Abuse in Shoujo by the Numbers: Week 8

Geek Girl Con Report

Last weekend, I attended my final convention of the year: Geek Girl Con. I imagine quite a few of you know of it mainly from the controversy earlier this year when several board members publicly and dramatically quit, but in reality it’s a lovely, small-but-growing convention in Seattle that focuses not on any specific fandom but on creating a space for inclusivity, diversity, and intersectionality in a variety of geeky spaces. This year, they included more anime-related programming than they have in the past, including my panel!

Paneling at Geek Girl Con was an exceptionally pleasant experience. With 30-minute turnover between panel rooms, I had more than enough time to set up my laggy Chromebook and make sure the sound and picture would work, and every volunteer I dealt with was kind, pleasant, and helpful. I was a little annoyed that they categorized my panel as 18+ – I prefer to do it as all ages so that the target audience of the media I use can attend – but the enthusiasm of the volunteers more than made up for it. Since I was the last panel in that room, one of them even added a sign to the ten- and five-minute warning cards: “But it doesn’t matter!” and allowed me to go long. When a man started talking to me aggressively about Etotama, of all things, afterwards, they handled the situation beautifully, giving me an excuse to separate from him, getting him to leave the room by telling him they needed to clean up, and then making sure he had left before escorting me out of the room to the bottom floor of the convention center. 

The audience this time around was small, which wasn’t too terribly surprising. Geek Girl Con has never had a ton of anime representation, and the fandom seems to be more focused on US properties, especially comics, Disney movies, and so on. However, they were as great an audience as anyone could ask for: polite, responsive, and engaged. The panel went probably the smoothest it has, with no major hiccups or interruptions, and because of the small audience, the Q&A session at the end (made possible because I was allowed to run long) ended up being discussion-driven rather than a simple back-and-forth between me and the audience. A couple of them asked questions that I hope to address in this space in future weeks!

I really love Geek Girl Con, and I wish I’d had the energy to spend more time there this year. If you were there, let me know in the comments! 

 

This 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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Black Bird vol. 8

Raiko, the demon hunter who has been staying at Misao’s house, is determined to save her–even if that’s the last thing she wants!

Kyo won’t allow a threat to Misao to go unchecked and plans to take care of the problem in his own special way. Misao, however, hopes that she can broker a peace between Raiko and Kyo before things get out of hand.

But when Raiko’s attempts to “free” Misao fail, he hatches a devious new plan that will use Misao’s bond with Kyo to destroy him! (summary by Viz)

5 points

Another “plot” volume means another low score this week, but that’s not what makes this volume interesting for this column. What is interesting is that Misao and Kyo finally have penetrative sex.

Black Bird’s attitude toward sex has always been fraught. Although Kyo and Misao desire each other, almost every one of their sexual encounters has involved violating boundaries, sadomasochistic “punishment”, or shaming in some way. Sex scenes without some sort of discomforting element are few and far between, which is a shame because I have to admit, Sakurakoji has a real talent. Last volume, they revealed the reason that Kyo can’t have sex with the senka maiden: once he starts, he won’t be able to stop. It’s an odd and puzzling reason, and one that seems to be conceived mostly for the sake of setting up sexy rape scenes.

Nonetheless, the two of them decide to consummate in order to save Kyo’s life, and the volume devotes an entire 50 page to that one scene. It contains a lot of the usual shoujo loss-of-virginity cliches – blushing reluctance at the last minute, flashbacks to their childhood, soft metaphors about the body melting, not being able to tell where one body ends and the other begins. However, there’s also the imagery of a bird hunting prey, and references to being “devoured”, maintaining the image of Kyo as predatory and dangerous, even in the throes of passion in a consensual sex scene.

The volume ends with this. Honestly? I’m pretty interested to see where it goes. Maybe Black Bird can pick itself up and dust itself off.

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Boys Over Flowers vol. 6

Could Tsukushi Makino really fall under Tsukasa Domyoji’s spell? Desire and jealousy walk hand in hand as the crazed Tsukasa seeks revenge on behalf of Tsukushi. Rui Hanazawa surprises everyone with his return from France. Tsukasa’s mixture of cruelty and compassion is as perplexing as ever. (summary by Viz)

14 points

Surprise, surprise – Domyoji is a terrible boyfriend.

The volume opens with him taking the terribly injured Tsukushi to his house (she was just dragged behind a car! Take her to a hospital!) and confessing his feelings to her. Without waiting for a response from her, he sets out to control every aspect of her life: buying her a pager – it was the early 90s, after all – and demanding she immediately respond whenever he beeps her; buying her expensive clothes because he’d be too embarrassed to be seen with her in her pauper clothes; asking her family for permission to take her on lavish trips without checking with her first; the list goes on. Tsukushi is, of course, uncomfortable with these lavish displays, but uncharacteristically never takes him to task on it. I think, as the reader, we’re supposed to be charmed by his behavior – he just doesn’t understand how to be a boyfriend! His harshness, unkindness, and obsessive control are just because he’s spoiled, because he really has a good heart underneath it all!

Bullshit.

This is all abuse, regardless of the intent behind it. Demanding someone respond immediately to every text, throwing expensive gifts at them because their own socioeconomic circumstances make them an “embarrassment”, declaring that you’re dating without actually asking… it’s abuse.

Meanwhile, Rui Hanazawa’s return sets up some future tension. He’s a changed man, flirting with girls and acting the playboy, and Tsukushi doesn’t know what to make of it. It’s actually pretty sweet when he opens up to her in a moment of vulnerability, but things go awry quickly when he starts actively hitting on her. Tsukushi, to be fair, handles the whole thing terribly, but in a way that makes complete sense given her circumstances. Her longtime crush is hurting in a way only she knows about and opening up to her, while her “boyfriend” is controlling and potentially violent, but she still apparently has feelings for him as well – no wonder she feels confused and trapped between the two.

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Dawn of the Arcana vol. 3

Princess Nakaba of Senan and Prince Caesar of Belquat only married each other for the sake of peace between their two warring countries, so no one expected there to be love between the unlikely couple. Nakaba is starting to warm to Caesar, however, and her attendant Loki doesn’t like this one bit. Are Loki and Caesar destined to be enemies? And how does Nakaba’s power, the Arcana of Time, fit into all this? (summary by Viz)

6 points

After two very rough volumes, Dawn of the Arcana has found its footing and is starting to turn into an interesting high fantasy series. Caesar and Nakaba’s relationship has settled into a more comfortable dynamic, with him actually treating her well throughout the volume and even giving himself a Dramatic Haircut on her behalf. Nakaba, meanwhile, is starting to develop a personality that sits comfortably in the middle ground between her rebelliousness in the first volume and passivity in the second – she’s unhappy with her situation and powerless and wants things to change, but doesn’t know how to bring that about. It’s a good place for a heroine to be in the beginning of a series that allows for a lot of character growth. However, what I think helps the volume most is that the larger plot is starting to develop, with international intrigue and politics.

The thing that gets the volume the most points is Caesar’s entitled attitude toward sex.  He and Nakaba haven’t consummated yet, and at one point he pushes her down on the bed and demands that she “surrender [herself] to him.” Nakaba isn’t terribly upset – in fact, she starts crying from happiness – but “pushing down on a bed and demanding sex” is always a no-go for me. Luckily, he backs off and promises to wait until she’s ready, but not without adding an eye-rolling, “But not for long.”

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Demon Love Spell vol. 2

Shrine maiden Miko has sealed the powers of the sexy incubus Kagura, who has vowed to protect her. But now a fox spirit has transformed himself into a human to proclaim his love to Miko, making Kagura jealous. Miko relents and allows Kagura to enter her dreams again, but now he can no longer regain his incubus powers?! (summary by Viz)

19 points

The sexual abuse flies fast and thick yet again in the second volume of Demon Love Spell! There’s fortunately little in the way of emotional and physical abuse, but the amount of sexual abuse played up as comedy is extremely discomfiting. The dynamic reminds me of early volumes of Black Bird, with all the “perverted tengu” jokes, except there’s nothing else to Miko and Kagura’s relationship. Their relationship is entirely defined by him begging her for sex and invading her dreams, and her turning him tiny or being uncomfortable with his advances.

One of the interesting (and troubling) things about Demon Love Spell is that Kagura’s constant demand for sexual contact. He insists that it’s only natural, since he’s an incubus, and in a way it’s presented as a cultural difference. He is loud and insistent and guilts Miko for refusing to give in to his demands. It seems like it should be a fairly harmless source of conflict, since incubi don’t exist and thus it’s not really applicable to the real world, but different sex drives is a common issue for real-life couples, and it’s not one with a simple, one-fits-all solution. Sometimes people can find ways to make it work, but it’s not uncommon for it to simply be irreconcilable. If we were to consider Kagura’s nature as an incubus as a metaphor for this situation, it becomes clear that Kagura and Miko are BOTH going about it terribly – Miko demands monogamy, and Kagura acquiesces, even though she alone cannot meet his sexual needs, partly out of her own discomfort with sex. He, in turn, pressures her constantly, violates her boundaries, and even has sex with her “unconscious mind”. It’s an arrangement that makes both of them miserable.

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Backstage Prince vol. 1

Akari is totally clueless about kabuki–and boys–but she’s eager to learn about both. Her first encounter with Ryusei doesn’t go very well, but with the help of a cat named Mr. Ken, the two teenagers quickly become prince AND princess of kabuki. Love was never so dramatic! (summary by Viz)

2 points

Akari and Ryusei looks so much like Misao and Kyo, it was hard not to think of this as some kind of vanilla Black Bird. However, without the kinkiness that is so deeply baked into Sakurakoji’s follow-up series, Backstage Prince is… mostly kind of bland. Ryusei’s whole deal is that people think he’s unfriendly or mean, when he’s really just quiet and shy, and Akari bears a strong resemblance to Misao in terms of personality as well as appearance – supportive veering almost to subservience, entering a world she doesn’t know much about, without much going on in her life outside of her relationship. Ryusei is kind to her, and it’s actually pretty sweet the way he turns to her to relieve his social anxiety about being fussed over, but he doesn’t seem to offer her anything equivalent – it’s all pretty one-sided.

Overall, it’s a pretty harmless story – I just wish kabuki were more than just a backdrop!

 

Next Week:
Black Bird vol. 9
Boys Over Flowers vol. 7
Dawn of the Arcana vol. 4
Demon Love Spell vol. 3
Backstage Prince vol. 2
The Demon Prince of Momochi House vol. 1

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2 thoughts on “Abuse in Shoujo by the Numbers: Week 8

  1. I’ve been meaning to go to Girl Geek Con for so many years! I’m surprised to hear that anime doesn’t have a huge presence there, but I guess that means I definitely need to go!

    Like

  2. Pingback: Abuse in Shoujo by the Numbers: Week 7 – I Have a Heroine Problem

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