Abusive Relationships in Shoujo Manga by the Numbers Week 19

This 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

The spring anime season fast approaches and with it comes an avalanche of female-oriented new series. Looking at the spring chart, I counted no fewer than 11 series unambiguously aimed at women and girls, which is unprecedented for as long as I can remember. Not all of them appeal to me, and some of them will probably even be bad. But in a landscape where we get this much variety, it doesn’t feel like just one or two series have to represent your entire marketing demographic on their own. It’s okay for some of them to be bad, because you can easily find something else that appeals to you more.

So what’s bringing about this sea change? Simply put, because girls are willing to spend more money on series aimed at them. It’s been gradually leading up to this point for a while, as cute girls doing cute things series have been portraying more interesting, complex, and varied characters than the pre-molded archetypes they once relied on for quite a while. Shonen Jump sports anime court fujoshi. I’m sure that Yuri!! on Ice becoming a global phenomenon and shattering sales records had a lot to do with it as well.

This is incredibly exciting. I’ve witnessed the rise of moe anime and those pre-molded archetypes, and despaired that the anime industry would ever recognize girls as anything more than secondary again.

Next week, I’ll talk about the shows themselves.


Boys Over Flowers vol. 17

Tsukushi and Tsukasa get some quiet time together after they escape the mess of his birthday party, but this quiet can’t last for long. Tsukasa’s feelings for Tsukushi have at long last been made clear, but Tsukushi is more confused than ever about her feelings for him. Meanwhile, Tsukasa’s domineering mother, Kaede, is brewing up plans to keep them apart forever, and she might have found just the thing to do it when she introduces him to his new fiancée! (summary by Viz)

5 points

When Tsukushi tells Domyoji that he should go with Shigeru, he slaps her across the face so hard she cuts the inside of her mouth. Instead of getting mad like she would have in previous volumes, she just slinks off while wondering if she’s just as bad as him. Her fire has dimmed so much compared to the beginning of the series; it’s sad to see. Especially compared to Shigeru, who is bright, cheerful, and unafraid of asserting herself.

It’s odd – through the chat columns, Kamio’s own feelings about Domyoji comes a little clearer. A couple volumes ago, she talks about how people ask if he’s her ideal guy. Her response is, “No, that would be scary!” The topic of her own feelings toward her characters comes up again this time around, and she says that if she had to pick a boyfriend for herself from the cast, it would be Seinosuke Amakusa, the sweet-natured boy who pursued Tsukushi a few volumes earlier. Out of all the characters so far, I agree – he’s honest and forthright and doesn’t worship his own wealth like most of them.

Unfortunately, the readers didn’t agree. In a poll done by Margaret magazine, Domyoji was chosen as the ideal boyfriend of all the series that were running at a time. Kamio seems discomfited by this, writing, “Are you sure? He’s totally self-centered, you know!” I know Domyoji was made the romantic lead by editorial mandate, so how much responsibility does she bear for the way Boys Over Flowers condones abuse? Could she have found a way to include the message that this isn’t okay, or did the editors keep her on too short a leash?


Dengeki Daisy vol. 10

A powerful organization that was after Kurosaki’s “Jack Frost” virus suddenly falls apart, but Kurosaki can’t rest easy since Akira was somehow involved. Furthermore, Akira tells Kurosaki that Teru is still a target! Can Kurosaki protect Teru from Akira’s menacing schemes? (summary by Viz)

10 points

Now that Teru and Kurosaki are officially a couple, Dengeki Daisy takes a minute to actually address some of the inherent issues: namely that he’s an adult and she’s a child, and that he’s a staff member of her school. It’s great that they actually acknowledge that there are issues with the age and maturity difference between an adult and a teenager, but they don’t handle it particularly well.

They repeatedly mention that Kurosaki is a grown man and Teru needs to be aware of it, but there’s something… off about how they regard it. Her friends point out that he’s likely more sexually experienced and probably expects sex, but in the context that she should try to meet his expectations. Riko warns her about how “grown men get revenge”. They’re aware of the power imbalance between the two, but nobody seems especially concerned. Rather, Riko counsels Teru on a woman’s power, and how women should act in a relationship.

It’s frustrating when a series teeters on self-awareness, but never really quite shakes it off. It feels almost like Motomi wrote herself into a corner and realized the issues with what she was doing, but couldn’t just back down. Acknowledging the issues makes it a bit easier to look at things critically and see the imbalance baked in to their dynamic; it’s not just brushed off as a non-issue. However, there’s a bit of an essentialist bit as well, pulling out the old “this is the woman’s role”, “that’s how men are” canard. It’s a mixed bag, which I have mixed feelings about.


A Devil and Her Love Song vol. 9

Unable to tell Maria his feelings for her, Shin decides to channel all his energy into playing the piano. His hard work pays off when he lands a role in a big concert, but will Maria even be there on the day of the show? (summary by Viz)

3 points

The issue with Shintaro has more or less resolved itself – after pushing some SERIOUS boundaries, he promises not to pressure Maria anymore. He’s still a flirt and spends way too much time finding reasons to touch her, but he’s much less aggressive about it.

Last volume ended with a cliffhanger as he leaned in to kiss Maria, out of the blue. She shoves him away, but reassures everyone that he wasn’t actually trying to kiss her. I’m not sure what his motivation was in that case, but clearly the narrative wants us to take her at her word. I’m more on the side of the other characters though – that he’s a boundary-pushing creep. His behavior toward Maria and sexual comments are absolutely unacceptable and mark him as unsafe to be around. Maria asserts that he wouldn’t hurt a fly, and is ultimately proven right. This storyline is a few years old, but has aged particularly poorly. He reminds me of all the men outed as predators who defended their creeping as “just flirting”, and Maria defending it as “just how he communicates” doesn’t come off great.


The Earl and the Fairy vol. 1

Edgar Ashenbert claims to be descended from the human ruler of the fairy kingdom, and he urgently needs Lydia’s help to find and claim his birthright, the legendary sword of the Blue Knight Earl. Things will never be the same for Lydia as she is pulled into a dangerous quest against dark forces! (summary by Viz)

4 points

As a light novel adaptation, The Earl and the Fairy is considerably more plot-driven than a lot of the series I’ve reviewed so far. That created an interesting shift in my mindset: I don’t mind nearly as much when he’s morally ambiguous. In most shoujo, the plot is designed to serve the characters, but in this case, it’s the other way around. Edgar and Lydia are written in a way that it’s clear that stuff is meant to happen around them and for them to react to, rather than their relationship being the central source of conflict. It reads more like the YA fantasy novels I grew up with than a modern shoujo.

Of course, that doesn’t mean I’m just going to ignore when abuse happens in the story. Edgar is a scoundrel at times, to be sure. I mean, he kidnaps Lydia. Not a great way to start a romance! He’s a bad boy with a dark past, and Lydia feeling sorry for him and deciding not to leave him alone seems pretty questionable. He’s only given her reasons not to trust her – his status as a murderer and criminal, his lies, his kidnapping, his skepticism of her abilities. Lydia, meanwhile, is ostensibly the main character, but is totally passive thus far. She’s subject to Edgar’s whims and has played little role in the story beyond his tool thus far. Hopefully she finds a way to become more active and stand up for herself.

Next Week
Boys Over Flowers vol. 18
Dengeki Daisy vol. 11
A Devil and Her Love Song vol. 10
The Earl and the Fairy vol. 2
Flower in a Storm vol. 1

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