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!

The golden shojo rule

The golden shojo rule

Peach Girl: Kairi steals Momo’s first kiss.

For most fans of shojo manga, it becomes obvious that there is a golden rule:  the guy the main female character has her first kiss with is the person she’ll end up with. Whether the girl’s first kiss is accidental, forced, or (in extremely rare circumstances) consensual, eventually the heroine will start to warm up to the person who stole her lips, oftentimes because of the kiss. The fact that the main female character must always end up with the guy who stole her lips’ virginity is interesting because it shows how big of a deal first kisses are for teenage girls – not just in shojo manga, but in real-life Japanese society. Some fans may argue that because so many shojo series pair the first people to kiss each other, it makes it obvious who will end up together, which is particularly bothersome in series that center on a love triangle. Series such as Boys Over Flowers, Marmalade Boy, and Sand Chronicles all abide by the ‘first kiss’ rule.  This rule even holds true in series where the main female character originally has feelings for someone other than the person she shares her first kiss with. For example, in Peach Girl, Momo has had a crush on Toji since junior high and worries what he will think of her when rumors that she has kissed playboy Kairi start to spread. When she confronts Kairi about the rumors, Kairi decides to make the rumor true by stealing her first kiss, which she repays him for by kicking him in the groin. But over the course of the series when outside influences (mainly Momo’s frenemy Sae) tear apart her relationship with Toji, Kairi becomes Momo’s shoulder to cry on, and at the end of the series she chooses him. Yet while I’ve found that the majority of the time the first kiss rule is upheld, this rule, like all others, was meant to be broken.

In the opening scene of Red River, Yuri gets kissed by a boy she has a crush on named Satoshi, but soon after strange things start happening to her whenever she’s around water. While in the bath, Yuri gets pulled into Anatolia during the year 1500 B.C, where she becomes the concubine to Prince Kail Mursili. Yuri tries not to allow herself to fall for Kail because she knows she’s from a different world, but eventually she is able to reconcile her feelings for him, and Satoshi is long forgotten. Another series that seems to subvert the golden shojo rule is Tail of the Moon. Although I haven’t finished Tail of the Moon yet, at the beginning of the series clumsy ninja-in-training Usagi is told by her grandfather that she will marry Hanzo, a handsome ninja from another tribe. This sparks jealousy from Usagi’s childhood friend Goemon, who was told from the time Usagi was born that he would one day marry her, and it doesn’t take long for him to steal a kiss from her. However, it’s very obvious over the course of the series that Usagi’s heart is set on Hanzo, and he begins to be charmed by her cheerfulness, which makes it seem pretty clear that Goemon and Usagi won’t end up together.

Dengeki Daisy: creepy Akira steals Teru’s first kiss. Let’s just hope she doesn’t end up with him.

The first kiss rule is also played with in interesting ways. Early on in Ouran High School Host Club, the host club attend a party where a lucky girl will be named queen of the dance and receive a kiss on the cheek from a member of the host club. After helping a female student named Ayano become closer to her crush, the host club name her queen of the party, and she chooses Haruhi to kiss her. However, Hikaru and Kaoru’s schemes cause Haruhi to slip and she accidentally kisses Ayano on the lips, thus leading to her first kiss being with a girl! Dengeki Daisy has an interesting case – because whether it adheres to the golden shojo rule or not all depends on a person’s definition of a ‘kiss.’ In volume six of the manga, Teru fights off an enemy who is after a cell phone that connects her to the mysterious hacker Daisy. Kurosaki (who is Daisy himself) rescues Teru from drowning and is forced to give her CPR. However, in volume seven Teru comes across the creepy villain Akira, who seems to take pleasure in making Teru uncomfortable. He steals Teru’s first kiss, which makes Kurosaki more upset than Teru herself. When Teru seeks Daisy’s comfort, he is unable to hide his attraction to Teru and tells her that finding out she was kissed by someone else makes him want to go give her a kiss that would make her forget about Akira’s “clumsy attempt at kissing in an instant.”  So while Akira may have officially been Teru’s first kiss, technically Kurosaki did get to have a taste of Teru’s lips before Akira, thus bringing an intriguing twist on the golden rule. Of course, there are other shojo series that are more realistic and focus on older characters such as Nana, and thus they inevitably avoid many shojo clichés including the golden shojo rule. Can you guys think of any other series where the first kiss rule was subverted?

Love is complicated…(love triangles in anime and manga)

Love is complicated…(love triangles in anime and manga)

In the spirit of Valentine’s Day, I thought I’d write about some of the best and most unique love triangles in anime and manga. There are many many love polygons to be found throughout anime and manga, even in series that don’t specifically focus on romance. And while this may be a shojo blog, some of my personal favorite love triangles are from shonen and seinen series, so this list won’t be limited to just shojo examples. I hope you guys enjoy! 

♥Kyosuke-Madoka-Hikaru (Kimagure Orange Road)♥

Why it stands out: They’re all best friends.

In my opinion, Kimagure Orange Road is the quintessential shonen-romantic comedy series and features one of the best love triangles in anime and manga. At first glance, this triangle may seem straightforward: Kyosuke is a newcomer to town and is torn between a sweet, clingy girl named Hikaru and the ‘bad girl’ Madoka whom he falls in love with at first sight. However, this series raises the stakes because not only are Hikaru and Madoka best friends, but as the series progresses the trio become close friends, making Kyosuke’s inevitable rejection of Hikaru in the series’ first film all the more painful.

♥Kyoko-Godai-Mitaka (Maison Ikkoku)♥

Why it stands out: They’re all sympathetic.

One of the best romantic-comedies there is, this classic 80s seinen series features a love triangle between Kyoko, a widow who becomes the mangager of a run-down boarding house, Godai, a poor college student who is Kyoko’s tenant, and Mitaka, a coach at Kyoko’s tennis school. This is one of the few love triangles I’ve encountered where I liked and sympathized with everyone involved: it’s easy to understand why Kyoko is so reluctant to pursue either of her suitors as she struggles to overcome her husband’s death, and I love that both Godai and Mitaka are very respectful of Kyoko’s feelings. You can’t help but root for Godai to win Kyoko’s heart not only because he is the complete underdog, but because he matures into such a sweet and caring guy. And while in most series the charming rich love interest usually comes across as a jerk,  when Kyoko finally rejects Mitaka after he has waited for her to reciprocate his feelings for almost four years, I couldn’t help but cry.

♥Tsukushi-Tsukasa-Rui (Boys Over Flowers/Hana Yori Dango)♥

Why it stands out: It’s unpredictable.

Even though I had been spoiled about who Tsukushi would choose before I got into the series, I still consider Boys Over Flowers’ main love triangle one of the least predictable love triangles in anime and manga. Soon after standing up to the rich clique of bullies at her school called the F4, Tsukushi develops feelings for Rui Hanazawa, the quietest member of the group. However, when the F4’s leader, Tsukasa Domyoji, begins to fall for Tsukushi, she finds herself torn between them. There is a lot of tension in this love triangle, particularly after Tsukasa confesses his feelings to Tsukushi in volume six and Tsukushi ends up feeling as though she betrayed Tsukasa by choosing Rui, and it was at this point in the series that I began to believe that I had been misinformed of who the main couple of the series was. However, Rui ends up rejecting her because he still has feelings for his first love, and over the course of the series Tsukushi finds herself slowly falling for Tsukasa, which made me elated. I think the main reason this love triangle feels so unpredictable is because the author originally intended for Tsukushi to end up with Rui but ended up changing the storyline when Tsukasa became more popular with the fans, allowing the shift in Tsukushi’s feelings to feel very genuine.

♥Akito-Sana-Fuka (Kodocha)♥

Why it stands out: They’re 12.

This was probably the first love triangle I ever became really invested in, which makes sense considering the fact that Kodocha is my favorite series. I love that Akito, who had been in love with Sana from early on in the series, starts dating Fuka when he believes Sana is interested in someone else, which serves as the catalyst for Sana to realize her feelings for him. This situation is exacerbated by the fact that Sana and Fuka are best friends, causing Sana to hide her feelings for Akito from both of them because she doesn’t want to hurt Fuka. None of them know how to handle the situation well because they are only twelve years-old. It doesn’t take long for Fuka to realize she’s the third wheel in this triangle, and I love the scene when Sana and Fuka finally confront one another. When Fuka admits that she doesn’t feel like Akito’s real girlfriend and Sana says she’ll take him from her, all I could think was ‘aww snap!,’ making this one of my favorite moments in anime love rivalry.

♥Sousuke-Kaname-Tessa (Full Metal Panic!)♥

Why it stands out: Sousuke only vaguely seems to realize he’s in a love triangle.

This is one of the few triangles where I enjoy the romantic moments of both possible pairings because while I prefer Kaname and Sousuke as a couple, I can’t help but like Tessa. While it’s fairly obvious that Sousuke is developing feelings for Kaname, the hot-tempered high school girl he’s supposed to be guarding, Sousuke is completely dense when it comes to love. This is especially true when it comes to his commanding officer Teletha ‘Tessa’ Testarossa, who is anything but shy about showing her feelings for him, which completely confuses (and possibly scares) the moody military officer. So while Sousuke may be completely oblivious to Tessa and Kaname’s feelings for him, the entanglements of this triangle are very fun to watch.

♥Momo-Kairi-Toji (Peach Girl)♥

Why it stands out: She dates both of them.

In most shojo love triangles, when the main female character decides between her two leading love interests, she’ll generally stick with her choice and the losing guy will often find love with someone else. However, in Peach Girl, despite the fact that Momo starts going out with Toji, the guy she had a crush on prior to the beginning of the series, she not only later dates playboy Kairi Okayasu after Sae’s manipulations tear her and Toji apart, but she even ends up with Kairi. While there are a few other love triangles where the female dates both guys (such as in Sand Chronicles),  it’s usually made obvious that she is only going out with the second guy as a rebound and is still in love with her first love interest. But in Peach Girl, despite the fact that Momo still has feelings for Toji when she starts dating Kairi, Kairi’s charms win Momo over and she eventually chooses him.

♥Hagu-Morita-Takemoto (Honey and Clover)♥

Why it stands out: (spoiler) She doesn’t end up with either of them.

While I’ve never personally cared for this love triangle because I never understood why either Morita or Takemoto was in love with the moody and introverted Hagu, it still stands out to me as a unique love triangle because she doesn’t choose either guy in the end. Even though Hagu is in love with Morita, Hagu decides to spend her time focusing on her artwork after her hand gets injured, and asks Shu (Professor Hanamoto) to stay by her side and help her. So even though I may not have been as invested in this love triangle, I respect Honey and Clover for not tying up all of the romantic loose ends like most series would, as well as for being one of the most poignant examples of unrequited love in anime and manga.

So what I’ve noticed is that I especially like love triangles where the people involved are friends. In these triangles, there is a lot more at stake, which is why they are so dramatic and interesting. If anyone has a love triangle they love or feel is unique, please feel free to comment!