The place promised in earlier days: On Usotsuki Lily

thor… It’s like Japanese women’s pornography, without the pornography… (TM)

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Manga/UsotsukiLily
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Margaret_(magazine)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ayumi_Komura
http://usotsukilily.wikia.com/wiki/Usotsuki_Lily_Wikia fan wikia, somewhat empty; there is no english language wikipedia entry yet.

Note: Spoiler warning! It seemed unfair to so use this manga without giving it a thorough treatment (that goes on wayyyy too long), so spoilers ensue… 

A year ago, I mentioned Usotsuki Lily (lit: playfully lying lily/yuri) as part of the “trap-lite” wave that gained prominence in Japanese manga over the last five years. Plenty of theory-powder has been burnt over “dissatisfaction with gender roles in contemporary Japanese society”, however the trend seemed to produce very little but low-level titillation and plenty of harmless fluff. When pushed to the wall it could always retreat into historicism, given japanese cultural traditions in theatre and the “floating world”.

“The trap lite is like a superhero with stupid powers – given a small chance to force society into a truce, for a few moments, in a small place…”

Central to the effort were bishie- looking young male characters that had a tenuous plot-device “reason” besides sexuality and/or gender expression to play as a female persona. While the frisson of homoeroticism was always part of the story formula, “real” homosexuality was always kept off stage, or at least confined to the chorus. As well, the overwhelming majority of these stories were extremely chaste, as befitting high school and young adult love comedies.

Besides, the idea that a good-looking representation of a young person, preferably male, could be drawn to look good in both gender roles seemed to be an easy shojo manga formula for drawing twice the eye candy.

Androgyny makes a mangaka’s job easier.

Sexually active main characters were relegated to darker works which emphasised pathology, criminality and abuse.

Of course I missed a few things…

ON VIOLENCE AND SOCIAL CAPITAL:

“I and the public know, what all schoolchildren learn.
Those to whom evil is done Do evil in return”  
— W.H. Auden

As mentioned in the earlier post, there were a few problems with the approach. One was the tendency to indulge in the trope that a cross-dressing male could “teach” a young female how to better present herself as a female, or reveal some heretofore hidden female essential characteristic. I guess this is fine if one sees all gender as performative – otherwise it is patronising as all heck.

Another major problem was the idea that somehow youthful gender dysphoria could be met with grudging, non-violent derision that would quickly move towards group solidarity and acceptance. “Look how adult and broad-minded we all are!” becomes the watch-word of the group, standing in proxy for the reader.

Meanwhile, contemporary Japan experiences ever-growing levels of violent school bullying, sometimes leading to injury and death, often by suicide. You don’t have to suffer from gender dysphoria issues – any odd kid can get targeted.

As laudable is the project of trying to promote social norms of tolerance and understanding within a manga narrative, one has to take any such efforts as (as mentioned previously) water wearing away at a stone.

“Tolerance” has never stopped bullying before, there is no reason to assume it will now. Bullying only stops when ALL fellow students, teachers, principals, parents and the police ruthlessly suppress it %110 of the time, and these seldom have the time or energy to do so unless they face an overwhelming reason to do so.

In North America, the reason at least for good middle-class schools boils down to one word: Columbine.

Given the strict controls over firearms and bladed weapons in Japan, one can not see any such admittedly horrific shift in potentialities arising.

The only thing that seems to suppress bullying in Japanese schools is over-work. The relentless pressure to attend cram schools, as documented in The Making of Japan’s New Working Class: “Freeters” and the Progression From Middle School to the Labor Market by David H. Slater (you read high school manga? You should really read about the real thing in Japan!)  serves to suck up every last-minute of spare time for middle-class youth. This of course is never mentioned in school-situated manga, lest all the characters suddenly vanish. The greatest myth of the accepting high-school/ junior college social is that there are any students left to socialize and form one. So much as well for after-school club activities.

Despite this harsh reality, the idealised fantasy social spaces provided by manga serve an important aspirational purpose – a fantasy safe space and play space, while introducing and promoting to their readers implied concepts of attitudinal social capital.

Japanese mangakas sooner or later always get preachy. Because they keep in active contact with their fans, they also tend to assume a mediating position towards diverse fan desires, and inevitably are tempted towards offering an idealised vision of a social space, along with model behaviours that lead to ‘character growth”.

We do not need the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu to explain this for us; the notion of setting down a social class-linked hierarchy of preferred modes of behaviour towards uncertain situations gives a strong whiff of the processes that Boubou’s tribe of sociologists (as well as the Chicago school of Sociology before him) have been harping on for decades. You may be born into a social class, but you exercise this distinction through your behaviour. Your knowledge of these behaviours and the opportunity to grow familiar with and use them, as well as who you can use them on, is your “social capital”.

Once again in shojo manga, in a somewhat mainstream example (as opposed to the odd derivative bl/yaoi variants), the idea of nudging a canon (which would contain an analogue or reflection of a social structure with prefered modes of behavior and ways of deploying social capital) in a certain direction pops up.

ON THE FANTASY OF UN-GENDERED SPACES:

Ed Wood: “I like to dress in women’s clothing.”
George Weiss: “You’re a fruit?”
Ed Wood: “No, not at all. I love women. Wearing their clothes makes me feel closer to them.”
George Weiss: “You’re not a fruit?”
Ed Wood: “No, I’m all man. I even fought in W.W.2. Of course, I was wearing women’s undergarments under my uniform.”

— Ed Wood (used as lead for the Wholesome Crossdresser page at TVtropes. (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/WholesomeCrossdresser)

Uso Lily starts out with the paper-thin premise that Hinata, a “normal girl” who wants a hot boyfriend is suddenly smitten by the sight of a never-seen-before good-looking male fellow student. There is of course a reason why she hasn’t seen him before; he usually attends school dressed very convincingly as a girl. Because this series runs in Margaret Magazine, the drawing style and plotting is pure shojo manga style. That means wispy bishie hair, big expressive eyes, thin androgynous bodies on both sexes, and plenty of flare effects and floral backgrounds in the D’Awwwwww! moments. There is plenty of desire, chaste yearning, communication failures, shyness, relationship angst and growing pains – all played for laughs, and no actual sex. (Much later: they finally do become a couple, and it is so considerate, romantic and sweet as to almost defy belief – D’Awwwwwwwww…)

Because “fated love” plays a privileged role in the genre, it turns out that the boy, En Shinohara only reverted to male dress because he was smitten when he saw her only moments before. D’Awwwwww!

The whole point of a shojo manga like Uso lily is to provide a steady barrage of such D’Awwwwww! moments. One could run a drinking game with them and get seriously poisoned in no time flat. Note: fear the unfiltered sake in big bottles! You have been warned!

The mangaka, Ayumi Komura routinely breaks the “fourth wall” and all but proclaims this as the purpose behind the series. Every single shojo manga plot trope that drifts by will be grabbed and stuffed into the nabe pot, along with one new magic ingredient: all characters will be nudged into crossdressing as much as possible, for any reason.

usolily explained

Hijinx ensue.

If this sounds like a mess, it is a surprisingly effective one. Please note that there is no current english language wikipedia entry for this series, (see above for an incomplete fan wikia site) so a bit of summary is necessary. The fact that the mangaka is also rather careless about naming her characters and resorts to reader contests to finish their names gets in the way of fannish summarizations. (Anyone so inclined can feel free to poach any of the following, to remedy this)

The boy En crossdresses because he grew up in a family of quirky guys, the majority of whom are a bit too prone to chase skirts, or in the case of one brother, anything that moves. (His youngest brother is the most sensible; he’s matter-of-fact-ly gay) En gets viscerally angry at male misbehaviour to the extent that the sight of men (including his own reflection in a mirror) makes him lash out violently. He can control himself most of the time when he sees his brothers and when in female dress. Later he learns more self-control and will simply vomit/ cough up a bit of blood when exposed to “annoying guys”.

En can defend himself, but seldom has to. The threat of male violence never comes from guys who want to beat “that fucking faggot” to within an inch of his life. There is no gay-bashing, queer-bashing or trannie bashing in this small portion of manga-land. The only threat of violence comes from mild-mannered delinquents who mistakenly hit on En when he is in drag, or when he puts himself in front of girls (or his sweetie Hinata’s meek salaryman dad) who are so threatened and then explodes in rage at the miscreants. “Surprise assholes! I’m a guy! Grrrrrrrrrr! foam at mouth!” So far all the miscreants have been weirded out by this and have run off without beating him to a pulp. To be fair, when Hinata got in trouble with a groper, while trying to save him from acting as groper bait, he did manage a solid roundhouse punch. He then decided that he will aim for a job as a cop-in-drag when he grows up. Time for him to start taking Judo.

En holds an extremely romanticized view of women: they are wonderful all the time in all ways, and any character faults they display are a result of male misbehaviour/ male societal oppression. His crossdressing is all about surface appearance – an homage to this ideal. His desires are heterosexual and naively romantic, hence his fascination with Hinata, the “normal” girl. Her normality makes her his ideal woman, in the sense of a platonic ideal that represents and embodies all women (which neatly takes care of the family tendency towards a roving eye). He has lines that he will not cross(dress): no pantsu (he wears boxer shorts) and no bras (though he will don falsies and bra for “special ops”). He wears wigs to give him the right girlish look. He also has no unwanted body hair, “because this a cross-dressing manga” explains the mangaka.

The gal Hinata Saotome is normal and cute enough (I guess she serves as some kind of stand-in for the young female readership), but worries continually that her boyfriend is cuter then her. She wishes he would just stop cross-dressing, but comes to realise that she can wait for his little problem to gradually work itself out, lest he get physically sick from crossdressing withdrawal. Besides, she lacks self-confidence and En in drag is less likely to attract any other girls (though he does attract the occasional guy)

En avoids the annoying trope of “showing the real girl how to dress better” by being not completely skilled in cross-dressing by himself. It turns out that his oldest bother An, a lecherous, polymorphously perverse beautician/ fashion consultant is the one who dresses him; originally to stop En from smashing the bathroom mirror every morning and later because it is fun to see how cute he can make his younger brother look. Unlike Genshiken’s Hato, En has not confessed to any “I like it – its my hobby!” sentiment.

(Much later: he does eventually get around to admitting that it is fun and then proceeds to make up for lost time in the “I like it – its my hobby!” department. The mangaka then throws a corrective at him.)

Their mother is strong, independent, slighty weary of her hubby’s wandering eye and absent for five-year stretches, so the rest of the brood including their father is quite happy with En’s habits. When older brother An gets a magical manga-flu he will sexually harass anyone, including his brothers. He is devoted to his job and his customers – especially if they are cute women (cute guys are ok too) and keeps closets full of clothes and accessories. An could cross-dress a small army, and is often called to work his magic on En’s school friends.

The “middle” brother Ken, is a fairly normal womanizing guy. The youngest brother Ten is “no-big-deal” gay, and does not adopt any stereotypical negative “gay” behaviour patterns. He is just a normal good-natured young guy who happens to like guys, specifically one guy…

Hinata has a younger brother Taiyou, a “normal” mom and dad, and recently a puppy. Her father’s initial resistance to En as boyfriend centered only on the societal difficulty that having a cross-dressing guy for a future husband would cause their daughter. No visceral reaction against the boyfriend’s kink was displayed. As for the younger brother Taiyou, he is also extremely normal and wishes he could fall in love with a nice girl. He has of course been pressured into crossdressing to fill in for Hinata, and resembles her strongly in this state, but in this manga everyone gets cross-dressed eventually. En’s youngest brother Ten has a youthful gay crush on him that is not appreciated, but is refused without too much over-reaction.

We will return to Taiyou: the mangaka has plans for him..

Hinata’s school friends represent little more than a chance for the mangaka to play cupid and come up with ever more implausible reasons for cross-dressing. They are all extremely accepting, and the rest of the school is mostly tolerant and well-behaved because of the charm of “good-looking” and/or “cute” guys and girls overrides any “Ewyuck” factor. Male teachers can be fooled into letting En crossdress with a few fake tears, female ones get accessorizing advice (relayed from An) to buy them off. The majority of the boys at the school either don’t care or find En to be novelty eye-candy. The girls occasionally get jealous at his presentation of as a girl, but then En gets all “all women are the best” preachy and bores them to tears with effusive praise. Besides they find him cute to look at as well, and when he reverts to male dress, his “hot-ness” excuses all his sins.

This last bit gives the mangaka a chance to deliver body image confidence lectures to stand-ins for her female readership. All girls are goddess-derived, and as such have only to realise their innate personal gifts and confidently highlight them. Dieting is dangerous and unnecessary, anorexia is never mentioned. This over-romantic view of all womankind makes Hinata worry, but only to the degree that En can then heap routine love-struck praise on her. Of course En also worries that other guys will figure out that Hinata is the perfect ideal girl and woo her away from him – a possibility that she is oblivious to.

This routine is deployed to full extent with the tall shy girl Gotou-san (Keane Gotou) She’s pitiable and ungainly, but after an En pep-talk, she has her own epiphany when she decides to try a bit of androgynous dress. Shazaaam! She is admired by all. Girls swoon for her (she is the main back up girl-girl plot device) while guys find her strangely enticing. She develops self-confidence and poise, though at one point she seeks out En, then An for girly-girl fashion advice. (In the language of the TVtropes site she is a Bi-faux-nen; a manga character favourite variant of the Bishonen, lifted from the otokoyaku/ male-role actress Takarazuka tradition.) She has the class rep, a quiet guy, in her sights. It’s all good though; she doesn’t even need the makeover – class rep Souichirou Aikawa, sees her only as a girl, even if she wears a boy’s school uniform and as his perfect woman. Heartfelt D’Awwwwww! moments ensue.

Other class friends get paired off as fast as the side-stories for them can be rolled out. This is shojo manga after all, and pairing off young love is %98 of the exercise. (D’Awwwwww!) Everything cranked out by the theory mills about relationships in BL/yaoi goes double for straight-up shojo. Childhood friends Kojirou Amakusa (a Samurai enthusiast) and the kendo champ girl Komachi Ashiya, daughter of a kendo dojo running mother and a mangaka who specializes in historical samurai epics are of course fated for each other, and of course he has to ‘win her hand’ in an overly cute story arc. (D’Awwwwww!) Otherwise, the mangaka just enjoys drawing them, especially Kojirou, who alway appears in samurai cosplay dress. He also speaks in affected oldee- tyme-ee Japanese.

Then there are the two pairs of twins at the school – this makes its own gravy. The girls Emi and Niko Hashimoto, (their sole characteristic at first, besides being twins, is that they are manga enthusiasts and lousy cooks) quickly capture the hearts of the boys Rio and Rui Sawamura, who let on that they were waiting for the girls to make a move, because they were “fated on a biological level” to be together (D’Awwwwww!). Later it turns out that one of the couples is adept at seeing spirits.

Naoto, a cynical and somewhat touchy guy is one of En’s only male friends. A bit of rotten girl innuendo is deployed at first over this, but his excuse for not having a girlfriend is that he is a bit of a melancholy jerk, and that he “only likes older women with big boobs”

It doesn’t take long before an equally cynical, somewhat more mature looking upper-classwoman notices him. (D’Awwwwww!) Sempai aka Reina Kojima is a “carnivorous woman” only in the sense that she speaks her mind, will punch out anyone who gives her trouble, and carries a miniature cat-tiger-pet (the size of a large rat) on her shoulder. She also has cleavage, so Naota is in heaven, even if he won’t admit it. Later it develops that he has a reason for his sour (read asshole) behaviour: He is the son of a very rich, self-made construction magnate who is a controlling paranoid tyrant. Reina has her hands full getting tyrant dad to smarten up and accept their love. She repays the favour by laying down the law on Naoto that he is going to take his duties as successor to the family empire more seriously. (D’Awwwwww!)

The pair come with side characters too, childhood friend/ butler Kage (lit. shadow, he needs to be paired up) and the suggestion that Reina’s mini – tiger-thing pet “Rawr” is the reincarnation of a sick boy who befriended and defended a then weak and bullied Reina in grade school only to die during an operation. (Much later: turns out he was only in a coma – lets see if the mangaka finds him a nice house cat.)

The mangaka also devotes a few bonus chapters to a few of the older guys and how they met their loves (the cafe’s owner, the mangaka father) for some more obligatory D’Awwwwww!. And there are a few new characters that can be dragged out into the light to pair off cutely, especially after some flimsy plot device gets everyone to crossdress.

It is important to note that no character suffers from any identifiable gender dysphoria issues. No one “feels like an x in a y’s body”. In the Uso Lily -verse an assumed gender role is not so much performative of an underlying desire, as it is cosplay; fashion and clothing.

Since I am wasting effort on this thing, why not include a few typical western fan responses:

“I apologise for the lack of summary. It’s long and I can’t get over the cross-dressing. This is for Fujioshi. Enjoy”. (http://ankemaybe.blogspot.ca/2010/09/usotsuki-lily.html)

“I love their personality. xD It’s also one of the few mangas I found that a guy loves cross-dressing. The art is also very nice! I recommend this manga to anyone who enjoys a good laugh, comedy, gender bender, romance, and shoujo”. (http://shorenx.blogspot.ca/2010/12/usotsuki-lily.html)

“It really is twisted but at the same time really cute, funny and sweet! Manga lovers out there should definitely try this one! Hope this becomes an anime! XD”. (http://firstblogpaige.blogspot.ca/2011/05/usotsuki-lily-manga-my-recent-favorite.html)

“Even though I personally am not into this kind of genre with a deep shoujo sense, I though this was an interesting story. The art is really good, but Saotome’s personality isn’t really played out well (in the first chapter at least). I also like the base of the story because its simple and flowing, which makes a good manga. One with no detailed storylines are hard to follow that’s why they tend to be disliked by younger people, (because usually they are Seinen manga)”. (http://mangachaos.blogspot.ca/2012/11/usotsuki-lily-review.html)

“This is an ongoing manga by Ayumi Komura; it’s a story of romance, comedy, gender bender and school life, I totally recommend this manga to anyone that enjoy a cute and innocent story about love and of course to those who like to laugh with the ironic situations of life”. (http://maujg.blogspot.ca/2011/06/usotsuki-lily-manga-review.html)

“This plays out as an episodic romantic comedy, so there are tons of ridiculous situations for our two leads, and plenty of laughs to be had every chapter. The romance that slowly develops between them is sweet too, in its own strange, special way. The side characters in the series also have rather peculiar romances, which makes the story all the more amusing (such as two sets of twins falling for each other, and a boy and girl who acted as role models for a manga artist’s samurai comic). On top of this, the author of Usotsuki Lily enjoys breaking the fourth wall from time to time, and pokes fun at herself and the comic, clearly aware at just how ridiculous the manga is. =D”. (http://yumestate.com/2011/shoujo-manga-shoucase/#more-2596)

We can take these as a qualified endorsement that the formula is working.

ON RELATIONSHIP PORN:

Matt Thorn was not the only researcher to note how the tropes of shojo manga carried over to its derivatives in BL, (and later in yaoi) but she was one of the first. The point seems so simple it is often glossed over, but it remains a defining characteristic of the genre. Perhaps an analogy can give it prominence: Martin Amis once remarked that science fiction was a lot like colonial literature, that the setting played such a prominent role as to be a secondary main character. Yes; the moon is a harsh mistress. In a similar vein, the relationship dynamics of shojo manga is a secondary character/landscape/substance of the narrative just as it is in other derivative forms of girl’s romance stories, BL (and yaoi that ventures beyond simple fuck mise-en-scenes).

Back to Hinata’s younger brother Taiyou. The mangaka uses him like a wedge to crack open a wall and slip a few idealised gay characters into a very heteronormative manga-land. More important is why they are there. Expanding the relationship dynamics of a story beyond simple heteronormative pairings expands the potential field of narrative exponentially. Even by simple dint of mathematics, one can see the appeal to authors. The only danger lies in taking it too far:

polymorphous Ten usotsuki_lily

“If anyone can pine for anything, then no pining is interesting”. (TM)

Expanding the field to include well-behaved young gay male characters is “daringly transgressive”, on another level, it is still profoundly conservative. And because of the continuous crossdressing, the effect can safely provide some fun gender boundary “blur” while providing lots of bonus rotten-girl squeeeeee lite.

En’s youngest brother Ten has fixated on Taiyou, even though there is a guy called Saeki who yearns for Ten. Previously Taiyou had seen this wonderful girl at school, and had fallen for her. Well, that was embarrassing – ya fell for your older sister’s crossdressed boyfriend. Taiyou does not continue to fixate, (much) nor does he hurl himself off a bridge; he just wants a cute girlfriend – one who is a girl.

Ten gets wind that Taiyou is helping out at the plot contrivance cafe where Hinata and En work, and has a brilliant idea. He will go see Taiyou cross-dressed (because he looks “almost” like his brother in drag), and will drag along a friend Saeki because the cafe only serves couples. Meanwhile Taiyou is not officially an employee at the cafe; he is just filling in for Hinata who has a bad cold, so of course he is crossdressed as well. Did I mention the “any excuse” rule in this manga?

not handing over usotsuki_lily

Hijinx ensue and Taiyou agrees to later meet with Ten to try to sort things out. Saeki will tag along for the meetup too. Ten decides to show up crossdressed and turn it into a “date”. Jealousy ensues. Saeki starts acting petty, as the whole mess starts sliding towards rotten girl territory fast.

Taiyou gets jostled, tripped and finally pushed into a fountain by Saeki, all while Ten, still in drag pretends to be oblivious to the bullshit. While Ten-chan is off getting a towel, Taiyou gets pissed off at Saeki and tries for a simple resolution.

Cue the shojo relationship porn:

austin 1 usotsuki_lilyMoments later…

austin 2 usotsuki_lilyThen…

austin 3 usotsuki_lily

What to make of this “comedy of errors”? The two young gay males don’t come off very realistic, but at least nobody goes into “mr. hard gay comedy shock routine” or “yaoi seme mode“. Instead it is all feelings, “feelings, feelings, nothing more than feelings” for the next 20 pages.

Young (and very chaste) male-male yearning is represented politely, as a matter of fact – in the sense that no one goes into tainted love/ ughh- thats- gross/ abject mode, but at the same time these are not young males speaking their lines. They are some kind of idealised ultra-sensible BL critters that think (and speak) like (female) updated Jane Austen characters.

Ten is in troublesome, scheming-mode even as he blurts out his plans to worm his way into “normal” Taiyou’s attention, but at the same time “doesn’t want to lose Saeki as a friend.” Saeki’s pettiness is revealed as (rather mild all things considered) hopeless yearning turned into jealousy, and Taiyou is left soaked and completely confused by the complicated mess he’s stuck in the middle of; one that will not resolve with a simple “here: you do this, you do that, problem solved!“. As a bonus, he gets a full declaration of love from a crossdressed Ten.

While Taiyou is caught in the middle, he remains a good-natured well-behaved person so he does not spit venom and abjection at Ten, or Saeki. He even has a bit of empathy for both of them. Perhaps that Ten could soon be an in-law counts as a reason for a good behavior imperative in Japanese manga-land? Later Saeki gets dragged over to Hinata and Taiyou’s house, with Ten in tow to apologize for his petty behaviour. Taiyou gets to ask why? “Why fall for a guy when you look normal and could get a nice girl?”

Pride lecture time usotsuki_lily
Suddenly Saeki gets the high moral ground. Note that Saeki does not pull a 1970’s BL oath defending his need to live truthfully in the manner that so moved so many 1970’s female readers. Society has changed. There is likewise no need for the problematic “I’m not gay but” line. Instead it is an assured “I know what I like“. The Saeki character might be revealed as still a BL trope – a “normal” guy who just gets fixated on a “special one and only” but the dynamic has been updated so as to wiggle past any of the old-style insulting “I’m not gay, but” tropes.

In the end lots of friendzoning ensues.

Score 3 wins for the Mangaka. First she gets to preach from high moral ground, and she gets to deploy some light BL candy-floss for her (assumed mostly female) readership. Finally she does it while slipping past a yaoi-ronso faux-pas; which both gains and promotes social capital! Win-win-win!

The Mangaka is not yet finished with Taiyou:

A few chapters later he spots a plain but somewhat cute glasses girl/ young woman up a tree, meets cute (she falls on him) and ends up working at her oddball craft store. How the store pays the rent is a mystery, as the craft items can get downright creepy. The girl/woman/ proprietor is more than a bit odd and introverted, and only keeps the store going as an excuse to see her childhood female friend, who routinely drops by. Taiyou fades into the background. Her childhood friend departs…

Soon it is revealed that store-girl has a long standing unrequited crush on her friend, but will never, never, never speak dare its name… Except to Taiyou. Wow! an honest- to- goodness female homosexual character in a chaste shojo manga! A potential for real yuri, or at least some shojo-ai. That puts Lily one, no wait, three, perhaps four sympathetic gay characters up on Genshiken.

Of course, the friend is oblivious to this, and worries that store-girl is not getting on with her life. A solution is at hand: prod young Taiyou into making nice at store-girl, then bow out of the picture. Sure enough, store-girl gets very sad when her friend stops visiting, and then gets surprised when young Taiyou confesses that he likes store-girl, even though he understands (sigh!) that she probably can’t reciprocate. “Oh well!” says she, “why not try being normal”. Taiyou gets a girlfriend.

D’Awwwwww!   …    Whooops!

A Mangaka who routinely breaks fourth wall to interact with her readers can expect more than a few negative comments on this, especially since she sets herself up as an expert at current politically correct tolerance in Margaret Magazine – land. Is the mangaka seriously suggesting that lesbians just need to find the right guy to get “cured”?

Of course not, it is just an excuse to pull Ten back out of the plot sack.

Ten, who can’t help keeping apprised of what Taiyou is doing with his life (not being quite a young gay stalker…) sees the happy new couple in the store window and then sits on a park bench as the snow falls lightly: “It was inevitable, best to cry a bit and let it go” (aint shojo manga over the top!) But wait: next bench down is store-girl’s friend crying too!

D’Awwwwww!

Of course, only a sympathetic young gay gentleman can politely offer a handkerchief to this crying woman, all while explaining that his motives are pure because of course… Two seconds later crying woman admits to herself and this stranger that she must be feeling sad because she always had real feelings for store-girl that she had denied for so long. And now she has set them up and lost her friend forever Bwahhaaahh!

Time for the amazing super powers of young be- true- to- yourself- gay- guy to appear and save the day!

Uso Lily Ten gets serious1

And…

Uso Lily Ten gets serious2
And of course Ten is rewarded for his impulsiveness when he discovers that her crush is the same girl who has gotten together with Taiyou.

When Taiyou leaves the store all happy, he gets to hear that he now has a female rival for store-girl’s affections (the same person who set him up) and that pest-boy (ooops be-true to yourself gay guy) is helping her. Taiyou already knows that store-girl really wants crying-girl and will undoubtedly do the right thing. Only store-girl remains in the dark.

A proper respectful, sensitive resolution is guaranteed. Cross-dressing will be implemented as part of an ungainly plan to salve the feelings of store-girl and move her towards a moment of personal acceptance and courage to confess her feelings for her childhood love. Happy somewhat adult women friends will go off into the sunset, move to Kamakura and adopt a few cats.

Taiyou will end up girlfriendless again after a lot of goggle-bait is trotted about, but he is young and this will make him a far nobler character and a great catch when some girl his age target locks on him. Ten might even snap out of it and make Saeki happy.

This is like some interminable Shakespearian shepherd tryst.

A CRUSADE FOR MODESTY:

The readership is going to lurv it to death, which causes a bit of cognitive whiplash when one realises how “normal” this manga is for shojo manga in Japan. If this thing was made in the USA, the mangaka would soon find her house under siege from fundamentalist haters.

In certain countries the mangaka could risk beheading.

No one can seriously complain that this manga is perverted, it carries with only the frisson of the forbidden within its pages. En and Hinata were given a free luxury hotel room, and room- sneaking opportunities during the school trip but still behaved themselves. Hinata has desires, but is still a bit shy. En’s cross-dressing throws her off a bit too. En has lots of desires too, but is too good at controlling himself, to the point that during intimate opportunity #2 Hinata worries that he has lost interest in her; even though she admits to herself that she will probably just panic and push him away again – he should at least try!

Meanwhile fake samurai boy cannot resist any longer and gets a bit too familiar with kendo girl; He kisses her on the (gasp) collarbone. Yikes! Extreme freak out! “Never touch me again!” “All guys are perverts!” Much guilt and embarrassment on both sides! Long plot arc with D’Awwwwww! and crossdressing to resolve the mess.

Naota/ Reina and the twin couples are left in reserve to repeat the formula on. This could go on for a while. The only constant is “don’t rush things” and that the girl is the ultimate arbiter of when and what degree of intimacy feels right. Full sexual romance is seen as a mark of adulthood. You also get red bean paste cakes to celebrate. (this is another common trope, deployed in this manga to cause embarrassment in cautious couples).

What puzzles me is why I keep peeking in on the mess every few months. I don’t have Matt Thorn’s eye for shojo manga, but this thing screams raw sociology at me. It has been happily grinding away since 2009, has 64 plus chapters and looks like a winning recipe. And part of this recipe is its light touch when it comes to scary problems of youthful desire and sexuality, served up with cross-play and heaps of formulaic relationship mush.

“D’Awwwwww!-service”

I doubt that there would even be yaoi (or other) dojins made by rotten girls (or others) on this thing. (Would the author do a Ogiue style “My characters are… whatever… “) It is too sweet and harmless.

Harmless is good.

Harmless can sneak around and do all kinds of worthwhile mischief.

Harmless might even keep some poor oddball youth with or without minoroty sexuality and/or gender identity problems from jumping off a roof, and/ or prod a microscopic few of the riajuu/ hoi polloi into the absorbing the idea that tormenting their oddball classmates is low-class, unacceptable behavior.

Watch how issues are contested in social space. Drip, drip, drip…

Lets leave it to Matt Thorn to provide the coda:

“In drawings and in words, revolution is easy. In fiction, one can rewrite the world, remodel human relationships, with the stroke of a pen. Here, at the Comic Market and in countless smaller venues throughout the country, throughout the year, women and men paint worlds so outrageous that the mainstream media won’t touch them. But out there, on the lawn, on the street, in the home, in the workplace, the stakes are much higher. Even those who dream the wildest dreams become timid when confronted with the weight and complexity of social reality.

But let us look again. These women and men, dismissed by so many as otaku, as reclusive geeks, are taking small risks. They are crossing lines that many others couldn’t cross. They are finding their own place, making their own way, while most of the societal mainstream takes the easier, socially sanctioned course. They are holding hands, talking to one another, enjoying each other’s company”.

— Matt Thorn, Girls and Women Getting Out of Hand
http://matt-thorn.com/shoujo_manga/outofhand/index.php
archived at:
https://web.archive.org/web/20140109042024/http://matt-thorn.com/shoujo_manga/outofhand/index.html

Thank you Ayumi Komura.

Congratulations and please keep drawing!

Next time or soon after: What do Ghibli’s House on Poppy Hill, Walter Benjamin, Rio Otomo’s “A Girl with her Writing Machine” and a world-wide conspiracy of thieving, leeching fans (thanks Hope Donovan, Nele Noppe, et al.) have in common?

As Neil Young so nicely put it…. (cue single long guitar chord)

…Love and only love…

 

1) Updated 2016 to reflect professor Thorn’s prefered pronoun use.

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4 thoughts on “The place promised in earlier days: On Usotsuki Lily

  1. In light of some of the recent usolily developments, (including an actual trans character, if raws can be believed), I was looking for some analysis of the series. Thank you for providing.

    I agreed with you analysis all the way through, (except, maybe, I think it’s made less chaste attempts to address sex, albeit in a very matter-of-fact, relationship-porny way), but I still thought you were being way too hard on the series before I reached your conclusion.

    Usolily might hedge around the more complicated issues, and trip up on its own efforts to normalize unusual or queer relationships, but it’s so gosh-darn sincere in it’s message to accept and like people for who they are that I can’t be angry with it. I don’t think there’s a character in usolily you’re not supposed to sympathize with, something the readers are well aware of, (case and point: readers correctly identifying Hinata’s seemingly jerk-ass former crush as just an idiotic kid, even before the manga revealed it).

    You mentioned the absence of the “threat of male violence”, which, in reality, is an issue for sexual minorities, but women as a whole. It’s an absence that’s as indulgent and idealistic a view of the world as it is in the relationship porn parts. But I can’t fault people being drawn to this indulgence. Sometimes it’s nicer and more helpful to just laugh at the fantasy. And I think it’s far more likely to bring the fantasy closer to reality than something that pushes the envelope more.

    Thanks!

    • Thanks for the comment! I have recently been trying to write a follow-up on Usolily, what with the happy couple consummating and a few more developments but nothing has stood out until the recent chapters with Ten and Taiyou. I -suspect- another teachable moment being set-up, but all the same it is looking like the mangaka is letting the story veer dangerously towards the “rotten”. I mean she is practically advertising her Ten X Taiyou dojin at the next ‘ket. But the really odd thing (which I understand to be a BL characteristic) is how the lads mull over way too complicated emotional considerations. Ten is doing a desire knows no laws (or in this case ettiquette) thing; Taiyou accuses Ten of overdoing the flirting as a symptom of running from Saeki out of fear of losing a friend. Then Taiyou is freaking because he didn’t freak out (!?!) when Ten stole a kiss. Ten is thinking that the rejection is how Taiyou felt when he had to bow out from a relationship with shop-girl. And then Taiyou is conflicted about his feelings to the extent that sis has to tell him to stop worrying about other’s hurt feelings and put his feelings first. Whew! Shojou roots of Bl genre etc., etc. Teenage guys are doing this without overloading, yup… that could happen… Sure… Could someone please draw a diagram with a crayon? I think I missed something..
      But the big question is: will the mangaka resolve with a fair and honourable progression to the Ten and Taiyou story, or will she get creepy and slam the two together (minus the dojin-ish bits)? She has a rep to uphold. Just curious, as the Genshiken’s Rika has recently popped up as the unlikely voice of reality-checking as somewhat similar stuff is happening there – and the two mangakas had very different styles…

      …And now you have me chasing the raws.. Don’t tell me freckle girl ??? Nawwww…

      • Usotsuki Lily strikes me as a very reactionary piece of work, in a way that say, Genshiken, isn’t. Well, they’re both reacting to something, but…

        Komura clearly likes shoujo and BL, but of the latter she wrote something along the lines of subscribing to the doctrine “halfway”, and I think that’s very true of her approach to shoujo as well. She’s on board with all the emotional gushiness, and the hyper-awareness of everyone else’s feelings (without overloading as you pointed out), and plot contrivances highlighting how people are meant for one another. But then she’s not on board with the drama lacking ironic awareness or the strict gender roles… or the lack of blood and older men.

        So Komura’s soap-boxing, but it’s about shoujo and BL, rather than about actual people. She probably has some kind and interesting things to say about actual people, but that’s neither the stage she’s set, nor the lecture she’s giving.

        So, I wouldn’t expect anything like Rika’s comments re: MadaHato on the implausibility of “it’s okay if it’s you”. That was a reality check from… reality. But I think that Usolily has reality-checked “it’s okay if it’s you” in its own non-reality. There was some evidence scattered along the way that Taiyou wasn’t straight in the strictest of senses (his intro into the series was falling for En). Of course, this evidence was paper-thin by any real world standard, but by BL standards, it’s more than a little significant. And, also by BL standards, Usolily is remarkably willing, maybe even compassionate, to let Taiyou be unsure, and puzzle it out for himself. Regardless of how unrealistic all that puzzling actually was.

        I agree, it could get creepy rather quickly if the series slams the two together suddenly, hijinks in doujins aside.

        This is an aside, and make of it what you will, but Usolily is the only shoujo series I can recall that makes an issue (more of a non-issue, really) of the fact that aesthetics and physical attraction are a part of the dating criteria. It’s not the only part of the criteria, but also not something that can be wished away if the other person is otherwise “special” enough. Hinata’s not going to date someone without a nice face. Naoto likes “older women with big boobs”, so the person he chooses is going to be someone like that. It’s a rather candid and refreshing, even if I can’t figure out why this method would be so unique.

        This reply got pretty long, sorry. I would definitely be interested in any follow-up post you compose about this series. I’m also following Genshiken, and your writings on that seem interesting as well. Although, it’s a lot to look through, and even more to comment on.

  2. Pingback: Usotsuki Daisy | HEARTS OF FURIOUS FANCIES

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