Abusive Relationships in Shoujo Manga by the Numbers: Week 18

This Week
Black Bird vol. 18 (conclusion!)
Boys Over Flowers vol. 16
Dawn of the Arcana vol. 13 (conclusion!)
The Demon Prince of Momochi House vol. 10
Dengeki Daisy vol. 9
A Devil and Her Love Song vol. 8

So… much… data…

I’ll keep this short, because this installment is already long enough.

Two series finish this week, one that I’ll miss and one that I definitely won’t. In the past, when series wrapped up, I just posted the total points for wrap-up. But I’ve been taking much more granular data than that, counting up how many instances of different forms of abuse occur. And this week, as I finished up Black Bird, a series that has been a thorn in my side since the very start, I thought, “What’s the point of that granularity if I don’t actually do anything with it?”

So I’m going to start doing a little more. I won’t include the entire tally, because that would be A Lot, but I figure I’ll include some more specific numbers and information that I can potentially use as jumping-off points for discussion. Let me know what you think!

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Black Bird vol. 18

Misao’s due date is rapidly approaching, and while she knows giving birth to her child means her death, she isn’t ready to give up on life. But can she and Kyo discover a way to avert tragedy when countless Senka Maidens before her have suffered the same fate?!

It’s the heartrending conclusion of this supernatural love story! (summary by Viz)

5 points

This is… the end. Will Misao survive giving birth to her demon spawn? Will Kyo and Misao find identities as individuals and not just as a couple? Will Kyo ever stop being an abusive fuckwad?

The answer to all of these is, “Of course not, silly!”

In fact, Sakurakoji actually finds a way to make them even more codependent. For whatever reason, Misao loses the use of her legs after giving birth. She regains it somewhat, but stays slow and wobbly even after years of recovery. Kyo stays by her side every minute of every day to make sure she doesn’t lose her balance and fall. They’re never apart. Misao loses even the bits of power she has, since she was no longer the senka maiden after birth. She is absolutely, 100% dependent on Kyo, which is okay, because he is the source of her every thought and emotion. The way the two are totally subsumed by their relationship is presented as romantic, a matter of being “soul mates”, but I can’t imagine anything more horrifying.

By the way, if you thought Kyo could at least be a good father, you’d be terribly mistaken. He neglects their son because he’s always by Misao’s side and totally focused on her. When their young son makes an unknowingly insensitive remark about her trouble with walking – because small children are so known for being blunt that it makes a lot of adults uncomfortable around them – he almost beats his child. Misao has to jump between them and beg him to forgive him. Then they shut the boy out of their room as she comforts Kyo! Meanwhile, the other characters all go on and on about what a great dad Kyo is, just like he’s a great husband. It’s disgusting.

Series summary:
Total points: 127
Average per volume: 7.05
Tropes: 27
Physical Abuse: 19
Sexual abuse: 27
Emotional abuse: 47
Most common forms of abuse:

  • Possessiveness/Jealousy
  • Physically striking

 

 

I can’t believe that I once shrugged Black Bird’s abuse off as “just fantasy”. The layer of unreality brought about by the tengu and spirits distanced me from the nature of Kyo’s abuse and lulled me into thinking there wasn’t anything really worth concerning myself about. However, Kyo’s level of possessiveness has plenty of real-world applications; he doesn’t like Misao interacting with other men, and shames her when it gets her into trouble. The data point that shocked me most was how high physical abuse ranked – while the sexual abuse was most egregious in the first volumes, it pretty much tapered off once they started having sex. However, there were so many little moments of him hurting her in minor ways that I didn’t even notice how commonplace it was.

To be honest, the abuse isn’t what bothers me most about Black Bird. I mean, it bothers me a lot. But the worse thing to me is how it romanticizes codependency. While Kyo has his clan and his role of clan leader, Misao doesn’t really have anything but him. Not only does the series address it, but it presents it as a good thing, like having no other real hobbies and friends is a sign of the depth of her love. When women are already largely defined by their relationships to men, it’s terrible to explicitly say that making him the center of your entire existence is an ideal level of devotion.

I can more or less see how Black Bird got as popular as it has. It has a lot of themes and plot beats in common with Twilight, including a bland heroine and an overprotective supernatural boyfriend who shames her for her sexual desire, and the steaminess of a bodice ripper. The art is nice, the sex scenes are sexy, and the action is pretty good. I despise the main characters from the bottom of my heart, but I’m aware that a lot of readers like Kyo’s character type (why???). Still, if you trust my word and my taste, Black Bird is something to stay far away from.

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Boys Over Flowers vol. 16

Tsukasa’s 18th birthday doesn’t go smoothly at all! Tsukushi is introduced to Kaede, Tsukasa’s mother, by way of falling over a table and causing a scene. Kaede tells her to get out, but Tsukasa defends her by declaring that she is precious to him. Thus begins a three-sided war between the three most headstrong people you’ve ever seen! Tsukushi and Tsukasa get away for a while and spend some time on Tsukasa’s boat, but they can’t hide from Kaede forever… (summary by Viz)

7 points

Tsukushi and Tsukasa don’t “get away” from the party. Domyoji shoves her into a car which he is not licensed to drive, drives so irresponsibly that she gets knocked into a window and loses consciousness, and then takes her on his boat. In the middle of the ocean. Where she can’t get away from him. When he has physically abused her in the past for defying him.

It’s not getting away. It’s kidnapping.

I couldn’t help but think of that episode of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia where the gang buys a boat and Dennis keeps talking about bringing a girl out there and having sex because of “implications”. This time when Tsukushi tells him she doesn’t know how she feels about him, he doesn’t throw a giant fit and toss her over the side of the boat, but laughs it off very charmingly. But still those “implications” are still there. And then he kisses her without consent, when she reaches over him to grab something. But she just can’t get mad at him, because he “looks like a little boy”.

“Implications.”

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Dawn of the Arcana vol. 13

Princess Nakaba of Senan and Prince Caesar of Belquat only married each other for the sake of peace between their two warring countries, but the two grow to care deeply for each other over time. Just when it looks like Nakaba and Caesar can finally unite Senan and Belquat, however, Nakaba’s beloved attendant Loki asks that she hand Senan over to him! Will Nakaba give in to Loki’s demands? And what life-changing secret will Nakaba’s Arcana of Time power reveal during the height of her distress? (summary by Viz)

1 point

As Dawn of the Arcana concludes, I can’t help that everything was a little too easy. Loki is right that simply declaring discrimination to be over won’t end the centuries of hatred. However, I kind of doubt that his strategy – creating a separate ajin state so there’s one wholly human country and one wholly ajin country and then reuniting them several years later – would be an effective strategy for ending the prejudice. Not to mention all the lives that would be uprooted, infrastructure that would have to be rebuilt, international relations that would have to renegotiated, and so on. However, the only major consequence we see is some grumbling in Caesar and Nakaba’s court, and then the countries reunite easy-peasy.

What of the character relationships? Of course, Caesar and Nakaba live happily ever after. The sole point comes from Caesar dragging Nakaba by the braid comedically. But the revelation that Loki is Nakaba’s brother adds some weirdly incestuous notes to the story. Of course he was plainly never meant to be Nakaba’s endgame partner, but there were certainly love triangle overtones.

Series summary:
Total points: 35
Average per volume: 2.69
Tropes: 3 points
Physical abuse: 8 points
Sexual abuse: 12 points
Emotional abuse: 12 points
Most common:

 

  • Touching without consent
  • Possessiveness/jealousy
  • Mocking/berating/belittling

 

I really, really wish Dawn of the Arcana were better than it is.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s good. It’s a solid read and an easy recommendation past the first volume (which constitutes over half the points for the series), but with some stronger storytelling, it could have been great. It has a rock-solid premise, a plot made of different elements coming together, and a heroine with a clear personality and goals. It’s something I wouldn’t hesitate to hand to a 12-year-old.

But it all felt a little… bland. Toothless. Like a decent meal that’s undersalted, or pasta that was cooked for too long. A high fantasy fantasy epic like Dawn of the Arcana needs much more breathing room for all the character development, world-building, and plot development to really work. Instead, everything happens too easily, just barely more than convenience. Characters and plot elements appear and disappear when their usefulness is eliminated, rather than being fully integrated into the whole story. The action lacks a sense of motion, and though Cheese! Is supposed to be one of the smuttier shoujo magazines, the sex scenes were pretty much just two outlines of nude bodies on top of each other.

When I commented early on that Caesar’s reform came a bit too easily, it was a sign of issues to come. Dawn of the Arcana always has its heart in the right place, and for some readers, that’s enough. However, more mature fantasy aficionados (like me) will probably find it pretty underwhelming.

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The Demon Prince of Momochi House vol. 10

Himari Momochi inherits Momochi House, an estate which exists on the barrier between the human and spiritual realms. Himari is attacked by an ayakashi in the depths of Momochi House and is saved by the Guardian of the Gate. The guardian, wanting the Momochi name, tries to get Himari to marry him. Naturally, Aoi has no intention of letting him have his way! (summary by Viz)

1 point

Aoi and Himari are officially a couple! Hurrah! It’s all very cute and sweet, and Aoi is as good a boyfriend as one would expect. When Himari declares her intent to explore Momochi house, he reminds her that it’s too dangerous for her to go it alone. But that reminder doesn’t come as a scolding or a ban; rather, he accompanies her. While Himari suspects he’s steering her away from the more dangerous parts, he still handles it much better than a lot of shoujo supernatural boyfriends would have.

Then there’s the issue of the Guardian of the Gate. Once again, Aoi (and the Nue) doesn’t default to anger or overprotectiveness, since Himari did get herself into trouble. However, he does talk a lot about “not letting [him] have Himari”, which is a trope that always sets my teeth on edge. He may be protecting her from a predator, yes, but that’s still talking about her like she’s a possession. It’s a small thing and a common phrase, but that bit of framing reveals a mindset common in our culture – that romantic partners are to be held on to like you own them, rather their own person capable of making their own decisions.

At the end, he asks Himari, “If we were married, you’d no longer see other men in that way, right?” That’s… not how marriage works. Maybe it’s a sign of Aoi’s naivete from being insulated from the human world since he was seven, because extramarital affairs in Japan are quite commonplace (although the US isn’t much better. Glass houses, stones, etc.) At the same time, she notes that the gray area between Aoi and the Nue is growing.

Unfortunately, this is the last volume of The Demon Prince of Momochi House that’s out so far in English. I’ll be covering the rest of the volumes as they come out, because these cliffhangers are absolute murder.

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Dengeki Daisy vol. 9

As Teru comes to terms with Kurosaki’s past wrongdoings, Kurosaki searches for the culprit who is trying to resurrect the “Jack Frost” virus he created. But when he learns that Teru might be in danger, will he keep his promise to leave her alone, or will the two be reunited? (summary by Viz)

4 points

Paralleling The Demon Prince of Momochi House, this volume of Dengeki Daisy also has the two main characters getting together. And, as much as I hate to admit it, it’s cute, damn it. I’ll never be able to get past the age difference, but Motomi does a great job of writing two people trying to navigate the subtle shift in their relationship. Kurosaki promises to treat Teru more kindly in real life, since he can’t simply play the role of Daisy anymore. Kurosaki comments that it feels a little like they’re starting from scratch, but is optimistic that they’ll find a new rhythm. And… yeah, that’s kind of how it is. When you start dating a friend, the role they play in your life changes; you have to figure out where the new boundaries lie.

Teru, meanwhile, tries to adjust to life without Daisy as she once knew him. There was one scene where I really felt the age difference – when Kurosaki says they should stop playing “make believe” as Daisy. That way of framing it is incredibly hurtful to Teru, who for so long relied on the figure of Daisy for moral support and guidance. An adult may be able to gracefully shift away from that, but for a teenager who was once alone in the world but for him, calling it something so dismissive is deeply hurtful. Fortunately, Kurosaki actually realizes his mistake, and the two manage to find a way to re-incorporate that part of their relationship into their daily life.

God, if only it weren’t for that age difference. Or the way he bullied her before. Or the rude remarks about her appearance…

Sigh

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A Devil and Her Love Song vol. 8

The start of her second year in high school brings someone unexpected into Maria’s life—Shintaro Kurosu, a brash first-year student who does as he pleases. He takes a strong liking to Maria and sticks to her, making Maria and her crush Shin Meguro extremely uncomfortable. Like it or not, Kurosu’s presence is about to change Maria in a surprising way… (summary by Viz)

11 points

HISSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS

A Devil and Her Love Song introduces a new character and WOW WOW WOW do I hate this guy! Not that I expect young Kurosu to be a viable candidate for Maria’s affections – she still only has eyes for Shin – but somehow that makes his possessive behavior all the worse. It’s framed as a quirk, the he has an overly-blunt and honest nature like Maria, but it is just so much creepier coming from him.

He decides it’s his mission to force Maria to get over her aversion to touch by just… touching her constantly. Her attempts at reasserting her boundaries get brushed off, and even more infuriatingly, she realizes his violations are actually helping. He’s possessive of her, even though she is explicitly not interested in his advances. When swimsuit shopping, he picks swimsuits out for her to try on like it’s his own private fashion show, and when she comes out wearing the one she’s interested in buying, he “forbids” her from wearing a swimsuit in public. He acts this way because he saw her on TV and convinced himself that she’d become “one of the most important people in [his] life.” It’s easy to think this about “real people” who we see through reality programming and social media, but this volume came out in 2009, before most social media as we know it existed. His pronouncement that she’d become so important to her is nothing short of delusional.

If you’ve been reading these columns the whole time and don’t see what’s wrong with all this, well, I don’t know what to tell you. In a lesser manga, he’d be the romantic lead, so I’m glad at least that A Devil and Her Love Song knows better than to do that. While he does irritate the other characters, Maria still treats him as a friend. He doesn’t have any friends in his own class but follows her around, so she feels like he needs her. Girls shouldn’t feel like they need to put up with persistent boys they aren’t interested in, or who make them uncomfortable. They, and the people around them, should speak up. Don’t brush it off as being bad at boundaries. Treating him like a sad puppy who should be tolerated because he’s lonely is a common societal attitude, both in the US and Japan, and this just reinforces that.

Next Week:
Boys Over Flowers vol. 17
Dengeki Daisy vol. 10
A Devil and Her Love Song vol. 9
The Earl and the Fairy vol. 1

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7 thoughts on “Abusive Relationships in Shoujo Manga by the Numbers: Week 18

  1. Jei Dekay

    Really like your readings and interpritations of Boys over flowers. I haven’t read the manga, but I have all of the dvds of the anime. I can relate to Tsukushi’s struggles of being the “poor kid in a rich kid’s school” and I do admire the fact that she has the courage to stand up to the F4 early in the series, dispite the events that occur afterwards.

    After reading your review of the manga, it did help me to look at the series differently and how the series depicts the characteristics of an abusive relationship in the manga’s portrayal and the reality of everybody’s actions. And yeah, I agree Tsukasa’s a pretty screwed up character (come to think of it ALOT of the characters are pretty screwed up).

    I hope to read more of your reviews in the future

    Like

    1. Thanks! The Boys Over Flowers discussions have definitely gotten me the strongest reaction. I don’t know if it’s because more people watched the anime and things go differently in it (I haven’t seen them) or if they just never thought about it in those terms.
      Tsukushi has been upheld as a strong female character, but I don’t believe she lives up to that reputation. She gives in to Domyoji more and more as the series continues, and when she does fight against him, he punishes her until she gets back in line. It’s not right.

      Like

    1. I realized I was overdoing it and decided to cut down to only five series a week. Since then, it’s been much easier for me to get posts out on time. I even have a buffer!

      Like

  2. I remember reading many recommendations for Hana Yori Dango when I was younger, but there was a hunch I had that kept on keeping me away from from it, turns out I was right…

    Just to let you know:
    When it comes to shōnen anime/manga with excellent female characters written by men, is Gintama excellent, yeah it’s long and you should skip episodes 1&2, but an enjoyable read 95% of the way.
    Much shorter due to cancelation is Samurai High School do I like the female characters but there’s unnecessary fanservice… Not a lot but still unnecessary.

    As for shōjo series I’d like to see your thoughts on is Usotsuki Lilly one, I liked a lot it in the beginning, but the ending gave me a bad aftertaste..!

    Like

  3. Pingback: [Links] 28 February - 6 March 2018: Kaceytron, #MeToo Backlash in Japan, and Workplace Sexism - Anime Feminist

  4. Laura Fox

    I finally finished reading Dawn of the Arcana! It had been on my radar, but your column gave me the nudge to finally read it. I think, like you, I would put it in the “good but not great” category.

    I also wonder how that one would have gone if you weren’t limiting yourself to the main/endgame couple (although I don’t want to say that’s unfortunate; way to keep yourself sane!). Myself, I found Loki’s behavior more disturbing throughout the series. Caesar’s bad behavior is passed over too lightly, granted (e.g. his sexual aggression being played for “hapless seducer” humor), but for the most part he’s at least up front with it where Loki is more insidiously manipulative. Caesar says “you’re my wife,” Loki says “Don’t forget this man is your enemy” — when we later find that with the Arcana of Time he probably knew better; he used his inside knowledge of Nakaba and the situation to put a plausible wedge between her and another man. Then in this last volume, we find that his love and possessiveness toward her had a dark side we didn’t know about, that it was love/hate on his end. Not only that, but he’s been undercutting her agency by interfering with her powers and keeping *her own life story* from her long past the point when she could have dealt with the information responsibly; Nakaba is left feeling deeply guilty for not knowing things that Loki intentionally kept from her. Plus, Loki’s behavior I think is romanticised or passed off as sympathetic/virtuous in ways that Caesar’s flaws aren’t. I can see the tragedy of his situation and sympathize, but in the end I can’t say I liked him, and I definitely thought his relationship with Nakaba was messed up.

    Like

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