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I’ve been on an “90s anime theme” kick recently, watching various live concert performances and animated intros/outros on YouTube. When you look through them, there’s a recurring tendency in shows of the time to have ending animations highlight the token female character as she existed in the 90s. What stands out to me in particular is that a lot of these girls are designed to be fairly pretty but not excessively beautiful, talented but not too talented.

Frequently, the 90s girl is the protagonist’s love interest, especially in series with heavily male-dominated casts, and in shounen works also works as either an everyman or expositional character to get the reader up to speed on the rules of the story. She’s the ideal support for him and his passionate pursuit of whatever goal or motivation he possesses, and it’s this sideline cheerleader that has more recently fallen by the wayside in favor of a new breed of heroine, who still might not be in the spotlight but possesses some sort of “other” talent. The example that immediately comes to mind is Akagi Haruko from Slam Dunk, who knows a bit about basketball and is the target of affection for the hero, in contrast to Aida Riko and Momoi Satsuki from Kuroko’s Basketball, who have support “powers” for their teams and whose roles as possible love interests are not as prominent (perhaps influenced by the greater fujoshi influence of Kuroko). None of them are stars of their stories, but I think there’s a clear difference between then and now.

If the main character’s love interest is supposed to be an ideal, I have to wonder why they’re so frequently designed to not be quite so ideal in the first place. This could be chalked up to “good characterization” in some cases, and a “boring” or “plain” female character to a potential viewer outside of Japan might be seen as a “yamato nadeshiko” type perfect woman in Japanese culture (e.g. Shinguji Sakura from Sakura Wars). However, I can’t help thinking that there’s something else, like a desire to promote the plain girl as the one young readers of shounen should be aiming for. Pining for the hottest girl around might somehow have been viewed as impractical or even wrongheaded, and that the childhood friend, the girl next door, would be the far better choice. Was anime and manga trying to teach its audience what kind of love would be the more realistic choice, or is it just that having these girls be fairly plain is simply about pushing the heroes further to the forefront?

 

In the past, I’ve written about “OEL manga,” English-language comics inspired by the manga style, in an attempt to find out why OEL manga often end up looking not quite like what typically comes out of Japan. I’ve brought up ideas such as screentone usage and how it often looks like artists try to draw “anime” comics instead of “manga” comics. It’s not a bad feature, and there are plenty of good comics that are inspired by manga without looking like it, but it’s just fun to try and figure out why things don’t look “right,” so to speak.

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Recently, however, I’ve come across a manga called Shoujo Fight by Nihonbashi Yoko, and even though it’s drawn by a Japanese person for a Japanese audience, to me it looks very similar to OEL manga. It’s to the extent that, if you had given me a page from Shoujo Fight translated and told me someone from Kansas drew it, I might very well have believed you.

Shoujo Fight is a volleyball manga published in the magazine Evening (sister to Genshiken‘s Monthly Afternoon and the popular Weekly Morning). Its story follows a girl named Ooishi Neri, who holds back a fiery passion for volleyball due to a traumatic event in her past. Beginning from 2012 it ran for 12 volumes, and it’s overall just a solid sports manga with a large variety of interesting female characters with equally diverse body types.

Now, I want to emphasize that, when I compare it to OEL manga that I do not mean that as an insult, and in fact I really enjoy Shoujo Fight‘s art style. Nevertheless, it does leave me wondering… why does Shoujo Fight look to me like OEL manga? I think there are a number of interrelated reasons.

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First, the creator, Nihonbashi Yoko, has a very design-oriented and graphic style that’s conducive to posters, symbols, and logos. When looking at her official blog, there’s a lot of work along those lines, and I think she’s very good at it.

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Second, Shoujo Fight is clearly drawn digitally, and I think (whether it’s accurate or not) that I associate “western” renditions of anime and manga with the rise of tablets and digital comics in general. The line work is very smooth and sleek, completely devoid of pen or pencil textures, and I find that a lot of Deviantart artists tend to work similarly.

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Third, the way Nihonbashi draws eyes often times feels closer to what I’d find in a North American or European comic. In fact, to me the way that the heroine Neri’s eyes are drawn reminds me strongly of the girls from the Italian comic (turned French animation) W.I.T.C.H. or even those of a Disney heroine. I think this becomes especially noticeable when a character has her eyes closed part-way, because the particular shape of the eyes and eyelids are not so common in manga.

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With Shoujo Fight and its art style is compared to the typical manga, it’s fascinating to me how the idea of “manga” continues to be challenged from both within its primary industry and from the outside. And if you want to see more of her work, follow the creator of Shoujo Fight on Twitter.

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Parasyte, the story of a boy whose right hand is taken over by an alien parasite, was a popular 90s manga in Japan. Recently it’s gotten an anime adaptation with an updated look, so naturally Parasyte has been receiving more attention. What I hadn’t expected to see, however, was a Parasyte one-shot spinoff by shoujo manga legend Hagio Moto.

Hagio Moto is famous for being the mother of BL manga as the creator of Heart of Thomas. She’s continued to create manga since her debut in the 1970s, including science fiction, such as Star Red and A, A’, and even comics that act as allegories to the dangers of nuclear power. She generally stays within the realms of shoujo and josei, so the fact that she’s brought her talents to Monthly Afternoon (where Parasyte was originally published) is something special.

Yura no Mon o follows Yura, the young daughter of Tamura Reiko, who is the parasite disguised as the original hero Izumi Shin’ichi’s school teacher. Reiko decides to have a human baby with a fellow parasite, and her relationship with her daughter throughout the original series is portrayed as disturbing yet potentially redemptive. Yura is adopted by another family by the time of Hagio’s one-shot, but she every so often here’s a voice that tells her one thing: kill. Thinking it’s the voice of her mother, she goes through life with that whisper in the back of her head.

I’ll be honest, I’m not a fan of Parasyte, but that’s because it succumbs to many 90s manga tropes (particularly its portrayal of women). With Yura no Mon o, Hagio Moto brings the sensibility and soft style that made her one of shoujo manga’s most famous artists. If you have the chance, and you have even a passing familiarity with Parasyte, it’s worth checking out.

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Of all the fujoshi-themed manga I’ve encountered (and I’ve read a lot), Okachimachi Hato’s Fujoshissu! is one of my absolute favorites. So, having recently found out that Okachimachi is starting up a new manga, I was immediately thrilled. While my search for fujoshi protagonists is why I first discovered her work, it’s Okachimachi’s expressive art style and subtle, considerate explorations of her characters that turned me into a fan.

Her new work, Kimi xxxru Koto Nakare (“You Shall Not xxx”) shows signs of being just as strong from the very first chapter, which is why I’ve decided to start writing monthly chapter reviews for it. This is only the third time I’ve ever done the “episodic review” thing (both previous instances were Genshiken anime and manga), so I hope you enjoy it.

Kimi xxxru Koto Nakare is the story of a budding teenage romance between Shuuto, a male idol, and Nobuko, a female celebrity comedian. When the manga begins, we see that Shuuto first discovers Nobuko at a very young age while watching television. Nobuko is the daughter of a famous comedian as well, and to Shuuto, it’s love at first sight. He thinks she’s the cutest girl ever, and it inspires him to get into the entertainment industry as a child model.

Years later, the two are now classmates, and while Shuuto is adored by legions of female fans for his handsome appearance and cool demeanor, his real aspiration is comedy. Shuuto asks Nobuko for help, and after some important lessons (namely that Shuuto can’t be serious about comedy if he’s afraid of being laughed at), Shuuto finally succeeds in getting some laughs. Grateful to Nobuko, Shuuto finally confesses his feelings to her and even gives her a kiss, but while Nobuko is shown to secretly feel the same way as Shuuto, she backs away and tells him that he can’t do that.

There is so much to talk about in this first chapter, but I think what stands out most is Nobuko’s appearance. While Tonari no Young Jump, the website on which Kimi Nakare is published, can ostensibly be called “shounen” or “seinen,” it’s clear that Okachimachi comes from a very different background in terms of art style and approach to manga. Kimi Nakare is very much in a shoujo vein, but very rarely do shoujo manga feature a main female character as plain-looking as Nobuko. Generally speaking, they tend to be not the most beautiful but still thin and pretty in a conventional sense. In contrast, Nobuko is larger, has a rather masculine face with big bushy eyebrows, and is just noticeably less attractive than Shuuto.

Even the story draws attention to the fact that Nobuko is not supposed to be good-looking. When a young Shuuto is telling his parents that Nobuko is the cutest girl he’s ever seen, they react with puzzlement. “Cute? I would call her interesting…but cute?” Shuuto “shouldn’t” be attracted to her to such an extent, but he is.

What’s amazing about this contrast is that it doesn’t feel simply like wish fulfillment that a handsome idol like Shuuto would fall in love with Nobuko. Putting aside his love of comedy and the fact that she’s mentioned as being incredibly talented at getting laughs, Nobuko is strong, supportive, cheerful, and isn’t afraid to take someone down a peg. As the chapter progresses, it becomes evident that these qualities are what continuously draws Shuuto to her. Okachimachi never draws Nobuko in a way implied to be Shuuto’s “perspective” with the requisite that she then appears to be more beautiful than she is, but by just seeing them together, I could understand just how attractive Nobuko’s personality could be.

Suffice it to say, I already love this manga. I believe that Nobuko’s negative reaction to Shuuto’s kiss and confession comes from the fact that he’s an idol and therefore isn’t allowed to date. Whether that means they have a clandestine romance or they have to constantly resist their own feelings, I can’t wait to see what happens next.

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Name: Nakano, Amane (中野あまね)
Alias: A-chan (あーちゃん)
Relationship Status: Dating
Origin: Kiss Him, Not Me

Information:
Serinuma Kae’s best friend and fujoshi comrade, Nakano Amane shares in Kae’s penchant for pairing boys in their class. They disagree as to whether their classmates Igarashi and Nanashima should be paired in that order, or the opposite (7×5, Amane’s preference).

Amane is into seiyuu talk shows and otaku events, and has a non-otaku boyfriend named Mikoshiba.

Fujoshi Level:
Little is precisely known about Amane’s fujocity, but it appears to be comparable to Kae’s.

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I wrote a post about characters who suffer from deep love over at Apartment 507. Are you dere for yandere?

Recently, it’s come to my attention that a translation of Genshiken Chapter 122, aka the “Madarame Harem Arc Conclusion” chapter, has been going around that have some serious inaccuracies as to what is being said by Madarame. This seems to have created a good deal of outrage, with people believing that Madarame and Hato are both claiming that Hato isn’t really attracted to men.

That is completely wrong, and I’m here to correct that mistake.

SPOILER WARNING, of course.

First, here’s pages 130-132 from the serialization, when Madarame is explaining his reason for not dating Hato.

Yoshitake: Rame-senpai, you didn’t deny the possibility of Hato x Mada, so what’s the problem with Hato?

Madarame: Well I wouldn’t call it a problem… Let’s see. If we were together, I get the feeling that he would think about it too much and become a wreck in the process.

Yoshitake: …Aahhh… I think I understand…

Yajima: (That’s exactly what would happen.)

Madarame: Let’s say we started dating and hit it off. Even if that happened, I feel that he would be torment himself, believing there was some other pretext for our relationship.

At some point, he would think, Madarame has to feel reluctant about dating a man, right? Hato would think too much, and suffer for it. It should be simpler than that. “Hey I’m just a fudanshi who loves to crossdress, that’s all. No more, no less.” Wouldn’t that be a much better way to live?

With the above, I think you can see that Madarame is not claiming that Hato isn’t gay or bisexual. Rather, what he’s saying is that he wants Hato to find a relationship where he can feel comfortable being himself.

Now, here’s Hato’s later reaction and conversation with Yajima, on pages 143-145.

Yajima: You look better off than I was expecting.

Hato: I’m just really feeling the fact that it’s all over and done. I said everything I wanted to say, and if that’s the case…

Besides, it was a relief to be rejected. It was just as senpai said. Between my appearance and my love of BL I’m going to run into problems eventually.

I understood that, no matter how much I might like someone, it wouldn’t work out with a guy. Even knowing that, I still fell for senpai. Even now my feelings haven’t changed. I’ll probably go on loving him forever. That’s why I think Madarame senpai will be the first and last man I ever love.

Here, Hato does not deny that he was genuinely attracted to Madarame, nor is he going for the, “I don’t love men but I love you!” What he’s saying is that he thinks his feelings for Madarame are never going away, and that no one will take his place. Is he exaggerating? Maybe? Where he is feeling conflicted is the idea that a relationship can’t work with a guy, but that seems to be for other reasons, perhaps owing to society.

I hope this cleared things up for you Genshiken fans. In the end, Hato still isn’t with Madarame, but I think it’s clear that they both think well of each other.

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NOTE: It seems that an inaccurate translation of the contents of this chapter have been floating around. Please look at this supplemental post after reading this review to get the right picture.

At long last, Madarame makes his choice in Chapter 122. And in the end the winner is…

Is…!

…No one. Madarame chooses to abstain.

I get the strange feeling some readers might be pulling out the pitchforks, but I think it’s best to put them away. I believe the reasons behind Madarame’s decision are worth exploring, as they really show the kind of consideration Genshiken has for its characters and their connections to both the real world and that of their awkward nerd fandom.

Madarame says that there is no universal reason he’s chosen not to date any of the girls. Each circumstance is unique. When you add them all together it paints an interesting picture.

For Angela, it’s a matter of a long distance relationship, but Madarame explicitly mentions that it has to do with the idea that being with the hottest thing on Earth, but only having physical contact twice a year, would be like “torture.” Implied is the notion that Madarame is open to the idea of a relationship based on bodily desire, but that’s untenable unless Angela moves to Japan.

Physically, Madarame is ready, but emotionally he’s not. This is what puts Keiko out of contention, as the possibility that Keiko will remind him of Saki, whether because of their similarities or because Keiko might just mention her in conversation is difficult for him at this point. While Madarame is indeed attracted to Keiko, the important thing is that he needs more time to come to terms with his lost love. As Madarame mentions, he’s just been kind of passively going along with everything, and that’s probably what he needs least at this point.

Sue’s is an odd rationale, because Madarame’s “reason” for not dating her is because he likes seeing Sue’s displays of yuri affection with Ogiue. This feels like a cop-out, but I really do think there’s more to Madarame’s words than meets the eye. Given how positively Sue reacts to Madarame’s explanation, I think it shows that Madarame not only understands Sue well, but that he sees Sue herself as not being ready for a relationship. She’s still shy and sensitive, and might need more time to step out of her shell.

Madarame’s basis for rejecting Hato is the most complex of all, but it all comes down to not wanting to hurt Hato. Madarame explains that, even if he and Hato were to work out as a couple, the constant worry that Hato has had to suffer because of Madarame risks being not simply a short term thing.

In all likelihood, their relationship would be forever plagued with doubts and second-guesses as to whether Madarame likes the fantasy more than the reality, or whether Hato feels comfortable being who he is. As Madarame puts it, Hato should be with someone who just simply accepts him as he is, and lets Hato feel like his identity as a crossdressing fudanshi is a matter of course. This mindset mirrors a conversation the two once had, where Madarame mentioned that Hato’s just the way he is and it shouldn’t be a big deal.

I think some readers might also be concerned that Hato says that Madarame will be the first and last man he ever loves. Hato says a lot of things, like how he has no interest in men at all. Pretty much every character in Genshiken changes their mind, and Hato is just the best example of this.

All of this means that, of the four prospective love interests, only Hato has truly been rejected. Madarame considers both Keiko and Sue as not having any faults that aren’t rooted in Madarame’s own broken heart, and if Angela were to move to Japan, I think he might die from crushed pelvis (it’s also worth nothing that the virgin vs. whore thing doesn’t even come up, which might say something about Madarame’s maturity). Essentially, Madarame has been on the rebound this whole time, and his clouded judgment, combined with his propensity for waffling, has been a bad combination that can only be solved with time and some space.

I think it all makes sense.

Genshiken sets up two new threads in the aftermath of the Madarame harem arc. First, as Hato mentions that he likes the idea of finding someone who accepts him without much fuss, Yajima sees this as possibly her opportunity. The irony here is that Yajima didn’t accept him for the longest time, as her more conservative values as well as her poor self-image made Hato a target of mild disdain and jealousy. Things are different now, but the real question is…how different? Spotted Flower different?

Second, as if to speak directly to those readers who missed the way Genshiken was once upon a time, the next chapter preview basically says that the manga is going back to doujinshi and clubroom antics. Something tells me that this isn’t giving the whole picture though.

As for Ogiue, I feel as if Kio put in extra care when drawing her this chapter. Call it a hunch.

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Name: Nishina, Shima (二科志麻)
Alias: N/A
Relationship Status: Single
Origin: Kiss Him, Not Me

Information:
Nishina Shima is an extremely wealthy cosplayer, fanfic and doujinshi creator, and fujoshi who finds herself attracted to fellow fujoshi Serinuma Kae. As the only girl among Kae’s suitors, as well as the only one who directly understands her taste for yaoi, Shima uses this advantage to get a leg up on her rivals. Like Kae, Shima is a fan of the series Mirage Saga and Katchu Love, but their interests in opposite pairings can cause some tension.

Shima loves beautiful things, though her definition of beautiful focuses on how people are inside. Though Kae believes she met Shima at Comic Market for the first time when Shima rescued her from a creepy photographer, in fact they had met much earlier. Shima had been interested in Kae prior to her weight loss, but was originally unable to recognize her after the fact.

Fujoshi Level:
The quality of Shima’s doujinshi is high enough for Kae (pre-transformation) to buy all of them. In addition, her collection of fujoshi material outstrips even Kae’s.

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Coppelion, the science fiction manga about genetically engineered clones tasked with finding any remaining survivors in a radioactive Tokyo, finally wrapped up last month on February 20, 2016.

Running since 2008 for over 20 volumes, Coppelion has had a rather turbulent history. Its story about an earthquake that triggers a nuclear meltdown in Japan and changes the course of many lives went from “what if” to “what now” with the Fukushima Triple Disaster on March 11, 2016. Its animated adaptation was canceled, then revived with heavy censorship and a strange modification to its aestheticsCoppelion has seen multiple tonal shifts over the course of the series that had people wondering if it was a manga about radiation or an excuse to see high school girls fighting.

For all its ups and downs, I believe tha its author Inoue Tomonori had the best intentions in mind throughout Coppelion‘s run. Elements that one might assume were there merely to cater to manga readers actually carried with them a great deal of subtlety, and the subject of nuclear power never truly disappeared from the manga. In fact, I suspect that the decision to conclude Coppelion at this point is very deliberate and designed to make a statement.

Not only was the final chapter of Coppelion published in Monthly Young Magazine right before today, the fifth anniversary of 3.11, but the initial disaster that sets the story of Coppelion is supposed to take place this year, in 2016. What better place could there be to bring this narrative to a close?

Though I have no evidence as such, I think it is very likely that this final chapter was planned to land in this time frame, as a symbolic reminder of the potential dangers of nuclear radiation, as well as the problems created when both people and the governing bodies responsible for its regulation become negligent towards nuclear safety.

You can read the Coppelion manga online at Crunchyroll.

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