I can’t say how or why the comparison between Asami Sato from Legend of Korra and Rarity from My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic came to me, but it did and I laughed. Then, I thought about it some more and realized that these two characters are actually very similar both in design and audience misperception.
If Asami were a pony, she’d be Rarity, though her cutie mark would probably be a wrench instead of a gem and she’d likely be an earth pony. Both are very feminine in their expressions and specifically have a femme fatale aesthetic: long, curly hair, luscious makeup, and general fabulousness. Yet this fabulousness exists in tension with audience preconceptions of their character types.
Film and television have subtly trained us to see girls like Asami and Rarity and think that they’re villains or mischievous. The femme fatale image of the 1940s is a strong cultural image, even though it doesn’t seem to appear much in that very obvious form anymore. I think this image is more intentional with Asami because Legend of Korra’s universe is a pseudo-early 20th century world and it makes perfect sense for a wealthy woman to style herself as Asami does.
A Nice Rich Girl
Asami’s introduction sends loud signals to viewers that she will not only be Mako’s love interest, but a rival for Korra. Her story in Book 1 also led many fans to speculate that she was an Equalist. The first impression she leaves signals “femme fatale” and makes it much easier for audiences to make those predictions. In fact, I feel like it took many people a long, long time to actually like Asami as a character because she’s presented to us as a piece of the dreadfully overdone heterosexual love triangle where the two girls involved just have to be bitter rivals. With such strong impressions and expectations of how this story will go, it’s very difficult to see that Asami is the complete opposite of a femme fatale. Korra actually causes more emotional destruction than she does and Asami doesn’t intentionally seduce anyone, though she makes tons of bedroom eyes at Korra, like, constantly.
In fact, we’re shown from the start that Asami is a very generous person who is interested in unity with Korra rather than being her enemy. Upon meeting Mako and learning of the Fire Ferrets’ situation, she elects to use her wealth (technically her father’s wealth) and status to help them. Though this may seem like a typical femme fatale setup in which the woman is concocting a nefarious plan to make the man indebted to her, this is not how Asami operates. Rather, it’s her father who has the ulterior motives. Asami is really just a kind, generous person who doesn’t try to win people over with her riches. Asami’s generosity continues later on in the series. In Books 3 and 4, she offers the wealth and resources of Future Industries to team Avatar, including a giant airship. She’s generous even when she should still be recovering from heavy financial losses in Book 2.
So while Asami looks like what we sense is a femme fatale, most of her actions in the series show that she’s not. Her super feminine expression cues certain negative assumptions about her because we’re very used to women that look like Asami actually being evil or conniving. I think that, ultimately, Asami helps us challenge and unlearn those assumptions.
A Friendly, Girly Pony
Likewise, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic’s Rarity is presented as someone very feminine who we expect will be rude and full of herself while shallowly lavishing in riches and pretty things. I remember while season 1 was still airing seeing many people list Rarity as their least favorite or expressing surprise at her being the element of generosity. Why would the prissy rich girl who likes fancy things be associated with generosity?
This supposed mismatch of elements isn’t completely without support. After all, there are many times in the shows earlier episodes when Rarity frets over something trivial or is reduced to a damsel in distress or tries to assert her idea of femininity over others. In fact, she doesn’t always seem any more generous or kind than anypony else when things are going well for her. Generosity doesn’t seem to play much into her character until around season 3 (though there may be earlier instances that I’m forgetting). Before then, the only other instance I can think of is when she makes dresses for the Mane 6 and doesn’t charge for them. Rarity’s generosity seems to manifest most in her time and talents rather than giving away material possessions.
One could probably find many instances in which Rarity doesn’t come across as generous at all, but while she may not always be generous, she is never disloyal. She never betrays her friends, nor does she plot against them. The most she does in relation to the femme fatale character is bat her eyelashes at Spike to get him to do things. Sure, this is reminiscent of the femme fatale, but Rarity is still far from actually being such a character. Yet she seems to be the most disliked–at least, that was the case back when I paid attention to the fandom in 2011. I don’t think people hate her, but I don’t often see anyone say she’s their favorite pony. For good or for ill, she’s the most feminine pony by expression and I think that contributes to her being off-putting at times. We expect characters like Rarity to, at some point, annoy us by being shallow or whiny or rude to her friends. Rarity expresses these behaviors at some point, but so do most of the other ponies.
Asami and Rarity faces a certain set of audience expectations that aren’t as noticeable for the other characters. However, they both show that super feminine, wealthy girls can be genuinely good to their friends and lovers even while their character designs clue to the classic femme fatale.