The classics

The classics

When it comes to classic shojo manga, America has gotten the short end of the stick. Most manga companies haven’t given a chance to shojo series that started before the 1990s. What little has been released has been unfortunate: many of the classic shojo series that have come to the U.S. are incomplete (SwanBride of Deimos, From Eroica With Love), or out-of-print (Please Save My Earth). Because so many of the most influential and popular shojo series from the 70s and 80s haven’t come over here, I haven’t been able to read them, especially since I don’t like reading scanlations online. Therefore, I sometimes feel as though I’m missing out on some of the best shojo has to offer, simply because of their age. Thus, I’d like to highlight some of the classic shojo titles I haven’t had the chance to read but wish I could.

Tokimeki Tonight: A series about a junior-high school girl named Ranze, who has a werewolf for a mother and a vampire for a father. Although her parents fear that she doesn’t have any powers, Ranze discovers that she can turn herself into a copy of any object she bites, which makes leading a normal life very difficult. Adding to the complications is Ranze’s crush on Shun, her school’s star athlete and a normal human…or is he? The series ran for 30 volumes from 1982 to 1994, and has an anime adaptation that debuted the same year as the manga. Tokimeki Tonight seems very sweet, and the deluxe releases of the manga are so pretty that the covers alone make me wish I could read this series.

Ace o Nerae!: Alongside the fact that there isn’t much classic shojo manga licensed in North America, there also isn’t much of a market for sports manga. Ace o Nerae! (Aim for the Ace!) fills both of these voids in it’s depiction of Hiromi Oka, a high-school tennis player who hopes to become the best in the sport. She admires Reika Ryuzaki, the ‘Madame Butterfly’ of the tennis court who is known for her graceful playing style, and is advised by a coach who urges Hiromi to not let anything distract Hiromi from tennis: including love. The series also follows the struggles of Hiromi’s opponents, who eventually become friends with Hiromi. Ace o Nerae! ran for 18 volumes from 1973 to 1980, and has been animated several times with two animated television series in 1973 and 1979, and two OVA series in 1988 and 1989. The series was parodied by Studio Gainax with the 1988 OVA series Top o Nerae! (Gunbuster).

Hanasakeru Seishonen: Although I haven’t heard of too many people who are familiar with this series, Hanasakeru‘s combination of romance and political drama is highly appealling to me. The series is about Kajika, a 14-year-old girl who is the daughter of Harry Brunsworth, the owner of a huge corporation. At his request, Kajika enters a ‘marriage game’ in which she must marry one of three men selected by her father. However, she must find these men on her own, without any clues from her father, and as she discovers their identities she becomes intertwined in the politics of Raginei, a struggling country one of her suitors is the prince of. While the 12-volume manga ran from 1987 to 1994, an anime adapation didn’t appear until 2009, so hopefully there’s a slim chance that the anime will be licensed.

Candy Candy: It’s funny that recently there has been a resurgence of Candy Candy considering the fact that the series has never been officially released in the U.S. Set in America during the early 20th century, Candy Candy is about a girl named Candice (Candy) who is taken into an orphanage. She is adopted twice over the course of the series, and the manga follows Candice when she goes to London to go to school, then later when she becomes a nurse in Chicago during the first world war, while highlighting the men she falls in love with over the course of her life. Many series parody Candy Candy (especially Candice’s blonde pigtails), but I’d love to read the original to see what all of the fuss is about. The series ran for 9 volumes from 1975 to 1979, and was animated over 115 episodes from 1976 to 1979.

Ouke no Monshou: Known as Crest of the Royal Family, the series stars Carol Lido, an American teenager who is studying archaelogy in Cairo. She, along with her family, is cursed, and they are sent to Egypt 3,000 years in the past. There she meets Memphis, a seemingly cold-hearted pharaoh whom she eventually falls in love with. However, Memphis’ half-sister Isis is none too pleased at Carol’s presence, since she was supposed to marry Memphis herself. The manga started in 1976 and is still running, with an alarming 56 volumes released to date. The plot seems similar to the wonderful manga Red River (which, admittedly, started almost two decades later) – and that’s exactly why this series intrigues me.

Glass Mask: A series about the dramas of the acting world, Glass Mask (Garasu no Kamen) follows Maya Kitajima, a teenage girl who is passionate about becoming a professional actress. Told by her mother that she’s worthless, Maya hopes that through acting she’ll be able to find herself and prove her worth to the world. Meanwhile, Maya’s rival Ayumi Himekawa has always been admired and hopes to become a success in acting without the help of her prominent parents. While I’ve heard that Glass Mask can be very dramatic, it’s premise somewhat reminds me of Skip Beat!, which is a series I really like. The second best-selling shojo manga of all time, Glass Mask is one of the most popular shojo series of all time, and at 48 volumes, it’s still running.

The Rose of Versailles: The queen of 70s shojo manga, Riyoko Ikeda’s The Rose of Versailles is one of the most influential shojo series of all time. Set during the French Revolution, the series follows Oscar Françoise de Jarjayes, a female who dresses as a male to serve as the Royal Guard to Marie Antoinette and the rest of the royal family. The series is famous for it’s representation of sexuality and gender, and contains many elements that have influenced yuri manga. The series lasted 10 volumes and ran from 1972 to 1973, and was later animated in 1979. However, the series’ age is not the only factor that may be contributing to it never coming to America: I’ve heard that Ikeda herself is preventing the series from being licensed.

There are many other classic shojo series that I not only want to but feel I should read yet probably won’t be able to legally. If there are any classic shojo series you’re interested in that remain unlicensed, feel free to comment!

Princess Jellyfish: shattering the glass ceiling

Princess Jellyfish: shattering the glass ceiling

Before I’d even thought about watching Princess Jellyfish, I knew I’d encounter the topic of gender roles. Many fans of the show have discussed the fact that Kuranosuke, a male who crossdresses to escape his responsibilities as the son of a politician, is straight. Protagonist Tsukumi is also an interesting representation of a female character because she is more interested in jellyfish than in romance or being attractive. Yet when I finally watched the anime, the character who made the biggest impression on me wasn’t Kuranosuke or Tsukumi: it was Shoko Inari. Throughout Princess Jellyfish, a sharp contrast is made between Tsukumi and the other women of the Amamizu boarding house and ‘the Stylish.’ The women at Amamizu (who call themselves ‘nuns’) fear going outside and encountering ‘the Stylish,’ who are attractive and usually professionals. The only Stylish woman we get to know in Princess Jellyfish is Shoko Inari, a career woman who uses sex to achieve success in the workplace.

Shoko is at the head of the project to tear down the Amamizu boarding house, and at one point in the series she meets with Shu, Kuranosuke’s brother, to discuss plans for the complex. She drugs him and strips him at a hotel, taking blackmail photos to make it seem as though the two had sex. Shoko’s character implicitly sends many negative messages about women in the workforce. Her presence suggests that the only way women can be professionally successful is if they are attractive, and that they must knowingly use their appearance to their adavantage. Her character also suggests that women who aspire to be professionally successful are cruel and will do anything to get to the top, yet they don’t actually use their intelligence or talent to do so. Thus, although the women at Amamizu are sometimes over-the-top in thinking the worst about the Stylish, they are usually portrayed sympathetically, and by presenting Shoko as the only Stylish woman in the series, Princess Jellyfish implicitly sends a negative image of the working woman.

Shoko’s character does more than perpetuate negative stereotypes about working women: she also sends harmful messages about women and their relationships with men. After Shu tells Shoko to stay away from him, he calls Shoko when she is drunk and mistakenly believes that she wants to commit suicide. He rushes to find her and sees her passed out with a bottle of pills she accidentally dropped. Shu slaps her several times for seemingly throwing her life away and for making him worry, which shocks Shoko. When Shoko thinks of the incident later on, she begins to realize that she has a crush on Shu. While some fans interpret that Shoko’s feelings started because Shu stopped letting her push him around, it is still disturbing that she started to fall for a man because he was violent toward her. Still, it’s not like Princess Jellyfish is alone in sending these messages. The media has shown women who were willing to  do anything to achieve professional success ever since women entered the workforce, and there are many anime and manga that show female characters falling for men who have committed much worse acts of violence towards them. Overall, Princess Jellyfish is a very good show with a range of unique gender representations – but in Shoko’s case, it’s quite clear that the glass ceiling hasn’t been shattered.

Cover-to-Cover: Boys Over Flowers

Cover-to-Cover: Boys Over Flowers

Cover-to-Cover is a column where I’ll choose my favorite cover from a particular series. This time around I’ll be doing one of my favorite series ever: Boys Over Flowers a.k.a Hana Yori Dango. This Cover-to-Cover is an interesting one because it seems a lot harder than it actually is. With 37 volumes, there are so many covers to choose from that it’s difficult to know where to start. Right away I knew I wouldn’t be choosing any of the covers from the first fifteen volumes or so: the earliest covers feature Yoko Kamio’s artstyle before she perfected it, and I like her later artwork for the series much better. More than that, many of the series’ earliest covers look cluttered: they feature way too many characters who are all different sizes from one another, which I tend not to like. However, because many of the series’ later covers feature group images with the characters in proportion with each other, I actually really like these covers, especially volumes 19 and 36. I love the character’s poses on volume 19‘s cover: they all look very cool next to each other. With volume 36, I love that each guy is in a suit and is holding a flower, while Tsukushi is standing in the center. I love seeing Tsukushi with the F4 because of how much their relationship changes over the course of the series. At first, Tsukushi only looks at the F4 as a group of spoiled rich kids, but as she gets to know them she sees them as good friends, and realizes that they truly are boys more than they are flowers. Yet as much as I love seeing the group all together, what makes me even happier is seeing the series main couple, Tsukushi and Tsukasa, together.

There are several covers that feature Tsukushi and Tsukasa alone together. Volume 23 shows a very sweet Tsukushi and Tsukasa, while volume 20 features Tsukushi and a sleeping Tsukasa in the fall leaves. Even though I love the pose and the colors of volume 23’s cover, I’m not a fan of the way the characaters were drawn (I think Tsukasa’s neck looks way too thick). And while I love the seasonal imagery of volume 20’s cover, something about this cover doesn’t draw me to it. But if there’s one cover that makes me smile every time I see it, it has to be volume 26. I love the combination of the pink and yellow – the colors really suit the series and have a very energetic feel. More importantly, this cover captures Tsukushi and Tsukasa’s dynamic very well: she’s giving Tsukasa a hard time (and loving every minute of it) as she grabs onto his head while he looks on with a grumpy expression. And the fact that he’s giving her a piggyback ride is adorable. But I love more about volume 26 than just its cover: this volume is the start of probably my favorite storyline in the series. In volume 21, after Tsukasa’s mother threatens to have Tsukushi’s friends’ fathers fired unless she breaks up with him, Tsukushi and Tsukasa decide to go their separate ways. After realizing she can’t forget him, Tsukasa makes an earnest plea to make her happy and Tsukushi realizes that she’s still in love with him. Volume 26 follows the two as they learn to mesh as a couple, and it’s very fun and sweet to read. Right from it’s cover, volume 26 showcases the best Boys Over Flowers has to offer.

Fushigi Yugi: the ultimate seven

Fushigi Yugi: the ultimate seven

When I watched Fushigi Yugi‘s anime, by the time Miboshi, one of Yui’s seven seishi (celestial warriors), was introduced, it became obvious that Yui had gotten the short end of the stick. While Miaka’s celestial warriors upheld their duty to protect her and all care about her deeply, Yui’s team often put their own motives ahead of her well-being. Now that I’m reading Fushigi Yugi: Genbu Kaiden, I began to wonder: of all four sets of guardians, which seven celestial warriors would I want to be part of my team if I were a priestess trapped in the Universe of the Four Gods? I thought it might be fun to write about, so here are my picks:

Tamahome

Status: Suzaku Celestial Warrior

Reason: I chose Tamahome because above all, he’s fiercly loyal to Miaka and willing to do anything to protect her. He always bends over backwards for his teammates, and is a great big brother to his many siblings. Tamahome is very kind, and basically the perfect boyfriend – not to mention the fact that’s he’s hot doesn’t hurt either.

Tasuki

Status: Suzaku Celestial Warrior

Reason: Tasuki controls fire, which is a great advantage to have on your side. But aside from his power, Tasuki is a funny character who is quick to anger, and while he always puts on a tough guy act it’s obvious that he cares deeply about his comrades. And despite the fact that he claims to hate women, he cares very much about Miaka’s feelings, which is evident not long after he is introduced and gets his ass kicked when he refuses to fight a brainwashed Tamahome at Miaka’s request.

Nuriko

Status: Suzaku Celestial Warrior

Reason: Because Nuriko is probably my favorite character in all of Fushigi Yugi. He’s haughty yet somehow wise, and he is usually the shoulder Miaka turns to cry on. While the other celestial warriors often tease him for being a crossdresser, he always manages to appear cool. Nuriko is also one of the strongest celestial warriors, so having him on your side can only be a benefit.

Uruki

Status: Genbu Celestial Warrior

Reason: Of all of the love interests in Fushigi Yugi, Uruki is probably my favorite. Usually Yuu Watase’s male characters are a bit too perfect: they are willing to give up everything to be with the woman they love, are perfect at everything they do, and are great-looking to boot. While these things are true of Uruki as well, he also has an angtsy cynical side to him that has been caused by the fact that his father wants him dead. The fact that Uruki is a prince means he knows the land well, however, it also has made him a target for assassins, which is an obvious detriment. Still, I’d choose Uruki because he has many interesting quirks: not only can he control wind, but when he uses his powers, he turns into a girl! I can only imagine how jealous that would make Nuriko.

Namame

Status: Genbu Celestial Warrior

Reason: Of all the celestial warriors, I truly think Namame is the best one. He’s tiny and made of rock, so you’d think he wouldn’t be very helpful but the truth is actually the opposite: because he’s so tiny he can protect priestess Takiko without ever being seen! Namame is also a shapeshifter, which allows him to turn into a horse the celestial warriors can travel with, as well as a dome the warriors can sleep in. Thus, I would choose Namame because he’s probably the most practical of the celestial warriors. And he’s cute.

Inami

Status: Genbu Celestial Warrior

Reason: I have to respect Yuu Watase for deciding to make a character like Inami a celestial warrior. While most of the celestial warriors are young men who open up the opportunity for romance with the priestess, Inami is a middle-aged woman who you’d never suspect to be a warrior. Although she’s not the strongest seishi, she’s a confidante and source of wisdom to Takiko, which makes having her on your side beneficial. And her power includes the ability to trap people with her hair, which is pretty cool.

Nakago

Status: Seiryu Celestial Warrior

Reason: At first glance, choosing Nakago might not seem like a wise decision. He manipulates Yui into believing she was raped and convinces her to betray her best friend, all while using the other Seiryu celestial warriors to his own benefit. But Nakago is by far the most powerful of all the celestial warriors, and it literally took all seven Suzaku warriors to defeat him. But the real reason I’d choose Nakago is more from my perspective as an audience member: because I truly think Fushigi Yugi wouldn’t have been anywhere near as good as it is if Nakago weren’t in it.   

And those are my choices! I feel bad for not picking any Byakko celestial warriors, but considering the fact that the Byakko storyline hasn’t been fully fleshed out yet it shouldn’t be too surprising. Which celestial warriors would you guys pick to be on your team?

The golden shojo rule

The golden shojo rule

Peach Girl: Kairi steals Momo’s first kiss.

For most fans of shojo manga, it becomes obvious that there is a golden rule:  the guy the main female character has her first kiss with is the person she’ll end up with. Whether the girl’s first kiss is accidental, forced, or (in extremely rare circumstances) consensual, eventually the heroine will start to warm up to the person who stole her lips, oftentimes because of the kiss. The fact that the main female character must always end up with the guy who stole her lips’ virginity is interesting because it shows how big of a deal first kisses are for teenage girls – not just in shojo manga, but in real-life Japanese society. Some fans may argue that because so many shojo series pair the first people to kiss each other, it makes it obvious who will end up together, which is particularly bothersome in series that center on a love triangle. Series such as Boys Over Flowers, Marmalade Boy, and Sand Chronicles all abide by the ‘first kiss’ rule.  This rule even holds true in series where the main female character originally has feelings for someone other than the person she shares her first kiss with. For example, in Peach Girl, Momo has had a crush on Toji since junior high and worries what he will think of her when rumors that she has kissed playboy Kairi start to spread. When she confronts Kairi about the rumors, Kairi decides to make the rumor true by stealing her first kiss, which she repays him for by kicking him in the groin. But over the course of the series when outside influences (mainly Momo’s frenemy Sae) tear apart her relationship with Toji, Kairi becomes Momo’s shoulder to cry on, and at the end of the series she chooses him. Yet while I’ve found that the majority of the time the first kiss rule is upheld, this rule, like all others, was meant to be broken.

In the opening scene of Red River, Yuri gets kissed by a boy she has a crush on named Satoshi, but soon after strange things start happening to her whenever she’s around water. While in the bath, Yuri gets pulled into Anatolia during the year 1500 B.C, where she becomes the concubine to Prince Kail Mursili. Yuri tries not to allow herself to fall for Kail because she knows she’s from a different world, but eventually she is able to reconcile her feelings for him, and Satoshi is long forgotten. Another series that seems to subvert the golden shojo rule is Tail of the Moon. Although I haven’t finished Tail of the Moon yet, at the beginning of the series clumsy ninja-in-training Usagi is told by her grandfather that she will marry Hanzo, a handsome ninja from another tribe. This sparks jealousy from Usagi’s childhood friend Goemon, who was told from the time Usagi was born that he would one day marry her, and it doesn’t take long for him to steal a kiss from her. However, it’s very obvious over the course of the series that Usagi’s heart is set on Hanzo, and he begins to be charmed by her cheerfulness, which makes it seem pretty clear that Goemon and Usagi won’t end up together.

Dengeki Daisy: creepy Akira steals Teru’s first kiss. Let’s just hope she doesn’t end up with him.

The first kiss rule is also played with in interesting ways. Early on in Ouran High School Host Club, the host club attend a party where a lucky girl will be named queen of the dance and receive a kiss on the cheek from a member of the host club. After helping a female student named Ayano become closer to her crush, the host club name her queen of the party, and she chooses Haruhi to kiss her. However, Hikaru and Kaoru’s schemes cause Haruhi to slip and she accidentally kisses Ayano on the lips, thus leading to her first kiss being with a girl! Dengeki Daisy has an interesting case – because whether it adheres to the golden shojo rule or not all depends on a person’s definition of a ‘kiss.’ In volume six of the manga, Teru fights off an enemy who is after a cell phone that connects her to the mysterious hacker Daisy. Kurosaki (who is Daisy himself) rescues Teru from drowning and is forced to give her CPR. However, in volume seven Teru comes across the creepy villain Akira, who seems to take pleasure in making Teru uncomfortable. He steals Teru’s first kiss, which makes Kurosaki more upset than Teru herself. When Teru seeks Daisy’s comfort, he is unable to hide his attraction to Teru and tells her that finding out she was kissed by someone else makes him want to go give her a kiss that would make her forget about Akira’s “clumsy attempt at kissing in an instant.”  So while Akira may have officially been Teru’s first kiss, technically Kurosaki did get to have a taste of Teru’s lips before Akira, thus bringing an intriguing twist on the golden rule. Of course, there are other shojo series that are more realistic and focus on older characters such as Nana, and thus they inevitably avoid many shojo clichés including the golden shojo rule. Can you guys think of any other series where the first kiss rule was subverted?