Beyond the Brokeback Pose: Don’t Meddle with My Daughter

It’s obvious from the very first page that the manga Don’t Meddle with My Daughter! (“Uchi no Musume ni Te o Dasuna!” in Japanese) is 1) based on American superhero comics 2) a vehicle for constant fanservice. One aspect I’d like to talk about is how it can bring to the front of our minds the very idea of heroines as sexual ideals for men and its entrenchment in our ideas of superheroes.

Before that, a couple of points. First, to reiterate something I said in an old post, I am not against characters being drawn as sexually desirable in comics, and I’m even okay with works that are pretty much thinly veiled pornography. This is not a criticism of having everyone be unrealistically hot in fictional portrayals. Second, I am well aware of the recent steps that have been taken in American superhero comics to show women neither as strong or weak but as human and capable of growth, such as the Ms. Marvel from Marvel Comics series starring Kamala Khan and Batgirl from DC. These are not the points of this post. Rather, what I want to say is that a work like Don’t Meddle with My Daughter! can help contextualize some of the discussion that surrounds the portrayal of women in comics.

Don’t Meddle with My Daughter! comes from Tamaki Nozomu, the artist who brought us Dance in the Vampire Bund. Whereas his previous work featured a dangerously underage-looking vampire girl, this one focuses on a mother and daughter, both of whom have superpowers. The mother, who in her heyday fought as the “Eighth Wonder,” has now retired, only to find that her daughter has taken up her mantle. If you think this is basically like The Incredibles and has the room for the same sort of kid-friendly family bonding, keep in mind that not only are they drawn in really, really skintight outfits, but the good guys are called “N.U.D.E.” (like S.H.I.E.L.D.) and the bad guys are actually called “Blowjob.” It’s a work that wears its intent on its sleeve.

I think it’s safe to say that most superhero comics that are actually published in the US aren’t quite this blatant and gratuitous in its depiction of the female body. However, many are also not that far off; in a way, it’s as if the manga is actively pursuing the brokeback pose, but achieves this fanservice more through “convenient” camera angles and the refusal of tact. The reason I bring this up is because when you have discussion about the portrayal of women in comics, one common argument I’ve seen is that it’s “just the way things are.” In other words, this is simply how women are drawn in comics. However, Don’t Meddle with My Daughter!, as a manga, lacks that sort of cultural context, and is more a reflection of superheroes as cultural import. Thus it draws into question that very idea of explaining it all away with “tradition.”

It’s true that styles get replicated and imitated because of popularity, tradition, and a number of other reasons that don’t really get thought through extensively. A person new to shoujo manga might see all of these character with tiny noses and sparkles in their enormous eyes and wonder why everything looks the same, and the answer in part is indeed that it’s simply how it is. At the same time, there is room for discussion as to why that turned out to be the case, as well as an opportunity to discuss how this impacts people’s view of shoujo manga and what steps might potentially change this for the better or the worse. It’s not likely going to be the example people turn to in order to show the influence of American comics on the world, but the fact is that the fanservice Don’t Meddle with My Daughter! is clearly a choice working not from an unconscious tradition but from an active decision. This re-contextualization of superhero cheesecake can help to highlight that it’s not as simple as ignoring the highly sexual poses that have been found in comics just because it’s an established style.

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