Usotsuki Daisy

Otokonoko no Koto (About a Boy)
Oneshot (2016) by Komura Ayumi
Epilogue to the Ten/Taiyou subplot from Usotsuki Lily.

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Warning: Spoilers and considerations of sparkling fluffy BL that depicts guys making out ensues.

Years after I wrote it, this blog’s essay on Usotsuki Lily remains one of the most popular posts. [https://heartsoffuriousfancies.wordpress.com/2013/04/15/the-place-promised-in-earlier-days-on-usotsuki-lily/] I never followed up on the ending of the long-running series (D’awwww near overload; aspirational fiction levels holding at %121; coolant pressure stable, maintaining course and speed.) but this one-shot compels me to grind away once more.

This is not the easiest task. Longtime readers of this blog will recall that while I remain mesmerised by the slashy impulses and rituals of the Japanese rotten tribes, their works are not my thing. Ayumi Komura can get me to make an exception and suspend my stick-in-the-mud oyagi discomfort with depictions of man-secks. Ok; Rendou Kurosaki gets away with it too and yeah, I would wonder how (don’t hold your breath) Kio Shimoku would pull it off. Kōji Kumeta would do one of his rude bara-lampoon pairings with an over-muscled nose picking hulk and the clueless Zetsubo Sensei, so he’s out of the running.

Ayumi Komura sensei can get my attention. What the heck; perhaps I can gain some abstracted flip-side impressions as to the jarring feelings that women have to put up with all the effing time when confronted by a relentless flood of male-gaze objectification. This is pure female-gaze titillation, even if my exposure is safely limited.

Executive Summary:

Ten is smitten with Taiyou and Taiyou who decided to “give it a chance” knows who he likes. They make out and tell each other how they feel for each other. The End.

More interesting is how Komura-sensei pulls it off.

From the scan-group:

“Today we have the long-awaited Ten x Taiyou BL one-shot by Ayumi Komura, first announced over two years ago at the very end of Usolily v17, but only recently released online a couple of weeks ago on the Margaret Bookstore. It’s called Otoko no Ko no Koto (About a Boy) and is an epilogue to the Ten/Taiyou subplot from Usolily.”

This is a stand-alone work, not run in Margaret Magazine proper but still flying under their flag. Margaret in this usage, in Japan refers to the flower we call a daisy, not the female proper name. Margaret Magazine is a long-running powerhouse in mainstream shojou manga. Think of it as Space Battleship Shojou. Do not underestimate its reach or its multi-generational influence.

In the earlier essay, I noted how the interaction between an author and their fans can, within the shojou genre lead towards a mediating role which leads the author to posit aspirational ideals of good behaviour and practice throughout a long-running work. While Komura-sensei never made any secret of her taste for BL-ish subplots, she kept the impulse under strict control during Usolily‘s run. Once the subject of minority sexualities and gender expressions were brought up, beyond the gag of En’s crossdressing for non-identity reasons, they were handled seriously and with respect. This corner of the Margaret-verse was an extremely nice, sincere, safe, good-hearted and understanding place to go to high school. The social circles that the characters moved in were likewise all remarkably well-behaved – even enlightened. Gender roles were seen as superficially constituted of performative elements — at least until a ‘real’ trans-girl transferred in and her ‘reality’ shamed En. Notions of rigid sexuality were positioned as secondary to mutual romantic attraction. In short; an amped-up version of the mainstream contemporary love-conquers-all shojou magazine catechism. D’awwwww and happy endings for most ensue.

For most: let the record show that Ten’s long-crushing friend Saeki gets a teeth-grinding, glaring cameo on the back page. Sorry guy: you can’t win against the Saotome family attraction field (and/or the Shinohara family is just too random for civilians).

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On with the guided bus tour:

Ten starts his day by considering his upcoming date with Taiyou and which dress to wear. He then rejects girly attire in favour of a direct, non-gender-bent (or gender deceptive) presentation. The author was of course trolling the readership by using Otoko No Ko in the title – in its simple, original meaning as “boy”. This is after all a spin-off of Usolily. When Ten makes it downstairs, he sees that his brother En is in full girl-mode and spending time with Hinata. Fans get their En-crossdresses-for-other-reasons dose, their fakee-yuri moment and confirmation that, yes(!) today is the big day and Ten and Taiyou are going to spend it together. Out of the house he goes…

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Wait a second…

Your older brother crossdresses and is spending time with the older sister of the guy you are sweet on? Ok, just sorting things out here, no biggie. By the way, when you crossdress, don’t you look a bit like your older brother in girl mode and wasn’t Taiyou once, for a brief instant smitten by the sight of her, uh him? And didn’t Taiyou once cross-dress as Hinata to fill in at the cafe? This is confusing. Uhh, right; Margaret Magazine crossdressing shojou romcom. Never mind, pray continue…

Ten on his way to meet Taiyou is beset by a mushy internal dialogue of romantic self-doubt. Could Taiyou have been deluded by Ten’s girl-mode, crossdressed appearance? Nawww.. On the other hand Ten is convinced that:

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Cuteness is Justice?

So Ten has a measure of giddy nonsense looping in his head. Wow; almost girl-like. Within the story-verse, Taiyou is a straight virgin guy who has decided to “give it a chance”. Ten’s sexuality is matter-of-fact gay but no mention has been made of any prior sexual experience. Ten’s virgin status is strongly imputed. We have a severely crushing young male on his way to his first possibly intimate rendezvous with his intended.

Add to the mix an extra consideration: Ten wonders whether he will still be as ‘cute’ to Taiyou after he hits his growth spurt and becomes more manly looking — as his brothers are. Come to think of it, Taiyou is looking a lot more manly of late as well. The mangaka has dealt with such body image self-doubts in Usolily and other works; Of note is one about identical enough but non-identical twins hitting puberty [Uno x Uno]. Not quite twincest, just a feeling of loss. Losing the ability to ‘pass’ as a girl is also a staple of otokonoko/ josou stories and rarer, more serious or more dramatic considerations of gender non-conforming charas. Props to sensei for deftly handling it.

While Ten does entertain a few fantasies, no life-shattering melodramas are deployed. Ten as a self-assured, self-proclaimed gay male youth isn’t a direct replacement for Margaret Magazine‘s core readership but he definitely is an upgrade in emotional awareness from the base guy model. He “wants to make more progress with Taiyou-san” and that means intimacy but his physical desire is interleaved with emotional considerations. He comes with a sympathetic head full of excitement and doubt.

Perhaps I overlook the obvious: A first-person internal monologue by male BL-gay Ten can consider things that a girl chara on her way to a first date might find exciting but would rarely be voiced or daydreamed of by a proper young female shojou protagonist. Relationship-py stuff, for sure. Thinking about losing control after a kiss, wondering if she  would “assault” the guy; wondering how her intended would react when they both got naked and touched; becoming overwhelmed with lust by her date’s “cuteness”? Oh my! Isn’t that a bit slutty? Perhaps I need to read more shojou, or josei manga but it looks like snooping over Ten’s shoulder affords a young woman reader a bit more freedom to consider the exciting possibilities of carnality, as well as emotional satisfaction.(1)

As well, since Ten ‘owns’ his desires and sexuality, he is not tormented or conflicted about his desires — in the manner of a certain other young crossdressing guy chara experiencing their first flush of same-sex attraction. Neither is Taiyou a slope-shouldered 4-5 year older spineless near-hiki NEET otaku coward. The generic shojou bishie-ness of the two lower the bar, but that’s the author’s signature drawing style, so we can roll with it.

Yuppers: I will be making occasional comparisons to Hato Kenjiro and Harunobu Madarame. Too bad Kio-sensei, you made it complicated on purpose — this is what you missed, or felt you couldn’t handle or get away with. This is also what a significant number of the slashy fan-verse wanted to see play out; fan-arted and fic’d over and mourned the loss of on Tumblr (etc.). Comparing how Ten x Taiyou fare and thinking about how the other pairing failed will underline the more obvious reasons why our latter two heroes found it impossible to hook up.

More on this after the tour.

Taiyou wants to go to a game shop, get a game, go home and play it, all while hanging out with Ten. Taiyou is acting perfectly in-character as a young guy — that is to say a tad clueless about Time, Place and Occasion. Ten zones out on Taiyou’s bishie looks, in a PG rated way. He even wonders again to himself if it was a mistake not to go out with Taiyou “as a girl” but immediately rejects the idea out of a sense of authenticity.

No, no , no. That’s not right! That wouldn’t be me!

Meanwhile Taiyou remains clueless. Before you can turn two more pages they are at Taiyou’s house, in his room and no one else is home. Da-bump!

Or was that Doki-doki?

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There they are, sitting on the rug, leaning up against Taiyou’s bed. Taiyou is engrossed in his new console game when he finally notices a fidgety Ten next to him. One hand slides under another’s and then they smooch. Their second ever kiss.

Let me pause for a moment here.

As I mentioned, it has been obvious for a while that Komura-sensei really wanted to do a sweet little BL scene with these two. The big question, at least for me was: How does she balance the old-school BL tropes of ‘forcefulness’ and emotionally inarticulate homo-panic with the demands for an enlightened safe, affirmative and respectful Margaret-verse follow-through? Just how much BL and how much YA (Young Adult) can one slip into the mix?

Ten as the initiating physically smaller male chara is a well-worn tradition within rotten lore. On the other hand, he isn’t overpowering his conflicted higher-status/ more manly/ older-looking intended, even if he is leading. There is also the strong implication that as a gay young man who owns his desire, he has given some consideration to how it will manifest. Taiyou can be forgiven for still being stuck in “let’s see how it works out” mode.

Groping ensues and Taiyou appears to be overwhelmed but not repulsed. Ten goes into full romantic lust mode. Taiyou tries to catch his breath. Ten is serious and then –props to Komura-sensei for Ten’s polite asking for permission, even if Taiyou complains that Ten didn’t really wait for a full answer– asks Taiyou “do you mind if I do it with my mouth”. Props again to Komura-sensei for shifting the POV/ angle so that the ensuing pleasuring is left for the reader to imagine, or not.

Yeah; I remain uncomfortable with depictions of male same-sex intimacy. It’s the way I grew up. That said, it is being handled in such a way as to show respect and at the same time not frighten the horses (or the oyagi). Must stop whining. What if the same scene was deployed by Suemitsu Dicca as one of her ecchi josou/ otokonoko/ trap fantasies? Would it be different if it was drawn for the perv-lite male gaze? At least Ten would be crossdressing and wearing naughty knickers.

Ten has demonstrated to Taiyou that yuppers, he really, really likes him, ‘that way’. Taiyou is not just pleasured, but emotionally moved. Taiyou wants Ten’s clothes off too; “to be fair”. Clothes off at this point means shirts off or open — both sets of pants are still on, if not completely done up. Just for one last bit of self-doubt, Ten flashes on the idea that taking his shirt completely off will hammer home the point that (You don’t say, Mr Holmes!) he really is a human male.

Taiyou kisses and hugs Ten and declares that Ten’s skin feels “so soft”. Ten is vindicated! The guy he likes does not recoil in abject horror over skinship with him. The guy he likes is happy to hold him tight! Ode To Joy plays in vaulting cathedrals. Flocks of doves fly upward into sunny skies. (not depicted… budget limits…) Fangirls (and a few fanboys) go squeeeeeeeeeeeee! Love conquers all!

More hugging and smooching!

Egads! Ten! What are you doing with your hand and Taiyou’s blurry cone of light? (If this was het pr0n we’d get a far more detailed representation of someone’s junk. Ain’t that strange? What if it was gay pr0n? Hmmm. Seems to be a matter of gendered gaze.)

This is followed by Ten bubbling about how happy he is that the guy he likes liked it and…

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No need to spoil EVERYTHING. Suffice it to say, Taiyou declares that he is doing this because of his own feelings and that he has not been fooled or pressured or bribed or whatever. He really likes Ten. They declares their love! More necking and hey, because they are young, in love and horny, more intimacy to follow.

D’awwwww.

Fade out, roll credits.

Note that even while Ten was overheating for his intended, he didn’t go into any Hato-esque BL fantasy overload. His fascination was always locked onto the present, immediate physicality of Taiyou. Likewise Taiyou is overwhelmed not just by being done but by the warmth and enjoyment of giving Ten a good squeeze, or three. And they both like to kiss a lot. They also seem to realise that they can explore a bit around the other’s ears, neck, chest, etc. Oh wow! Humans come with a full covering of sensitive skin. At least a tip of the hat towards something beyond kiss then grab between the legs. They appear to be able to figure out the rest of it as well. Someone might be presently initiating but no one has fallen into seme x uke roleplaying, let alone wrist pinning, ropework or butt-raping. On the other hand, they are not just ‘fooling around’ or scratching an itch. This is romantic sex; gay love-making depicted respectfully and with mindful attention displayed toward each other.

One more time from Takemiya Jin:

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As I previously mentioned: this is an aspirational upgrade from baseline expectations; sometimes self-consciously described as ‘sparkling fluffy BL’ in acknowledgement of too-often indulged excesses.

You can get away with a heck of a lot in Shojou manga.

We must also remind ourselves again that the primary audience for this work are women; even young-ish, teen-aged women. How Ten initiated intimacy suggests a tip sheet for an inexperienced, young (or young at heart) woman (or guy) to get things moving with the guy they like, who is being a bit slow on the uptake. (Naw, he is busy heavily processing those new affirmative consent rules… Ok, he may be just a little bit slow but anyway, it’s nice to be fancied…) As well, Ten’s experience of being overwhelmed with the immediacy of his physical attraction toward Taiyou validates his earlier otherwise embarrassingly creepy staring and stalking. We get the payoff, the raison d’être for the series’ relentless fixation on the physical attraction of attractive young critters of both sexes.

Attraction hits first: it’s all about looks. Then they get to know each other better. This is excusable and understandable. No turn red, avert eyes and stutter pantomime here. It might be shallow as all heck but everyone in Usolily-ville is good-looking.

Taiyou, likewise responds with his full attention once his desire is sparked. See how they fixate on each other. Such intense focus! Their feelings must be real. It says so in the guide at the back of this month’s issue.

The make-out scene, if Ten was switched out for a woman would be resonant to any male who has had occasion to let the woman lead. There definitely is an idealised aspect of real-life modelling to this narrative. The bodies are male but the mind directing the show and the audience she writes for is female. And slow-on-the-uptake guys are all pretty much the same across time, space and sexualities. Pay attention to how Taiyou reacts to the gift: He doesn’t just lie back and grunt. He is moved and tenderly responds.

Houston; we have a generic, idealised first intimate date scenario; with the curtains run down before anyone starts trying to act out scripts, expectations, roles, gymnastics, The Joy of Schmex Revised Edition, naughty underwear, porno movie scenes and the usual other 2 metric tons of cultural detritus to seem to get in the way of what used to be the most natural thing in the world.

Idealized intimacy that just so happens to be male:male, pulled off by Komura-sensei in best Margaret Magazine form.

No one gets fridged. No one goes on about the guilt they feel over their shameful desires or wonders if they are gay or whether it’s an exceptional case of “It’s you and only you”. No one even has to announce that they know what they like and that happens right now to be him. No one gets bullied, shunned or laughed at behind their back. No one is spotlighted and pushed towards acting out an in-story script that does not fit them. The only advice offered Taiyou was from Hinata (in flashback) to be sure of his own feelings and not “just go along” with other people’s expectations. And that advice was given as a private confidence from an older to sister to her younger brother. Older sisters in Japan have responsibilities. Because it is male:male, no one has to worry about going too far and getting knocked up. No one has to act passive or do all the work while the other fails to give the slightest indication of emotional affect.

The only thing lacking is a safety and hygiene lecture and a plug for young guys to get the HPV vaccine if they break up and start dating around. Yup, guys can get HPV-linked cancers in all kinds of interesting places too. En and Hinata could have delivered the same PSA. See this FCCJ article for alarming news about one anti-vax Japanese doctor and the ensuing public health fallout. See: http://www.fccj.or.jp/number-1-shimbun/item/892-vaccine-battle-stakes-are-high/892-vaccine-battle-stakes-are-high.html

Before we let this slip by we must ask: why does Margaret Magazine find it easier to show two young guys approaching intimacy than a girl taking an active lead towards her boyfriend?

Why indeed?

Strange that a franchise that started as a modest high-school romantic comedy oneshot featuring a strong-willed kendo girl and her goofy Rurouni Kenshin cosplaying boyfriend would evolve over the years into a best-practice example of happy preach-by-example queer-friendly supportive La-la land romances (not La-la per se, that being a rival publication). This installment lacks Komura-sensei’s usual afterword pages of banter and fan interaction (one end panel deemed sufficient) or any of her fourth-wall-breaking asides; they are not needed. However the sensitivity towards minority sexualities and gender expressions remains window-dressing. The sermon remains firmly addressed towards the realm of heterosexual relations. Queer is used in the manner of a biblical parable. At least it is not used as a negative example.

The last violence we impose upon the queer of our straight imaginations is the burden of our hopes.”

While enjoying an online course into the recent history of Japanese popular culture genres, I happened upon an early thematic division in shojou manga stories. Some were wealth/ opportunity/ social mobility possibility stories. Others were fantasies of role-breaking and empowerment. The most overlooked, if only for their plain approach, were those typed as otometic stories. The ordinary girl who soldiers on un-noticed finds a quirky guy who believes in her. She returns his affirmation and they both decide that because they can support each other as they are that they can go on to live happy lives, perhaps together.

Even when the couple don’t walk off into the sunset, the heroine gets to say to herself: “…perhaps not this time but I now know that I can love and am worthy of love.

I immediately suspected that this old-school form is probably being repurposed in contemporary narratives, with the field of subjects somewhat widened. Looks like it still works. I wonder if any senior yuri experts have considered looking at their genre through this lens? It could offer a welcome elaboration on the finer grades of ‘story-A’ out there clogging up Book Off.

The trouble with these speculations remains that while I have sufficient theoretical knowledge about the wide currents of Japanese fujoshi lore and story tropes, like Kio Shimoku I am cheating. He has probably read more BL than I have — if only for research. On the other hand, he had only to digest the representative greatest hits of the then somewhat-hidden 1980’s through 2006 fandoms. The genre has since gone mainstream and mutated with popularity, acceptance, wider thematic range. Parts of it have adopted a more respectful approach to the portrayal of male same-sex romance and intimacy. Who needs pissed off real gay guys slagging your publishing company and author? As well, there are young guys out in the boonies who can’t get their hands on bara mags and their money is as good as their sisters’. Big tent keeps the presses running.

It is possible that the pages of current shojou manga magazines are stuffed to the brim with ‘sparkling fluffy’, respectful, sappy, aspirational male:male romance fare ground out by the ream for mostly female enjoyment. Off to the doujin shops if they want hawt and nasty. Once again, it is difficult to make sweeping generalisations without metrics and robust survey data. I would however be surprised if this work is ‘merely’ generic and not of any particular note. You don’t get 17 volumes plus spin-offs out of generic.

Or perhaps I just like Ayumi Komura’s drawing style and her cheesy stories.

The main weakness of the characters and situations in Usolily is that they all push towards a sanitized romantic ideal. The individuals portrayed are all too shiny. The body types — all lean and thin, big eyed and wispy haired are eye-candy. Even when they try to act jealous and mean, they fail at anything beyond a comical, cute petulance. They are like puppies and kittens. It’s hard to work up any measure of homophobic dread towards a bunch of puppies and kittens. Komura-sensei works this to the limits.

In contrast, the range of body types, character depth, conflicted backstories, social ineptitude and unease, shame, hurt and isolation in the Genshiken cast is far more engaging, leaning if not towards realism, at least towards complexity. But this hobbles the march towards romantic happy endings. Continuing pair-bonding thereafter is likewise not guaranteed. The Usolily cast may have their quirks and even come with minority sexualities and gender expressions but they remain steadfastly riajuu. Sou-riajuu. En is riajuu. Hinata is riajuu. Even Samurai guy is riajuu; he might as well be a sailboarding enthusiast or rock band guitarist for all it has affected his life, social interactions and chances at love.

Flip through the back pages of a certain subset of Genshiken fandom on say, Tumblr and you will soon be overwhelmed at the number of simple, naive, sparkling & fluffy alternative good endings imagined for Mada and Hato. You may well laugh but the desire was real enough in individual fans to impel them to create these artifacts. TenxTayou is the “pro” version of reams of fan-art and fic; serving as a nod, a tribute and a sui generis example. Next episode to show how a pro mangaka does a ‘curtain fic’. (happy pair goes out shopping for apartment furniture)

A pointless digression about Genshiken’s HatoMadaHato theme:

It’s all fiction, neh? Of course Mada and Hato could have “given it a chance” and might well have been convincingly written as happily fumbling at each other like Ten and Taiyou…

…If Madarame was 5 years younger, less of a spineless slave to his university graduate soon-to-be-lifelong salaryman role; less prone to taking refuge from his past failures by hiding behind his snake-man uber-creep otaku act; less inclined to seek validation and consensus from any group he found himself in and more able to focus on the one he decided that he liked… Oops — must drop the Saki torch song in there too, somewhere…

…And if Hato could have stopped using his love of BL as a perfect hidey-hole for his same-sex desires and emerging gender-fluidity; eased off on insisting that his gay-ish desires play out according to hardcore BL fetish scripts; not be haunted by the unrelenting fear that at any time his beloved fujoshi social would turn on him and cast him out in shame and despair and if he could for one moment admit to himself and to Madarame something more than “I will stop running away”…

(Nawww… We all know what he really loves.)

…And if the rest of the second generation fujoshi membership as well as Ogiue and Ohno could have stopped indulging his need to make a ritual gift of his male self to the female social, backed off, eschewed meddling, given him some space…

…And if a few dozen other If’s central to the characterisation of the entire Genshiken cast and the arcs of its narratives could be held in abeyance for just a few weeks of in-story time, even if it was subjective 2005-2006, then perhaps…

Or not. At least Mada and Hato could have had time to talk over a few more cold beer.

Tack back towards the main discussion…

Bummer. Stories come with their own internal logics, that’s the game. Sometimes a draw is the best that can be written out of what the author writes themselves into. Mada will screw up with Sue for sure. And I still think that Spotted Flower ch12 was a cruel trick. The later chapter with alt-Sue sporting ludicrously excessive silicone oppai hints at one particular idiot opening his stupid yap once too often. In Usolily, the only boob-fixated guy is a melancholy jerk (later redeemed) and none of the female charas feel concerned in any way by the proportionality of their mammaries to the rest of their frames. The whole huge jiggly boobies thing in CVJC feels forced, beyond hysterical. Earth to the men of Japan! The titties on the woman you love are perfect, now shut the fuck up and gaze into her eyes. C’mon, you trained yourself to get hot and bothered over 2D girls with battleship parts sticking out of their backs and backsides; this one should be easy.

A woman author working in anime, games and /or manga might give one of more of her yaoi puppets cat ears or other small exotic markers but she doesn’t load up their hairy chests with 8″ naval guns or put propellers on (or in) their pants. What the fuck is up with the (our) male imagination?

Tamaki-sensei and many others gloss over the difference (or differance) with the catch-all excuse ‘asymmetry’. Dragging out the unfoldings of how such asymmetries manifest is left to bloggers and other amateur enthusiasts. Likewise, calling a diffuse range of trope and chara weirdness a ‘database’ alludes to a pandemonium of forms but eschews further understanding in favor of the eddies and currents of taste within fandoms and ‘the marketplace’. Again I am unconvinced.

It seems more probable or at least more useful to note how exotic characters are deployed into situations to handle things that should be readily worked out by the usual suspects — but for complex societal reasons cannot be dealt with directly. As in the previous speculations on a wider application of the idea of iyashi, it is tempting to add an additional degree (or more) of narrative distance beyond the distance already imposed by a fictional setting and characters.

There is undoubtedly some deep-seated, underlying cognitive bias at work in this effect.

Is liking a good story a cognitive bias?

A further  pointless digression about Genshiken:

One further compare and contrast from the Usolily-verse to the Genshiken-verse: The unappreciated subtlety of Keiko’s brutal after-club quasi-seduction of Madarame. See how the entire scene is played out in the major key of Keiko exasperation. I should have done more work on it, as many guys with a modicum of sexual experience — myself included have found themselves in somewhat similar circumstances. The woman is pissed off. She might be amenable to future or even near future intimacy but at the moment, she finds him (you) severely lacking. She is tired. She doesn’t want to put on a display of her needs or her interest for a stupid, hesitant, privileged clod sitting there in her space. She wants to be appreciated and respected. Not jumped or overpowered — appreciated. She wants to be the exclusive, unshakeable focus of his attention. She wishes proof that she fascinates. He can be embarrassed, flustered, hesitant, scared, but he must not take his eyes off her. (her face, not her boobies, uppen mit der gaze, boyo!) This is Japan. Everybody is supposedly an expert on things that are conveyed without being said. Right?

Dude! Pretend you are number one Host at her fave host club. Yup; feels like work. There is a reason why bargirls are stereotyped as weak only to the charms of their male counterparts.

He must propose, she will dispose and he should slowly proceed to demonstrate how her charms hold his undivided and unconditional attention. Most women have hair that smells good. It’s a residual pheromone thing. If she lets him get close enough, he can make a small show of being intoxicated by the scent, and it generally is intoxicating, so this wont stretch anyone’s acting skills. The urge to directly grab at her boobies or beyond must be resisted. Not, repeat not, act as President-elect. The room can catch fire around both of them; he must wait until she tells him to snap out of it and flee (with her — Duh!).

Ease back to the main theme…

Somehow in all the manga, games and anime that Madarame consumed over the course of his mis-spent otaku youth, he never once was clued in on this type of script; in comparison to the ones female fans were being force-fed daily through the actions of a panoply of character types. Guy-gaze narratives don’t bother with this sort of thing. (Lupin tries but as farce and Fujiko is going to get what she wants in any case – everything except faithful monogamy, so fair is fair) Just do the action adventure thing, try harder and compete with your rivals in endless level-up battles. Obey the Coach. Obey the Boss Take one for the team. Yawn!

Even when these stories bring a modicum of complexity to simple heterosexual romance, they rely on the tropes of character types, recreating in miniature the societal strictures that romance narratives seek to escape. Consider Isin’s Monogatari franchise; note the Araragi-Senjougahara relationship discussions. Hey buddy-boy, don’t collapse and roll over on her tatami mat. Pay attention to your girl-friend! It will be worth it. Araragi is once again “acting” in type, as is Senjougahara. Formulaic and reassuring as it is, at least a few suggestions are offered.

Note how her gaze is locked onto him. He knows enough about her to guess why she does this. Will he acknowledge her behaviour and attempt to reciprocate? I know it’s not alpha male behaviour but since when does buddy boy have the competence and earning power to act alpha? The whole alpha thing is a crock of male insecurity anyway. It’s a lot more fun this way. Hopeless! Senjougahara-san will eventually decide that Araragi is dithering and jump him. More work for the girl, again! Big, fearless vampire/ vampire fighter: hmmmph!

We seriously need some kind of aspirational Josei-ish genre for guys. Before this, we might need to see if plain vanilla Shojou and /or Josei can handle a romance narrative in as simple and aspirational (as opposed to fantastic and/or pathological) a manner as TenxTaiyou was managed.

Did we really need to create shadow-gay characters to have two teens who like each other happily make out?

We tried dating sims and lookee how that skidded off the road. Yuri, even lesbian-approved yuri won’t work. The BL project, beyond simple matters of entertainment for fujoshi is sometimes used to posit the possibilities of romantic interaction freed from the constraints of rigidly gendered behaviour expectations — or at least elevated to a synthetic recreation of the supposed freedom afforded to male actors. Sometimes even the problematic role behaviours that can interfere and burden a guy are airbrushed away to make a point.

Why are such elaborate work-arounds needed?

 

(1) Contrast Ten and Taiyou to how Kendo girl freaked out when Samurai Cosplay boy kissed her collarbone in Usotsuki Lily. How many chapters did that take to work out?

Full metal shoujo

How did I miss this one?

Dozer s034web

 

Usotsuki Lily’s Ayumi Komura has had a new series out for this year. The follow your heart/ follow your dreams love triangle; Full Dozer is already ending/ ended at 3 volumes, but must not be missed – if your tastes run to being hit repeatedly on the head with a shoujo stick.

dozer s028web

I guess mine now do. I feel like I’ve been run over with a shoujo bulldozer – by an expert. This thing is a shoujo wave-motion gun. Or a very well-made shoujo chocolate cheesecake laced with opioids. Or a shoujo wave motion gun that shoots shoujo chocolate opioid cheesecake at you. Uuurrrpp!

What the ^&%! hit me?

There aren’t any overt carry-overs from Uso Lily in it and wrapping it up after a short run is a bit of a shame but it looks like it was planned that way so it would make a nice self-contained story. As usual, the drawing style is all wispy hair, big, big expressive eyes and fine, strong lines in the artwork. The characters have emotion and conflict and faults but surprising reserves of good will that elevate (and hasten the end of) the story.

D’Awwwwwwwwwww!

Meanwhile, Uso Lily’s most earnest tribute band -urm- series, Mizutama Honey Boy continues to push all the same levers as far as they will go, so no one who finds themselves jones-ing for improbable syrupy teen romcom snacks will go too hungry. Kendo Girl of Versailles is impressive.

Am I missing some inter girls’ magazine rivalry thing here between Margaret and Lala?

And for those of us who either or also prefer more realistic fare, It looks like Stretch wrapped up at four volumes. Very adult, good stretching tips, A clean ending that didn’t suddenly turn on the yuri to get some last-minute service in. (well, maybe just a teeny bit right at the end, but no one threw themselves off a railway bridge or anything) I never saw any fetish fuel in it, but then chacun a son gout.

Life is good!

(…and, finally went through this entire blog and excised all the idiosyncratic spellings of shoujo, dammit. That felt like work. Shoujo, shoujo, shoujo dammit! Done! Whew!)

In thy orisons be all my sins remembered

On Mary Sue, her origins, popularity and the ubiquity of simple wish-fulfillment narratives in melodramatic manga..

Walker, Cynthia W. 2011. “A Conversation with Paula Smith.” Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 6. doi:10.3983/twc.2011.0243.
http://journal.transformativeworks.org/index.php/twc/article/view/243/205

“It isn’t every fan who rates a Wikipedia entry (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_sue) and a mention on Salon.com (http://www.salon.com/books/laura_miller/2010/04/21/mary_sue) for a term she invented, but Paula Smith will be forever known as the person who coined the phrase “Mary Sue.”

EnsignSue_869

In case you have never run into Ms. Sue before, here is her home page: http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/MarySue

To stumble upon the Paula Smith interview left me momentarily stunned and then struck by a violent bout of nostalgia; not for the invention of the Mary Sue trope, but for the odd coincidence that I was at some of the very same early conventions she mentions, at the times mentioned, and probably ran into many of the same folks mentioned in her interview. I may have met her in passing but I can’t remember doing so. I did some table manning volunteering at Tri-con. How’s this for a secret handshake to prove I was there: I was privy to the not-so secret insider gossip that one of the celebs needed a quick prescription due to… la la la

Hold on tight, this one is going to be messy!

past kill me wannamotei

Oh misspent youth! I was playing hooky from high school and sneaking off to sci-fi conventions (…and Patti Smith concerts, which together warped both my sense of the future, and my ideas of female sexual agency).

Why would you want to read a blog post where I get all nostalgic about my misspent youth? I promise useful theory-ish insights! I swear! Something has been banging around in the idea bucket since my last post on prof. Saito Tamaki, and it involves Mary Sue, Shojo (or Shoujo) manga, professor Tamaki, Adrian Piper and why the new and improved yuri V2 is a lot closer to yaoi than everyone first thought.

On the construction of an imaginary other / an imagined other sex:

First Dr Saito Tamaki and his friend again…

“”Enomoto explains that “male fans cannot experience moe until they have fixed their own position”— an observation that may well have validity beyond otaku and yaoi fans. In general a man fears the undermining of his own subject position, and he must establish that position firmly before he can desire an object. This is probably the fate of all who possess a phallus (as distinct from a penis): if the position and orientation of the phallus is not defined, the male cannot face even the object of his own desire.””
(Otaku Sexuality, see prev post for the full citation)

The wimmens are supposed to lack the constraining need for the phallic signifier and therefore can better play with yaoi puppets and enjoy seme, uke and god-narrator-author points of view all at the same time. Taken to insulting extremes, this kind of psycho-babble suggests that women don’t even possess a conventional “identity” as unified subject, except as a reflection of a lack, so they can identify with and partake in desire with rocks, rivers, Hello Kitty, jet airplane turbines, living room furniture and days of the week.

The assumption here again is of a certain vulgar essentialist view of gendered behaviour that fits with the Freudian “original sin” mythology of the development of the modernist “subject”. Blah blah blah. This is as close to the core of the whole mess as one can get, and it presents a weak spot for critics to sink their hooks into it. Suffice it to say that once the wimmins theorists got hold of this little gem, they found a big internal contradiction in it: what is usually now refered to as “male hysteria”.

This is a theory in-joke, because the word hysteria derives from old greek or old latin or old middle earth dwarvish and means something like “womb madness” and therefore should be a relative of PMS – a girl thing. But instead of some 1950’s Betty screaming madly until Cary Grant slaps her upside, “male hysteria” is now far more common in pop culture overacting.

Some guy “breaks” under pressure and goes all violent/ fearful/ batshit psycho/ suicidal because he cannot live up to his internal standards of guy-ness. So Ms. Enomoto’s quip and Dr. Tamaki’s elaboration of it above is just orthodox Western psych canon, used in an interesting way. On the surface male-hysteria boy is just snapping under the pressure of defending his subject position. But If the subject position is so easily broken, was it, and all the high theatre of male-ness all there, and so fixed in the first place?

Whoooooohooooo Scary! Careful you don’t lose it buddy, or you will turn into a woman – which is even worse than being a gay man!

The best short-form version of this kind of thing that I have found so far is Rio Otomo’s work on how Mishima overdoes this kind of pop Freudian view of female-ness (http://rio-otomo.net/academic-papers/mishima-yukios-sex-which-is-not-one)

“Following the first coup attempt, Isao is arrested. During one of his long nights in prison, Isao dreams of turning into a woman. Although this episode functions as a prophecy of the next reincarnation, a young Thai princess, the description of Isao’s becoming a woman conveys more messages than is necessary for a lead into the following volume.

[Isao] felt as if the world had been turned inside out … his flesh had lost definite form, turned into flesh that was soft and swaying. He was filled with a mist of soft, languid flesh. Everything became vague. Wherever he searched, he could find no order or structure. There was no supporting pillar… Comfort and discomfort, joy and sorrow – all alike slid over his skin like soap. Entranced, he soaked in a warm bath of flesh. The bath by no means imprisoned him. He could step out whenever he liked, but the languid pleasure kept him from abandoning it, so that staying there forever, not choosing to go, had become his ‘freedom.’ Thus there was nothing to define him, to keep him under strict control. What had once wound itself tightly round and round him like a rope of platinum had slipped loose. (Mishima, 1985: 449-50)[9]

While Isao is determined to banish the memory of the dream, he cannot deny the fact that the sensation he felt was not thoroughly disagreeable. The feminine is defined here as freedom from the restrictions not only of body but also of mind:

Everything he had so firmly believed in was meaningless. Justice was like a fly that had tumbled into a box of face powder and smothered; beliefs for which he had meant to offer up his life were sprayed with perfume and melted. All glory dissolved in the mild warmth of mud… Sparkling snow had melted away entirely. He felt the uncertain warmth of spring mud within him. Slowly something took form from that spring mud, a womb. Isao shuddered as the thought came to him that he would soon give birth. His strength had always spurred him with violent impatience towards action, had always responded to a distant voice that conjured up the image of a vast wilderness. But now, that strength had left him. The voice was silent. The outer world, which no longer called to him, now, rather, was drawing closer to him, was touching him. (Mishima, 1985: 450)

A womb-like zone – comfort and pleasure ‘inside’ the skin – is within him. The body has now lost its contour, and a smell of ‘decaying seaweed,’ ‘an entirely organic odour’ has permeated this body. But whose voice are we hearing in this passage? Is there a speaking agent in this formless body? Judith Butler contends that there is no pre-existing agent behind performance, and that rather, the agent is an effect of performance (Butler 1993:30). [10] The voice of Mishima’s text speaks from the no-man’s land that lies between man and woman, and the owner of that voice is what Butler calls a ‘linguistic effect’, the image projected on the surface of the body in the bath. Through this transgender narrative Mishima destabilises the authority of a speaking subject, first and foremost that of male sex.

Let us read further the carnivalesque space which Mishima produces in this passage, in which the realm of the feminine undermines the said order. The woman-like being in the bath is overwhelmed by the sense of eternal pleasure, jouissance, and a division between subject and object disappears in her. There seems no scope of binaries conceived in her realm.

Justice, zeal, patriotism, aspirations for which to hazard one’s life – all had vanished. In their place came an indescribable intimacy with the things around him… Things clung to [Isao] like paste, and, at the same time, lost all their transcendental significance. Trying to arrive at some goal was no longer a problem. Everything was arriving here from elsewhere. Thus there was no longer a horizon, no longer any islands. And with no perspective at all evident, voyages were out of the question. There was only the endless sea. (Mishima, 1985: 450)

This new imagery of woman as a formless, all-inclusive existence like the endless sea is a considerable shift from the way in which Mishima depicts women in The Temple of the Golden Pavilion. The central character of that text, Mizoguchi, finds women’s corporeality incongruous to the spiritual value embodied in the beauty of the Golden Temple, which was handed down to him by his late father. All women – his mother; the woman who rejects him; the prostitute who accepts him; the pan-pan girl who accuses him – stir anger and hostility in him. The world of the Mother and that of the Father are clearly marked in black and white; there is no room for negotiation or switching positions between the two. Mizoguchi’s narrative indeed takes place within a strictly Oedipalised and regulated space. In contrast Isao’s dream scene presents a different narrativisation of the feminine, the one that posits a powerful antithesis to the ruling regime of the Symbolic order. The she-man, Isao, is without skin or body contour, and thus no longer demarcating himself as an autonomous and unified subject. He instead feels being part of the endless sea. This passage is one of the rare occasions in which Mishima makes a reference to the title of the tetralogy. He sexes the sea, as it were, and makes it fertile.”

Overwrought Mishima is overwrought!

What a classic Freud/ Lacan male mash-up fantasy of female-ness. Here is male hysteria creating an imagined (and rather silly) feminine other, just like the hegemonic “ruling regime of the Symbolic order” theory-verse does. If the female narrator is such an amorphous blob-monster, why are so many of her daughters creating Mary Sue avatars – which are pure naked agency, devoid of any polite restraint?

Sarcasm aside, Mishima is one of the big high lit novelists of 20th century Japan: If he wants to construct a pop-psychology cliche of “the female” built in the solitary mind of a male protaganist who is “breaking up” and bang it violently against his other fave cliche of masculinity the Shonen Jump-ish  Koha, then he is playing with extremes for novelistic effect. Fair ball – you can’t do that kind of thing in an essay. Just don’t get carried away and try to stage a real-life coup, then disembowel yourself.

“What is kōha? … youth, violence, naivety, straightforwardness, anti-social behaviour, small-group hierarchy, or ethnocentrism. If one looks closely, one will find that emotions in kōha mentality are represented by politics rather than romantic love. Politics in the Orient is the ideal of machismo and the relationship amongst men. Although both politics and romantic love are naturally saturated in emotionalism …what makes the former distinct from the latter is that while the latter strives for individualism, the former is the urge to mould oneself into an ideal shape [as part of the whole]. Therefore, [kōha affiliates] have no danger of self-mortification…their desperate attempt to preserve their power begins in conservatism and racial fundamentalism. Since action is considered to be the embodiment of their power that blindly aims at justice, kōha will never suffer from a guilty conscience for their own action. (Mishima, 1989: 1015)

Despite its often violent and anti-social behaviour, the men who were called kōha [the school of the solid] occupied the place of legitimate masculinity, while nanpa [the school of the soft] was not necessarily excluded from the patriarchal order, receiving a certain respect from kōha affiliates. As Japan rapidly evolved into the post-industrial society, in which kōha values were regarded as excessive and therefore redundant, nanpa became the norm. The hidden agenda of the article above are: Mishima’s denunciation of the modern novel, which he now calls ‘nanpa-style literature’ which has dominated the Japanese literary scene since the post-Meiji era; and his call for ‘kōha-style writing’ that represents Japan in its pristine state. The article also expresses Mishima’s yearning for a life that is steadfast, fleeting, emotional and devoid of psychological complexity, in other words, his longing for a story-telling that predates the modern novel. Kōha, according to Mishima, defies things logical and intellectual, demonstrating a Japanese native characteristic – distrust in logocentricism. Mishima is here re-defining the concept of masculinity (and the kōha-style that represents it) to be emotional and non-verbal, taking over the properties of the feminine. It is an ironical twist given by Mishima who started his writing career as an emblematic nanpa writer and is now steadfastly transforming himself into a boxer, a sport-reporter, a swordsman and an army officer. The politics that Mishima takes up is a natio nalism without logic and words; for him kōha literature – the story of Japanese masculinity – is a counter-discourse to the masculinity foregrounded by Western imagination.”

Yikes!

The project of imagining the other gender seems to be fraught with what i can only call “category slip”. Are we speaking of real-world behaviour here? Is it public or private behaviour? Or is it confined to the real of “play” or imagination? Does it stay in the safe space of “the simulated”, in recreational fiction, or in the imaginary that is built when the subject takes parts of the the imaginary world, performs a personal bricolage on the components and creates a personal “fantasy”. Are these fantasies best left private, or are they the stuff of the gift, of symbolic exchange? Should the exchange be limited to experts, or can anyone play?

We are already three or four layers deep in category slip here: public identity, to private life, to gendered categories of desire in recreational narratives. Things get messy really fast. One could easily start off trying to figure out why poorly socialized males obsess over certain types of stories and fall into speculation on the “desires of the beautiful fighting girl”? (yup, prof. Saito does it on occasion) Excuse me – she’s a one-dimensional category of fictional character, she can have any “desires” any particular writer cares to give her, or none at all. Myself, I think she wants to hijack a time machine and become Mishima’s mom. She should ask Dr. Doom; I hear he lets Squirrel Girl use it.

I bet Rio Otomo thinks she wants an account at fanfiction.net and a laptop.

Professor Saito Tamaki has a bigger problem than the limits of Freud-zoku concepts of gendered subjectivity. Either he has to go full blown Mishima and acknowledge that the subject is not only formed in relation to the other, but that the subject expends a ridiculous amount of energy first constructing the imaginary other out of all kinds of bat-shit crazy cultural detritus that is found lying around, or he can just  stick to the useful stuff, like the quasi-libinous kick that comes from being a second-order or third order producer of ephemera that surrounds the consumption of a cultural artifact. That has traction. Whooooeee! Its time for a big potlatch party! Make friends, hang out, play with your fave fan-stuff, do some mash-ups, put out a dojin – hey wait: sounds a bit like the idealized space of the Genshiken. Myself, I would drop the Freud-speak, or at least view it as one among many convenient “scripts” that can be rummaged out of the dumpster.

Bad method acting school time: “What’s my character’s motivation?”

I won’t hold my breath.

OR: Prof Saito Tamaki knows all this, but Japan has lousy disability pension laws and regulations and he is trying to symptom-ize the condition so that Hikis and really withdrawn otaku – types get coverage and do not starve to death ????

Query: Is hikikomori in the DSMV ? prof Saito pioneered the study of the condition! That’s a pretty high honour  Remember, no DSM listing, no insurance coverage, at least in the USA, Canada, etc.. I can find no mention that it is in the DSMV yet. Perhaps one has to dress the condition up in Freud drag to make it “real” within the clerisy. http://www.biomedcentral.com/1471-244X/12/169

On presenting the public self:

Shift POV back to memory lane:

Way back then I swear I bought some of those early Mary Sue Star Trek fanzines! No one warned me they were gendered artifacts. I was soooooooo crushed when I was told by someone who I lent them to that they were nothing but horribly written girly wish-fulfillment fantasies. Sure they were, but they had steamy hawt (and rather odd) secks scenes in them! No slash thankfully. Whew! Only original heterosexual characters bonking, so it wasn’t too weird; no Kirk/ Spock/ Mary Sue threesomes.

Let me say that again. They were written by female fans and they had hawt secks scenes in them, and I was rather young at the time, and by the way this was in the early Pleistocene era and they used mimeograph machines to print the things! (Damn, I am still putting off that honking big theory post I promised 2 months ago!). Those fan-women/ fen were -gasp- sexual creatures, as much as Patti Smith was, and incidentally equally unconcerned with being embarrassed about  publicly taking their desires for reality.

Oh brave new world that hath such creatures in it!

Did I mention my high school was very catholic? And that all this took place in the early Pleistocene era? Dinosaurs and Playboy bunnies walked the earth. Skinny, nearsighted geek boys who couldn’t do sports were supposed to have absolutely no chance for romance and misbehaviour – at least until we finished University. And yet I already knew a terrible secret…

Hijinx ensued.

This January I saw a 68-year-old Patti Smith perform at a concert hall in Shibuya. She still can’t play guitar to save her life, and routinely makes an ass of herself on stage and gets Japanese culture and mythos dead stupid wrong, and has a Mishima fixation, and none of it matters, because she is a rock and roll goddess and at 68 years of age she can wank out on stage all she wants. She is still hawt! She doesn’t look a day over 50…

And her soul sisters in the Mary Sue brigades have taken over the world.

What I am trying to say is that a certain moment in time, with just the right mix of technology, and weirdness, mass culture suddenly allowed a lot of folks who previously had stuff to say, but couldn’t bear the hassle and expense, who were shut out of the commercial channels, to get up on stage and “act out”. Fanwriters didn’t have word processors yet, let alone the interwebs (no gopher, pine, email and usenet groups, not even fidonet!  – that would all have to wait until the 1990’s) but they did have slightly more available IBM Selectric typewriters and Gestetner (screen cut mimeograph machines go back to the 1920’s or earlier) machines that were fairly easy to borrow or appropriate. And they had an expanding fan convention culture, no longer centered on traditional “hard” sci-fi.

Meanwhile over in rock and roll land, “at the other end of the hallway a rhythm was generating…”

Perhaps it would be best to ask Lenny Kaye, garage band historian, pop music anthropologist, producer, meddler and lead guitar to the Patti Smith Group (still after all those years and yup, he was holding it together in Tokyo that night..) what changed. Or go read the liner notes to Nuggets. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lenny_Kaye

Whatever the reason, something had slipped in the control rooms of the big record companies some 30 years before mp3’s would destroy them and plenty of people like Patti Smith got up on stage to bring their own messy, raw and painfully, embarrassingly naive idea of how rock’n’roll should be done to anyone who would listen.

And yeah we look the same
Both pumpin steel, both sweatin
But you know she got nothin to hide
And I got something to hide here called desire
I got something to hide here called desire
And I will get out of here–
You know the fiery potion is just about to come
In my nose is the taste of sugar
And I got nothin to hide here save desire
And I’m gonna go, I’m gonna get out of here
I’m gonna get out of here, I’m gonna get on that train,
I’m gonna go on that train and go to New York City
I’m gonna be somebody, I’m gonna get on that train, go to New York City,
I’m gonna be so big, I’m gonna be a big star and I will never return,
Never return, no, never return, to burn at this Piss Factory
And I will travel light.
Oh, watch me now.

Patti Smith, Piss Factory (1974)

Bloody amateurs! Mary Sues all of them!

The sins of Mary Sue are all sins of degree. Recall slash-kami “Mary Jean Johnson’s” admonition about yaoi fan-writing:

“Yaoi isn’t like other fictional writing. It’s a private vision written for personal satisfaction, and to apply the standards by which we judge ordinary literature to yaoi is to willfully ignore this private element. You can say ‘Male pregnancy stories don’t do it for me’ if you like, but to say ‘Male pregnancy stories are stupid and childish and people should stop writing them’ is not only arrogant, it’s dangerous. All fantasies are legitimate or none are, and to discredit the male pregnancy fantasy is automatically to discredit your own fantasy of mutual empowerment and non-penetrative sex. As for trashing a fanwriter’s style, it’s like shooting the piano player. Chances are she’s doing the best she can. The only way you get to play the piano better is by playing the piano more. And quite possibly she writes that way because she likes writing that way, typos and all, and belongs to that huge group of people (of whom Word’s Spell-check is one) who really believe that its should be written it’s on all occasions.””

It could also be that plotting standards have slipped precipitously, or that naive story telling is comfortably non-threatening to a modern mass audience (as is tone-deaf pop singing), but ms. Sue has found a permanent place as one of the zashi-warashi of contemporary Japanese Visual Culture. Blame Comike(t)  It doesn’t matter. She is wabi-sabi as all heck; a flawed guardian spirit/ meta-heroine. (we will leave aside Western women’s genre fiction, either young adult or the slightly older age bracket’s “spunky girl in the big city finds interesting well-paying job, brand name goodies and two competing good boy/ bad boy lovers”) At least ms. Sue gets written, a lot! You can’t keep a gal like her in the kitchen, or off the page.

Did I mention she is Legion?

Mary_Sue_Comprasion

Trick question: both are Mary Sue; one is just a bit more polite sneaky about it.

Ogiue is not a Mary Sue. Neither is Watamote (she might be the anti-sue), but Mary and her cousin Marty (sometimes Gary) Stu (AKA Die Wesley Crusher Die!) are damn hard to escape in manga land. Genshiken may be free of the both of them, but adolescent themed fiction is up to its ears in them and their ilk, so much so that their “meta”, Chuunibyou has been also rising in the popularity stats. Note how Chuuni is a “bit” different Western models of high-school “acting out”

chuuhibyou chart

No matter, we will still read the stuff, unbelievable main character with special powers and all – if the rest of the story does something for us.  Mary Sue and over-the-top wish-fulfillment charas have colonized throwaway shojo Manga, while her cousin Marty has made a home for himself in any number of harem high-school grinders. One day he will grow up and become Walter Mitty, or Hunter Thompson, or some rap star or even Oscar Wilde.

I have NO IDEA what this means!” – Oscar Wilde

Back to misspent youth stories:

Somewhere in the attic is a box full of treasure crap from those days. After the labour day weekend worldcon in Toronto, our paths diverged. Star Trek fandom was getting too commercial and uncomfortably a-social (at least for me). Paula Smith’s sisterhood found the guy-verse of mainstream sci-fi fandom suffocating and used the lameness in early trekkie fandom to carve out a female fen-space. They went on to do “vidding” which I believe is a slash variant done with VCRs. For me, mainstream sci-fi had more wild, wonderful and risqué stuff to rot my impressionable male teen-age mind.

The costume balls at sci-fi conventions had semi-professional girl (yes, as in teen, yikes!) models in extremely skimpy outfits (who swooped in to bag the cash prizes), all-night movies (to nap through), real computer games (a terminal to U of Toronto mainframe playing something called “sumer“) and late night drinking parties that did not ask if you were of age. Of course I had to keep my enthusiasms to myself; bad trekkie behaviour had tarred the lot of us as the lowest form of annoying noob.

I might have been the over-enthusiastic motor-mouthed young fan who so pestered the venerable Isaac Asimov that he proposed to another senior writer that I should be strangled lest I grow up to become another ??? (was it Harlan Ellison?) (Then again, this might have been a running joke between senior writers at that convention, as there were at least a hundred overenthusiastic male youth running amok that weekend.)

You would think that I would have stayed with this life throughout my teen years – alas ugly mundane reality intervened and violently pulled me out of geek paradise soon thereafter.

Of course I still watched Star Trek reruns whenever I could, and read Analog, and all the used sci-fi paperbacks I could get at 3 for $1, but the worldcons were too far away, and there were no Genshikens at the universities I managed to later squeak into. (There were however university newspapers and someone left Thompson’s Fear and Loathing on Campaign Trail 72 lying around.. Hijinx ensued… )

On the precarious nature of the subject:

Yipes! too much geek reminiscing. According to professor Saito and his posse, I and all my male brethren at the time were supposed to be fixing our own positions and our identities, developing our subjecthood vis-a-vis “the other” and male-hysterically defending it and phallic agency/ privilege etc., etc., etc. Or in the language of the day “To yourself be(ing) true”.

Right!

Good effing luck locating this “yourself” thing buddy…

Or we were supposed to be trying to score with Mrs Robinson…

Perhaps 40 years of economic decline and the interwebs changed all this. Liminality is now the buzzword for everyone under 40. As for over 40, again – good luck!

And we all are what we do. We have to change what we do a lot, and in life we all get to do what we are second best at…

I feel your pain..

I feel your pain..

The whole modernist subject/ other myth was never really even modernist – it was a romantic narrative born out the rupture of euroethnic peasant life caused by industrial urbanization. It was cobbled together by swiping ideals of semi-autonomous behaviour from tales of imaginary privileged nobility and shoe-horning them into a guild model of profession-derived identity so that the new city dwelling underclass didnt go stark raving mad once they left their villages. Dick Whittington meet Horatio Algier, and both of you make sure to stop demanding to be fed before your women-folk! (Strange how rates of tuberculosis tumbled once economics and social practice allowed that European females should get to eat meat protein too – note the the “subject” was a gendered concept even back then. women didn’t count.)

One doesn’t have to go all postmodern to realise how shaky the modern subject always was – modernism always knew this too: go read some T.S.Elliot or at least some Auden. Later you can have a bit of Ginsberg if you promise not to freak out at the gay bits. There is also a nasty analysis of WWI mass hysteria by Modris Eckstein called Rites of Spring The Great War and the Birth of the Modern Age that riffs on what happened when it all went balls up.

Postmodern, database, grand narrative fail, total new thing, yup, right,

Meanwhile, I like to think that all the low-budget sci-fi I ingested, including many poorly written wish fulfilment fantasies (both fanzine and commercial pulp varieties) gave me something akin to the only true modern capital that does not depreciate: a taste for different points of view (and a self-reflective sense of humor).

You’ve probably got it too (or why are you here reading this?), but only a certain vintage of graybeard nerd will grasp all the shades of truly embarrassing horror in Futurama’s Zap Brannigan. Want more? Try Spinrad’s vicious parody “The Iron Dream”. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norman_Spinrad#The_Iron_Dream) You have been warned. Adolf as Marty Stu done viciously!

In my first year of university, I struggled with my paper on Shakespeare’s The Tempest, frustrated beyond reason at my inability to wrap my head around a 400 year old fable, while the tiny, tinny TV speaker interrupted me with Shatner’s Kirk over-acting out his passion for Flint’s daughter Miranda.

(Miranda! Huh! Ker-Ching! Enlightenment! Good marks!) Who said all that sci-fi crap was useless? Oh Gawd! Forbidden Planet too! WTF is it with all the Tempest rip-offs in sci-fi? On is not The Tempest the penultimate Marty Stu vehicle for an ageing male playwright? That’s why I like Greenway’s Prospero’s Books so much; it is the Arials that take over the writing of his tale of vengeance in his magic book and stir him to mercy and humanity.

Cue Adrian Piper:

“Here the aim of appropriation would not be to exploit deliberately the Other’s aesthetic language, but to confound oneself by incorporating into works of art an aesthetic language one recognizes as largely opaque; as having a significance one recognizes as beyond one’s comprehension. Viewed in this way, exploitation is an unintended side-effect – the consequence of ignorance and insensitivity – of a project whose main intention is to escape those very cognitive limitations.
[. . .]
The appropriative character and formalism of Euroethnic art is, then,intrinsically connected with its self-awareness (or self-consciousness). To recognize an alien cultural practice as different from one’s own, and as inaccessible to understanding with respect to content, is implicitly to recognize one’s own cultural practice as a cultural practice, with its own rules and constraints. This just is the awareness that one’s own cultural practice is merely one among many. And the recognition that alternative cultural practices are cognitively inaccessible just is the awareness that one’s own furnish the only available conduit for interpretation of formal anomaly. So the cross-cultural appropriation of alien formal devices is a reminder of one’s own subjectivity. Self-consciousness of this kind is a necessary condition of innovation. “

Adrian Piper is not the only modernist theory wizard to riff on this. Charles Taylor does a very good job at explaining how what we think of as “identity” differs radically from what our self-reproducing farm equipment forebears thought about the matter. We would struggle to get their idea of it, and ours might drive them mad. Baudrillard’s gem “The Mirror of Production“, which alienated him from French Marxian orthodoxy gleefully takes a similar insight and lays into the historical myth of dialectical materialism with it. (but succumbs to the old trap of an edenic “legend of the fall”)

I even recall an anthropological sci-fi story that riffed on the “bicameral mind” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Julian_Jaynes) theory and located its “subject” (or ur-subject) in a hero that didn’t hear the voices of his tribe as group proto-unconscious, and as such was able to lie about what “god” told him to do to save his tribe. Even as it gave our hero powerful headaches.

Think outside the box! One could argue that the truly modernist subject is the one that can “load” alternative, multiple, contradictory modes of processing reality. Whoops! we just fell into Deleuze and Guattari land! Or Elliot’s Wasteland. (hint: try reading it as a screenplay)

How to fool yourself for fun:

Back to clumsy wish fulfillment stories and “bent” libidinous manga:

Just because we guys are supposed to “fear the undermining of (our) own subject position” in public, (“A real man speaks only with his fists!” declares the shonen manga hero.) doesn’t mean that we cannot be tempted by the illusion of forbidden knowledge in private. Especially if we can rationalise the excursion as an intelligence gathering mission with bonus naughty bits. What we (and the gals too) read in the easy chair, or watch on the monitor, or load on the console is a private matter carried out under the sign of “play”. It is the epitome of personal space. That the reading material would drift into pr0n land is not surprising. What surprises me is how fast it has drifted out again.

Plenty of correspondents have followed up on Matt Thorn’s early observation that yoai and BL are offshoots of shojo manga. What is even more surprising is how yuri – traditional home of fake lesbo orgy smut has of late been re-situating itself within shojo manga conventions.

Yuri’s new cover story is that it tells tales of girls love and therefore it is “really” for girls investigating that forbidden longing, like the melodramatic Japanese S-class lesbian-ish short stories of the 1920’s. There may be more than a few women in Japan who read and are stirred by the stuff, but what Erica-sensei calls “the creepy male gaze” present in much of it complicates the issue.

What is inescapable is that the majority of current yuri and shojo-ai is nothing more or less than shojo manga for male readers. (refered to by some as Loser Fan Boys – I use the term ironically, re-appropriating it with a certain mock-embarrased grin. “Why are men broken?” indeed…  ) There still is plenty of girl-on-girl-on-girl smut out there, but it is slowly being edged out by this new curious hybrid form that might be for women who like women, but not quite.

The consensus is that guys reading this stuff is an excusable quirk and still guy-like as long as there is still -some- smut in the story. (We can always delude ourselves into thinking we are picking up a few rezbian ruv techniques when looking for the naughty bits – the shojo-ai stuff is in many ways creepier because it is often just an excuse for lolicon. Hi Madarame!) As the flip-side of yaoi for rotten girls, the illusion that those yuri- stories- which- are- not- total- smut- fests are somehow more “authentically lesbian” plays both to an urge towards affected political correctness and the thrill of peeking into the girl’s (completely fake, staged) changing room. Wow! there are even female mangakas writing it, so the newer stuff must be “real-er”.

Saito’s asymmetry is rapidly being levelled out. Note the change from old yuri to new yuri: the newer stuff bows to romantic convention and avoids threesomes and moresomes.

On the interwebz no one knows you are a...

On the interwebz no one knows you are a…

The overwrought romantic dialogue (little more than what Erica-sensei calls “story A”) is extra spice and offers forbidden insight into the mind of that most enigmatic of all creatures; the female, portrayed in its “purest” state (no guy in the way). Wasn’t it Amis again who quipped that romantic love was a lesbian invention? (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sappho) Contemporary smut-lite- might- be- lesbian- approved- yuri exudes concentrated female emotional truth-iness! (even when penned by male mangakas.. Yeah right…)

Can any guy actually think that real females emote like this? That a real-life woman will get hostile towards you because she cannot express her deepest feelings or melt when one deploys some affected “sensitivity”. Bakka! Emotional awareness is suspect in males; one is either a dangerous “player”, an emo or worse – Richard III. Snap out of it!

Perhaps the allure of the illusion of forbidden lore is too strong. The rotten girls keep insisting that their contrived boys-ruv is “purer” because the unequal power relations in a male-female relationship are snuck past in their stuff, and they don’t need lesbian love stories because they already know how this romance stuff works on females. It is us blockheads who are incomprehensible. Where is Dr. Zizek when we need him? I keep ringing his office and all I get is some Tireseus jerk!

Smut- lite- contemporary- yuri (shojo-ai V2 ???) shares many of the characteristics of yaoi for rotten girls as it provides a risk-free simulation space for playing with elaborate and overdone narratives of emotional “relationship-y” courtship behaviour and romance – much as yaoi-space gives rotten girls a chance to simulate what it would be like if fuckmad predatory male behaviour could somehow accommodate all the same relationship-y emotional stuff that the wimmens crave, but recognise as a blind spot in traditional guy behaviour and a dangerous liability to themselves in the real world.

And the girls like to see crude representations of bishie guys getting it on, while we guys are only reading yuri because we are waiting for the hawt girl-on-girl action. DURR HERP DUR DERP!

A spectre is haunting the modern subject:

And then the melodrama  starts to bleed all over the place…

You doubt me? Why then do Otaku characterise their moe blobs in terms of tropes of courtship behaviour? Tsundere might be stupidly simplistic but it is still an exponential leap from slut or frigid. Did the tendency of male otaku to characterise their fave charas in such a manner carry over form rotten girls’ elaborate typologies of semes and ukes? (recall female to male ratios at early comikets) Or was it the other way around? Or were both tribes caught in the inexorable pull of Azuma Hiroki’s database?

“What’s my motivation?” Who cares. It still is all about emotional relationship-y melodrama and fluff. Add a horrible tortured past for the main character and both tribes can get all emo and angsty while waiting for the resolving secks scene. (If it was shonen manga it would be a fight scene.. no wonder the rotten girls have such fun)

Aoi Hanna and Sasameke Koto have no hawt secks scenes, but still have plenty of LFB fans. As mentioned previously, much angsty chaste longing ensues. Maybe just a happy ending is enough. Looks like we won’t get one with Aoi Hanna: the MC will be lucky to make it out of high school sure of herself as an autonomous lesbian subject, but radically disenchanted from the magical world of young high-school love. Odysseus slumps over spent, still tied to the mast as his ships slip by the Sirens’ rocks; Kristeva’s German burgher contemplates Holbein’s “Dead Christ” and realises that he is completely and terribly alone in the world and the Enterprise warps out of the system seconds before its sun goes nova…

Disenchantment is the sacrament of modernism ™

Call it a win and cue theme music.

Hanna is of course “better literature” than Koto, precisely because of the unresolved ending. The real love story here is the love that Fumi Manjōme might be finally able to develop as a full person, for herself.

Not satisfied? Plenty of other “creepy” bits of contemporary visual culture have all the emotional angst, the over-powerful hero (/heroine) the hawt secks and the just-so story happy ending anyone could want. As for the bleed-over, what is with all the weird emotional stuff coexisting with violent rape-y behaviour in manga like Tsukehime and Melty Blood ? It does not fit! It should not be there; then we recall that both are derived from modified eroge games where the goal is to clear all the females in the harem.. And kill some vampires too..

I think you have to get all the females to feel for you, and not  piss off/ break any hearts in order to get them all to help you kill the last boss. Ok! A mechanistic reason for having to pay attention to the emotional interpersonal messy stuff, we can process that, no problememo!

“Muwwhahhaha! See how easily these fan-boys can be tricked!”

At least this approach is a bit more direct than building a complicated theory edifice of otaku and fujoshi libidinal shift to the realms of imaginary. The rotten girls and Loser Fan Boys are just processing allegorical narratives, looking for stuff they can use, trying to work out puzzling contradictions by running scenarios (wow, just like the CIA) and indulging in a bit of “wouldn’t it be nice (or really hawt) if…” all while reading trashy stories.

Have another chocolate!

I think the whole 2D-only fixation phenom is pure learned affectation and subculture trope. It is a device for mangaka to shatter characters like Mada with, and look how easy that was.  It is too close to other recent fashionable male misbehaviour, like “herbivore men”.

Here’s a further weird thought: In trying to get a handle on faux-feminine emotionalism, aren’t guys finally implicitly recognizing full autonomous subject-hood in the elusive feminine narrative? Wow, that’s one up on the Freud-zoku.

And while we are at it, when a gendered “ruling regime of the symbolic order” recognizes rotten girl practice, does it miss a very very old sci-fi trope?

Analogy time: a bunch of nekkid humans get abducted by alien zoo-keepers – how to prove sentience? The “cage” is too damp for fire and 3.1415 banged on the walls is not getting through. All seems lost until one person weaves a wicker cage for a cricket-like pet. Release and apologies from the aliens ensues.

Only intelligent beings put other critters in cages. And only fully autonomous modernist “subjects” make silly porn of “others”. Could all the Freud -zoku hyaterical theory around rotten girl practice be an elaborate denial mechanism?

Methinks you doth protest too much.

All this could well be a lot more dangerous to “hegemonic narratives of gender roles and desire” then wanting to shack up with your Nintendo DS Lite. There is no prohibition in the West against guys reading Harlequin romances, but neither does Harlequin offer faux-lesbian romance series for Loser Fan Boys to peep at. Once again Japan ichiban no cultural innovator!

Once Mary Sue gets lose in fan fiction, she so distorts the genre with her quick and dirty emotional payoff that the effect soon bleeds over into related, then all genre fiction – just as fan-fiction and/or dojin practice and tropes bleed over into commercial products. This ensures that elite “taste”, which was always a good cover story for more complicated gate-keeping is blown aside.

Whoops! I Might have gone too fast on that last one! Lets try that again in a nice orderly sequence:

1) Mary Sue gets lose.
2) Mary Sue evinces a desire for wish-fulfillment, melodrama and easy emotional payoff in fan-lit.
3) Commercial genre fiction takes the piles of it as market research and starts cranking out variations.
4) The cheap thrill spreads throughout mass culture.
5) Loser fan boys and rotten girls start peeking over the fences when looking for smutty stories.
6) Entropy sets in and all plots and tropes start to converge.

Profit!

As for  “fantasy is fantasy (or simulation space) and reality is reality”, we can assume that everyone is scared shitless of their fave hobby narratives getting lose in the real world. Fortunately keeping a public face and a private life is what adults are supposed to do in Japan, and the rest of the world too.

Here’s the Western version of the shop manual – feel free to tinker. (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Presentation_of_Self_in_Everyday_Life)
Note how later sociologists expanded the concept: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gender_Trouble

Poorly written, formulaic, wish-fulfilment fiction has always been with us (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religion) as has tone-deaf singing. What is so odd about Mary Sue is how she serves as a symptom of global mass culture’s ability to democratise her violence. She is the (originally) wimmens’ AK47 of narrative, if not the 3D printable gun. And the freedom is intoxicating for both girls and boys. We will not be rid of her for a while, so we might as well offer her a glass of barley tea and recognize her naive charms, and the deep longings that she embodies – desires which may be somewhat like our own as well.

scape_god_AN OATH v001_c001_036 web

Awwwwwww, (careful, don’t get carried away!)

Hold the presses! I just heard that Prof Saito has an article on fujoshi in Mechademia 6! Perhaps he has had to shave off some of the sharper corners of his theories in order to accommodate fujoshi practice. I’m sure I can pick up a copy for $12 used on eBay (plus $48 shipping, because the stupid bookstore will only send it super expensive overnight registered) Anyone care to lend me their MUSE login fo Jstor? Dammit! Mechademia used to be openly downloadable to all. -sulk-

One more time in unison please: Academic journal paywalls suck!

Next time: So many ideas about Genshiken 87 and 88, but can I trust those Bulgarian scanlation scripts and Google xlate? And what of the whole messy epic digression on technology and fan “productive consumption” and those mimeograph stencils? How about D+G’s Temporary Autonomous Zones and Fujoshi/ Otaku space? This one writes itself, wonder why we are not already up to our eyeballs in it?

Must get organized!

Random endnotes:

For more information on the rise and fall of the mimeographed (and later xeroxed fanzane, see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Factsheet_Five

http://www.factsheet5.org/  and http://www.alternativepressreview.org/
both seem to have stopped mid 2010

From the Wiki:

The magazine was originally published in 1982 by Mike Gunderloy on a spirit duplicator in his bedroom while he lived in an Alhambra, California slanshack. The original focus was science fiction fanzines (the title comes from a short story by science fiction author John Brunner), but it included other reviews. Bob Grumman contributed a regular column on avant-garde poetry from 1987 to 1992.

Gunderloy later moved to Rensselaer, New York, where he continued to publish. By 1987, he was running a zine BBS, one of the first associated with an underground publication.[3]In 1990, Cari Goldberg Janice and (briefly) Jacob Rabinowitz joined as co-editors.[4]Gunderloy quit publishing Factsheet Five following the completion of Issue #44 in 1991.[2]

Hudson Luce purchased the rights to Factsheet Five and published a single issue, Issue #45, with the help of BBS enthusiast Bill Paulouskas, cartoonist Ben Gordon, writer Jim Knipfel, and artist Mark Bloch, who had authored a mail art-related column called “Net Works” during the Gunderloy years.[5]

R. Seth Friedman then published the magazine for five years in San Francisco, with the help of Christopher Becker and Jerod Pore, until Issue #64 in 1998. Circulation grew to 16,000 during that time.[6]

Gunderloy currently works as a computer programmer and farmer. He co-authored the book SQL Server 7 in Record Time ISBN 0-7821-2155-1.

Mike Gunderloy’s Factsheet Five Collection of over 10,000 zines and mail art is now held at the New York State Library in Albany, New York, where it occupies 300 cubic feet (8.5 m3).[7] However, only about 4000 zines in the collection have been cataloged.[8] About 1/4 of the zines in the collection are listed on Excelsior, the New York State Library’s electronic catalog; staff of the Manuscripts & Special Collection can help locate other items.[9] Two hundred and forty zines that R. Seth Friedman donated are in the collection of the San Francisco Public Library.[10]

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.