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[Feb. 6th, 2006|12:38 pm]
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I wanted to point folks to an interesting article Tania Del Rio, taniadelrio, wrote for Buzzcope entitled, "Read this Way: Taking Shoujo For Granted". It brings up the fascinating discussion of how Japanese shoujo appeals to American girls and in what ways. She brings up some excellent points, from how we potentially take stronger female characters for granted, to how parents are often portrayed as non-integral to the story.

IMHO, I've thought of this a lot and love to see it taken in this approach, because it's always irritated me how many shoujo protagonists are portrayed as weak, submissive types. Now, there can often be an advantage to being submissive; it works in Japanese shoujo because the men in the stories are often portrayed as the protector, coming to the distressed damsel's defense.

But it just doesn't work that way in America. I consider myself a strong, independent woman, who doesn't want The Man coming to my defense. Or even another woman. Like Sumire in "Tramps Like Us," I feel that I have something to prove to myself first, before I can settle down and make another person happy. Not so much in Japanese shoujo. I just picked up the latest volume of "Hot Gimmick" this weekend, and while I started out loving the series, it's finally starting to irritate me. The protagonist has still refused to grow a backbone, and she only stands up for herself when she feels there's no other choice. She lets herself be pushed around and bullied by a guy who is OBVIOUSLY the verbally and physically abusive type (and trust me, those types don't change), and I think it sends out the totally wrong message; to submit even in situations that are bad for us. And this seems to happen a lot in Japanese shoujo.

But not so much in American shoujo. While there are still hints of submissiveness used to gain the upperhand and appeal to the male characters within the story ("Mark of the Succubus," "Dramacon") it isn't so well . . . blatant. The female protagonists in these stories aren't somebody's carpet to be used and walked over--girls who stand up for themselves once push comes to shove rather than docilely submitting to the whims of their antagonists. Yet other stories take even stronger roles by knocking guys out of the picture entirely. The protagonist of "Peach Fuzz," Amanda, isn't old enough to be interested in boys, so she has all the freedom to focus on herself, therefore immediately making her stronger, if not in character (something which is gained through the interaction with her and her her pet and her and her mother), then at least in willpower.

Even when creating "Steady Beat," I intentionally made a main character similar to how I was in high school. Willful, stubborn, bull headed, intelligent :P, and oftentimes naive but not easily taken advantage of. While there are an array of personality types and character styles, every culture has it's type it nurtures and rewards most. And in America, perhaps we nurture most those girls who ARE outspoken? We are encouraged to juggle double roles--the role of the traditional female, interested in relationships and family--and the role of the strong female, interested in career and advancement and success and fame. But perhaps this isn't the case so much in Japan? As Tania points out: "To a girl reading Tramps Like Us here in the West, Sumire’s choices may not seem that amazing," but to a Japanese woman, "Sumire is also a hero--a strong woman with ambitions who, despite being ostracized because of them, continues on the path that she chooses for herself."

And Tramps Like Us is my favorite shoujo/josei manga exactly because of that. Because it's an approach an American woman can easily relate to, but is so rarely portrayed in manga. But perhaps that's changing. ^_~
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: telophase
2006-02-06 11:27 am (UTC)

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Your first link needs fixin'. :D
[User Picture]From: lilrivkah
2006-02-06 11:51 am (UTC)

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Oops! Sorry about that! Fixed!
From: vikitty
2006-02-06 11:33 am (UTC)

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I really liked the discussions brought up in your post...I never actually thought about it. :/

And..Tramps Like Us is also one of my favorite manga. The artwork is delicious.
[User Picture]From: chatterbox_dc
2006-02-06 12:47 pm (UTC)

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Interesting post. While I was working on CRAZY PAPERS (which hardly qualifies as shoujo, I know) I didn't go in with a particular thematic intent - I just wanted it to be funny. Stepping back a little, though, I see that it's very much about three young women becoming the architects of their own destinies. The one who looks to a man for her path finds out - the hard way - that it's maybe not such a good idea. (And I say this writing as a man!)

Then again, that's what fits this *particular* story, and in a different setting a different approach might be appropriate. Still, something to consider.
[User Picture]From: taniadelrio
2006-02-06 02:46 pm (UTC)

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I know what you mean about Hot Gimmick. So many people seem to like that title and claim that it's a somehow a realistic portrayal of an insecure girl dealing with all sorts of pressure. What?!
Okay, I admit I keep reading it because I keep hoping that - someday - Hatsumi will grow a backbone and put Ryoki in his place but, 10 volumes in, she hasn't changed a bit. It's disgusting how Ryoki treats her - even if he does get lovey and sweet once every 200 pages.

But it's also interesting to note that Hot Gimmick is one of the few shoujo titles that prominently features the parents - not only of the protagonist, but of the supporting characters as well.
I think it does make the overall story more complex and multi-layered since the parents' pasts and personalities come into play. It's just too bad I can't stand the main character... :P
[User Picture]From: benchilada
2006-02-06 03:00 pm (UTC)

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The only thing my characters ever seem to have in common with me is the sense of humor. I seem to only write characters who are not terribly like me at all.

PS -- http://benchilada.livejournal.com/145633.html
From: glistmoon
2006-02-06 03:44 pm (UTC)

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This is intersting! I hope I can add my two cents :p.

I think that there is, in shoujo manga, a lot of submissive females, who really don't stand up from themselves when they should or can. But I also think that even the strongest of them may start out that way, so by the end, when they have changed, it is more gratifying to the reader; to show they went from 'I won't speak out' to 'I'm speaking my mind' (even though people do this all the time and get yelled at for it if it appears rude >.<). I think many characters who tend to have no backbone guage alot of sympathy in some sense, but can be a turn off to another. I'm wondering slightly if having no backbone is, in shoujo manga, the way 'searching for yourself' is seen; you basically obey what most people tell you, because you aren't sure of who YOU are yet and what YOU want to tell yourself.

Personally, even though (this isn't aimed at you but I'm just throwing it in there like cookies! XD) I see it annoys many people to see shy, quiet main characters- or at least ones who don't speak out as much- I don't get tired of it. XD I know the way many forgive so much- as Tsukushi from Hana Yori Dango and Tohru from Fruits Basket- annoys others as well sometimes, but it sort of uplifts me personally. Forgiving isn't so easy to do, and I believe it's the only way to live happily (at least sometimes) with no bad, cloudy feelings in your heart sometimes (hee hee, maybe not all..ah, getting all vauge here).

I'm just thinking shoujo manga may show how to be a strong, independent woman even if you aren't able to speak out just yet. ((But I also see a lot of characters, sometimes not main characters, who speak out quite often in the way you mean; Nobara from Crimson Hero, Kodochas Sana and Fuka.)) I think, in a way, you can possibly be strong either way...

Maybe Hot Gimmicks situation is symbolic and thats how it appeals to readers. 0_o Or that someone believes someone who is filled with anger can change, even though society doesn't and that that beliefe, when applied in a safe manner (or by running away until the person can prove they are truly not that way, but I guess they don't have to prove anything if they don't wanna...?! o_0) is heroic in shoujo manga-*stops and eats cookies, then forgets what she was trying to point and shrugs...and gives free manga! XD*

But, I also think that not wanting to raise a fuss or speak out, and taking abuse you don't deserve is completely different. ((Just cause you forgive doesn't mean you have to put up with it either.)) Although the world can stand to be more forgiving when others who make mistakes try to make amends. (I think that's why the...what-ah, 'Mary Sue' types may be appealing, like Tohru from Fruits Basket or Belldandy from Oh My Goddess!-*not saying she is a Mary Sue*- she forgives easily which may make readers think that even if you say, or do something wrong, you can be forgiven personally. That's one reason why those sort of characters appeal to me; because you know they would forgive you if you made a mistake and not call you 'horrible' as those in todays world do.)

I do see a difference in main characters in OEL (ahhh!! I honestly want to just say 'shoujo' but I gotta show which I mean I guess...;_;) manga though; I think there is more of a focus on pleasing ones self than others in OEL so far...but I do think you can reverse it and still, y'know, be in the right. All depends.

This is mighty intersting. For me, it's kind of hard to think of OEL manga and shoujo different in some ways; it all feels like manga to me when I open the page, and all the characters- OEL or not- still seem human.

***I want to apologize if this post offended in any way. It wasn't my intention, but I thought the comparison was intersting; kind of like how being a victim of abuse (Hot Gimmick) and taking it equals bravery but not strength, and then speaking out equals bravery too, but not necessarily good person (it's funny how respect is easily won if you are prone to st-ah, I don't know what I'm trying to point out now.) This was great to read- got me thinkin'! (Now, I shall read the article! *Shouts: Baka!!* Eep, sumemasen..)**
From: glistmoon
2006-02-06 03:48 pm (UTC)

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**Augh, I noticed how long my post was and want to apologize!** But I also remembered reading at some point woman in shoujo manga show the emotional side of life (but can show physical too). I suppose it's more like...accepting the hero as he is, journeying that way, and then being with him; wanting him there but also learning to grow a backbone at the sametime as balance...

Wa ha ha ha! I sound like a duck! I'm not sure I'm capturing what I mean in the right words-sumemasen! XD Ah, let me wander off now...!**
From: glistmoon
2006-02-06 03:55 pm (UTC)

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**Seriously leaving after this! XD** I just read the article, and find it awesom that girls are reading shonen as well (I know I do). Maybe it is the action that draws in the reader, and that feeling of want is universal; wanting adventure, ships, ninjas, fighting hard for your Hokage-like dream. Maybe it's the lack of action that cause some girls to shift, but the same can go for anyone I guess. (I got to my bookstores and find girls reading shonen and some boys reading shoujo too! ^^ .I'm very happy about the fact that I am seeing even more cultures of all ethnic groups join in the fun as well!-But I still love my book books! ^^)
Hooray for manga in general yo! Reading mangas the way to go! (But how would I know..>.<) ...I think I am a bit too passionate about this peice.
[User Picture]From: stevebennett
2006-02-06 07:34 pm (UTC)

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Hey!

Enjoyed reading your Steady Beat you gave me at Ushicon!
Should have got you to sign it for me!!
Man, was cool to see you there and meet thr dude in your life.
:)
Keep on drawing and keep up the good work Riv!
Steve B.
From: crispypoohs
2006-02-06 07:36 pm (UTC)

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I think Tiana makes a great point about American readers taking advantage of the freedom that they have, not necessarily in a bad way, but simply in a way that doesn’t let them fully appreciate the complexity of shoujo manga. However, I think she left out one MAJOR thing that draws American girls to shounen manga. The Fangirl Factor.

In America, and likely around the world, anything that groups of girls can get together and talk about / swoon over is readily eaten up. When looking at shoujo manga, you can clearly see that there are the pretty boy types – but let’s face it – girls don’t want them. Looking at Hot Gimmick, part of the appeal to the characters is that Ryoki treats Hatsumi like shit. You hate him, but every 200 pages when he manages to break down and do something nice, you’re just drawn that much closer to him. However, boys that are able to be swooned over aren’t as prevalent in shoujo manga. Granted they might be pretty – but they’re not necessarily the type that girls want. Even the main characters tend to be off-putting. I know in my publications class, the fangirl corner has blatantly said that they don’t like Hot Gimmick because Hatsumi’s spine has yet to develop.

Shounen manga offers more of a sense of community. Girls tend to be the more outspoken fans, in my mind. Boys will read comics and feel as though they’re superior to others, feeling like they know everything there is to know about that story, but girls will actually talk about it outright with their friends who might be interested in the same thing.

Another thing that she might have left out in her article is the fact that many girls read shounen manga in Japan, too. I believe I read somewhere that 40% of the subscriptions to Shounen Jump in Japan are read by girls. Perhaps that was just attendees to Jump-Fest in Japan – I’m not sure. But, regardless, girls DO read these stories in Japan, too. The gender rules might be more defined there, but manga is something that manages to assimilate both sexes, despite what may look like clear divisions so far as taste and expectations go.

I think the draw to shounen manga is the fact that the characters appear stronger and more determined. Not only are the swoon-able boys, but they’re characters who have a goal, or a mission, and attempt to follow through with all their hearts. Girls in America can relate to this far better than they can to a Japanese girl who is dealing with the trials and tribulations of choosing between three boys that she likes. That’s not a realistic scenario for girls in the states (well, most girls), but the attainment of your goals is something that anyone, regardless of gender can relate to.

What’s interesting, too, is that it appears that more shoujo manga are being licensed in the states. I’m not sure whether or not it’s more than shounen manga, but if it’s not, it’s at least very near to equal. Apparently SOMEONE is reading them…
[User Picture]From: mouseakins
2006-02-08 07:11 am (UTC)

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I agree with you completely. I am addicted to Hot Gimmick for unknown reasons, and have found that I usually am having to chose between 3 boys o_o;, but I also love a lot of shonen manga for a lot of the reasons you posted. While I can relate to some shoujo, it's the heart and obsticles in most shonen that attracks me to it.
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[User Picture]From: riyuen
2006-02-15 09:52 pm (UTC)

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On doujinshi, I think shounen manga is more appealing to create for, as there are as you say, the adventure/fantastical appeal, and exploring the world that other people have created. Shounen tends to have large casts as well, and there's generally just more for fans to play with. Most shoujo has a smaller cast, and storylines tend to be more wrapped up (i.e heroine ends up with hero, they are happy etc) and tend to finish quicker - giving fans less to work with, and also interest dies off a bit when a series is concluded. (Fandoms also tend to be smaller and not last as long? Can't really think of any shoujo that can equal the current juggernauts like Naruto, Bleach, Full Metal Alchemist and One Piece except Sailor Moon) I would more say there's just less people on the whole doing fanstuff for shoujo works in general.
From: reiuji
2006-02-07 03:20 pm (UTC)

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I think that is exactly why I cannot get into Hot Gimmick.
It's super-popular, and some friends of mine like it. I'd been reading more shoujo lately, so I decided to try it out. But I stopped after four volumes and don't think I'll finish it.
I just can't relate to Hatsumi, and I really don't like the abusive ways that some of the male characters act or the way Hatsumi deals with it. Hatsumi is way too damn submissive and not very smart and it's frustrating.
There's no spark in her personality that makes me cheer her on. I just feel bad for her.
[User Picture]From: owen_the_og
2006-02-07 08:34 pm (UTC)

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I'd kinda like to see a Dworkinite shojou manga.
[User Picture]From: mouseakins
2006-02-08 07:36 am (UTC)

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It's hard to input on this because I feel like one of the "rare" fans here. I enjoy both shonen and shoujo, but more often than not am only reading shoujo. I've been a huge fan of "Hana Yori Dango" since my first convention many years ago. My friends and I would gossip and squeal over Kiley in "Peach Girl," and now I'm addicted to "Hot Gimmick" even though I think the main character should stand up for herself and some of the sitations are just too weird. Somehow I never really got into "Tramps Like Us." Perhaps it is because it seemed so familiar of the way women are in this country today, and the idea of finding love in such a romantic, emotional, and dreamy way is more appealing. Maybe I'm just old fashioned, or perhaps it's just how situations in my own life have been able to relate so well to the shoujo that I do read.



[User Picture]From: riyuen
2006-02-15 09:42 pm (UTC)

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And in America, perhaps we nurture most those girls who ARE outspoken? We are encouraged to juggle double roles--the role of the traditional female, interested in relationships and family--and the role of the strong female, interested in career and advancement and success and fame. But perhaps this isn't the case so much in Japan?

I would say in Japan there's a culture of being completely indirect and not outspoken at all, for both males and females. For example, when asked to go out and not wanting to, it's said that a typically japanese answer would be "It sounds good but..." or other similarly vague answers! But it's all got to do with the idea of manners and consideration, and of course the onus weighs more heavily on girls. (Dammit, I want to use rude male speech patterns, because they're so much more fun to say!)

That being said, there are stronger shoujo heroines around (I can think of quite a few - like Tania Del Rio said, the heroine of Hana Yori Dango, and off the top of my head, the heroines of Skip Beat (my personal favourite), Tokyo Crazy Paradise, Penguin Brothers, Kare Kano, W-Juliet's and so on are all strong and more then able to stand up for themselves against males. Perhaps it's because the shoujo I do encounter with wilting heroines I avoid like the plague, but even when shoujo heroines aren't obviously strong like the ones listed above, they can still...not be weak, you know? Taking some of the more popular shoujo authors, like Yoshizumi Wataru's (probably best known for Marmalade Boy, but I'm more thinking about Random Walk and Minto na Bokura), Shiina Ayumi's or Hisaya Nakajo's (Hana-kimi)type of heroines - while they are not so outspoken and ...ah, how to phrase to this...very concerned with their love interests, or just plain love-struck a lot of the time, they do have a backbone, and interests and concerns other then the love interest, even though the focusM of the storyline is usually interaction with the love interest. I find it also interesting that while the hero/love interest may have to swoop to the rescue every now and then during the romantic hijinks, the heroine usually has to heal him of some deep-seated trauma (who's rescuing who in the end? Or is it - argh - the love of a good woman heals all ills message actually?)

It's also kind of worrying how the general impression is outspoken/outgoing = strong. Quiet heroines can be strong as well, if much more difficult to portray convincingly. I can't think of any within the shoujo genre at the moment, and very few outside of it even - the lineup being Tomoe of Rurouni Kenshin and Ayanami Rei of Evangelion (who's often accused of merely being passive. Whut?).

Some of the weakness of shoujo heroines might also be put down to the romance factor - I don't why, but a lot of teenage or romance novel heroines are down right nauseating, and since the bulk that I know of are written by if not americans, then western authors, why do similar conventions bind them?

Out of interest, other then Hot Gimmick (which because of the main character's lack of backbone is like the proverbial trainwreck - devastating, but you have to look) and Yuu Watase's heroines (a pretty pathetic bunch) which shoujo manga have heroines that really absolutely aren't "female protagonists in these stories aren't somebody's carpet to be used and walked over--girls who stand up for themselves once push comes to shove rather than docilely submitting to the whims of their antagonists"?

Sorry if this is a bit incoherent and/or typo-tastic, I just came back from America (of all places! XD) and I've been without food for a while in addition to jet lag.
[User Picture]From: kitsukamo
2006-02-16 07:01 pm (UTC)

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I totally agree with you.

Altho some shoujo mangas may have characters portrayed as passive, the ones you have mentioned (which I've read and recognized) are rather strong in implicit ways. And the recent shoujo stories have stronger female protagonists too.

I guess shoujo stories maybe have been stereotyped negatively just because (like someone has said above) of cultural differences. I tend to find Japanese stories objective and distant, (like their language) so much of the characters pyschology aren't revealed to the readers but Japanese readers might easily infer from their words or actions the character's strength. But to a Western reader who are used to explicit ways of showing strength, the subtly doenst help explain the characters "passiveness".

So in this way, I think that some female protagonist gets passed off as passive when they might not be. Oh well, just my two cents...:-/