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35348Valvrave the Liberator is a shiny new mecha anime to hit the screen (in my case, the computer screen) this spring 2013 anime season. With colorful, humanoid machines, wars fought in space, teens from a neutral state getting caught up in the fight, and even an opening theme by T.M. Revolution, I was reminded of a certain angst-ridden anime with questions about war and peace called Gundam Seed when I first came across this series. Intrigued by the art and curious to see how this new series would handle similar issues, I began to follow it…and soon became concerned about how the female characters would be represented.

The story is centered in a world where the majority of humans live in space and are broken up into three groups: two large groups, the Dorssia Military Pact Federation and the Atlantic Ring United States and a small, neutral group called JIOR. The series begins with a feeling of teen drama and romance, introducing Haruto, our super nice and unimposing protagonist, and his friends at school living a life in JIOR, oblivious to outside troubles. That is, until Dorssia, a militaristic country (which appears oddly reminiscent of Nazi Germany at times throughout the anime), invades the peaceful nation of JIOR, including the school Haruto attends. When it appears his childhood friend and crush, Shoko, has been killed in the attack, Haruto recklessly gets into a military machine secretly being kept on school grounds and, accepting the mysterious condition posed by the machine’s system of relinquishing his humanity, he becomes the pilot of the machine and the only defense the students have. Add in a deadly Dorssian spy with his own unknown motives to the mix and you have the beginning of Valvrave the Liberator.

!!Spoilers for Valvrave the Liberator season 1 ahead!!

While the two protagonists are both young men and all the main antagonists so far are male as well, there are a fair amount of female characters populating this series (which, unfortunately, is saying something since there seem to be a good number of fictional stories with maybe one or two female characters total). From a reclusive hacker who monitors the school and lets the outside world aware of what’s happening to JIOR to an ex-idol who isn’t afraid to take control of another machine and become a pilot herself, this show doesn’t appear to be short on female characters. In fact, unlike some series in which the main female characters may be passive and dependent except for on one or two rare occasions, if at all. I was pleasantly surprised to see not just one but two female characters become pilots, taking on active roles within the plot that are usually occupied by male characters. More typically but still nothing to squeeze at, one female character becomes the prime minister for her group. Therefore, a number of the female characters are given positions of power.

Unfortunately, while I had moments where I felt that rush of excitement that the show was doing something right with its female characters, I can’t say I came away from season one feeling that the female characters were particularly empowered, despite the number of female characters in powerful positions. Too often, the female characters were reduced to sexual objects for the male characters and audience to drool over. Not to be confused with a woman who is simply presented as confident and sexy, this trend takes the focus away from the female character’s other attributes such as a skill to lead or her intelligence and puts everyone’s attention on the fact she has big boobs or a nice butt. It reminds me of the stereotype of the guy that looks at a girl’s breasts instead of her face when she’s talking. Who cares who she is or what she’s saying, she’s got breasts. It’s as if this series was made by that guy.

!!Trigger Warning!! Discussion of sexual violence ahead

But even barring those issues, I found one particular scene toward the end of season one unacceptable. Throughout the season, Saki, a female character who is the second person to become a pilot and help Haruto defend the school, is largely defined by being the aggressive rival for Haruto’s affection against the always smiling and energetic Shoko, something that bothered me throughout the series. Anyway, Haruto appears to truly love Shoko, not Saki won’t give up and tries to win his heart, doing her utmost to be near Haruto and creating physical contact by grabbing onto him at times and even kissing him once. I suppose this is supposed to justify the fact that Haruto, overcome by a strange side effect brought on by the machine he uses that causes him to lose his senses, rapes Saki. However, the series has yet to be clear about defining it as rape. In fact, the way it’s presented is like something out of the 50’s.  “Even though Haruto did not have consent from Saki, she’s okay with it because she loves Haruto” is the message the show sends. In addition, while Haruto feels guilty, viewers can absolve him of any fault by chalking it up to the fault of the side effect and not Haruto himself, just like some people blame alcohol when someone has been drinking and assaults another person.

This scene reeks of the mythical and seriously misleading idea of a rape that can be excused or even justified. Everything is okay because it wasn’t really Haruto who did it and Saki has romantic feelings for him and understands him. From the way the show presented it, one could even argue that old, harmful argument that, “from the way she acted,” she may have wanted to go to that level anyway. In fact, that’s just the kind of argument occurring in Crunchyroll.com’s comments on the episode. “It wasn’t rape if the other person accepted it” is another kind of comment I saw several times when another person defined what happened in the episode as rape. Contrary to Valvrave the Liberator’s message, even if someone loves another person, forcing yourself on that person without explicit consent is not okay under any circumstance. And as for the whole “she accepted it so, it wasn’t rape,” how do we define “accepting it” when another person forces himself/herself on that person? If some kind of media entertainment or person ever say “it wasn’t rape because she accepted it,” that’s what I call an excuse. Rape is still a huge issue in society and when people in the entertainment industry want to put a situation of rape in their fiction, they need to be very careful about how they do so. There needs to be clear messages that this type of behavior is not acceptable, no matter what.

In closing, in combination with the rape and the general fixation on female characters as sexual objects, I came away feeling there was a big problem with the way the female characters were presented. Things like fanservice that I find undermining to female characters anyway, but can brush off as simply annoying, becomes a larger problem when the rape scene and its tragically terrible handling of the issue is factored in. If female characters are constantly being reduced to sexual objects and then a rape is shrugged off as not that big of a deal, the creators of Valvrave the Liberator need to take a step back and think about what kind of message they’re sending about women.

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images-74Gurren Lagann is one of those anime series I’ve long heard praised so, I decided it was high time I found about for myself what all the fuss was about. The series takes place in a world where humans have moved underground to flee the Spiral King and the “beastmen” who use machines to wipe humans off the earth. Thus, the humans secluded themselves into small villages with no contact with the surface or other humans. Simon, a small, unimposing young man who spends most his time digging, and his outspoken, reckless friend, Kamina dream of leaving their dank village underground and going to the surface.  One day, after Simon comes across a strange object that turns out to be a key to a machine like those the beastmen use. After a girl (Yoko) fighting a beastman falls from the surface into their village, Simon and Kamina use the newly-found machine to defeat the beastman and break through to the surface. Together with Yoko, they begin to wage war against the beastmen.

While Gurren Lagann is unique in many ways, at the halfway mark of the second season, I’m feelings a bit disengaged as a female viewer. Of the cast of female characters that have been assembled, almost all of them are heavily subjected to fan service and/or fall victim to the damsel in distress cliche to give the male characters motivation. That’s not to say that the female characters sit on the side lines all the time (Yoko and two side female characters do participate in battles), but somehow I feel the way they are presented undermines them.images-71

For instance, there have been two episodes that either had good portions or the full episode devoted to fan service. One takes place at a hot spring and involves Kamina and Simon trying to figure out how to catch a peek of the girls naked. Later, the girls are held hostage dressed in towels, reducing them to not only sex objects, but sex objects that need rescuing. The other episode involves bathing suits. Need I say more? The guys drool over the girls since it’s a chance to see them less covered. Yoko, who is usually in little more than a bikini top and short-shorts, actually wears a bathing suit that covers her more than usual and is disregarded as a result. To be fair, the show mixes in a fair amount of zaniness, which these episodes were playing up, but by focusing so much on the female characters’ bodies, it reduces them to fan fare.

yokoAs the two main female protagonists, Yoko and Nia, both suffer from female character clichés. Yoko is no helpless maiden. She’s been fighting the enemy for some time now in what seemed to be a losing battle. Once Simon and Kamina join the fight, new life is breathed into the resistance. At that point, Yoko could have just relied totally on the guys from then on, but she doesn’t. She is put into more of a supporting role, but she’s good at watching her comrades’ backs. Unfortunately, Yoko’s strengths, both inner and outer, take a back seat to her exterior appearance. For some reason, this character who’s fighting a war dresses in a bikini top that’s slightly too small for her and short shorts. Viewers are constantly getting shots of Yoko’s breasts, even when she’s in battle, taking a shot at the enemy, the view is such that we (conveniently) get to see her boobs bounce from the kick-back of her gun. Thus, Yoko largely gets reduced to eye candy.

On the other hand, Nia is more traditional, playing the part of the girl with inner strength that relies on the male protagonist. Don’t get me wrong; a female character doesn’t have to shoot a gun or punch people to be strong. In fact, if she can pick up a gun, but has nothing beyond that, I’m not sure I could call her a strong female character. There’s something to be admired in characters like Nia who show such inner strength. Nia has been abandoned by the people she knew and her own father. She’s told she was little more than a pretty doll to him, something to be admired for its beauty and discarded when one grows tired of it, and she has been thrust out into a world she knows very little about as being sheltered for so long. Her whole world has been turned upside down yet she has the strength to assess the situation and make her own decisions. The problem occurs here: whenever Nia is in trouble, she’s not worried in the least, not because she has a plan to save herself as Iimages-72 initially thought, but because she has such strong faith that Simon will rescue her and anyone else in trouble. It’s nice that she has such faith in Simon–one of the first besides Kamina to recognize it–but that total reliance, or rather dependence, and expectation that someone will come to her aid is pretty cliché.

As I watch Gurren Lagann I do see hope for its female protagonists. While I’m not sure it will ever be excellent in terms of female characters given the way the show has treated them so much as fan service, I’m hoping for more development to take these characters to the next level. I’ll keep my fingers crossed.

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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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library-war-1In 2019, a group called the Media Betterment Committee has taken book banning to the ultimate extreme; they destroy books and other media with questionable content using military force without care for the harm they cause in order to protect the people from negative influence. But fear not book lovers. In the face of this disaster, the library organized their own military force to protect freedom of expression. Enter our heroine. When Iku Kasahara was in high school, she came face-to-face with the Media Betterment Committee at a bookstore as they began a raid. Iku refused to give up a long sought after book and got in an altercation with the men, but was rescued by a Library Force member whose face she cannot remember. Inspired by this man who protected freedom, her so-called “prince charming,” she made it her goal to follow in his foot steps and join the battle. Now 22-years-old, Iku becomes the first woman to become a Task Force member, a group of elite library defense personnel.images-54

Toshokan Sensou, or Library Wars, is a mix of military drama and action, romance, and even a wedge of comedy as Iku struggles her way up in the Library Force in the shadow of her mysterious “prince,” butts heads with her tough yet protective superior, Lt. Doujou, and discovers the true difficulties of being on the force. Although the library created their military force in response to the actions of the Media Betterment Committee, many people do not believe they should respond with more violence. As a result, Iku and her comrades face not only head on opposition from the Committee but also from different factions within the library system.

This series was originally a book series written by Hiro Arikawa, who paints an intricate and thoughtful world that, while different from ours, is within possibilities. It’s hard to imagine a time in which a disagreement over freedom of expression and censorship escalates to armed conflict and military librarians, yet Arikawa tells her tale with the complications and subtleties of reality that suddenly, the plot of Library Wars doesn’t seem so out there. After all, people can get pretty extreme about content, going so far as to ban and burn books. Therefore, Iku’s story becomes a window for us to look through and think, “What if…”

imagesAs for Iku, the concept of her situation is intriguing since she is supposed to be the first female member on an elite force, but I have mixed feelings about the execution (speaking strictly about the anime). She is an interesting mix. Iku excels in the more athletic portion of her training and job (strength, speed, etc.) yet she is no genius when it comes to her academics. Nobody wants a perfect protagonist, but Iku is constantly put down for her lack of academic skills by her comrades and it is made clear she is ignorant about things concerning her job that she should know at her level, which I found grating at times.

In addition, while she is supposed to be good at the physical portion of being a Library Task Force member, other characters from her unit make comments several times throughout the series about her usefulness in battle being the lowest on the force. Of course, this isn’t so different from how other main characters like Naruto are perceived by their group; they’re the underdog, but they have heart and potential. Iku is also shown to have courage and strength that the other members admire, and she isn’t stupid as she makes quick decisions that, while reckless, often lead to a good outcome.

As for the romance, admittedly, I had mixed feelings about that as well. Iku dreams of a prince charming, but not so that he can save her again; she wants to be a rescuer like him because he inspired her. However, I felt that Iku had to be protected a number of times, more so than the male characters around her, and this made her character feel a little less competent than her male counterparts. While this and other things weren’t my favorite, what I did like was that her love interest, although more skilled than her now, is shown to have been very similar to Iku in regards to her recklessness and was laughed at for making some of the same mistakes when he was younger. This not only shows Iku’s potential, but shortens the gap a bit between them.

Iku isn’t the only female character making a mark in this story; her roommate and friend, Shibaki, may not wield a gun, but the power she demonstrates through information is nothing to laugh at. Shibaki works as an Intelligence Officer in the library and more than once gives Iku and her combat group information that helps them take control of a difficult situation. She balances out Iku by providing the series with a female character who possesses the same strength of will as her combat friend Iku, but uses knowledge as her power. So, while I somewhat wish Iku weren’t belittled as an idiot, Shibaki stands out as the intelligence genius of the show. She also has the ambition to become the first female Library base commander in history.

It may not be perfect, but Library Wars gives viewers an intelligent story with complexity and mixes genres so many people can find something to like. I enjoyed watching Iku give her best and fight for freedom of expression in this alternative world. Maybe if I’m lucky, the original book series will be published in English some day.

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One of the hot new anime of the season, Say “I love you” is the classic story of two seemingly opposites–bullied and friendless Mei and popular nice guy, Yamato–falling in love. Because it has a plot used many times over, one might be concerned this is just another cliché and flat anime romance filled with stereotypes after stereotype. However, while there are some typical elements like a handsome high school student who appears to have almost all the girls falling for him and modeling agencies asking for him to work for them, so far Say “I love you” has successfully managed a bittersweet drama of Mei and Yamato and the people they encounter that has you wishing for more when the end song plays. The story and characters that may seem a little stereotypical at first glance are given depth that pushes beyond that and creates something charming.

For example, in the first episode we are introduced to some of Yamato’s friends, including Asami, a cheerful girl with large breasts. Initially, I thought she might be just another cutesy, cheerful airhead meant for fan service, something that is unfortunately not at all uncommon in manga/anime. Her large chest is pointed out several times by either camera angles or Yamato’s male friend. Yet later it is revealed that Asami’s chest has been a source of embarrassment for her since others have ridiculed and harassed her about it. Instead of making a girl’s chest eye candy, Say “I love you” went a more realistic and intelligent route by choosing to explore the teasing some girls have to put up with about their body. I was especially pleased that the story brought this issue up because manga/anime often glorifies ridiculously large breasts and if a female character has smaller breasts, her self-consciousness about this is often made into a joke. Therefore, I appreciate that a different side was discussed, one that takes girls’ body image issues seriously and shows that everything isn’t perfect because a girl has a sizeable chest. We also see that Asami is stronger than she may seem and has had to deal with her share of issues. In addition, rather than make Asami, who supposedly liked Yamato, a rival to Mei, she never treats Mei poorly or sees her with jealousy but actually becomes a friend.

That’s not to say there aren’t any rival girls in this story. Aiko has known Yamato for years and is hung up on him becoming her boyfriend. She doesn’t think Mei likes Yamato enough and won’t accept the two together. However, Say “I love you” once again made me happy when a situation seemed stereotypical. At a point in the anime when Aiko is being verbally ripped apart by someone, Mei stands up for her, breaking the girl vs. girl trend.

Unfortunately, I got a bit of a mixed message from this scene. Aiko was being insulted because of scars she got from dieting to an extreme, something she did because she believed she was pudgy and wanted to remake herself into the perfect girl for Yamato. When she met Yamato, she had been in another relationship in which she felt she needed to put on lots of makeup to be the ideal girlfriend. In other words, Aiko is the type that believes she needs to change herself physically to please the guy she likes, an unhealthy idea, especially since she looked fine to begin with.

Yet when Mei stands up for Aiko, she says that it’s an admirable thing to try to better yourself for someone you love.While I understand why Mei said this, I feel that this wasn’t really a good message to send in Aiko’s case. Trying to better yourself can be a great thing and if someone inspires you to do so, that’s natural. However, Aiko sounds like she has body image and self-confidence issues that make her feel that she’s not pretty or good enough the way she is. Case in point, in the past when her boyfriend dumped her, she slept with Yamato because she thought it would make her feel better even though she knew he didn’t love her. Therefore, while I’m happy that Mei stands up for Aiko, I’m not sure the show went about it in the right way. It felt like Mei gave the thumbs up to unhealthy behavior.

All in all, Say “I love you” is an interesting anime thus far. Obviously, there are things I like and things I don’t like, but it’s gotten me to think about some deep topics, which I always enjoy, and I’m curious to see how the story progresses. For those of you who are watching it, what are your impressions?  (If you haven’t seen it and want to check it out, Crunchyroll.com is streaming it legally and adds new episodes every Saturday.)

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Skip Beat! is one of those highly addicting series that’s hard to put down. Funny and drama-filled, it follows Kyoko, a young woman who decides to get into showbiz to best the rising star guy who used her good nature and threw her away. Some day I’d love to write a review on the series in general, but today I want to focus on something in particular: how interactions between women are presented. As I watch or read Skip Beat!, I have noticed that on her quest to rise up the ranks of stardom, Kyoko frequently is met by adversaries who try their best to trample her. Those adversaries are usually women. This alone doesn’t necessarily bother me; getting into showbiz is extremely difficult so, it makes sense that rivalry occurs. What bothers me is that these female rivalries are very reminiscent of mean girl behavior between women frequently portrayed in fiction and that those rivalries make up a majority of female interactions in the series.

From very early on in the series, Kyoko is faced with mean girl behavior. First, Kyoko meets Kanae (a.k.a. Moko) at an audition, where Moko is snide and hostile toward her for no other reason besides that she thinks Kyoko seems too ordinary and is competing against her. Soon after that, Kyoko is assigned to assist Ruriko, an up and coming actress who is spoiled and refuses to work with others yet puts up a nice face initially. She singles Kyoko out from the beginning as someone to use and bully, but her jealousy grows when Kyoko receives attention from popular actor, Ren Tsugura, whom Ruriko likes. Then there is Erika, who is not only spoiled but also a daughter of a big time businessman who used her family’s power to get herself the best roles and thwart any potential rivals. On top of all these rivals, nameless girls are constantly taking jibes at Kyoko, too.

But is this trend of female rivalry in Skip Beat! that much different from rivalry trends in other manga? In shonen (boys’) manga, the hero often has plenty of rivals of the same gender. One of the best examples of this is Naruto. Naruto starts off as an outcast who is disregarded by his peers and even made fun of. But as he gets stronger and proves himself repeatedly, he slowly begins to win the support of those peers. This set up is similar to what is seen in Skip Beat!. Kyoko is often underestimated by peers, but once she proves her acting skills and confronts the rivals in question, the girls at least acknowledge her and many even come to like her. Ruriko’s “battle” with Kyoko makes her realize how much she really loves acting and that she needs to compromise to work with others. Erika decides to stop relying on her family name to get roles but use only her own skills. Some rivals, like Moko, even become friends with Kyoko. This last bit is especially important because it allows readers/viewers to see character depth and development beyond the initial mean girl attitude and shows positive female relationships. Once friends, Kyoko and Moko help and support each other, breaking from the generally catty behavior shown of other young women.

Perhaps the trouble lies in the fact that many of the interactions between young women, rival or not, are coated with displays of the jealous, nasty, sneaky, and cutthroat behavior, even though there are some good female friendships. This is enforced with comments about Kyoko and Moko’s previous attempts at friendship: Moko says that the reason she never made female friends was because they gossip about/backstab others and and Kyoko always wanted female friends, but was shunned by the girls at her school for simply being close to a popular guy. It doesn’t paint a pretty picture of how girls behave among each other. While mean girls do exist and work well for a drama, it is a shame that fiction continuously focuses strongly on the negative because it creates the idea that mean girls are around every corner and overshadows healthy female interactions and friendships. So, it’s not just Skip Beat! but the combination of so many representations of mean girls in fiction that’s the real problem.

Luckily, Skip Beat! does have some positive female interactions as well and provides a heroine who doesn’t let anything defeat her. There also seem to be less mean girl scenarios as the series has progressed. So, don’t let my musings about female interactions stop you from giving either the manga or anime a try if you haven’t already! For those of you who follow the series, what do you think about how female interactions are portrayed? Do they contribute to mean girl stereotypes or is it just another drama filled with rivalry?

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Manga, like fiction in general, doesn’t always give us the best female characters. Many female characters’ minds are filled with thoughts about appearance, such as if their chests are too small or if they should diet, and their aspirations and dreams seem limited to those that involve guys, everything a girl is supposed to think about in a nutshell so to speak. No surprise, they often are unable to handle anything more than making a meal or doing the laundry by themselves and sometimes the heroine can’t even do that.

Not Haruhi Fujioka, the blunt and independent heroine of Ouran High School Host Club, a romantic comedy about a “commoner” on a merit scholarship at the ritzy Ouran Academy who, after knocking over a vase and being mistaken for a guy, is commandeered into becoming part of the school’s host club (a place where, in this case, beautiful/handsome young men converse and entertain patrons) to pay off her debt. Of course, shortly after joining, the boys of the club all realize that Haruhi is, in fact, a bona fide girl. Yawning at the prospect of yet another heroine forced to cross-dress while surrounded by beautiful boys who will surely fall in love with her, one by one? Well, Ouran does things a little differently.

The keyword in the description is comedy. This series satirizes a lot of trends and stereotypes seen in manga such as harems, cross-dressing, and the types of characters that show up in the romance genre. For example, it is not uncommon to see characters in the romance genre divided between the characters involved in the romance and the romantically uninvolved side characters. In Ouran, the male lead of the story, Tamaki, literally draws a line on the floor to separate himself, the self-deemed love interest, from the rest of the main cast who he labels the “sexless” characters. Or how about the scenario where a love interest is thrown into a rage when someone causes the poor, defenseless heroine to cry? In this series, a fight occurs when it looks like Haruhi has been hurt and is crying, only for it to be revealed that she was not upset, her contact just popped out. 

The characters are equally entertaining. While Tamaki is prince-like in many ways, he’s also a narcissist and a (well-intentioned) idiot who is so blind about his feelings for Haruhi that he believes he has fatherly feelings for her; Kyoya is the “cool-type,” but is also propelled by making a profit and known as the “Shadow King” for his puppet master behavior; despite being a senior in high school, Honey looks and acts like a kid from elementary school yet is a master at martial arts and incredibly scary if woken up. The list goes on, but these are the types of characters you get with Ouran High School Host Club.

So, it is no surprise that the heroine of the plot is not so typical either. In many ways, I feel like Haruhi is almost the antithesis of a majority of heroines. She is intelligent and has dreams of becoming a lawyer rather than dreaming of boys; she’s independent and not afraid to speak her mind. This all comes through in the story, like the reason she attends Ouran Academy. Haruhi wanted to go there to get her closer to reaching her dream and achieved this through her academics. Compare that to heroines who choose schools based on how cute its uniform is. I also want to add that I’ve seen spunky heroines and meek heroines, ditzy and misunderstood, but I don’t think I’ve ever come across a heroine who is blunt and somewhat apathetic like Ouran High School Host Club‘s lead. It’s good (and amusing) to see such a different personality!

Because of this, like the story itself, Haruhi is put into classic manga scenarios, but usually handles them rather differently than your average manga heroine. For instance, if a female character with long hair has to cut her hair, it’s seen as a sacrifice (Sakura from Naruto, Keiko from Yu Yu Hakusho). In Ouran, Haruhi used to have beautiful long hair, but after a neighborhood kid stuck gum in her hair, she cut most of it off without batting an eye. The boys of the series regret the loss of her long hair, but Haruhi could care less. While I probably would be in the former category if I suddenly had to cut my hair, I love Haruhi’s attitude. She is removed from social pressures about appearance.

Another example is how Haruhi handled being mistaken for a boy. I have seen the cross-dressing scenario in manga before, but her reaction to the situation is unique. She doesn’t care about dressing like a guy. In fact, right after all the boys of the host club have finally realized that she is really a girl, she says, “I don’t really care if you guys recognize me as a boy or a girl. In my opinion it’s more important for a person to be recognized for who they are, rather than what sex they are.” (Episode 1, anime version) Seeing people for who they are on the inside is something that Haruhi brings up multiple times throughout the series. Can you imagine what fiction would be like if we saw more heroines with attitudes like this?

This outlook applies to her attitude toward the host club members as well. Instead of being one of the masses who can’t help but be charmed by the beauty of the boys of the host club at first glance (a scenario that appears in other manga in a non-comedy setting), Haruhi sees them for what they honestly are, the good and the bad. The audience is often treated to her humorously blunt insights such as when Tamaki goes on a rant about his beauty, Haruhi honestly thinks hard on the right word to describe him and comes up with “annoying,” instantly deflating his ego like a needle to a balloon.

The series is not without some problems. One such problem occurs in an episode in which, after Haruhi stands up to a couple of male bullies and is hurt in the process, a couple of the characters, and thus the story, focus too much on the fact that Haruhi was a girl going up against guys and the physical disadvantage she has as a girl instead of the idea that she needed to learn that she can rely on others sometimes, which I think was the main point of the episode. However, my overall impression of Ouran High School Host Club and its female lead are very good. So, if you’re sick of stereotypical heroines and plots or just want something a little different and fun, check out Ouran High School Host Club! You can watch the anime for free and legally on Hulu.com, but if you want the complete story, be sure to pick up the 18 volume manga series it is based on.

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