Rivalry and female relationships in shojo manga

Rivalry and female relationships in shojo manga

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the presence of rival female characters in shojo manga. In most shojo series, the protagonist is envied or outright bullied by another female. While this may ring true for many teenage girls in real life, in manga the cruelty these female antagonists display sends a particularly bad message about women in general. Not only do such characters suggest that women are typically catty or downright vicious, but that there are no positive, loving relationships between women. The latter is especially true because often in shojo manga the only other prominent female character besides the protagonist is her rival, which is probably why I appreciate female friendships in shojo manga when they do show up. Many shojo series present female fantasies – like having the most popular guy in school fall for an average girl – and it’s sad that the only role other females can play in these fantasies is that of the antagonist. Furthermore, the female rival is almost always more beautiful and ‘perfect’ than the protagonist is, which sends the unfortunate message that women can’t be both beautiful and kind, and that women who are popular or desired by men are deserving of being hated. Funnily enough, several other bloggers have also been pondering the presence of the female rival, so I thought I’d share my thoughts of a few of the best, worst, and downright ugliest female rivals in shojo manga.

Mika Ito (Absolute Boyfriend)

At the beginning of Absolute Boyfriend, Mika is Riiko’s popular best friend who helps her whenever she gets rejected by a guy. But not long after Riiko begins dating Night, a robot who is programmed to be the best lover, Mika reveals that she stole all the guys who Riiko liked and plans to do the same with Night. Riiko is devastated to find out that Mika was only pretending to be her friend to make herself look better (since Riiko is ‘plain’), and when Night fails to fall for Mika’s seductions, she is rarely heard from or seen again. Mika is a pretty standard female rival because the main reason she is jealous of Riiko revolves around a man. Furthermore, Mika isn’t given any real personality – the most important function of her character is to create drama between Riiko and Night, the ‘more important’ romantic relationship. By having Mika try to steal her ‘best friend’s’ boyfriend, Absolute Boyfriend implicitly sends the message that not only are females not to be trusted, but that they are only obstacles in getting the attention of men (and that men are the only ‘goals’ females seek to attain).

Harumi Sugihara (Mars)

When bad boy Rei Kashino and quiet artist Kira Aso start falling for each other at the beginning of Mars, Rei’s former fling Harumi is none too pleased.  Harumi’s jealousy becomes so intense that she and a group of girls decide to kidnap Kira so she’ll break up with Rei, or else they’ll break her fingers. Kira refuses, but at the last second Harumi decides not to do it. Rei threatens Harumi not to come near Kira again, and not long after Kira becomes friends with Harumi. While the friendship between Kira and Harumi is highly unrealistic, because Harumi is the only other female character who is in the manga from beginning to end, we see no alternatives to female relationships, which is highly problematic. Although Harumi’s violent threats were treated as horrible, having her attempt to physically harm Kira suggests that females become completely irrational over men – and this notion is somewhat ‘normalized’ because Kira completely forgives her Harumi for her vindictiveness without ever addressing the issue.

Sae Kashiwagi (Peach Girl)

No list of female rivals would be complete without Sae. At the beginning of Peach Girl, Sae is Momo’s ‘best friend,’ with a tendency to gossip and copy Momo’s fashion sense. But when Sae finds out Momo has a crush on Toji, a classmate from middle school, Sae does anything and everything to steal him away. When Toji ends up in the hospital, Sae convinces her entire class not to tell Momo that he’s sick so she can visit him by herself (and so he can think Momo doesn’t care about him since she hadn’t visited him). Momo and Toji do break up temporarily, but before long they are back together and Sae ends up scheming again. She decides to trick Momo by slipping something in her drink, after which Momo wakes up in a hotel with a model who Sae is manipulating. Sae takes blackmail photos and uses them to get Toji to go out with her, which he miserably agrees to do. Once again, Peach Girl presents female rivals whose relationship only revolves around men, but what’s interesting is that Sae isn’t even in love with Toji. Sae sends the message that females are obsessed with getting a guy – any guy – as a sign of their superiority over other females. Sae is considered the ultimate bitch is shojo manga – she has no redeeming qualities and the audience is made to hate her, which is unfortunately the fate of many female characters in the media. Sae’s machinations also imply that women are incredibly shallow – not only is Sae obsessed with taking down Momo, but in being fawned over (she even briefly becomes a model to attain this goal). Thus, Peach Girl sends the message that the only role women serve in each others’ lives is to make each other miserable.

Ume Kurumizawa (Kimi ni Todoke)

Not long after realizing her own feelings for her popular classmate Kazehaya, Sawako soon discovers that another girl likes him: Kurumi. Kurumi notices before anyone else does how Kazehaya looks at Sawako, and she asks Sawako to give up on him. Sawako refuses, but surprisingly the two develop a sort-of friendship. Since both love Kazehaya they end up talking about their crushes, and when Sawako and Kazehaya finally start dating each other both she and the audience can’t help but feel sorry for Kurumi. Because Kurumi isn’t outright cruel in her treatment of Sawako the way many other female rivals are, she comes across as sympathetic, especially since her feelings for Kazehaya were genuine. Furthermore, because Kimi ni Todoke highlights the friendship between Sawako, Yano, and Chizu, there is a range of female interactions and personalities that are presented beyond Kurumi’s character. Thus, although Kurumi and Sawako’s relationship is initiated by their common interest of a man, Kimi ni Todoke takes a step in the right direction by fleshing out the female rival.

Maho Izawa (His and Her Circumstances)

His and Her Circumstances‘ protagonist Yukino is the smartest and most popular girl in school, to the envy of her classmate Maho. Like Yukino, Maho has always been the center of attention and loves being praised, and she convinces the other girls in her class to start ignoring Yukino so she can reclaim her throne. Her plan fails, however, and soon Yukino helps her realize that there’s more to life than being number one – like having good friends. One thing I appreciate is that Maho’s rivalry with Yukino is not about men at all. While her reasons for hating Yukino (or actually, loving, since she wishes to be like Yukino) are still superficial, His and Her Circumstances at least shows how important it is to have close female friends by showing that Yukino was missing something from her life without them. And unlike other female rivals who try to bring each other down, once Maho becomes friends with Yukino they try to help each other correct their old ways and start focusing on new goals, which is a refreshing change to the sadly combative female dynamic that is typically shown not just in shojo manga, but in media in general.

The female rival is a cliché that is insidious because it is used in such misogynistic ways. It has become so common to have a ‘bitchy’ female character that it is easy not to even question why females in media are so consistently made to be hated. Yet not all female rivals come across as unsympathetic or feel like unnecessary plot devices. What do you guys think of the presence of girls whose only purpose is to torment the protagonist? And are there female rivals who you’ve liked or you felt served a purpose to the plot beyond creating drama? Share your thoughts, guys!

Happily ever after…at least until another love interest shows up

Happily ever after…at least until another love interest shows up

You’d think Mimi would have taken note…

Love triangles tend to be very hit or miss among fans. While some fans consider love triangles to be a fun way to heighten drama, other people see love triangles as predictably clichéd. Many fans, including myself, often find themselves on both sides of the argument: when a love triangle is done right it can captivate the audience, yet oftentimes it is obvious who is going to end up with each other right from the beginning. Simpleek wrote a post discussing the appeal of love triangles in manga, and I’ve written before about the love triangles in anime and manga that most stand out to me. And while I’ve come to accept the presence of love triangles, there is one type of triangle I absloutely cannot stand: when a character is introduced as a love rival after the main couple has already gotten together. This type of triangle pops up because once the main couple has finally confessed their love to one another and has gotten together, the author faces a dilemma. You can almost hear the author saying ‘Oh noes, I’m running out of plot! What’ll I do?!…Wait…I can create a new love interest! This way, the couple can break up over some stupid misunderstanding and the heroine can sulk around and find comfort in the arms of her rival. That’ll buy me a few chapters!’ There are multiple reasons I can’t stand this cliché. First of all, it is extremely common. The first series that comes to mind is Love*Com, which introduces Mimi right after Risa and Otani became an official couple in volume eight. Mimi can’t stand that Otani has fallen for someone taller than him because she also is taller than him and didn’t think she had a chance. Even though Mimi is a somewhat sympathetic character and I really like Love*Com, I didn’t feel as though her introduction into the story was necessary. Another example of a rival love interest showing up after the main couple had already gotten together occurs in The Devil Does Exist. The ‘love triangle’ in this series made no sense at all because Rumi’s reasons for liking Takeru were unclear, and more importantly she wasn’t even his type, so she wasn’t even a threat to Kayano and her relationship with Takeru. Rival love interests often pop up in Absolute Boyfriend, and they usually have ulterior motives. After Riiko and her robot boyfriend Night announce themselves as a couple at school, Mika tries to seduce Night because she’s only interested in other women’s guys. Later, a rival robot appears to try and win Riiko’s heart so he can replace Night. Overall, I find it to be much too contrived that a love rival will always show up just as the main characters have happily gotten together.

This cliché is also stupid because we know that the rival has no chance and the main couple will stay (or get back) together, which is most obviously shown in Marmalade Boy. When Kei Tsuchiya is introduced, he immediately interferes in Miki and Yuu’s relationship to win Miki’s heart. The couple fight and break up thanks to Kei’s presence, yet when Kei tries to make his move on Miki she’s not interested in him at all. It doesn’t take long for Miki and Yuu make up, and everything returns to normal. What bothers me most is that this plot was played for angst even though it was useless and trite. All I could think when I was watching the series was ‘Uh, hello, it’s called ‘Marmalade Boy!’ She’s obviously gonna end up with the ‘marmalade boy!’ So even though I love Marmalade Boy, I’m not a huge fan of this particular storythread and I wished the author would have just skipped it.

However, even though I generally can’t stand the late introduction of shallow love interests who are often uninteresting and barely fleshed-out, it can be done right. When Keita Kamogari shows up in volume eight of DMP’s release of Itazura na Kiss, he is training to become a nurse alongside Kotoko. Kotoko has trouble finding her footing with the medical field (which causes Keita a lot of pain, since he is the person she practices giving needles to), and when her genius doctor-in-training husband Naoki coldly tells her there’s no way she can be a nurse, Keita is bothered by how unsupportive he is. When all three go to a party with the other medical students, Keita calls Naoki out on spending his time socializing instead of with Kotoko, and yells at him for “not being to fond of his wife.” Naoki soon realizes that Keita is in love with Kotoko, and when he and Kotoko get into an argument, Keita confesses his feelings to her. Naoki soon begins ignoring Kotoko, and when he declines after she asks him to celebrate their second wedding anniversary, Kotoko finally snaps. She begins throwing books at him and saying their marriage doesn’t feel like a real one, and she tells him she doesn’t feel like he ever loved her. Kotoko decides to spend the night at a friend’s house, and the next day when Keita finds out about their fight he asks if she wants to move in with him because Naoki acts as though he doesn’t love or need her. Naoki rushes in to tell Kotoko that she’s completely wrong – he was jealous of Keita, which was a first for him and he didn’t know how to react. He tells Kotoko that he needs her more than anyone and he can only be himself around her, and the two make up. While the reasons behind Keita’s feelings for Kotoko are a bit underdeveloped, unlike so many other rival love interests Keita actually serves a purpose beyond creating unnecessary drama. Kotoko admits that deep down she was always insecure about why Naoki loved her, and she always felt she loved him more than he loves her.

Keita may not be fully fleshed out as a character, but he works very effectively as a plot device. When Naoki and Kotoko first got married in volume six of the manga, I had problems with them getting together because for so long, Naoki denied his feelings for Kotoko. The two were married only two weeks after he proposed to her, and I still felt that their relationship was too imbalanced. Bringing Keita into the mix helped not only air out these problems, but also brought them to a resolution. The stakes of having a rival love interest in Itazura na Kiss are also higher than in most other series because by the time Keita shows up Kotoko and Naoki were already married, which made the possiblity of their break-up much more sad than frustrating. In all, rival love interests often bring empty tension to a series – but when used right they can provide insight into the main couple and make their bond seem not only more realistic, but stronger.

So…Japanese girls like it rough, huh?

So…Japanese girls like it rough, huh?

In keeping up with the spirit of Valentine’s Day, I thought I’d take a look at the most popular romantic scenarios in anime and manga. Last year, Goo asked its female users the following question: “Of the typical scenes in a romance manga, which would you want to experience in real life?” Here were the top 10 choices:

  1. Being hugged from behind and told “I love you”
  2. Being asked out in a slightly forceful manner, e.g. “You’re going out with me today”
  3. Being patted on the head and told to “Do your best!”
  4. Discovering that their male confidante was in love with them
  5. Turning to look behind them and being kissed by surprise
  6. Having someone worry about them and look into their eyes while asking “what’s wrong?”
  7. Being fought over by more than one man
  8. Being grabbed by the chin and kissed suddenly
  9. Seeing him off at the train station and being dragged on to the train at the last second
  10. Having him wipe their tears away while saying “Don’t cry”

    Romantic, huh?

Number three seems more like how you’d treat a pet than a girlfriend, so I don’t see the romance in it at all. I’ve definitely seen it, though – I believe Sano does this to Mizuki in Hana-Kimi. Being asked out on a date in a forceful way I’ve seen done by Tsukasa in Boys Over Flowers, which lead to a disastrous (yet intriguing) date. I’m definitely not a fan of number nine – someone dragging you on a train at the last moment seems pretty selfish to me, and I can’t say I’ve ever seen this one in any anime or manga. Some of these scenarios are very fun to read whenever they occur in manga, especially numbers five and eight. These two just scream Yuu Watase: probably my favorite forced kiss is with Takiko and Uruki in volume of Fushigi Yugi Genbu Kaiden. Another great example is between Naoki and Kotoko in volume two of Itazura na Kiss, which is the first sign that Naoki has feelings for her. And, for some reason, many of the forced kisses I can think of in anime are initiated by the rival (losing) love interest like Soshi in Absolute Boyfriend and Fuji in Sand Chronicles. And being fought over by more than one guy is in pretty much every shojo manga and it’s mother (although once again Yuu Watase is the queen of this cliché. No wonder she’s so popular). But in real life, I’m pretty sure having more than one person interested in you, while a confidence-booster, wouldn’t exactly be fun.

Takiko and Uruki

Naoki’s ‘take-that’ kiss with Kotoko:

Naoki and Kotoko

 And yet another forced kiss:

Soshi and Riiko
 

What’s interesting about this list is how forceful a lot of these scenarios are. In my opinion, a lot of these scenarios aren’t so desirable or sweet once you place them into a real life context. Being grabbed by the chin and kissed or being asked out in a demanding way are only romantic depending upon who does it: if a guy you don’t know or don’t like did this you probably would be pretty scared or pissed. But what it really comes down to I guess is different cultural values: many Japanese males are shy, especially when it comes to romance, so this helps explain why Japanese women want more assertive men because there aren’t as many men who are openly romantic, and thus this is reflected in manga. So this begs the question: which came first? Did the fantasies of real life Japanese women influence the pervasiveness of romantically assertive men in manga, or was it that these male characters in manga shaped women’s real-life desires? Or maybe it’s a little bit of both. And some of these fantasies definitely appeal beyond Japanese audiences: I have to say, I’d love to have number one done to me. I guess I like it rough, too. 😛

Yuu hugging Miki from behind
Why haven’t these been animated?!

Why haven’t these been animated?!

Looking over my shojo manga collection, I realized how many series I own have not been animated. While some are short or never became very popular, for long-running series that were huge hits, it’s really surprising. There have been several shojo with very questionable anime adaptations (Basara’s anime is very short, while Sensual Phrase’s entire plot gets changed), but I’ll be focusing on series that have been completely shafted by the anime world. So here are the 3 shojo manga I’m most surprised have never been turned into anime.

Soshi, Riiko and Night from Absolute Boyfriend

Absolute Boyfriend. This is a pretty popular series, it’s been adapted as a Japanese live-action series and it was recently announced that it will be made into a Korean drama. Yuu Watase’s a popular author, and two of her other series (Fushigi Yugi and Ceres: Celestial Legend) have been animated, so it’s surprising that Absolute Boyfriend hasn’t yet.
Mars. The manga series lasted 15-volumes, and is considered a classic. It was also made into an extremely popular Tawainese drama starring Barbie Xu and Vic Zhou from Meteor Garden fame. Mars also came out during a time when adapting shojo dramas like Hana Yori Dango was ‘trendy.’ And considering the fact that Peach Girl was animated years after its manga ended, it’s surprising that Mars has been left cold.
Hana-Kimi. This one is the most surprising to me. The manga lasted 23 volumes, has a Tawainese and a Japanese live-action drama, and will soon be turned into a Korean drama. It has the crossdressing appeal of Ouran High School Host Club and has enough comedic antics that I can see it appealing to a broader audience. And yet somehow, amidst all these drama adaptations, an anime series was left behind.

What is noticable, however, is how many shojo series have recently been turned into dramas. While several shojo anime have not been as successful as their original manga (Super Gals! comes to mind), many shojo manga that become live-action series go on to surpass the original manga’s popularity. This may be due to simple demographics – while the majority of anime companies try to appeal to be kids, and particularly to boys, many shojo anime are given low budgets and aren’t allowed to run indefinitely the way shonen series like Naruto and One Piece can. But because the audience for live-action dramas is often composed of young women, this gives shojo manga adaptations a crossover appeal because they attract the same audience. Perhaps this is why so many shojo series aren’t being animated – they’re being turned into live-action dramas instead.