*Please go on tumblr/Pinterest to check out the above two manga if you haven’t tried them because my images SERIOUSLY DO NOT DO THEM JUSTICE. Also, this is a spoiler warning so read at your own risk.*
I don’t actually normally do comparisons but I realised I HAD to do this for myself, or my thoughts will continually be raging through my head and my soul will never rest in peace.
Shoujo manga has always been a gigantic heartache for me because I have a habit of shipping the underdog/second male lead character and it absolutely destroys me when the girl, despite this second guy unconditionally loving them so much, chooses to go back to the first, which may or may not be the best choice (note that this is subjective though) for them.
Take these two manga for example. The setting and plot are awfully similar, and in fact, the same. Well….almost. Let me highlight the respective differences (blue for Strobe Edge, red for Heroine Shikkaku)
Heroine (Ninako, Hatori) is in love with first guy (Ren Ichinose, Rita Terasaka) and confesses to him. First guy has certain issues that prevents them from accepting the girl’s confession. (For example, already having a girlfriend, but for HS its really due to RIta and Hatori being childhood friends hence the latter is unable to see her as a love interest). Heroine is extremely determined and is convinced that she will only love first guy, so she tries to deal with her feelings (or act on them). In comes the second guy (Andou, Kosuke Hiromitsu). This guy is popular, flirtatious, and a player. However, he gradually falls in love with Heroine. Drama ensues. Note that the second guy falls hard, totally and completely.
BUT. THEY BOTH CHOOSE THE FIRST GUY.
However, there is actually a big difference between how I feel about who the heroine ends up with, though both actually make sense, to an extent.
In Strobe Edge, Ninako is a pure, kind girl who questions herself and her actions while trying to pursue her feelings for Ren. She is selfless and strong, in my eyes, and though persistent, never really comes across as annoying. Most importantly, Ren himself never really emotionally cheats on his girlfriend. He sorts out his feelings even when unconsciously falling for Ninako, and is purely devoted to his girlfriend and is there when she needs him. They actually break up and its some time before he starts realising his feelings for Ninako and then acting on them. No surprises there when they end up together, even when we as readers all feel for Andou. But Ninako is never really confused about her feelings of who she likes; its clear that its Ren all the way, and its only because she doesn’t run away from Andou’s various attempts and tries to answer properly to his feelings that the ‘drama’ in that part of the love triangle comes in. I really felt sorry for Andou because its clear that he really loves Ninako but Ninako never really gave him a chance.
Hence, one could say that Ninako and Ren are really the perfect couple. Their selflessness and readiness to put themselves in other people’s shoes make them a perfect fit with each other. I don’t actually see either of them with anybody else, and to me, this is the only end the manga could have ended.
Heroine Shikkaku, on the other end, features a very unique female protagonist, Hatori. She would be what one would term as the ‘bitchy female rival’ in most shoujo manga. Viewing herself as the ‘heroine’ in Rita’s love story, she dismisses whatever potential rivals she has as ‘supporting/side characters’. She is really persistent in trying to show her love and support to Rita and comes up with some menacing plots to break Rita and his then girlfriend apart (the latter who happens to fall into the stereotype of nerdy, shy, quiet girl with glasses and short hair). She harbours evil thoughts towards her rivals and is sometimes seen as annoying because of her persistence and inability to see the truth of the situation (that Rita is NOT interested in her, period.) However, we all know she is not really truly evil. She does have an inkling that what she is doing is wrong though she doesn’t attempt to change much. She is real. She is a reflection of our inner demons if we are placed in the same situation (God forbid, but I doubt I would be as forward as her – i am more of the ‘cry dejectedly in the corner’ type). Even after listing all her lousy attributes, I can actually say I like her – I admire her courage to live according to how she feels, her ludicrous facial expressions, and the fact that she can be read so openly like an open book. Not to mention her overwhelming ability to blame herself for events that transpired and wanting to look out for people she cares for (which feeds into her indecisiveness in choosing between the guys).
Rita, on the other hand, is a seriously lousy male protagonist, though I can’t bring myself to hate him either. He is unclear about his feelings, often gives the wrong signals to both his girlfriend and Hatori, only came to like Hatori when he realised she was gradually falling for Hiromitsu and treating her as convenient when she was around initially. He only goes all out in his pursuit when Hatori is actually in ‘like’/in serious danger of falling for Hiromitsu. He was literally oscillating between his girlfriend and Hatori, and his indecisiveness is at times.. astounding. But his efforts to redeem himself worked somewhat, and I didn’t hate him in the end. Mainly because of another reason though which I will elaborate further below.
Hiromitsu, on the other hand, is to die for. Sure, he belongs to the ‘player’ archetype, popular and flirty, and never taking relationships seriously. But the depth of love he has for Hatori is amazing. Even when he knew that Hatori still couldn’t get over Rita, he welcomed her into his open arms. He was willing to be the distraction for Hatori’s feelings. Even when she was supposed to be his girlfriend but spent so much time with Rita (and more-than-a-friend interactions with Rita) he still chose to believe in her and push down any feelings of jealously. His magnanimity towards his rival even when he is clearly smitten with her is..amazing. Even when he let his guard down towards the end of the manga and gave into his jealousy, one can forgive him due to the fact that he has done so unbelievably much.
Which brings me to my most important here. Hatori may be very likable, but she does not deserve Hiromitsu. She knows this herself which is why she chose to let him go in the end instead of trying to fall in love with him and never really succeeding. In fact, Hatori and Rita are perfect with each other. Why? Because Hatori is really an imperfect ‘ideal’ heroine. She is merely the heroine of her own story, and because she has made so many mistakes and wavered with regards to her feelings towards the two guys. Which makes her a perfect match with Rita, who is similarly indecisive himself, and who also makes tons of mistakes along the way. In a way, both of them are idiots who really and truly belong together (as Hatori’s friend Nakajima summarises perfectly in the Extra at the end of the manga). And that is really the true message of the manga: the realisation that we are only human, we make tons of ridiculous, stupid mistakes, we are selfish as well, and that we control our own stories and the way we live our lives.
I suppose I could draw comfort from the fact that Hatori really tried to love Hiromitsu, and see only him. They were in a relationship for a good couple of chapters, and endured through trials and tribulations as well while trying to maintain the relationship with so many rivals and drama going on. Hatori really appreciated what Hiromitsu had done for her, and this was also one of her reasons for letting him go, to find somebody who is more worthy of his attention and love. (I mean, its also because she was really in love with Rita, but I’ll still give her credit).
Hiromitsu really breaks my heart, though. What me (and other Hiromitsu fans, I am sure) need now is another continuing story for him to find his soul mate; someone who encompasses the same traits as Hatori (the ones that made him fall for her) but doesn’t at least come with that baggage and won’t hurt him the same way as she inevitably did.
On a sidenote, those who have seen my MAL profile would know that one of my absolute favourites is NANA. The main lead, Nana, is also someone indecisive with her feelings, completely superficial, always looking for love, and what one would term as a ‘weak’ protagonist. She believes in true love but her relationships never work out well. Some people even call her a slut because of the way she jumps from one guy to another usually but frivolous reasons. But I really identify with her because she knows that she is weak, helpless, dependent, fickle, but chooses to still pursue these superficial goals. And sometimes, one would think, why not? Life is full of materialism. Everybody wants to be loved, live richly, be always surrounded by loved ones, to be the center of attention. We just do the best in each situation we encounter, try to keep loved ones by us, and live. Nana is the embodiment of such pursuit and thus grounded in realism. That’s the reason why I like her. Hatori is somewhat similar to her but..still loses out because she isn’t as grounded in reality as the universe of NANA (and Nana herself) is. Maybe because I believe that its possible to try and love someone and succeed. Maybe because I believe that there is no point being hung up on say one person without trying to find a better love. Maybe because love is more than attraction.
Having said that, I can’t wait for the live action film of HS and SE to be released. Both are coming out in summer this year and I hope it won’t be destroyed by actors/actresses’ poor acting abilities. (seriously, that’s the worst.)
*All images are obtained from Pinterest and I do not own any of the above images.*