kaigou: when in doubt, have a man come through the door with a gun in his hand. (3 when in doubt)
[personal profile] kaigou
(If you're not familiar, "shounen" means "boy", and is used as the genre-name for action/adventure stories geared towards boys, usually aged about 11-16 or so. "Shoujo" is the genre for girls of equivalent age.)

From endersgirrrl's review of Bloody Monday:
The shounen manga Bloody Monday was the brainchild of prolific writer Agi Tadashi (credited as Ryumon Ryou), who also penned the manga Kami no Shizuku [...] And it’s interesting how the shounen vs. shoujo genres play to two fundamentally disparate adolescent yearnings: shounen manga panders to every hormonal teenage boy’s most basic non-sexual fantasy, which is to be a Superhero (but — in disguise!!!), while shoujo manga puts a premium on an adolescent female protagonist realizing!her!relationships! — be they romantic or platonic.

Shounen manga is much more result-oriented, i.e. the teenage Hero with a small but loyal band of like-minded friends saves something or someone close to him, with the highest aspiration really being to SAVE THE WORLD. [...] In shounen manga, character development takes a backseat to plot (and plot is really all about Accomplishing!the!Mission!), while in shoujo manga, character development supersedes plot action as the protagonist/s are more focused on working through their feelings and experiencing inner growth — and all that sappy SweetValleyHigh-ish stuff, lol.

[In Bloody Monday, all] the staples of the quintessential shounen manga are here: a teenage Hero with “special abilities” (in this case, hacking and, uh, looking unbelievably good in hoodies); the Hero’s brainy best bud, who has his own “special-but-not-AS-special-as-the-Hero’s abilities” (in this case, archery skills and spouting random useless trivia — like when Christmas Day is really celebrated in Russia); their loyal friends (usually of the same age bracket — in this case, the Newspaper Club at school); the token Hot Chick on the side of the Baddies; a Mission that only the teenage Hero can accomplish (natch!); the techno-gadgetry and gizmo-geekery galore! galore!; and oodles of HardyBoy-esque action — chase sequences! messy explosions! and rooftop standoffs! (oh my!)

[...]

If [the show/manga plot] sounds vaguely familiar, you may recall the Aum Shinrikyo (now Aleph) terrorist cult that perpetrated the well-documented sarin gas attacks on the Tokyo subway in 1995, killing 12 commuters and injuring hundreds. [... Given] that the real-life Baddies’ shenanigans are obviously no child’s play, you understand why the manga writer would want to dull the edge of their depravity by sketching up these cartoonized (read = shounen-friendly) versions.

And the best way to dumb down all the crazymonkeybaddies? Is to make the TRUE ringleader… well, just like our teenage Hero. No I mean, literally just like our teenage Hero. So in the end, the Uber-Villain is revealed to be not a 50-year-old barefoot mystic, or a twentysomething math genius, but… oh, just another kid. [...] It’s stupid as sh*t, but you kind of understand how it also reveals the true heart of a 12-year-old manga-wanking fanboy: by vicariously channeling the story’s Hero, he can ONLY save the world IF the villain is just like him – in age, stature and abilities. This really is the ultimate shounen-manga satisfaction: by leveling the playing field, the inherent absurdity of a hormonal teenager saving the world becomes much, much easier to stomach. Whoopeeee. Long live the 12-year-old fanboy, may his precious manga collection never get eaten by termites, may mummy never catch him – uh, doing funny sh*t inside his closet with a stash of ecchi comics, and may he never turn into a sociopathic whack job later in life, lol.

I adore Ender's Girl's reviews, partly for often having some crucial insights I missed while watching, and always for having a completely torqued and spastic sense of humor that clearly loves the shows while skewering them mercilessly. (Even if you haven't seen the show, thus, EG's review is worth the five-minute read if you need a bit of levity in your day.)

Beyond that, though, I was thinking about something I was told when first writing urban fantasy (and I don't mean just last year, I mean, cripes, like a decade ago, now, holy freaking crap) -- that urban fantasy took a lot of its hat-tips from action/adventure... and my emphasis on character development at the cost of adventure meant I might be writing something, but it wasn't really urban fantasy as readers defined it.

If I knew then what I know now (as if), I might've realized sooner that I was just that influenced/inverted by writing fanfiction. Nearly all the fanfic I've written has been, after all, for shounen series, never shoujo... yet I don't think it'd be a stretch to say that a lot of fanfic is shounen-source given a shoujo-perspective. I adore me some results-oriented, things-explode, HardyBoys-esque action/drama, but it's also lopsided (to me, and it seems safe to say, to many other fanfic writers) when there's no character development. When the only result at the end is "the world is saved" but no one seems to have been significantly changed -- on a personal or spiritual or relationship level -- then it's a hollow kind of saving, because no true lessons were learned.

(On the other hand, this is also why the worst of the shounen series can go on, and on, and on: because No. One. Freaking. Learns. They just keep repeating the same things, but bigger each time. No one ever calls anyone else's idiocy, or walks away from the table. Then again, the same could be said of shoujo, seeing how many female protagonists fall for the same abusive asshat-types over, and over, and over.)

Anyway, injected shoujo-priorities into shounen means relationships become the driving force. There's some of that, in shounen, in that (non-sexual) friendships are often a major hallmark of the glue that holds the characters together (whether good or bad). This is also why, I think, the "appears to be bad and/or appears to have betrayed the hero" trope is so damn powerful in shounen, because that friendship is the true foundation of the story. To have that foundation crack is to threaten everything -- whereas in shoujo, the foundation is based on a single relationship (most often), which makes "end of the world" and "end of dating this guy" synonymous, and we all know how much I loathe that message.

Except that the minute you start leaning towards shounen (as a style or by giving off genre-signals), then the stakes have to go to eleven. It's a hallmark, if not one of the biggest, of shounen: at some point, the world is what's gotta be saved. I see this over and over in urban fantasy. The stakes aren't human-level; if they are, this is only a by-product of the higher-level stakes that involve a lot of unaware, innocent, bystanders. Only in shoujo could you have the stakes be as simple as, "will they get along?" or "will the brother find his sister?"

What's of particular interest to me, looking back, is that the protagonist's sex seems to be used as a signal for readers (or by readers) as to which genre-style to expect. We may not use "shounen" and "shoujo" to define our genres in an English-speaking bookstore, but peel back the cover and it's pretty clear that "stuff with romance" is shoujo and "stuff with guns and ass-kicking" is shounen. When I suggested changing the gender of the main character to be female, it was subtle but it was there: the story would "work better"... because I hadn't written that first draft with a big whalloping fight scene.

In other words: the young male protagonist acted as a signal to the reader that things would eventually be resolved in a major showdown. Hopefully with explosions, some dramatic moments and sudden reversals, and other staples of both shounen and action/adventure movies. (And if I never see the stand-off with two characters running out of ammo at exactly the same instance, it'd be too soon. Done once, done enough.) Not writing that created a let-down, and it took the longest time for me to realize that this was because the presence of the young male protagonist seems to have created an expectation on every reader/agent part that the finale would be suitably shounen, even if they didn't say it in so many words.

Shoujo says, the pinnacle of the story is when the main characters -- or protagonist and antagonist -- reconcile or just reach some kind of understanding/harmony. (In love-triangles, this is usually when the Other Woman recognizes she'll never win, and steps down, which right there says a lot about the lack of agency on the shoujo lead's part, that she doesn't win so much as win by default because another gave up.) Shounen says the pinnacle of the story is when the good guy takes out all the bad guys: freeze-frame on him standing alone but victorious.

One way to identify which is dominating a story: how much longer the story takes after that final battle. If you have a dramatic fight scene and the story wraps up within a scene or so (if not rolling the credits immediately), it's shounen. The longer the story continues, in detailing how this has changed things for the protagonist and/or others, the closer you're getting to shoujo. If the fight scene is overshadowed by Intense Dialogue Scene (or replaced by it completely), then you're probably safe inside shoujo territory.

Still: it's a head-scratcher for me, to consider the reader expectations are based on the protagonist's sex. That says something to me about how we expect each sex to go about problem-solving, and that we're dissatisfied when this expectation is subverted, even if we don't realize it on a conscious level.

Part of what went into that mix was reading Nicole Peeler's thoughts on sex in urban fantasy:
...sex is considered part and parcel of all those ooky girl feelings like love, and emotion in general.

Which is why I get so steamed when people (read a tiny but obnoxiously loud portion of hard core misogynistic SF/F fanatics) moan about “urban fantasy being all about sex.” What they’re really saying is, “Dammit, women started writing OUR STUFF and they BROUGHT THEIR VAGINAS.”




In a semi-related vein, I want to save this somewhere more reliable than just my email inbox, just because it's important to remember. From a thread on femslash, another Branchian piece of brilliant observation:
We can step around the boys, the same way slash steps around the girls, but we have to step wider because they’re taking up more space.

Date: 25 Mar 2011 07:22 pm (UTC)
branchandroot: oak against sky (Default)
From: [personal profile] branchandroot
a lot of fanfic is shounen-source given a shoujo-perspective. I adore me some results-oriented, things-explode, HardyBoys-esque action/drama, but it's also lopsided

This, this, this. I definitely like the shounen sources best, because there's all the action and Smash! and Whee!, but they're just begging for some examination of the relationships. Which always seems easier to add into action than it is to add action into dating drama. And we're back to the boys getting to take up more space.

Date: 25 Mar 2011 08:46 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] taithe
*frowns* As a girl who preferred the shounen genre over shoujo, it annoyed me that the main character always had to be male. I can only list one shonen manga that has a female lead: Claymore. However, I name a number of shoujo series that feature a male lead off the top of my head: Natsume Yuujinchou, a few CLAMP titles, Darker than Black, and Weiß Kruez.

I was going to say that art styles delineate to readers what sort of story-telling to expect but looking at the titles I've mentioned, it doesn't work completely. Sometimes the story and art style seem ambiguous -- Darker than Black could have been pegged as shounen, if you took only its basic premise. Gundam Seed, although shounen, could have been pegged as shoujo for its art style and incessant focus on relationships.

When I suggested changing the gender of the main character to be female, it was subtle but it was there: the story would "work better"... because I hadn't written that first draft with a big whalloping fight scene.

Similarly, I read somewhere that the mangaka of D.Gray-man originally had Allen as a girl, but her editor pressured her into changing Allen into a boy.

a lot of fanfic is shounen-source given a shoujo-perspective. I adore me some results-oriented, things-explode, HardyBoys-esque action/drama, but it's also lopsided

I agree -- although it'd be nice to have the best of both worlds. Some of my favorite fanfic put a strong emphasis on exploring character motivations, development, and relationships but still retain a sense of action-adventure.

Date: 25 Mar 2011 09:20 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] taithe
Hmm, I'm placing series depending on where they've been published -- either in shoujo or shounen publications. I agree there's mixing of narrative tropes in most of the series, but it says something that the editors are more likely to choose stories that have shounen characteristics and market them to a shoujo demographic than vice versa.

Actually, D.Gray-man with a girl-lead might have been... too stereotypical/gender-based, maybe? The whole "I want to save everyone" is a compassion usually associated with female characters. Giving a normally shoujo-perspective to a shounen-lead does have some benefit, I think.

"I want to save everyone" is generally something that the male lead realizes as part of his development in shounen I'd argue. They go from caring only about themselves (or their nakama) and realize that they must save the world and that they want to save the world. So maybe the distinction is about learning this compassion versus already wielding it. I'm not really familiar with D.Gray-man, so I can't argue about Allen specifically.

Date: 27 Mar 2011 08:46 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] maire
Am I right in thinking that Ripley, from the Alien movies, was originally conceived of as a man? If so, that casts an interesting light on the series.

Date: 25 Mar 2011 09:04 pm (UTC)
annotated_em: Text icon: "Em walks the line between hobby and mental illness." (hobby or mental illness?)
From: [personal profile] annotated_em
*mutters dourly* But I want action and smash and whee, and then I want the implications and the relationships and results of actionsmashwhee goddamnit. Cross the streams, it's awesome!

*muttermuttergrumble*

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kaigou: this is what I do, darling (Default)
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