lennan: (Default)
[personal profile] lennan
Originally, I was simply going to write about Otomen, particularly in light of a review that I had read, but when I found this in Slate the other day, I felt I had to mention it. The two subjects are in a way related.

I don't know much about Slate, so I'm not sure if this is a common occurrence, but I was rather surprised to see that there was an article there on Japanese "pop" trends. In fact, I had just read about "Soushoku Danshi" here a few days prior to reading the Slate article. Considering my Western and Californian sensibilities, I was rather intrigued by the content of the Slate article. As a woman, I find guys like this more attractive than the aggressive type, so it's interesting to see that this freaks out Japanese women. I wonder if that type of response is less Japano-centric and more of a general fear of change in norms of gender roles than anything, though...it sounds like what women were bemoaning some years ago about guys not being aggressive in relationships anymore and how woman have to make the first move (note: I was relatively young when this was going on). Although the article is about Japanese women, I have to wonder, what is it about women in general who, while they enjoy being independent and rather strong, also want men to play this, well, in some ways fictitious role of "carnivorous predator". This is sort of how I can understand why a good number of women really get hot for books like Twilight, which for all the sparkly vampires is simply a Harlequin Romance with an Alpha Male. Despite the fact that I don't understand why they like this. Is that secretly (or not so secretly) what a number of women really want?* XD

I have a subscription to Bessatsu Hana to Yume magazine. I finally broke down when I got sick of waiting a year or more for tankoban of Boku wo Tsutsumu Tsuki no Hikari to come out. I did however make certain that it was worth the relatively hefty sum to get this shipped to me. So I think this would make me ahead of most reviewers and certainly of the review that I'm going to talk about.

Otomen, which is published by Viz over here was reviewed in a negatively positive way, it's not exactly the review I read...I read it in a different location but the content is the same. I recognized the parts that really struck me.

This review made me wonder if we weren't just missing the forest for the trees, since we (Westerners) are programmed by feminism to look at the extremes of gender stereotypes and critique them, especially if they disadvantage women. I'm also wondering at the accuracy of the reviewer's statement that this manga may be implying that only a man can make a perfect woman. If you look at Ryou in that light, then it can equally be interpreted that only a woman can be the perfect man. Isn't that equally offensive to men? Both characters give off the impression that they are the "perfect man/woman", but inside their "perfection" is set in the body of the opposite gender. But I think even from the start, it's clear that while Asuka is girly inside, Ryou is manly inside. The real critique should be like Oyceter's review, where she wishes there was more Ryou screen time (and more other non-traditional women). So maybe the real point is that men and women as a whole both exhibit masculine and feminine stereotypical traits, unless you're the extreme example of Asuka and Ryou, and the old manga stand-by of "be true to yourself". I have a hard time believing that Asuka and Ryou are more than fantastical constructs and the vehicle for the romance, the minor and background characters are more interesting gender role meta than the main characters, if you're really looking for that.

For example, the truly "masculine" like Ryou or the truly "feminine" like Asuka or Iruka in Volume 2 are extremes, they're even presented as extremes whether verbally or by backgrounds like Iruka's playhouse. The majority of people in the manga lie in between like the boy who chased after Juuta in jealousy over flirting with his girlfriend, who later on becomes a fan of "Love Chick (Tic?)" and reads it with his girlfriend. Bonding experience, perhaps? XD Or girls like Yukari who exhibit very "manly" traits that some of us (me) would call simply pragmatic when she told Juuta that she just plays around with good-looking young men now, but would marry a normal looking, rich man when she turned 25. Even Juuta is more one of those gender line blurring characters than Asuka or Ryou. This is what makes Asuka's mother's determination in upholding the "tradition" of man and woman so distasteful. It's unnatural and certainly doesn't make people happy.

But obviously, Asuka and Ryou are examples of the extremes of gender (in the 5/25 issue Ryou seems to have the "perfect" male attitudes complete with iron weights, things like trophies, and thousands of fight DVDs. Honestly, how is that less stereotypically male than Asuka's girly room is stereotypically female?). Well, this is Shoujo after all. And shoujo as a "genre" needs the ever present romance. The reviewer's critique of Kanno Aya not going far enough in gender satire (a critique that I've seen elsewhere too) and weariness of the "shoujo" romance strikes me as...well, a bizarre thing to criticize? This is a serialized manga in a phonebook magazine, so the stories aren't going to deviate too far from the cliches for fairly obvious reasons. It's a bit too much to ask from something that is completely reliant on sales to continue to exist. This is like asking Bleach or Full Metal Alchemist to stop using the tropes of a shounen fight manga. It's the power of consumption validating cliche, like it or not (which is also why I have to admit the existence of something like Harry Potter as much as I have major problems with it). I understand why a "real" critic feels the need to point this out, but to expect more is really asking too much of a commodity product.**

That said, I think that the gender twists and the plot do become stronger after volume 2 (a critique I agree with, although I was unimpressed with the beach chapter) and the added young "otomen" characters. The story is still episodic, although now it seems like it has more direction and the added characters of Kurogawa Kitora and Tounomine Hajime are interesting, giving more of a dynamic to the original trio/foursome (if you count Arisaki). In fact, for those two, it's less that they're girly inside than that they like things that people think are "feminine". For instance, Tounomine Hajime reminds me more of a diva artist than a girly man. Although, I'm certain that people will also think that he gives off gay vibes. For the Asuka/Ryou relationship it gradually becomes clearer that it's not a matter of misunderstanding through words but the classic miscommunication between men and women, where one does not understand what the other is thinking. This is shown clearest in volume 7, one example being where Asuka and a ghost have some "girl talk" and Asuka reveals he has no idea how Ryou feels about him and that it makes him uneasy. What's also interesting to note is that in the splash pages (and in manga) where Asuka was drawn as the typical stoic man, he has been drawn more recently as gentler, perhaps showing more of his true self. Lastly, I'm not so sure that Kanno isn't just poking fun at manga as a whole, seeing as she uses all sorts of styles, raning from old-fashioned shounen to girly 70s shoujo manga to her "modern" style. You could say that Tounomine sounds a lot like a certain Bleach character name Ishida Uryuu, down to the drama queen behavior and how the Asuka/Tounomine relationship is very similar to Ishida/Ichigo, where one obliviously considers the other to be a friend, while the other tries hard to pretend they're not. To be honest, I was half-wondering when I first started reading this series if this story started out initially as the mangaka's crack version of the Bleach universe.

*I'm not making any judgments on this tastes, but simply, understanding or liking this doesn't come naturally to me.

**And personally, I can see how this sort of behavior makes most people hate critics, since it just makes the critic sound unduly negative...or looking for something to gripe about. Reading reviews by someone like Ursula le Guin made me realize the fine line a critic has to walk in order to sound appropriately fair. Granted UKL also has experience teaching budding writers so she would know how to say, "this doesn't work for me" without making it sound like she's bitter that the world doesn't run according to her tastes. It's also like asking Harry Potter to give more than it does of which I'll admit I've been guilty.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-06-19 11:50 pm (UTC)
charmian: a snowy owl (Default)
From: [personal profile] charmian
This is a great review. Unfortunately, I am waaaaay far behind in Otomen, so I can't say as much.

The other thing that strikes me is that, not only is Otomen a commercial product, it struck me as a rather flat, gag style manga which isn't really trying to be that deep. Er, not that all manga isn't a commercial product, but when you compare the emotional risks and emotional realism that goes on compared to something like PSME or Nana, it comes up short and makes it hard to take seriously as saying anything much at all.

"Despite the fact that I don't understand why they like this. Is that secretly (or not so secretly) what a number of women really want?* XD"

Not sure on the latter, but I think it DEFINITELY is what (some) women FANTASIZE about in fiction. Interestingly I've discussed these things IRL with people and have also met women who declared they prefer a man to be strong than to be gentle, everything else being equal. On the other hand, I think the actual most important thing is to "get it" (or "me"); in other words, the most important thing is "understanding."

(no subject)

Date: 2009-06-23 08:31 am (UTC)
charmian: a snowy owl (Default)
From: [personal profile] charmian
Indeed, nowadays I feel positively irritated reading a story w/o direction if it's not completed. What do you mean about "real conflict" though?

Yeah, that is also rather simplistic.

Yeah, pretty much. Like, where do these come from? Is it good/bad that they exist? That sort of thing.

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