Abusive Relationships in Shoujo Manga by the Number: Week 4

On last week’s post, Alex commented,

Why do you plan to talk about why exactly it seems a genre of manga dominated by female authors contains so much abuse? It’s kind of fascinating to me that women would write characters who seem to DESIRE to be in these sorts of relationships, and I’d be interested in some insights.

This is honestly something I had to do a lot of outside research for because frankly, I don’t get it. My favorite pilot in Gundam Wing was Quatre – “bad boys” have never done it for me. Of course, it would be really assholish to study this phenomenon without trying to understand the “why” as well as the “what”. I’ve found there’s a few reasons:

  • It’s more interesting

Say what you will about series like Hot Gimmick and Black Bird – they really draw you in. As Tolstoy said,  “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” It’s hard, though not impossible, to write a healthy romance in an interesting, engaging way, whereas even I have to admit that a lot of these melodramas are page-turners, while series about genuine, loving relationships are often hit or miss and even the best ones can get dull if drawn out too long – Kimi ni Todoke, I’m looking at you.

  • There’s an eroticism to danger

Okay, I actually really like how Rose Bridges worded it in her editorial on Anime News Network:

There’s a real thrill in being scared. That’s why people love haunted houses and loopy rollercoasters. It’s also why so many girls seek out fan service that’s full of the constant threat of violence. It keeps the viewer on her toes, constantly engaged with the story to see what will happen to the heroine next. Slow burns can be nice, but they also lose momentum quickly in the wrong hands. At least terror is always exciting, and it’s not too far of a jump from the excitement of fear to the excitement of arousal.

  • A safe way to explore dangerous fantasies

Not everyone’s kink is happy relationships based on mutual interests and communication. A lot of people have kinks that, if acted out in the real world, would put their life and limb at risk. Plenty of women enjoy the idea of being held down, dominated, controlled, and/or raped by men, but don’t want that to play out in real life. Others may dream of changing a man, but know that it’s folly and real people only change if they want to, and even then it’s a toss-up. As they put themselves in the place of the heroine, they can see these fantasies play out on the page without having to go through them in real life.

  • The tropes have been normalized

Let’s not pretend all manga is high art and the completely original conception of the mangaka. Like all populist art, much of it is driven by tropes and trends. The popularity of “bad boy” romances have waxed and waned over the decades. If that’s what you read a lot of, that’s probably what you’re going to write, whether or not you’re consciously digesting the tropes within. When I read a lot of Yuu Watase manga, I threw a rape scene into a fanfic I was writing just for cheap dramatic tension! No other reason! It was so dumb and shitty, but it was commonplace in the media I was consuming, so it seemed like the right thing to do. (Please don’t go looking for it…)

This week:
Beauty is the Beast vol. 5
Black Bird vol. 4
Black Rose Alice vol. 3
Boys Over Flowers vol. 2
Cactus’s Secret vol. 1


Beauty is the Beast vol. 5

Eimi’s going home for the holidays–but she’s only been to her parents’ new house once! Shimonuki is all set to accompany her, but a family emergency keeps him in town. Eimi doesn’t want to take the train alone, so she drags Wanibuchi with her. They spend the holidays traveling across the country and through Wanibuchi’s past. Will his revelations bring them together, or ruin any chance of a happy ending? (Summary by Viz)

0 points

Well that was… abrupt. This volume seemed to be mostly table-setting for the development of a stronger plot: Shimonuki considered Eimi his girlfriend, but during their holiday travels, Eimi and Wanibuchi grow closer, culminating in them sleeping together. The sex is consensual, and apparently Eimi either doesn’t understand exclusive relationships or doesn’t consider Shimonuki her boyfriend. More of Wanibuchi’s past is revealed, as well as his plans to return to Mexico. His desire to return is an interesting character note, and one that’s grounded in reality; it’s not uncommon for Japanese youths to spend considerable time abroad, and some of them struggle to adjust back. Wanibuchi’s acting out and time spent in the Latin bar indicate that he never really felt at home in Japan, especially with the heartache he associates his home country with.

When Shimonuki finds out how Eimi and Wanibuchi have been spending time together, he thinks, “The beast should die,” as Wanibuchi smirks at him. And then, it ends. Seriously. It cuts to a young woman standing outside the dorm room, explaining that her parents met there and they are now in Mexico. The clear implication is that she is Eimi and Wanibuchi’s daughter, but it’s baffling how suddenly it changes. Part of me is glad that the series ended before it turned to melodrama, and Wanibuchi’s “dark side” could be turned against Eimi – not that that’s definitely what would have happened, but I’m gunshy after reading Kare Kano – but it almost feels like the manga was canceled and Matsumoto couldn’t think of a way to end it other than just slamming on the brakes.

Series total: 1 point


Black Bird vol. 4

Despite the constant danger Misao finds herself in, she’s determined to stay by Kyo’s side no matter what happens. But a chance meeting with one of Kyo’s best friends shows her just how hard a human-demon relationship can be.

Tadanobu, heir to the Kitsune clan, gave up everything to be with his human girlfriend. But now he is being forced to take on the clan leadership and abandon his love–and it’s all Kyo’s fault! (Summary by Viz)

10 points

The fourth volume of Black Bird is something of a mixed bag. Last volume ended with Misao and Kyo getting hot and heavy, and this one picks up where the last one left off, with Misao asking Kyo to hold off on the sex until she’s ready. He agrees, and it’s almost a sweet moment… but then he gets right back to treating Misao’s body as his possession. Later, he assaults her on a riverbank, ignoring her pleas for him to stop, until his friend comes along and physically kicks him off. Even though he doesn’t try to out-and-out rape her, all sexual contact must be consensual, or else it is assault.

An interesting shift is that Misao has started calling herself Kyo’s “partner”. It’s a term that implies an equality between them that frankly doesn’t exist. The partner role, as she’s describing it, is the housewife who builds a comfortable and safe home for her husband, who is unconditionally supportive, and who does the emotional heavy lifting in the relationship. That’s all well and good and equitable relationships like that do exist, but Kyo has spent too much time restricting Misao’s movement and choices, and ignoring her own will.


Black Rose Alice vol. 3

Flash-forward to 2008. In Tokyo, Azusa Kikukawa has become Alice, resurrected in a century-old body to become the breeding ground for a group of vampires. Alice is serious about fulfilling her role, but she needs a little time to adjust before she commits herself to propagating. But vampires aren’t as immortal as myth paints them. Will her hesitation cost Alice her chosen mate? (Summary by Viz)

4 points

It may be only four points this week, but they’re pretty big ones. Leo and Alice have settled into something resembling dating, so his physical affection toward her didn’t earn any points this week, but he was still the greatest source of points due to one scene where he climbs into Alice’s bed and starts to have sex with her while she sleeps. She wakes up before things go too far and they end up propagating and thus ending their lives, but it’s a still a violent scene.

This volume also reveals a lot about Mizushiro’s attitude about sex, romance, and the relationships between men and women. After the attempted rape scene, Leo decides to withdraw as his life is about to end and he doesn’t want to force her to propagate before she’s ready. The other vampires discuss how he was too nice and, essentially, how he was friend zoned. Yep, it’s basically the old “nice guys finish last” way of thinking. It’s odd, because Leo was actually quite forward in his pursuit, and I can’t think of anyway for him to have been moreso short of holding her down at the very start. In her note at the end, Mizushiro discusses how she doesn’t believe men can fall in love, and she has doubts that women can either… which actually explains a lot about the themes of the series.


Boys Over Flowers vol. 2

Tsukushi continues to fight back against the F4 and protect an old friend who has also been given the infamous “red tag.” Rui’s old flame returns from France. Can Tsukushi really compete with this “perfect girl?” Meanwhile Tsukushi’s resistance to the F4 seems like it might actually work! (Summary by Viz)

13 points

As Tsukushi spends more time with Doumyouji, the point total increases dramatically. That is because Doumyouji is human garbage, much like the garbage he and his cronies routinely pelt Tsukushi and her friend Kazuya with. Without realizing it, he has decided that Tsukushi is his, which means he gets intensely jealous and violent whenever she thinks he’s showing affection to another boy. This unfortunately dovetails with the arrival of Kazuya, Tsukushi’s formerly-poor childhood friend, and the sight of the two of them being friendly drives him into a jealous rage, causing him to put a red card in Kazuya’s locker and eventually slap Tsukushi hard across the face. He follows her around, showing up at her house when she’s sick from a vicious attack he initiated, and moves the school trip from Hawaii to Atami when he finds out she’ll be vacationing there.

Shizuka’s arrival also brings out the worst in Rui, as he whines jealously about the skimpy clothes she wears for her modeling work, even though they aren’t actually dating. Shizuku just laughs his possessiveness off, but it bodes poorly for any future relationship they may have. High on her presence, he kisses Tsukushi and laughingly asks, “This is what you wanted, right?” It’s not a good look for the character who is supposed to be the good one, and Tsukushi is rightly flustered and frustrated by it. Frankly, so am I.


Cactus’s Secret vol. 1

Miku Yamada has a longtime crush on classmate Kyohei Fujioka. But no matter how many times she tries to show him how she feels, clueless Kyohei just doesn’t get it. Frustrated, Miku gives up on him, only to have him start calling her “Cactus” for being prickly when he’s around. Will Kyohei ever figure out Cactus’s secret?

Miku decides to try telling Kyohei her feelings by giving him chocolates for Valentine’s Day. But Kyohei, unaware that he’s the object of her affection, offers himself up as a practice partner for her love confession. Can Miku get through to him that he’s the one she loves? (Summary by Viz)

0 points

This week’s new entry into the running is actually a quite nice little series. Kyohei isn’t mean or a jerk, he’s just kind of thoughtless and dense, and puts his foot in his mouth constantly. Miku, meanwhile, is a nicely spirited heroine. She’s torn between her frustration with Kyohei’s cluelessness and the fact that she just can’t get over her crush, but her inability to get past her feelings is mild compared to a heroine who says that about a boy who is outright cruel.

There’s not much to say about Cactus’s Secret thus far, except that it’s a pleasant read that I’m looking forward to getting into more of.


Next Week:
Black Bird vol. 5
Black Rose Alice vol. 4
Boys Over Flowers vol. 3
Cactus’s Secret vol. 2
Blank Slate vol. 1

Abuse in Shoujo by the Numbers Week 3

Sorry this update is a week late – it’s con season, and panels and interviews means I have a ton of prep work to do. I’ll be presenting my Romance and Abuse in Shoujo Manga panel at both Otakon and AnimeFest, so come over and say hi if you’re there!

I accidentally rebooted my computer and I hadn’t saved my spreadsheet for quite a while and I lost so! Much! Data!

This week:
Beauty is the Beast vol. 4
Black Bird vol. 3
Black Rose Alice vol. 2
Boys Over Flowers vol. 1

Continue reading “Abuse in Shoujo by the Numbers Week 3”

Heroine Problem at the Conventions, 2017 Edition

I planned for last year to be my final Otakon. It would be bidding a fond farewell to Baltimore and the summers of college, taking a final chance to go to the aquarium, and just a final coda to my relationship with east coast conventions.

Then I had so much fun seeing my friends and hanging out with interesting people that I said, “Fuck that” and booked a hotel room for next year.

And then. And then! Anime Fest announced that Sayo Yamamoto and Mitsuro Kubo would be guests, and I had sworn to myself years ago that I would hop on a plane to any convention that had Yamamoto as a guest. And it was the weekend after Otakon. So my extended weekend turned into a week and a half.

Continue reading “Heroine Problem at the Conventions, 2017 Edition”

Fushigi Yugi 13-14: For the Sake of Love/Wolf in the Fortress

Content warnings for homophobia and sexual assault


Episode 13: For the Sake of Love

Last time on Fushigi Yugi: Taiitsukun forces Miaka to watch Yui’s rape, and also to face reality. Hotohori and Tamahome have a macho dick-waving contest.

I’ll be real y’all: I don’t have THAT much snark for these episodes. Turns out, the second quarter of Fushigi Yugi is the show at its absolute best, when the characters are at their most sympathetic and the plot moves at a brisk pace. Their choices are in-character and make sense and the story progression is logical. Enjoy it, but I may not be as crabby about it as usual.

Keisuke reads The Universe of the Four Gods back in reality, somewhat uncomfortable about how all the boys want to sex up his little sister. Lucky for him and everyone else involved, before Miaka and Tamahome can get their sloppy makeouts going, Hotohori busts in, shouting about sensing evil. To prove he’s not just cockblocking, a threatening voice comes out of nowhere, informing them that Kutou has sleeper agents everywhere and could totally defeat Konan whenever they want. Why haven’t they yet? Because their priestess is horny for Tamahome. To prevent her from destroying the country out of sheer sexual frustration, they must deliver Tamahome to Kutou. I guess it’s always been the case that sex plays a major role in international conflict, but it’s funny to see international relations dictated by hormonal teenagers.

Continue reading “Fushigi Yugi 13-14: For the Sake of Love/Wolf in the Fortress”

Abuse in Shoujo by the Numbers Week 2

Hey Caitlin.


Why are you such a misogynist?

Wait what?

Why do you hate stories written by women?

I don’t –

Why do you think women and girls are too stupid to tell reality from fantasy?

Why would you think –

That’s the only thing I can assume from this blog!

*sigh* Okay.

Apparently my continued pursuit of this topic, along with my lack of more positive coverage of shoujo, has given some people the deeply mistaken impression that I am suspicious or disdainful of it and that I only read shoujo manga with this aspect in mind. In retrospect, I can see where that impression comes from. This has become something of a passion project for me. It’s a topic I consider deeply important, so it’s only natural that I give it a lot of focus. However, because of a number of factors, I haven’t written as much as I wanted to on other, more positive aspects of the demographic. In order to combat this perception, I’m going to include in these posts short essays about shoujo manga and my relationship with it that I hope will clarify things.

Continue reading “Abuse in Shoujo by the Numbers Week 2”

Confronting Biases in My Hero Academia

In the months since I’ve started watching it, My Hero Academia has quickly become my favorite battle shonen series. It’s not particularly mold-breaking; it uses the same genre tropes as most other series of its ilk. Its main strength is that it brings the genre’s strengths to the forefront, with a supremely likable ensemble cast and exciting battles, while leaving behind many of the genre’s typical weaknesses. One of battle shonen’s greatest struggles has long been how to incorporate its female characters, and My Hero Academia handles the situation with rare grace and aplomb. However, no work of art is free of biases, and while My Hero Academia avoids many issues associated with the genre, there are still many sexist biases deeply encoded in the series.

Continue reading “Confronting Biases in My Hero Academia”

Abusive Relationships in Shoujo by the Numbers: Introduction and Week One

The response to my “Romance and Abuse in Shoujo” panel has been consistently overwhelming. The transcripts from my Sakura Con 2016 get new pageviews every day, and every time I present it, I get people approaching me afterward telling me how meaningful they found it. I’m incredibly proud to have put together something that touches people’s lives and resonates with their experiences so strongly.

Many of the series I used in my presentation are older, because those were the ones that made me take notice of this issue years ago. However, I’m not sure how relevant this is to current audiences – how many people sitting and listening are familiar with Boys Over Flowers or Hot Gimmick? New volumes of shoujo manga come out every week, thanks to the hardworking localizers at companies like Viz, Seven Seas, and many others. I curate my reading list pretty carefully, so for years I’ve made a point of looking for series with healthy relationships, or series that are aware of the abusive dynamics they contain. Starting work on this project forced me to engage with series I actively avoided, but what about the ones I just never heard of?

So I started wondering, how do the numbers break down? How many of the series that make it to US shores really do romanticize abuse, and how many don’t? In search of these answers, I’ve started a new side project: “Abusive Relationships in Shoujo by the Numbers.”

Continue reading “Abusive Relationships in Shoujo by the Numbers: Introduction and Week One”

Dragon Ladies from Another World: Foreigner Identity in Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid

It wouldn’t be far from the truth to describe Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid as reverse-isekai show – Tohru has, after all, been sent to another world and must learn to live in a world where the rules are entirely different. However, its slice-of-life nature separates it from the likes of Fushigi Yugi or Re:Zero, where quests and other plot demands direct the flow of the narrative. Rather, Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid has a gentle pace, portraying the everyday life of Kobayashi, Tohru, and their friends with plenty of bawdy comedy and only a few occasional hints at a greater plot. The slice-of-life approach creates opportunities for quiet contemplation, even under the fan service and sexual jokes, and delivers a charming message about adapting to a new life in a new culture and found families.

Continue reading “Dragon Ladies from Another World: Foreigner Identity in Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid”

Popular Isekai Light Novel Adaptations as Guys Who Lived in Your Freshman Dorm

Sword Art Online is Kyle


Kyle is really into respecting women, and he wants everyone to know about it. He likes to say that his greatest role model is his mom, because she worked so hard to raise him and his sister without any handouts. His real role model is Jean Claude van Damme, but he doesn’t tell anyone that. He doesn’t believe in the wage gap – it only seems that way, but if you really look at the data, it’s because women have different priorities in life. Besides, he wouldn’t want his wife to earn more than him because what would they do when she left her job to raise their kids? He talks a lot about his girlfriend back home, but she can’t come visit because she’s really busy. Oh, and she doesn’t use Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram. She does use Twitter, mostly to agree with his tweets, and never posts selfies because she’s not vain like that. He is lowkey convinced that all his female friends are actually in love with him, because male-female friendship is always at least a little about attraction. People seem to really like him, but you don’t get it.

Continue reading “Popular Isekai Light Novel Adaptations as Guys Who Lived in Your Freshman Dorm”

A Sincere Apology + Upcoming

Where has the time gone? Where have I been the last few weeks?

Well, not really much of anywhere.

I decided I was going to power through Persona 5 and it ended up swallowing my life for way longer than expected… especially since I decided to replay Persona 3 right after. I’ll be writing a post about them eventually, so it’s justified, right? Right?


Once that happened, I also entered into my avoidance phase and didn’t even touch my computer for the better part of three weeks. I’ve neglected pretty much all my blogging duties, both for this and for AniFem. Posts have gone unedited, outlines unsubmitted, and generally I’m just a mess.

I have no excuse, and I’m sorry.

But! BUT! There is good news!

Two of my panels have been APPROVED for Anime Fest in August: Romance and Abuse in Shoujo Manga and Is This Feminist Or Not? I’m super excited to be presenting them to a new audience, and I hope to see some of you there in six weeks!

Six weeks?