Abusive Relationships in Shoujo Manga by the Numbers: Week 22

This Week
Boys Over Flowers vol. 20
Dengeki Daisy vol. 13
A Devil and Her Love Song vol. 12
The Earl and the Fairy vol. 4
Gaba Kawa

A few weeks ago, I talked about Children of the Whales, and my frustration that shoujo and josei are rarely considered worthy of the “prestige” label. Men have long been considered tastemakers, while women and girls, though about half the world’s population, are considered a “special interest group”. This refrain is as old as feminist media criticism itself, and works aimed at women still struggle to get the recognition they deserve.

But at the same time, sometimes I don’t care if men don’t recognize the merits of shoujo and josei manga. I look at all this art being made by women, for women and girls and I don’t care that men don’t appreciate it, because it’s not for them! The people who they’re intended for love them and appreciate them, so what does it matter? Recognition and prestige are great, but they aren’t the end-all, be-all. It used to be that men were the gatekeepers, so their disdain for shoujo prevented it from being brought over, but now the US anime industry has plenty of women working hard to make these titles available. My main issue is the lack of criticism and scholarship surrounding it – I bought Straight from the Heart, a scholarly text about shoujo – but there are bloggers and writers working hard to rectify that.

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Boys Over Flowers vol. 20

Tsukushi has agreed to be Tsukasa’s girlfriend! But there’s a hitch–she’ll go out with him for only two months to see if she can truly love him. Tsukasa is off to a bad start when he ends up smacking the womanizing new boyfriend of Tsukushi’s friend Yuki at the end of a double date, making Tsukushi furious. Then Sojiro of the F4 helps Yuki by exacting a little revenge on her playboy boyfriend, and the two wind up on a date together. Tsukushi is worried to death about Sojiro taking advantage of her good friend. The question is…who is using whom? (summary by Viz)

9 points

Most of this volume revolves around Sojiro and Yuki, with relatively little time spent on Domyoji and Tsukushi. (Those two still manage to rack up nine points in the brief time they spend on the focus.) It, of course, starts with the classic trope of, “The other guy is worse”. There’s always a bigger jerk than the designated love interest, out there ready to flirt and take advantage of our poor, naive heroines.

Sojiro has long been established as a playboy, a young man enjoying flirting and casual sex before his parents force him into a marriage with a young lady of status. Yuki’s new boyfriend doesn’t seem too far off; he just wants to play the field and strays because she won’t sleep with him. What’s the difference? What makes one a jerk who deserves to get punched twice and the other a lovable scamp? For some reason I can’t fathom, Yuki’s boyfriend doesn’t break up with her before turning to other girls, despite clearly having no investment in the relationship. He leads her on despite saying he’s already bored of her after only a few weeks. Sojiro, meanwhile, claims he always makes it clear that he’s only in for a casual fling, even though in earlier volumes he made comments about not wanting his multiple girlfriends to find out about each other. Therein lies the difference – Sojiro may only be in it for sex but at least he makes it clear.

Yuki’s boyfriend is so transparently a villain contrived for them to connect and get closer, it’s hard to put a lot of stock in it. We’re supposed to look at Sojiro and say, “He may be promiscuous, but at least he’s not this guy,” instead of thinking about the potential he himself has for damaging Yuki.

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Dengeki Daisy vol. 13

The past continues to haunt Teru and Kurosaki when they’re given a chance to find the mysterious “M’s Last Testament.” Unfortunately, their savage nemesis Akira has his eyes set on finding it too! Will Akira beat them to the punch? Or does Teru have something up her sleeve? (summary by Viz)

1 point

Only one obligatory point for power imbalance this time.

Although they didn’t garner any points this time around, there were elements to this volume that raised my hackles a bit. The hacker group encounters a program that Soichiro made before his death via a code that was hidden in Teru’s phone. As they go through, they communicate with a video/program that Soichiro made that predicted pretty much everything they would say/do. One room, however, had voice recognition advanced enough to understand and respond to answers. That room is the one for Kurosaki, and it involves Soichiro quizzing him about Teru.

There’s a lot going on here. For one thing, Soichiro asks quite a few intimate questions about Teru’s body, including where the fat goes when she gains weight (the answer is, “Her inner thighs. Her boobs will never get bigger), that indicate a greater familiarity than is really appropriate for different-gender siblings. In addition to that, it implies that he knew that Kurosaki and Teru would eventually date despite the eight-year difference, and that he’s okay with it. This makes “Daisy”, an arrangement which Soichiro deliberately set up, seem more like grooming than anything else. It adds a nasty undertaste to a relationship that already has issues, that Soicihiro manipulated the situation instead of allowing Teru the opportunity to grow up and choose her partner for herself.

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A Devil and Her Love Song vol. 12

Things for Maria have been looking up—especially since she reconciled with her father, and her relationship with Shin has been progressing. Unfortunately, Shin’s hand injury gets worse, and the only way to treat it means an operation overseas…! (summary by Viz)

1 point

A Devil and Her Love Song largely redeems itself after a hairy couple volumes, despite not addressing its earlier missteps. Maria and Shin falteringly resume their relationship, now that she has her voice back, but must struggle with Shin’s hand injury. Both have been characterized as unusually blunt and plain-spoken, and I think that has a lot to do with what makes their relationship work so well for me. When the two are having issues, they directly confront each other about it, instead of dancing around it and angsting about their lack of communication. Even when Shin tries to withdraw, Maria insists on talking things out.  By communicating, Maria and Shin manage to navigate a difficult time together without bitterness or abandonment.

It’s also quite sex-positive, with Maria being upfront about her desire to have sex with Shin. When Shin declines, there is no narrative shaming of Maria for her sexuality (looking at you, Black Bird). The one moment that made me grit my teeth was Yusuke’s “advice” to Maria about her date with Shin. He more or less tells her to play “hard to get” – wear a skirt that’s short but not too short, show cleavage, and to never be the one to take off her clothes. It’s stupid, gender-normative advice that implies that men should be the pursuer while women use their wiles to indirectly get what they want. The narrative takes a somewhat neutral tone towards it – it certainly works, but the direct approach seemed pretty effective as well.

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The Earl and the Fairy vol. 4

Lydia has been trapped in a warehouse by Rosalie, a dangerous young woman who commands a bogey-beast and wants Edgar all to herself. What’s more, Lydia has realized that she is in the storehouse where Edgar was first enslaved as a child. Can she discover the secret of his dark past, or will she fall prey to the bogey-beast’s true master? (summary by Viz)

0 points

The fourth and final volume of The Earl and the Fairy finally clears the zero-point mark with the conclusion of the second story arc. By this point, Edgar and Lydia have gotten to know each other well enough to understand each other’s boundaries and needs, with a clearly telegraphed romance on the horizon. Edgar may be a troubled bad boy, but he’s not the kind to turn his anger against his partner. Instead, he’s the kind of troubled bad boy who needs to be validated and comforted so that he can heal. It’s yet another series where the character development and relationship progression depends on a feisty young woman does the emotional labor of “fixing” the romantic lead. It’s certainly not my favorite trope, albeit preferable to the outright abusive boyfriend.

I understand the appeal of the trope; it’s the fantasy of healing someone’s angst with your love and care. It’s even one that I’ve indulged in. However, it also depends pretty heavily on gender stereotypes. Women are expected to be nurturing and understanding, to put in the time and effort to soothe hurting minds with little to no benefit to themselves. It’s part of why certain pink collar jobs are underpaid; we’re just expected to be good at certain things, rather than having a valuable skillset that we’ve worked to develop. The trope rarely goes the other way, either; if there’s a situation where a boy falls for a troubled or violent girl, either she’s “tsundere” or it turns into a taming of the shrew sort of situation.

Series Summary
Series total: 12 points
Average per volume: 3
Tropes: 3
Physical abuse: 1
Sexual abuse: 5
Emotional/Psychological abuse: 3
Most common:

  • Touching without consent
  • He’s “gentle”

If The Earl and the Fairy felt incomplete, more like an introduction to a larger story, there’s a reason for that: it is! There’s a 12-episode anime, available on Crunchyroll, which is also based on the 33-volume light novel series that started in 2004. That’s a lot of light novels, especially considering the series ran for nine years. It must have had a very speedy release schedule.

It took me a bit to ease into it, but I came to really enjoy the series. It’s a rare shoujo where romance isn’t the central focus. Sure, a love story may be part of the overarching plot, but it’s spread throughout a number of more story-driven arcs. I’d like to see more shoujo series like this, explicitly aimed at girls but more concerned about things other than just boys. Not that there’s anything wrong with romance, just that there’s so much more to what they’re capable of. It seems like light novels aimed at girls skew more in that direction than manga does; Saiunkoku Monogatari, a personal favorite of mine, has a similarly career-oriented heroine and started as a light novel as well. Unfortunately, the light novel translation industry thus far skews heavily male; female-oriented titles are few and far between, and a long-running series like The Earl and the Fairy would no doubt be a huge risk. For now, we’ll just have to settle for the short-lived manga and anime… and maybe work on our Japanese reading comprehension so we don’t have to be limited by what the translation companies think will sell.

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Gaba Kawa

Demons like Rara are supposed to cause mischief in the mortal world and draw humans to darkness. They’re not supposed to help mortals and they’re definitely not supposed to fall in love with them! But that’s just what happens when Rara enters high school, where a hot guy named Retsu Aku calls her “Gaba Kawa”!

While demons gain power by causing mischief, the opposite is also true–if Rara uses any of her powers to help mortals, she’ll immediately lose that very power. If she loses enough power, she’ll disappear! Poor Rara. What’s a “Gaba Kawa” demon to do? (summary by Viz)

3 points

Gaba Kawa is a nice little one-volume romance by Rie Takada, a shoujo manga artist who I’ve never read despite her having a few titles that have been published in English now. It’s a sweet, pleasant bit of fluff with a cheerful heroine and a charmingly weird, yet kind, male lead. Unfortunately, there’s not much else to say about it! It’s the kind of story that, given more breathing room, could have gone somewhere truly interesting. Takada’s wit and expressive art imbues the rather thin plot with a bubbly likability, but the end creates something of an abrupt tonal shift that makes me wonder if she planned something more, or just wrote herself into a corner.

Gaba Kawa is worth a read if you can get your hands on it, but I wouldn’t go out of my way or try to purchase it.

Next Week
Boys Over Flowers vol. 21
Dengeki Daisy. vol 14
A Devil and Her Love Song vol. 13 (conclusion!)
Fairy Cube vol. 1

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