Kodocha and Gakuen Alice; ever since the more recent Gakuen Alice started being released in English several years ago, people have been buzzing about how similar these two manga series are. Having read a good portion of Gakuen Alice and finishing Kodocha, I have to admit, there are some obvious similarities; in both stories, readers are presented with peppy preteen female leads whose first challenge of many challenges is to deal with the zoo they call class. The out-of-control classes are both controlled by quiet troublemaker boys who have a chip on their shoulders about something. This ultimately leads the girls into confrontations with the troublemakers and eventually develops into a more friendly relationship.
Despite this likeness, there was something that differentiated the two stories for me. There was a similar set up between the female and male leads in these manga, but the dynamics seemed somehow different. What was it? While the female lead from Kodocha, Sana gave back whatever her troublemaker Akito dished out and more, Mikan, the female lead from Gakuen Alice, often endures and reacts rather than dishing out. To give you an idea of what I mean, let’s compare the first clash of the female and male leads.
In Kodocha, Sana has been tolerating Akito’s reign of chaos in her class for some time from the looks of it. However, by the start of the series she’s done dealing with it. At first she does indirect things like leaving class or ranting about Akito on a talk show (she’s a young actress), but that doesn’t change things. In fact, after badmouthing Akito on TV Akito’s gang begins threatening and insulting Sana. Sana isn’t the least bit intimidated and, for whatever reason, Akito won’t confront her head on. On the other hand, regardless of his reputation, she isn’t afraid to confront Akito. The two finally have a confrontation when Akito starts bullying a friend of Sana’s. She slaps him, dodges his punches, and tries to talk to him about why he’s doing this. Even when Akito snaps and says he’ll start bullying her from now on, Sana stands strong. This all transpires in the first chapter and already Sana has defined herself as a tough girl who’s not willing to deal with this behavior or be pushed around. With so many female characters out there who are willing to put up with abuse, it’s great to see one who isn’t. Her strength inspires her fellow classmates, who had just been putting up with Akito and his gang’s craziness, to stand up against them as well.
In Gakuen Alice, Mikan meets the troublemaker of her story, Natsume, when he tries to escape the mysterious school Mikan is trying to enter. A teacher quickly quells Natsume and he and Mikan are put in a room to wait while the school officials try to sort things out. Unlike Sana who knows Akito is a troublemaker, Mikan doesn’t know Natsume and although she’s warned that he’s dangerous, she’s caught off guard when he grabs her, threatens her, and demands to know who she is. Understandably, she’s shocked. When she doesn’t answer, Natsume steals her panties and readers are left with the typical scene in manga of the heroine crying, “comically” insisting she’ll never be able to marry now (I’ve never understood the humor of this scenario in manga since it’s making fun of a character feels like she’s been violated). In Mikan’s defense, as I said earlier, she isn’t used to dealing with Natsume, but because Natsume has already one upped her, the power seems shifted to his court. Readers are constantly reminded of this since, in coming confrontations between the two, Natsume brings up the incident with the panties. While this only fuels Mikan’s anger, I think there’s a certain amount of power in being able to rile someone up like Natsume does with Mikan. She’s put at Natsume’s whim more than a couple of times and so, while she does stand up to Natsume, she also has to endure a lot.
In the end, even after the relationships between the female and male leads aren’t enemies anymore, I felt Sana and Akito’s relationship was a lot more equal. Even when those two get on each other about something, it doesn’t feel like either of the characters is just being overpowered or steamrolled over by the other. In comparison, Mikan and Natsume have a relationship that’s much more typical in my opinion with Natsume pushing and pulling Mikan around a fair amount. Mikan isn’t spineless and Natsume does get nicer, but in the 10 volumes I’ve read of the series so far I still feel the relationship hasn’t reached the equal footing I’d like it to.