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…)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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.
Black Bird vol. 5
Black Rose Alice vol. 4
Boys Over Flowers vol. 3
Cactus’s Secret vol. 2
Blank Slate vol. 1
6 thoughts on “Abusive Relationships in Shoujo Manga by the Number: Week 4”
I agree that there is something fascinating when reading about unhappy people or people in situations you don’t actually want to experience in real life. That said, the story has to be more then just making the protagonist miserable because that ends up getting old fast.
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From what you say about Mizushiro’s author comments, a lot of the stuff in her previous work makes sense. She writes men as if they’re only capable of sexually assaulting others(and also as if sexually assaulting others is the “natural” way to be a man), and it’s just really sad. Thank you for being the first person I’ve seen to note this about her work.
I remember reading some of Boys Over Flowers a long time ago, and it really sucks that Tsukushi and Doumyouji ended up as a thing. Like, I can totally understand the appeal of former rivals/enemies falling in love, and I like it when a someone who isn’t the apparent preordained love interest ends up with the lead, but not like that.
On another note, I’m surprised that you’re going to cover Blank Slate. From all of the stuff that I’ve heard about it, I thought that there wasn’t any romance in it.
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“…him into a jealous rage, causing him to put a red card in Kazuya’s locker and eventually slap Tsukushi hard across the face.”
Are you serious?!?! ARGGHHHHHHHH.
“That is because Doumyouji is human garbage, much like the garbage he and his cronies routinely pelt Tsukushi and her friend Kazuya with.”
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First time commenter here, but I enjoy your website immensely 🙂
I have been reading shoujo/josei and romance novels in general for almost 20 years now (I am 30 years old, so all off my developmental years were spent reading this stuff) and I have always thought it was important to to understand “why” I liked certain plots/tropes and why do certain scenes make me feel giddy or make my heart race.
And so I wanted to add another reason as to “why” women love the bad boy trope so much and why women love bad boys in general.
The reasons you have listed so far are great but I wanted to add one more because I think it’s a very important one.
Basically, it’s two tropes that are very intertwined and they are the “Status and Power” and the “Taming the Bad Boy” tropes. The idea that the most popular boy/CEO/criminal mastermind/president of whatever is falling for you and you have the power to bring such a powerful boy/man to his knees? It’s like catnip for many women. And the idea that this violent guy is in love with you? You will always be protected and you will have “tamed” this violent, bad boy. This gives you “power”.
Bad boys are always lusted over by many women and in getting a bad boy to fall in love you, you are gaining “status” among other women. All the other women will envy you because this bad boy is in love with you.
You can see these tropes at work in Twilight/Fifty Shades and I’ve even seen it at work in classics like Jane Eyre and Pride and Prejudice.
The “Taming the Bad Boy” and “Staus and Power” tropes are two of the main reasons why Hana Yori Dango is so sucessful. I personally really love Hana Yori Dango but of course, I recognize the problematic parts as well. I just really enjoy the series as whole and I separate fiction from reality very well.
I don’t always agree with with your opinions on the shoujo manga you have covered here (I adore Mayu Shinjo) but applaud any critique and anaylsis – It makes us more aware and better readers 🙂 And honestly, you have made some very good points and I love that you are covering each series volume by volume, because it really allows for a thorough anaylsis.
I hope to see similar critiques of Shounen/Seinen works in the future, not necessarily from you, but just in general. Shoujo gets bullied for these problematic elements so much and the problematic elements in Shounen gets ignored mostly 😦
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