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.
Hi everyone, my name is Caitlin Moore. I write for the blog heroineproblem.com, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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!
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.
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.