I'm just a bird whose intentions are good. A blog for writing about media.
Galo Thymos’ Maiden Vibes: Promare and The Heroine’s Journey
As someone who’s been in the Promare fandom for the past few months I had an unbidden thought come up, as one does, which went basically like “Galo Thymos is such a manly bro but also has mad maiden vibes for some reason.” I immediately wanted to dig deeper into that. In a casual sense and judging loosely from reception from various fellow fans, I was not alone in my assessment of the word as a decent descriptor of our lovable hot-blooded, goofy-but-noble firefighter with a burning soul.
But why “maiden” specifically? Why was that word and its gendered literary connotation the one that sprung to mind easiest, especially with regards to this character from a movie about Fire People and Robots Punching Each Other? In poring over my own thoughts, when I talk about “maiden” I do not find myself thinking of “helplessness” or “damsel in distress” or other related terms of stereotypical femininity. The official definition of “maiden” is specifically “young woman or virgin,” but it does have an antiquated literary ring to it which I feel is important to the connotation it had in my mind. Interestingly enough, in looking up its etymology, the word has been used to refer to males as well, and its earlier PIE root, *maghu-, means “young person” and other words deriving from this root vary from meaning simply “child or descendant” (of any gender) or “servant/slave.” So “maiden,” as a word and history, has wrapped up within it the idea of youth, inexperience, and the existence of a system/power dynamic, across genders. It is in this light that I evaluate “maiden.”
I would like to note that in using “maiden” to describe Galo I’m not trying to relate this as an argument for either side of the ever-present fandom shipping top/bottom discourse, or even to specific queer interpretations of the character and story both in canon interpretation and fandom transformative creation, of which there exists a wide variety of approaches. My use of “maiden” as descriptor in this context is more related to the structure of the story itself, and how he fits into it as a character. “Maiden” in my assessment does not connote weakness in the way that maybe “damsel” does–quite the opposite, as there are many “maiden” characters in both contemporary and traditional fiction who are strong characters with agency and personality. However despite their inherent strengths, they are still vulnerable due to their position within a power structure as well as their inexperience. Thus, the maiden characters that come immediately to mind are often female for this reason, since for female characters the power structure they often come up against usually has to do with patriarchal systems, although this is not always the case.
While investigating my reactions to “maiden,” I was curious and looked into the concept of the “Heroine’s Journey,” as opposed to the generally more commonly taught “Hero’s Journey.” Victoria Schmidt’s “Heroine’s Journey” model is a narrative model made as an alternative to Joseph Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey” or monomyth model. Campbell’s model, to simplify, focuses more on a protagonist, the “Hero” (initially thought of as male, but has been applied to stories of characters of any gender) accepting a call to adventure that brings the hero outside of their ordinary world, overcoming struggles and trials, and then attaining power and wisdom to bring back benefits and change to their previous ordinary world. Schmidt’s Heroine’s Journey on the other hand seems to focus less on the protagonist’s changing of the world itself, and more on the paradigm shift the protagonist experiences. Instead of a “Call to Adventure,” the Heroine’s Journey begins with the “Illusion of the Perfect World,” in which the protagonist has a set way of navigating, interpreting, and behaving in the world around them that will guarantee them success and survival. This illusion is broken in the next step, “Betrayal” in which the image the protagonist has built up of their world can no longer function. The rest of the journey involves coming to terms with that, overcoming challenges, dealing with despair, but also receiving and accepting support that helps them reorient themselves, in a way that eventually leads them to “Returning to a World Seen through new eyes”.
Of course we must disclaim that like the Hero’s Journey, the Heroine Journey is a useful tool for interpretation, but not necessarily a prescriptive framework. As a male character in a story that does not address gender, Galo’s struggle is not against patriarchy in the ways that many maiden-type stories with female characters are (though I do have thoughts about the role of gender in the story, and would also be deeply interested in other people’s takes about this movie through the lens of gender, if anyone was so inclined.) That being said, similar to the inciting factor of the Heroine’s Journey, it is a story about dismantling the illusion of a perfect world, and it is a dismantling that occurs more and more throughout the story, as more truths and secrets are revealed throughout.
As mentioned above in my interpretation of the elements of what constitutes “maiden” to me–inexperience (sheltered-ness), youth, and servitude (servitude, as in being beholden to a system) are elements that are present in his character. Galo is established as the rookie of his firefighting team, and while he is competent and devoted, he is still someone in service to and under the authority of a greater power, symbolized by the ever-present symbolism of the Foresight Foundation and its grid-like, orderly structures it lays upon the world. Galo receives praise and adulation for his service from the foundation and from Kray Foresight, its founder, figurehead, and embodiment of worldly order. However, when he does try to defend himself and question the actions of the structure he is in, he is abruptly shut down and threatened with violence for stepping beyond his defined role. Vulcan’s dismissal of Galo’s challenging of his injustice in the Pizza Parlor is to “Study the law before running around like some sort of hero.” While Galo does get angry at this, he also initially treats it as something to accept and “cool down” from. His conversation on the Frozen lake with Aina emphasizes the powers at play in his life. He is beholden to Kray Foresight, and by extension the Foresight Foundation, not only for saving his life as a child, but, as shown in the Galo-Hen short prequel, for helping him get his dream job in the first place. Because of this, Galo feels a deep obligation to not seem like he’s “misusing” Kray’s authority, and his solitary trips to the frozen lake are the ways in which he copes with his frustration without rocking the boat or causing disruption to the system he is a part of. The system is one that praises and dismisses him on a whim depending on how “useful” it finds him at the moment, and despite his anger and frustration, it is his job to deal with it and find ways to “cool off” so he can return to becoming a functioning member of society again. As mentioned in the first step of Schmidt’s Journey, it is a coping mechanism that has proven useful to him and the people he serves, but as the story progresses, it becomes clear that he cannot continue to rely on it.
Lio and Kray both play a role in the “Betrayal of the Perfect World”, in which the protagonist learns that their previous coping mechanisms no longer work, and thus must begin the journey of uncovering truth. Galo loves and adores Kray, and is willing to serve the system (which the city of Promepolis itself, presented in the beginning of the movie with its clean, square, orderly buildings, can serve to symbolize) in order to avoid trouble. However, when he confronts Lio and the other Burnish in the cave, he has to face the idea that his beloved patron might not be who he thought he is. Galo at first thinks he can confront Kray on a personal level about the injustice he’s witnessed, hoping to communicate through the personal connection that he thinks they have, appealing to the standard of authority and rightness represented by Kray himself and the authoritative architecture around him. However, he is once again violently tossed aside for trying to express a differing opinion, being deemed “in the way” and of no more value to the person and establishment he had spent so long serving and adoring. It is only after this experience of deep personal betrayal that he is able to move forward and begin to uncover truth.
To reiterate my initial thought that led to this entire rabbit hole: why does Galo Thymos, a total bro of a character, give me “maiden” vibes? In the simplest way to put it, I think it is because in my experience of media consumption, it is often female characters who are written in stories as being “pure of heart” and sheltered from “dangerous” knowledge by society or trusted authority figures (often with paternal/romantic overtones) who may or may not eventually betray them. Twist villains are not exactly uncommon in media–see for example, many of the Disney Pixar villains of recent years–but an aspect that gives off specifically “maiden” vibes to me is that the relationship between the “maiden” character and authority character is usually one that involves genuine affection and a kind of emotional vulnerability that I don’t always see regarding male characters and their male mentors. The desire of the “maiden” character is not to supplant their authority figure and take their place of power in the Oedipal way, but to live as their most authentic self. Galo and Lio end up fighting Kray during the Krazor-X vs. Lio de Galon mech battle, and it is a LOT of fun and from a story perspective we get to see a bit more development of their personalities as they work together, but it is not the decisive battle of the story itself. During the battle, Galo still is clinging to his old methods of dealing with his problems–“Grin and bear it” –and while he survives, the battle is more a draw than a decisive victory, and ultimately leads to Kray once again betraying Galo and attempting to kill him once again.
Lio’s position in this story is great as a contrast to Galo’s maiden vibes– Even without being given a concrete backstory, he is clearly much more experienced and world-weary than Galo, and is someone who exists outside of the orderly square world of Promepolis, actively working to disrupt it. He is introduced in the story as an initial sort of antagonist, as the embodiment of the extra-societal “danger” Galo has been trying to protect himself and others from in the beginning–the mysterious alluring stranger type initially presented as powerful and morally dubious, but in the end is revealed to be vulnerable and in need of the protagonist’s help through the power of love or such other emotional method. This culminates in the bombastic ending, which is less based around defeating and taking the power from the corrupt authority, but through coming together in a communal way that ends up reforming the world. This is interesting especially contrasting Galo’s story to Kray’s–Kray could be seen as someone trying to take the original kind Campbell Hero’s Journey, which involves bringing change and accomplishment to the world on an individual level, with his desire to be hailed as a singular savior and hero. Galo and Lio’s conclusion, in contrast, seems to line up a lot more with theend of Schmidt’s Heroine’s Journey model, which states “Their experience will change others, but receiving recognition for being a change-maker is not their priority.” In the end of the movie, the world is irreversibly changed, but it’s not necessarily a world of certainty, but one that requires new approaches different than the things that had worked before, that will be carried out by others beyond themselves.
This is a rather general description, and mostly based off my own admittedly limited scope, but this is also why the plot of Promare seemed to remind me more of say, girls’ horse movies, or traditional Beauty and the Beast narratives, or even Disney’s Tangled, or child ballads, and a bunch of other somewhat more familiar, common “girl” story types.The movie itself might not be intended to be that deep, and I’m not saying that that was the intention at all, but that was the way in which I related to it, and also a big reason I think why Promare resonated with me and others as well. The appeal of “maiden” characters for me, of any gender, is that emotional side of their story and relationships, seeing characters be vulnerable as well as triumphant, and seeing their support through connection and love rather than just through physical and material domination itself. After all, while Promare is very much an action movie, full of bright colors and explosions and punches and giddy masculine swagger enough to make anyone dizzy, it also is one that makes its climactic moment one of intimacy and sacrifice.
I’m not just talking about The Kiss™, but for what comes after. When Lio is revived, he asks Galo for one more thing–to help him “burn this Earth to the ground” and release the Promare once and for all. Galo is flabbergasted at first, asking, “How can you ask me, a firefighter, to do that?” Lio is, after all, asking him to do something completely antithetical to his previous way of doing things. However, after everything they’ve been through together, Galo does accepts Lio’s offer and together they are able to work together, along with the rest of the Burnish, into bringing forth and transforming the new world as a whole.