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!

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Here comes the rain again…

Here comes the rain again…

I’ve noticed that many shojo series, many important events occur in the rain. Whether the main couple gets some alone time and finally reveal their feelings, or they have their first steamy kiss, chances are the rain will be pouring – with no umbrella in sight. While the presence of rain in a scene is a sure way to add drama, in real life you may want to pour emotions somewhere inside in order to avoid catching a cold. And since rain scenes tend to be major events, many of the moments discussed below are spoilers, so please keep this in mind before reading. Here are some of the most iconic scenes that take place in (or because of) the rain:

Itazura na Kiss: This may be one of the most famous rain scenes in manga, and is so loved by fans of the series that it is simply known as ‘the rain scene.’ After Naoki decides to go through with an arranged marriage to save his father’s struggling business, Kotoko becomes depressed and starts dating Kinnosuke, who has always had a crush on her, in order to forget him. When Naoki finds out that Kinnosuke proposed to her, he decides to wait for her on her way home out in the rain. When he asks if she’s in love with Kinnosuke, Naoki gets so angry that he yells at her and tells her that he’s the only one she loves. She says he’s right but it’s useless because he doesn’t love her – then he kisses her and tells her not to ever say she loves another man. They hug, then rush home in the rain so he can ask her father for her hand in marriage. But as much as I love this scene, I have to say I think I like Naoki’s proposal immediately afterwards a little bit better, because it’s one of his few sweet moments.

Tsukasa standing in the rain after Tsukushi breaks up with him *sniffle*

Boys Over Flowers (Hana Yori Dango): Along with Itazura na Kiss’, this is probably one of the most loved rain scenes in shojo manga, as well as one of the saddest. In volume 21, after Tsukasa’s mother Kaede threatens to have Tsukushi’s best friends fathers fired, Tsukushi waits for hours in the rain to break up with him. When she tells him about his mother’s machinations, Tsukushi stops Tsukasa from confronting his mother by telling him that her leaving is her decision. He then asks if she has ever looked beyond his mother and his rich upbringing and instead looked at him as just a man. Although she thinks to herself that she’s seen the real him many times and images of Tsukasa flash through her mind, she tells him that if she loved him she wouldn’t be leaving him. Only after walking away from him can we see the tears pouring down her face, and she finally admits to herself that “there were many times…many, many times…she thought she loved Tsukasa.” She admits that she could only break things off with him in the rain at nighttime because the surroundings would hide the fact that she lied to him. I love the question Tsukasa asks her because for such a long time in the series, Tsukushi was unable to reconcile her feelings for him with his rich lifestyle yet this scene shows that she loves him despite this. This was the first moment in the series to make me cry, and one of my many favorite scenes between the couple.

Dengeki Daisy: In volume three when Teru returns from a vacation because of a typhoon, Kurosaki invites her to his house to make curry for him. However, he doesn’t have rice and goes out in the typhoon to get some. Because Kurosaki left his window open, the typhoon makes a mess of Kurosaki’s room and knocks over a music box Teru had given to Daisy, a hacker who has been protecting her from the shadows. The music box, which plays the song “Time After Time” lures Teru into Kurosaki’s room for the first time, and makes her realize that Kurosaki is Daisy.  When Kurosaki returns home drenched, a strike of lightning causes a power shortage, and leads to a tender moment where they hug and Teru cries in his arms because deep in her heart, she knew he was Daisy all along. I really like this scene not only because I’m fond of this couple, but also because I was glad that the revelation that Kurosaki was Daisy wasn’t dragged out for too long. I am especially fond of the fact that Teru wanted him to be Daisy because she already loved him.

His and Her Circumstances (Kare Kano): There are a few times rain leads to important developments in the main couple’s relationship in this series, but the most important is probably when Arima and Yukino have their first kiss. Although they had been dating for awhile, Arima and Yukino hadn’t managed to kiss each other yet and were still pretty insecure about their relationship. When it starts raining after school one day, they decide to hide out from the rain in the school building, which eventually leads to a conversation where Yukino tells Arima she’s glad she can depend on her. This causes him to try to kiss her, but the loud crash of thunder stops him before he can. However, after cooling off a bit they continue their conversation, and Yukino mentions that she wants to be the person Arima can depend the most on as well. This time they finally kiss, and this sweet moment is all thanks to the rain.

So what do you guys think? Do you have a favorite rain scene I haven’t mentioned, or do you find rain scenes to be cliché?

Watched the anime, didn’t read the manga

Watched the anime, didn’t read the manga

The Kare Kano manga - which I still haven't read.

When it comes to anime and manga, I generally will only watch the anime or read the manga of a series instead of pursuing both. I do this because I get turned off of buying a manga when I already know what happens in a significant portion of the series because I’ve already watched the anime adaptation. There have been some series (such as Boys Over Flowers and Kodocha) that I loved so much that I broke this rule, but I’d say that this holds true for most of my manga collection. However, there are some series I feel like I’ll always wonder if I should have pursued their manga. This is especially true for shojo series because anime adaptations of shojo manga tend to run shorter than shonen series and thus animate only part of the story, which means if you’ve only watched the anime you’re probably missing a bunch of important stuff.  His and Her Circumstances (a.k.a Kare Kano) is the main series that comes to mind – I really liked the anime, and I’ve always been curious about what happens next in the series. In particular, I wanted to learn more about Arima’s ‘dark side,’ which had only just begun to be touched upon in the anime, and I also wanted to see more of Tsubasa and Kazuma’s developing relationship. As soon as I started to seriously consider picking up the manga where the anime left off, I began to hear that the ending of His and Her Circumstances left almost everyone dissatisfied. Spoilers already turn me off from pursuing series, but finding out that even people who loved the series thought it was horrible by the end made me decide not to read the manga. Yet I still feel as though I’m missing out on something, and that maybe I should give it a chance – because it’s not the destination that counts, but rather, the journey.

Another anime I watched that made me wonder if I should read its manga is Fruits Basket. I’ve already made it clear that I find Fruits Basket to be overrated and that I have problems with Tohru. Even though there are parts of the series I do enjoy, such as some of the more tragic storylines involving Hatori and Momiji, I still wasn’t engrossed enough by the series to continue it.  But it’s precisely because I’m so critical of the series that I feel I should read the rest of it. Many fans of the series defend it by arguing that the manga is much better than the anime adaptation, which, like His and Her Circumstances, only told part of the story. Maybe I’m missing something by not reading the series later developments. Maybe the second half is amazingly original and captivating. Maybe there’s some extraordinary quality in the manga that was lost in the anime. Or maybe I should just read the whole thing to confirm to myself that it’s overrated and I was right.

My reluctance to pursue more than one incarnation of a series has even happened when I start off with the manga first. The main series that comes to mind is Nana – I read the first seven volumes of the series in Shojo Beat then collected up to volume twenty-one of the manga as graphic novels. However, I’ve always heard great things about the Nana anime, particularly its music. While this would not normally be very important to me, the fact that Nana‘s plot heavily revolves around music has always made me curious about checking out the anime to find out if the music and voices sound like I imagined them when I read the manga.  But the fact that the anime only goes up to volume eleven of the manga makes me wonder if watching the anime is worth it, especially since it covers material I’ve already read. So do you guys both watch the anime and read the manga of your favorite series, or do you choose between them? Or does it really come down to the series?