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.