Abusive Relationships in Shoujo Manga by the Numbers: Week 15

This Week
Black Bird vol. 15
Boys Over Flowers vol. 13
Dawn of the Arcana vol. 10
The Demon Prince of Momochi House vol. 7
Dengeki Daisy vol. 6
A Devil and Her Love Song vol. 5

I just finished rereading Fruits Basket, one of my favorite series from when I was in high school. It’s a flawed work, but overall it holds up really well for when it came out and for a mangaka’s first major title. The story is explicitly about abuse, portrayed both literally and through metaphor, and it handles the subject better than most fiction. Most of the characters are victims of abuse, and the story admirably portrays how they’re unable to connect to others healthily. The series ran over 20 volumes, and it’s not until close to the very end that the main couple are ready to connect romantically. That got me thinking – for the highest-scoring series I’ve covered, what is at the root of their trauma?

Men are just like thatBlack Bird, Demon Love Spell, Ai Ore

Okay, so it’s more like “demons are just like that” in these cases, because this happens most in supernatural romances (or Mayu Shinjo manga). These demons are just so gosh-darn masculine that they can’t be expected to control their urges like normal men. Their hypermasculinity makes them alluring, and their hypersexuality is, theoretically, inextricably linked. These kinds of series tend to rely on age-old myths about gender relations. Men are sexually aggressive, so girls have to rebuff them. Men are the pursuers, women the pursued. Even if you want sex, it’s unattractive to be too eager.

Their parents didn’t raise them right/affluenzaDawn of the Arcana, Boys Over Flowers

These boys, through some defect in their upbringing, don’t understand consequences or empathy. They’re usually children of privilege – Caesar is a prince and Domyoji is uber-wealthy – and look down on people they see as “lesser” than them. But it’s not their fault, oh no. It’s the fault of their parents, who were too busy or neglectful to teach them about the humanity of others. Or perhaps their parents are just as bad. Of course, in some sort of twisted Cinderella, they end up partnered with a girl who is everything they’ve learned to dehumanize. It’s up to this girl to teach them how to treat others like people, because emotional labor is the only reason for women to exist. Honey, you’re not a therapist. It’s not up to you to fix him.

Victims of actual abuseFruits Basket, Kare Kano

Okay, so I haven’t actually covered either of these series, but both of them would probably rank pretty high if/when I did. The thing is, one of the series is good and the other one is bad. No, seriously! Both feature main characters who are emotionally stunted and traumatized due to severe childhood abuse. It’s an important thing to portray with sensitivity and nuance, depicting the mental illness that stems from early victimization without further stigmatization.

Fruits Basket, with an ensemble cast of victims, explores the variety of ways the depression, anxiety, and self-hatred can manifest. The lead Tohru, by offering unconditional love, helps them to heal, but recognizes that even after breaking away recovery can take years. Kare Kano has the rest of the cast lecturing the lead Yukino about how she’s the only one who can reach him. While neither is ideal – once again, these girls are only teenagers themselves and not trained therapists – Fruits Basket paints a much more complex portrait than the way Yukino is encouraged to endure Arima’s abuse.

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Black Bird vol. 15

Sho’s death should have meant a return to peace for Misao and Kyo, once they came to terms with their guilt. But instead Misao finds herself displaying strange new powers she can’t quite control. Is this just the next stage for her as the Senka Maiden, or is something more sinister going on…? (summary by Viz)

7 points

The point value this week isn’t particularly high, but the messaging in Black Bird vol. 15, both explicit and implicit, is absolutely abhorrent. Misao has consistently expressed her desire to be equal to Kyo and be able to protect him just like he protects her, and it looks like she might be developing her own powers to do just that… but it all turns out to be a misdirection, because the power actually belongs to the half-tengu embryo developing inside of her. Which is somehow aware enough to protect itself from threats coming from the outside world. Sigh.

Meanwhile, Misao is deciding what to do with her future. She realizes she has no goals, interests, or hobbies outside of Kyo and ponders whether this could possibly healthy. It’s a rare thing to see addressed, and what makes it so totally galling is that she decides that, since he’s just as codependent on her, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it. When she announces to her friends and parents that she’s pregnant with their teacher’s baby and will be dropping out of school to stay home and raise the child, no one has any objection. The only one who gets mad is her mother, whose concerns are overridden by her father telling her, “You have a responsibility to raise this child.”

The explicit dismissal of codependency particularly frustrates me, because romance stories are so often wrapped up in two characters who are utterly dependent on each other. A lot of people think making your whole life about your partner is normal and desirable in relationships, so Black Bird romanticizing and reinforcing just… pisses me right the fuck off.

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Boys Over Flowers vol. 13

It’s Tsukushi’s first time abroad, and she and her friend Yuki plan to tear up the slopes on a Canadian snowboarding adventure. But how much fun can Tsukushi really have with Tsukasa and those nasty Eitoku Academy girls always hanging around? Not much, it seems, because Tsukushi is sent out on a wild-goose chase to rescue Yuki in below freezing temperatures. But who will rescue Tsukushi?! (summary by Viz)

18 points

At one point in this volume, Yuki whispers to Tsukushi, “It’s hard not to like Tsukasa, isn’t it?” Well, Yuki, I heartily disagree. It’s actually incredibly easy not to like Tsukasa. Just watch!

Over half the points this volume come from Domyoji insulting Tsukushi’s intelligence in some way. It’s like it’s a reflex for him; every time he speaks to her, he has to call her an idiot. The hard-working translators at Viz must have been combing through their thesauruses to find new synonyms for “stupid”. He does this when she arrives at his mansion, when they’re snowboarding together, when he’s saving her life. Tsukushi does frequently insult him back, but even then she only does it when he’s being a jerk. On the rare occasions he’s being kind, she praises him – she insists he’s a “good person” when he saves her life, conveniently forgetting all the times he actively tried to harm her. Doing one good act in a sea of poor behavior does not make a person good, and one good day doesn’t make a violent abuser and less abusive.

Proof in point: toward the end of the volume, Tsukushi meets up with some of her middle school friends, some of whom are male. It’s a wonderful moment of relief for her, which goes to show just how awful her relationship with the Eitoku students really is. She can’t laugh and be herself among them, even with her supposed “love interest”, like she can with these friends. Of course, Domyoji just happens to walk by the cafe and see her, and the panel of him glaring at her through the fern is truly frightening. Out of jealousness of seeing her having fun with other boys, he attacks them so severely that he dislocates one’s neck, which seems potentially deadly.

Make no mistake – a man with a possessive, violent streak like Domyoji can never be anything but severely abusive.

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Dawn of the Arcana vol. 10

Princess Nakaba of Senan and Prince Caesar of Belquat married each other for the sake of peace between their warring countries, yet the two find themselves drawn to each other even as political forces threaten to tear their world apart. In Lithuanel, Nakaba desperately searches for a way to save both her friend Akhil and his brother Azhal. Unfortunately, her visions show that only one of them will live. Meanwhile, Caesar’s return to Belquat may mean the end of his relationship with Nakaba… (summary by Viz)

0 points

Nakaba spends the entirety of the volume separated from Caesar. In fact, by the end of the volume, both are married to other people. Since Caesar is the main love interest, well, the volume can hardly garner any points, can it?

Nakaba’s marriage to Adel, her childhood bully, is purely for the sake of gaining political power in Senan for herself in order to unite the country with Belquat. It’s an interesting choice, one I don’t think I’ve ever seen in a shoujo manga. Even in fantasy romances, strategic political marriages are rarely portrayed. Even when they are, they tend to turn loving. Nakaba, devoted to Caesar, has no chance of falling in love with Adel. (Right? Oh god please let me be right about this.) She’s grown enough that he can no longer overpower and bully her like he once did, but the reality of her choices still torment her.

Her ability to wield the arcana of time to check in on Caesar lends a poignancy to the situation; she can see him, but he can’t see her. She still loves him, but she doesn’t know if he still loves her, or if he knows that she still loves him. Frankly, I love it when shoujo heroines set aside romance for the sake of achieving their own goals, and the sadness particular to Nakaba’s choices gives it a sense of real sacrifice.

Just please, don’t try to make me sympathize with Adel.

SB_mangafromH.eps

The Demon Prince of Momochi House vol. 7

Himari Momochi inherits Momochi House, an estate which exists on the barrier between the human and spiritual realms. Aoi has been in a slump, and his banishing spells are no longer working. As Himari looks for the cause, she discovers that Aoi’s and Nachi’s pasts are intertwined… (summary by Viz)

1 point

BIG UPS TO THE DEMON PRINCE OF MOMOCHI HOUSE FOR EXPLICITLY ASKING FOR CONSENT!

Seriously! Not only does Aoi spend just one volume faffing about being in doubt of his feelings, but when he realizes he was wrong, he apologizes and asks for permission to kiss Himari! Plus, his choices have clear motivations: he originally rejected Himari because he was considering the inevitability of becoming an ayakashi and transforming into the Nue permanently. However, when Yukari tells him that it cause his emotions and connection to the real world to be dulled, and how Himari makes him want to stay connected, he reconsiders and decides to tell her. No yelling, no comic misunderstandings. Just honest emotional conflict.

(Of course, later he does kiss her without consent in order to upset her enough to break her free of a spell…)

Of course, they get interrupted by Nachi, who is shaping up to be the series Big Bad. Having lured Aoi into Momochi House with the express purpose of making the Nue his shikigami, he can be read as a metaphor for predators and child grooming. That leads to the question of whether that kind of interpretation can be applied to The Demon Prince of Momochi House as a whole. Of course, the series is not yet complete, so we’ll just have to wait and see…

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Dengeki Daisy vol. 6

Teru and Kurosaki continue to investigate the fake DAISY incident and are on the verge of solving the case when Teru gets kidnapped! What does the kidnapper want with her, and will Kurosaki be able to rescue her in time?! (summary by Viz)

7 points

*stares blankly at computer for a while*

Seriously, why is Dengeki Daisy so hard to write about? The relationship is in “gradual progression” mode, while the hacking-related plot also inches along at an agonizingly slow pace. It seems like every volume introduces another one of Kurosaki’s hacker friends who was also friends with Teru’s brother, but they don’t really add anything. The just add onto the pile of “Kurosaki is actually a super-skilled hacker and considered very skilled in the community” while making vague comments about the super-sad thing that happened to Teru’s brother and the vague scheme they’re embroiled in. Actual advancement of the plot is rare, although an antagonist is starting to crystallize, kind of.

That plot does allow Teru to get a pretty cool moment this volume, though! Like she gets in an actual, literal fistfight after tackling a female villain. I’m pretty sure she gets her ass kicked, since she almost drowns and Kurosaki has to do mouth-to-mouth, but the point stands. The girl has moxy when the plot allows it. However, I think it’s that moxy that makes Kurosaki’s abuse of her “okay” – the idea that she can give as good as she gets. That, however, ignores the inherent power difference between the two, because no matter what, it’s unacceptable for a 24-year-old to treat a 16-year-old that way. He pulls her hair, insults her intelligence and her body, and kisses her while she’s asleep. Motomi tries to make light of the latter; when Teru is unconscious, he comments, “No matter what I did to her, she wouldn’t wake up,” and the other characters remark on what a creepy thing that is to say while a box pops up that says, “History of Perverted Actions” and lists things he’s done while she was asleep.

I do see the appeal of Dengeki Daisy – there are very few shoujo slapstick romcoms. But with all the issues baked deep into Kurosaki and Teru’s relationship, I just can’t get invested enough to enjoy it.

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A Devil and Her Love Song vol. 5

Maria finds herself liking her classmate Shin, but she can’t seem to tell him how she feels! Meanwhile, her old friend Anna comes back into her life with unexpected news. Is Anna really interested in rekindling their friendship or does she have an ulterior motive? (summary by Viz)

2 points

The two points this week come from Shin not getting enough sleep and being a crabapple. His insults toward Maria were pretty mild, but still enough to count.

But still! I’m really enjoying this series. The choral competition arc concluded, so now the focus shifts to Maria’s former friend: Anna Mouri. Anna is mute and Maria, with her superb ability to read people, took it upon herself to talk for her. A theme seems to be crystallizing: how people communicate, and how they fail at it. It’s a powerful topic to examine, especially in a romance. So much of the genre is built on miscommunication. A Devil and Her Love Song doesn’t restrict it to communication between couples, either; communication between friends and rivals, groups and individuals, have all been subject to examination so far. Maria is not only focused on her inability to express her feelings to Shin, but also the role it played in the breakdown of her relationship with Anna.

Every character has a different communication style and outlook that affects how they interact with the world. Maria’s eloquent directness, Yusuke’s “lovely spin”, Shin’s grumpiness, Anna’s muteness… everyone is different. Their worldview colors how they communicate, and in turn, that affects how others perceive them. I hope to see this theme develop further as the series goes.

Next Week
Black Bird vol. 16
Boys Over Flowers vol. 14
Dawn of the Arcana vol. 11
The Demon Prince of Momochi House vol. 8
Dengeki Daisy vol. 7
A Devil and Her Love Song vol. 6

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