Kuragehime, aka Jellyfish Princess, has so far been quite a genuine look at the lives of female otaku. Though certain elements of the story are exaggerated for comedic effect, the show really feels sincere overall, particularly when it comes to the uncomfortable conflict that can occur when dorks, particularly female dorks, run up against the frightening monster that is Fashion.
Already from episode 1 you get the idea that main character Tsukimi and the other girls find fashion to be an anathema. Living in Tokyo, going outside means having to deal with the constant, almost unconscious social pressure that results from not looking “like everyone else.” They know they’re different from others, and being reminded of it constantly and from all angles doesn’t make them any more comfortable. Their home, known as Amamizukan is a haven, not merely because it’s visually devoid of the perceived runway drive-bys that make the outside so dangerous, but also because it’s seen as mentally and emotionally free. So when the threat is made internal, either by a “beautiful woman” stepping through their door, or through having one of their own transformed into “one of them,” it’s like the sanctity of their home (and their existence) has been violated by that which they fear most.
In episode 3, Tsukimi is given a glamorous makeover by the cross-dressing Kuranosuke, and her reaction to seeing herself comes in two parts. First, she is unable to accept herself as attractive. Second, she frets over what her peers would think if they saw her. When Tsukimi imagines herself being crucified by her friends, she envisions it taking place on Otome Road in Ikebukuro, which is itself a haven for female otaku, particularly fujoshi, within a greater trendy shopping/fashion city, reflecting the status of their home within Tokyo. This reveals a lot about how Tsukimi defines herself, not just internally but also in relation to others.
While “beauty” can be defined in any number of physical ways (let alone more intangible ones), it’s clear that Tsukimi does not consider herself to be beautiful. By saying that she “doesn’t want to be pretty,” Tsukimi defines beauty as something foreign to her existence, or that to look attractive would mean that she isn’t be true to herself. I can relate. Having been ridiculed in the past because of my clothing, “good fashion” and “good looks” became symbols of the enemy, the barriers which prevent people from seeing that it’s the inside that counts, as taught by one Ugly Duckling. But when you think about it, if the inside is really what’s important, then people should not be judged negatively simply because they’re attractive and make an effort to be attractive.
Fashion can be seen as a way to hide your flaws. In that sense, fashion becomes a “lie” made all the more egregious by glitz and glamour, but it’s a perspective marred by pessimism, where a person allows the negative aspects their appearance to define them more than the positive ones. Instead, you can think of fashion as accentuating your better qualities, where you define “good-looking” on your own terms, and the difference between fashionable and unfashionable can be as simple as an anime t-shirt that fits versus one that doesn’t. But this isn’t what Tsukimi is doing. Rather than making a declaration that sweats and unkempt eyebrows are a sign of her own personal beauty, she has defined “being pretty” as a state that she can only achieve through deception and trickery, that whatever “beauty” is, she isn’t. To look good is to be one with the enemy, and neither she nor her housemates at Amamizukan can accept that (or at least that’s what Tsukimi believes).
So when it comes to the second part of Tsukimi’s reaction, the fear that she would be branded a traitor by her comrades in geekdom, there is more at work than simply group pressure. Tsukimi and the other girls have so violently rejected the “standard” world that they have created their own anti-fashion values, where everything is upside down. While I appear to be contradicting what I said earlier about defining fashion on your own terms, this isn’t quite what’s going on, as the girls are actually casting in a negative light the very attempt to look better. Because they feel ostracized by the outside, they shun it right back to the point that they feed their insecurities, rather than grow more comfortable, and in doing so they end up being not so different from those they wish to distance themselves from.
I know the emphasis that fashion can have on a group dynamic like this can be difficult for a lot of guys to comprehend, so I’m going to provide a more aggressive, arguably more “masculine” nerd equivalent. Imagine that a Star Trek fan gets beat up in school by a bunch of jocks. As a result, he begins to associate anything having to do with physical prowess and athletic activity with stupidity and the worst human traits. Then, he manages to find a Star Trek club and makes some friends, even going to science fiction conventions. He’s happy, but within that community he becomes the guy who judges others by their Star Trek knowledge (which by this point has also branched out to Babylon 5 and other works), and to not be up to his level is to simply not be up to par. Just as this poor nerd “bullies” with his intelligence and fandom knowledge, unconsciously mirroring the very bullies who torment him, the anti-fashion, anti-beauty attitude of Tsukimi and friends emerges in a similar fashion.
Is Amamizukan truly free then? Yes, but only if you follow their rules. That doesn’t make them bad people, though.