Abusive Relationships in Shoujo Manga by the Numbers: Week 16

This 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

There’s no one way to read a story

Last week, Anime Feminist had an interview about mental illness in Japan and anime with a former Aokigahara volunteer go up. It’s a really lovely interview and a great read – I highly recommend it if you haven’t checked it out yet. Makoto Kageyama speaks touchingly about their own mental health struggles in the context of how such things are regarded in Japanese culture. Their discussion of how anime and manga treat depression and anxiety like things that can be cured through the power of friendship contextualizes quite a few series.

In the comments, it was only natural that a discussion about the series orange, a shoujo manga/anime about a group of friends trying to prevent another character’s suicide, would come up. The big twist in orange is that they’re receiving letters from their future selves, who have already faced the loss of their friend. Considering the subject matter, it doesn’t come as a surprise that it’s a very personal series for a lot of people. One person mentioned that they felt disturbed that Naho, the manga’s protagonist, shouldered so much of the burden of keeping their friend alive. And while I personally enjoyed the series, I agreed that readers shouldn’t be encouraged to take on the burden of their friend’s mental health. I’ve felt obligated to be that friend, and it’s not a healthy way to live.

Other commenters felt differently. One thought of it as potentially empowering, especially to people who have felt that loss. By identifying with Naho, they could put themselves in a situation where they weren’t totally helpless with a friend who was suffering. The fact that she had the opportunity to change things became a comforting fantasy. The way they read it and felt about it was totally different from how I did, but was informed by experience just as much as mine.

The fact is, there’s never just one “correct” way to read a story. Sure, it’s possible to wildly misread a story, but there’s a lot of room for interpretation in the truth. We all have a huge collection of lenses and frameworks that contribute to how we think of things. Many of the series I’ve been the most harshly critical of have been huge bestsellers, so clearly a lot of people find something of value to them, even if it’s just entertainment. Others find them to be a safe way to explore dangerous fantasies, or as a launching pad to explore concepts like masculinity, class struggle, and so on.


Black Bird vol. 16

Misao has made the choice to forgo college and a normal human life in order to be Kyo’s wife and mother to the demon child she carries. But her pregnancy is unusual, even for the demon world. The last pages of the Senka Roku will reveal the truth of the matter, but now that Kyo has it in his hands, does he really want to know…? (summary by Viz)

1 point

This volume is mostly made up of Misao trying to deal with her own mortality, while Kyo desperately searches for a way to keep her alive. This, I think, summarizes much of the dynamic of Black Bird: Kyo is active and restless, while Misao is passive and accepting. She does not fight her fate; when Kyo decides to abort the fetus after learning it will kill Misao, she refuses. Luckily, he accepts her choice, or else the point count for the volume would be higher, though it takes him a long time to stop and listen to her. After that, he spends all his time researching the Senka Maiden in hopes of finding a way to change her fate, even when Misao would rather he spend the little time they have left together.

The concept of the passive heroine and the active male love interest has roots way back to Confucianism and the concept of yin and yang, which associates passivity with femininity and activity with masculinity. The idea is that they’re supposed to balance each other, but it actually creates a serious imbalance in Misao and Kyo’s relationship. Kyo always calls the shots, ignoring Misao’s wishes until she weeps and begs him to slow down. She prefers the status quo, while he works for change. It makes Misao totally boring. She doesn’t have enough of an inner life to make that passivity interesting or complex, because he’s the only thing she ever thinks about. It gives Kyo complete control over her life, since he acts on his every whim and responds aggressively when she tries to object. Occasionally she wins out, but only after appealing to him.

I understand it’s possible to have a relationship where one person surrenders control of their own life to others, but this isn’t one of those cases.


Boys Over Flowers vol. 14

Tsukasa’s raucous behavior at Tsukushi’s junior high school class reunion has her fed up with him once again. Tuskasa is crushed by this but is too stubborn to apologize. Later, Tsukushi is assaulted by two schoolgirls and then rescued by a “young nerdy boy” who turns out to be Junpei, a famous male model who has been dying to meet Tsukushi! Her dumb luck then gets her involved in a photo shoot with him, and she ends up on the cover of a famous magazine. This causes quite a scene at school, but not nearly as big a scene as when Tsukasa finds the two of them together! (summary by Viz)

16 points

Fun fact: about half these points came in the first, oh, 20 pages of this volume. “Raucous behavior” doesn’t describe Domyoji’s temper tantrum – after assaulting Tsukushi’s friend, he calls her a pauper, accuses her of being ungrateful, calls her a slut, slams her against the wall… It’s horrifying. Keep in mind that they aren’t actually dating. Even if they were, this would still be completely unacceptable of course. But the fact that he’s so violently possessive of someone he doesn’t even have an exclusive relationship with is especially horrific.

Tsukushi seems like she’s almost ready to escape his clutches. When Domyoji goes into yet another one of his violent episodes, she cries, “Tsukasa… When I’m with you, I feel like I’m suffocating. This school… your gang… your power… I feel like I’m being crushed! I just want a little happiness. I want to get away from you and the F4. Please… leave me alone.” These sound like the powerful words of a young woman finally ready to break free of a terrible situation, but then fucking Domyoji goes and confesses his feelings to her. It’s packaged in with a lovely threat to stalk her even if she does reject him, which sells the idea that persisting shows devotion, instead of a lack of respect for the other person’s choices and feelings.

Of course, that love confession throws all his tantrums into a different light for Tsukushi. All of a sudden, it’s not violence, just the actions of a passionate and impulsive man. It sends her off balance, and suddenly she’s mooning over him just like before. “He’s not abusive, just passionate,” is such a common way of excusing abuse, and fiction like this perpetuates it. Your partner shouldn’t “fight” for you. They shouldn’t get jealous or angry about you talking to other people. It’s control. It’s abuse. It’s wrong.


Dawn of the Arcana vol. 11

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. As political forces threaten to tear their world apart, and with Caesar’s departure to Belquat, the couple separates. Now Nakaba must navigate the treacherous court of Senan by herself, including deciding how to handle her new husband, Prince Adel! Will Nakaba be able to use her Arcana of Time power to take control of Senan? (summary by Viz)

0 points

Again, Nakaba and Caesar have barely any contact – the two run into each other by chance, but they’re both with their respective spouses. The encounter is brief, awkward, and incredibly emotionally painful both Caesar and Nakaba, even if they try not to let it show. Nakaba’s emotions, which drive much of the volume, are particularly well-handled this time around. She revisits the tower where she was imprisoned for years, and her reflections on the effect Adel’s bullying had on her ring fairly true. At first she was fearful, but that crystallized into cynicism and numbness over years. Victims of prolonged abuse can’t let themselves stay vulnerable for long, so they develop a hard outer shell as a defense mechanism. When their grandfather is dying, Adel, who he raised with tenderness, is beside himself, but Nakaba isn’t moved at all.

And god damn it, this volume does soften Adel up considerably. He starts to treat Nakaba at least a little better and be vulnerable around her, which makes her start to care about him. And that frustrated me for a bit, because that kind of redemption came way too easily with Caesar and I didn’t want a repeat of that. But then, I realized exactly why Toma made that choice. When Nakaba betrays him in the end in order to gain the throne and become queen of Senan, it would have been much easier if she felt the same loathing she had before. Instead, she must fight against the burgeoning tenderness and carry through with her plan. It better displays her determination to become queen, no matter the cost.


The Demon Prince of Momochi House vol. 8

Himari Momochi inherits Momochi House, an estate which exists on the barrier between the human and spiritual realms. Since his battle with Nachi, Aoi has been unable to transform back from being the Nue. Aoi must recover his lost human memories, and Himari enters the spiritual realm to retrieve them. (summary by Viz)

0 points

With sweet Aoi stuck as the Nue, I’m forced to confront a question that has been at the back of my mind since I started the series: if Nue were to cross a line, would his actions count? He is both the same and different from Aoi, an ancient entity that lives within Aoi’s consciousness. It’s ambiguous whether Aoi as the Nue is still Aoi, if they’re two aspects of the same being or two separate creatures occupying the same body. Perhaps the ambiguity is deliberate; perhaps it’s simply a cultural concept that I’m unaware of.

A bonus mini-chapter at the end of the book has an alternate-universe scenario where Himari must choose between her classmate Aoi and her teacher Mr. Nue. At the end they ask if she wants someone to be sweet to her, or if she wants a thrill. It spells out much of the psychosexual subtext of the story, and believe you me, The Demon Prince of Momochi House is quite sexual under the surface. Aoi is gentle, kind, and safe – you know he’d be a good, caring boyfriend to Himari, but not a terribly exciting one. He’s the boy who asks for permission to kiss her. The Nue, on the other hand would be exciting, but also dangerous and, in the end, inhuman. Himari is drawn to him in that form as well, and there’s an eroticism as he pulls her in and calls her a “bad girl”.

Like so many other series I’ve talked about and undoubtedly will talk about, The Demon Prince of Momochi House uses fantasy as a lens to examine sexual desire. It’s kinky. But it’s in a way that works, and I’m excited to see where it goes.


Dengeki Daisy vol. 7

Kurosaki decides that he needs to tell Teru the truth, but little does he know that an unsettling fellow called Akira has other ideas. What is Akira scheming, and how will his actions irrevocably affect Teru’s relationship with Kurosaki? (summary by Viz)

3 points

Wow, we managed to get through a whole volume without Kurosaki hitting or insulting Teru once! Incredible! Okay, he makes fun of her sneeze… but honestly, that’s a pretty acceptable thing to make fun of someone for. I don’t think a lot of people are really self-conscious about their sneezes. My friends tell me I sneeze like a cat. (What does that even mean?)

Of course, there’s still no getting past the whole age difference thing! Kyosuke Motomi herself calls Kurosaki “a perverted guy who has a lolita complex” in the afterword. Anime and manga treating pedophilia as a punchline or a funny quirk has gotten frustrating, since it’s one of those things that really, really isn’t funny at all in reality – CSA survivors are everywhere, and you don’t know who is one. Plus, it encourages some really unhealthy attitudes; I remember one of my friends, at 16, making jokes about herself being a “loli”, while adult men responded with “Pedobear Approved” memes. Making light of it in fiction makes people not take it seriously in real life.

But I’ve harped on this for long enough. I’m tired of talking about it.


A Devil and Her Love Song vol. 6

Maria’s former best friend Anna is unable to speak, but that doesn’t stop her from going after Maria’s love interest, Shin! In an attempt to make Shin hers, Anna reveals to him details about Maria’s tragic past—details so painful that Maria has blocked them from her memory… (summary by Viz)

1 point

Anna is so manipulative, she makes Hana Ibuki of the previous volumes look like a small fry. There’s a malicious edge to her manipulations that Hana lacked, though; while Hana was mostly interested in making herself look good as the preserver of harmony, Anna actively wants to harm Maria. She has a wild, unpredictable streak that, combined with her anger at Maria, makes her a compelling antagonist. She doesn’t hide it from Maria, either, especially as she manipulates Shin’s fair-minded (though grumpy) disposition. One interesting event is she tries to kiss Shin out of nowhere, much like Shin did to Maria a couple volumes ago, but this time he pushes her away. He’s not villainized or depicted as wrong, even though she falls to the floor. Since we, the readers, know that Shin isn’t interested, it’s presented as invasive, as opposed to when he kissed Maria.

The single point, this volume, comes about from Shin’s emotional withdrawal, even if he does it to protect her. As I said, one of the themes of the series looks to be communication, or lack thereof. He does it to protect Maria from Anna and her own past, but is that really the best choice? All Maria can tell is that she was getting closer to Shin, who she like and who she knew liked her, until he suddenly pulled away. And while she can tell Anna is the one behind it, with her perceptiveness, it’s still hurtful.

Next Week
Black Bird vol. 17
Boys Over Flowers vol. 15
Dawn of the Arcana vol. 12
The Demon Prince of Momochi House vol. 9
Dengeki Daisy vol. 8
A Devil and Her Love Song vol. 7


2 thoughts on “Abusive Relationships in Shoujo Manga by the Numbers: Week 16

  1. Pingback: [Links] 31 January - 6 February 2018: NHK and LGBTQ+ representation, Netflix and piracy, and #BlackGirlMagic - Anime Feminist

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