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.