By Wu Xueting
To say that the Teen Wolf series finale on September 24 left things open-ended would be an understatement. Many viewers have also noted the lack of a definitive ending, which Teen Wolf’s creator and showrunner Jeff Davis revealed was intentional, done in the interest of picking up the story again in the future. Reports about a potential reboot or spin-off in the works had been circulating online months before the finale, as Davis and MTV are in talks to continue the story in podcast form and later, a reboot series with a new class of characters.
But why go down the rabbit hole of yet another TV reboot, when you have a chance to develop a promising character and storyline that got abandoned halfway? I’m talking about Kira Yukimura, the awkward and vibrant Kitsune (Japanese fox spirit) played by Arden Cho, who joined the show in Season 3B only to be written off unexpectedly ahead of Season 6.
The last time we saw Kira, she left with the Skinwalkers to learn how to control her Kitsune spirit. With a personal storyline full of potential hanging in the air, the announcement that Arden Cho would not be returning as Kira for the indefinite future, without proper explanation on or off the show, was disrespectful to both Kira and Cho to say the least. The series finale offered a redeeming chance to tie things up, but nowhere among the several alums who returned to help the pack and say farewell to the show was Kira.
When asked if he imagined Kira still learning from the Skinwalkers, Davis replied, “I imagine Kira is off involved in some phenomenal adventure of her own, having mastered her skills.” Although that idea would make her not returning to help her friends in the finale even more strange, it sounds like a spin-off just waiting to be made.
It cannot be ignored that Kira’s departure only exacerbated Teen Wolf’s problems with its female characters and characters of colour. Teen Wolf has long received much criticism for the racist and sexist handling of its characters, especially during the second half of its run. The problems were made complicated by Davis’s conscious attempt to create a utopian world without discrimination. Davis explained in 2015, “I’m trying to create a world where there’s no racism, there’s no sexism, there’s no homophobia. And I know it’s not real life, but I kind-of don’t care. I’d like to create a world where none of that matters.” However revolutionary that vision may sound, such a utopia can come close to ignorance of the United States’ system of social stratification by race, gender and sexual orientation, on both the streets and the screens.
Throughout the show’s entire run, Kira, Scott McCall (the Latino protagonist played by Tyler Posey) and Scott’s mother Melissa McCall (played by Melissa Ponzio) were the only main characters of colour. Melissa, who was there since the first episode, only earned main character status in the final season. The show’s characters of colour, including Scott, also largely suffered from poor or sidelined development, often to give more attention to white characters.
Teen Wolf’s treatment of its female characters was not much better. Those who were prominent, including Kira, still spent a lot of their screen time serving the storylines of their male love interests. A trend of killing or writing off the female characters did not help things either, as fans have noted with graphs. Although race and gender may not likely have been explicit factors in such poor treatment, these trends stand out as problematic, especially against the show’s rather political message about prejudice.
A spin-off that centres on Kira and continues her storyline would be an excellent way to do justice to the character and actor, as well as right the wrongs done to the franchise’s female characters and its first lead of colour. It would give Davis the opportunity to grant Kira the focus, respect and agency that Teen Wolf often denied Scott.
Back when Davis was introducing everyone to Kira and the new Japanese mythology-based storyline, he revealed that he came up with the storyline with a potential spin-off in mind. Davis said, “I wanted to do it as a spinoff, as its own show. Partly because I wanted to try doing a female character, our version of a Buffy, but the Kitsune myth is just such a good myth.”
Not only was the Kitsune an interesting myth, it also gave the writers an opportunity to explore Japanese culture as part of a Japanese-American character’s background and development (Kira is half-Japanese and half-Korean), without defining her by it. As Cho said in response to comments about Kira being stereotypical, “It’s different. She got to be a lead, she wasn’t over sexualised, she wasn’t a vixen, and her knowing how to fight wasn’t the basis of her character, and it was a supernatural reflex because she comes from a line of Kitsunes.”
Kira’s most visually badass moments came when she fights like a warrior with her katana (her sword) and controls electricity with her bare hands, often while glowing with the golden outline of the fox inside her. Cho’s third degree black belt background added to the awe of Kira’s fight scenes. However, her strongest and most memorable quality comes from not so much her supernatural powers as her determination to confront her insecurities and help her friends. Kira would do anything to help the people she loves, even leaving her family and home to train in the desert with the Skinwalkers if it meant she could protect them.
Kira’s arrival at Beacon Hills saw Teen Wolf diving into Japanese mythology, brought to life by not only the Korean-American Cho but also Japanese-American actor Tamlyn Tomita who plays Kira’s mother. Viewers got a look at a Japanese- and Korean-American family at home eating sushi and teaching Scott how to use chopsticks. We heard Kira’s mother speak Japanese a few times, and we followed Kira as she learned about her family history from her parents.
Unlike the McCall family, where there was practically no reference to their Latinx ethnicity, the Yukimura family demonstrated some cultural differences from the rest of the characters. I personally did not feel like their differences were forced, to insert representation for representation’s sake. Kira’s family echoed some Asian or Asian-American stereotypes, but also departed from a lot of them. Her parents were supportive of her dating, and were concerned but did not try to control who she dated. Her mother also clearly made most of the decisions in the household, but not by being oppressive. This unique family dynamic breaks down the borders of any apparent monolithic Asian-American or even Japanese-American experience. It acknowledges and normalises differences in diversity, differences that can be powerfully woven into a character’s journey of self-discovery and the show’s larger narrative. Giving Kira and her family their own show would be a big step in the right direction to add complexity to diverse representation in the franchise.
The mystery of the Kitsune, the Nogitsune and the Oni made Season 3B probably the show’s most exciting and innovative season and, according to many, its best season. In that same season, the flashback episode “The Fox and the Wolf” was the show’s first big attempt at commenting on United States’ history with race. It looked back at a dark and largely obscure side of that history –Japanese-American internment during World War II. The episode privileged the sensational storytelling of Teen Wolf’s overarching supernatural plot over the historical complexity of its specific subject matter, resulting in numerous flaws. But it also shed some light on the very real corruption and brutality of the local administration that ran the camps. Much of the flaws also arise from the writers trying to cram multiple layers of storytelling into a single episode. If given more episodes to focus on Japanese and Japanese-American culture from the perspective of a Japanese-American family, the writers could perhaps surprise us with a creative examination of US racial diversity that Teen Wolf’s inclusive “pack” message has long been merely hinting at.
Teen Wolf’s exploration of Japanese mythology and history can certainly still be improved, but it is a rare feat of critical cross-cultural awareness in the genre. Western sci-fi fantasy has traditionally been fascinated with Asian cultural imagery and mythologies but not so much with Asian people themselves. As Firefly’s extensive use of Chinese culture without any notable Asian characters suggests, we need more informed stories of Asian cultures in pop culture and Asians who participate in the telling.
Given the dearth of Asian-American leads, let alone female ones, in Hollywood, I feel that Kira Yukimura showed too much creative potential to be neglected in the way that Teen Wolf did. Recently, as we’ve also discussed here, we are seeing more women of colour take on lead roles in sci-fi fantasy shows. Actors like Ming-Na Wen (Melinda May on Agents of SHIELD), Karen David (Princess Isabella on Galavant) and Tala Ashe (Zari Adrianna Tomaz on Legends of Tomorrow) are showing that Asians have always been heroes and fighters, in familiar and magical worlds, the past and the future. Yet, Asians as a group remain one of the most underrepresented as leads in Western television, despite the ethnic diversity of Asians themselves. A study of 242 broadcast, cable and digital platform shows in the 2015–2016 season found that, among all series regulars, white characters made up 69.5%, compared to only 4.3% for monoracial Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders. Within this small percentage, many shows like Galavant, Sense8, and Marco Polo have also been cancelled. Their untimely cancellations point to the importance of a spin-off that can give due continuity and closure to yet another abandoned Asian-American story in recent years. If Teen Wolf’s showrunners do begin further talks about continuing the franchise, here’s hoping that they do not forget Kira’s story just as Kira would not forget her friends.
Editor: Andrea Merodeadora