>> Sunday, March 6, 2011
Last time, I talked about observations and trends I saw in artwork, idiosyncrasies and stylistic choices that might throw off a new reader but also, in my opinion, could enhance humor and add creative depth.
But there are either cultural or other idiosyncrasies that might be difficult for many of us US folks to work around. Some obviously stem from cultural differences between Japan and here (which is far less repressed in some ways and more repressed in others). Some stem from the differences in the way education is run, the emphasis on education and even the relative lack of widespread crime in Japan. For instance, apparently Japanese school children routinely make their way to their schools alone, taking trains or buses as required without fanfare. I would presume you could do the same thing in European cities where mass transit is pervasive and crime is a much lower level than it is here, where here is seems callous or dangerous. Also, apparently, children pay tuition for (at least) high school with tuition varying widely and, sometimes, scholarships offered to excellent students.
Some have to do with how characters are portrayed and what, in Japanese culture, is most admired. Given that I haven't lived in Japan, I have to speculate what are aspects particularly to manga (as opposed to Japanese life) and what are reflections on actuality. Still here are some trends I've noticed in the manga with no intimated assertion on how it is in reality.
- Student council is a much bigger deal in Shojo high schools than it ever was in my high school, with student councils expected to help police the school and support clubs and activities. Regular students are supposed to help clean up classrooms and take out recycling, etc. as well. High schools are three year institutions. Taking exams to get into university is a huge deal and is the focal point for anyone wanting to move forward academically.
- Being academically advanced has considerable cache, with popularity often going with it, particularly for male characters (not sure why it's different for women, but, hell, here in the US being bright isn't really popular for either gender so it could be worse). Those that also excel in sports have to just about beat off women with sticks. As always, being rich doesn't hurt either, but smart still wins. Girls are rarely at the top academically and, if girls are struggling with one or more subjects, it's likely math and/or English.
- Fever is the ultimate default illness. Skull fracture, separated shoulder - you'll recover readily. You aren't really incapacitated until you get a fever, but a fever alone (whether brought on by an aggravated cold or stress or overwork or exhaustion) will cause collapse and can only really be treated with bedrest (often just overnight).
- Girls are expected to be more romantically aggressive, with Valentines all about giving boys you admire chocolate and girls unlikely to receive any but friendship chocolate from other female friends. In shojo manga, girls are frequently confessing their feelings to boys who may or may not have paid them the slightest attention (though, for some reason, it is a rarity for a central female protagonist to do so). Girl fandom, as noted in these manga, is almost frightening, with popular boys seen as nearly rock stars.
- Costume play (cosplay) seems to be quite popular with little or no stigma attached to cross-dressing, especially for guys. This openmindedness often is extended outward to homosexuality as well, with for some reason male homosexuality being generally accepted with perhaps more ease (if not titillation particularly among girls) than lesbianism. Not sure I entirely get that.
- Girls are not restricted to typical girl roles/professions; nor are men. In half of the manga I've read, girls are excellent cooks, for instance, while in the other half either they've been pampered and never learned or they are inherently unable to cook no matter how hard they try (including the potential for explosions). In the latter cases, where girls can't cook, the men invariably are quite adept at cooking if not exceptionally gifted chefs. I guess there's something to be said that a lasting relationship requires that at least one of the members can cook. It is endearing that men attracted to even the worst cooks will still willingly eat what's cooked for them. Gitls in these manga strive to be everything from restaurateurs to teachers to lawyers to what have you. Boys also seem to be willing to pursue teaching and nursing careers rather than just glamorous or flashy professions.
- Physical aggression is portrayed quite differently, with physical attacks being quite frequent (and even friendly), particularly between boys, between girls and from girls to boys (not, except for bad guys, generally from males toward girls). Girls, in shojo manga, are frequently physically capable and aggressive, generally well able to defend themselves. This capability does not, however, preclude their love interests from rushing to their defense or otherwise trying to protect them with or without their permission. Some girls take that better than others. Some will do the same right back, often to the boy's consternation. Girls unable to do their own defending will often have other skills that still enable them to hold their own (like Misao's ability to heal demons and her willingness to use venom).
- The moral high ground is more likely to be the girl's thing. Girls are routinely jumping into danger in the interest of protecting others or standing up for some principle or the other, whereas the males are more likely just to jump in if someone specific they care about is involved. The vast majority of shojo manga girls are intrepid, sometimes even frighteningly so, even if they get panicked when things spiral away. Still, they almost all have their moments where they are doing the rescuing.
- Kissing is a bigger deal than it is here, I think. High school students can be in relationships for months without kissing apparently. Kissing is generally described something you only do with someone you love (which is apparently not necessarily true with sex). And that goes to something else that is almost always true: even the most passionate male protagonist backs off and takes his cues from the girl. That includes stepping aside gracefully if the girl chooses someone else (as happens in a number of the love triangles). It is undoubtedly one reason I like these mangas.
- Shojo manga romance is almost always the kind of romance I like, where the interests and happiness of who you love takes precedence over oneself, including one's own passion. I wish western romance would embrace that kind of thinking again.