s not exactly what happened, but it still promoted a discussion I, personally, find very interesting.
So how much fan service is too much fan service, anyway?
First, I think it suits our purpose to take a look at what fan service is.
While it’s mostly associated with female characters with exaggerated proportions and/or wearing unusually skimpy and unrealistic outfits, fan service is actually a broader, more general term for when the creators of a piece of media make a decision based on what will make their fans happy. This is sometimes sexualized designs or placing certain characters in sexual situations, but that’s not always the case at all. Sometimes it’s acknowledging a popular fan theory or focusing the story on a fan-favorite character. Basically, if it’s a decision made specifically to appease fans, it’s fan service.
I will admit the the majority of the most egregious fan service is in service of sexualizing female characters, and that in it of itself is problematic. Media as a whole has a problem of objectifying female characters, and video games are some of the worst offenders.
But I do think that for some characters, sexual designs aren’t necessarily a bad thing. Sexuality is not inherently bad, and can even be an important characterizing trait. Thus, at least for me, a sexualized design is only really a huge problem for an individual character if there’s no other reason for the design to be sexualized besides as fan service.
I say that because I don’t intend to tackle the larger problem of objectification of female characters in today’s post. The fact of the matter is, the issue of Camilla and Tharja’s inclusion in the most recent gauntlet was not presented as a problem of the larger trend of designing female characters sexually. After all, there were other female characters in the gauntlet (Azura and Lissa) whose designs aren’t particularly sexual. No, instead, the problem with Tharja and Camilla’s designs and their inclusion in the gauntlet is that they’re not well-enough designed to deserve the popularity they receive, and that their exaggerated feminine features are the only reason they have any following.
But how true is that? Let’s take a closer look at both of these characters’ designs.
I’ve already talked about this, but I’ll defend Camilla’s character to the grave. I think she’s a really cohesive and fascinating character, and I say this as someone who was initially skeptical about her design and the way she was depicted in promotional imagery.
Essentially, despite being a princess, Camilla has not exactly lived a happy life. The circumstances of her early life are left more or less unclear, but we do know about the “Concubine Wars” that raged before the events of Fates. Camilla is not a full-blooded royal, and is only half-siblings with the other royal siblings. In fact, of all the Nohrian royals, Xander is the only full-blooded heir to the throne, the only son of the former queen of Nohr. These “Concubine Wars” refer to the power struggle after Xander’s mother died.
We don’t know any information specifically about Camilla’s mother, but we do know some information about Leo and Elise’s mothers. Leo and Elise discuss how their mothers didn’t care about them as anything other than a tool that could possibly earn them the throne and the title as new queen of Nohr. And considering we don’t see anything of any of these mothers, in the events of the game, we can probably assume these “wars” were probably just as deadly as their name suggests.
So taking all this information into account, I think we can safely assume that Camilla too was used as a tool by her mother to gain power. We can probably safely assume something else about Camilla’s mother based on Camilla herself – that her mother was not exactly the most traditionally loving.
How do we know this? Well, Camilla herself is a mother figure to all of her siblings, and investigating just how Camilla perceives how a mother acts can give us clues as to what sort of mother she had. In a word? Violent. Even when Camilla is on your side of the conflict, her smothering love is intense and rooted in violence. As one of her “My Room” lines states “Just tell me who I need to kill to make you happy, sweetie!”
I think this implies that Camilla’s mother was probably violent herself. I don’t think this is a wild assumption, especially considering the terminology of referring to that period of Nohrian history as a “war”. If Camilla’s mother was similarly violent, that would explain from where Camilla learned her mothering skills.
There’s another interesting thing to note about Camilla’s mothering, though, and it finally describes what I think is the reason Camilla is designed the way she is. Her mothering is rather sexual. And while there’s definitely something to be said that Camilla’s attitude towards her siblings being somewhat sexual in nature may be rooted in fan service… the fact of the matter is, it clues us into Camilla’s past.
Because Camilla’s mother was a lover of Garon’s, I think she may have tried to use her own sexuality to gain power. If small Camilla was exposed to this kind of behavior at a young age – that of violent sexuality masquerading as love – it explains why Camilla is the way she is. It also sheds light on the past, characterizing the conflict that made all of the royals, not just Camilla, the way she is.
Perhaps that’s all a reach to explain Camilla’s sexual design, so let me make a simpler point about her design. Even without all this speculation about Camilla’s past, I still think she works as an excellent representation of her own kingdom, and her sexuality is an interesting part of that.
Consider her color scheme. She’s the only one of the siblings to have purple hair, and that choice makes her design match the purple and black of her kingdom perfectly. That’s a pretty big design decision, and I can’t help but feel it’s purposeful, connecting her even closer than her siblings to the morals and values of her kingdom.
How does her sexuality tie into that? Well, I think her sexuality helps to represent the way Nohr treats love. Taking the way she treats her siblings – with a sense of violence and sexuality – we can assume that love in Nohr is rooted in violence and danger. Camilla’s sexuality makes her dangerous, and presents a twisted notion of familial love, representing how Nohr’s very culture twists familial love as well.
Either way, there’s justifiable reasons why Camilla’s design is sexual. And her design for the gauntlet specifically (pictured above) is probably more covered than even her default design. She is, after all, paying tribute to her Hoshidan neighbors by wearing the traditional new years outfit. Personally, I don’t think this design is particularly egregious. Sure, you can still see her boobs, but that’s Camilla’s body type. It’d be odd if they suddenly disappeared for this outfit.
Tharja’s holiday design, on the other hand…
Oh dear, poor Tharja. Probably as long as she’s been around she’s been subjected to all manner of sexual depictions. I’ve always found that a little odd, considering she’s not a particularly sexual character. Sure, she has a stalker-like fascination with the main character of Awakening, but other than that she’s just cursed with a particularly skimpy outfit. Not even her stalker-y antics are even all that sexual in nature.
That’s why I think Tharja stands as an excellent counterexample to Camilla. While Camilla’s sexuality is a part of her character and personality, Tharja’s sexualization is an example of how sexual fan service and objectification can make a character worse.
There’s no good reason why Tharja is constantly put into provacative poses in her official art. I mean, we’ve been given no reason to suspect the “booty-out” pose she’s famous for is an in-character position for her. In the game itself, she clutches a book to her chest and mostly hates the attention of anyone except the main character. She much prefers laying curses on people than interacting with them. One could make the argument that her skimpy outfit is due to her living in a desert, but that still doesn’t explain why she’s forced into out-of-character poses by artists near constantly.
And now we come to her holiday outfit. It’s just…. blatant. At least in her official outfit, she’s covered in fabric (see-through, but still), but here her outfit just doesn’t make sense. I like the idea that she’s trying to be overly cheery for the holiday season, and I think that’s funny, but why the bikini? Every other character released in the holiday set wears heavy winter clothing. To add insult to injury, Tharja is considered an armored unit in this outfit. An armored unit? In that? Where’s the armor?
Unlike with Camilla’s holiday outfit, there’s no good in-character or in-universe explanation for why she’d be wearing this outfit. She could sell the “holiday cheer” aspect of her character in an outfit similar to the outfits Lissa, Chrom, and Robin wear in the same set, so it’s obvious to me that the only reason Tharja is dressed this way is for fan service.
And that’s unfortunate, because Tharja’s not a bad character. She has a lot of fascinating, morally-grey traits in the game itself. Even as a “good guy” she still is proven to be a terrible mother to Noire, and their conversations (and sort-of reconciliation) is a really underappreciated character moment for both of them. It’s a shame that Tharja is reduced to being considered nothing but a fan service character by her artists.
But speaking of that, one more point on the Gauntlet. Most of the negativity surrounding these two characters’ inclusion centered not on the developers or artists themselves, but more on the actual characters. (Usually through the repeated calling of both characters “thots” and the characters who beat them “thotslayers”)
Here’s my thing. Calling characters designed like Camilla and Tharja “thots” does absolutely nothing to solve the problem of female characters being sexualized. What “thots” (a word meaning “hoes” or “that hoe over there”) implies is that the characters themselves are shameful for dressing or acting sexual. Which is ridiculous. They’re fictional characters, they don’t make decisions! They can’t decide to dress sexually, or act sexual! They’re fictional! Why are so many people shaming these fictional characters? Like, am I the only one finding this ridiculous?
If these characters are being depicted sexually for fan service reasons only, the blame is on the designers and game developers, not on the characters themselves. The “thot” thing isn’t even funny. It’s disrespectful to women and slut-shaming and it sets back these characters by considering them only as sexual objects, and not as characters that are being reduced only to sexual objects.
Anyway, Team Camilla for life.