Abuse in Shoujo by the Numbers: Week 11

No big intro this week, but I’d love to get some reader perspectives! If possible, could you drop a comment answering any (or even all) of these questions:

  1. Were you familiar with any of these series before, and has this column changed your perspective on them?
  2. Have you decided to pick up series I was writing about?
  3. Have you decided AGAINST picking up any series I was writing about?
  4. How do you personally feel about the way shoujo manga depicts these relationships?
  5. Do you have any subjects you’d like to see me write about in the intro?

This week:
Black Bird vol. 11
Boys Over Flowers vol. 9
Dawn of the Arcana vol. 6
Demon Love Spell vol. 5
The Demon Prince of Momochi House vol. 3
Dengeki Daisy vol. 2
The Devil and Her Love Song vol. 1

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Black Bird vol. 11

Sho has miraculously returned to the tengu village, and while he seems content to live quietly on the outskirts, Kyo has learned the hard way not to trust his brother. To make matters worse, the villagers are resentful that Kyo won’t share the restorative power of the Senka Maiden with them. But most demons don’t possess Kyo’s willpower, and one taste of Misao’s blood would send them into a frenzy. Is it possible for Kyo be a good leader and a good husband? (summary by Viz)

2 points

The prospect of having her lost memories returned wracks Misao with insecurity and fear for her relationship with Kyo. With Kyo violently jealous of Sho, going to see him alone seems to be a dangerous prospect, and what if Sho were her actual first love? With the way Kyo has treated her in the past, it’s no wonder that Misao feels torn about whether to recover her memories. Just last volume, he assaulted her over completely imagined slights, and if his insecurities were proven even somewhat correct, it could mean bad news for Misao. So how does Kyo react to all of this? He’s incredibly sweet and supportive, of course!

Wait, what?

That’s right. Kyo, who felt so threatened by his brother only a volume ago that he violently accused his partner of cheating in her thoughts, is kind and patient as she struggles with idea that, once upon a time, she fell in love with him first. Kyo has always been somewhat inconsistent, but this complete change in attitude is a bit jarring. Taken in isolation, it’s actually quite nice – Misao struggles with a lot of internal turmoil in this installment – but it’s pretty fishy considering past patterns. Maybe I’ll be wrong, and this time around he’s really changed, but the series indicates that he’ll be right back to emotionally and sexually abusive as soon as the plot hits a lull.

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Boys Over Flowers vol. 9

Tsukasa is headed for New York to break away from his Tokyo life, but just before leaving Rui whispers something to him. When this news finally sinks in Tsukasa goes into another one of his frenzies. Financial troubles weigh heavy on the Makino family as Tsukushi’s father is out of a job. It becomes clear that they are completely dependent on her marrying a rich boy from Eitoku Academy. A new boy enters the scene! He is a bit of a nut, but is determined to help Tsukushi. (summary by Viz)

9 points

Nine points for nine volumes! How nice!

Tsukushi and Doumyouji end up spending most of the volume separated, which explains the single-digit point count. When they are together, Doumyouji continues to be an utter ass, which Tsukushi is thrilled about. No, seriously. She’s achieved the mentality of an abuse victim: he’s cruel to me because he loves me, and if he’s not being cruel, it means something is wrong. And it’s true, the apathy he was showing earlier is the opposite of love, but that isn’t necessarily better than the barrage of insults, threats, and violence he usually subjects her to.

Tsukushi has a reputation as a strong-willed character, but that’s really mostly just lip service. She may get angry and yell, but otherwise she pretty much just does whatever the people around her tell her to. When her father is fired, she takes on the burden of supporting the family. Her parents tell her she has to keep attending Eitoku so she can marry rich right out of school and they can live in luxury. When she’s scammed and trapped in a hotel room with skeezy photographers, a young man rescues her, then berates her for thinking she could be pretty enough to really be recruited as a model. Rui and Doumyouji argue over who gets to date her with talk of “giving” her to the other as if she’s a piece of meat.

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Dawn of the Arcana vol. 6

Princess Nakaba of Senan and Prince Caesar of Belquat only married each other for the sake of peace between their two warring countries, yet the two find themselves drawn to each other even as political forces threaten to tear their world apart. Nakaba’s secret ability to see the past and the future proves to be an asset—but things turn deadly when she chooses to use her power to help a friend! Will Caesar still stand by her amidst the ensuing bloodshed? (summary by Viz)

1 point

Oh Caesar, you were doing so well.

The plot continues simmer in the sixth volume of Dawn of the Arcana. Toma actually handles the issue of marginalization pretty well – other than, you know, using fantasy races as a stand-in for real oppressed groups – with some solid world-building. One particularly striking moment came when Leo, a young ajin, is ordered to accompany Nakaba and her friends. He objects, and Caesar snidely comments that they don’t want him in. The leader of the ajin village says, “He doesn’t hate humans. But he does fear you.” It’s only natural for oppressed groups to fear and distrust their oppressors, leading them to avoid them, and it’s nice to see a manga recognize this.

But anyway. Abuse.

Things have been going very well for the last few volumes – Nakaba and Caesar have both been growing as characters, and their relationship has been sweet and supportive. But the moment they’re alone together, he shoves her down on a bed. Ugh! It’s so common in shoujo manga, but it’s not at all cute or romantic. When it’s out of nowhere, without any foreplay, it’s threatening and forceful, particularly from a former abuser. Given half a chance, the two do have some chemistry, but the bed shove comes without any buildup so it feels unnatural. They’re interrupted only a page later, so the situation doesn’t have much of a chance to develop, but it’s one of my least-liked tropes.

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Demon Love Spell vol. 5

Shrine maiden Miko has sealed the powers of the sexy incubus Kagura, who has vowed to protect her. Kagura and Miko ask her father for permission to move out of the shrine and live together on their own. Surprisingly Miko’s father readily agrees, but just what has this powerful priest done to Kagura? (summary by Viz)

6 points

Nothing reeks of creepy sexual politics so much as a father trying to control his daughter’s sexuality, which is exactly what the final arc of Demon Love Spell is about.

For a moment, let’s take Demon Love Spell at its word and accept that instead of just giving in to being pressured, Miko genuinely wants to have sex with Kagura in a way that is normal and healthy. (That’s not the case, but oh well.) Her father’s response is to let them move in together, but to also curse Kagura’s dick so he can’t do much of anything at all. Now, Kagura’s power is weakening, even though he’s gotten by fine up until now with groping, kissing, and having sex with her subconscious (ew). For some reason, that’s not enough now.

Miko’s father’s motivations make, frankly, little sense. He’s let Kagura live in their house, go alone on a hot springs vacation with his daughter, and now is allowing them to move in together, but still makes a last-ditch attempt at policing his daughter’s sexuality. He ignored her discomfort up until now, but now that she finally is, he’s trying to stop it. It’s creepy, and it deprives Miko of sexual agency, now that she was ready for it within the narrative.

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The Demon Prince of Momochi House vol. 3

Himari Momochi inherits Momochi House, an estate that exists on the barrier between the human and spiritual realms. Four friends come over to visit Himari, but Aoi can sense that one of them is no longer alive. This spirit is absorbing Momochi House’s power and is quickly transforming into a demon. Will Himari be able to stop its progression and save her friends? (summary by Viz)

1 point

The Demon Prince of Momochi House is, along with Dawn of the Arcana, one of the highlights of my week. Sweet, gentle-natured Aoi treats Himari with respect and care. Even in his Nue form, with a different personality, he’s never arrogant or dangerous. His shikigami Ise pushes limits sometimes and treats Himari, with her ignorance of the world of ayakashi, as a burden or annoyance, but that doesn’t happen too often across the volumes. The sole point comes from him kissing her on the cheek, but she seems more confused and annoyed than genuinely upset. I’m actually looking forward to seeing how their relationship develops.

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Dengeki Daisy vol. 2

When Teru’s home gets burglarized, she ends up staying at Kurosaki’s apartment. The close quarters lead to tension, but things get even more complicated when a woman named Riko Onizuka shows up, bringing up a past that involves Kurosaki… (summary by Viz)

13 points

More of the plot is starting to come out in the second volume, and it is making me wish intensely that there weren’t a romance at its center. It has a stronger plot than most shoujo series, with Teru dropped into the middle of some struggle for a program her brother wrote. She makes a great POV character for this kind of story; she’s slowly becoming embroiled in it, but her ignorance about the details of the situation keep the mystery sharp. Her being a child with a group of dangerous adults after her adds to the tension.

Unfortunately, one of those dangerous adults is also romantically interested in her.

Kurosaki is an asshole. Mostly it’s played for laughs, not drama, with a healthy dose of slapstick. Part of the humor is supposed to come between the contrast between his actual personality and the care he shows Teru as Daisy. It would be fine if her were a) not an adult, b) not the closest thing she currently has to a guardian, and c) would just tell her what was going on. But none of those things are true, and so he absolutely cannot be in an equal relationship. Were he Teru’s peer, I’d be slightly more accepting of his “rough around the edges” attitude, even if it’s not ideal, but an adult punching her and making comments about her breasts is far worse. He can be a peer and a romantic prospect, or he can be an adult and a platonic ally. He can’t be both.

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A Devil and Her Love Song vol. 1

Maria’s frank nature gains her more enemies at her new school, but her angelic singing voice inadvertently catches the attention of Yusuke Kanda and Shin Meguro. Can these boys mend her hardened heart, or will they just end up getting scorched? (summary by Viz)

5 points

Fun fact: Kanda and Meguro are both wards of Tokyo. Kanda has a university of international and foreign language studies that I studied at for a semester, and Meguro has a cool parasite museum!

But anyway. Hooray, a new series that I like! I fell for it just looking at the cover – Maria staring defiantly out at the viewer, head tilted and her cross necklace hanging from her mouth. “Here’s a heroine I can get behind,” I thought. It turns out she’s not so much as defiant as incredibly perceptive and blunt, which makes it hard for her to get along with people as well as an easy target for bullying. Still, she’s an unconventional heroine for sure, and I think truly weird girls are something of a rarity in shoujo. Even if she has a drive to get along with people, her stubborn insistence on staying true to herself, even if it makes her a bullying target. She also struggles with internal dissonance around the Christian values her previous education was steeped in and her sense of being “tainted”.

As for the romance angle, it’s hard to make a judgement. It’s certainly setting up for a love triangle between Yusuke and Shin, who are the classic light-haired and dark-haired, cheerful and brooding odd couple. Shin in particular is the biggest source of points, since he’s a bit of a jerk and insults Maria’s taste in shoes. However, when juxtaposed with Maria’s bluntness, it feels more like his own form of social awkwardness in a way that doesn’t particularly bother me.

Next Week
Black Bird vol. 12
Boys Over Flowers vol. 10
Dawn of the Arcana vol. 7
Demon Love Spell vol. 6
The Demon Prince of Momochi House vol. 4
Dengeki Daisy vol. 3
A Devil and Her Love Song vol. 2
The Earl and the Fairy vol. 1

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9 thoughts on “Abuse in Shoujo by the Numbers: Week 11

  1. Pingback: Abuse in Shoujo Manga by the Numbers: Week 10 – I Have a Heroine Problem

  2. 1. I had read some of Black Bird, Demon Love Spell, and Dengeki Daisy before, but I dropped them all as I realized what crap the relationships were, so this column hasn’t really changed my perspective, but it is nice to hear you talk about them.

    2. I decided to pick up Dawn of the Arcana after a few weeks of seeing it here, and it sounded interesting. I might check out Demon Prince of Momochi House.

    I don’t have anything interesting to say to 3, 4, and 5, but this column has been a lot of fun to follow.

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  3. 1. I hadn’t read any of these manga titles, primarily because I just don’t read manga in general. I’ve sampled a few before, but mostly I just prefer to stick to anime. That said, I was still at least familiar with the name and basic plot of maybe around half of these titles.

    (Skipping numbers 2 and 3 since, for the reason stated above, they don’t really apply to me.)

    4. These specific kinds of relationships creep me out, especially since I actually live in Japan and have to wonder exactly how the same kids I’m teaching are being influenced by this kind of thing. There are major gender disparity problems here as it is, and while I know people don’t necessarily take manga stories seriously and are certainly able to tell fiction from reality, the stories can still help to encourage/legitimize stereotypes and behaviors.

    5. I always enjoy reading whatever you write in the intro. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. 1. I’ve read >Black Bird
    >Boys Over Flowers
    >Dengeki Daisy
    >The Devil and Her Love Song
    2. and 3. –

    4. I feel the same way as Artemis (but I don’t live in Japan)
    5. Again, same as above.

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  5. 1) I’d at least heard of and was recommended Dengeki Daisy sometime in the past. Most of the other manga I’d never even heard of, much less read before.

    2) Yes, several of them in fact!

    3) I’ve decided not to pick up Dengeki Daisy, and any manga in this column that averages more than 5 points per chapter in the abuse scale is probably not for me.

    4) I’m confident we have similar values when it comes to these things, so I’d say that my opinion mirrors yours. To be specific, I’ve seen enough evidence to suggest that shojo manga (broadly speaking) frequently fetishizes unhealthy and abusive relationships, which is very disconcerting for me. I’d like to read more fiction made by/for/about women, but I can’t condone people who use toxic behaviors as a selling point in their products.

    5) Do you have any subjects you’d like to see me write about in the intro? Nothing comes to mind at the moment, I think the only suggestions I might have would deserve it’s own column or one-off blog post.

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  6. 1. Yes, most of them.
    2. I already own most of them.
    3. Well, i already own most of the ones you cover, but the ones I don’t have the posts generally reinforce my impressions.
    4. I think the worst type of messaging is that the (usually the) girl should stay by his side to try to change him. No, he should change to have the privilege of being by the girl’s side. But at the same time, this type is so well-stooped in real life and in fiction that it feels like just screaming into the void.
    5. Can’t think of anything.

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  7. I was familiar with a lot of them previously. Heck, I’ve reviewed the first volumes of a lot of them! As such, your reviews haven’t so much convinced me or steered me away from them so much as confirmed a lot of my first impressions of them, be it positive (like Demon Prince of Momoichi House and Dawn of the Arcana) or negative (like Black Bird and Boys Over Flowers).

    I did recently consider a full read-through of Boys Over Flowers when I discovered that a local university library had the full run (because when am I ever going to see something like that again?), but your recaps have confirmed that I would have likely stopped very early on and it all would have ended with me throwing the books at the wall in a rage.

    Shoujo can be kind of all over the place when it comes to relationships, and it depends a lot of factors: the mangaka’s personal taste, the time period it was made, the magazine it ran in (and thus what kind of editorial edicts it was subject to), and the type and tone of the story itself. For every positive or interesting portrayal of romance, there are easily a half-dozen more that are stereotypical at best and horrific at worst. It’s frustrating but it makes the good ones feel all the more treasured.

    I do think that shoujo licensors are being more conscientious about what they license, though. They can’t avoid all the questionable stuff, but I do feel like they’re actively trying to pick titles with more positive and nuanced takes on romance to balance them out, which helps to even things out.

    As for intro subjects? Hmmm….maybe talk more about your own history with shoujo? Or as we recently discussed on Twitter, how the history of manga in the West might have been different if publishers other than Tokyopop had taken shoujo seriously early on? Heck, that might even work as a stand-alone feature. Honestly, I’m not that particular. Write what feels good and works for you.

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  8. Christine

    (Brainchild129 makes a good point, North American publishers do seem to be exercising more care with their choice of titles these days. At least, more so than they used to? *looking at you, Loveless* Arina Tanemura is a pretty decent investment in the US market, but no one wants to license her series about the teenage girl being sexually harassed by the 12-year-old cousin she babysits. Because ew, gross. Of course, lots of stuff still makes it through to this side of the Pacific anyway, but at least nowadays we get more choice with digital-only publishing available.) (Also, sorry for the long comment I’m about to write.)

    1. I was into shoujo up until 6-7 years ago, so I’m foggy on the new ones. From the current lineup, I knew Black Bird, Boys Over Flowers, Dengeki Daisy, and The Devil and Her Love Song. Never tried that last one because the cover actually put me off and made me think it would be more on the “male gaze” side. I unfortunately read the entire BOF series as a young teen because of its reputation as a cornerstone of shoujo, and… dear lord, I think it opened up my eyes to how gross shoujo could be if THIS was a cherished series. I read it to the end because I thought there had to be SOMETHING good eventually. So much for that.
    2. Nope. I’m completely out of energy when it comes to shoujo romance (to differentiate that from, say, Natsume Yuujinchou, which qualifies as shoujo but isn’t exactly romance). So that’s a no, but maybe someday?
    3. Yep. No one could pay me enough money to touch a Mayu Shinjo series with a 39.5-foot pole, not after that Sensual Phrase crap she wrote. Your reviews have confirmed that this lady is just… not great at writing healthy ANYTHING. She’s reportedly abandoned shojo to pursue BL manga instead. I can’t imagine she’s going to do anything to fix the rampant abuse in either genre in the future.
    4. Maybe I outgrew it, but picking up shoujo romance feels like Russian Roulette. I just have a hard time relating to a story where the teenagers are utterly convinced that they have found true love at such a young age when they are still trying to figure themselves out, especially when the authors rarely give the characters room to grow and talk honestly about a mature relationship. At most, I might enjoy a series that recognizes that a teenage relationship is about crushes and learning to explore romantic feelings in a tentative way (Io Sakisaka and is actually decent at this). Or heck, maybe a shoujo that is more about the main character figuring herself out and dealing with thing besides but also including romance? (like Hinako Ashihara’s “Sand Chronicles,” which dealt with grief, transitioning from teen to adult relationships, life goals, mental health, and co-dependent relationships).
    5. First, thank you for keeping such a great blog and always looking to improve it, I couldn’t find anything like this back when I first started questioning the relationships depicted in manga. Second (to answer your question), it might be interesting to hear your thoughts on the balance between making a shoujo manga focus on the heroine’s romance versus the heroine herself. We rarely see any aspect of the heroine’s life outside of her crush/romantic pursuit/etc., so… is the heroine in those kinds of series really the “heroine”? Or is she just the means for readers to self-insert? Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it’s worth knowing whether some shoujo characters even have an identity if you take them out of the romance context, and how those kinds of characters could still be valuable to readers.

    Again, thanks for all of your work on this subject, I love tuning in every week to read your thoughts on shoujo heroines,

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  9. I feel like my answers will be kind of useless, but here we go…

    1) Familiar in the sense that I’d heard of some of them, but I haven’t read any of them. Since I’m not super familiar with them, the column hasn’t changed my perspective on them.

    2) No, but that’s just because none of the plots have interested me so far.

    3) No, but I tend to like to judge media for myself. If I ever pick up a series I’ve seen on your site, I’d probably give it a couple of volumes so I could judge it myself and if I felt “meh” about it, I’d then look to your comments to see if it gets better

    4) This is such an open-ended question, but the short version is: I’m okay with it sometimes and not okay with it others. Is that wrong of me? When a guy (or a girl) is forcefully touching someone else, it skeeves me out, but being possessive/using possessive language is okay (to a certain extent, of course). I guess I’d have to take it on a case by case basis and see how I feel.

    5) Maybe about the age difference/age of consent in Japan? I watched Bunny Drop recently and was weirded out at the end by the fact that this little girl that he takes care of becomes his wife and mother of his child (with a 24 year age difference) Also, I know this is a manga website, but if there were any examples of an anime adaptation softening any abuse that happened in the manga or creating some where there wasn’t any before, that would be interesting. But that seems like it would be a huge undertaking on its own so no hard feelings it you can’t do it. : )

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