Strong Female LeadAs much as I love most of the female characters in the Kingdom Hearts series, they have generally been unable to take care of themselves for the most part. Do not get me wrong, though. Kairi, Naminé and Xion are all strong female characters in their own ways. However, they all end up needing to be saved by male characters somewhere along the way. Not to mention Kingdom Hearts is part Disney and all the Disney princesses are basically damsels in distress. Needless to say, I was very pleasantly surprised that Aqua broke the mold for the typical female character in this series. Not only can Aqua actually fight, but she can fight well. She was the one who was qualified to become a Keyblade Master. Technically, Aqua's skills were slightly better than Terra's when they were matched up against each other as well. Aqua never had to be saved by anyone and she always took care of herself. In fact, she often was taking care of Terra and Ven among other characters in the worlds that she visited. It was very refreshing to like a strong female character that did not randomly get kidnapped or need to be rescued by a male character for whatever reason. I actually didn't realize how different she was until Hades showed up in Olympus Coliseum with the Ice Titan. Zack runs forward in order to help Aqua, but she holds her Keyblade out in order to stop him while telling him that she can do it herself. Again, I don't think there is anything wrong with female characters that have strengths in places other than combat and physical capabilities. It just gets boring after a while when they use the same type of female character over and over.
Aqua is truly a strong female character all around. Not only does she not need to consistently rely on others, but she has the emotional strength that most of the Kingdom Hearts females have as well. She pushes forward despite her world crashing down around her. She loses her master, both of her friends to some extent and the comfort of her old way of thinking. That is not to say she is perfect, of course. She gets discouraged and almost gives up like anyone would. However, she always pulls through, especially when others need her. She is not afraid to admit that she makes mistakes and is also able to be modest but confident in herself and her abilities.
Even so, I guess Square Enix thought that Aqua was not feminine enough because they threw in a few things to make her seem more so. The opening scene where Aqua is above Ven while he is sleeping obviously draws strong parallels from Aqua to Kairi (who is pretty "feminine" according to the stereotype). Aqua makes her friends good luck charms based on the shape of a fruit that has a romanticized idea behind it. She giggles and laughs over something silly between Ven and Terra. To me, she seems almost like a different character in the beginning. Of course it can be argued that she was more carefree before the Mark of Mastery exam, but I also think that it's because Square Enix wanted to make her seem more feminine in contrast to Terra and Ven. In addition, Aqua often times will put her hand over her chest in a fist when things are bothering her or if she is worried. I have noticed that such an action is a stereotypical thing for female characters to do in anime (though I can't say I'm sure why). Lastly, I feel that Zach asking Aqua for a date in Olympus Coliseum was more to focus on her reaction than to be comedy relief. She immediately gets extremely awkward, embarrassed and blushes like mad. Rather than turning him down like I felt like she would in a nice way, it somehow became a big deal. I personally just felt like her reaction was a bit extreme and out of character. For example, Phil was hitting on her and making weird comments and she just gave him a confused/raised eyebrow kind of look. Her two best friends were both guys so it's not like she has no experience talking to them either. In any case, I suppose Square Enix wanted players to remember that despite Aqua’s soldier-like personality that she is still a girl too.