The flow of time in shojo manga

The flow of time in shojo manga

After marrying Naoki, Kotoko struggles (but ultimately succeeds) in becoming a nurse.

There are many things shojo manga does extremely well. Crafting multi-layered characters, engrossing romances, and addictive melodrama are all staples of the best shojo on the market today. But one element that is often overlooked that stands out to me is the way shojo subtly handles the passage of time. While many shojo series seem to be stuck in the golden years of high school, several of my favorite manga take place over many years of the protagonists’ lives. This allows us to get an all-too rare glimpse at the adult phases of life – careers, marriage, and the start of a family. One of the very things I love most about Itazura na Kiss is how much time passed over the course of the series. At the start of Naoki and Kotoko’s rocky relationship, both charcaters are seniors in high school. They quickly enter college and are faced with important life decisions – especially Naoki, who despite his father’s expectations for him to take over his toy company, starts to dream of becoming a doctor. But I think watching Kotoko’s career path is even more fulfilling – because for so long in the series her attentions are only focused on Naoki. When Kotoko fails to graduate on time and considers dropping out of school, Naoki scolds her for shirking her responsibilities and never giving any serious consideration to her future, she ultimately decides to become a nurse because her dream is to help Naoki. Through the passage of time we can see the characters mature and not only overcome their foibles, but also learn how to accept responsibility.

Photos and Ann’s iconic hourglass shows the importance of the passage of time throughout the series.

One series in which the passage of time, especially the passing of the seasons, is especially important is Sand Chronicles. The series follows main character Ann from ages 12-26, and each chapter is given a title using the Ann’s age and what season it is (e.g.: Winter, Age 18: First Star). The seasons add to the mood and forbode important events, such as the death of Ann’s mother during the snowy winter or the end of Ann and Fuji’s relationship amidst the late fall trees. But the passage of time is most clearly represented through Ann’s hourglass, which was given to her by her mother at the beginning of the series. After her mother commits suicide, Ann breaks the hourglass, but it returns to her hands when Daigo buys her a new one because she shouldn’t ever let go of the things that are most important to her. On that day, Ann makes a wish: that she and Daigo will be together for the rest of their lives. But when Ann’s depression from her mother’s death begins to consume her, she breaks things off with Daigo and puts the hourglass away – a symbol for Ann being stuck in time. Their decision to live by the sand once Ann overcomes her depression and reconciles with Daigo is meaningful because it shows that time has started for her once more.

But series don’t need to take place over years and years to feel the passage of time. One series that makes use of a detailed account of time is Red River by Chie Shinohara. In Red River, 15-year-old Yuri Suzuki is sucked into 14th Century Anatolia. Shinohara intergrates real-life historical figures such as Kail Mursili, prince of the Hittites, and Egypt’s Nefertiti. Historically-accurate events such as the death of Zannanza (Kail’s brother and a prince of the Hittites, who became pharaoh of Egypt but was killed before he could take the throne) give me great respect for the series. But the series in which the flow of time feels the most authentic is without a doubt Nana. Cell phone conversations are given exact dates and times, enveloping the series within the real world.  Beginning at volume twelve, the series occassionally flash-forwards several years into the future, giving the audience clues of what will happen during the present. We Were There also uses this technique after it’s main couple goes their separate ways, and the audience is thrust five years into the future to figure out little by little what happened to each character. Thus, there are many interesting ways to use the passage of time within a series to make it feel unique. Overall, I think the main reason I have such a fondness for series which take place over a long portion of the cast’s lives is because it allows the audience to grow even more attached to the characters and their personal stories. Watching characters grow over a specified period of time makes them feel real, as though their stories are taking place somewhere else right as we speak.

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?

So…Japanese girls like it rough, huh?

So…Japanese girls like it rough, huh?

In keeping up with the spirit of Valentine’s Day, I thought I’d take a look at the most popular romantic scenarios in anime and manga. Last year, Goo asked its female users the following question: “Of the typical scenes in a romance manga, which would you want to experience in real life?” Here were the top 10 choices:

  1. Being hugged from behind and told “I love you”
  2. Being asked out in a slightly forceful manner, e.g. “You’re going out with me today”
  3. Being patted on the head and told to “Do your best!”
  4. Discovering that their male confidante was in love with them
  5. Turning to look behind them and being kissed by surprise
  6. Having someone worry about them and look into their eyes while asking “what’s wrong?”
  7. Being fought over by more than one man
  8. Being grabbed by the chin and kissed suddenly
  9. Seeing him off at the train station and being dragged on to the train at the last second
  10. Having him wipe their tears away while saying “Don’t cry”

    Romantic, huh?

Number three seems more like how you’d treat a pet than a girlfriend, so I don’t see the romance in it at all. I’ve definitely seen it, though – I believe Sano does this to Mizuki in Hana-Kimi. Being asked out on a date in a forceful way I’ve seen done by Tsukasa in Boys Over Flowers, which lead to a disastrous (yet intriguing) date. I’m definitely not a fan of number nine – someone dragging you on a train at the last moment seems pretty selfish to me, and I can’t say I’ve ever seen this one in any anime or manga. Some of these scenarios are very fun to read whenever they occur in manga, especially numbers five and eight. These two just scream Yuu Watase: probably my favorite forced kiss is with Takiko and Uruki in volume of Fushigi Yugi Genbu Kaiden. Another great example is between Naoki and Kotoko in volume two of Itazura na Kiss, which is the first sign that Naoki has feelings for her. And, for some reason, many of the forced kisses I can think of in anime are initiated by the rival (losing) love interest like Soshi in Absolute Boyfriend and Fuji in Sand Chronicles. And being fought over by more than one guy is in pretty much every shojo manga and it’s mother (although once again Yuu Watase is the queen of this cliché. No wonder she’s so popular). But in real life, I’m pretty sure having more than one person interested in you, while a confidence-booster, wouldn’t exactly be fun.

Takiko and Uruki

Naoki’s ‘take-that’ kiss with Kotoko:

Naoki and Kotoko

 And yet another forced kiss:

Soshi and Riiko

What’s interesting about this list is how forceful a lot of these scenarios are. In my opinion, a lot of these scenarios aren’t so desirable or sweet once you place them into a real life context. Being grabbed by the chin and kissed or being asked out in a demanding way are only romantic depending upon who does it: if a guy you don’t know or don’t like did this you probably would be pretty scared or pissed. But what it really comes down to I guess is different cultural values: many Japanese males are shy, especially when it comes to romance, so this helps explain why Japanese women want more assertive men because there aren’t as many men who are openly romantic, and thus this is reflected in manga. So this begs the question: which came first? Did the fantasies of real life Japanese women influence the pervasiveness of romantically assertive men in manga, or was it that these male characters in manga shaped women’s real-life desires? Or maybe it’s a little bit of both. And some of these fantasies definitely appeal beyond Japanese audiences: I have to say, I’d love to have number one done to me. I guess I like it rough, too. 😛

Yuu hugging Miki from behind
Cover-to-Cover: Sand Chronicles

Cover-to-Cover: Sand Chronicles

Cover-to-Cover is a column where I choose my favorite cover from a particular manga series. This time around it’s Sand Chronicles. I remember when I first started reading Sand Chronicles in Shojo Beat. I remember thinking how distinct its art style was – it has a sort of rough, angular feel to it that sets it apart from a lot more ‘fluffy’ shojo art. Out of the all of the ten volumes of the series, my favorite cover is definitely volume 10’s. First of all, I love the color scheme of this cover. The autumn leaves in the background are a nice touch and really suit this series, which is so much about the passage of time and the beauty of the different seasons. And since I’m a girly-girl at heart, the fact that Daigo is covering Ann with a shawl and she’s holding a pretty bouquet of flowers makes me happy. It’s a really romantic cover, which is probably why I like it so much. The fact that Ann being in all-white (or beige) makes me think of a wedding doesn’t hurt either.

But I have to say, although volume 10 has the cover I like most, of all the volumes I probably care for its content the least. While I loved the side story about the childhood of Daigo, Fuji and Ann’s mothers in volume 9, I wasn’t so crazy about the story of Daigo’s teacher. Maybe its because for the final story of the series I would have preferred to focus on the main cast, and I just didn’t find his teacher to be so interesting. All the same, I still love Sand Chronicles volume 10 because I really love the series itself – its great to see little nods as to how Fuji and other members of the cast are doing. But if I had to name my favorite part of this volume, I’d have to say its the cover.

Seasons of love: a look at the romance in Sand Chronicles

Seasons of love: a look at the romance in Sand Chronicles

Ann and Daigo

Oftentimes, my favorite aspect of  a series is the romance and how uniquely the main couple’s love is portrayed. Normally when I watch or read a series and I become invested in the romantic relationships, I begin to root for a particular couple. I get excited to see scenes of my favorite characters in romantic scenarios, and want to see them get together. But reading Hinako Ashihara’s manga Sand Chronicles was different than any other series I’ve encountered, because even though I loved how romantic the series was, I wasn’t actively rooting for Ann to end up with one guy over another.

Early on in the series, Ann develops feelings for Daigo, who helped her overcome her grief when her mother commits suicide. Over time, their feelings blossom into love, and they become a couple. But even though I enjoyed scenes such as Ann and Daigo kissing under the cherry trees when he comes to visit her in Tokyo, I found myself completely neutral to Daigo’s character. Part of this is likely due to him being the most ‘average’ male love interest I’ve encountered in a shojo: while most love interests are handsome and sweet (such as Tamahome from Fushigi Yugi) or perfect but mysterious (like Yuu from Marmalade Boy), Daigo is not that bright and isn’t depicted as being particularly good-looking (although he still manages to capture the hearts of three girls). But a bigger influence in my non-reaction to Daigo’s character was the presence of Fuji. Fuji is quiet, mysterious, rich, and has a tragic past – all common traits of a shojo male love interest. But it is these traits that also make him a more interesting character. So while it was obvious that Ann’s feelings were always stronger for Daigo and that they would likely it end up together, Sand Chronicles is the first series I’ve come across where I found the rival love interest to be more likeable and interesting. However, I still didn’t root for Ann and Fuji as a couple, and it was clear that when they dated, Ann was trying to overcome her loneliness from breaking up with Daigo. And I still wasn’t attached enough to either possible couple to root for or against either one of them, even though I cared about all the characters involved.

It wasn’t until reading volume seven of the series that I began to feel that Daigo truly was the better man for Ann. Ann’s depression, stemming from her mother’s suicide the winter when she was 12, is becoming more obvious to both the reader and those around her, and begins to consume her. When she meets up with Daigo for a class reunion, she asks him if they can get back together. Daigo then gives Ann some sensible advice; advice she needed to hear throughout the entire series: “The one who can make you happy isn’t me or Fuji. It’s you.” It’s at this point when I began to realize how well Daigo understood Ann and what was best for her, and I finally found myself pulling for the couple.

Of course, romance is just one of many themes in the series. What’s most important in Sand Chronicles is the personal struggles the characters go through. Seeing Ann face her innermost demons to finally realize that she wants to live was just so rewarding. But the fact that it was Daigo who was there for her, and that he and Ann were able to start a fresh, healthy relationship, was simply icing on the cake.

A sweet Ann and Daigo
Oh no they didn’t! – The most shocking moments in shojo.

Oh no they didn’t! – The most shocking moments in shojo.

   While most anime and manga recycle cliché after cliché, some of them are capable of genuinely surprising moments, and shojo is no execption. Sometimes it’s not even what happens in a scene, but how it happens that makes it stand out. Here are some of the scenes in shojo that truly shocked me (and please note that there are several spoilers, so proceed with caution!).

–          Shika finding out her father isn’t who she thought he was in Sand Chronicles. This one is great because it was Fuji who suspected that he wasn’t a legitimate Tsukishima heir, and tormented himself to the point of closing off other people – I certainly didn’t see it coming that it was really Shika who was illegitimate! And it was made even sadder because she, unlike Fuji, never even suspected any of the secrets in her family. I thought Fuji’s storyline might play out à la Yuu from Marmalade Boy, but it turned out better not only because of the twist involving Shika, but also because Fuji’s emotional distress was better handled.

We Were There's Nanami

–          Nanami’s line at the end of We Were There volume eight: “I never saw Yano again.” Yano decides to move with his mother to Tokyo for his last year of high school, and he and Nanami make a promise to meet there in a year. The series then flashforwards from their separation at the train station to the end of Nanami’s last year in college, where we find out she and Yano never kept their promise. The next volume couldn’t have come out fast enough, because I couldn’t believe the way Nanami and Yano drifted apart. This also counts as one of the saddest moments I’ve read in a manga, because reading this scene moved me to tears.

–          Ren asking Nana to marry her in volume eleven of Nana. In the panels leading up to this scene, the mood is very tense because Nana anticipates that the next time she sees Ren they’ll be breaking up. Instead, Ren says ‘Marry me.’ I think I stared at those two words for five minutes before I could comprehend what was going on enough to turn to the next page!

–          Hachi finding out she’s pregnant in volume eight of Nana. Yes, another moment from Nana – Ai Yazawa is just that good. Most series wouldn’t go this far, having the main female character wind up pregnant in the middle of the series, rather than as some ‘happily ever after.’ The fact that this happens when she’s with Nobu, her ‘dream guy,’ yet Takumi finds out first and is the one to tell Nobu about the pregnancy and that she’s not sure who the father is makes the drama all the more heartbreaking. In many ways, this is where this series begins. This one was still surprising even though I had already semi-spoiled it for myself.

–          Naoki kissing Kotoko on vacation in volume four of Itazura na Kiss. As soon as I saw Naoki kindly approach Kotoko, I could tell it was going to be a dream sequence. Then when Kotoko wakes up and mentions that she can still feel the sensation of the kiss from her dream on her lips, Yuuki is shown hiding, so I just assumed that he had kissed her and was developing feelings for her because he was blushing. I didn’t think too much about it, especially because the incident was dropped for a while. But then a while later in the series, when Naoki’s feelings for Kotoko are being doubted, Yuuki reveals that he knows Naoki loves Kotoko because he kissed her that summer  – it wasn’t a dream! I was as ecstatic as I was shocked when I read that, and all I could think was “Well played.” I really believe that the way Kaoru Tada executes scenes like these is what makes her a wonderful writer, and what makes Itazura na Kiss such an enjoyable series.