Baku-“Man smart, woman dumb”

Summary: Moritaka Mashiro likes to draw, but it’s not what he considers his defining trait. After his uncle, a formerly-popular mangaka, died of overwork trying to replicate his own success, Moritaka never really considered art a serious endeavor. One thing he does take seriously, however, is his crush on his cute classmate Miho Azuki. When the smartest boy in his class, Akito Takagi, finds a sketch Moritaka drew of Azuki, he suggests they team up to create manga together. Moritaka has misgivings at first – trying to break into the field is too big a gamble – but before he knows it, the two grow determined to get their manga into the popular Jump magazine.

Content warnings: a whole lot of sexism, but nothing worse than that


Note: I apologize for the quality of the images – I took pictures of the book using my phone

I’ll be honest here – I did not go into Bakuman in good faith. I started it knowing full well about Ohba and Obata’s disdain for women. The series is well-loved and critically acclaimed enough that I’m sure that there’s plenty to like about it, but since I am specifically taking aim at the parts that frustrate and anger me, I’m pretty much blind to those elements. No, I read Bakuman expecting to hate it and, shockingly, was correct.


It’s also incredibly masturbatory

There’s a lot of ways for media to be sexist. Objectification and male gaze are constant sources of irritation even in otherwise good series; and with some series it’s as simple as forgetting women exist beyond decorations and failing to give them a role to play in the story. I wouldn’t describe any of these as actively misogynist so much as thoughtless adherence to pre-established tropes and expectations.  That’s what makes it  frustrating that it’s as prevalent as it is. That also has the side effect of making it shocking to come across a series that doesn’t just ignore or marginalize women, but treats them with active scorn. That’s why when I read the first volume of Bakuman, by the same writer/artist team as Death Note, I was taken aback by its naked misogyny.

Some months ago, a former Studio Ghibli producer came under fire for saying, “Women tend to be more realistic and manage day-to-day lives very well. Men on the other hand tend to be more idealistic – and fantasy films need that idealistic approach.” Bakuman holds this attitude not just as an opinion of the characters but an undeniable fact. Take for example, the patriarchal decision-making process of Moritaka Mashiro’s parents: when Moritaka wants to do something or needs advice, he asks his mother, who asks his father, and then relays to him the answer. She has little power in her own household, acting only as a messenger between the men. “I’ve never really had a serious conversation with my father,” narrates Moritaka, but that same father is the one who makes all the most important decisions. It idealizes the idea of the father as the distant patriarch who hands down decisions from on high, while the blame goes to the messenger – his mother. On the other hand, it seems to me that the system is in place simply so that a single exchange can take place. When Moritaka tells his mother he wants to draw manga, she tells him immediately, “No,” confident that her husband will agree. However, when Mr. Mashiro arrives home, it only takes a few minutes for his wife to come to Moritaka’s room. With a resigned, sad expression, she delivers her husband’s decision: “Let him do it. Men have dreams that women will never be able to understand.” In Bakuman’s worldview, women are dull and prosaic, incapable of achieving or even understanding true ambition or idealism.


Her dullness is reinforced by her unflattering haircut and t-shirt

And as far as Bakuman is concerned, that’s a good thing. One of the series’ main subplots is the romance between Moritaka and Miho. Miho is cute and sweet, but average in every other way. She dreams of being a voice actress, a popular goal for young women, and gets average grades. According to Takagi, this makes her the smartest girl in class, reasoning that, “Azuki naturally knows that a girl should be graceful and polite and because she is a girl, she should be earnest about things and get good grades. She knows by instinct that a girl won’t look cute if she’s overly smart.” He cites her family’s large home as proof that she comes from exceptional stock, and thus is herself exceptional, even though there’s nothing to make her stand out. She wants to be a voice actress specifically because it’s a common goal, and that she “doesn’t feel any pressure like [they] do about the future,” and that even after she’s married, she’ll be graceful and polite. That speech is one of the most commonly-cited examples of Bakuman’s sexism, and it’s abundantly clear why. His list of qualities that are ideal in a girl – being graceful and polite, not too smart, and generally unremarkable beyond being cute and demure by “instinct” – is dehumanizing and archaic. Adding insult to injury, he contrasts Miho with Iwase, the girl in their class with the best grades: “Iwase is pretty good-looking, but she’s not very likable, is she? She’s the smartest girl in class grade-wise, but I don’t like how she takes pride in that. That’s why I actually think she’s really dumb.” The message comes through loud and clear: girls who have ambition, who work harder than men, who worry about their future, who in short do not center their entire lives around training to fulfill the “good wife and wise mother” ideal, are wasting their time and thus are dumb, no matter how intelligent or capable they may be. This speech is reinforced when Miho is talking to her friend Miyoshi, and they discuss how Iwase isn’t popular with the boys. Despite her good looks and intelligence, she’s “snobby” and unlikable. Because she doesn’t put effort into being cute and approachable, she’s undateable.


Not only is Miho an insulting yamato nadeshiko cipher, the relationship between her and Moritaka reflects an authorial obsession with purity. When Moritaka and Takagi visit her house to talk about their dreams, they decide to intertwine their goals: the boys will write a successful manga, and Miho will star in the anime adaptation. Inspired by his uncle’s letter-writing romance with a former classmate that ultimately went nowhere because of their mutual reluctance to confess their feelings, Moritaka proposes that they get married if both their dreams come true. Miho turns red and runs back into her house, and Moritaka begins to beat himself up when proposing when he’s not even in high school. However, Miho begins to talk to them through the intercom and accepts, but makes Moritaka agree not to see her until they’ve both fulfilled their goals. Supposedly, it’s to make sure neither of them becomes distracted; however, they are in effect putting their relationship into stasis. They’re only 14; they have so much growing and maturing to do, it’s impossible to tell whether they’ll be compatible by the time they reach adulthood. They’ve never actually dated or shared their innermost secrets – Moritaka didn’t find out about Miho’s dream until a few days ago, and third-hand. It’s not totally unbelievable that a pair of junior high school kids would make an agreement like this, but the writers seem just as fooled as the characters that they are in love rather than simple infatuation, swept away by the moment. No one expresses doubt about the healthiness of such a relationship or arrangement, and Miho’s mother, who turns out to be Moritaka’s uncle’s former letter-writing companion who married another man (and just happens to be another perfect specimen of feminine beauty and charm), gives them her blessing. It’s a forced situation engineered so that Moritaka can go on idealizing Miho and treating her as a goal without Ohba and Obata ever having to actually write her like a human being.  By holding each other at arm’s length, they are spared the work of having to get to know each other. What’s more, Miho’s purity and innocence, so essential to her characterization as the perfect young woman, will not be violated until the two marry. This allows not only Moritaka, but also readers who identify with him, to keep her on a pedestal.


Miho’s mom has got it going on

A common defense of Bakuman’s treatment of women is that the views of the characters don’t automatically align with those of the creators. That’s true, but unless the text goes out of its way to refute their views, it’s a flimsy excuse at best. Maybe they will be proven wrong and get to know women who are just as ambitious and capable of themselves. However, given the series’ reputation for sexism, I doubt that will come to pass. We have nineteen more volumes get through, so only time will tell.

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Read or Die



Summary: If you met Yomiko Readman on the street, you’d think she was a shy, awkward young woman who lived her life in the pages of a book. You’d be right, of course, but you probably wouldn’t guess that she’s also The Paper, an agent of the British National Library with the power to wield paper as a weapon. When a group of superpowered clones known as I-Jin attack, determined to get their hands on a copy of Beethoven’s Immortal Beloved Yomiko picked up by chance from a used bookstore, it’s up to Yomiko and her new partner, Nancy “Ms. Deep” Makuhari, to stop them.

Content Warnings: Abusive relationships

Would I recommend it: Sure! It’s a fun little action romp.

In 2002, the OVA of Read or Die was released in the US, despite being a sequel to a manga that had not been commercially translated into English. Despite the lack of context, it seemed to be tailor-made to be a hit with Western audiences, driven primarily by exciting action set-pieces with superpowers and the sci-fi twist of villains based on historical figures. Its slim 100-minute running time leaves little for character development and, considering its status as a sequel, doesn’t really prioritize it. Despite that, or perhaps because of it, there is an effortless sense of characterization, allowing first-time viewers to get a sense of its two main characters as people. Yomiko Readman and Nancy Makuhari could easily have been a helpless moe girl and a fan service vehicle respectively, but are instead given a surprising amount of depth.


The first episode opens on Yomiko Readman waking up to a phone call offering her a substitute teaching job. Yomiko’s apartment is dirty and cluttered, with books stacked floor to ceiling. It becomes clear that she has trouble taking care of herself – there are sticky notes scattered around reminding her to do basic things like eat and get out of bed. With the promise of income, she pulls money out of one of her books, ignoring the note exhorting her, “Save this up! Up! Up!” She heads out, her hair a tangled mess and almost getting hit by a car, and travels from bookstore to bookstore, buying even more books. Though the show downplays it after the intro, Yomiko’s apartment and obsession over books makes it clear her problem borders on compulsive hoarding, a serious mental illness. The plot centers around the I-Jin, superpowered clones of famous historical figures, trying to steal the book Immortal Beloved from Yomiko, who chanced upon it in a used bookstore. Throughout her battles, rather than focusing on defeating her enemies, Yomiko struggles to find a chance to ask them politely for the book. Even when her life depends on it, she is reluctant to use the pages of the book as a parachute to escape a rocket rapidly approaching orbit. Yomiko’s bibliomania may come across as a cute quirk, but it seriously strains her ability to function day-to-day.

Yomiko’s partner is Nancy Makuhari, codenamed Ms. Deep, a femme fatale in an impractical outfit with the power to phase through solid matter. Though her demeanor is icily professional when they first meet, she warms up when she sees how formidably Yomiko wields her power to control paper. While most action shows featuring women use fights as an excuse for fan service, with jiggling boobs, strategically torn clothing, and exploitative camera angles, Read or Die avoids that and provides interesting, well-choreographed fights instead. Sure, Nancy’s costume leaves a lot to be desired, but other than a comment from their support technician Drake Anderson (“Today is my lucky day!”), the show rarely dwells on it.

The relationship between Yomiko and Nancy is the emotional cornerstone of the show. The two connect after their first battle together, when Nancy goes from strictly using code names to telling Yomiko her real name. Her choice to go by Nancy can be seen as analogous to switching from surnames to first names in Japan. Some people do it casually, but for others it’s considered a big step even for a couple that has been dating for months. Open and sweet-natured Yomiko cheerfully introduces herself as Yomiko Readman rather than “The Paper,” but must earn the more guarded Nancy’s trust before she is willing to reciprocate. 0f9417cbf41886df0954dfb097e3300bThe next episode shows the two of them relaxing together in the lounge of a submarine. Their bond is almost palpable, with Nancy braiding Yomiko’s hair as she reads a book, then gently tickling her face. Yomiko is so absorbed she hardly notices, but as most women can attest, playing with hair is a common form of casual contact between female friends and a sign of trust and closeness – after all, you are vulnerable when someone has your hair on their hands. The two talk about love and romance – Nancy is dismissive of the romance novels Yomiko is so fond of, saying that, “real love is more complicated,” and asks Yomiko whether she would have real, complicated love, or read the more simplified version in a book. Yomiko, after ruminating on it for a few minutes, says she would rather have real love, because “you’re always the main character.” Her attitude is sweetly naive, but also self-centered. Romance isn’t a story in a book, and there is no main character, after all. She views the world through the lens of fiction, expecting things to function in terms of arcs and protagonists.

When Nancy is hurt while fighting the clone of Genjo Sanzo of Journey to the West, Yomiko flies into a rage, throwing hundreds of razor-sharp index cards at him until she drives a paper airplane into his mechanical heart. Genjo survives the blow, and manages to steal the book despite their efforts, and in the hospital, Nancy apologizes for allowing that to happen. Tearfully, Yomiko tells her not to worry because, “We can look for the book again. There’s only one you,” unaware that Nancy is actually a clone herself and thus there is, in fact, more than one of her. However, the sentiment still carries weight – bibliomaniac Yomiko is concerned for Nancy’s life more than her precious book, while only days ago she was politely begging a crazed clone of Otto Lilienthal for her book in midair. Yomiko, for the first time in her life, experiences love outside of the pages of a book. Their relationship has strong romantic overtones, such as Yomiko blushing after Nancy pinches her cheeks. Her concern for Nancy, to the point of sitting by her bed without sleep for two days, shows how far she’s come even since the start of the episode. When Nancy is revealed to herself be an I-Jin of Mata Hari, Yomiko is devastated.


What good friends!

Nancy, however, had her own specific romance in mind when she described real love as complicated: a love triangle between herself, the leader of the I-Jin Ikkyu Soujun, and a second clone of Mata Hari. This relationship is where Read Or Die begins to unravel a bit. Nancy and Ikkyu are lovers, but since he replaced her with another, more loyal clone of Mata Hari, their relationship is… strained, to say the least. In fact, he laughs after the second clone calls her a “traitorous bitch” and appears to kill her by reaching into her body and squeezing her heart until she collapses and sinks into the floor. “Maybe she’ll sink to the bottom of the ocean,” he chuckles. Yomiko, meanwhile, witnesses all this as she’s tied up in a room slowly filling with water (in classic spy thriller fashion). When she implores Nancy, “I know you love him, but this is wrong!” she refers to Ikkyu’s plan to commit worldwide genocide, but her statement could refer just as easily to the two’s relationship. Nancy may be torn about her relationship, but Ikkyu has no such internal conflict. He’s already replaced her with a version of herself better suited to his needs: the same powers and physical appearance, but unquestioning in her loyalty and single-minded in her devotion.

In the climactic scene, Yomiko, Drake, and Nancy – who survived her clone’s assault – fight to reach Ikkyu before he can broadcast Beethoven’s Death Symphony and force most of humanity to commit suicide. While Yomiko and Drake fight other I-Jin, Nancy ends up locked in battle with her clone in order to protect Yomiko. She literally fights herself, protecting Yomiko and humanity versus seeing her lover’s plan through to fruition. It’s not just a good action scene – it’s symbolic of her internal struggle over whether or not to betray Ikkyu. True, protecting her love spells the doom of humankind, but for the single-mindedly devoted part of her, that doesn’t matter. After all, what does it matter if the rest of humanity is dead, as long as the two of them remain? But that’s not the path that Nancy chooses. The good side, the side that loves the strange girl obsessed with books who can control paper, wins out and saves the day.


This all could have added up to the most satisfying character arc of the OVA, but in its last moments, it comes apart. As Yomiko leaps from the rocket with Nancy to safety, Nancy releases her hand with a sad smile, staying behind on the crumbling rocket. Yomiko must learn to let go and convert the book she has chased halfway around the world into a parachute; Nancy, meanwhile, clings to the last vestige of her past. She takes the corpse of the man she killed, the man who abused her, replaced her,  and plotted genocide, into her lap and says, “You were such an evil, cold, and brutal man. But it would be impossible to face an eternity of loneliness.” In the dub she tells him, “Not even you deserve to die alone.” In that instant, instead of a woman overcoming her past, she becomes a widow throwing herself on the funeral pyre. Her future could have held so much, yet she chooses to die alongside a man who discarded her like so much trash. It’s a jarring, disappointing end that ignores a huge amount of character growth.


Read or Die seems to be largely forgotten, and that’s a shame. It’s not often you get such straightforward, well-made action vehicle starring women that aren’t specifically engineered to get male otaku to want to protect them.

Posted in Analysis, Anime | Tagged | 6 Comments

Romance and Abuse in Shoujo Manga Part 4 – Conclusion

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

You only hurt the one you love…. (32)

Why does it matter? Why should we have these conversations? It’s not like a headstrong girl will go out and read a shoujo manga about a girl in a relationship with an abusive boy and instantly become a doormat. But it normalizes and romanticizes abusive behaviors and creates a culture of abuse. Once again, I want to emphasize, if a girl reads a manga and thinks that it’s okay to be treated like this and someone proceeds to, it’s not her fault. It is not her fault! This creates a culture of abuse that associates aggression and dominance with masculinity and sacrifice of the self for the sake of romance: “I love him, therefore I have to put up with this. He only treats me like this because he loves me.” These are very common cultural myths that need to be actively combatted and actively talked about and criticized, or else impressionable young readers – I started reading manga myself when I was about twelve years old, well before I had ever been in a relationship and while my personality was still forming. Luckily I was also reading things like Tamora Pierce, who writes about confident young women, though she has her own issues, like the age difference thing…

But, we take cues from the media we read and the media we consume. They did a study where they showed women movies where stalking behaviors are presented as romantic, they showed another group movies where the stalking is presented as frightening, and they showed a control group March of the Penguins. [audience laughter] The group that watched the ones showing stalking as romantic were much more tolerant of stalking behaviors, just from watching a couple of movies. If you grow consuming media that teaches you that it’s romantic when a guy treats you like dirt, not just that it’s romantic, even that it’s acceptable to be treated like this, it has an effect. It’s okay to depict unhealthy relationships, I’m not saying that every relationship depicted in fiction has to be perfectly healthy rainbows and sunshine, but don’t romanticize them! Criticize them!

You only hurt the one you love…. (33)

Going back to the survey, I asked, “Did shoujo manga affect your view of relationships?” I got a lot of people who said, “No, I can distinguish reality and fantasy.” I did get quite a few people who said it made it possible for them to look at a relationship and say, “I don’t want a guy who treats me like this!” and recognize it when a guy starts to treat them really poorly, so it’s not a black-and-white issue. There are positive and negatives, but there were also a lot of people who answered that they themselves had been abused, who said “Yes, this affected my view of relationships.” “They made me feel like relationships with big age gaps were fine, and that relationships with abusive behavior can be excused because they have your best interests at heart or they really do love you.” People saying that you have to be this perfect, altruistic girl who gives her whole self to help to help this guy who’s emotionally damaged, instead of leaving the relationship. Even if he’s damaged, it is not up to you to heal him. It is up to a therapist. As his girlfriend or boyfriend, you are not equipped to help with that. There are good shoujo manga that teach healthy relationship dynamics, but they don’t balance out the ones with unhealthy dynamics.

The last one I just thought was kind of interesting because it’s not about abusive relationships, but it is from an actual Japanese person – as much as shoujo manga matters to us, it’s so much huger in Japan. It’s so much more widely consumed. They show the situations and even if you can look at it and go, “Oh no, that’s not good,” they don’t equip people to get out of these situations and how to deal with it. In some storylines about bullying, which aren’t exactly what I’m talking about here, they think, “They’re all ignoring her… that’s interesting… That would really upset her if we did this to one girl in our class.” And that’s a very common form of bullying in Japan, social exclusion.

You only hurt the one you love…. (34)

Now I want to talk about a couple series that have more realistic depictions of abuse. One is Nana, which is by Ai Yazawa, the same person who wrote Paradise Kiss, about the character Nana, who meets her boy band crush, sleeps with him, then starts to date another guy because he’s kind of a jerkbag entitled celebrity, but then finds out she’s pregnant and it’s probably his. When he finds out, he locks her locks her in the bathroom, he takes her phone, he calls up her current boyfriend, and he says, “Nana is pregnant. I’m going to marry her. I’m going to treat this kid as mine regardless of whose it actually is.” He moves her out to this secluded apartment in a wealthy neighborhood and isolates her from her friends because since he’s a celebrity, people can’t just go in and say, “I’m looking for Nana Ichinose,” because of all the paparazzi and tabloids and stuff like that, but it effectively makes it so her friends can’t find her because her phone is broken, because he broke it.

You only hurt the one you love…. (35)

One thing that is very realistic about this is that Takumi’s abuse moves in cycles. Most of the time he’s plenty sweet to her, but if she does not do what he wants, he gets very angry and turns jealous and controlling very quickly. In this panel that I have, when they announce to her roommate, who’s also named Nana, that she’s going to be moving in with him, and Nana is understandably really upset. He takes her into her room and he’s like, “Okay, no we’re going to have sex,” and she doesn’t want to because of all the reasons that she’s saying here, and he screams at her. So if Nana acts out or disobeys him, he lashes out, he usually sexually assaults her as a way of reestablishing his dominance over her. He also cheats on her regularly because he’s a celebrity and he was already a playboy, so why should he stop just because he married a small-town girl, right? And Nana does love him, as abuse victims often do love their abusers – that’s part of what makes it so hard to get away. She comes from a family where her father treats her and her sisters very disrespectfully; her previous boyfriend left her for another girl because she’s so high-maintenance. She’s all heart and no head — once again, it’s not her fault — but she’s the kind of person who acts purely on emotions and instinct, and she doesn’t believe she deserves anything better. Whenever someone tries to connect her with the boy she’d been starting to go out with, she says, “I don’t deserve him, he’s too good for me,” even though she’s a very sweet person. She totally deserves him.

You only hurt the one you love…. (36)

Another series that deals with abuse is Utena, which I don’t want to spoil in case anybody here hasn’t watched it and it’s an absolute wild ride of a series and everyone should watch it. It’s an allegorical epic about power dynamics and how inevitably, no matter how idealistic they are, they become corrupted and used for abuse. It has rape, abuse, incest… every sensitive subject under the sun, and it handles them very well, and I know for a lot of people, they found it a very healing series to watch. I don’t want to go into too much detail because it really is a series everyone should watch. So, if you haven’t seen it, watch it! I mean it. It’s a really incredible show.

You only hurt the one you love…. (37)

Healthy romances can be interesting to read about too! [audience member: Yaaaaaay!] Look at all these happy teenagers! Aw, they all love each other so much and they treat each other so sweetly! None of them are crying! [audience laughter] These are all available in English; actually, they’re all available from Shojo Beat. The one all the way on the left is Lovely Complex [audience cheers], which it takes them a while to get together but their relationship is based on compatibility and similar personalities and shared interests, just like any healthy relationship. Kimi ni Todoke – a shy girl and an outgoing boy connect. My Love Story is about a really big guy and a really little girl… not a little girl, a short girl [audience laughter]. He saves her from a pervert on the train who said, “She was asking for it, did you see how short her skirt was,” so of course Takeo, the main guy, punches him in the face. [audience laughter] He’s never had a girl like him — every girl he’s ever liked has turned him down — but she likes him. It’s a really interesting series because he’s like, “She’s so pure, I’m not going to touch you until graduation.” She’s like, “That’s… not what I want… [audience laughter] I want to do things like, I have impure thoughts about you and I want to do things like hold your hand.” [audience laughter] It’s a really sweet series! These are all romances where they treat each other with respect. They deserve your support.

I’m not going to shame you if you like series about unhealthy romances. What you like is what you like and there’s a lot of reasons read them. A lot of people say they’re a safe way to experience unsafe fantasies. No judgment. But if we support series about people who are actually treating each other well, more of them will be made, and there will be more models for healthy relationships.

You only hurt the one you love…. (38)

As a general call, if you are experiencing abuse, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline. There’s a lot of resources out there; this is just one of them. Please, if you need to get in touch, here’s a phone number. You don’t deserve what you’re going through.

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Romance and Abuse in Shoujo Manga and Anime Part 3 – Signs of Abuse

Part 1
Part 2

You only hurt the one you love…. (19)

Now we’re getting more into the actual, physical forms of abuse that are not just tropes in fiction. This is physical abuse – pulling hair, punching, slapping, kicking, biting, anything that brings harm to your body. Damaging your property out of anger. Forcing you to use drugs or alcohol was a really weird one in Hana Yori Dango because he kidnaps her, drugs her, and she wakes up to being given a makeover, and that’s like, “Oh, he just doesn’t understand how to be nice to her, that’s why he did that. He was just trying to be nice!” He drugged her. He drugged her. The property tends to involve phones, because that is an avenue of communication with other people. If they’re communicating with other people, the guy will destroy the phone in a temper tantrum.

You only hurt the one you love…. (20)

This is a scene from Hot Gimmick where Hatsumi was out with her brother and therefore not picking up her phone, while Ryouki was trying to call her. The next time he sees her, he walks up to her and slaps her hard across the face. Of course everyone’s like, “Oh my god! How could you do that! How dare you?” But she just says, “Oh no, it was my fault. I’m not mad.” She says, “Even though I got hit, it wasn’t scary at all.” The narrative never really shows, no, he was being a jerk for slapping her. That never comes across. Everyone else is angry, but Hatsumi is not angry, and that’s what matters. Her reaction of, “It was my fault,” is a very standard sign of abuse. Abuse victims tend to blame themselves for what happens to them – they didn’t do things right, therefore they brought it on themselves.

You only hurt the one you love…. (21)

Here we have the phone breaking scenes. In Wolf Girl and Black Prince, they weren’t even dating. She was being his dog. But she’s texting with this other guy, and he’s like, “Can I see  your phone?” And he snaps it in half, once again, destroying her ability to communicate with other people. In Paradise Kiss, Miwako got up for some reason, she comes back and sees Arashi going through her phone and looking at her messages. She’s like, “No stop! What are you doing?” He throws her phone against the wall and it breaks. This is also a form of emotional abuse – an invasion of her privacy. You have a right to text whoever you want without someone looking through your phone. Out of jealousy, he invaded that privacy, even though they’ve been in a relationship for years, he should trust her, but he knew that they were rekindling this friendship, so the moment that he had the opportunity, he started looking through her emails.

You only hurt the one you love…. (22)

Emotional abuse is a very common one. It’s also one of the most common forms of abuse in real life, because a lot of people don’t recognize the signs. They think, “He’s not hitting me, therefore it’s not abusive.” Forms of emotional abuse involve calling you names, insulting you, or constantly criticizing you; this is all a constant theme in most of these series, especially Hot Gimmick, Hana Yori Dango, and Wolf Girl and the Black Prince. The guys almost never say anything nice to the girl. If they do, it’s a very backhanded compliment, like, “I won’t slap your face because that’s the only part of you that’s worthwhile.” Refusing to trust you and acting jealous or possessive – I put down Black Bird, Hot Gimmick, and Hana Yori Dango, but that’s also in Paradise Kiss, which I just discussed. Humiliating you in any way – Hana Yori Dango and Hot Gimmick have a lot of public humiliation. For example, Ryouki forces Hatsumi to kiss him in the train station, and it’s her first kiss, and kissing in public is a major social taboo in Japan. Blaming you for the abuse – “It’s your fault. If you weren’t so stupid, I wouldn’t have to do this to you.” Threatening to hurt you, your children, your family, or your pets – I saw that mostly in Black Bird.

Accusing you of cheating and being jealous of your outside relationships – in Hot Gimmick, Ryouki is jealous of her brother. Of course this is because it’s a soap opera and he’s her adopted brother and of course he’s actually in love with her… [heavy sigh] [audience laughter] But he’s still her brother.

An interesting one is telling you that you will never find anyone better or that you’re lucky to be with a person like them. You do see this fairly frequently, but you see it mostly coming from people outside the relationship. There’s a lot of scenes where they’ll be walking down the street, and people will see them and be like, “That guy is so hot! Oh my god, can you believe him? Who’s that girl with him? She can’t be his girlfriend. Is he a model? She’s a little young to be his agent, but that must be it, right?”

You only hurt the one you love…. (23)

Here we have a scene from Wolf Girl and the Black Prince where she fell down and got hurt, that happens. He tells her, “A scar on a woman reduces her value and yours was low already.” Everyone has value. No one has low value. Except in this case, maybe Kyoya has low value because he’s talking to her like that. He’s also treating her like the only part of her that’s worthwhile is her appearance, is her body – that’s the only source of a woman’s value.

You only hurt the one you love…. (24)

Here we have a scene in Hana Yori Dango where Tsukushi was out seeing some friends from middle school because she has almost no friends at her school, so of course she wants to see her friends from middle school. They’re male friends, so Doumyouji follows her and he attacks her friends. He almost breaks one of their necks – he has to go to the hospital. When she says, “What are you doing? Why are you attacking them?” he screams at her, he puts her down for being poor while he is wealthy, and lords his higher social status over her, slams her against a wall, and calls her a slut for going out with her male friends, assuming that since she was with her male friends, it was about showing off how popular she was with the guys when she really just wanted to have fun with her old friends and catch up. These are verbal abuse, emotional abuse, physical abuse – it’s hitting every form of abuse! Then after this, he tries to get her kicked out of their school. They end up having to play a three-on-three basketball game and if he wins, she gets kicked out along with her other friend, and if she wins, she can stay, which is the kind of storytelling you’re dealing with in this series. [audience laughter]

You only hurt the one you love…. (25)

Then we also have other scenes from Hana Yori Dango and Hot Gimmick of verbal abuse. He calls her stupid. At one point he attacks her and blames her – “You’re the bad one here.” He’s attacking her, and he tells her it’s her fault. He calls her a loser. We have Ryouki from Hot Gimmick saying, “Something about her makes me want to pick on her.” That is blaming her for her abuse.

You only hurt the one you love…. (26)

This is a scene from Black Bird where she is talking to another guy. He turns out to be a demon, of course, because every guy who would want to talk to her except for him is a demon, so he grabs her, he flies high over the city, and she freaks out understandably because she is several hundred feet in the air. If he drops her, she’ll die. She’s like, “What are you doing, why are you doing this?” and he’s like, “I should be asking you that. Why are you trying to make me angry?” When he lands, he’s like, “Don’t worry, I wasn’t actually going to hurt you. I just wanted you to learn you can’t live without me,” which is one way that abusers keep their victims in line is they create a sense of dependence. Usually, the victims are not depending on the guy to not drop them from hundreds of feet up, but it’s still the same principle.

You only hurt the one you love…. (27)

Sexual abuse: forcing or manipulating you into having sex or performing sexual acts. Paradise Kiss here, it turned out that Arashi, when he and their friend were fighting over Miwako, the way that he got her for his own was he raped her. Since he raped her, she was his, and she continued to date him. And he’s the one who’s tormented about it! The scene where that’s revealed is treated as something he needs to heal from because he’s so traumatized from it. Another interesting thing in it is, “You blame yourself for turning her into a sexual being.” Women do not become sexual beings the moment they are penetrated. Women are sexual beings well before that, usually, and having sex doesn’t turn them into a sexual being. It’s really messed up!

In Hana Yori Dango Doumyouji almost rapes Tsukushi. He tries to rape her and almost succeeds until he changes his mind on multiple occasions.

Ignoring your feelings regarding sex happens a lot in Hot Gimmick and Black Bird. In Hot Gimmick it’s sort of treated, once again, as social awkwardness. He doesn’t understand what consent looks like: “She’s his slave. If she resists she’s just doing what she has to do; she’ll stop resisting if he keeps going.” She might, but that doesn’t mean she’s consenting.

Reacting negatively with sadness, anger, or resentment if you say no or don’t immediately agree to something – Hot Gimmick and Paradise Kiss, Ryouki throws quite a few tantrums over it. In Paradise Kiss there’s a couple scenes where Miwako’s like, “Oh, you can’t come over tonight because my sister’s there,” and he’s like, “Well, guess I’ll just go home then!” and sulks off.

Continuing to pressure you after you say no, trying to normalize their sexual expectations like, “I do this just because I’m a guy, all guys are like this.” No, not all guys are like this. A decent guy will treat a woman with respect and not touch her whenever he feels like it because he thinks he owns her body.

You only hurt the one you love…. (28)

These are various parts of Black Bird where Kyo treats her like a sexual object for his entertainment, with a bonus of, “I could rape you… I always want to rape you. The smell of your blood makes us want to rape you.” So anytime she bleeds, and she bleeds a lot… she bleeds a lot because she’s always getting attacked, there’s this sense that he has to hold himself back from attacking her.

You only hurt the one you love…. (29)

Here’s a scene in Hot Gimmick where Ryouki invites Hatsumi over… well, he doesn’t invite her over. He summons her to his apartment. She comes over and he immediately tackles her onto the bed because his tutor is coming over and he wants to look sexually experienced for his tutor. He wants to use Hatsumi as sex practice. When she freaks out, he starts looking at a magazine like, “She says no but she really means yes, so just keep going!” This magazine has taught him that girls will try to play hard-to-get so just keep going. He also says, “You bought a pregnancy test, so that means you’ve had sex. Of course you would want to have sex with me.

You only hurt the one you love…. (30)

At one point he finds her drugged on a staircase and takes that as an invitation to kiss her neck and her chest and grab her breasts. As you can see from the text here, she’s barely conscious, and she comes to with his hands on her. At one point another tenant walks by and sees this guy grabbing onto a barely conscious girl and is like, “Sorry to interrupt! Bye! Carry on!” Which also invites the assumption, if you see something going on, it’s not your problem. If you see something, say something. Say, “Hey, get away from her,” you know? Help each other out.

You only hurt the one you love…. (31)

Here we have a scene from Hana Yori Dango. These two pages are right next to each other. One is a violent rape, where she’s resisting, she’s freaking out. The next one has all the soft-focus screentone work focusing on him kissing her neck sensuously [sic]. It looks like a romantic sex scene. Just after this panel, he changes his mind, pats her on the head gently, and says, “Don’t cry.” Tsukushi’s not like, “Holy sh-” I’m not supposed to curse, this is PG-13… “Oh my god! I almost got raped!” she’s thinking, “He patted me on the head so gently and said, ‘Don’t cry…’” [uncomfortable laughter from audience] “Oh… doki doki…” [audience laughter]

Next: Conclusions

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Romance and Abuse in Shoujo Manga and Anime Part 2 – Tropes

Part 1

You only hurt the one you love…. (11)

One of the things people brought up as something that made them uncomfortable was age differences. It’s a very common fantasy for young women, which is why it’s so common in shoujo manga. “Oh, this hot teacher… he’s so attractive… What if he fell in love with me?” And people generally mentioned Sailor Moon, because Mamoru is in college and Usagi is in middle school; and this particular couple in Cardcaptor Sakura, because she’s in elementary school and he’s her teacher. [audience groans]

It is a common fantasy, but there’s an inherent power imbalance here, and all the time you see stories about young women who end up sleeping with their teachers and it’s what they thought they wanted – and this is not victim blaming, it is 100% on the adults to not do it with them – but since they see these fantasies, and they find themselves in these situations, they don’t have the tools to get away. Once again, I want to emphasize, it is never the victim’s fault. I don’t want to come across like I’m victim-blaming, ever.

Also, for some extra fun, it’s a common fantasy on the part of the older male end too. You see a lot of series coming out like the “erotic comedy”, My Wife is the Student Council President. Both sides are being sold this fantasy.

You only hurt the one you love…. (12)

Another trope is, “He speaks roughly, but he’s a gentle soul”. Usually what you have is the guys are very emotionally stunted and very awkward, and he doesn’t know better. It usually implies it’s up to the girl to teach to be better, to teach him how to treat her. It also conflates social awkwardness with a lack of empathy for women – they’re awkward, therefore they don’t treat girls like people. You see this very heavily in Hot Gimmick, Hana Yori Dango, and Wolf Girl and the Black Prince. This is a quote from Hana Yori Dango: “He’s stupid, violent, and wants everything to be the way he wants, and says things he doesn’t really mean… but he’s innocent too, and very gentle, though he doesn’t show it much lately…” She says he’s violent and gentle in the same breath.

You only hurt the one you love…. (14)

Here we see in Hot Gimmick, Ryouki is trying to figure out why Hatsumi is having some issues transitioning between the slave and the practice girlfriend and he thinks of it in equations, which means that if he thinks of things in equations, then he’s trying to apply rationality to feelings, which is not how it works, which means he’s awkward, and therefore it is endearing when he yells at Hatsumi and calls her ugly.

You only hurt the one you love…. (15)

Another trope you see a lot is, “He’s bad, but someone else is worse.” Usually at some point early in the series, the girl will consider going to another guy, and oh, he seems nicer, but he’s actually much meaner. You see this in Hot Gimmick when Hatsumi meets up with her childhood friend and they start to date even though she’s Ryouki’s slave and it turns out he just arranged to have her gang-raped as revenge against her father for sleeping with her mother. Of course, in these cases, the main love interest always comes in and rescues the girl and that’s usually the point where she starts to develop feelings for him. He comes in and is like, “Oh, I’m the only one who can be mean to her,” and it makes her heart go doki doki. [audience laughter] This is a very common trope and it acts like abuse is relative and it’s not – if a guy is abusive, he’s abusing you and it doesn’t matter if there’s someone worse. You deserve better, you deserve someone who treats you right.

You only hurt the one you love…. (16)

Another trope is, “I can’t help my feelings,” where the protagonist knows the boy is bad news, but she can’t or won’t fight her attraction to him. That teaches the lesson, if you’re in love with a guy, go for it! It doesn’t matter what else there is! It’s usually accompanied by frustration and anger at how poorly he treats her, but she listens to her affectionate feelings rather than the anger. On the other side of that, the boy usually says, “I can’t help but pick on her, there’s just something about her.” That also implies abuser have no control over their actions. Everyone acts purely on instinct. I understand that the teenage years are a confusing time where it’s hard to do things despite emotions rather than because of emotions, but once again it sort of creates this model for teenage girls that it’s romantic to go for a guy despite misgivings and that if it works out, it’s even better than going with the guy who treats you nicely from the start.

You only hurt the one you love…. (17)

Here we have a couple of scenes from Wolf Girl and Black Prince. One is when she went on a date with this guy who was really nice to her, really sweet to her, and she tells him, “I’m sorry, I’m still in love with this guy. I’m still obstinately in love with him.” The other three frames are Kyoya talking about her, and he’s talking about how he can’t help picking on her because it’s so fun to get a reaction out of her. That’s not healthy. You shouldn’t want to make your partner upset. He says he’s just “living honestly.” If living honestly hurts the people around you, then find another way to live honestly. Either remove yourself from the situation, or live a lie.

You only hurt the one you love…. (18)

“There’s some people you shouldn’t fall in love with.” This frame is from Utena, a show I’m going to be talking about a little later, that confronts these themes and abusive relationships.


Next: Discussion of symptoms of abuse as seen in these series

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Romance and Abuse in Shoujo Manga and Anime Part 1 – Introdution

At this year’s Sakura Con, I had the amazing opportunity to present a panel on Abuse in Shoujo Manga and Anime to a completely full room. Starting today, I will be posting a transcript of the panel in four parts. Because of the more spontaneous, imperfect nature of speech, the my thoughts and grammar will be messier than usual.

You only hurt the one you love….

Hi everyone, my name is Caitlin Moore. I write for the blog, and thank you so much for coming to “Romance and Abuse in Shoujo Manga and Anime”. I chose this panel because growing up, I read a lot of shoujo manga, and as I got older, I was reading and realized, a lot of these guys are just not good! They’re not good guys! I started thinking about exactly how relationships work and how people in relationships should treat each other. As I started getting older and getting into feminism, it only got more alarming to me.

You only hurt the one you love…. (1)

So, just a content warning: this panel will contain discussions of sexual, physical, and emotional abuse, including sexual assault. If anyone thinks they need to leave for any reason, that’s fine, no judgment.

You only hurt the one you love…. (2)

What are some common forms of abuse found in shoujo? These are all very common behaviors that generally the boy will subject the female protagonist to. There’s verbal abuse, such as belittling and name calling, berating; physical abuse — a lot of the time you’ll see the guy slap her across the face; sexual abuse is also very common — a lot of grabbing her sexual organs and entitlement to her body; and the most insidious is emotional abuse, where he doesn’t trust her to talk to guys, he watches her every move. These are all sort of like, “Oh, he’s very passionate. Oh, he loves her so much, he doesn’t want her to talk to someone else.” These are all abuse.

You only hurt the one you love…. (3)

So, before I put together the panel, I created a survey asking some basic questions about how people relate to shoujo, and I asked, “What do you love about shoujo?” People responded that it’s stories for women and about women, which for many people in the West, was not super common in material aimed at teenagers. It’s getting better now, but there’s not a lot of US-produced young adult material aimed at girls. When there were women, especially in visual media like comic books, you get a lot of male gaze, which is the camera assuming the view of a straight male, so it focused on things that a male would enjoy looking at. In shoujo manga – I usually prefer the action shoujo like Basara, Red River, stuff that focused on a girl that would come generally in a fantasy world, and kick butt, but I did read a lot of romance shoujo because I was at that age where you sort of read everything coming your way.

You only hurt the one you love…. (4)

I also asked respondents, “Has a shoujo manga ever made you uncomfortable?” 78.69% of people said yes, which is a huge proportion! Some of the series people talked about most were Sailor Moon, Cardcaptor Sakura, Black Bird, Hot Gimmick, Wolf Girl and Black Prince, Hana Yori Dango, Nana, and Revolutionary Girl Utena. There are a few different reasons that people cited coming up, but these are all very popular series. Hot Gimmick and Black Bird are some of the top-selling shoujo in the US. Sailor Moon influenced an entire generation of female anime fans.

You only hurt the one you love…. (4)

So… why? A lot of people mentioned age differences; they mentioned a lot of nonconsensual relationships; they mentioned the ideal that the girl stays with the guy to change him, and a lot of unhealthy relationship dynamics being romanticized for the sake of dramatic tension. A lot of people also talked about boys’ love, which I’m not really going to cover in this panel, because that is a whole other can of worms, and I only have an hour.

You only hurt the one you love…. (6)

One of the series I’m going to talk about today is Hot Gimmick, in which the main character Hatsumi buys a pregnancy test for her little sister, and is caught by Ryouki, the son of the company president. They all live in company housing, where the family of the company president has huge social power, so he has the power to make her whole family’s life miserable, so he forces her to become his slave. He blackmails her, he insults her intelligence, he insults her appearance, he forces her to engage with him sexually, but then they decide that instead of his slave, she’s going to be his “practice girlfriend”; then, instead of his practice girlfriend, she’s going to be his real girlfriend; then, at the end of the series, she’s his “practice fiancee”. It’s sort of presented as, “Oh this guy, he’s so socially inept, isn’t it quirky that he would talk to a girl like that.”

You only hurt the one you love…. (7)

Hana Yori Dango is an older series; it was really popular in the 90s. It has spinoff dramas in pretty much every country in Eastern Asia — I know there’s a Taiwanese one, I know there’s a Korean one… If you look up Hana Yori Dango it’ll be like “Japan… China… Korea…” so it’s huge! It’s about this girl Tsukushi whose family is lower middle class at best, but she goes to this very wealthy school, has no friends, and one day she catches the attention of the F4, this group of guys you see her with here, led by Tsukasa Doumyouji, who is the guy with curly hair with his arm around her. Doumyouji is a complete psychopath. [audience laughs] I mean a literal psychopath. He throws incredibly violent tantrums when things don’t go his way, he destroys hundreds of dollars of property, he almost kills people when he’s mad. Tsukushi is very headstrong and she doesn’t take the abuse lying down, unlike Hatsumi from Hot Gimmick; if he hits her, she’ll hit him back. But, she still falls in love with him, and at the end of the series – sorry guys, I’m going to be spoiling some things today – she’s like, “I’m not going to college at Eitoku,” and he’s like, “Yes you are. I’m paying for it, you better go there.” So he’s very controlling.

You only hurt the one you love…. (8)

Wolf Girl and the Black Prince – I see some heads nodding – is a more current series. I believe the anime aired in 2014. It’s about this girl Erika who starts in a new class, she has no friends, so she just kind of dives into the first group of people she can talk to, who are two girls who are completely obsessed with their older boyfriends. So of course she has to make up a boyfriend, so she shows them a picture of this random hot guy who turns out to be Kyoya, one of the cutest boys at her school who happens to be in another class. He agrees to keep up the ruse as long as she agrees to be his dog, which is pretty much another way of saying his slave. He teases her mercilessly. He makes her do things, like if she pisses him off he might throw a stick and be like, “Go fetch,” and she has to go get it. It’s very dehumanizing, and the anime ends with them officially dating, and he’s still kind of a jackass, but he’s gotten better! Because she changed him!

You only hurt the one you love…. (9)

The other main one I’m going to talk about is Paradise Kiss, mainly focusing on the subplot of Miwako and Arashi, who are childhood friends in this long-term relationship. Then one day, the main character, Yukari, reunites Miwako with their childhood friend who when they were younger, he and Arashi were rivals. Arashi gets super jealous when they rekindle their friendship and very resentful, and he treats her in very unacceptable ways, including breaking her phone.

You only hurt the one you love…. (10)

Finally – sorry, I said Paradise Kiss was the last one, I lied – Black Bird, which was one of the top-selling shoujo manga for Shoujo Beat, about a girl named Misao who can see spirits, who on her sixteenth birthday starts getting attacked because it turns out she’s special! As girls in these supernatural romance series always are, and if a demon eats her flesh, they will be granted immortality, so of course everyone wants to eat her. Her childhood friend Kyo returns, and of course he’s a tengu and wants to marry her because it will bring prosperity to his clan, and also he loves her! He’s twenty years old and she’s sixteen, and he’s her teacher, and immediately upon seeing her he starts grabbing her breasts… constantly. I didn’t read the whole thing because uh… it sucked. [audience laughter] It ends with them married and Misao carrying their child, even though it will probably kill her… It’s a very Twilight-esque sort of series.

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Sakura Con 2016: Rie Matsumoto/Toshihiro Kawamoto Interview, Part 2


Q: This is a question for both of you. When you were growing up, what was your favorite manga or anime series, and as of right now, do you happen to have any manga or anime titles that you’re enjoying at the moment?

TK: I think if you compare director Matsumoto and me, there’s maybe a difference of two generations… or maybe just one. The generation gap is kind of like parent and child, almost, so I’m sure we were drawn to different things when we were young. In my generation, one of the works that sparked this animation trend was Spaceship Yamato, and also works that were created by Leiji Matsumoto. I was really inspired by those works. Right now, I need to look at other anime to learn what styles they’re using and what new process they’re using. The animation studios I’m interested in right now include Kyoto Animation and Studio Ghibli, so I see works from those so I can learn and incorporate what they do into my work.

RM: Since I was very small, I was really interested in Japanese fairy tales and there were anime versions of those shows on TV, so I would watch those a lot. I was also a fan of things with anthropomorphized animals. For example, there was one that took place in a zoo like with a penguin, and it was the humanized animals living out a human drama. I liked that sort of thing. Often I would meet these shows randomly, by accident when watching TV or something. When certain things are handled in live-action dramas or with human characters, they have a lot of heavy themes like divorce or losing family, but in those shows, since the characters were animals, it kind of softened it so kids were able to watch it, and it was kind of like practice for entering society and I feel that I learned a lot from those. Also, there were a lot of really quality shows at the time that I was in elementary and middle school, like Cowboy Bebop that Kawamoto-san had done.


Q: Matsumoto-san, you’ve worked on Pretty Cure, which is part of a franchise; Kyousougiga, which is an original work; and Blood Blockade Battlefront is an adapted work. What are the differences between working on those different sorts of projects?

RM: When it comes to the differences between working on these different kind of anime, I don’t feel that it’s that different between the shows. Like Kyousougiga, Pretty Cure was also basically an original anime. They wanted to be able to make toys for that show, and as long as that hurdle was cleared, they wouldn’t get angry and there wouldn’t be a problem, so I don’t feel like there’s that much of a difference between those shows. When it comes to Blood Blockade Battlefront, the original was made by a different person, Yasuhiro Nightow. The hardest thing about that was that the main character, Leonardo, was only halfway through his story, which happens to involve his younger sister, Michella, and there was not yet any conclusion to their story. So, I had to be able to grasp where Nightow was going with that storyline. Conversely, when it came to Black and White, I was able to know where that story was going and while doing that, I had to convey the appeal of the main characters. If the volume concluding the storyline of the main character and his sister had already come out, I think the structure of the story would have changed a lot.


Q: Similarly, instead of the works themselves having different sources, how is it different working, for example, Kawamoto has worked previously at Sunrise, which has many, many animation units, and is now working at Bones, or Matsumoto, who has worked at Toei. How is it working on a larger animation versus a smaller animation?

TK: Firstly, I want to quickly make a correction. Of course, right now I am working on Bones alone, but before then, I was working as a freelance animator at a lot of different companies, including Sunrise. It’s not that I belonged to Sunrise, per se. I worked with Production IG and different companies – it’s not that I worked with one particular company. It’s more that I’ve been working as a freelancer. I think, as an animator, as a freelancer, I’m able to work on works that I want to work on. As I work with different companies, I start seeing good aspects and maybe not-so-good aspects at different companies, but whatever they are, I just need to fade into those companies and work with their processes. The reason I started thinking about starting a business was because one of the producers at Sunrise that I worked with on Cowboy Bebop, Masahiko Minami, was starting a new company and he suggested that I become a co-owner with him to run the company. What I thought then was, as a freelancer, maybe I can work on things that I want to work on more freely than as a business owner. Then I started thinking about it some more, and I realized, maybe if I started a new company, I can come up with new plans on my own, or on our own, and that way perhaps, I thought, I will be able to work on works that I want to work on the same way as a freelancer.

RM: I feel that one of the major differences is not so much the company, but who you’re working with in the workplace. One of the things that surprised me when I entered Bones was realizing that at Toei, the work was really specialized, and at Bones I did all of the checking. So that was the biggest difference. The different companies also have different job positions, which also surprised me, so I realized which positions were extremely convenient to have, and where I’d be happy if a certain position existed.


Moderator: Thank you for coming, everybody.

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