Ok, I reconsider. I made a mistake. I went back and read more and I like it. I was wrong, it is funny and has a heart. No more snark about Kuragehime (Princess Jellyfish) shall be allowed in this blog. Two things lead me to change my mind. First, I let slip a rash judgmental dismissal of it at a certain conference while in conversation with one of its (possibly strongest) fans, and I saw the hurt on her face. I shit-heel! If it can cause such a reaction, It must have something to love within it. I don’t make fun of love. It is pretty well the only thing we have going for us as a species.
Reason numero two: I last looked at it some 2 years ago, and I never clued in that the later-appearing wonderful autobiographical manga about art school and becoming a pro mangaka; Kakukaku Shikajika was drawn by the same person. Then I hit an author’s comment section and HEY WAIT A SECOND! this looks familiar! Duh! The mangaka is Akiko Higashimura… I love that manga! I had a couple of excellent teachers at art school. I felt a twinge of nostalgia and guilt when I read Kakukaku. What have I done to justify all the extra effort they put into teaching me?
Besides, now that Jellyfish is well into 70 something chapters and 14 volumes, it must be recognised as a force majeur in the depiction of female otaku/ collector maniacs/ social isolates/ fujoshi. I note that they, like the Genshiken fujoshi, come in a variety of body types and over-subscribed enthusiasms. This series pretty well holds the patent on the trope. The crossdressing male lead initially raised suspicions with me for two reasons: The crossdressing male who would teach females how to present as females is an annoying cliché and the magic rich kid (the rich are different from us) is frequently used to excuse all manner of plot holes, while the implications of a growing class divide in Japanese society are papered over. I should have read more. Perhaps he is more of a “positive subversion of the patriarchy” as some bloggers who burn powder about such things suggested.
Like the series’ advocate at the conference, the male lead is a theatre fan, as well as a fashion fan, and the mangaka seems to have done enough research (and/or shares in his enthusiasms – wait; she reveals that she has re-married into the cloth trade!) to pull off his devotion convincingly. As well, clunky social class tropes get better use as the series progresses; the treatment of inequalities grow more important, sharper and more central to the plot and the comedy. When Kuranosuke Koibuchi explains away his family calling him “son” as a family tradition of being raised as a boy to be groomed for politics (a fast bit of bullshit to avoid being reveled as a guy to the other “amars” aka; buddhist nuns), the Rose of Versailles idiocy that follows is great low comedy.
As for the crossdressing: well, he still has “reasons” other than professed issues of sexuality. He absolutely wants to avoid the family business (national politics), he enjoys the company of women, and he really likes fashionable women’s clothes; he is an extreme fashionista. It’s his hobby – any problem with that? He still is a bit of a magic rich boy, complete with chauffeur, connections and a generous allowance and will do the stock magic- rich- boy- starts- a- business- on- the- fly- to- make- a- fortune- and- save- the- day routine, but so far the trope is being handled with enough detail and commotion as to move the story forward without jumping the shark. That plot was good enough for Sophia Loren some 50 years ago (minus any gender dysphoria) so who am I to complain? Add to this that both the boy and jellyfish girl have “lost mother” syndromes that fuel their devotions; to jellyfish, the theatre and high fashion, then add a ruthless fashion empire mogul who grew up an orphan and the characterizations grow to Dickensian proportions.
Jellyfish is not shy about hiding its shojo/ josei manga roots either. Because it is shojo (and/or josei) it is remarkably free of service for guys, which is curiously refreshing. Instead there are ironic floral panels and other rom-con tropes pushed to absurd lengths and service for the girls; a drunk cross-dressing boy collapses butt nekkid in our heroine’s hotel room before she is about to be whisked away to Singapore. Then there are the more josei-ish plot lines: the brother’s romantic side-story is a wonderful mess of bad-girl seduction going awry and pure innocent goodness triumphing (or tested and soon to triumph – but I didn’t like the plot turning on a slap – I will assume that it is a mouldy true- romance chestnut) It only serves to highlight the main trick most of the comedy and 3/4 of the characterization that drives the story forward: none of the characters are really up to their schemes (except perhaps the once-orphan clothing mfg tycoon – just wait, he’ll get his too!)
Then there is the fun with the amars: They and their social isolate friends seem to just be waiting until that pig Dr. Mallion gets his mitts on them and bends them to productive ends. (apologies to Dr. Ralph Von Wauwau). Well, sort of… The faults of the amars run very deep and so they will screw up even the simplest of operations. It is a miracle that they can feed themselves, except that they need some survival skills for the perpetually meat-starved ronin/ neet trope that also pops up a bit too often. Perhaps they should have tried opening a restaurant?
Finally, it is hard to avoid noticing that Jellyfish refuses to shy away from the economic and social malaise in Tokyo that has crushed down young, middle-aged and old alike, hollowing out the economy, the city and the lives of people. Nor does it hide the profound fear that is very much a part of our heroine’s shyness; the turn to stone thing is funny, but our heroine about to go on a date is whole other level of realistic, raw trauma. The comedy has an edge to it. What saves it from being mean and depressing isn’t that the characters; the girls and the boy are so odd, but that they love their enthusiasms and have begun to dream.
So, Kuragehime for the win.
Dreams are sacred.
On that note, Genshiken 104 raws are out! Both Hato-chan and Yajima get their newest works examined by Ogiue. Much blushing ensues.