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.

Paradise Kiss: the art of the happy ending (spoilers!)

Paradise Kiss: the art of the happy ending (spoilers!)

It should go as no surprise that I think Paradise Kiss is an amazing series. I’ve already praised Ai Yazawa quite a bit, but there are so many things to love about Paradise Kiss that it’s hard for me to choose what to talk about. From George and Yukari’s glamorous-yet-thorny relationship, to fun characters like Miwako and Isabella who are more than what they seem, to the wonderful clothing we all wish we could wear in real life, Paradise Kiss is so detailed it feels like it’s own world. But the strongest impression the series left on me is definitely its ending. At the end of Paradise Kiss, George decides to go to Paris to try to become a haute couture fashion designer, while Yukari stays behind in Japan because her modelling career is beginning to take off. The two part, and without either of them needing to say so, they know that their relationship as come to an end. Yet one day Yukari receives a package, with the key to George’s storage room inside it. She rushes to the storage room, finds all of the dresses George has designed, and breaks down crying. At the end of the series, we find out that Yukari has married Hiroyuki, a classmate she had feelings for prior to meeting George, and they will be attending a show with costumes designed by George. It’s a bittersweet finale; one that makes me think about the art of the happy ending.

Whether you like them or not, most people are accustomed to the happy ending. Disney films always end with the couple living happily-ever-after, while even the majority of romantic-comedies end with the couple finally getting together. Because we are used to happy endings, we’ve come to expect them and are often surprised when a film or a book ends on a down note. Then there are people who enjoy bittersweet or downright sad endings because they find them to be more realistic than happy endings. Many people who appreciate sad endings enjoy them because they aren’t as common and clichéd as the traditional happy ending. Still, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t great reasons for people to like happy endings either – they often genuinely care for the characters and want to see them happy. Many people feel media are fantasies and therefore are meant to allow the audience to escape from harsh realism, while others simply prefer traditional endings because they strongly feel that only a ‘happy’ ending can be a ‘good’ ending. I generally love happy endings myelf as well because I tend to be very emotionally invested in the characters’ lives in my favorite series. And yet, I love the finale of Paradise Kiss. It stands out from most endings not only because is it realistic (since not only do George and Yukari break up but Yukari’s modelling career is described as being only moderately successful), but it also makes me question the true meaning of the ‘happy ending.’

There are several things I appreciate about Paradise Kiss. One element I love is that the series shows that the person who influences your life the most may not be the person you spend the rest of your life with. Even though she marries Hiroyuki, in the six months Yukari was with George he gave her the courage to figure out what she wants to do with her life, and allowed her to become more open-minded. More importantly, Paradise Kiss shows that it takes more than love to make a relationship work. Yukari loves George, yet she constantly feels as though there is space between herself and him, and she is unconfident in their relationship. George never tells Yukari he loves her and always jokes about having a mistress, which makes Yukari feel as though she’s always the one who has to make the first moves in their relationship. At times, George can be very cold toward Yukari, especially when he feels she’s not making her own decisions or that her priorities are in the wrong place. For example, when Yukari doesn’t tell George about the possiblity of her getting signed to a modelling agency so the two can have sex, George gets mad at her for not putting her career first. This is quite hypocritical, since later on in the series George makes the decision to not pursue a career in designing clothes without confiding in Yukari first. And yet, when he drives away after dropping Yukari off on their last date, George has tears in his eyes. And when Yukari enters the storage room, she remembers George telling her that the clothing he has designed has too many precious memories for him to sell them, and she breaks down into tears at the sight of the dresses he’s left in her care. This was the sign both Yukari and I had been looking for to show that he really did love love her. By George and Yukari not ending up together, we can feel their love for each other even more than if they had had a traditional happily-ever-after. Thus, Paradise Kiss has one of my favorite endings of all time – not because it subverts the happy ending, but instead reinvents it.

Honey and Clover: more bitter than sweet

Honey and Clover: more bitter than sweet

At its core, Honey and Clover is a story about unrequited love. From Yamada’s pining for Mayama to Takemoto’s hidden feelings for Hagu, the pain of unfulfilled love resonates throughout the series. But there’s an even stronger sense of longing that isn’t romantic in its nature; rather, it’s about the love between friends. Honey and Clover perfectly captures the bittersweet sorrow of lost friendships. The theme of past friendship is threaded throughout the series by Takemoto’s poignant narration. The series seems heartbreakingly nostalgic, yet Takemoto isn’t simply looking back at his past through rose-colored glasses – instead he is commenting on the present, aware that one day the fun times he’s experiencing with his friends will one day be precious memories for him. At first, I never got why people loved Honey and Clover so much. The manga is funny, but it’s not the most hilarious series I’ve ever read, nor did I find any of the characters to be amazingly special (although I do like Ayu quite a bit). It wasn’t until recently re-reading the manga that I finally realized the magic of this series: I cared about the characters as a group of friends because they mirrored my own friendships, and I became emotionally invested in them staying together. The first time I ever felt like I connected to the series on a personal level is in volume three, when Takemoto and the others are enjoying their Christmas party. While the gang enjoys cake and roast chicken, Takemoto observes everyone, and suddenly comes to the quiet realization that this would probably be the “last Christmas we’d all spend together.” And in volume nine, the gang talks about going to the beach together and Takemoto wistfully notes that they never made it there, but instead they all imagined themselves there, carrying the image in their memories as though it were a photograph. It’s hard for me not to relate to this scene’s sense of nostalgia for a moment that never was.

The most iconic scene in Honey and Clover for me comes in during volume two, when Hagu, Takemoto, Mayama, Yamada and Morita all search (to no avail) for four-leaf clovers to give to Professor Hanamoto before he leaves for his trip to Mongolia. Takemoto’s narration is beautiful because it shows that even though the passage of time may separate friends, the bonds between them were definitely genuine and always will be: “I know the day will come when all of this is past, and it all becomes a memory. But I know I’ll remember it, over and over. You were there, and everybody was there…and we all looked for the same thing. That blue sky and the smell of the wind…and that endless carpet of clover.” Takemoto’s bittersweet narration reminds me of when my friends and I went to a park the day before our graduation from high school. As much fun as I had that day, I remember thinking that in the future this would become a memory I’d fondly look back on, and that it was probably going to be the last time my friends and I would all be together. I’m sure most people in high school and college are acutely aware when they form their friendships that there will be a day they will have to go their separate ways, and in Honey and Clover that moment inevitably comes when Takemoto and Hagu graduate from art school. Although he considers staying in town for Hagu’s sake, Takemoto realizes he simply has no purpose there, and moves away to begin a job restoring temples. But upon boarding the train to leave town, Hagu bestows Takemoto with one last gift: sandwiches filled with honey and four-leaf clovers. I think I’ve re-read this scene more than any other in the series, and it makes me cry every time. Honey and Clover is probably the only manga I’ve read that realistically portrays past friendship so well, to the point that incites reflections of my own experiences with a bittersweet fondness.