All I want for Christmas is you

All I want for Christmas is you

In the world of shojo manga, Christmas can only mean one thing: romance! Whether a couple goes on a special Christmas Eve date, or the heroine gets a glimpse of her crush at a Christmas party, high emotions are a given during the holiday season. Let’s see how Christmas is celebrated…

Kimi ni Todoke - ChristmasKimi ni Todoke style!

Our introverted heroine Sawako is invited to a Christmas party with her friends Yano and Chizu, as well as her crush Kazehaya. Yet just as Sawako tries to tell her parents about the party, they become emotional because Sawako was supposed to be born on Christmas, and she decides not to go. On Christmas Eve, Sawako’s dad mistakes a hat she knitted for Kazehaya as his Christmas gift. Yet not all hope is lost: when Kazehaya calls her from the party, Sawako’s parents realize she wants to be with her friends and give her their Christmas present: a cellphone. Sawako makes it to the party just as it’s ending, where she and Kazehaya exchange gifts.

Gifts exchanged: Kazehaya gives Sawako a pretty cellphone strap, a perfect present for her new phone. Sawako ends up giving Kazehaya her dad’s gift – a belly warmer! Even though Sawako is embarassed, Kazehaya is elated. After all, it’s the thought that counts.

  • Lovely Complex style!

Otani, in a mad rush to cram for his college entrance exams, begins seeing his girlfriend Risa less and less. When Risa’s coworker starts developing feelings for her, a jealous Otani breaks things off with Risa, who is left heartbroken. At a Christmas party with her coworkers, Risa realizes she can’t enjoy herself without Otani, and she decides to go to his house. But before she can get there she bumps into Otani, who also ran to see her because he can’t concentrate on his studies. The two make up, and celebrate with a Christmas kiss.

Gifts exchanged: Neither had time to shop for gifts, but Risa receives the best present she could have ever asked for – Otani tells her he loves her more than he could have ever realized. All together now: awwww.

  • Itazura na Kiss style!

Even though the Irie family is going to a fancy Christmas party at a hotel, Kotoko decides to spend Christmas with her two best friends, whose boyfriends are both busy on the day. But at the last minute both her friends cancel, and Kotoko is all alone on Christmas Eve. However, Kotoko’s crush Naoki happens to see Kotoko’s friend and realizes she must be home alone, and he returns to spend the holiday alone with her (with fried chicken and a cake).

Gifts exchanged: Kotoko gives Naoki a watch, but he doesn’t get her anything. That’s alright with her though – she got to spend Christmas with her beloved Naoki!

  • High School Debut style!

In her typical gung-ho attitude, Haruna decides to plan the perfect Christmas date with her new boyfriend Yoh. They go to Santa-land (which is full of kids) then to a Christmas fair (which is full of old people), but they still have fun all the same. Things take a turn for the worse, however, when they go to dinner: the staff, who are pissed about having to work on Christmas Eve, play a game with the customers to show whether they have kissed anyone or not. Haruna’s answer shows she hasn’t but Yoh’s shows that he has, and Haruna runs away, embarassed. But when Yoh catches up to her they kiss, and he promises never to kiss another girl again.

Gifts exchanged: Haruna gives Yoh a wallet she spotted him eyeing, while Yoh gives Haruna a scarf because she’s always running around in the cold with clothes that are too thin. Both gifts are extremely considerate, but I have to say Haruna was probably happier with the kiss, considering the fact that she could barely look at or speak to Yoh without freaking out and blushing afterwards.

Gakuen Alice - Christmas partyGakuen Alice style!

As in many other shojo manga, Alice Academy hosts a Christmas party where the girls where cute Santa costumes. Mikan tries to make Yoichi, a little boy close to class-troublemaker Natsume, happy by having Bear (who can walk and gets quite grumpy) play with him. Luka, Natsume’s best friend, thanks Mikan for making Yoichi happy by kissing her on the cheek. At first Mikan is shocked but that doesn’t last for long: when she and Natsume dance they end up falling and accidentally kissing each other in front of the whole school! Mikan freaks out and leaves the party, only to end up arguing with Natsume that it wasn’t a ‘real kiss’ by saying their lips barely touched. Natsume puts an end to the argument by kissing her for real, and the Christmas party comes to an end.

Gifts exchanged: Three kisses. I’m starting to sense a theme here…

Christmas in Japan may be more about romance than the typically family-oriented holiday is here in the west, but the true spirit of Christmas is still retained. As these shojo Christmas stories show, it’s not what you get for Christmas that matters most – it’s who you spend it with.

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!

Good girls don’t have to be boring: Sawako & Tohru

Good girls don’t have to be boring: Sawako & Tohru

I’ve mentioned before that I’m not a huge fan of Fruits Basket. Even though the series has its touching moments, Fruits Basket often gets praised for being the best at comedy and romance when I feel that there are other shojo series do these things better. My biggest problem with the series, however, is Tohru. I found Tohru Honda to have absolutely no personality – she never stands up for herself, has no distinct likes or dislikes, and I found her constant positivity to be annoying. Soaringwings did an excellent post discussing the flaws of Tohru’s character and why she is ultimately a passive heroine compared to other female shojo protagonists. Although there are many passive shojo heroines, the main character I’ve often seen Tohru compared to is Sawako Kuronoma from Kimi ni Todoke. When I started reading Kimi ni Todoke, I immediately found myself gravitating toward Sawako, the ‘loner’ protagonist who, despite her extreme kindness, has trouble communicating her feelings to others. I began to wonder: how is it that I had such different reactions to these two characters when they share so many of the same personality traits? After giving the question some thought, I began to realizes that many of their shared attributes only skim the surface of these characters. 

Sawako

Tohru and Sawako’s similarities begin with their willingness to bend over backward for the people around them. For example, in Fruits Basket Tohru spends all of her money to buy chocolates for the Sohma family even though she needed it for school. And in Kimi ni Todoke, Sawako does everything from doing all the classroom chores to tutoring her entire class for a test without expecting anything in return. Tohru and Sawako are extremely optimistic, and they each try to see the good in others. Because of their kindness and hyperconsciousness of others, this also means that they have trouble saying what they want and they often feel as though they’re being selfish or inconveniencing the people around them by stating their opinions or desires. Both girls are also purehearted, which is probably why they are so naïve, especially when it comes to romantic matters. However, I feel that Sawako possesses several characteristics that make her very likeable. First of all, Sawako has never really had friends, and seeing her try so hard just to say ‘good morning’ to her classmates (not to mention how elated she gets when they respond) makes it hard not to root for her. Her shyness, combined with her desire to have friends, makes her extremely relatable and also makes it easier to overlook the fact that it’d be hard to find someone as kind and positive as she is in real life. Sawako also has more to her than just her kindness – part of the reason she has always been a loner her whole life is because people are scared of her: her jet black hair and sometimes creepy smile reminds people of a horror movie character named ‘Sadako.’ Rather than resent her nickname, Sawako feels bad that she doesn’t have any supernatural powers and tries to impress people by telling ghost stories. I found this to be an interesting quirk to Sawako’s character, and I loved seeing her accidentally make creepy faces whenever she tries to be cheerful.

Tohru

But while Sawako is relatable and quirky, Tohru has no real defining characteristics other than her kindness. She’s not especially smart or athletic, and the only thing she seems to be good at is cooking (of course). While a lot of Sawako’s inability to speak up for herself comes from shyness, there’s no real reason to explain why Tohru is as passive as she is. Ultimately, I think the main reason why Tohru is a far more bothersome character to me than Sawako is because there are far more interesting characters than Tohru in Fruits Basket. Tohru’s character serves the sole purpose of healing the Sohma family, and the character development of each Sohma member is more important than Tohru’s own. Yet while Tohru learning to stand up for herself isn’t the main focus of the story, Sawako’s character development is the main attraction of Kimi ni Todoke. By focusing on Sawako over Kazehaya or their romance, she is empowered and feels more like fully dimensional character. It’s fun to see Sawako learn to love herself, and once she falls for Kazehaya she realizes that sometimes it’s okay to ‘be selfish’ and say how you feel. So while both of these characters are supposed to be the ‘average girl next door’ so that any female fan can relate to them, Kimi ni Todoke shows that ‘average’ doesn’t have to mean ‘boring.’

Kimi ni Todoke: the little things

Kimi ni Todoke: the little things

There are some spoliers for Kimi ni Todoke, so proceed with caution if you haven’t read volume 10 of the manga!

I just read Kimi ni Todoke volumes nine and ten and I’m elated. While I’m sure some of my excitement is because Kazehaya and Sawako have finally confessed their feelings for one another, these volumes also portray some of the little things I feel are missing from most shojo. One of the most common elements of teen-romance shojo manga is that they usually pair an average girl with a popular guy. When the leading love interest makes his feelings known to the female protagonist, or even when the couple gets together, often she will question why he chose her when he could have anyone he wants. In High School Debut, Haruna begins to be bullied after she and Yoh start dating (at least until she scares her jealous attackers away), while in Marmalade Boy Miki becomes paranoid that Yuu will become attracted to someone else.  But rarely will shojo manga address the fact that the ‘popular-boy/average-girl’ dynamic essentially causes the heroine to suffer from an inferiority complex. And this is where Kimi ni Todoke stands out.

Sawako and Kazehaya (I know this is a picture from the anime but I couldn’t resist it!)

Even though Yano and Chizu realize that Kazehaya and Sawako both have feelings for each other, they choose not to tell Sawako. This is because they believe Sawako sees Kazehaya’s kindness towards her as a favor, so even if they started dating she wouldn’t see herself as his equal. In order for them to develop a healthy relationship, Sawako must first learn how to become more confident in herself. So many shojo series skip this step in order to rush to the ‘lovey-dovey’ stuff, so I really appreciate Kimi ni Todoke for taking the time out to show the little things. Sawako realizes that by seeing herself as an outcast, she has not only built up a wall between herself and Kazehaya, but has also caused her to become unconfident in her friendships with her classmates. Eventually Sawako faces her feelings with overflowing courage and is able to reach Kazehaya. Sawako will likely continue to struggle with seeing her self-worth, but I was so glad watching her start towards the right path. What I love most about Kimi ni Todoke is that it shows that in order to love others, you must first love yourself.

Of course, there were other wonderful moments that stood out to me about these volumes as well. I really enjoyed the scenes of Sawako and Kazehaya’s classmates reenacing the couple’s dramatic love confession at the school festival. Chizu and Yano’s reaction to the scene made me laugh – first they comment about how weird things are getting, but then they say it’s okay as long as Kazehaya and Sawako are happy. Pin’s teasing of Kazehaya is also funny – he pretends to be Kazehaya and asks Sawako to marry him, which Sawako takes a bit too seriously, and he continuously calls Kazehaya by strange names like ‘Mr. Lovebird McDreamy’ (I wonder what he called him in the Japanese version…?). There’s also a sweet scene when Kazehaya tells their entire class that he and Sawako are going out. While normally Sawako would overreact or feel as though she’s drawing unwanted attention to Kazehaya, for the first time she realizes that she’s not causing trouble for him because he’s telling everyone out of his own free will. At this point, Sawako  is finally able to see herself as Kazehaya’s equal, and all I can do is smile.