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!

Here comes the bride: weddings I wanted to see

Here comes the bride: weddings I wanted to see

When you think of June, one of the first things that comes to mind is a wedding. June is the beginning of wedding season in the west, and thinking about how many people are getting married during this time of year has made me think about marriage in Japanese culture. Marriage is an important custom in Japan: 87 percent of men and 90 percent of women between the ages of 18 and 34 wish to be married someday, according to the National Institute of Population. Despite the importance of marriage in Japanese society, it’s interesting to note that weddings rarely show up in manga. This makes sense because most manga revolve around high-school-aged characters who are far too young to get married. Still, there are plenty of manga that feature couples I feel deserved to have a proper wedding ceremony, so I thought I’d highlight series where I wish (as well as many other fans, I’m sure) I could have seen these characters officially say their ‘I dos.’ And please note that since I’m discussing marriage that there are definitely spoilers, so read with caution. 

  • From Sand Chronicles: Ann and Daigo in wedding attire

    Near the end of Sand Chronicles, things seem pretty hopeless for Ann Minase and Daigo Kitamura. When Ann sinks further into a depression years after her mother’s suicide, she breaks things off with Daigo out of fear of bringing him down with her. After dating her friend Fuji and briefly getting engaged to another man, Ann’s life begins to be consumed by monotony. She becomes more depressed until she finally almost kills herself. However, Ann’s brush with death makes her realize that she wants to live, and upon learning that it was Daigo who saved her life, the two are reunited. Volume eight’s epilogue shows Ann and Daigo living on the beach, happily married and chasing after their baby. But after seeing Ann and Daigo struggle so much, it would have been nice to have seen the wedding ceremony as well. At least the series’ author, Hinako Ashihara, drew a picture of what their wedding probably looked like. 

  • After Kira Aso falls for bad-boy Rei Kashino, the two are threatened to be separated by everything from love rivals to brutal violence. In Mars‘ fifteenth volume, Kira and Rei decide to get married. Rei tells Kira that he always wants to protect her, so despite the fact that they’re still in high-school they register their marriage license. However, the two don’t have any sort of wedding ceremony – their friends throw them a casual party and give Kira a present of lace, which she places on her head as a veil. But Rei doesn’t show up because he was stabbed by Masao, a sociopath who has been obsessed with him. Fortunately, Rei lives, and a year later we see his father pestering him because he wants grandkids. Although I was happy that Kira and Rei were able to stay together, I wish I could have seen them get married in a traditional ceremony – but in a way, a no-frills wedding suits this couple perfectly.
  • In Boys Over Flowers a.k.a Hana Yori Dango, Tsukasa Domyoji, son of one of the richest families in Japan, falls for spunky lower-class Tsukushi Makino after she stands up to his bullying. At first Tsukushi dislikes Tsukasa, but over the course of the series But Tsukasa’s mother constantly tries to keep them apart: first by arranging a marriage for Tsukasa, then by threatening to have Tsukushi’s friends fired. But eventually Tsukasa’s mother gives in, and Tsukushi and Tsukasa are free to be together without any interference. However, this doesn’t last long: in volume 35, Tsukasa decides to take over his family business and go to New York for four years after his father collapses. He proposes to Tsukushi, who promises him at his high-school prom that if he returns a good man that she’ll make him happy. In Boys Over Flowers: Jewelry Box, which takes place one year after the end of the series, Tsukushi and Tsukasa get officially engaged. Even though these characters are so young, I couldn’t help but want them to get married because I love Tsukushi and Tsukasa as a couple so much. And I know I’m not alone: in one poll by Oricon surveying what completed manga series fans would like to see continued, Hana Yori Dango ranked number two, and one fan said that they would like to see “the start of a family.” Luckily, the j-drama resolved this issue: in the Hana Yori Dango: Final film, Tsukushi and Tsukasa finally tie the knot in a beautiful ceremony, giving me the wedding I had always wanted to see.

So are there any weddings you wish you could have seen in your favorite manga? Or are you content with seeing a couple’s romantic journey being left open-ended? And is the age of a couple an important factor in your desire to see them get married, or does it not matter to you?

Queerness in shojo manga: politics & representation

Queerness in shojo manga: politics & representation

Lately, I’ve been thinking about the presence of queer characters in shojo manga. From crossdressers to characters who are not so emotionally stable, it’s interesting to see the ways in which not only these characters are depicted but queerness itself. Although I could easily look to shonen-ai or yuri to examine gender roles and homosexuality, I would instead like to discuss queer characters in shojo series because they serve to queer heterosexual storylines. It’s also interesting to note that while a staple of shojo manga is the female crossdresser (dating all the way back to Princess Knight), very rarely are female ‘queer’ characters also homosexual, and thus for this reason I will be focusing primarily on male characters. In particular, I’m interested in looking at the politics and representation of two characters from two different popular shojo series: Nakao Senri from Hana-Kimi and Masao Kirishima from Mars.

One of several times Mizuki and Nakao dress as girls in Hana-Kimi (and Nakao is fine with it).

Near the beginning of Hana-Kimi, Nakao makes it clear that he is in love with another student at his all-male school: Minami Nanba, who is a resident advisor and ladies’ man. Along with being very protective of Nanba, Nakao also prides himself as being one of the prettiest males in the Osaka dorms. In discussing Nakao, the_patches wrote an interesting post about how important it is to consider how characters perceive their own gender and sexuality. This made me think of the ways in which Nakao reflects on his own gender: later on in the manga, Nakao says that he wishes he had been born female because he fell in love with a straight man. He also dresses up as a female several times throughout the series without complaint (although that’s par the course for Hana-Kimi), but he doesn’t do it regularly. However, at no other point does Nakao express any desire to be a woman nor does he show disgust at or deny being a male. Where things get complicated is in trying to figure out how he perceives his sexuality. While Nakao is open about being in love with Nanba, he never calls himself gay nor do any of the characters around him. I think a huge reason why it’s hard to pin down Nakao’s sexuality is because the author of Hana-Kimi, Hisaya Nakajo, categorically denies Nakao being gay because she mentions at one point that the only gay character in the series is Umeda. In some ways, this can be seen as a progressive representation of queerness, because by leaving the question of whether Nakao is gay or not open keeps him from being labeled. This is especially important because western society typically views any person who engages in homosexual activities or who has homosexual feelings as ‘gay,’ even though a person who has done these things may not perceive themselves to be gay. If anything, because Nakao is in love with Nanba but has never expressed interest in any other men, the most that can be said about his sexuality is that he’s ‘Nanba-sexual.’ However, I unfortuantely do not believe that Hisaya Nakajo left Nakao’s sexuality ambiguous in order to be progressive but rather to avoid controversy. There is a misconception that the Japanese are more accepting of homosexuality because of the popularity of yaoi and the presence of homosexual characters throughout anime and manga, but in reality homosexuality is seen as something that not only should be kept private but also rarely happens in Japan. To a slight degree, we can see that Nakajo had to contend with the problem of homophobia during the publication of the series when she mentions in volume two that many of her readers expressed that they would like Umeda’s character if only he weren’t gay. Ultimately, this suggests to me that she possibly held back from making Nakao ‘officially’ gay because the readers simply wouldn’t have liked it.

Except for the fact that both characters are exceedingly feminine, Senri Nakao and Masao Kirishima don’t have much in common. Although Masao often gets mistaken for a female he doesn’t like it, and when he admits his love for Rei, Mars’ main male protagonist, he gets coldly rejected. Other than Rei, we do not know if Masao has been attracted to any other males nor do we get a good idea of how Masao percieves his own sexuality. At first, Masao seems weak and shy, but over the course of the series Masao is shown to be the cruelest character in the series. Masao claims the reason he ‘loves’ Rei is because Rei attacked a group of guys who were beating Masao up, and he fell in love with Rei’s brutality at that moment. Masao’s obsession with violence becomes clear when we find out that he killed his bully without feeling any remorse, and later he tries to kill Kira, Rei’s girlfriend. At the very end of the series, after Masao stabs Rei (who lives), he claims he doesn’t remember it happening at all and is taken to a mental insitution. The combination of Masao’s queerness and his psychological problems is extremely problematic when we consider the fact that homosexuality was considered a mental illness in the western world up until the 1940s. And although homosexuality is no longer considered a mental disorder, the stigma of this relationship still persists in the media due to the stereotype of the depraved homosexual.

Overall, it’s interesting to see the limited roles in which queerness exists for males in shojo manga. Both of these characters, along with many other queer male characters that come to mind are effeminate, which is not true for many queer men in real life. And most of the queer and gay characters that I can think of have unfulfilled love lives: very rarely do we see queer characters in shojo manga in successful relationships, and if they are those relationships never take the spotlight. There are many areas to explore in the politics and representation of queer characters, and thus I’d like to return to the topic some time in the future.

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.

An analysis of the manga Mars

An analysis of the manga Mars

A lovey-dovey Kira and Rei

Years ago, I remember reading several positive reviews of the classic 15 volume shojo manga Mars, by Fuyumi Soryo. Anime Insider and Animerica each commended the series’ tackling of serious issues such as rape, suicide, and psychological trauma, setting it apart from most conventional shojo series. Although the manga is currently out of print and no longer the most relevant series around, after finishing the classic shojo manga Boys Over Flowers, I decided to read Mars to see what I was missing. From the moment I finished it, I knew I wanted to write about the series. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the manga, there are several spoilers in this review, so read with caution. Read more