Oh no they didn’t! – The most shocking moments in shojo.

Oh no they didn’t! – The most shocking moments in shojo.

   While most anime and manga recycle cliché after cliché, some of them are capable of genuinely surprising moments, and shojo is no execption. Sometimes it’s not even what happens in a scene, but how it happens that makes it stand out. Here are some of the scenes in shojo that truly shocked me (and please note that there are several spoilers, so proceed with caution!).

–          Shika finding out her father isn’t who she thought he was in Sand Chronicles. This one is great because it was Fuji who suspected that he wasn’t a legitimate Tsukishima heir, and tormented himself to the point of closing off other people – I certainly didn’t see it coming that it was really Shika who was illegitimate! And it was made even sadder because she, unlike Fuji, never even suspected any of the secrets in her family. I thought Fuji’s storyline might play out à la Yuu from Marmalade Boy, but it turned out better not only because of the twist involving Shika, but also because Fuji’s emotional distress was better handled.

We Were There's Nanami

–          Nanami’s line at the end of We Were There volume eight: “I never saw Yano again.” Yano decides to move with his mother to Tokyo for his last year of high school, and he and Nanami make a promise to meet there in a year. The series then flashforwards from their separation at the train station to the end of Nanami’s last year in college, where we find out she and Yano never kept their promise. The next volume couldn’t have come out fast enough, because I couldn’t believe the way Nanami and Yano drifted apart. This also counts as one of the saddest moments I’ve read in a manga, because reading this scene moved me to tears.

–          Ren asking Nana to marry her in volume eleven of Nana. In the panels leading up to this scene, the mood is very tense because Nana anticipates that the next time she sees Ren they’ll be breaking up. Instead, Ren says ‘Marry me.’ I think I stared at those two words for five minutes before I could comprehend what was going on enough to turn to the next page!

–          Hachi finding out she’s pregnant in volume eight of Nana. Yes, another moment from Nana – Ai Yazawa is just that good. Most series wouldn’t go this far, having the main female character wind up pregnant in the middle of the series, rather than as some ‘happily ever after.’ The fact that this happens when she’s with Nobu, her ‘dream guy,’ yet Takumi finds out first and is the one to tell Nobu about the pregnancy and that she’s not sure who the father is makes the drama all the more heartbreaking. In many ways, this is where this series begins. This one was still surprising even though I had already semi-spoiled it for myself.

–          Naoki kissing Kotoko on vacation in volume four of Itazura na Kiss. As soon as I saw Naoki kindly approach Kotoko, I could tell it was going to be a dream sequence. Then when Kotoko wakes up and mentions that she can still feel the sensation of the kiss from her dream on her lips, Yuuki is shown hiding, so I just assumed that he had kissed her and was developing feelings for her because he was blushing. I didn’t think too much about it, especially because the incident was dropped for a while. But then a while later in the series, when Naoki’s feelings for Kotoko are being doubted, Yuuki reveals that he knows Naoki loves Kotoko because he kissed her that summer  – it wasn’t a dream! I was as ecstatic as I was shocked when I read that, and all I could think was “Well played.” I really believe that the way Kaoru Tada executes scenes like these is what makes her a wonderful writer, and what makes Itazura na Kiss such an enjoyable series.

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Shojo Myths Debunked!

Shojo Myths Debunked!

I thought I’d write about some of the more common misconceptions people have about shojo. Some of these only fans who are unfamiliar with the genre believe, while others even those who are fans and have been reading and watching shojo for years believe. So I hope this will be informative and help counter some of the preconceived notions about shojo that exist.

All shojo manga authors are female. It’s certainly true that the majority of shojo manga-ka are women, and that the most famous shojo artists, such as Yuu Watase and Ai Yazawa, are female. However, there are actually more male shojo authors than people realize. The shojo manga market was actually founded by the ‘god of manga’ himself, Osamu Tezuka. Other male shojo manga-ka include Tanaka Meca, author of Faster Than a Kiss, and Mineyo Maya, who created Patalliro!

CLAMP’s X/1999 manga

The main protagonist is always female. While outsiders may believe this to be true, fans familiar with shojo manga have come across at least one series with a male protagonist. CLAMP’s dark fantasy series X  has male main characters, while authors such as Aya Kanno (Blank Slate, Otomen) and Kaori  Yuki (Angel Sanctuary, Godchild) specialize in creating works centered on male characters. And the shonen-ai genre, which is a sub-branch of shojo, typically has main male characters – after all, it’d be kind of hard to have a ‘boys love’ story without the boys.

All shojo focus on romance. While most contemporary shojo manga highlight romantic relationships, many of the earliest shojo featured stories about orphaned children or mother-daughter relationships rather than romantic entanglements.  Because shojo is a marketing demographic, there are actually several genres within shojo – horror shojo, mecha, slice-of-life, fantasy, magical girl, and many more. Even today, there are prominent shojo without romantic themes, such as Baby & Me, which follows brothers Takuya and Minoru after their mother dies.

Love Hina is shojo. Or Ah! My Goddess or Maison Ikkoku. I’ve seen many people mistakenly deem series as shojo just because they have romance or a main female character. However, shonen series often feature romance as well – there are many shonen romantic comedies and harem series that play to male audiences’ fantasies. More than romantic plots or female characters, what really determines if something is shojo is what magazine it ran in during its publication in Japan. More famous shojo magazines include Nakayoshi (Sailor Moon, Cardcaptor Sakura), Ribon (Marmalade Boy, most of Arina Tanemura’s works), Margaret and all its spinoffs (Boys Over Flowers, Kimi ni Todoke) and Hana to Yume (Fruits Basket, Ouran High School Host Club).

The characters all look the same. This is a stereotype of shojo that really bothers me. Some people criticize shojo for using ‘flowery’ art where all the characters have big eyes and look alike. But I find this to be hypocritical – there are many shonen series that have similar artstyles as well – it’s just more noticeable in shojo because shojo tends to be extremely character-centric. Besides, there are plenty of shojo artists who have very distinct styles – Ai Yazawa’s sharp, realistic designs look nothing like Arina Tanemura’s long-haired damsels.

Guys can’t enjoy shojo. There is a belief that all media made for women, not just manga, are ‘inferior’ to more male-oriented stories. Thus, there are many men who won’t watch or read something just because it was meant to be consumed by women. Some people criticize shojo without even giving it a chance – they let their prejudices get in the way of many of the great strengths of shojo: relatable plotlines and fully-rounded characters that can be wonderfully emotional and addictive. Plenty of guys I know have enjoyed shojo series, because ultimately, a good story stands above all else.

Friendship in shojo anime and manga

Friendship in shojo anime and manga

  There are few shojo that focus as much on romance as Marmalade Boy does; the (anime) series literally has a dozen love triangles. But the relationship that interests me most in Marmalade Boy isn’t one of the dramatic couples or contrived triangles – it’s best friends Miki and Meiko. Marmalade Boy was the first anime I watched that featured a prominent and relatable female friendship. I understood Miki’s desire to be the closest person to her best friend, and her disappointment at finding out Meiko never confided in her the way she does. And yet, despite their problems, Miki and Meiko end up being the person the other could depend on the most: Meiko was there for Miki when she was unsure about Ginta, and in return, Miki decided that Meiko needed to see Namura and took her to Hiroshima. So while some of the romances in Marmalade Boy fell flat for me, seeing Miki and Meiko made me wish I could have their friendship. And while most shojo manga best-friends end up becoming a love rival or betraying the heroine (Yuu Watase loves this cliché), it’s refreshing to find genuine friendships that are also not completely perfect or idealized. Watching Marmalade Boy made me think about what other friendships in shojo anime and manga I thought were well-portrayed or could really relate to. And after reading an interesting article on friendships in shojo; I decided to write about the manga friendships that have affected me most.

 If there’s one friendship in manga that reminds me of my own, it’s Risa and Nobu in Lovely Complex. I love the way they tease each other yet always support one another through their problems – and that the way they help each other is by encouraging the other to show their ‘inner boobies.’ I love the random, perverted conversations they have, such as a scene when Risa and Nobu are at a sleepover and pretend to hit on one another. Even though their friendship isn’t always at the forefront, the dynamic between Risa and Nobu feels more than just fun – it feels authentically teenaged, which is what makes them so relatable.

Nana Osaki and Nana “Hachi” Komatsu

 While Marmalade Boy and Love*Com feature my favorite anime and manga friendships, of course there are many other great ones. Kimi ni Todoke explores that awkward stage when you haven’t defined yourselves as friends. Cardcaptor Sakura, on the other hand, has Tomoyo, who always helps Sakura out and wishes for her complete happiness. And it’s impossible to talk about female friendships without mentioning Nana. The series is unique in that the central thrust of the series isn’t a romance or an overarching plot, but the friendship between the Nanas. At first, Hachi idolizes punk-rocker Nana, but as the series progresses and the two grow closer, Hachi realizes that Nana isn’t as strong as she seems. The series not only explores the potential possessiveness and jealousy that comes with becoming close friends, but also the rewards of finding someone you can’t imagine living without.

 Of course, there are great male friendships in shojo manga as well. The main one that comes to mind for me is the F4 from Boys Over Flowers, a.k.a Hana Yori Dango, four rich teenage boys who run their high school. I love the idea of a clique of guys who under their spoiled-rotten façades, are really normal, sweet guys who have also been best friends for thirteen years. I also adore that every member of the F4 has his role: the leader, Tsukasa, who is constantly causing trouble, Akira and Sojiro, who clean up the messes left behind from Tsukasa’s rampages, and Rui, who is usually off sleeping somewhere. And even though they argue (a lot), I love that they always band together to help each other out, especially in the live-action adaptations. Plus, they’re hot. There’s that, too.

  Oh, and I thought I’d mention that when I considered boy-girl friendships where neither character has romantic feelings for the other, I couldn’t think of any! So if any of you guys can think of some, that’d be great!

Boys Over Flowers’ F4 – Rui Hanazawa, Akira Mimasaka, Sojiro Nishikado and Tsukasa Domyoji
All B.O.D.Y, no soul

All B.O.D.Y, no soul

  I thought I’d review B.O.D.Y, the most mediocre shojo manga I’ve ever read. The series is about Ryoko Sakura, a 16-year-old girl who has a crush on a quiet boy in her class named Ryunosuke Fuji. After a chance encounter, however, Ryoko soon discovers Ryunosuke’s not the serious student she thought he was – he works at a host club! When I read the first volume, I thought the series was sweet and had potential. I really liked the early plotline of Ryunosuke betting that he can get Ryoko to fall for him. The whole dynamic of ‘trying to get someone to fall in love with you’ was really interesting, and I thought Ryunosuke’s plan to make Ryoko unable to keep her eyes off him by avoiding her was clever. I only wish the author would have used this premise a bit longer, because by the middle of the second volume, she’s admitted her feelings for him, and they immediately start going out. And that’s when things go downhill.

The next major storyline focuses on Ryunosuke trying to quit his job as a host. By pure coincidence, Ryoko meets Jin Sawamura, the president of the host club, who agrees to let Ryunosuke go if she can make one million dollars. After she fails, Ryoko tries to figure out why Jin is the way he is, against Ryunosuke’s warnings. She finds out he was once in a relationship with a woman who left him behind with her debt, causing him to get into the host club business. After Ryoko confronts the woman, Jin decides to let go of Ryunosuke for getting so embroiled in his personal affairs. And after reading all this, my immediate reaction was ‘Ugh.’ My biggest pet peeve in shojo manga is when we start focusing on side characters who have just been introduced, giving us no reason to care about them. This is especially when it’s in lieu of developing the main couple. Love*Com focused on Risa and Otani’s friends, but I was okay with that because the series waited much longer to do so, not to mention the side characters had been there from the beginning. Having these contrived plots so early on only tells me the author of B.O.D.Y, Aoi Mimori, didn’t know where the series was going. It would have been much better if the series had focused on more important questions like why Ryunosuke was working at the host club in the first place.

Ridiculous plotlines aside, another irritating aspect of the series is that Ryoko continuously makes dumb decisions. It’s frustrating to see Ryoko become a hostess so Ryunosuke can quit his job, which essentially puts herself in danger, WITHOUT EVEN TELLING RYUNOSUKE about her plan. And when Ryoko is kissed by Kousuke, a host who begins dating one of Ryoko’s friends to spite her for insulting him, she doesn’t tell Ryunosuke for a really trivial reason. And even Ryoko’s friend Asuka jumps into the action, by deciding to lash out at Ryoko when she tries to stop her from taking a shady job to buy a present for Kousuke. I don’t know what message B.O.D.Y is trying to send, but ‘chicks over dicks’ isn’t one of them.

Even the minor flaws in the series began to aggravate me. Aoi Mimori excessively uses flashbacks to events that happened two panels ago, as well an incredible amount of repeated dialogue and narration. And is it just me, or do B.O.D.Y’s pages seem really empty? Reading this series was jarring after coming off of Honey & Clover, which is overflowing with great dialogue. And since B.O.D.Y doesn’t even have the addictive quality of other average shojo series like Black Bird or Hot Gimmick, I’ve promptly decided to drop the series five volumes in. So every time I look at it on my bookshelf, I glare a little.

Belldandy: Divine Goddess or Sexist Doormat?

Belldandy: Divine Goddess or Sexist Doormat?

Aside from writing about shojo, one of the topics I’m really interested in is examining gender roles in anime and manga. One of the most polarizing character types throughout anime and manga is the yamato nadeshiko. A yamato nadeshiko is the ‘ideal traditional Japanese woman’ – someone who is modest, feminine, kind and domestic. When I think of the yamato nadeshiko archetype, the first character that comes to mind is Belldandy from  the seinen series Ah! My Goddess. But as gender roles are becoming increasingly flexible, I’ve seen many people lash out against yamato nadeshiko-type characters as sexist doormats that are symbols of female repression – especially Belldandy. I’ve seen a lot of people debate about whether Belldandy is a doormat because she is so perfect. A major complaint against her character is that she is bound to live with Keiichi by a contract because he wished for her to live with him forever – and thus, she is ‘repressed.’ Jonathon Clements and Helen McCarthy, authors of The Anime Encyclopedia, criticize the story for positing “a boy who is pure of heart and gives him the perfect girlfriend, whose role seems to be to look pretty, cook and clean (462).” Many fans also find fault with the fact that Belldandy happily obliges to this arrangement, and hate that her staying with him is ‘justified’ by the fact that she later falls in love with him.

Overall, I do find the yamato nadeshiko character type to be offensive, because it is a male fantasy that sets impossible standards for women. But personally, Belldandy has never bothered me much even though many consider her character to be anti-feminist. Yes, she is a bit too perfect – she can sing, is kind, beautiful and conveniently great at domestic chores (which she finds fun). And yes, she has powers and prominence yet chooses to stay at home and do the cooking (and I noticed she never eats any of it). But I think the reason I’m okay with the Belldandy character is that she plays perfect so well. I mean, she’s a goddess. If anyone was going to be motherly, kind, divine and perfect, it should be a goddess. But most importantly, she has an existence that’s separate from Keiichi – she has powers and a job as a goddess that have nothing to do with him (and frankly that he can’t understand). She has other relationships that are important to her, like with her sisters. Plus, the other females in the series are far from perfect or traditional – and some characters (like Sayoko) have a hard time believing that someone like Belldandy can even exist. I think the fact that not everyone sees Belldandy as the ‘ideal woman’ within the series itself helps me feel like Kosuke Fujishima, the creator of Ah! My Goddess, isn’t trying to argue that we should stick to traditional gender roles: rather, he’s presenting different types of femininity.  

Besides, there are other yamato nadeshiko characters that I find to be more sexist than Belldandy. The most aggravating yamato nadeshiko has to be Aoi Sakuraba from Ai Yori Aoshi – I wasn’t even able to make it five episodes into Ai Yori Aoshi because her character bothered me so much! When Aoi and her fiancé, Kaoru, were five-years-old, their parents arranged for them to marry in the future. But Kaoru decides to leave his wealthy family, and the arrangement is broken. Nevertheless, Aoi trains to become the perfect bride, and as soon as she turns eighteen (which is in the beginning of the series), she moves to Tokyo to find Kaoru so she can fulfill her dream (and their promise). They soon move in-together, and start a relationship. Personality-wise, Aoi is similar to Belldandy -she’s kind, shy, and feminine. The fact that Aoi trained to be the perfect bride is just creepy to me – I can imagine her at ten-years-old doing laundry muttering ‘must…be…a…perfect…wife!’ And the fact that she learned to become modest and great at domestic tasks because this is what she assumes all men want in a wife is just insulting to men. But what’s most bothersome about this is that Aoi has no real goals in life that don’t revolve around Kaoru, unlike Belldandy. Some people defend her character and point out that she does at least have a backbone because she defies her family to be with Kaoru. But the only times she loses her modest demeanor is for Kaoru, which shows that her entire life is based around this relationship. Basically, Aoi’s whole existence and personality is dependent on Kaoru, and that  is truly disturbing and anti-feminist.

A divine Belldandy
An analysis of the manga Mars

An analysis of the manga Mars

A lovey-dovey Kira and Rei

Years ago, I remember reading several positive reviews of the classic 15 volume shojo manga Mars, by Fuyumi Soryo. Anime Insider and Animerica each commended the series’ tackling of serious issues such as rape, suicide, and psychological trauma, setting it apart from most conventional shojo series. Although the manga is currently out of print and no longer the most relevant series around, after finishing the classic shojo manga Boys Over Flowers, I decided to read Mars to see what I was missing. From the moment I finished it, I knew I wanted to write about the series. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the manga, there are several spoilers in this review, so read with caution. Read more

Mistakes about America in Hana-Kimi

Mistakes about America in Hana-Kimi

Hi everyone! I thought I’d start with a fun post. Recently, I’ve been reading popular shojo manga Hana-Kimi. While a fun read, I find Hana-Kimi to be a very average shojo series, from it’s typical dense leading heroine to it’s use of ridiculous plots. But one thing that jumped out at me right away is how much Hisaya Nakajo got wrong about American life. You’d think she would have done research, since the main character is supposed to be from America and is pretty unfamiliar with Japanese culture. I’m only up to volume 17 of the manga, so I’m probably missing some stuff, but again, I’m just doing this for fun.

1) In America, tests are open book (Vol. 3). I friggin’ wish. If open book means ‘read notes off the palm of my hand that I wrote the night before,’ then yes, they are open book.

2) We don’t have school trips (Vol. 6). Mizuki seems sooo surprised when the school went on a trip. ‘Cause we don’t have those.

3) Even people who don’t speak Japanese will be able to magically tell what your name is in a conversation (Vol. 13). Yup, cause when someone speaks in a language I don’t understand I can tell they are introducing themselves to me.

4) Dance Party!!! (Vol. 11). The Christmas party at Mizuki’s school is a formal event, and she compares it to a ‘graduation party.’ Uh, a formal party done by school is called a prom. But it’s close enough that I’ll let it slide.

5) In volume two, Mizuki doesn’t seem to understand what goes on during Valentine’s Day. Which makes no sense, considering it’s a Western holiday.

6) The American understanding of the word kiss is automatically a kiss on the cheek. I’m sorry, it doesn’t matter what country or culture you’re in, if the person you have a crush on talks about kissing you, your first thought is probably not going to be so platonic.

7) Misc. There are also some general stereotypes about Americans, like that we speak our minds and that the women all have big breasts. These aren’t necessarily incorrect – they just make me laugh.

But, I guess I shouldn’t expect an accurate depiction of America from a manga. Especially not from a manga artist who seems to think that most straight males love to dress in drag and wash each other’s backs. 😛

Mizuki's as American as apple -er, raspberry - pie.