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Posts Tagged ‘otomen’

How many times have you read a story about a nice girl head over heels for a guy who seems to treat her like dirt yet is still supposed to be a “good” guy, the guy all the girls dream about? Fiction often gives us tales that are more fun in one’s dreams than in reality and the rough, forceful guy appears to have landed a place in the dreamworld of many a teenage romance stories. But what does it say to young readers, both male and female, if the guy who treats the girl poorly ends up capturing the girl’s heart, sometimes over the choice of a “nice guy” rival? It’s one thing to see that scenario once or twice every couple of years, but when it’s in every other story, people unconsciously start forming ideas over what they read and see everyday. That’s why I was happy to see one manga series that seems to have something else to say about romance to its readers.

In Otomen, Asuka, the guy who loves things like cooking, sewing, romance, and cute things, falls for Ryo, the girl who can’t cook or sew, but can show you martial arts skills that would make even a burly guy think twice about challenging her. It’s the typical opposites attract, but instead of the good girl-bad boy combination that seems so prevalent nowadays in which the good girl must soften the guy’s hard exterior, Asuka and Ryo accept each other as they are and help each other grow. As two people who fall outside gender stereotypes, it can be hard on them to accept themselves at times. Asuka especially is burdened with self-doubt about himself. When he first meets Ryo, he worries that she won’t like a guy who has “girly” interests. But when Ryo discovers Asuka is, in reality, not someone who society would traditionally call “manly,” she doesn’t like him any less. In fact, she accepts him completely, making Asuka realize he wants to, and can, show Ryo his true self. Ryo’s one of the first people he’s felt like he can truly be himself with.  When Asuka starts to feel down about himself, Ryo is always there, cheering him up and accepting every part of him.01_050

While Ryo is much more comfortable with herself, even she has moments of self-doubt. When Ryo is elected to represent her class in a contest to find the most ideal woman in the school, Ryo feels a lot of pressure to not let her classmates down. But she knows that while she might look pretty, internally, she doesn’t match what society thinks an ideal woman is: a woman who is delicate and demure, can cook beautiful and tasty meals, make tea, clean, etc. She’s not good at household things and would choose an action flick over a romance any day. She tries her hardest, but after failing the first two rounds, her classmates are calling her clumsy and Ryo feels she’s a disappointment. Asuka attempts to cheer her up, but Ryo says she’s realized that as a woman she needs to learn things like sewing and cooking and generally how to be more feminine. In one of my favorite moments so far, Asuka confesses he likes her just the way she is and wants her to stay like that. He tells her that if she can’t cook or sew, he can.lotomen_v05_p043

In a way, that really sums up what Asuka and Ryo’s relationship is like; what Asuka feel he lacks, Ryo makes up for and vice versa. It’s one of the most balanced relationships I’ve seen in more recent shojo. Is it a little too rosy and perfect? Yes, but in comparison to other romance fantasies, I love this one which shows a type of relationship with an underlying message that’s healthy and modern: find someone who thinks you’re wonderful for all your faults and all your strengths and support each other.

If that isn’t enough of a message for you, Otomen also goes so far as to make fun of the jerky love interest type. One of Asuka’s friends, Yamato, a boy who looks like a girl, but wants to be manly, struggles with impressing girls so, he does a practice date. It turns out Yamato is one of those people who buys into the idea that jerky guys are cool and as a result, he comically makes a mess of his practice date. He shows up late dressed like a punk(?) because cool guys are supposed to make their girls wait, tries to act tough, pulls his “date” forcefully along without saying anything, and more. I loved this chapter since everything Yamato does to be the “cool” jerk ends up going over poorly. While stuff may seem romantic in fiction, it may not be so cool in real life and Otomen depicts this in quite an amusing fashion.

What do you think? Is Otomen giving readers a better idealized relationship or is it just another example of unattainable perfection? And what do you think of the other relationship trends in fiction? Seriously problematic or just fantasy?

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51HS5B-v9gL._SY300_Continuing my exploration of Otomen, I sat down to read the next three volumes of this slightly goofy tale of a young man struggling to keep his socially accepted manly image when his really passions lie in “girly” activities like sewing and cooking. In these volumes, protagonist Asuka is still trying to juggle his inner self with his exterior image and what society’s expectations are for a man, but he’s  unwittingly started to gather a group of guys (and one girl) who also have qualities/interests that are considered weird for their gender. For now, rather than serious and continuous drama, Otomen touches on social questions through somewhat over-the-top episodic “adventures.”

At volume 6, this series continues to depict issues of gender roles and stereotypes well. Creator Aya Kanno seems determined to tackle all taboos of things considered too feminine for men to be interested in. Asuka’s main interests are cooking and sewing, Juta creates a popular girls’ comic, and three more male characters have appeared whose interests are makeup, flowers, and music considered too feminine for men’s taste, respectively. Almost all of them feel the need to hide their interests, even Juta who is constantly trying to get Asuka to be himself, and other characters who buy into gender stereotypes make comments reinforcing traditional ideas.

I like how Kanno is handling character development; even as Asuka and the others find fellow men with interests outside the narrowly defined socially accepted masculine interests, none of them suddenly shout to the world, “I like cute things!” or what have you. When the whole of society seems to look down on something, it makes sense that the characters in Otomen aren’t jumping to reveal their secrets. But with each encounter with someone else who has similar struggles, Asuka gains some small amount of confidence and sees his struggles reflected clearly in other people. He also gains acceptance within his growing group of friends. However, even with that, others in Asuka’s life still hold tightly to traditional gender roles, making him feel forced to keep up his act of macho-ness. That feels like a very realistic situation.51iSqS6G3KL._SY300_

In addition, Kanno makes a good point in volume 5 about female and male roles in society. Ryo, Asuka’s girlfriend who has more masculine traits than feminine, is elected to represent her class in a contest to find the most ideal girl. Ryo doesn’t want to let her classmates down, but she’s not good at traditionally feminine things like flower arranging or cooking. Even with Asuka’s help, her lack of skill in those things is revealed to the school and she faces some criticism and disappointment. However, after a pep talk from Asuka, Ryo wins their acceptance through her hard work. She may not be the traditional ideal woman, but the crowd is not only okay with that, they’re impressed by Ryo’s mix of femininity and masculinity. This is just one example in one story, but I think this speaks to the overall trend of society being able to embrace females with masculine traits/interests more easily than males with feminine traits/interests. Certainly, that’s true for American society. As a woman, I can take a martial arts class, play video games, and choose career over family with perhaps some resistance from society, but if a man took ballet classes, collected dolls, or wanted to stay at home and take care of the kids, he’s looked down upon.

51yi06ATKLL._SY300_However, while I love how Otomen has explored male characters who break gender stereotypes, I can’t help but wish there were more female characters behaving outside gender roles as well. Ryo is a lot of fun to watch since she often takes a different role than other high school romance heroines, but the other girls are shown drooling over handsome guys, squealing about new makeup products, and reading shojo manga. No offense intended against any of those past times, but they’re all extremely gender stereotyped. There has also been a case of the often portrayed vicious female rivalry over a guy and the ugly ducking makeover scenario. These are small things considering my overall enjoyment of the series, but I would like to see another female character who isn’t typical.

In short, even with some slight drawbacks, Otomen continues to be a fun series prepared to deal with all sorts of male stereotypes and some female stereotypes. The growing cast of characters are likable and cute and the somewhat crazy episodic adventures they go on often make modern statements about gender. I’ll be sure to review the next few volumes and I’d like to do a special post on relationships in Otomen since I couldn’t fit it in this post.

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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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