July 23, 2012

Princess Jellyfish: shattering the glass ceiling

Posted in Gender Roles, Uncategorized tagged , , , at 5:34 pm by starsamaria

Before I’d even thought about watching Princess Jellyfish, I knew I’d encounter the topic of gender roles. Many fans of the show have discussed the fact that Kuranosuke, a male who crossdresses to escape his responsibilities as the son of a politician, is straight. Protagonist Tsukumi is also an interesting representation of a female character because she is more interested in jellyfish than in romance or being attractive. Yet when I finally watched the anime, the character who made the biggest impression on me wasn’t Kuranosuke or Tsukumi: it was Shoko Inari. Throughout Princess Jellyfish, a sharp contrast is made between Tsukumi and the other women of the Amamizu boarding house and ‘the Stylish.’ The women at Amamizu (who call themselves ‘nuns’) fear going outside and encountering ‘the Stylish,’ who are attractive and usually professionals. The only Stylish woman we get to know in Princess Jellyfish is Shoko Inari, a career woman who uses sex to achieve success in the workplace.

Shoko is at the head of the project to tear down the Amamizu boarding house, and at one point in the series she meets with Shu, Kuranosuke’s brother, to discuss plans for the complex. She drugs him and strips him at a hotel, taking blackmail photos to make it seem as though the two had sex. Shoko’s character implicitly sends many negative messages about women in the workforce. Her presence suggests that the only way women can be professionally successful is if they are attractive, and that they must knowingly use their appearance to their adavantage. Her character also suggests that women who aspire to be professionally successful are cruel and will do anything to get to the top, yet they don’t actually use their intelligence or talent to do so. Thus, although the women at Amamizu are sometimes over-the-top in thinking the worst about the Stylish, they are usually portrayed sympathetically, and by presenting Shoko as the only Stylish woman in the series, Princess Jellyfish implicitly sends a negative image of the working woman.

Shoko’s character does more than perpetuate negative stereotypes about working women: she also sends harmful messages about women and their relationships with men. After Shu tells Shoko to stay away from him, he calls Shoko when she is drunk and mistakenly believes that she wants to commit suicide. He rushes to find her and sees her passed out with a bottle of pills she accidentally dropped. Shu slaps her several times for seemingly throwing her life away and for making him worry, which shocks Shoko. When Shoko thinks of the incident later on, she begins to realize that she has a crush on Shu. While some fans interpret that Shoko’s feelings started because Shu stopped letting her push him around, it is still disturbing that she started to fall for a man because he was violent toward her. Still, it’s not like Princess Jellyfish is alone in sending these messages. The media has shown women who were willing to  do anything to achieve professional success ever since women entered the workforce, and there are many anime and manga that show female characters falling for men who have committed much worse acts of violence towards them. Overall, Princess Jellyfish is a very good show with a range of unique gender representations – but in Shoko’s case, it’s quite clear that the glass ceiling hasn’t been shattered.

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7 Comments »

  1. nfdgurrl said,

    I wholeheartedly agree with you and it disappoints me that I must! I love Princess Jellyfish because of it how it represents feminine nerdom in a way that is so underrepresented in media,.Also, I do actually enjoy the character of Kuranosuke, who can explore his femininity despite the fact that he is not at all gay. But yes, Shoko Inari is so problematic as a female character, and it saddens me no end. Typical femme fatale who uses her sexuality to get ahead *sigh*. Perhaps this will change in future chapters of the manga, but i doubt it.

    • starsamaria said,

      Thank you so much for commenting! You’re definitely right that most media shun the female ‘nerd’ – 99% of the time when we see nerds they’re male, and on the rare occassions we do see female nerds they’re nerds because they’re socially awkward rather than because they have ‘geeky’ hobbies (comics, video games, etc.) I agree that Kuranosuke is a very interesting character, and I’d say pretty progressive as a representation of a male crossdresser because he’s straight. This makes it even more frustrating that a character like Shoko exists in the series. And as an aside, I wish the Princess Jellyfish manga was licensed in the U.S – I’d love to find out what happens after the point the anime finishes at.

  2. This is a very interesting post you wrote here, but there are some points that I slightly disagree. The Amamizukan aren’t portrayed sympathetically in my eyes except Tsukimi, who very slowly starts socializing, making friends and falling in love with males, and who is the one working hard for the jellyfish dresses. Banba is very rude to Kuranosuke and only calms down by his bribery of food; Mayaya is highly annoying with her Three Kingdom speeches/screams and appears like a child in mind; Jiji and Chieko are quieter and calmer characters than the rest but like them all, they are NEETS, paracites of society, reluctant of hard work or creativity unless it has to do with their hobbies.

    About Inari now falling for Shu, after slapping her, this interpretation is not exactly right in my eyes. When I saw the series, I didn’t translate it, he slaps her, so she falls in love with him. It’s a very linear explanation that only covers the surface. The way I saw it, Inari fell in love with Shu, because someone got really worried about her giving up her life. Other men, would either not believe her or not cared at all. Violence is kinda problematic, but don’t you think that the situation here is very very different from your average shoujo romance that connects love with violence? Shu isn’t the Alpha male, the playboy or the very cynic and highly manipulative guy. He’s naive and kind, and he got exploited by Inari through such an awful way that honestly she deserved that slap, just to show her that she couldn’t do as she pleases with other people’s hearts and especially with benevolent ones. (I know I might sound sexist, but just try to reverse Inari’s and Shu’s role and see, if it is just the fact that the male is violent that annoys you and if a woman acted that way would change your opinion. Also, take in account they aren’t couple. I wouldn’t agree in violence between a couple ever.)

    Also Inari’s stereotype isn’t that strong in the manga, which I highly recommend to start reading even from scans. There are other women working and being charming but not manipulative. I guess, within 11 eps there was a limitation with what they could do and they didn’t consider the implications of adapting only a part from the manga and altering almost everything near the end… I won’t say more not to spoiler you.

    • starsamaria said,

      I do understand why you’d feel the other women at the Amamizu boarding house aren’t portrayed sympathetically, however, while we do get to occassionally see their bad sides, we only get to see Shoko’s bad side, which is why I’d still argue that they are shown sympathetically at some level. As for the slap, I am fully aware that Shoko didn’t fall for Shu because he slapped her. And while I do agree with you that Shu slapping her is different than the average shojo manga because he’s not a ‘bad boy,’ in the end, the slap still sends the same message by connecting violence to romance. Not that I blame Shu for doing so considering what Shoko had done to him.

  3. soaringwings said,

    I am saddened to hear this. I was looking forward to watching a series that had a lead that actually did not care how she looked or was out looking for guys. Still going to watch it, but this is really going to taint the show for me. I really hate when any sort of media portrays career women as these harpies that only got to the top because they are sexy and not because they deserve it. Bugs me just as much as those affirmative action myths for the same reason. D:<

    • starsamaria said,

      It bugs me too, but I don’t think you should let it stop you from watching and enjoying the show. Although Shoko’s character sends an unfortunate message and rubbed me the wrong way, I still really liked Princess Jellyfish and wouldn’t go as far as to say that Shoko’s presence ‘ruins’ the show. It’s funny that career women in particular are almost always portrayed negatively in the media – either they’re masculine and ‘chose’ their career over a relationship (whereas working men don’t *have* to choose), or they are hyperfeminine sexpots.

      • soaringwings said,

        Or the best is when they are “redeemed” by choosing love over career. Ugh. This is quickly becoming one of my most loathed tropes. T__T But yeah, I’ll try to keep an open mind when I get to the show and hopefully I manage to get some enjoyment out of it even with Shoko.


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