Another season has started. It is Fall 2010, and around 30 new anime titles are beginning. Of those, at least half contain, in one way or another, a considerable amount of fanservice that is not aimed at females, varying from panty-shots, high sexual content, mentions of incest, etc. On a less sexual dimension, there are the ever-present violent titles, be it in content or art style, the mecha, and generally new series that have little to no character focus. Although every person has their own preferences, we can safely say that girls are not the primary target audience for that kind of content.
Excluding shows revolving around those themes, we’re left with shoujo, josei, BL and certain slice of life. But, with the exception of slice of life, how many shoujo, josei and BL titles are actually adapted to the screen, every season?
In the past years, there have been some remarkable titles. There have been three seasons for Nodame Cantabile, the 50-episodes long and epic NANA, acclaimed shoujo titles such as Kimi ni Todoke, Lovely Complex, Shugo Chara, Natsume Yuujinchou, Kobato, Ouran High School Host Club, and other adaptations such as La Corda D’oro, Hakuouki: Shinsengumi Kitan, Miracle Train and several Harukanaru. Putting them side by side like this makes it seem like a rather long list, but if you compare to the list of male-orientated series, it is relatively smaller.
It becomes more complicated when, within those scarce titles, we find critical problems.
The most recurring problem I have is with the heroines. They’re either as deep as a sheet of paper, hard to relate to, or just plain unlikable. I don’t know what would compel girls to read about girls who tend to be as dumb as a doornail. They may be physically strong, physically fit, cheerful, creative, but they end up just blatantly stupid it makes you wonder if that’s how women are often viewed in Japan. Which probably wouldn’t be far from the truth, but when you have women writing for women, it‘s a bit concerning.
One thing that pleased me when I started watching Kaichou wa Maid-sama! was how Misaki, the main character, wasn’t whiny, dependant, or the crying stereotype. I was apprehensive that she would be quickly depowered as the episodes went by, but by the end of the show, she still had pretty much all of her qualities intact. There were times, however, mostly when the Student Council work wasn’t involved, that it became hard to believe Misaki was really one of the top students in the school.
Some of the protagonists are really slate figures for girls to insert themselves instead. Those are the cases for the Otome Games adaptations, or atrocities like Vampire Knight’s Yuuki. Otome Games have an excuse, since the main characters don’t have a personality to begin with (like Kahoko Hino from La Corda D’oro), and are pretty much the female equivalent of the eroge protagonists that clutter basically every season with their stupidity. The Yuuki Cross type doesn’t really have an excuse – they’re badly written Mary Sues whose purpose is to be the 21st century version of the damsel in distress. They are usually hated by the very target audience they try to please, who often prefer to focus on the gorgeous, equally empty bishounen (or pretty boys, if you so wish to call them, since bishounen reminds you of the awful contraction “bishie”, doesn’t it? Yes, I’m so sorry for reminding you of that). In any case, the purpose of those characters is limited to be conflicted between the multiple loves-of-their-lives and completely derailing the plot, if the title even attempts to have one.
There are, of course, girls who have a biased hate for main females in general. Be it because they don’t think she’s worthy of the amazing bishounen (be it one or ten, since reverse harems are everywhere), or because they have a hate for their own gender that is particularly curious. I remember back in the day when Fushigi Yuugi was discussed heatedly, and a lot of girls hated Miaka for reasons I wasn’t convinced of. Although author Yuu Watase went for the general reverse harem path and that could be annoying, Miaka had a clear motive that kept her (and the story) going, and it wasn’t focused on Tamahome, her love interest, but on her (female) best friend Yui.
Girls are, then, a rather complex audience, with a range that I could call more diverse than the male one. They are capable of watching male-orientated series with the proper incentive, like Code Geass and its work on the male characters/CLAMP character design did, or other supposedly shounen titles like Nabari no Ou, Pandora Hearts and Kuroshitsuji, whose authors seem to appeal more for females than males, considering how the chemistry between their (male) characters work. For that reason, I wouldn’t say there isn’t an audience for the titles I have criticized – I myself am guilty of loving the majority of shoujo titles out there, and watching almost every Otome adaptation when the situation presents itself. That doesn’t mean it represents any kind of quality. It’s like admitting that yes, it is nice that teenage girls are interested in reading because of Twilight, and then forgetting that that doesn’t make Twilight good by itself. Just because the titles exist, it doesn’t mean we should be grateful for them and stop there. That would only enforce the stereotypes, and we would end up being fed the same crap over, over, and over again – which isn’t far from our current situation.
We are living in a time where girls are swooning over Edwards and Jacobs, caricatures of real men and idealization of relationships that they can’t find in real life. You may say “But manga is just manga, it shouldn’t be a copy of reality!”, and I would actually agree with you. Anime and manga shouldn’t be an exact portrait of reality, but life does have its happy endings too, and conflicts that go beyond “Who should I pick as my partner?”. Art has always been a way to analyze, criticize, offer reflections on real life, and that is what I fail to see, much more often than I would be normally comfortable with. Of course this is animanga we are talking about, and it is entertainment – I have already admitted to have watched what I criticized, and I won’t say I hated them all. I don’t mean to negate their existence, but merely say – I want more than this. I want significance.
Perhaps there will come a day when I will see more female characters who are intelligent but not the most arrogant brats in existence, and merely cocky. Whose emotional vulnerabilities won’t take away their capacities and turn them into mushy, incoherent goo. Who are not caricatures, overused stereotypes of girls who do not even exist. Girls who girls can relate to, instead of just wanting to take their place. Or maybe portrayals of relationships that actually resemble what a relationship really is like.
I wonder if it would be so hard to balance the more male-orientated titles with the female ones. Maybe female otaku are rarer in Japan than in the western side of the globe. Maybe they just hope to insert fanservice for females in male shows, since girls are more flexible in their preferences than boys. Whatever the situation is, we just have to keep on hoping that they remember us. Give us the proper treatment. And don’t underestimate us.
Hey Japan, where’s my NANA season 02?