kaigou: this is what I do, darling (1 dimples that kill)
[personal profile] kaigou
The past few months have been... well, there they've been. So instead, I'll list what's fit for quasi-public consumption. Reading list!

First, the manga.

Kamisama Hajimemashita: read it for the female protagonist. It's shoujo done right.

The summary sounds like yet another stock premise from the land of girl's (and boy's) manga: our hero has a single parent, who up and abandons the kid, for reasons of debt, in this case gambling-related. Thus, by the end of the first chapter, Nanami has gone from being the poorest girl in school with a gambling father to still the poorest, but now abandoned by her father, and homeless thanks to the loan sharks confiscating everything. Stuck in a park with her one duffel bag and nowhere to go, she rescues a man from a barking dog, and in appreciation he... gives her his house. Which turns out to be a shrine. A rather forgotten and run-down shrine, at that. Which comes with its own shrine guardians, one of whom is a former wild fox and is mightily displeased that the shrine's god not only has not returned (after an absence of twenty years) but sent this girl in his place, as the new land-god.

I've seen a lot of talk across the 'net about how this story reminds readers of two others: Black Bird (ugh) and Inuyasha. In Black Bird, the female protagonist has all the spine of a jellyfish -- no, wait, jelly fish can at least sting you. Misao would probably waffle over it for at least a day. And still do nothing, in the end, but sob helplessly until her perverted and sex-obsessed possessive, controlling, domineering tengu-boyfriend shows up to save the day. And then molest her. Whatever.

Inuyasha, we've got half-demon (1), in love with shrine maiden (2), and there's some kind of ancestral/magical jewel (3), and reincarnation/descendent (4), and... okay, I think that's the basic list. Where Inuyasha's demon-half is dog; Tomoe the shrine familiar is all fox, although a formerly wild (as in demonic/destructive) fox who was since tamed by the shrine-god and is now a hard-working -- if snarky and recalcitrant, for reasons that become clear and understandable -- shrine familiar.

Kagome may be a shrine maiden by dint of growing up in a shrine, and her work in the history-time-period consists of following Inuyasha around and sometimes telling him to sit (and her past-life aspect was full stereotypical shrine maiden except for the part about being an adult, rather unusual for anime where most shrine maidens are prepubescent), Nanami is definitely not a shrine maiden. Nanami is a shrine god. She doesn't wear red hakama and sweep the shrine and assist some guy. She is, for all intents and purposes, the new shrine god herself, and she therefore has shrine-god duties. Including listening to people's requests, doing her best to grant them, and in one really excellent arc, showing herself very little of the modern shrine maiden but much more of a historical shrine shaman.

Ah, there's a jewel, but where in Inuyasha this jewel pretty much pushes the entire series, in Kamisama Hajimemashita it's more of a mechanism to move the story forward in several ways at once. It gives us a hint of Tomoe's backstory, expands Nanami's character, and provides some elusive hints as to Nanami's own backstory (which would be the fourth point of comparison). Ah, the jewel does provide the mechanism whereby Nanami ends up rescuing Tomoe. That's right. Nanami does a lot of the rescuing, in this story.

(I should note that it's not rescuing in the sense of, say, Saver, where Nanami strikes first and last blow. It's more like she rescues Tomoe, and he returns the favor when he gets the chance -- but in the significant arcs, she rescues him first. And in a nice turn of the usual setup, his role until that rescue consists of waiting for her to come save him.)

Anyway, at first, it'll read like the standard shoujo fare. You've got the helpless, seemingly hapless girl, tossed by circumstances into living with a total bishonen fox-boy, who rejects her with all due snark and quits the shrine. With the two trusty (and adorable) little shrine guardians, Nanami ventures into the yokai world to retrieve Tomoe. Note: the English translation of the title, Kamisama Kiss, refers to the fact that the god-familiar contract is sealed by a kiss. (No word on the image this raises about the fact that Tomoe was previously a familiar to a male shrine-god.)

Anyway, in the yokai world, a human girl is obviously someone's idea of a great parfait, and soon Nanami has an evil yokai hot on her trail. Trying to escape, Nanami climbs a tree, just as Tomoe appears to gloat over her eventual end.

"Do you want me to save you, Nanami? You want me to save you, don't you?" he taunts. "Even if you cry and beg, 'please forgive this stupid me, Tomoe-sama,' I still won't save you."

Nanami's grip is slipping from the tree-branch, but she stays defiant. "Who would cry and beg you?" The little shrine guardians are distraught, begging her to repeat Tomoe's words so he'll save her. Tomoe's startled, then assures her that, yeah, if she begs forgiveness and says she was stupid, well, he guesses he'll save her. Nanami is adamant that this isn't gonna happen. Then she loses her grip and falls... oh, hell, I'll just show you.





This also sets the tone for a lot of their relationship. Various hijinks ensue, but Nanami isn't spineless, nor useless. She may be human but she gets character development (including power) into becoming a true shrine-god; she gets knocked-down and learns to power-up, just like her shonen equivalents. She has a role that's larger than just wanting a boyfriend (which frankly, doesn't seem to be a major motivation for her, most of the time). Her playing field is more than just her local high school, unlike most shoujo -- she ranges into areas of influence that I'd daresay are normally limited to shonen stories.

It's licensed by Viz, and available through the first six volumes, I think. Viz seems to have sped up its releases on this, though they're nowhere near co-release-level like they're doing with Naruto. Look it up. It's a worthwhile series that deserves more attention.

Speaking of which, here's another one: Dengeki Daisy.

Another premise where the girl-hero is left alone and on her own at too-young an age; this time, orphaned by her parents and then orphaned again when her elder brother dies. (Note that he was maybe 27 or 28 when she was 12, so the almost-doting level of care he shows makes sense, as well as the fact that he could support both of them.) She has two things: a texting pen-pal nicknamed Daisy, ostensibly assigned by her dying brother to watch over her, and a mysterious janitor around her school who (verbally) abuses her and assigns her too many chores so he can slack off. The manga doesn't bother putting up too much of a front, and within the first five or six pages, it's obvious Daisy and the janitor are one and the same.

Where the mangaka does withhold information is why Daisy would agree to watch over her (but from a distance), and why Kurosaki/Daisy feels both an incredible, unpayable debt towards Teru's deceased brother... and a huge amount of guilt for that death. In flashbacks, we can see that Teru's brother spent time in the hospital just prior to his death, so it's not murder or an accident or some other sudden end. The mangaka takes over six volumes of hints to finally get around to telling the full story, and when it comes... it makes sense. It makes perfect sense why Kurosaki has run hot and cold at times (in his Daisy guise), why he feels such overwhelming guilt, and that in a way, his actions really did lead to Teru's brother's death. If not the main cause, he was an exacerbating factor to a degree that cannot be overlooked.

That's right: it's shoujo and it has a plot, and that plot does not consist of "I wanna boyfriend so I can be a Real Girl". What starts off as somewhat episodic slowly develops into an overall arc, and each time Teru completely subverts the usual shoujo paradigm. You know how in shoujo, the girl walks into trap after trap (hello, Misao, from Black Bird) and someone with the intuition of a small frog could tell it's a freaking trap, but the heroine seems to be utterly clueless? Yeah. The mangaka plays that on you, several times -- and each time, Teru subverts the trope. Beautifully.

Also, Teru has female friends, and her best platonic friend is a boy. She ends up with a new parental-figure, who turns out to have been her brother's girlfriend/fiancee... and who was older than Teru's brother. (A manga character who's thirty, imagine that.) And, I should note, is pretty damn awesome in her own right. She's not just T&A for any boys passing by. But most importantly, the story has a damn plot and it involves saving the world (or at least Japan), and it's big, and Teru's role isn't just to follow along and wait to be rescued. With one or two exceptions, she rescues herself, and Kurosaki's role is (much like Tomoe's) to be the cavalry along afterwards.

Okay, a few places, the plot gets away from the mangaka, but it's a pretty big and complex plot, so no surprise there. But it's not nearly as ridiculously convoluted as the average shonen, so I can forgive it, because overall it still makes sense. I mean, we're not talking Bloody Monday (or even Mission Impossible) levels of ridiculous convoluted-for-the-sake-of-convoluted levels. For that matter, the masterminds so far do not appear to be Teru's age, per the usual short-cut method of resolution in so-called action/suspense shonen, see the little dorama girl's review of Bloody Monday. No, Teru's (and Daisy's) opponents are grown men, powerful in government with agendas of their own, and that takes the stakes up much higher than many shonen stories, right there.

If you want romance, Dengeki Daisy has that -- the attraction between Teru and Kurosaki grows organically (much like Tomoe's and Nanami's), with a solid dose of UST and some completely understandable angst from both of them. But it's also got action, smarts, and Teru letting you (and Daisy) underestimate her, before she turns around and shows you that she knows the score and has every intention of winning.

Also licensed by Viz, up through volume 8.

Another one, and this one is actually classed as shonen (for the magazine that hosts it) but with a female protagonist. It's another "kid falls into historical time period" -- yeah, seen that one before -- but with an overdue twist. It's always the boys (with the possible exception of the Korean manhwa, Saver) that enter the time-loop as kendo/kumdo champions, and the girls who end up being shunted into either the princess box, the savior/goddess box (hello, Escaflowne's movie), or the prostitute/geisha box. Not Sengoku Strays.

Kasane is considered the "general" by her kendo classmates, as the one who always gets it done. And when she ends up back in Oda Nobunaga's time, she keeps right on doing it. Nobunaga seems to have historically been a bit of an unconventional type, himself, so it's entirely possible he might've been willing to entertain a woman with swordsmanship skills as high as Kasane's. I mean, he hung out with the lowest of the classes, despite being from the highest ranks. Not saying Nobunaga is entirely modern-liberal -- he assigns cooking and cleaning to Kasane -- but he also expects her to participate on the battlefield alongside the rest of his equally unconventional inner-circle band of fools, as he calls them.

There are a few places where at first I wanted more, before I recalled that modern Kendo is not at all like traditional swordsmanship. (Duh, but not having been raised around it, this knowledge wasn't right at the front of my head.) Frex, in kendo, there's no art of drawing the sword, since you're using wood (or bamboo). Second, you're heavily armored, so your fighting style is going to reflect that. Third, if you're not used to drawing a sword, you probably won't think much of carrying the sword rather than having it attached by belt or tuck into your clothing/sash. There are a few times where Kasane is shown swinging a naked blade, but in the major battle at the end of the third volume, she's clearly swinging a sword that still sheathed. Then I realized, if you know your kendo, there's a reason you're armoured out the wazoo -- because otherwise, a solid smack could, and would, break bones. Since a broken collarbone is going to take someone out of the battle just as much as a gut wound, I'm willing to forgive the notion that she doesn't draw her blade. She's still a lethal force, just fine.

And the story backs this up, by having Nobunaga stage a mini-tournament as a way to determine who'll get promotions. Kasane wins all but one of her fights (and the last is a draw). The nice touch is that the onlookers are astonished and baffled by Kasane's fighting style. They've never seen anything like it, and one observer notes that it looks like the way you'd fight if you were used to really heavy armor (which, of course, Kasane isn't wearing). It makes absolute sense -- for a variety of reasons, including the passage of time -- that modern kendo wouldn't be anything like the swordsmanship of five hundred plus years ago... and that seasoned warriors of that time would notice that something's off, and be curious about it.

There might be hints of romance in this series, but it's really only hints (and I've read through about volume six, in the Chinese, and still haven't seen much). Subtle enough that if you don't have those goggles on, you won't see much. Sure, Kasane's focused on a boy, but I'd say being focused on Oda Nobunaga -- as the unpredictable (and still quite young and untested) lord who could be your life or death -- is a completely reasonable thing to focus on. It's not a romantic thing, as it would be in shoujo, but starts taking on the hero-worship overtones that you'd find in shonen. Basically, it's shonen with a girl-hero, and it's about damn time.

This series is not licensed. Why is this series not licensed? This is totally Dark Horse's arena, but I'd settle for Viz. Anyone. This series deserves more love.

Now, for the anime... this one, I've only seen two episodes of, so it might go downhill. For now, though, it's mecha (yay) but with a girl hero: Rinne no Lagrange. Granted, the fanservice is... well, very fanservice-y. I guess that's so the boys feel like there's a reason to watch a girl pilot a mecha -- but it's not well-mixed fanservice like you'd expect a show that's geared towards boys. This is lumpy fanservice, as in, you get a few lumps of it, and then you get the main heroine, Madoka, spending most of her time in slightly baggy sweatpants and zipped sweatshirt. For that matter, the OP has the three main leads dressed, rather than an overdose of naked like in the OP for Fam, the Silver Wing -- a show, incidentally, that's pretty low-key on the fanservice otherwise. Really, Rinne no Lagrange feels like it's throwing in obligatory fanservice and then cheerfully going back to the story it wants to tell, in which fanservice is little more than an afterthought and not thought much of, at that. That's what I mean by lumpy; it's not well mixed at all.

But generally? Think shonen mecha, where Our Hero encounters a mecha and he's the only one who can fly it. Yep, that premise. At least in Madoka's case it's not because she's naturally gifted; it's implied that a near-drowning as a young child may've caused the mecha to "imprint" on her. (For that matter, in the 2nd episode, the military characters seem to readily decide that if Madoka can't, or won't, pilot, it's okay: as the only one able to pilot this big special mecha, as long as they keep her safe, the enemy can't use the mecha against them... or they can keep the mecha safe, and even if Madoka's captured, she'll be useless to the enemy. Rather blunt, there, but far more realistic than treating some sixteen-year-old girl as the savior of the freaking world, a la Gundam.)

Really, it's the little things, here. In two episodes, I laughed out loud several times, and always because of little throwaway bits that were just freaking perfect. Frex, Madoka's first battle, and the enemy mecha tosses her like yesterday's loaf of bread. We see her bounced back and forth in her seat, then the mecha goes head-over-tail, and Madoka gets thrown forwards from the motion... slamming herself face-first into the panel in front of her. (The show is also excellent with the continuity, as Madoka spends the next episode with a bruised forehead.) And there's not having cell phone service, a scene worth watching just for that. Hysterical in a quiet, low-key animated way.

Note: there is a third female character (another pilot, I think) introduced for just a few moments who's... well. If Nia (from Gurren Lagann) and Pamela Anderson had a love child, this girl would be it, complete with Gainax bounce. That said, she's not entirely the usual, since she's built like a little brick house, all bodacious curves, not just bubbles attached to the usual stick figure... but she certainly comes across as pretty damn dim. I guess she'll be the source of much of the upcoming fan service, le sigh.

In just two episodes, there's enough to make me fan like crazy, even with the random outrageous acts of fanservice here and there. (And it's not equal, since Madoka's elder cousin, Youko, would normally get the massive T&A with cleavage and too-short skirt... and she doesn't. She's dressed respectably, with nicely-buttoned blouse and decent-length skirt and sensible heels. Really, I'm pretty much convinced the fanservice is there because some bigwig said boys would never watch a mecha-show with a girl pilot unless there's fanservice. I think that's BS, but then again, I'm not an anime bigwig suit, either.)

Oh, and episode 1: it's not that she wins her first battle -- which was awesome in its own way, after having to put up with the possibility of a female mecha pilot in Gundam 00... and all those fitting categories of "pilot" + "female" turned out to be utterly useless wastes of celluloid -- so seeing a girl win a battle was a nice, way overdue change. But it's also how she wins it, which is worth it just for the sheer laugh-out-loud even as it's all-kick-ass.

In shoujo, like in shonen, there's always a moment where the main character is doubtful: I can't do this, I'm not good enough, I'm going to fail. In shoujo, that moment comes most often when the object of love rejects the girl, and her version of "picking herself up" amounts to deciding she's gonna get his love no matter what. In shonen, of course, it's the powering-up we all know and love from hundreds of episodes of Bleach, Naruto, Gundam, and the like. In the past few years, that kind of powering-up for girl characters, well, I could count on one hand. Sakura gets it, in Naruto, at least for one arc (including the mandatory moment of seeming near-dead from being beaten so bad, before she rises again and kicks some major ass). Lenalee gets it, in D.Gray-man, even if the anime version she has to go through thirty episodes of helpless crying to get there. Most of the time, we get Hinata in Naruto, valiantly fighting a totally outranked opponent and getting her ass kicked, for the sake of inspiring the hero to do the powering-up. And so on.

In Dengeki Daisy, Teru stands out here, because she rarely doubts herself. Nanami does, but then she truly powers up, and comes through to save the day. Kasane's uneasiness in Nobunaga's world is completely understandable, but once she figures out her skills are of immense value, she hangs in there and begins to merge with her equally unconventional crew in Nobunaga's orbit. And Madoka doubts herself -- and gets the speech from Youko, a speech I've always heard girls give boys but this time it's a girl who's listening -- and powers herself back up to rise again, stronger.

I realized the other day that the first anime I saw was ten years ago, with Spirited Away. Outside of Miyazaki, it's taken ten years to be able to list this many good heroines in one post. Here's hoping in another ten years, such heroines will be so common that I can't fit them all in twenty posts this long.
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kaigou: this is what I do, darling (Default)
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to remember

"When you make the finding yourself— even if you're the last person on Earth to see the light— you'll never forget it." —Carl Sagan

October 2016

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