Bigger is better…

Bigger is better…

It was a long haul, but Boys Over Flowers was worth it.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about how more than just the plot or genre of an anime or manga will influence whether people will take a chance on a series. I’ve often found that my friends won’t bother with a series if it’s too long. As this blog post points out, it can be intimidating to start a 20 volume manga series because it will take so much time and money to pursue one series when you could be reading several short series instead. But as for myself, I’ve actually found that I prefer long series, to the point that I’ve actually dropped series when I found out they were only a few volumes long (the three-volume manga Punch! comes to mind). And though there have been short series I’ve enjoyed (for example, the 13-episode anime Paradise Kiss, as well as Gravitation‘s anime, which is 12 episodes), I feel gypped that these series are so short. (And as a side note, while  what counts as “short” is in the eye of the beholder,  I consider manga series under eight volumes and anime series under 24 episodes to be short.)

There are a few reasons why I generally prefer long series. First, I’ve found that longer series generally have more time for character development. Watching or reading a longer series gives me a chance to really get attached to the characters. The best example I can think of is Boys Over Flowers, which has a 51-episode anime and a 36-volume manga that ran for 11 years in Japan. Even though not all of the plot points in the series were necessary, by the time I read the final volume of the manga, I wasn’t thinking “It’s finally over!” Instead, all I could think was “I wish there was more.” But when I watch a 13-episode anime series, by the time I start to care about the characters the series is over. Longer series have simply stuck with me more, and the majority of my favorite manga are more than 15-volumes.

Longer series also give the author a chance to develop amazing overarching plots. For example, in Fushigi Yugi, there are many story arcs that all lead up to a grand finale that wouldn’t be so emotionally moving if the characters hadn’t been through so much to get to that point. It’s especially great when you read a series and you can tell that the author knew exactly where he or she wanted the series to go and how it would get there. The best example of this to me is Nana, in which Ai Yazawa’s use of narration sets a foreboding tone for the series. As the series progresses, it’s intensity builds, until finally tragedy strikes. Such multilayered, engossing experiences aren’t completely absent from shorter series, but they are much harder to find.

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Why haven’t these been animated?!

Why haven’t these been animated?!

Looking over my shojo manga collection, I realized how many series I own have not been animated. While some are short or never became very popular, for long-running series that were huge hits, it’s really surprising. There have been several shojo with very questionable anime adaptations (Basara’s anime is very short, while Sensual Phrase’s entire plot gets changed), but I’ll be focusing on series that have been completely shafted by the anime world. So here are the 3 shojo manga I’m most surprised have never been turned into anime.

Soshi, Riiko and Night from Absolute Boyfriend

Absolute Boyfriend. This is a pretty popular series, it’s been adapted as a Japanese live-action series and it was recently announced that it will be made into a Korean drama. Yuu Watase’s a popular author, and two of her other series (Fushigi Yugi and Ceres: Celestial Legend) have been animated, so it’s surprising that Absolute Boyfriend hasn’t yet.
Mars. The manga series lasted 15-volumes, and is considered a classic. It was also made into an extremely popular Tawainese drama starring Barbie Xu and Vic Zhou from Meteor Garden fame. Mars also came out during a time when adapting shojo dramas like Hana Yori Dango was ‘trendy.’ And considering the fact that Peach Girl was animated years after its manga ended, it’s surprising that Mars has been left cold.
Hana-Kimi. This one is the most surprising to me. The manga lasted 23 volumes, has a Tawainese and a Japanese live-action drama, and will soon be turned into a Korean drama. It has the crossdressing appeal of Ouran High School Host Club and has enough comedic antics that I can see it appealing to a broader audience. And yet somehow, amidst all these drama adaptations, an anime series was left behind.

What is noticable, however, is how many shojo series have recently been turned into dramas. While several shojo anime have not been as successful as their original manga (Super Gals! comes to mind), many shojo manga that become live-action series go on to surpass the original manga’s popularity. This may be due to simple demographics – while the majority of anime companies try to appeal to be kids, and particularly to boys, many shojo anime are given low budgets and aren’t allowed to run indefinitely the way shonen series like Naruto and One Piece can. But because the audience for live-action dramas is often composed of young women, this gives shojo manga adaptations a crossover appeal because they attract the same audience. Perhaps this is why so many shojo series aren’t being animated – they’re being turned into live-action dramas instead.

The couples of Marmalade Boy: Meiko & Satoshi (oh yeah, and Namura)

The couples of Marmalade Boy: Meiko & Satoshi (oh yeah, and Namura)

Meiko and Namura

After discussing couples Miki & Yuu and Ginta & Arimi, it’s time to move on to the last central couple in the series: Meiko and Namura. Or maybe not. I’ll actually be talking about Meiko and Satoshi, the losing rival for her affections, alongside Meiko and Namura. Of all the couples in the series, Meiko and Satoshi probably register with me the most, because Marmalade Boy is the only series I’ve encountered where I preferred a pairing that doesn’t end up together over one that definitively does. I know I’m not the only fan to root for Satoshi over Namura for Meiko’s affections, but I think my reasons are different than most. While some people root for Meiko to end up with Satoshi because they dislike Namura’s character or the fact that he’s her teacher, I prefer Meiko and Satoshi simply for their own interactions. Satoshi is nice, cool and he is my favorite male character in the entire series, so it’s easy to root for him simply because he’s so likable. This also makes it easier to pity the fact that he ends up alone. But I think the Meiko-Satoshi pairing has enough of its own merits to root for them beyond the likability of Satoshi’s character.

When Namura moves to Hiroshima after the school finds out he and Meiko have been dating, I felt sorry that Meiko lost the person she loved. Namura was more than a boyfriend for her; he was an escape from her unhappy home life. When Satoshi enters the series, he uses his playboy charms to try and convince Meiko to go out with him, spouting cheesy lines like ‘I want to see your smile.’ But as the series progresses, it becomes obvious how sincere Satoshi’s feelings for Meiko are, and she begins to take him more seriously and slowly moves past Namura. During this time, Satoshi compliments Meiko on her writing, and encourages her to write more than just reviews for the school newspaper. Meiko grows more confident in her writing and eventually wins an award for a manuscript Satoshi had entered in a contest without her knowledge. The couple’s dynamic is fun as well. She’s one of the few people to bring out the shy, sincere side of his typically charming demeanor, and he knows how to make her laugh even though she’s typically so reserved. He’s also one of the few people to make her angry, especially when he’s acting childish, but she forgives him because of how thoughtful he can be towards her. As the series went along, it became obvious how much Satoshi brought Meiko out of her shell and helped her become a better person, which is the main reason I wanted to see them together. But as soon as it seemed as though Meiko was falling for him, Namura came back into the picture, and into Meiko’s heart.

Meiko, Namura and Satoshi

When Meiko travels to Hiroshima to see Namura, she tells him that she won’t be happy without him. But I just couldn’t figure out why. Even if Namura had been her shoulder to cry on, he hadn’t done half as much for her as Satoshi. If anything, I saw Namura as the father figure Meiko was missing in her life, and I just couldn’t see them together as an example of ‘true love.’ This is especially true because Namura comes across as controlling, when he decides they can’t be together and he’s doing it for her sake because he’d ‘ruin her future’ because she was still so young, which really just sounds like he’s making poorly-backed up excuses. Even when they get back together, he asks her if she’ll follow him anywhere, as if their relationship revolves around him. The author of Marmalade Boy, Wataru Yoshizumi, must have realized that many members of the audience were unconvinced about Meiko and Namura, because she included a scene where Satoshi explains why Meiko and Namura should be together. But, just like with Miki and Yuu, this was told instead of shown, and I’m still firmly unconvinced that Namura even deserved Meiko. If there’s one thing I respect about this pairing, it’s that I commend Wataru Yoshizumi for having the courage to depict a student-teacher relationship, without the raunchiness you’d expect to find in such a pairing. But I’d still prefer if she’d given Meiko and Satoshi a happy ending instead.

The couples of Marmalade Boy: Ginta & Arimi

The couples of Marmalade Boy: Ginta & Arimi

Ginta and Arimi

After discussing Marmalade Boy‘s central couple, I thought I’d move onto some of the side relationships. Of all the couples in Marmalade Boy, Ginta and Arimi are definitely my favorite. At the beginning of the series, Ginta is in love with Miki while Arimi is in love with Yuu. When Yuu and Miki get together, Ginta and Arimi wind up falling for each other. Thus, they stand out to me, because they’re the only losing-love-interests-turned-couple in any anime or manga that I really like. While a lot of ‘pair the spares’ couplings are boring or don’t make much sense together, Ginta and Arimi are really cute together. And while most side couples in shojo prove to be no more than just foils, Ginta and Arimi often stole the spotlight from Miki and Yuu. They’re probably the most sane and functional couple in the series, and I think they work really well together. First of all, I like Arimi much more than Miki because she’s not indecisive and paranoid. I also really appreciate that both Ginta and Arimi learn from their mistakes. Ginta makes it clear to Arimi how he feels about her right away because he lost Miki for lying about his feelings, while Arimi learns to stop playing games in her relationships.

Most of all, unlike Yuu and Miki, who exacerbate each others’ faults, Ginta and Arimi mellow each other out. While Ginta tends to overreact and can be very impulsive, Arimi is more mature and aware of others’ feelings. For example, in the New Years episode of the anime, Yuu teases Miki and Ginta starts uncontrollably laughing at her. Miki is annoyed that he’s laughing at her, so Arimi nudges him and he quickly stops. And when Ginta jumps to a conclusion and punches a guy he thought was cheating on Arimi, she chews him out for jumping to a conclusion and he learns to stop being so rash. If Yuu and Miki’s relationship is so full of drama that it’s like marmalade – sweet with a hint of bitterness – then Ginta and Arimi are pure milk chocolate.

Aside from the fact that the two help each other grow, I realized my appreciation for the couple when I noticed how many of my favorite scenes in Marmalade Boy are of Ginta and Arimi. Watching the anime, I would get really excited whenever this couple would come onto the screen. I love the scene when Ginta and Arimi agree to team up to try and make Miki jealous. As cherry blossoms swirl in the background, Arimi wistfully mentions that Yuu won’t be jealous, and Ginta realizes for the first time how pretty she is. Another favorite scene of mine is when Ginta and Arimi see each other for the first time after Yuu and Miki start dating. While Ginta says that he’s found letting Miki go easy, Arimi laments that she can’t handle it. Seeing her sad face makes Ginta want to reach out and hold her, initiating his romantic feelings for her. Finally, another scene I love is of Arimi describing her feelings for Ginta after they’ve started going out. She says that she’s comfortable around him and feels safe when they’re together, and he gets so moved by her words that he kisses her. There are so many great scenes of this couple, that if Marmalade Boy ever got a sequel, I would want it to be about Ginta and Arimi.

The couples of Marmalade Boy: Miki & Yuu

The couples of Marmalade Boy: Miki & Yuu

Miki and Yuu

I’ve always thought one of Marmalade Boy’s greatest strengths is that it develops several romantic relationships. I have strong opinions about each of the couples in Marmalade Boy, so I thought I’d write about them. So naturally, I’m starting off with the heart of the series, Miki and Yuu. When I think of the archetypical shojo couple, Miki and Yuu immediately come to mind. She’s an average, cheerful girl and he’s cool yet mysterious – just like most other shojo pairings. Within the context of the series, however, I generally like Miki and Yuu. I’ve always thought of Miki and Yuu as a very attractive couple, and I love seeing pictures of them. I’ve also found many of their interactions to be genuinely sweet. For instance, in one episode of the anime, when Miki shows off the uniform for her new part-time job, Yuu motions for her to sit on his lap, and the two happily sit there, smiling. And in a series that has literally a dozen love triangles, I genuinely felt as though Miki and Yuu ended up with the right person.

Most of my problems with the couple stems from the fact that I’m not convinced by the reasons Yuu gives for liking Miki. When Yuu tells Miki he likes her, he says that he admires how open and honest she is with her emotions, because he lacks that openness. However, one problem I immediately had with this reasoning is that it’s not like Miki is the only female in the series who shows her emotions in front of Yuu. For example, Arimi, one of Yuu’s many romantic suitors, yelled at him when he broke up with her and ran off crying – and she was always honest about how she felt towards him. Thus, I felt like Yuu’s reasoning could have easily been applied to Arimi, leaving me at a loss in deciding what was so ‘special’ about Miki to Yuu.

But more than Yuu’s questionable reasons for liking Miki, it’s the execution of his feelings for her that’s really lacking. I think the biggest problem is that Yuu’s reasoning for liking Miki is told instead of being shown. A good example of a romance that is “shown” is Boys Over Flowers, a.k.a, Hana Yori Dango, when Tsukasa starts developing feelings for the female lead Tsukushi. After she stands up to him, his attitude towards her noticeably changes, and when she shows sympathy towards him, he becomes kinder towards her. Thus, the gradual changing of his reactions to Tsukushi makes it clear why he loves her without it needing to be stated in words. But because Yuu’s interactions with Miki don’t seem to change much, even though I do believe he loves her, I’m not as convinced of the reasons why he loves her.

Being unconvinced as to why Yuu likes Miki impacted my opinion of the couple, especially because Miki can be so overbearing. She’s constantly jealous and paranoid, and thinks that every time Yuu is late he’s out cheating on her. Miki’s anxieties are an especially bad combination with the fact that Yuu rarely explains himself or lets her in on how he’s feeling, due to his introverted nature. And yet, this combination ultimately succeeds because it allows both characters to grow: Yuu learns how to open up to others, while Miki learns to stop being paranoid and trust Yuu. Thus, despite all of their problems, at the end of the day I think Miki and Yuu really do work.

Miki and Yuu in the grass
“They’re all the same!”

“They’re all the same!”

I’ve mentioned before that it bothers me when people say that all shojo art looks completely the same.  However, I have noticed that when shojo gets animated, the main female protagonists tend to take on a homogenous appearance that wasn’t so present in the original manga. Part of this is due to the simple monetary and time constrictions anime face, which causes the character designs to become simplified from the original manga designs. Thus, while in the original manga the heroine may have frequently changed hairstyles (such as Kodocha), in the anime they are usually only shown with one ‘trademark’ hairstyle. There are many shojo heroines who have the same reddish-brown hair and amber eyes, and it becomes a lot more prominent in anime form.

Examples:

Boys Over Flowers' Tsukushi
Kodocha's Sana
Itazura na Kiss' Kotoko
His and Her Circumstances' Yukino
Love*Com's Risa

The use of this color combination holds true even when the heroine has been shown to have a different hair or eye color in the original manga.

Examples:

Fushigi Yugi's anime version of Miaka
Manga Miaka
Marmalade Boy's Miki
Manga Miki - with black hair

I’ve heard that black is hard to use in animation, so maybe this is why reddish-brown hair has become the ‘standard’ for shojo heroines – it’s realistic without being boring. And truthfully, I think Miki looks better with red hair, if only because the hair color looks better next to her blond boyfriend. The manga artist must have agreed as well, since later pictures of Miki depict her with lighter hair.

Manga Miki - with brown hair
Seasons of love: a look at the romance in Sand Chronicles

Seasons of love: a look at the romance in Sand Chronicles

Ann and Daigo

Oftentimes, my favorite aspect of  a series is the romance and how uniquely the main couple’s love is portrayed. Normally when I watch or read a series and I become invested in the romantic relationships, I begin to root for a particular couple. I get excited to see scenes of my favorite characters in romantic scenarios, and want to see them get together. But reading Hinako Ashihara’s manga Sand Chronicles was different than any other series I’ve encountered, because even though I loved how romantic the series was, I wasn’t actively rooting for Ann to end up with one guy over another.

Early on in the series, Ann develops feelings for Daigo, who helped her overcome her grief when her mother commits suicide. Over time, their feelings blossom into love, and they become a couple. But even though I enjoyed scenes such as Ann and Daigo kissing under the cherry trees when he comes to visit her in Tokyo, I found myself completely neutral to Daigo’s character. Part of this is likely due to him being the most ‘average’ male love interest I’ve encountered in a shojo: while most love interests are handsome and sweet (such as Tamahome from Fushigi Yugi) or perfect but mysterious (like Yuu from Marmalade Boy), Daigo is not that bright and isn’t depicted as being particularly good-looking (although he still manages to capture the hearts of three girls). But a bigger influence in my non-reaction to Daigo’s character was the presence of Fuji. Fuji is quiet, mysterious, rich, and has a tragic past – all common traits of a shojo male love interest. But it is these traits that also make him a more interesting character. So while it was obvious that Ann’s feelings were always stronger for Daigo and that they would likely it end up together, Sand Chronicles is the first series I’ve come across where I found the rival love interest to be more likeable and interesting. However, I still didn’t root for Ann and Fuji as a couple, and it was clear that when they dated, Ann was trying to overcome her loneliness from breaking up with Daigo. And I still wasn’t attached enough to either possible couple to root for or against either one of them, even though I cared about all the characters involved.

It wasn’t until reading volume seven of the series that I began to feel that Daigo truly was the better man for Ann. Ann’s depression, stemming from her mother’s suicide the winter when she was 12, is becoming more obvious to both the reader and those around her, and begins to consume her. When she meets up with Daigo for a class reunion, she asks him if they can get back together. Daigo then gives Ann some sensible advice; advice she needed to hear throughout the entire series: “The one who can make you happy isn’t me or Fuji. It’s you.” It’s at this point when I began to realize how well Daigo understood Ann and what was best for her, and I finally found myself pulling for the couple.

Of course, romance is just one of many themes in the series. What’s most important in Sand Chronicles is the personal struggles the characters go through. Seeing Ann face her innermost demons to finally realize that she wants to live was just so rewarding. But the fact that it was Daigo who was there for her, and that he and Ann were able to start a fresh, healthy relationship, was simply icing on the cake.

A sweet Ann and Daigo