The Heart of Sailor Moon: Usagi

The Heart of Sailor Moon: Usagi

Like so many others, I first got into anime through Sailor Moon. I remember being six years old, sleepily watching Sailor Moon’s final battle with Queen Beryl at 6:30 in the morning. A few years later, when Sailor Moon began airing on Toonami, my classmates started watching the show as well, and we would pretend we were Sailor Scouts (which is a bit embarrassing to admit now). This prompted the question: who is your favorite Sailor Scout (or more accurately, Senshi)? Even though I was always chosen to play Mars because we both have black hair, I could never relate much to either her haughtiness in the anime or her more mysterious nature in the manga. When the anime originally aired in Japan, Sailor Mercury was the most popular, but I never cared for Ami’s shyness.  And even though the Outer Senshi are extremely popular, I find their aloofness to be off-putting. The two Senshi I like most are probably Makoto, whose tough exterior hides her kindness and femininity, and Minako, who is just goofy and charming. But there isn’t much appreciation for the heart of the series: Usagi herself. So I want to take this chance to defend her.

I’ve heard many people complain about Usagi, who is commonly criticized for being an annoying, clumsy, scatterbrained, overeating crybaby. But as someone who reads a lot of shojo, in my opinion, there are many other female leads who are far worse than her, such as Miki from Marmalade Boy, who cries and complains over simple love problems, or the weak-willed Hatsumi from Hot Gimmick. If either of these females were faced with the daunting task of protecting the world, I don’t think they would be as courageous or strong as Usagi was. And because I didn’t read Naoki Takeuchi’s manga until several years after watching the Sailor Moon anime, the show’s portrayal of Usagi has also influenced my overall opinion of her. The anime exacerbated many of Usagi’s foibles – almost every episode features her tripping, dressing up as a ninja to stave females away from Mamoru, or saying something goofy during a battle scene (“Supreme Sundae,” anyone?), while in the original manga Usagi is a bit more mature. But at the same time, I feel like the filler episodes of the anime also highlighted Usagi’s kindness. For example, in episode two of the series, when Usagi gets her fortune told, she chooses to visit a kind old fortune-teller on the street rather than the new fortune telling shop nearby that everyone else is visiting. In one episode of SuperS, Usagi helps a starving artist by making him fried rice (which he gratefully devours despite the food’s scary appearance). And when she uses the Silver Crystal to deadly results in the R movie, Usagi’s strong will to protect her friends is heightened.  Thus, the anime sharply accentuated both the good and bad of her character, while the manga Usagi is a bit more balanced, thanks to Takeuchi’s craft. Usagi’s compassionate nature is what ultimately prevents me from seeing her as ‘annoying,’ because there are few anime characters more selfless than her.

But there are reasons why I love Usagi that aren’t explored much in the anime. I’ve always had a tremendous amount of sympathy for Usagi, who struggles not only with her role as Sailor Moon, but also her past life as Princess Serenity. One scene I love is in Act 8 (published in volume two of TOKYOPOP’s release of the manga), when Usagi’s hair starts growing out upon recovering the memories of her previous life. This scene is present in the anime, but her fear that her body’s changes signify that she’s becoming somebody else isn’t mentioned at all, and it adds a sense of realism to her character. Most importantly, I feel as though the manga did a better job of bridging the gap between Usagi and her past and future selves. Both Princess Serenity and Neo-Queen Serenity are elegant and feel highly romanticized, which is why it’s hard to reconcile these two identities with Usagi.  Yet in Act 24, which is volume seven of the TOKYOPOP release, Neo-Queen Serenity is revived and wishes to see Sailor Moon despite the fact that it is forbidden because it could change the course of history. Yet Sailor Moon wishes to see her as well, and against all odds, they meet and thank each other. What I love about this scene is that no matter how different Neo-Queen Serenity may seem from her, she’s still Usagi on the inside. The heart of Sailor Moon is Usagi’s maturation, and the fact that she remains so compassionate despite her struggles is a huge reason why I still love the series so much. And I think I may love it even more now.

Gender roles in Itazura na Kiss

Gender roles in Itazura na Kiss

Kotoko and Naoki - she may appear to be optimistic about studying, but Naoki knows it's all in vain...

I love Itazura na Kiss. It’s such a great series, and its specialty is taking shojo clichés and weaving them into something fresh and fun. I love that the main couple Kotoko Aihara and Naoki Irie get married halfway through the series, instead of the wedding being the typical ‘happily-ever-after.’ Most of all, it’s a very nostalgic series. A lot of this is due to the fact that it came out in 1990, so its character designs and plots remind me a lot of other series from that time period such as Marmalade Boy. But even the world presented within the series is antiquated. The setup, in which Kotoko and her father move in with the Irie family while Naoki’s mother tries to get Naoki and Kotoko together and so she can have some grandkids running around, is based on the old tradition of the multigenerational household. And the social order of Itazura na Kiss is also one in which women are very much defined by their domestic roles. Japan is certainly behind America in terms of feminism, and this is shown regarding the place of women in the workplace. When Kotoko begins working temporarily at Mr. Irie’s business Pandai (a not-so-subtle reference to a certain toy company) alongside Naoki, Mrs. Irie encourages her to do it because “it’s not the sort of thing she’ll be able to do once she has children.” While at Pandai, many of the women try to nab Naoki as a husband, framing the working woman who sees her career as a mere stepping stone to a more desirable, traditional lifestyle in marriage. And at one point Kotoko, who, while sweet isn’t exactly the brightest bulb in the box, mentions that she hates smart girls, suggesting that Japanese society valued unthreatening ‘cuteness’  from women over intelligence. Unfortunately, I don’t think that’s changed much in America, either.

But the most overt sexism comes in during volume six of DMP’s release of the series, in which Naoki doesn’t come home for several nights just weeks after his wedding to Kotoko. It turns out he’s working on a video game in order to save his father’s failing company, but he doesn’t give her any sort of explanation behind his actions. When Kotoko comes to his job to demand a reason for his behavior, Kotoko’s father says that it’s shameful for a woman to embarrass a man at his work. Furthermore, he tells her that instead of sulking, she should be at home cooking for her husband. But it’s clear that the author, Kaoru Tada, isn’t trying to embrace such politics – we can see Kotoko’s anger at being blamed for the situation, and our sympathies lie with her. And her father’s words do register with her – not because she feels she was being a bad female, but because she realizes that she should have more faith in him as his wife. In volume one of the manga, there are a few occasions Kotoko gets groped by perverts when riding the train to school. Rather than call out for help and make a scene, Kotoko decides to ride the train with an angry glare to scare them off. Unfortunately, this is quite common in Japan; in 2008 there were 1,600 reports of gropers on trains or on train platforms in Tokyo alone. By presenting a scenario that is such a common problem in real life Japan, Kaoru Tada is not only making people aware of such incidents, but she’s also presenting the female perspective, because Japanese women were often blamed for making a public fuss instead of blaming the perpetrator himself, and this is why Kotoko chooses to deal with the gropers on her own. Rather than presenting sexist viewpoints, I see Itazura na Kiss as not only a product of its time, but a commentary on it as well. So even though I may not like some of the traditional gender roles presented in the series, they don’t negatively impact my opinion of the series itself. Because like its heroine, Itazura na Kiss is fun, sweet and wonderfully charming.

Skip Beat! – Kyoko & Sho

Skip Beat! – Kyoko & Sho

Skip Beat!’s Sho, Ren and Kyoko

I know a lot of people out there who have read Skip Beat! love Ren Tsuruga and Kyoko Mogami. I know there’s about a 99% chance that Ren and Kyoko will end up together. And I know that there have been many romantic scenes between them, several of which I’ve really liked, such as when Kyoko was acting as the character Mizuki from Dark Moon and she and Ren ended up on the floor together in volume 12. Yet despite all of this, I love seeing Kyoko and Sho Fuwa together. I’m not alone in this – there are other Skip Beat! fans who also root for (or at least wouldn’t mind) Kyoko and Sho dating, but I think they do so for slightly different reasons than me.  I think my stance with this is interesting because I don’t have a problem with Ren and Kyoko as a couple. It’s just that I think there’s something about Kyoko and Sho that feels very equal. While Kyoko looks up to Ren as an acting mentor, and Ren hides his true self around her, Kyoko and Sho are completely true to themselves around each other (even if that means they’re constantly fighting). I also feel as though Sho’s childishness and hot-temper goes along well with Kyoko, who keeps him in check with her ‘grudge Kyokos.’ What I love most is seeing the gradual change in Sho’s feelings. At first, he views Kyoko as just a childhood friend who is disposable, and she vows revenge upon him for using her. This may suggest that he doesn’t care about her (especially not romantically), but this may not be the case – the reason he feels this way is because he thinks she’s his.

My favorite story-arc in Skip Beat! so far (I’m up to volume 18 of the manga) has been of Kyoko acting as the angel in the promo for Sho’s album in volumes seven and eight. During this arc, Kyoko portrays the angel who kills the devil (none other than Sho) who her best friend has fallen in love with. When it is time to film the scene when Kyoko chokes Sho, he can’t stop looking at her, and they have to refilm it because it looked as though he was in love with her instead of her best friend. And in-between shooting, Kyoko and Sho’s bantering makes their costar Pochi, who likes Sho, feel jealous, and makes Sho’s managers realize that there’s a goofy side of himself he can only show to Kyoko because he’s always ‘Mr. Cool.’ Even little things like Sho and Kyoko having the exact same thoughts reinforce how in-sync they are with one another. This story-arc makes it clear that there’s something about Kyoko and Sho being together that makes people think the two of them are in love with one another.

There have been several story-arcs where Sho doesn’t show up, but he’s definitely in the back of my mind – I always anticipate the next time he and Kyoko will have the chance to go at it again. However, during the Sho-centered story-arc from volumes 14 to 16, I would probably have forgotten completely about Ren’s existence if it wasn’t for his narration expressing his fears that Sho may steal Kyoko’s affections. Ren’s narration, however, makes it clear how close Kyoko and Sho are to each other, and he believes that the two running into each other in Karuizawa is proof that they “must be bound by some sort of fate.” When the band Vie Ghoul steals Sho’s songs, its lead singer Reino decides to pursue Kyoko as well, pissing Sho off.  What I love about this arc is not only does it make it clear (to both the audience and to Sho himself) that Sho is in love with Kyoko, but also that Kyoko’s feelings for Sho are stronger than she’d like to admit. When Reino ‘attacks’ Kyoko in Karuizawa, the first person she thinks of to rescue her isn’t Ren – it’s Sho, and Reino even says that he feels as though she’s pretending to hate him. When Sho sees the two of them, he promptly beats Reino up at the risk of his career. And when Reino asks about the nature of their connection, Kyoko declares that she’d never get into a relationship with him that involves love and Sho huffily hides his disappointment. Both Reino and Ren realize that Kyoko’s hatred for Sho is stronger than her feelings for anyone else, which is why Reino wants Kyoko to hate him so that she’ll never forget him. Ren, on the other hand, is hurt to see that when the two of them are together they “create an atmosphere” that no one can interfere. And when Sho decides he won’t concede defeat to anyone but Kyoko in show business, Ren remarks that to him, Sho’s ‘challenge’ sounded more like a declaration of love. All of these things establish how strong the connection between the two of them is, and that bond feels much more natural and passionate than the one between Kyoko and Ren.

Liebster Blog Award

Liebster Blog Award

Thank you so much simpleek for nominating my blog for the Liebster Blog Award! Keep up the good work with your blog; your posts are definitely fun to read. I haven’t always had the time to write as much as I’d like to this college semester, and I’ve always felt like not many people would be interested in the topics I wanted to write about, so it took me awhile to start a blog. But to know that there are people who actually read and enjoy what I write makes me really happy.

About the Award: The Liebster Blog Award is given to up and coming bloggers who have less than 200 followers.

The rules for accepting the Liebster Blog Award are:

  1. Thank your Liebster Blog Award presenter on your blog.
  2. Link back to the blogger who awarded you.
  3. Copy & paste the blog award on your blog.
  4. Reveal your blog picks.
  5. Let them know you choose them by leaving a comment on their blog.

So here are my picks! I don’t quite have five yet, but here are the latest great blogs to have caught my eye.

  1. simpleek – from anime to video games to fashion, this blog covers many interesting topics and I really enjoy reading this blog because we share so many of the same interests and opinions.
  2. THAT Shoujo Manga Blog – I’ve gotta give respect to the new shojo blogs out there, and this is definitely one of the best. I love the unique perspective through which the blog analyzes love and shojo manga.
  3. Gagging on Sexism – I enjoy discussing sexism in the media, and I really love that this blog covers depictions of women in anime and Disney movies, which I really enjoy reading about because I’m more familiar with those media than live-action films. I also love that this blog doesn’t just polarize content as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ depictions of women, and instead thinks critically about the topic.

And here is the award! Enjoy!

 

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas…

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas…

In the spirit of the holidays, I thought I’d rank my favorite Christmas-themed episodes in anime. In Japan, Christmas is typically celebrated among couples as a romantic occassion; many couples get enganged during the holiday. This is also reflected in a lot of anime Christmas episodes, which often contain romantic themes. Some of these episodes are full of holiday cheer while others are more bittersweet, but they all have memorable moments.  

5. Maison Ikkoku episodes 39&40:

An epic two-parter, Kyoko discovers a rock that was given to her by her late husband and asks Godai to find out what type of stone it is. Mayhem ensues when Godai’s friend loses the rock on the train and Godai spends Christmas Eve searching for it in lieu of going to the Christmas party being hosted by his neighbors. Both episodes have an undercurrent of melancholy, but romance ultimately wins out when Kyoko realizes the anxiety she felt wasn’t because she wanted to find out information on the rock – it was because she was waiting for Godai. 

Sakura sleeping with her adorable Yukito plushie

4. Cardcaptor Sakura episode 35:

This episode features Sakura, Yukito and Shaoran at an amusement park (with Tomoyo and Kero-chan following them and Toya ‘coincidentally’ working there). Although Shaoran has a crush on Yukito, this episode is one of the first times that he expresses romantic interest in Sakura. But aside from the ever-shifting love triangle, this episode has a really memorable battle where Sakura and Shaoran work together to capture the elusive ‘Fiery’ card. I love the end of the episode when Sakura and Yukito are on the ferris wheel. And the plushie Sakura gives Yukito is adorable.

3. Kimagure Orange Road episode 38

Another romantic Christmas episode, this one revolves around a couples-only Christmas party and combines the typical ‘day that never ends’ set-up with Kyosuke’s supernatural powers to solve Kyosuke’s eternal dilemma: Hikaru or Madoka? In the first scenario, Kyosuke decides to go to the Christmas party with Hikaru, then he gets a do-over and goes with Madoka. Finally, he goes to the Christmas party with both girls after realizing how much he cares about them and doesn’t want to hurt either of them – even if it makes him look like a two-timer. The supernatural weirdness doesn’t end there, though – Kyosuke’s grandfather decides to dress in a Santa suit and spread joy (in the form of snow) around Tokyo.

A festive holiday celebration with the Azumanga gang

2. Azumanga Daioh episode 17

Probably the funniest Christmas episode there is – when Tomo asks Chiyo-chan if she still believes in Santa, Kagura ends up defending Santa’s existence by proclaiming that he’s paid by the government to deliver presents for everyone, and that he can fly at Mach 500. I love that when Tomo asks Chiyo-chan what she’d want for Christmas if she could have anything, Chiyo-chan says the star atop the big Christmas tree. The girls also decide to have some fun on Christmas Eve by singing karaoke. Yet in true Azumanga fashion, much of the episode has nothing to do with Christmas as we’re drawn into the girls’ random conversations – including Osaka’s infamous horror story about smelling a fart that wasn’t hers when she was alone in her bedroom. Priceless.

1. Kodocha episode 38

My all time favorite Christmas episode ever (not to mention my favorite episode of Kodocha). It’s got a middle birthday party, Naozumi singing a Christmas carol, Akito freaking out because he can’t decide what to get Sana, and a toy dinosaur Akito ‘doesn’t hate.’ And of course, it wouldn’t be Kodocha without over-the-top wackiness (in the form of Mama’s life-size Christmas tree hat). But the best part of the episode is definitely after the party has ended and Akito tries to tell Sana he loves her – and gives her a special Christmas kiss instead. Awww… Even better, when this episode came out on volume 10 of the U.S DVD release of Kodocha, it was two weeks before Christmas, so watching it always helps put me in the holiday spirit.

Cover-to-Cover: Sand Chronicles

Cover-to-Cover: Sand Chronicles

Cover-to-Cover is a column where I choose my favorite cover from a particular manga series. This time around it’s Sand Chronicles. I remember when I first started reading Sand Chronicles in Shojo Beat. I remember thinking how distinct its art style was – it has a sort of rough, angular feel to it that sets it apart from a lot more ‘fluffy’ shojo art. Out of the all of the ten volumes of the series, my favorite cover is definitely volume 10’s. First of all, I love the color scheme of this cover. The autumn leaves in the background are a nice touch and really suit this series, which is so much about the passage of time and the beauty of the different seasons. And since I’m a girly-girl at heart, the fact that Daigo is covering Ann with a shawl and she’s holding a pretty bouquet of flowers makes me happy. It’s a really romantic cover, which is probably why I like it so much. The fact that Ann being in all-white (or beige) makes me think of a wedding doesn’t hurt either.

But I have to say, although volume 10 has the cover I like most, of all the volumes I probably care for its content the least. While I loved the side story about the childhood of Daigo, Fuji and Ann’s mothers in volume 9, I wasn’t so crazy about the story of Daigo’s teacher. Maybe its because for the final story of the series I would have preferred to focus on the main cast, and I just didn’t find his teacher to be so interesting. All the same, I still love Sand Chronicles volume 10 because I really love the series itself – its great to see little nods as to how Fuji and other members of the cast are doing. But if I had to name my favorite part of this volume, I’d have to say its the cover.

I miss Shojo Beat

I miss Shojo Beat

The last issue of Shojo Beat *sniffle*

As an anime and manga fan, I miss 2005. The American anime industry wasn’t in the dire situation it’s in today, some of my favorite anime series were being released on DVD here, and I felt like I had many great titles to look forward to. Most of all, I miss looking forward to reading the latest issue of my favorite anime and manga magazines. Every month, I couldn’t wait for Newtype USA, Animerica and Anime Insider to be released (all of which have ended). But of all of the now-defunct anime and manga magazines, I miss Shojo Beat the most. Shojo Beat got me into so many great titles I never would have given a chance. Of the manga that were serialized in the magazine, I continued reading Sand Chronicles, Nana and Honey & Clover even after the publication’s end in 2009, and it’s hard for me not to wonder what series I would currently be absorbed in had the magazine continued its run.

Shojo Beat allowed me to expand my horizons and read series I would have never given a second thought. When I first saw that the magazine was running Honey & Clover, I scoffed. I knew the series was popular but didn’t know much about its plot, and was turned off by its art (which is rare for me), so I dismissed it. Yet after reading a few chapters in Shojo Beat, I found the series to be fun and hilarious, and I had a drastic change of heart towards the series. Several of my favorite manga were series I was introduced to through Shojo Beat’s previews, such as Love*Com and We Were There. I even miss the ads the magazine ran for non-Viz series. I first learned about Itazura na Kiss from an ad DMP ran in the very last issue of Shojo Beat. The art intrigued me; I could tell it was a classic series, and when I sought out further details of the series plot and realized that its premise is similar to Marmalade Boy, I was sold.

But I think the biggest problem I’ve encountered since Shojo Beat finished is that I’ve been pretty clueless about the latest shojo Viz is releasing. Most of the Viz series I’m currently collecting started in 2009 or before: Skip Beat, Kimi ni Todoke, Black Bird. I found myself making a list, cataloguing the shojo releases from the past two years with a brief summary because I kept forgetting what new titles that are out there. I got into Dengeki Daisy because I’ve read so many great reviews of it and had to see what the fuss was about, but aside from that series, most of the recently-released Viz shojo manga I thought had interesting premises received negative reviews. Shojo Beat allowed me an easy and legal way to check out the latest series and decide for myself whether they were any good, rather than relying on other people’s impressions. But even more simply, it was great having that feeling of excitement: not only because I anticipated what would happen in the next issue, but I also just loved going to the store and getting the latest issue in my hands. And I miss that.