Love*Com: Risa’s ready for her closeup!

Love*Com: Risa’s ready for her closeup!

Love*Com is one of the funniest shojo manga I’ve ever read. Aside from having great dialogue and lovable characters, one of my favorite aspects of the series was the use of facial expressions. Aya Nakahara draws some of the most unique and fun facial expressions I’ve ever seen, so I thought I’d share some examples.

Risa’s famous ‘crab-ugly’ expression:

Love*Com volume 2, pg. 103

Some people know how to put on graceful airs no matter what the circumstances. Risa is not one of those people:

Love*Com volume 5, pg. 64

Risa’s feeling a little Munch today:

Love*Com volume 6, pg. 28

That smile would get any man going Risa:

Love*Com volume 6, pg. 46

Don’t listen to him Risa. You look gorgeous:

Love*Com volume 6, pg. 56

I’m sensing Gone With the Wind:

Love*Com volume 6, pg. 136

There may be such a thing as ‘too happy:’

Love*Com volume 7, pg. 133

The last time I saw a face like this I was at the zoo:

Love*Com volume 9, pg. 127

Risa was so close to being a 70s shojo heroine. All she needed was the curly hair:

Love*Com volume 12, pg. 68

And that was Risa in all her candid glory! Beautiful, isn’t it?


The order of things

The order of things

Lately, I’ve been thinking about how the timing of viewing an anime or reading a manga can influence your opinion of a series. For many anime fans, you might rate a series very differently if you watched or read it early in your fandom comparised to after you’ve been into anime and manga for a while. It’s often easier to enjoy a series more if you’ve seen or read it early in your fandom because everything is still new, and you’re less familiar with what’s cliché. For example, I saw D.N.Angel about three years into my anime fandom and enjoyed it’s romantic entanglements (the hot guys didn’t hurt either). But when I rewatched the series last year, I found I didn’t care about any of the characters and felt it was really uneven, especially it’s ending. However, my feelings about the show were still stronger than if I had only gotten into it recently because of my initial viewing of it seven years ago.  Or, you might appreciate a certain type of show (more niche, introspective, etc.) later in your fandom than if you’d seen it before because your tastes have matured.

There also may be outside influences that impact your opinion of a series. For example, if you watch an anime or read a manga that has a plot or themes resembling a monumental event in your life, the series is likely to make a big impression. Maybe you saw a show when you were going through a difficult time and the series helped you cope or cheered you up, or it may strike a nerve because of its vivid portrayal of the human condition. This happened to me when I watched the first Kimagure Orange Road film “I Want to Return to That Day,” in which two characters break off a long-standing relationship that was doomed to fail. I’m already sensitive to watching characters go through emotional trauma , but because something similar had happened to me just two weeks earlier, my impression of the film always takes me back to those raw emotions.

Kimagure Orange Road: "I Want to Return to that Day"

There’s also series you may enjoy but could have been your all-time favorite if you’d seen it earlier. For example, my favorite anime are Kodocha and Boys Over Flowers, but I wonder if my opinion would be different if I had watched certain series before these two. For example, I found Marmalade Boy and Fushigi Yugi to be wonderfully addictive series that I really enjoy and consider to be personal favorites. But I gripe on their flaws a lot, mostly because I watched them after being an anime fan for several years. However, maybe if I had seen them when I was less critical, I would love these shows even more and would have gotten just as obsessed with them as I did with Kodocha and Boys Over Flowers. Another example is Fruits Basket – although I like the show, I think watching it after hearing so much fuss about it made me very cynical towards the series. I came into it with very high expectations – I had always heard that it was funny, moving, and has extremely relatable characters – but I just felt as though it didn’t measure up. Part of my resentment towards the series was that I felt that Kodocha was much stronger in portraying the elements Fruits Basket was praised for yet wasn’t as popular. But if I had seen Fruits Basket before hearing so much acclaim for it (and certainly before seeing Kodocha), maybe I would have liked the show more.

Boys Over Flowers: why I love Tsukushi and Tsukasa

Boys Over Flowers: why I love Tsukushi and Tsukasa

Tsukasa and Tsukushi

Alongside Sana and Akito from Kodocha, Tsukushi Makino and Tsukasa Domyoji from Boys Over Flowers a.k.a Hana Yori Dango are my favorite couple in anime and manga. When I watched the Boys Over Flowers anime in 2009, I felt like it was one of the last classic shojo anime I had left to look forward to. Even though I got interested in the series because it was a romance, whenever I heard people praise the series, it was because of how strong Tsukushi is for standing up to her bullies, so I wasn’t actually expecting much from the romance. And then I was blown away. I loved seeing Tsukushi and Tsukasa on-screen together, and couldn’t wait for another romantic moment to happen between them. Even though I generally will only watch the anime or read the manga of a particular series, I had to read the manga to see what happens between them beyond the end of the anime, which adapted about half of the manga’s run.The series also has one of the few love triangles in anime and manga that I consider to be unpredictable (even though I’d been spoiled about the outcome). There are many reasons why I love Tsukushi and Tsukasa and feel they stand above most manga couples, and here’s why:

They make each other better people: One of the greatest pleasures in reading Boys Over Flowers is seeing Tsukasa become a better person. In the beginning, he’s violent, pompous and cruel, but by the end he’s capable of kindness and willing to give up his extravagant lifestyle for Tsukushi. We see that he was drawn to her strength when she stood up to him, and becomes a better person in order to be worthy of her. The change in Tsukasa’s character feels natural, not only because it’s gradual, but also because he still has so many of his defining personality traits – like his childish stubbornness – even at the end of the series. But a lot of readers overlook the fact that Tsukasa makes Tsukushi a better person as well – because before standing up to him, Tsukushi turned a blind eye to the bullying at her school and repressed how she really felt. In volume 35, Tsukushi even says herself that she likes who she is from meeting Tsukasa because he “broke her out of her shell.” And during the Teen of Japan competition, when everybody discouraged Tsukushi from entering the contest because she had no chance of winning, Tsukasa believed in her unwaveringly. But my favorite moment between them is from volume 31 of the manga, when Tsukasa and Tsukushi are trapped on Shigeru’s island. Tsukasa and Tsukushi had decided to break their relationship off for good due to his mother’s interference, but being on the island together made them forget about all of the obstacles in their way and face their own true feelings. Tsukushi realized that she didn’t care if they never got off the island, because she never wanted to separated from him again, and the two rekindle their relationship. This was the scene that for me elevated Tsukushi and Tsukasa above most of the ‘puppy love’ couples that dominate manga, and is one of the only times I felt like I was reading what true love feels like. What’s confirmed in this scene is not just how much Tsukushi and Tsukasa love each other, but how much they need each other.

They’re realistic: I know it’s funny that I think of anything related to Boys Over Flowers as ‘realistic.’ At one point, Tsukasa gets amnesia. The main couple gets trapped on an island. He saves her from a kidnapping and being dragged by a car. And the entire premise of a poor girl being chased by a hot rich guy who loves her so much he’d give up everything for her is the ultimate female fantasy. Yet I still think the feelings portrayed in the series are realistic because of how multifaceted the characters and their relationships are. I love that Tsukushi was in love with someone else in the beginning of the series, but slowly (and against her wishes) falls for Tsukasa. Tsukushi at first dislikes Tsukasa, and even after she sees his good side, she is reluctant to get into a relationship him because of they come from such different worlds, and because she would never be able to have the ‘simple’ life she always wanted if she were to be with him. Nevertheless, over the course of the series she can’t repress her attraction to him. Even after they’ve gotten together, they don’t just jump into being a perfect happy couple because they each need to still need to work on their faults and get used to their changed relationship – they have to ‘shift gears,’ so to speak. By the end of the series, Tsukushi realizes that it doesn’t matter that she doesn’t have the quiet life she always thought she wanted because she’s happy. And that’s the true meaning of ‘Hana Yori Dango’ – what we think we need may be different from what we actually do need. And what I love about the “Tsu’s” is that they never lose their bantering dynamic. Even though they have such different backgrounds, a lot of their disagreements actually come from their similar personalities – they’re both stubborn, argumentative, and have a lot of pride. But these are also the qualities that they use to fight to protect their relationship, and why they win against all of the obstacles in their way.

A sweet Tsukushi and Tsukasa

They’re sweet together: It’s strange to label a romance with a guy as violent as Tsukasa and a girl as stubborn as Tsukushi as ‘sweet,’ but I genuinely believe it’s an appropriate way to describe them. In volume six, after Tsukasa tells him he loves her and they kiss, he comments that she’s blushing and she proceeds to tease him. Their bantering keeps them from being sappy, yet they’re still very charming and romantic. And when Tsukushi finally tells Tsukasa she loves him in volume 27, he teases her by saying that he didn’t hear her and asks her to say it again (with a very sneaky expression on his face), to which she gets mad and he hugs her. Another sweet moment between them is in volume 16, when Tsukushi gives Tsukasa some home-baked cookies in the shape of his head. Even though they’re burnt and smell like fish, he’s elated with her gift and refuses to eat them, and Tsukushi realizes how goofy he is – but she likes that side of him. What’s great is that the series explores Tsukushi and Tsukasa both before they’ve gotten together and after they develop a romantic relationship, so we get to see what they are like as a couple. When they go to a restaurant in volume 29, Tsukasa mentions he’s never had a hotpot (or most traditional Japanese food), and Tsukushi offers to make him some. He turns her down, and then says he was kidding and thanks her for the invite, to which she promptly blushes. There’s a lot of give-and-take between them, and it’s all very fun to read.

They’re sexy: Tsukushi and Tsukasa are probably the sexiest shojo manga couple who never actually have sex. I remember when I initially read the manga how much sexual tension I felt between them. From early on in the manga, Tsukasa made it clear that he was physically attracted to her because he loved her so much. Even before they had gotten together their chemistry was apparent, such as in volume 13 when he saved her life in Canada and the two spent the night together huddled for warmth. But my favorite example is a scene from volume 26, when Tsukushi and Tsukasa start going back out with each other after breaking up and discuss the fact that they need to hide their relationship in order to prevent his mother from finding out. After they work things out, Tsukasa tries to kiss Tsukushi but she tells him not to because her heart’s pounding from being with him and “she’s at her limit.” Tsukasa blushes, and yells at her not to say things like that because “it makes him want to throw her on the floor.” Tsukushi freaks out, and her narration “I can’t believe this thing called love” made me laugh at how overtly sexual it was, and also go ‘awww’ at the same time. In volume 28, things are heating up between Tsukushi and Tsukasa, and it seems as though they are about to consummate their relationship. However, Tsukushi panics and wonders “Does everyone do this?!” When tears roll down her face, Tsukasa expresses shock and asks her why she’s crying, and I love the moment between them later on when she realizes that Tsukasa is sometimes a brat, sometimes a child, and sometimes a man – and that she’ll do her best to love each and every side of him. For me, Tsukushi’s reaction was extremely realistic and was one of the few times I felt like I could relate to a manga character on this level. Scenes like these are also great because Tsukushi and Tsukasa feel like authentic teenagers. I’ve never liked that some shojo manga couples don’t ever address whether to have sex or not, and don’t even seem to have such desires because I’ve always felt that to be an unrealistic depiction of teenagers. Another great moment is when they are stranded on Shigeru’s island – Tsukushi and Tsukasa are struggling against their feelings for one another, and Tsukushi wonders why now that she’s lost him he looks so good to her. She expresses desires to touch his skin, and she asks to take his hand, which she places on her face. The scene is very sensual, and you can feel how much they care for one another. And I have to admit, I was disappointed that they didn’t consummate their relationship when they went to a resort in volume 36, although I love the panel of the two of them in bed, holding one another. I guess that’s what fan-fiction is for.

Leave it to the fangirls…

Leave it to the fangirls…

The fanatical Prince Yuki fan club from Fruits Basket

I consider myself to be pretty tolerant of shojo clichés. The accidental first kiss, love-letter disasters, tender moments at the school’s infirmary – these things don’t bother me so much, and some still manage to make me squee if they’re done right. But there is one cliché I cannot stand: the fan club. So many shojo manga feature a group of girls who are so gaga over the hottest, most popular guy in school that they decide to start a fan club dedicated to him. Now, while other anime have crazy clubs (Haruhi Suzumiya has a club devoted to finding aliens; Ouran High School Host Club has…well, a host club), I’m pretty sure in real life, most Japanese schools wouldn’t allow such a ridiculous organization to their roster. The very first time I noticed a fan club in an anime or manga was the ‘Prince Yuki’ fan club in Fruits Basket, and well…let’s just say I skipped those scenes. Realistically, there’s rarely such a thing as a ‘most popular guy in school,’ but if you touch him, you’re dead. Often, the main female character gets bullied for any interaction she has with the walking god that is her love interest. Aside from how stupid this cliché is, what bothers me most about it is that in real life, most girls would be trying to date the most popular guy instead of worshipping him from afar.

There are some manga that use the fan club cliché in unique ways. For example, in The Devil Does Exist, Kayano’s rival Rika secretly pays Takeru’s groupies to bully her so Takeru will come to her rescue. This also serves as a catalyst for examining Rika’s self-esteem issues, although I’m still not crazy about the presence of a fan club in the story. Probably my favorite use of the fan club cliché was in Love*Com because it was so tongue-in-cheek about it. When Risa joined the fan club for her teacher called ‘The Mighty Girls’ in volume six, she and a group of other girls go to the extreme of chanting a “Hymn to the Lord Mighty the Great” whenever he’s around. I actually found the use of the fan club to be pretty funny because as soon as she joined it, Risa seemed brainwashed and became increasingly zombie-like, causing her best friends to beg her to quit. Not only that, but it was also refreshing to see the fan club devoted to someone who wasn’t a love interest  for the main character (although Otani does become jealous at the shift in Risa’s attentions). But overall, I think manga-ka should leave the pretty-boy worshipping to real life fangirls. After all, there’s plenty of them.

Nana: Visual Tragedy (Spoilers!)

Nana: Visual Tragedy (Spoilers!)

There are many, many spoilers here, so if you have not  read volume 21 of Nana, you may want to avoid reading this.

In Volume 21 of Nana, Ren gets into a car crash and passes away. Ren’s death is so tragic that it’s impossible for me to read or think about it without tearing up. Yet my reaction to Ren’s death would not have been as painful without Ai Yazawa’s wonderfully expressive artwork. Instead of relying on dialogue, Yazawa’s art helps convey sorrow in a dramatic yet completely realistic way, so that we not only empathize with the characters but are absorbed into their world. Here’s the rest of the entry

Kimi ni Todoke: the little things

Kimi ni Todoke: the little things

There are some spoliers for Kimi ni Todoke, so proceed with caution if you haven’t read volume 10 of the manga!

I just read Kimi ni Todoke volumes nine and ten and I’m elated. While I’m sure some of my excitement is because Kazehaya and Sawako have finally confessed their feelings for one another, these volumes also portray some of the little things I feel are missing from most shojo. One of the most common elements of teen-romance shojo manga is that they usually pair an average girl with a popular guy. When the leading love interest makes his feelings known to the female protagonist, or even when the couple gets together, often she will question why he chose her when he could have anyone he wants. In High School Debut, Haruna begins to be bullied after she and Yoh start dating (at least until she scares her jealous attackers away), while in Marmalade Boy Miki becomes paranoid that Yuu will become attracted to someone else.  But rarely will shojo manga address the fact that the ‘popular-boy/average-girl’ dynamic essentially causes the heroine to suffer from an inferiority complex. And this is where Kimi ni Todoke stands out.

Sawako and Kazehaya (I know this is a picture from the anime but I couldn’t resist it!)

Even though Yano and Chizu realize that Kazehaya and Sawako both have feelings for each other, they choose not to tell Sawako. This is because they believe Sawako sees Kazehaya’s kindness towards her as a favor, so even if they started dating she wouldn’t see herself as his equal. In order for them to develop a healthy relationship, Sawako must first learn how to become more confident in herself. So many shojo series skip this step in order to rush to the ‘lovey-dovey’ stuff, so I really appreciate Kimi ni Todoke for taking the time out to show the little things. Sawako realizes that by seeing herself as an outcast, she has not only built up a wall between herself and Kazehaya, but has also caused her to become unconfident in her friendships with her classmates. Eventually Sawako faces her feelings with overflowing courage and is able to reach Kazehaya. Sawako will likely continue to struggle with seeing her self-worth, but I was so glad watching her start towards the right path. What I love most about Kimi ni Todoke is that it shows that in order to love others, you must first love yourself.

Of course, there were other wonderful moments that stood out to me about these volumes as well. I really enjoyed the scenes of Sawako and Kazehaya’s classmates reenacing the couple’s dramatic love confession at the school festival. Chizu and Yano’s reaction to the scene made me laugh – first they comment about how weird things are getting, but then they say it’s okay as long as Kazehaya and Sawako are happy. Pin’s teasing of Kazehaya is also funny – he pretends to be Kazehaya and asks Sawako to marry him, which Sawako takes a bit too seriously, and he continuously calls Kazehaya by strange names like ‘Mr. Lovebird McDreamy’ (I wonder what he called him in the Japanese version…?). There’s also a sweet scene when Kazehaya tells their entire class that he and Sawako are going out. While normally Sawako would overreact or feel as though she’s drawing unwanted attention to Kazehaya, for the first time she realizes that she’s not causing trouble for him because he’s telling everyone out of his own free will. At this point, Sawako  is finally able to see herself as Kazehaya’s equal, and all I can do is smile.

Everybody loves them…except me: Haruhi

Everybody loves them…except me: Haruhi

Ouran High School Host Club's Haruhi and Tamaki

Everybody loves them…except me is a column where I’ll be discussing characters who are generally well-liked among anime and manga fandom, but I’ve never particularly cared for (and vice-versa).  I’ve noticed that in many series I’ve watched, the character with the biggest fanbase is one that I’m indifferent to, or actively dislike, while characters who are typically hated or ignored don’t bother me much. Haruhi Fujioka, the main female character of Ouran High School Host Club, is often credited as one of the best heroines in a shojo anime and manga. During the show’s run, she often ranked on Newtype‘s Top Ten female character list. Unlike most shojo protagonists, who are whiny, dense, and love-obsessed, Haruhi is sarcastic and often indifferent to the wacky people surrounding her, so she stands out from most shojo heroines. However, when I watched the anime series, Haruhi’s blasé attitude towards everything left me feeling blasé towards her. While I can definitely respect Haruhi from being a different type of shojo heroine, she just doesn’t win me over. It’s not as though I dislike her – it’s just that I don’t find her to be that amazing.

After rewatching the anime series, I realized that in many ways, Haruhi’s actually not that novel of a character. Although she’s uninterested in romance, she’s still just as dense about love as the average shojo heroine. I also found that for the most part, she still functions in the same way as the stereotypical shojo heroine. Because she is surrounded by so many over-the-top characters, I found myself paying attention more to the members of the host club and their intriging backstories than to Haruhi. Thus, even though she does it in a very different way, she still plays the same role as the passive whiny shojo heroine who gets overshadowed by her harem of handsome suitors. If the male cast was changed or taken out of the series, I just don’t think Haruhi could hold up a series by herself (although to be fair, neither could most shojo heroines). I think a major reason why I’m not that amazed by Haruhi is because there are other shojo leads who I find to be far more interesting, such as the feisty Sana from Kodocha and Yukino from His and Her Circumstances. But I do still enjoy watching her interactions with the host club members – especially Tamaki.