Abuse in Shoujo by the Numbers: Week 7

Whoops, it’s another convention weekend and I’m exhausted and the column is already late so no extra notes this time around!

This Week:
Black Bird vol. 7
Black Rose Alice vol. 6
Boys Over Flowers vol. 5
Cactus’s Secret vol. 4
Dawn of the Arcana vol. 2
Demon Love Spell vol. 1

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Black Bird vol. 7

Misao knows her relationship with Kyo is dangerous, but she’s used to being the one in peril! Will she be able to stand it when the tables are turned and Kyo is threatened?

As leader of the tengu clan and boyfriend of the Senka Maiden, Kyo gets a lot of attention in the demon world, and very little of it is good. From the wrath of a reincarnated dragon to the hatred of a demon hunter, Misao must face the fact that she isn’t the only one at risk in the relationship.

But how can she just stand by while Kyo is threatened?! (summary by Viz)

14 points

And just like that, Black Bird is back in its usual form with 14 points. There’s a weird sort of push and pull between Misao and Kyo in all aspects of their relationship. This volume picks up where the last one left off, where Misao is struggling about whether or not she should let Kyo have sex with a dragon princess, and when she decides at the last moment she can’t give her assent, it turns out Kyo was only pretending to weigh it as “punishment” for her kissing Sho as part of her plan. The moments where he picks on her are presented as affectionate and just a natural part of his personality, and while I do think some gentle antagonism can be a part of a healthy relationship, there’s no give and take. Misao is never cruel to Kyo or plays mind games in the same way, and without the balance, it’s only normalizing abuse.

There’s a similar off-balance to the sexual part of their relationship, and even in Misao’s feelings toward sex. The first half of this volume focuses almost solely on sex, and Misao’s feelings about it. She alternates between burning desire and nervousness bordering fear, which I think is fairly normal for a hormonal teenage girl, but Kyo often pushes things too far in the latter moments, such as throwing her in the tub fully clothed when she resists bathing with him. The series regularly normalizes his expectations that Misao acquiesce to him sexually – the scene concluded with them engaging in non-penetrative sex – which is made even worse by the fact that he’s a fully-grown adult while she’s still adolescent. However, there are genuinely nice moments between them. There’s a body chocolate scene that shows a playful sexuality that I wish were present in more manga aimed at older teens, showing that sex isn’t always scary or serious but sometimes can just be fun.

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Black Rose Alice vol. 6

Flash-forward to modern-day Tokyo. Alice has been living with the vampires for a few years, and while she pays lip service to the idea of choosing a propagation partner, she’s no closer to a decision now than when she first entered the mansion. But recent events are forcing her to abandon her happy interlude and make the final, fatal judgment… (summary by Viz)

6 points

So you know those adorable, likable twins that Alice is considering propagating with? Turns out one is a rapist and one is a murderer. Fabulous! And since the series was put on hiatus and looks unlikely to ever resume, we’ll never see what their deal is!

This volume goes to some… odd places. Dimitri brings home a woman who he rescued as a girl with the intent of potentially propagating with her. Years ago, he interrupted her being raped and killed her rapist, then promised to come back for her as an adult – a clear case of grooming. He very obviously throws her presence in Alice’s face, a big source of points for this volume. Amusingly, this woman turns him down, citing a boyfriend she loves (who is aware of and okay with her stay with Dimitri!) and a growing mail-order business. In short, she has a happy, fulfilling life with a lot going for her. The scene is played for laughs, but it serves to highlight just how predatory the system of propagation is. In some cases, such as terminally-ill Toko, it serves as a sort of assisted suicide that allows them a month of health to get their affairs in order, but the other cases we’ve seen involves them seducing women who may have otherwise led full lives.

Series total: 20 points

With some slight changes, Black Rose Alice could have been an incredible series. Its dark, twisted tone, morally ambiguous characters, and unique imagery are the stuff of real psychological horror. Dimitri and Alice are both manipulative, spiteful, and overall quite unlikable in a way that gives the series a sort of appealing edginess. However, Setona Mizushiro seems to wholeheartedly believe in biotruths and friend-zoning, given her brief chats at the end, which in the end muddied the whole affair for me.

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Boys Over Flowers vol. 5

This volume contains innumerable ups and downs for our heroine, Tsukushi Makino. Domyoji Tsukasa is as jealous as ever with the arrival of Thomas while lurid and embarrassing photos of Tsukushi and Thomas emerge. Just when she thought that things couldn’t get any worse, her tormentors up the ante of cruelty and violence! Will anyone come to her rescue? (summary by Viz)

7 points

Again, Domyoji plays a relatively small role in this volume, which explains the relatively low score it received. The main villain this time around is Sakurako, who arranged for Tsukushi to be date-raped as part of some sort of elaborate plan involving the F4. Tsukushi’s life becomes collateral damage for her, because the bullying she faces from her classmate turns so severe that it literally threatens her life when they drag her behind a moving car. Domyoji’s reaction? Initially, he walks away, leaving her to the dogs. When he comes back to save her and tells her he believes her, it’s treated as some sort of grand romantic moment.

This chapter highlights the severity of the power imbalance between Tsukushi and Domyoji – their classmates are willing to murder her for displeasing him. What if she really did cheat on him? Does that mean her life would be forfeit? What about if they had a perfectly normal breakup? Would he have happily stood idly by, or even join in while his followers tortured her to death? Before he decided he believed her, he was perfectly content to walk away. A relationship like that can never be equal, if the consequences for hurting one’s partner is so severe. And him being willing to walk away at that moment, even if he changed his mind, shows just how easily he dehumanizes others: “If they displease me, if they hurt me, if they betray me, they don’t deserve to live.” It’s disgusting. He’s disgusting. All of Eitoku is disgusting.

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Cactus’s Secret vol. 4

Miku and Kyohei are dating now, but soon they must make decisions about their future after high school. But just when Miku starts to make plans for attending university, it seems Kyohei wants to break up. (summary by Viz)

5 points

Cactus’s Secret garners a few points in its final volume, but worry not – Miku and Kyohei remain a sweet, likable couple until the very end. The source of points is twofold: Miku being jealous of Kyohei befriending the attractive new school nurse, and Kyohei seemingly inexplicably emotionally withdrawing. Unlike many other potential symptoms of abuse, these two things aren’t necessarily signs of abuse, but they do indicate an unhealthy relationship. Unhealthy relationships are fixable, as these behaviors can be worked on and unlearned, and problems talked over and figured out, as Miku and Kyohei do here. It’s especially understandable with two teenagers, a demographic not best known for their great coping skills, in their first relationship. And they do talk it out!

Series total: 8

And thus ends Cactus’s Secret. Most of the points came from the last volume which, as I said, was just unhealthy and resolved by the end. The other points stem from the offhand comments about Miku’s friend with an older boyfriend, which were cringey but nothing terrible. Cactus’s Secret seems to be a pretty typical Ribon manga – an innocent school romantic comedy with pleasant characters and an emphasis on cuteness. It’s an easy recommendation for younger teens and people who like unchallenging romances.

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Dawn of the Arcana vol. 2

Princess Nakaba of Senan and Prince Caesar of Belquat only married each other for the sake of peace between their two warring countries, but things take a surprising turn when Caesar finds himself falling for his strange wife! Caesar tries to get Nakaba to return his feelings, but she maintains that he is her enemy and that she hates him. So when Nakaba has a vision of Caesar getting killed, will she say anything to save him? (summary by Viz)

4 points

When people told me Caesar “gets better”, I wasn’t expecting a full about-face in only one volume, but here we are. After a quick flashback highlighting how poor, lonely Caesar felt pressured to be the best at everything growing up, he quickly falls for Nakaba and starts treating her kindly in only a chapter. The two get over their misunderstanding and differences in values in record time, with only a couple of snarky comments and one final hair pull, and they fall in love almost immediately, despite Nakaba’s protestations to the contrary.

I wish I could say this satisfied me, but it doesn’t. Not even close. I don’t know if it’s weak storytelling, editorial demands, or Rei Toma deciding she needed to shift things around, but it didn’t feel even remotely earned. Caesar doesn’t learn empathy or compassion; it just kind of dawns on him one day. If he’s really a spoiled prince who believes everything belongs to him, Nakaba included, developing a healthier mindset toward others takes a lot of hard work. It’s not just a matter of realizing that other people, no matter how low-ranked, have feelings; it’s also a matter of unlearning deeply-ingrained habits and outlooks, which is a long, slow process. Nakaba, meanwhile, forgives the man who insulted her, threatened her life, and physically abused her, just from the simple act of letting her bring an injured dove back to the palace with them. For a supposedly strong-willed princess, she’s awfully easily won over.

Please, just let me love you, Dawn of the Arcana. I really want to.

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Demon Love Spell vol. 1

Miko is a shrine maiden who has never had much success at seeing or banishing spirits. Then she meets Kagura, a sexy demon who feeds off women’s feelings of passion and love. Kagura’s insatiable appetite has left many girls at school brokenhearted, so Miko casts a spell to seal his powers. Surprisingly the spell works—sort of—but now Kagura is after her! (summary by Viz)

20 points

Twenty points twenty points TWENTY POINTS.

Wow guys. Just… fucking… wow. I knew we were in for a treat when I started a new Mayu Shinjo manga, because she thinks rape is both hilarious and sexy, and that for a man to be attractive and masculine, he must be possessive and aggressive.

Most of these points, unsurprisingly, come from sexual abuse – Kagura is an incubus, after all. That mostly just means he gets his energy and power from physical contact with women. Miko, in turn, can only see demons if she has physical contact with him. None of this has to be sexual – he just insists on making it that way, because he’s literally a demon that takes power from seducing women. His biggest source of power? Having sex with Miko through her dreams. While the conscious Miko is reluctant and uncomfortable with his advances, her subconscious – and thus her “truest” self – is always horny and eager to please, and she doesn’t even remember it in the mornings. Miko is naturally horrified, even putting up a barrier to protect herself in her sleep. Even if it’s not realistic or clear-cut assault, the fact that Miko feels so violated clearly indicates that it’s not okay for Kagura to help himself like that.

Next Week:
Black Bird vol. 8
Boys Over Flowers vol. 6
Dawn of the Arcana vol. 3
Demon Love Spell vol. 2
Backstage Prince vol. 1

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4 thoughts on “Abuse in Shoujo by the Numbers: Week 7

  1. Holy shit. I just came across this series of posts and I’m fairly horrified, mostly to see that these stories seem to present these kind of behaviors as normal in a relationship.

    Like

  2. Pingback: [Links] 27 September - 3 October 2017 - Anime Feminist

  3. Pingback: Abuse in Shoujo by the Numbers: Week 6 – I Have a Heroine Problem

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