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Archive for February, 2013

514IwBrfIzL._SL500_AA300_Asuka Masamune is everything society says a good, traditional woman should be: Asuka sews like no one’s business, cooks meals that are both delicious and aesthetically appealing, likes cute things and sweets and would choose pink over blue any day, has pure ideals of love, cleans, etc. In other words, this protagonist is the ideal woman. The thing is, Asuka is a guy. With that one detail, his interests become something to be ashamed of instead of proud.

As a child, his frail mother discovered his inclination toward sparks, cute things, and love stories and she begged him to give up his hobbies, saying that’s not what boys should be interested in. After this, Asuka realized his true self was a self he could never show.  In a society where men are supposed to reject everything feminine to be considered “manly,” if his secret were to be uncovered, it would earn him scorn worse than if he were a man with the plague in the middle ages. Thus, he hid his true self well and struggled to become the ideal man. At seventeen, he’s an accomplished athlete, he’s stoic and tough yet chivalrous, and he applies himself to the warrior spirit. Everywhere he goes he sets the bar for the other guys and the girls love him for his cool image. Yet it’s all a facade and to make things more complicated, he’s fallen in love with the new transfer student, Ryo. What’s a guy to do when everything he really loves is considered taboo for a man and he’s constantly having to keep up a persona?

Otomen explores an issue that only a small portion of fiction dares address: the invisible, inflexible box that men are forced to occupy. It is cramped and ancient yet to step out of that invisible box and do something that is not limited to the limited definition of the ideal man means facing the firing range of society. Staying in the box is no easy task either. After all, the ideal man is more akin to a statue than human with his inability to show emotion and his purpose to be stable and hard. While women struggle to rise above stereotypes of weakness, men are pressured not to do anything to suggest any likeness to women. Unfortunately, as Otomen depicts, men and women alike hold people to these stereotypes and, sadly, many of us never question them.otomen_vol01_080

Through Asuka, we get an idea of what it means to be a man struggling with societal expectations and personal feelings. He worries if his crush, Ryo, will ever be able to love a man who likes things that are not masculine. We also see the day-to-day fight he deals with to be someone completely different from who he really is. He feels he has no one to confide his true self to, not even his family. However, as readers soon discover, Asuka isn’t the only one who doesn’t fit the narrow molds assigned to genders; Ryo can’t seem to pull off things girls are supposed to be good at like cooking or sewing to save her, but is as tough and unshakeable as any “manly” man; and finally, Juta, a fellow male classmate who writes and draws a successful shojo series under a pen name. These are the first of what appears to be a growing cast of characters who don’t fit in a neat, old box of stereotypes and slowly Asuka is able to be honest about who he is.

So far, the series has tackled these issues relatively well. Mixing drama with comedy and romance in an episodic manner, it can exaggerate and go off into the realms of the fantastical, but it’s an enjoyable read that mixes in bigger messages about gender roles in a big way. It’s one of the few manga I’ve read where a male character has had an interest in things that are traditionally associated with women without being made a joke (usually a thinly veiled one about that stereotypes gay men).

It’s not easy to juggle ideas of gender roles and at times I worried about stereotypes creeping in. The words “manly” and “girly”get thrown around a lot, which is an easy way to describe some things, but ultimately sticks to traditional ideas of gender. Asuka also has to play the hero like a traditional male protagonist. This sends the message that Asuka is still a man in the traditional sense.  But even when I began to feel something was becoming a bit stereotypical, the series usually got back on track. For example, at times I felt Ryo was becoming a typical female love interest in that she gets saved by Asuka repeatedly, but then the series throws in scenes where Ryo works together with Asuka.

In closing, what I’m really liking about Otomen right now is that it addresses both female and male stereotypes, even if it’s not always prefect. I’ll be reading to find out if that continues as the series goes on!

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images-63What are the things that are most important to women? Well, if you believe what the media shows, it seems we think of nothing but fashion and guys. My eyes were recently drawn to an episode of a spin-off anime of Naruto, following the comedic adventures of Naruto’s friend and comrade, Rock Lee and others in short, mini skits. This particular episode featured a skit about “a maiden’s battle” and depicted four of the major female characters of the series, Sakura, Hinata, Ino, and Tenten so, I decided to check it out. (For those of you unfamiliar with the set up in Naruto, ninja are commonplace and most of the cast, including the girls I’ve just mentioned, are skilled warriors who aid in protecting their village and perform dangerous missions. Yet, as I’ve written about in other posts, the female characters are often given more traditional roles.) Unfortunately, it quickly became clear that this skit was a cess pool of stereotypes.

In the ten to fifteen minute skit, there is a big sale going on at a department store, the kind where hundreds of people line up in front of the entrance before the doors have even opened, all prepared to charge in and grab the best deals. It is revealed in a scene with Tenten’s two male comrades that she has gone of to a “women’s battle” instead of training as she usually does. What’s this “women’s battle,” you ask? Yes, it’s braving the mob and competing with fellow women for the best bargains at the sale. We soon find out that Tenten’s fellow female comrades, Sakura, Ino, and Hinata have also come and even powerful women like Tsunade, who is the leader of the village. This extreme shopping trip is compared to a battle and the women use ridiculous tactics to try to outwit others in order to get what they want.

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I searched “shopping” and this is the kind of stuff that comes up. Look at how happy these white women are to be shopping!

So, what’s wrong with this? This is a comedy and I’m sure some people will think that I’m taking this too seriously. After all, while this is one of only a few skits I’ve seen from the show, it’s clear that all the skits play on the ridiculous. My problem with this skit is that the comedy lies in pure stereotyping of women. While the men train, the women participate in petty competitive behavior over a sale. Only one male character is suggested to be partaking in the sale while all the major female characters that live in that village are depicted along with the nameless mob of other shoppers who are depicted as women. By placing all these major female characters in this situation, it makes it seem like all women, no matter their different personalities, are drawn to “girly” activities like shopping. Not only that, but the characters and even the skit’s title verify that this is a “woman’s battle.” That phrasing bothers me beyond suggesting that mostly women show up to these things because to me it draws a line in the sand, so to speak; if shopping is specifically a woman’s battle, does that mean that serious things war, an actual battle, are supposed to be a man’s fight and some women just happen to be there as well?

There is nothing wrong with a woman who likes to shop. Even I like to do it sometimes. There is something wrong, however, with depicting only and all women shopping, especially in such a competitive fashion since that perpetrates the female vs. female stereotype as well.  While many cultures, including my own, label shopping as something women do and like to do, I’ll bet you there are men who like to do that as well. While this sale isn’t limited to clothing, in the United States, many stores will have huge sales on a day called “Black Friday,” just after our Thanksgiving Day and tons of men participate in that. And certainly there are some women who absolutely hate to shop.

Finally, as for this skit being a comedy, in this day and age when we’re trying to move away from stereotypes and be more progressive, wouldn’t it be more enjoyable for everyone to make fun of silly stereotypes like the ones I’ve discussed here? Anyway, if you’d like to see the skit for yourself, I’ve put a link to the episode it’s in at the bottom of this post. The skit starts after the second commercial break at the halfway mark. Watch it if you’d like and tell me what you think!

http://www.crunchyroll.com/naruto-spin-off-rock-lee-his-ninja-pals/episode-42-shino-loves-insects-tenten-fights-a-maidens-battle-610747

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Chobits-Omnibus-Vol.-2Continuing my review of the Chobits series from last week, struggling student and tech-incompetent Hideki has had his life turned upside down by the discovery of a “persocom,” a.k.a. a humanoid computer. At the halfway point of this series, the protagonist has a lot more on his hands to deal with than he bargained for. While he celebrates his incredible luck at finding one just lying around, with the help of boy genius Minoru, Hideki is beginning to realize that this persocom who he calls Chi may not be just any computer; could she be a legendary Chobits, a special persocom unlike all the rest? With this possibility comes danger as avid tech whizzes try to get Chi for themselves and two mysterious persocoms seem to be watching Chi’s movements. Chi also begins to display strange abilities that threaten to disrupt this society reliant on persocoms.

If that weren’t enough trouble for Hideki, he has to puzzle out the morality of persocoms that have caused both happiness and heartbreak for his friends. When persocoms seem so real and alive, it’s easy to forget that they are only programmed to act human. But does that matter? Some don’t thing so. They’re real enough for people to fall in love with. Yet this makes others feel as if real people are replaceable with persocoms. If people can fall in love with persocoms, how can real people compete with them for a person’s heart? Persocoms are perfect while humans are flawed. On the other hand, Hideki’s friend Minoru created a persocom specifically to replace the beloved older sister he lost to illness, but finds it can’t replace her no matter how much he tries to recreate his sister’s personality in this persocom. But can a persocom be replaced or are they just as unique as humans?

With questions like that hanging in the air, Chobits continues to be an odd mix of deep ethical questions with no easy answer and fanservice. The second half has gotten somewhat better in terms of representing women as sex objects with minimal personality, but not too much. While Chi may not be wandering into peep shows or trying to copy Hideki’s porn magazines, she still retains a child-like level of intelligence and displays nothings but goodness and pureness. The chapter title pages are still abundant with sexy pictures of Chi and, somehow, that “on” switch I mentioned in my last post has become a plot point.

Her personality has not improved much either in that she still seems to lack one. In part one of this review, I said that persocoms reminded me of Stepford Wives, and while I still feel that to an extent, I almost find Chi worse because she’s so child-like. Not only does she lack emotions like anger that might be considered “unpleasant,” thus making her “perfect” yet inhuman, but it disturbs me that someone so child-like is the focus of a love story. Someone even says she “like a new-born kitten” because Chi knows so little about everything. Intelligence is obviously not on the list of things loveable about Chi. That leaves her cuteness, personality-wise and physically, her pureness, her devotion, and…yep, that’s about it. In that way, she’s like Disney’s earliest princesses, although sadly, I have to say even Cinderella, Snow White, and Sleeping Beauty have a little more intelligence than Chi. I also felt the other female characters in the series weren’t nearly impressive enough to balance out the blandness of Chi.chobits-289749

As for the depth of the story that I liked, it was as if the ethical questions CLAMP posed were too complicated for even the creators themselves to answer. That, or they wanted to simplify things. As a result, questions about whether it’s ethical to fall in love with something that isn’t living and acts on programs rather than real emotion are returned with answers like, “Well, love doesn’t come in one shape.” That’s a sweet and honest message and such messages about love appear throughout that I appreciated, but it remains that the moral dilemmas raised about persocoms aren’t really answered in a satisfactory fashion, at least for me. In addition, while the two mysterious persocoms added some intrigue at first, I felt they ended up feeling rather side-lined and somewhat forced.

In the end, Chobits was a bit disappointing for me both from a feminist perspective and simply as a story lover. There are certainly some interesting ideas raised in this series, which I enjoyed, but unfortunately, it seemed many of those questions never received good answers. If you’re okay with a simpler, more straightforward ending to this kind of story, you may find that doesn’t matter. But as someone who likes realistic and interesting characters that are more than cuteness, pleasantness, and panties, the element of persocoms and Chi leave this story wanting.

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