Recommendations – Spring update

It’s been a while since I updated my recommendations! I’m going to start aiming for at least quarterly updates, so while it may not include all the best anime from the previous season, it’ll give you a better idea of what I’ve been reading and watching lately.

In this:
Beauty is the Beast
Pink
Fruits Basket (manga update)
Dawn of the Arcana
Complex Age
In This Corner of the World
Flip Flappers
Recovery of an MMO Junkie
Fushigi Yugi (yes, really!)
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Beauty is the Beast

When Eimi Yamashita’s parents move abroad for work, she decides to go live in her school’s dorm. Her quirky, off-beat personality and carefree nature quickly endear her to her dormmates, as well as some of the residents of the boys’ dorm. She finds herself most drawn to Wanibuchi, a young man with a dangerous reputation.

Beauty is the Beast makes an interesting addition to the army of shoujo manga centered around a troubled bad boy. Viz’s copy makes it sound like a romantic melodrama, but it’s much closer to a slice-of-life comedy with some sprinkling of drama. Mangaka Tomo Matsumoto draws on her own experiences from living in a dorm, using them as a source for characters and plot threads, giving it a gentle, grounded atmosphere. I don’t know if Eimi is based on reality – she’s a bit too airheaded and strange to feel quite real. Wanibuchi, on the other hand, is indeed a troubled bad boy, but in a much more believable way than most of his ilk. His anger is justified, and his sense of alienation as a returnee comes across keenly. He never turns his anger against Eimi, nor does the narrative put pressure on her to “fix” him. It’s a light, pleasant read with enough darker undertones to make it compelling. Unfortunately, it ends quite abruptly – I suspect it was cancelled in its original run. It’s a shame, because I would have loved to read more.

Continue reading “Recommendations – Spring update”

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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?”

Continue reading “Abusive Relationships in Shoujo Manga by the Numbers: Week 18”

Abusive Relationships in Shoujo Manga by the Numbers: Week 17

This 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

Prestige Shoujo

Have y’all checked out Children of the Whales yet? Netflix is still holding the anime hostage, but the first volume of the manga is out in English. It’s good, solid fantasy that builds up a world I’m interested in exploring more, with an interesting magic system and plenty of mystery. The character writing is a little stiff, but the intrigue more than makes up for it.

It’s also the first shoujo series to be published under the Viz Signature line. For the uninitiated, Viz has a few imprints: Shojo Beat for their shoujo titles; Shonen Jump for, well, Shonen Jump; Viz Select for smaller digital releases; and Viz Signature, which they define as “Bringing classic and cutting-edge graphic novels to an audience of discerning readers hungry for sophisticated stories and superlative art.” This is great, except the line reminds me more of the tastes of old-school comic book guys that blocked shoujo out of the US manga scene for much of the 80’s and 90’s. Yes, it does have some complex, challenging series, such as the various works of Naoki Urasawa and Inio Asano. But, other than a couple of Fumi Yoshinaga works and Children of the Whales, it’s almost universally seinen.

Continue reading “Abusive Relationships in Shoujo Manga by the Numbers: Week 17”

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. Continue reading “Abusive Relationships in Shoujo Manga by the Numbers: Week 16”

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?

Continue reading “Abusive Relationships in Shoujo Manga by the Numbers: Week 15”

Abuse in Shoujo by the Numbers: Week 14

Last Week:
Black Bird vol. 14
Boys Over Flowers vol. 12
Dawn of the Arcana vol. 9
The Demon Prince of Momochi House vol. 6
Dengeki Daisy vol. 5
A Devil and Her Love Song vol. 4

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Black Bird vol. 14

Sho is finally making a direct move against Kyo, and the battle between them is a close match. Will Sho’s recent feast on Misao’s blood give him the power to overcome Kyo? Or does Sho hope being killed in front of her will add to the pain of betrayal Misao already feels? (summary by Viz)

9 points

The Sho arc of Black Bird draws to a close and Misao returns home. Kyo apparently hypnotized her parents into thinking she was only gone for a night, when really he had spirited away their daughter for months. This strikes me as remarkably scuzzy, and I don’t think it was every explained previously exactly what he was doing and how he was isolating her. She also has been out of school all that time and is terribly behind on her schoolwork, so of course Kyo — ahem, Mr. Usui — has to tutor her. None of her friends seem particularly concerned about her months-long disappearance either. “Isolating from family and friends” is a major sign of potential abuse and, though Misao chose to go with Kyo voluntarily, she was effectively cut off from everyone outside Kyo’s tengu clan, with no one to support her if things went sour.

Continue reading “Abuse in Shoujo by the Numbers: Week 14”

Abusive Relationships in Shoujo Manga by the Numbers: Week 13

Funny how illness works. You spend a week feeling off in some way – tired, foggy, achey – and figure it has to be something environmental. Not enough sleep, too much processed food, changes in weather, or even your room being too goddamn messy making it hard for you focus. Then next thing you know, you get sent home from work after only a half hour on a busy day because you’re struggling to lift a 20-pound toddler and end up laid up on the couch with a 100+ degree fever. Then the fever breaks, you wake up in the middle of the night drenched in sweat, and the next day you feel better than you have in ages.

Then you totally overdo it at karaoke that same day and set yourself way back again. Ah, well. Such is life. No getting around it.

This week:
Black Bird vol. 13
Boys Over Flowers vol. 11
Dawn of the Arcana vol. 8
The Demon Prince of Momochi House vol. 5
Dengeki Daisy vol. 4
A Devil and Her Love Song vol. 3

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Black Bird vol. 13

Sho’s plans to plunge the world into chaos continue as he targets the Eight Daitengu, hoping to strip his brother Kyo of all his protectors. And now Sho has Hoki, whose secret past makes him easy prey.

Can Hoki stand up to Sho, or will his efforts to aid Kyo backfire? (summary by Viz)

1 point

Kyo and Misao spend very little time together in this volume. You can’t abuse your wife if you’re not around her, I guess!

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Boys Over Flowers vol. 11

Tsukushi has just two weeks to prepare for the Teen of Japan contest! She can’t do it all on her own so Tsukasa’s sister, Tsubaki, offers her tutors in everything she’ll need to know to win. She must stay at the Domyoji mansion while she receives her lessons. Can Tsukushi stand the rigors of this training, and will anyone bolster her spirits? (summary by Viz)

5 points

Doumyouji actually spends most of this volume being kind and supportive to Tsukushi. He only chews her out when, in her frustration, she tries to quit training for the Teen of Japan contest, and that’s only to motivate her and renew her fighting spirit. So, what’s the big difference between this volume and all the previous ones?

Tsukushi is effectively under Domyoji’s control the whole time. She’s living in his house, learning from his tutors, trying to pay back money he loaned her. It shows exactly what he ultimately wants from her: a girl who, while she goes through the motions of putting up a fight, does what he wants and when. If Tsukushi actually defies him, he turns violent and abusive; if she shouts and fusses before ultimately giving in, he’s “admiring her spirit”. The lesson comes through loud and clear: be a “strong woman”, but only so far as it doesn’t get in the way of romance. I don’t want to totally discount Tsukushi’s strength – she’s incredibly self-reliant and stands up for herself in the face of adversity, plus she supports her family for the last two volumes – but ultimate goal of the series is for her to submit to Domyoji.

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Dawn of the Arcana vol. 8

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 even as political forces threaten to tear their world apart. As Nakaba becomes embroiled in the chaos within the country of Lithuanel, Caesar prepares to return to Belquat to face the possibility of execution! Meanwhile, Nakaba’s Arcana of Time power reveals some disturbing details about her attendant Loki’s past… (summary by Viz)

3 points

Caesar decides to pull the classic romance move of trying to emotionally distance himself from his loved one in order to avoid hurting her as he heads back to Belquat. He doesn’t consult Nakaba about whether or not she actually wants to try to start a new life in Lithuanel, because these boys never do. This emotional withdrawal did garner the volume a point, although I wouldn’t call it abusive – more of an eye-rolly, unwelcome sort of self-indulgent “noble” sacrifice. Emotional withdrawal is one of the more ambiguous potential signs of abuse where context matters. It can be done as a choice, conscious or otherwise, in order to punish one’s partner, rather than a legitimate unhealthy reaction to environmental or internal factors. Withdrawing because your partner talked to someone you didn’t like? Potentially abusive. Withdrawing because of a mental illness flare-up? Unhealthy, but not abusive. Caesar isn’t doing it as a way to punish Nakaba, even if he is being presumptuous in not offering the choice whether or not to stand by him.

The more interesting part of the volume comes when Nakaba withdraws into her own past using the Arcana of Time. She chuckles at her own memory of Prince Adel taunting her and pulling her braid, reflecting on how it reminds her of Caesar when they first met. Handled properly, I would have expected this moment to trigger her, not cause her to giggle as if at a cute memory. She doesn’t want to say anything to Caesar, because it would upset him, but she can look back at it so fondly? Seeing a lifetime of severe emotional and physical abuse reflected in a partner shouldn’t be shrugged off so lightly. I’ve been giving Dawn of the Arcana a pass because Nakaba and Caesar’s relationship improved so dramatically, but bringing it back up reflects poorly on the whole series.

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The Demon Prince of Momochi House vol. 5

Himari Momochi inherits Momochi House, an estate that exists on the barrier between the human and spiritual realms. The waters of the seven sacred falls have become polluted, and Himari, Aoi and the shikigami cross over to the spiritual realm to find the cause. But during an attempt to purify the waters, Himari is taken away by the dragon god! (summary by Viz)

3 points

I’ve really been enjoying Himari and Aoi’s slowly deepening relationship so far. They’ve slowly gotten more comfortable around each other, gradually ramping up their physical affection and emotional intimacy in a way that feels fairly natural. It’s rare for shoujo romance to find a comfortable middle ground between the “pure” series where it takes ten volumes for them to touch hands and the steamy ones where the boy immediately starts groping the girl, so the dynamic between the two has been welcome. It also brings up a major bump: Aoi becomes jealous of Himari spending time with Hayato. The series handles it in a way that doesn’t come across entirely badly. Aoi lacks a framework for understanding his own emotions and reactions, so his dislike of the two spending time together is an instinctive reaction he can’t define. How the situation develops will be make or break.

Oh, and he punishes by tying her up with fluffy fox yokai, while she squirms and complains that she’s ticklish. Um, okay?

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Dengeki Daisy vol. 4

Discovering DAISY’s true identity not only shocks Teru but makes things more confusing for her as well. Meanwhile, someone pretending to be DAISY threatens to spread a computer virus at school! But who’s the true target of this attack? (summary by Viz)

7 points

The main thrust of this volume is Teru processing that Kurosaki is Daisy and how that affects her relationship with him, and Kurosaki continues wrestle with his ethically gray past. At first, Teru has trouble talking to “Daisy” the same way she used to, but soon settles back into the same dynamic. She manages to maintain the status quo with both sides of the relationship, but now she only smiles at Kurosaki’s barrage of verbal abuse and blackmail because she knows that what he says as Daisy is how he really feels. Because bullying is okay if the bully really likes you!  I’m so tired of when a boy teases a girl – or, in this case, a man teases a girl – it means he likes her, and that makes it okay.

Naturally, Teru turns to her friends to talk about the sudden revelation about Daisy’s identity and to help her process her feelings. Not a single one seems concerned that he’s an adult, that he’s a staff member at her school, that he teases her mercilessly. They only offer advice on what she can do to advance her relationship with him and emotionally support him, even when he rips a necklace off of her because she was going to wear it to a group date.

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A Devil and Her Love Song vol. 3

Hana Ibuki, a cheerful soul, waltzes into Maria’s life and befriends her right away. She even convinces wary classmates to join Maria’s choral group. There’s something suspicious about Hana’s help, however, especially since misconceptions about Maria occur every time Hana is involved. Is Hana really a friend or actually a foe? (summary by Viz)

2 points

Maria and Yusuke’s relationship has smoothed back out, and he’s back to being Maria’s close ally along with Shin and Tomoyo. This week, the antagonist is newcomer Hana, a dangerously manipulative girl who gets away with it by being tiny, adorable, and charming. To be honest, she’s a pretty standard shoujo manga “frenemy” figure cut from the same cloth as Kimi ni Todoke’s Kurumi, Boys Over Flowers’ Sakurako, and a number of others: she harbors a long-time crush on the male love interest, performs femininity better than the awkward main character, and uses these things to control the rest of the class. By the end of the volume, the heroine sees through her bullshit and warmly declares her a rival.

What I’m trying to say is, this installment of A Devil and Her Love Song is pretty rote shoujo fare, with Maria as its saving grace, no pun intended. She’s not so perceptive as to be omniscient, but her blunt way of speaking and uncanny ability to read people make her a fun character. That nature also makes Shin, who is often outright rude, more palatable than he probably would be with a more mild-mannered heroine. He crosses the line sometimes, but the two generally have a fun back-and-forth. The story’s focus more on bullying for now, but once it crosses into romance? He’s my pick.

Next Week
Black Bird vol. 14
Boys Over Flowers vol. 12
Dawn of the Arcana vol. 9
The Demon Prince of Momochi House vol. 6
Dengeki Daisy vol. 5
A Devil and Her Love Song vol. 4

Abusive Relationships in Shoujo Manga by the Numbers: Week 12

This week:
Black Bird vol. 12
Boys Over Flowers vol. 10
Dawn of the Arcana vol. 7
Demon Love Spell vol. 6
The Demon Prince of Momochi House vol. 4
Dengeki Daisy vol. 3
A Devil and Her Love Song vol. 2

Although shoujo has been around in Japan about as long as manga in its current form has, it took a long time to find an audience in the US.

Actually, no. Scratch that. The audience was always here. It took a long time to for it to become accessible to its audience here.

A long, long time ago, in the strange era knowns as the “80s and 90s”, manga was first starting to come to the US, but it was a far cry from what we know today. The industry was controlled by comic books guys and intended to appeal to other comic book guys, so most of what came over was what was already in their wheelhouse: seinen and shonen. And while they imported many classics in that time, such as Maison Ikkoku, Akira, and Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, attitudes toward shoujo ranged from “inconsequential fluff” to “unmarketable.” It wasn’t until the late 90’s, when Sailor Moon became a modest success, that companies started considering teenage girls a viable audience. And when Tokyopop, for all the things they did wrong, embraced that audience, they ushered in a manga boom that would change the face of the US manga industry forever. Continue reading “Abusive Relationships in Shoujo Manga by the Numbers: Week 12”

Abuse in Shoujo by the Numbers: Week 11

No big intro this week, but I’d love to get some reader perspectives! If possible, could you drop a comment answering any (or even all) of these questions:

  1. Were you familiar with any of these series before, and has this column changed your perspective on them?
  2. Have you decided to pick up series I was writing about?
  3. Have you decided AGAINST picking up any series I was writing about?
  4. How do you personally feel about the way shoujo manga depicts these relationships?
  5. Do you have any subjects you’d like to see me write about in the intro?

This week:
Black Bird vol. 11
Boys Over Flowers vol. 9
Dawn of the Arcana vol. 6
Demon Love Spell vol. 5
The Demon Prince of Momochi House vol. 3
Dengeki Daisy vol. 2
The Devil and Her Love Song vol. 1

Continue reading “Abuse in Shoujo by the Numbers: Week 11”

Abuse in Shoujo Manga by the Numbers: Week 10

This Week:
Black Bird vol. 10
Boys Over Flowers vol. 8
Dawn of the Arcana vol. 5
Demon Love Spell vol. 4
The Demon Prince of Momochi House vol. 2
Dengeki Daisy vol. 1

On Holding Up

I was visiting my family a few days ago, and my mom hauled out a crate of my old manga to pick through. There was some stuff in there that I had no real desire to revisit – why did I have a book that was just frames from the Chobits anime with the dialogue in word balloons? – but I did manage to scrounge up a couple volumes of Mars – 3 and 6, to be exact. The series is long out of print and I haven’t read it in years, but I remembered the series fondly and was curious about whether it would hold up.

Continue reading “Abuse in Shoujo Manga by the Numbers: Week 10”