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!)

The paper tigers roar at noon

“The number of persons or institutions by whom the existence of gay people–never mind the existence of more gay people–is treated as a precious desideratum [something wanted], a needed condition of life, is small, even compared to those who may wish for the dignified treatment of any gay people who happen already to exist. Advice on how to make sure your kids turn out gay, not to mention your students, your parishioners, your therapy clients, or your military subordinates is less ubiquitous than you might think. By contrast, the scope of institutions whose programmatic undertaking is to prevent the development of gay people is unimaginably large…”
— Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, The Epistemology of the Closet (1990)

“Anthropologist David Graeber argues that we must move beyond the definition of value in terms of the economistic individual evaluating objects’ exchange value or use value and beyond the overly holistic and static structure of a society’s ‘values’, because neither is much help in developing social theory that accommodate people’s efforts to [change society purposefully] [ital mine]. Instead, Graeber encourages us ‘to look at social systems as structures of 
creative action, and value, as how people measure the importance of their own actions within such structures’ (Graeber, 2001: 230). I am interested in seeing what thinking in terms of characters and premises might do as a kind of ‘operating system’ on which dispersed participants work in their particular areas of expertise. Few people within the process feel that they have a tremendous amount of ‘power’, but they would likely concede that as a group they work towards common, or at least somewhat shared, notions 
of value. As one anime producer said to me in an August 2006 interview in which he discussed his enjoyment of script meetings, ‘You get hooked (hamacchau). You like the characters. They become like friends, and you want to spend time with them.”
Anime Creativity Characters and Premises in the Quest for Cool Japan by Ian Condry

The attraction of the manga narrative lies precisely in that it is not great literature. It a simple, small machine that sets out to do one thing.

MIZUTAMA HONEY BOY/ 水玉ハニーボーイ; 水珠HoneyBoy
Released: 2015 Author/Artist: Ike Junko.
Genres: Comedy, Romance, School Life, Shoujo, Sports

Honey boy frontspiece C0p4

(Mild spoilers ensue)

They riddle and corrupt the heart

Aside from a few publicly funded art galleries who go hunting for “inclusive content” to assure their next year’s grants, some of the oddest examples of “want more hoyay” can be currently found in Contemporary Japanese Visual Culture and the vernacular narratives that it spins out. Paradoxically, these are overwhelmingly straight-created fantasies of gay, lesbian, queer, trans*, inter-sex, asexual or just plain “non-conforming” identities and desires. Even if some of the creators are from minority identities, the overwhelming majority of their readers remain vanilla, boring “straight”. These go to their manga to dream in queer. That they so dare, in their society which is so fixated on outward shows of conformity and homogeneity, makes these dreams transgressive and that much more appealing. Those “in the (real) life” get to shrug their shoulders (or roll their eyes and grit their teeth) and wonder if the column inches are worth the confusion. The stuff is annoying, it seems to get in the way of realistic depictions of sexual and gender minorities but on the other hand, it does some small work pointing out a degree of dissatisfaction the mechanistic societal ideas about who should do what, why and to whom. Meanwhile a lot of weird manga characters get whomped up and turned loose to run about finding the true love that threatens to elude their readership.

Shoujo manga, seems to lead the way as the go-to genre for characters and stories that push at and play with the normative assumptions surrounding identity, sexuality, desire and gender conformity, all while at the same time-serving as a reservoir of stories that exalt frighteningly conformist ideals of the status quo. The real estate covered is sprawling, the inhabitants unruly and the readership more varied than one would first imagine. Shy girls find strong, good-looking boyfriends just as often as girl princes ride off into the sunset with rose maidens, cheered on by happy seme x uke BL couples. Many theorists from Matt Thorn on have pointed out that the shoujo genre has a habit of pushing boundaries and nibbling away at convention. Yup, it’s just romance tales for young women, pay not attention to the weird stuff behind the curtains but if you are wont to pay attention, why waste any effort on a piece of fluff like Honey Boy? This one is not only odd, but “wonky” in the sense that its pieces don’t quite fit together properly, or rather they hold together just well enough for fluff.

The harmless paper tiger bears strong fascination for the young

The first problem is the mangaka, Ike Junko. Honey Boy is penned by a very shoujo mangaka, an up-and-coming talent whose one-shots have been popping up in Lala Magazine since 2011. [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LaLa]

Lala’s readership is, per 2009 figures;

“97% female while the other 3% are male readers. Its age demographic consists of 4% percent for under-13 readers, 23.4% for readers aged 13–17, 20% for readers aged 18–20, 13% for readers aged 21–23 while the remaining 29.7% of the readers are aged 24 years old and up.[3] Readers aged 24 and up are the demographic of the highest percentage.[3]”
– ibid Wikipedia Lala

Previous/ other works by the mangaka include: See You Again (2011), Sabaku no Requiem (2011), Bear Bear (2012), Tsubakizaka Tricolor (2012), Sora no Yousei (2013) and The Thief and the Jewel Girl (2013), all are standard shoujo fare, some set in high schools and others in fantasy settings. The characterization, dialogue, action and emotional display center around the young heroine and sometimes include her female friends. The guys are all pretty standard bishie teen guys who the heroine can get interested in and happily-ever-after on.

Honey Boy drops a young gay-boy stereotype into the mix and then makes him straight.

Superficially, it looks like Ike Junko is a fan of Ayumi Komura’s Usotsuki Lily. Mizutama Honey Boy reads like an homage to it, or at least some of its female characters. Bits of Morinaga Miruku also seem to pop up out of the whirlpool and I’m sure I am missing the footnotes for an entire stadium full of venerable shoujo manga tropes and quirks.

What is a level-headed, competent and strong young woman to do, besides transferring to an all-girl’s school?

All the boys in high school are scared of Mei Sengoku (that family name!) or consider her a weird “warrior girl” or a “Samurai” and too many girls are writing her confession letters. Does she have to start deferring to any and all loudmouth young guys and/or walking pigeon-toed in order to have a normal high school life? Should she cut her hair short and go for the bifauxnen vibe? It would make for less time in the shower after a good sweaty Kendo workout. At least she isn’t being bullied (the women’s Kendo team captain? bullied? By definition she is un-bully-able), but still she feels something is missing.

Sengoku-san is a strong female lead, beautiful, intelligent and heroic in her day-to-day life. She doesn’t act deferential and soft-spoken and neither does she act genki or delinquent in order to pull it off. When she walks, she walks like a person who is going some place rather than a knock-kneed baby woodlands creature. She cuts a striking figure in her hakama and is seldom seen, even in civies without her shinai case. What she wants is to get on with her Kendo practice, keep her grades up, help people who need her help and make a few friends.

They drink no blood, they taste no meat

Perhaps in a more typical setting the boys would be all over ms. warrior. She is constructed as one of, if not the most beautiful woman in her school. There should be the athletic good guy and the slightly dangerous delinquent-ish guy competing for her attention, but they are nowhere in sight. Instead…

Shirou Fuji has family circumstances; a mom who wanted another daughter and a classically away-on-business father. A bishonen who runs more than a bit over the herbivore line to the point of effeminacy, his gender performance is nuanced towards what he likes (mostly domestic home-ec-ish stuff) rather than a full-on roll-out of cartoon dysphoria. That is if you look close enough. At first glance he is what can be un-charitably described as a flaming pooftah. His worst fault is that he is over-supportive to the point of being a parody of a classic helpful female chara. He is a boy Morinaga Miruku home-ec club heroine who won’t stop baking cookies and cakes for the one he admires. And yup, he makes a tasty bento too.

Make no mistake though, he is straight enough (or functionally straight enough) to thoroughly desire Warrior girl. He may like frilly things, might even crossdress every so often for situational reasons (Make mom happy, school festival, etc. this variant of shoujo is too chaste to suggest any kink) and may view intimacy only as a subset of overblown romance, but he is after her bod as well as her heart. He wants to marry her. He isn’t too particular about who will wear the bride’s outfit as long as Sengoku-san ends up standing next to him. More than a gender inversion of teen dating tropes, it is as if he has decided to do a full-on faux-yuri girl-crush on Warrior Girl, piled on top of every cliche of demonstrating domestic skill as courting that can be dredged from the pages of the shoujo genre…

With one glaring exception; he will be there to protect her.

Honey Boy has twigged to the fact that warrior girl can’t be in %100 full fighting trim all the time. Every hero needs backup and Honey Boy will be there to take the hit whenever she needs a moment to get her twisted ankle taped up. A guy will put himself on the line to protect the girl he has feelings for – them’s the rules. Once upon a time she carried him to the school infirmary and he will carry her as many times as needed to prove how moved he was by the experience. Whether or not he can pull off his odd courtship is where the fun comes in. Being strong is important to Warrior Girl, and she wants to be powerful enough to protect herself and those she cares for, so she is extremely conflicted about his efforts or even how she fits into his romantic notions.

yes you can Honeyboy C0p42

Both Warrior Girl and Honey Boy are straight yet superficially inverted variations on their proper assigned gender roles, though he is clearly a more fantastic construction, whomped up to serve as a foil for the “problems” that her independence creates. Guy’s manga have plenty of initially scary high achieving high school heroines, all with secret weaknesses and flaws ready to be exploited by a harem lead; in that respect Sengoku-san is drawn and superficially resembles any number of tall, dark-haired formidable and supposedly unapproachable high school beauties. On the shoujo side of the street, she most closely resembles Uso Lily‘s (and Sword Fighter Komachi‘s) Ashiya Komachi.

The small romantic bits are secondary to the what-if speculation about what kind of guy can be a comfortable and fun match for a high-achieving heroine, even as it carries the question off into a series of comedy skits. Honey Boy may be fey, but the cookies are good (not -too- sweet), he is solicitous to a fault, supportive, there for her in a pinch, doesn’t over-talk her, has empathy power to 9000 and shows enough attraction – including physical attraction – to flatter but never crosses the line. In short he is posited as an unlikely but almost perfect fantasy boyfriend for the young female readership; if they ever decided that they wanted to act in a self-confident, strong and forthright manner. And he is gently, persistently and actively courting her. He has promised that he won’t give up and he doesn’t, but neither does he overwhelm her (At first it looked like he was, but the over-gifting turned out to be the work of an otaku stalker)

The first problem with Honey Boy develops from the narrative structure borne out of the inversion. More and more screen time is spent on Honey Boy, until we almost have two girl leads, with both of them occasionally popping back into hetero-normative behaviour during romantic situations, then reverting to inverted roles to defuse the tension. Usotsuki Lily used to do this to great effect; the cross-dressing male lead “glowed” even more than the girl the day after they finally consummated their long romance. Somehow what worked with an average girl and a straight boy into crossdressing is unstable when it is done with a tsundere and effeminate quasi-gay guy.

In both instances:

“”The underlying perception of (girlish) femininity as unfavorable, is exemplified in the monographs by Fujimoto Yukari and Oshiyama Michiko. Fujimoto’s Where is my place in the world? (1998), one of the most frequently cited works in shōjo manga studies. Based on her extensive experience as a magazine editor, Fujimoto offers close readings of shōjo manga through the concept of gender.
[…]
Fujimoto argues that shōjo manga represents girl readers’ fear of sexuality, and hence their perception of “femininity,” a word which she uses almost synonymously with “female sexuality” in a derogatory tone (50). For Fujimoto, shōjo manga is a medium for women, a text that reflects the values of women most accurately, including the ideology of romance, which teaches female readers to dedicate themselves to love, whether mutual or unrequited (14). Men, she writes, do not fall into that “trap” because they know romance is another name for lust (25). Her negative casting of “femininity” is also evident in her interpretation of Boys’ Love, where she endorses the view that “beautiful boys” in shōjo manga (and yaoi) are nothing more than girls without the female body, and are hence liberated from (unfavorable) feminine sexuality, which for her is synonymous with passivity and objectification in the beginning (142-3).

Manga Studies #7: Shōjo Manga Research: The Legacy of Women Critics and Their Gender-Based Approach by Masafumi Monden
http://comicsforum.org/2015/03/10/shojo-manga-research-the-legacy-of-women-critics-and-their-gender-based-approach-by-masafumi-monden/

Honey Boy also seems to play out a rather simple form of a longstanding tradition of proto-feminist complaint; Welker noted it in a study of 40-year-old Japanese gay magazines. (Flower Tribes and Female Desire: Complicating Early Female Consumption of Male Homosexuality in Shōjo Manga by James Welker)  It periodically resurfaces; this 2012 viral YouTube short re-purposes it to a contemporary cause

Gay Men Will Marry Your Girlfriends [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X-YCdcnf_P8]

Honey Boy also harkens back to the early 20th century Koha and Nampa typologies of Japanese male behaviour. Recall that the “soft” Nampa tribe was far more appealing to and by most accounts also more interested in women. The “hard” Koha were male isolationists, valuing a male homosocial, if not exclusive desire for males.

A further echo of this pops up in late 1970’s and early 1980’s western queer theory.
Per Sedgewick:

“According to that framework, there were essentially no valid grounds of commonality between gay male and lesbian experience and identity; to the contrary, women-loving women and men-loving men must be at precisely opposite ends of the gender spectrum. The assumptions at work here were indeed radical ones: most important, as we’ll be discussing further in the next chapter, the stunningly efficacious re-visioning, in female terms, of same-sex desire as being at the very definitional center of each gender, rather than as occupying a cross-gender or liminal position between them. Thus, women who loved women were seen as more female, men who loved men as quite possibly more male, than those whose desire crossed boundaries of gender. The axis of sexuality, in this view, was not only exactly coextensive with the axis of gender but expressive of its most heightened essence: “Feminism is the theory, lesbianism is the practice.” By analogy, male homosexuality could be, and often was, seen as the practice for which male supremacy was the theory. A particular reading of modern gender history was, of course, implicit in and in turn propelled by this gender-separatist framework.
– Ibid Sedwick Ch1 p36

So, gender non-conforming Honey Boy is less suitable for same-sex desire as he presents as less manly? This is complicated! Brain hurts!

For the young women readers, Honey Boy posits an extreme makeover of the qualities of an ideal boyfriend while it highlights, again in extremis, the dog-work behind the ideal of a proper supportive (usually female) role held up to them in their fave reading materials. All of the cookies, bento, cheering for their crush at sports events, walking home, waiting with the umbrella on rainy afternoons, shopping dates, skiving off from your school festival duties to fill in for a last-minute drop on your crush’s team, taking their place piloting the giant robot…

Having a Japanese high school crush is a heck of a lot of hard work!

This however leads to a further problem: as an effeminate male who is considered as verging toward gay by his classmates, he wields the threat of same-sex desire as a weaponised cliché against male aggression. Usotsuki Lily had a bit of this too, but when the trick is transposed from crossdresser-lite to okama-lite the undertones are meaner.

Fuit weaponized Honey Boy C1p32

There is however a floral background character portrait (Yo! Kio Shimoku! Still waiting…)

It could be worse; at least Honey Boy is not nominally attracted to other guys and Warrior Girl is a case of “only you”, although the possibility of such a dynamic lies lurking as an extra frisson for the readers. Honey boy feels good old-fashioned heterosexual male lust, but he doesn’t need to fake any romantic slip-covers for it; like the pseudo-gay males of BL, romance and lust are inseparable aspects of his unified desire. This is something that conventional straight males are supposedly incapable of. They are too self-absorbed and too busy over-reacting to hide their discomfort with the idea of subsuming any part of their nascent identity to another’s happiness.

Will Honey Boy “man up” for true love? What does that mean? Are the parts where Honey Boy earnestly declares he desire for Sengoku more “heterosexual” and “true” to his male nature than baking cookies?

The primacy of America’s most popular threesome, two dudes and an Xbox, is safe.” – The Lobster Dance, a blog.

When Honey Boy tries to use his gay threat nonsense to dissuade the not-really-a-suitor Kendo Boy from pestering Warrior Girl, he ends up making a rash wager and gets clueless Kendo Boy as a third wheel. After all, Kendo Boy promised he’d “go out with him” if the wager was lost. Kendo Boy may be an idiot but he doesn’t care one way or another about the norms surrounding sexuality, he probably doesn’t even care about intimacy or desire either. He just wants to perfect his kendo on everyone (and any critters) who stands in his way. At least he has one redeeming quality though; he loves his five unruly siblings and they love him.

A happy family is after all the good ending for a shoujo story. It helps to validate it within the narrative. Happy offspring will be raised and a living for them and two adults will earned, even if someone has to run the family dojo and someone else has to work at a pastry shop part-time and take care of the kids. Salaryman and shufu-hood as a future looks pretty remote for non-conformist couples of all kinds, but the dream of a cottage business is still dear enough in the hearts of the Japanese readership to paper over that problem.

They roar in chorus, not in tune

The expression of sexuality and gender and its place in our modern societies is a work in progress and the big stumble seems to be finding a nice simple rubric that can explain and organize everything and facilitate a societal consensus. The current liberal compromise in the West, especially the United States is that “presentation of self” eventually manifests innate characteristics and since these are innate it is profoundly immoral to social engineer against them. (as long as these stick to consenting adults, etc., etc..) Besides, creation arranged it that way for a reason, therefore there must be a benefit to its expression; natural is good, authentic is good. For want of a better term, I call this “the doctrine of authenticity“.

The drawbacks to taking this too far are obvious.

On the other end of the nightmare wasteland of easy answers lies the great promise of the social order as a construct and of its malleability. Secular prescriptive systems, the sociological and radical programs that supplant earlier religious attempts to mold societies all posit absolute faith that if social arrangements and structures are tweaked to reward and punish behaviors and expressions, then paradise is at hand; except for the sad need to break a few eggs for the perfect omelet to come. Since societies are a billion times harder to turn than ocean going oil tankers, the lag effects always call for more egg breaking.

Of course there are ways of negotiating between these extremes, but they are a bit hard to explain in a soundbite, and therefore far less satisfying or useful. When you try to yoke these onto a simple story line you sometimes get a brilliant synthesis, other times you get a hot mess, or worse, a warm one.

Innate is Honey Boy’s posited full fledged desire for Warrior Girl and her fluttering heart when his true feelings reach her. Learned is her masculine-ish warrior devotion to “getting stronger so I can protect” and his over-supportive interests in the domestic arts. It helps that both of them are idealized physical types; this story would be far more odd (and ambitious) if he looked like Genshiken’s Madarame and she looked like Yajimachi.

A bride img000022

All the above might drag a bit too much baggage into a simple romantic comedy manga aimed (primarily) at young women. Shoujo manga story lines and characters offer subtle variations to well-loved, well established standards; they are designed to be comforting familiar and reassuring. What remains, after all the tricks and inversions can be seen as the distillation of what is supposed to be safe and appreciated.

The one thing that seems to remain constant in shoujo manga is the romance. So far Honey Boy has used the residual tropes of physical attraction in a way that breaks the inversion spell and drops the characters back into their proper gender roles, if only for instants of hearts skipping a beat and forceful “I will have youtete-a- tete declarations of love. The guy is still proposing, the woman disposing. This is the catechism of shoujo manga, which is also one of its blind spots considering how often girls and women have to take the lead in real-life romance and even, yes, lust. So one would hope that the mangaka kicks it up a notch and finds some reason for Sengoku-san to pin Honey Boy against a wall and make his heart do a few doki dokis too.

Alas the current chances for Honey Boy’s fluttering heart are slim. Sengoku-san may occasionally have a glimmer of feelings for him, but she will continue to brush these away, because she has effectively friend-zoned him – or he had friend-zoned himself. The message is clear; not masculine enough is not good enough for a shoujo heroine.

So much for transgression.

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.