A Cross-Cultural Comparison of TV: Why Anime May Not Be for Everybody

Last month, I wrote about how my anime journey began. My point then was to show how anime is a conscious choice of visual entertainment for me, rather than a product of childhood association, as with the case with others, anime hence forming a part of self-identity or a nostalgic sanctuary of dreams and innocence. Today, I attempt to evaluate the general stance of anime as an objectively more attractive choice among all story-telling mediums through a cross-cultural comparison across different types of TV series and dramas (excluding written fiction and movies, story-telling mediums that share lesser similarities with anime.) Through this, I hope to highlight how different anime is from its contemporaries, but also explain why and how anime may not be for everybody.

*Disclaimer: This post is mostly based on 80% personal experience and opinion, and 20% research.  What is written is, to the best of my ability, knowledge, and experience, objectively representative of their respective genres. Please be aware that there may be exceptions.*

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100% Perfect Girl: the destructive potential of obsessive love

So, it has been ages since my last manga review. Somehow I find that I am more interested in reading manga precisely during school term and I gravitate towards anime and other things (like books, movies, tv series etc.) when I am having an actual holiday. I have no idea why but I guess it has more to do with the precise reason that I have learnt to associate manga with the endless drone of studying so I feel less inclined towards manga as a whole.

Anyway, enough with the frivolous rambling and let’s get on to my first real manga review in quite some time.

100% Perfect Girl is a manhwa that is not really new, and yet it has always managed to occupy a corner of its audience’s thoughts in the shoujo manga community. By reason of the combination of ‘shoujo’ and ‘mature’ tags, this seemingly thoughtless way of categorisation actually belies a more fundamental characteristic of the story being told that is rather different from what we see in a typical shoujo manga (which tends to be told in a lighter palette of colours, even when it contains realistic aspects in the portrayal of behaviour of young people in love). And it is simply this: 100% Perfect Girl is a very heavy read. It probably should come with the tags *warning: not for the faint-hearted*

Now, that’s not to say that 100% Perfect Girl deals with dark and depressing topics like discrimination, treating humanity as a means to an end, war or military. 100% Perfect Girl deals 100% as its title suggests, with love, but yet it is of a love that is so possessive and full of jealousy that it turns into a rather vicious, ugly animal, destructive of life and people in its path.

Story:

100% Perfect Girl mostly tells the story of an extremely rich and powerful young King, who falls in love at first sight with a beautiful, ethereal young girl who comes from a a very poor, commoner family. Before I launch into a rant about how unrealistic the entire ‘love-at-first-sight’ trope has been overplayed to the point that teenage girls who are overtly exposed to such media develop fitful, flighty dreams about The One, let me just state that it is very characteristic of Korean media to take people from the dire opposites of the income spectrum and spin a love story. Its part of a reason why I am not particularly fond of Korean drama series and manhwa, but this is a topic which I will expound upon on another day.

So anyway, guy falls in love with girl and then pursues her to the ends of the earth (literally). Girl doesn’t actually fall in love then, but succumbs to the temptations of good looks and money anyway …. is what I like to say, except that said girl should probably be given more credit than that. Jay Jin may be so, but she is headstrong in the sense that she still manages to keep her head on tight. It is however, too bad for her, since with the melodramatic flair atypical of a story where the author seems set on pushing that elusive fairytale ending further out of reach, the poor girl has to suffer through a series of unfortunate events: jealousy, kidnappings, assassinations, multiple accounts of semi-rape, familial revenge, physical violence, depression and suicide. All because she falls in love with this one guy whose idea of love translates into massive suffocation and restriction of personal freedom due to his inherent flaw of possessiveness and obsession.

What was commendable was the effort made in drawing out certain realistic issues and in portraying how a fairytale set-up may not necessarily end in a happy ending (by saying this however, I maintain a neutral position as to whether this series contains a happy or sad ending). That unfortunately does not mean that the protagonist’s life can be anything short of unrealistic. There seems to also be a larger focus on drawing out flaws in characters though the positive traits surface somewhat that helps to round out their personality.

Art

The art style can certainly said to be unique, with broader strokes on the characters’ facial features and with notable emphasis on the eyebrows and lashes. Characters’ faces are also relatively long and pointed, and Jay Jin’s more ethereal yet down-to-earth beauty has been captured quite well in the way she is drawn.

Thoughts:

100% Perfect Girl was addictingly fascinating, but I only devoured it in an effort to stop that growing feeling of dread as the series progressed and to see whether a happy ending is actually possible for this bunch of unfortunate characters. I actually felt emotionally drained after the entire series though I wasn’t exactly smiling in delight, crying or even being excited at all, simply because I was just shaking my head throughout at how unlucky the characters had to be.

All in all, this series was a tad too dramatic for me. Though it had a good plot, I felt very personally removed from the characters, and it didn’t manage to touch me unlike its shoujo counterpart Haou Airen (which I think did a better job than this) or its Chinese live action drama counterpart (Summer’s Desire, which portrays more three-dimensional characters and an extremely interesting female protagonist and which I highly recommend). It is still well worth a try though for those who prefer darker, more serious shoujo stories along the lines of Haou Airen.

Please feel free to share your thoughts below about this manga, whether you have read it or not 🙂

Ashita no Nadja: a shoujo romantic adventure that defies its childish-looking exterior

Type: TV series

Genres: Adventure, Drama, Historical, Romance, Shoujo

Episodic count: 50

Years aired: 2003 – 2004

Ashita no Nadja is a historical shoujo anime that tells the story of a young thirteen year old orphan girl who sets out on an adventure to find her mother after learning that she is alive. With a positive and cheerful demeanour, she joins a travelling circus troupe as a dancer, and meets many people along the way, touching their lives in subtle ways and making their lives for the better.

I have always been hesitant in watching any series that looked like its specifically built for kids – with rainbows, dancing ponies, unicorns, floating bubbles and a Happy Ending because childhood innocence should be preserved and children should be given a right to enjoy the precious few years they have looking at the world through innocent eyes filled with wonder before they are destroyed by the ubiquitous negative messages of physical violence prevalent in mass media today. Ashita no Nadja seemed to be precisely that, portraying Nadja as an ideal protagonist with kindness brimming with every action, and gullible to the point of my frustration…

… Except that what seemed to kick off as a rather episodic series and a superficially optimistic character quickly developed into something more for me. Nadja and her story of adventure actually defy conventional standards of a shoujo anime in certain ways, but yet manages to retain that sense of innocent delight , due to the following reasons.

Fleshed out characters

Nadja’s character is more fleshed out as the series progressed. She definitely has certain principles about how kindness and helpfulness towards others should be extended and maintained, which she stands by throughout the series. Yet, she also learns to stand tall in the face of adversity, and she represents the more valuable trait of tenacity and resilience in the face of her surrounding circumstances, and realistically so. In fact, I don’t think I have seen another anime that has portrayed so resoundingly the importance of maintaining a positive mindset despite encountering misfortune. (For example, in contrast, Cosette of Les Miserables holds on to that attitude in a way that is too unrealistic for me to truly comprehend.)

The other characters whom we meet in an episodic fashion are also recurring characters with sympathetic backstories that all play a role of enabling Nadja to grow as a person. Even the supporting cast have certain motivations for their behaviour that aren’t immediately apparent, yet understandable later on when explored. The romantic interest(s) here also have decidedly different values which they hold steadfast to, and this turns out to be extremely crucial as part of the romantic development and resolution.

A gripping plot with a satisfying resolution

Ashita no Nadja starts out with a surrounding air of mystery regarding Nadja’s true mother, and as she goes to different places and finds out little snippets of her mother’s whereabouts and true identity, the audience is kept in the suspense as well. Though early scenes actually show that side of the story, the developments in the middle still manage to withhold that element of surprise, tripping one up just when one is lulled into a false sense of security with a series of unexpected twists.

Moreover, the content of the setting and plot are to be lauded in keeping things interesting during the more episodic parts of the series. As a performer, Nadia visits different countries and visual treats come in the form of different backgrounds, dances that Nadja performs, and people.

Of worthy mention…

In watching a series, there is rarely any one episode that particularly stands out to me unless it contains a major plot twist. However, Ashita no Nadja has managed to become the only exception with its groundbreaking episode 26, which has the most stunning episodic direction that I have seen. Episode 26 is lush with beautiful animation, the famous lyrical waltz of the series playing in appropriate times in the background, and it is also heartbreaking even though there isn’t actually anything sad happening in that episode. I have rewatched that episode on its own not less than three times, and I have never done that for any other episode in any other anime. (In fact, I feel like doing it again now.) It probably also helps that it contains a major romantic development with the male romantic interest I root for, and whose beauty still manages to break my heart.

Those beautiful shades of light in his hair…

Conclusion

Ashita no Nadja is highly recommended for all shoujo romance fans despite a seemingly hefty 50 episodes that indicates a huge investment of sorts. For those who love seeing more-than-one love interests, this is definitely a series for you to try out, especially for those who like to try out a well developed historical romantic adventure.

*All images belong to their original creators and I do not own any of these images.*

White Album 2: a realistic tale on mistakes in love and friendship (Part I)

I realise I have been on an anime blogpost roll recently; sorry to all the shoujo manga which I have yet to blog about >< However, this is probably the first romance related non-shoujo anime which I am writing about. I embark on the discussion with trepidation because in discussing this anime, what my opinions are may be coloured by some of my personal values with regards to relationships as well. No worries, this is going to be a largely non-spoiler filled post. This will constitute Part I of a two-part series dedicated to this series, comprising of an objective review of White Album 2. 

White Album 2 is a story focusing mostly on drama, music and romance, and occurs ten years after the events in White Album. However, this is an independent story from White Album, and there is no need to watch the first season as the characters are completely different. The only reference to its predecessor lies only in the some of the music used.

Story:

The plot is set in the fall of our characters’ last year in high school, with graduation only half a year away, a unique time different from most school life anime. Haruki Kitahara is the last member of the light music club which was recently dissolved due to a falling out with their lead singer. While he is practicing guitar by the window in the music room, he is joined by the tinkling sound of a piano, and then a voice. Together, they form a band to perform for the school festival, aiming to try something different and make fond memories of their last year in high school.

Of course, Kitahara does not know the identity of the students behind the piano and voice, at first. He however, slowly finds out who the girls are (Setsuna Ogiso with the voice and Touma Kazusa on the piano) and embarks on the process of convincing them to join his cause. The story can be split into two arcs; the first mainly all about getting to know the three characters, enabling them to bond with each other and work together to perform at the school festival and make lasting memories with each other; the second part details the events after the school festival, leading to changes in their relationship and eventually the buildup in tension and resolution of the love triangle.

Despite looking like a rather simplistic plot, this 13 episode series was paced well in a way that still presented interesting twists to the viewer. This comes in the form of dramatic revelations about the characters’ relationship as they develop. With two girls and a guy involved in an activity that creates memories, we all know that there is going to be a love triangle set up and indeed, that is the very core of this series. However, the story does a great job at creating inseparable bonds between all three characters as they perform for the school festival, such that it creates a pretty good illusion of a powerful bond of friendship and camaraderie between the three. The real drama and heartbreak however, happens after, as the characters come to terms with their romantic feelings. This triangle is made complicated by the fact that the two girls actually also treasure the friendship they have with each other. With much symbolism planted throughout especially with special camera zoom-ins to mementos (like photographs), the series evokes a sense of despair and sadness that is easier to ignore in the first half, but becomes more pronounced in the second half.

The love triangle is also a particularly well developed one in the sense that it is near impossible to predict how the story would go and how Kitahara’s feelings would grow. The burning question of who Kitahara would choose is never apparent, and is really only resolved well … when it is resolved.

Characters:

Being a character-centric story, it is almost impossible to discuss the story without having regard to the characters which take centerpiece in this entire feels train.

Our protagonist, Kitahara, is actually a boy very brilliant in academics. In fact, he is set up to be somebody almost … perfect – not socially awkward, able to influence others to set out what he has to do, excellent grades, not bad looking. There isn’t much to criticise about him at this point except for the way he handled certain things when he was figuring out his feelings, which I will elaborate on in Part 2.

Setsuna Ogiso is a cheerful and popular girl who is an idol of their academy. However, she is none like she seems on the surface – she actually hides plenty of her anxieties in the area of friendship. She also secretly loves to sing, and her passion only found a source of release with the opportunity that Haruki presents to her. I find her attitude towards friendships and pursuit of her love pretty relatable. I also empathise with her, as with the events that spiral out of control, she endures and tries hard, putting in effort; though not blindly – I suspect what she does may not be very far from what anybody in her situation would have done.

Similarly, Touma Kazusa is a cold and beautiful girl who also has to deal with demons from her past, and also an ‘attitude’ problem that may present itself to be irritating at the start, but understandable once we learn of the events that have led up to the rebellious Touma she is today. She’s the kind of girl in trouble but who puts up such a tough front to hide her vulnerabilities seething beneath the surface of her cool demeanour, that one would be drawn to care about and can’t leave alone. And indeed, her mask slips away over the course of the series as we learn more about her.

Music:

Since music constitutes the core of the stories, it is no wonder that the soundtracks are particularly fitting to the tone of the series, even if sometimes they are merely instrumental rearrangements of the theme songs which the characters sometimes perform. The insert songs contain that hidden touch of melancholy and are always apt to the mood, especially the one in the last episode which is largely responsible for all the feels that encapsulate the series and the finale in particular. I can’t really describe how haunting and beautiful Setsuna Ogiso’s (credits to her seiyuu Madoka Yonezawa) voice is.

Conclusion:

I admit I am wrong about how much I actually have to say about this series. I am at near a 1000 words at this point. Yet, I have barely skimmed the surface of the iceberg of the depth of human emotion and realism that this anime represents in depicting teenagers being in love and trying to struggle between the real conundrum of friendship and romantic love. There is plenty to analyse about the characters and I will be doing that in Part II of what I have to say about this series, which will comprise mainly of a personal rant and analysis about the irony of this series and why it deserves particular attention.

As for now, there seems to be news floating around that this isn’t nearly quite the end of the White Album 2 story and there may be plans to animate the rest of the arcs in the visual novels. However there is no concrete news as of now so I am not keeping my hopes up.

For those who have watched the series, stay tuned for Part II! For those who haven’t and yet are curious and don’t mind being spoiled, Part II may throw some light on whether you want to embark on this series or not. Having said that, White Album 2 is well worth anybody’s attention if you are looking for a deeper, more realistic take on romance. Do check it out if you haven’t!

*All images belong to their respective owners and do not belong to me.*

Sword Art Online II: What the first season wasn’t

Yes, I admit that I am late to the review-hype bandwagon. This was a Summer-Fall 2014 anime though I did take longer than that to finish it; also by taking breaks in the middle since I was watching it only as a continuation for the first season, which I felt was too overhyped. I was also curious – was the same formula going to be repeated, given the wildly popular first season? I figured that it wouldn’t be a real waste of time just to try and see how everything went, and true enough, I am glad to have stuck to the end in time to see the multifarious faces of the world of Sword Art Online.

Story:

Why is Klein still obsessed with 2D girls when he could have the pick of the 3D ones? … oh wait, they kind of belong to Kirito.

The first arc of the story kicks off in in the form of an online MMORPG, Gun Gale Online, set in a world unfamiliar to the fantasy themed Alfheim Online featuring swords and sorcery. GGO is, in contrast, a dark and gritty urban world where the primary mode of weaponry is the use of guns. As Kirito seeks to help the Ministry of Internal Affairs crack the case of the mysterious Death Gun who could apparently, murder the person behind the avatar at the same time he kills off the avatar in the game, his unwieldy maneuvering of this foreign land catches the eye of Sinon, a girl skilled at sniping. Together, they not only help to solve this mystery and apprehend the perpetrator of this serial virtual killing phenomenon, but they also discover the true meaning of strength along the way. In the next mini-arc, we return to the colourful world of Alfheim Online, where Kirito and friends (I really mean harem + the one odd guy Klein) seek out the sword of Excalibur, one of the most powerful weapons in the game. The catch is, the consequences behind the failing said quest could potentially drastically change the fate of Alfheim Online, serving as a motivating factor for Kirito’s team to acquire it with proper means and ‘save the world’ at the same time. Lastly, we finally have the Mother Rosario’s arc, primarily focusing on Asuna for once and her confrontation with her family as she befriends a girl, Yuuki, said to be the strongest (beating even Kirito!) swords(wo)man in Alfheim Online.

Thoughts:

Dem feels.

While I liked the world-building, adventure style of the first season, what particularly stood out to me here is the more in-depth exploration of themes of the impacts, both positive and negative, of technology on our lives. The blurring of lines between the virtual world and reality is a very real issue with the advancement of technology, though arguably still not commonplace currently. We have Sinon, a girl trying to ‘cure’ her past traumas where the sight of a gun has her breaking down and going into a nervous fit by turning to the online world. The realisation of how negative experiences, contrary to holding you back, has the potential to propel you forward, as in the case of both Kirito and Sinon, is also portrayed here. The philosophy that virtual reality is a mere extension of one’s own personality, making online experiences as real as real-life experiences, resounds throughout the series, especially with the beautiful, heart-wrenching tale of friendship between Asuna and Yuuki.

I am personally a big fan of the much toned down pacing. This is so even in the first arc where most viewers were still unable to view SAOII as a standalone and distinct work from the first season. For me, the fact that so little material was stretched out over thirteen episodes did give us time for much needed character development and exploration of the theme of overcoming one’s past. Precious moments like these were rushed out and, I daresay, were sought to be mitigated by the overpowering focus on romance that got the fans going in the first arc of the first season. Moreover, it was entirely unhelpful when the second arc negated all that carefully built up portrayal of Asuna.

Thankfully, the Mother Rosario’s arc restored my faith in the franchise by fleshing her out and letting us get to know the Asuna I know most people adored in season one arc one. I admit that I was never a huge fan of the Kirito x Asuna pairing for reasons unbeknownst to me (I just liked Sachi more >.< ). But. We got to see Asuna taking charge and leading a group for once instead of the damsel in distress role which she had been delegated to for the previous x number of arcs. We saw her confront her unsupportive family and fight for what she wants. Our heartstrings tugged at seeing her bond with a new group of friends and how that revelation of genuine and heartfelt friendship tied in with her personal struggles, enabling her to gain the strength to speak out and tell her mother what she really needs. Kudos also goes to avoiding the gradually tiresome, age old formula of Kirito as the main spotlight who saves yet another girl in distress so that he could add her to his growing harem. 

Conclusion:

There are of course, those who still insist that season 1 was a better season if only because of we got to see Kirito improving his abilities by leaps and bounds, overpowering his enemies, the blossoming romance between Kirito and Asuna, or even by the more detailed exploration of the vibrant and lush worlds of Sword Art and Alfheim Online. However, what season 1 lacked, Season 2 did indeed take care on improving, doing all this without really compromising the gorgeous world-building (I mean, we did have that Exaclibur arc after all). Still, I do strongly believe that it still boils down to personal preferences and what one seeks in his/her viewing experience, with lovers of the adrenaline rush of good visuals and living in a close-to-reality virtual MMORPG world preferring the first season, as opposed to those that prioritise pacing and character development who would find the second season more to their liking. I am an advocate for the second camp, though.

So, which season do you guys prefer? Please feel free to leave your thoughts!

*All images belong to their respective owners and do not belong to me.*

Hirunaka no Ryuusei: your most realistic take on love

I am constantly behind on my attempts to write anime reviews simply because I keep reading these amazing shoujo manga which I really have to write about immediately. I actually fear that I may not recover from the story and its characters if I don’t actually do so, hence here I am.

I have been hearing about HnR for quite some time already; yet I had always put it somewhere behind on my priority list because the more manga pages I see online, the nagging feeling that this is a really good manga starts to arise. And what that means is that its probably going to be one of those manga that I won’t be able to recover from at least a while; that’s why I was always planning to wait till my school term is over till I actually indulge in such good reads.

But one day, I was feeling so drained after a few consecutive weeks of never ending projects, presentations and midterms, so I decided that #yolo I would read whatever I want, and I am pretty sure I am craving some good shoujo manga, and it was a mid term break for me anyway. So here I am.

*Please note that from here on, there will be certain spoilers about the manga. Though they probably won’t consist of anything too major if you are an avid browser of shoujo manga forums, Pinterest, tumblr, and the like.*

I am pretty sure there those who have read enough shoujo manga, both good and bad, know that there are many tropes and cliches that shoujo manga stories always seem to fall back into. I am not sure how much this holds true for the rest of you, but I have always felt frustrated not only at the lack of creativity of how the romance in such manga progress, but also the crevasse between the world of shoujo manga and real life, in my opinion, the distance which could be easily reduced with a simple realisation on the part of the mangaka. For a genre that focuses so much on romance development during youth, I am often surprised to find a lack of any manga that closely resembles what most girls in real life would choose to do.

However, Hirunaka no Ryuusei represents what I hope to be the start of a whole new dimension to current shoujo manga. It has taken the whole of romance development to a newer, down-to-earth level that is like a breath of fresh air. I admit that romances like Strobe Edge and Heroine Shikkaku are realistic in their own right; but it felt that they were toeing around the line, beyond which would bring shoujo manga to a whole new level, and yet they fall short of that and retreat back into the safe zone. I have always felt a tingly bit of frustration at that outcome though it is admittedly outweighed by the process.

Hirunaka no Ryuusei starts off pretty mildly. We have Suzume, a country girl who moves to Tokyo alone to stay with her uncle and start school over there. She meets Shishio Satsuki, a regular visitor of her uncle’s cafe, who happens to be her homeroom teacher. As she goes to school, she makes her very first friend, Mamura Daiki and basically blackmails him into doing so after finding out his secret: that he’s pretty shy around girls and blushes madly whenever a girl touches him. With such a seemingly simplistic plot as backdrop, we are brought, subtly and unknowingly, into the a world with one of the most realistic dealings of romance that this genre has probably ever experienced, as a love triangle forms between Mamura, Suzume and Shishio.

The love between Shishio and Suzume was through a slow process, without any official pronouncement or declaration of going out with one another, they gradually fall into the routine of a relationship with one another. The love was never passionate, nor did it feel that both of their feelings actually got through to each other at some point. As the audience, I have always felt slightly melancholic as I see Suzume struggle to reach out to her sensei, only to have him reflexively avoid facing her feelings outright and telling her what he truly feels about her, that he reciprocates his feelings as well. However, though Shishio can be said to be really immature and insensitive in handling his relationship with her, for example, not being entirely honest with Suzume and using one of what I perceive to be the worst and most hurtful reasons for breaking up with her, I feel that it is really mostly due to being in a really difficult position. All the secrecy that surrounds their relationship due to it being a taboo relationship opens up many opportunities for understanding. Even Suzume comes to realise, while still being in love in Shishio, that having to hide their relationship all the time and not having anybody to talk and confide in, is tiring and painful in itself. Shishio, meanwhile, remains troubled about their relationship all the time as he questions what he is doing about the taboo nature of the relationship.Though never intending to hurt her, his hesitation and struggles showed in his inconsistency of his treatment towards her; sometimes hiding his feelings really well but at other times, throwing away his mask; making Suzume confused, and unhappy to an extent.  As noted by Mamura and Shishio, in trying to deal with all these, Suzume became somebody unlike herself.Their moments of happiness were short-lived, and ultimately their relationship at least at that point in time, was so brittle and had such a weak foundation, ultimately leading to an inevitable breakup.

Mamura, on the other hand, faced none of the problems with a taboo relationship. Though shy with girls at first, he quickly comes to the realisation that he has fallen hard for Suzume. Of course, Suzume was unable to return his feelings at first; but being sensitive to her at all times, he manages to turn up and comfort her in times of need. Unconsciously, he had become her rock where she turns to for a sense of solace and comfort. As Suzume notes, she feels like she could talk to Mamura with no problems at all, unlike when she was with Shishio where during their long periods silence she catches herself wondering what he was thinking about. Except for the occasional periods of time when she knows Mamura likes her but she was unable to reciprocate the feelings he has, as well as periods of shyness and embarrassment, she has always been able to talk with him casually and normally.

So how should Suzume choose when there comes to a climax in the manga where both Shishio and Mamura have pretty much made their feelings known to her? How does she choose?

Suzume loved the both of them, but in different ways, and at different times. In ultimately choosing Mamura, she has made it clear to herself that she wanted to cherish Mamura in the way he had supported her all this while. She was acting on her feelings at that point, and she was no longer tied by her feelings in the past. Mamura had, all this while, from an existence that was previously in the fringe edges of her heart, become an existence of so much importance that he envelops her entire heart. Here is where readers are totally thrown off guard; simply because in most shoujo manga, even after realising that one should reciprocate the feelings that the ‘nice’ guy had for her, the ultimate outcome would be choosing the first guy that one ever loved.

Perhaps the idea of choosing the first guy would make sense if we believe that one can only truly fall in love once, and be faithful to that love; our feelings to anybody else couldn’t have been ‘true love’.  However, this rarely every happens in real life; we fall in love multiple times, and most people aren’t lucky enough to just fall in love and end up with the person we first loved for the rest of their lifetime. One may say, its precisely because its like that in real life which is why we indulge in mediums like shoujo manga to satisfy our imagination and dreams that a ‘one true love’ could exist. However, this does not detract from HnR’s arguably bold step in taking a stand on this matter in the other way. In rationalising Shishio and Mamura as both first and second loves, the mangaka’s message is clear to us:  that it is okay to fall in love twice, and its okay for us to pick the guy who was there for you all the time, and that timing matters in a relationship and once it is gone,  it is gone forever.

And in fact, its what she should have done. Its what every girl in her position should do, for herself, for the guy she loves, and the guys who love her.

I personally have very mixed feelings about this manga; mainly because I have always proclaimed myself to be an avid ‘underdog’ supporter. But when I came to the end of this manga, I couldn’t help but ache for Shishio’s sadness and acceptance of that outcome, even though I was also really happy for Suzume and Mamura. I suppose this is where the strength of the story lies; because technically Shishio couldn’t very well be blamed for his actions and his slowness in getting his feelings through to Suzume. As I have mentioned, it was all a matter of timing for them.

Perhaps going into the manga already knowing who Suzume picked in the end had been a mistake from the start, since it actually changed my perspective throughout the manga. This is the first time I genuinely felt for a teacher-student relationship and felt heartbreak at Shishio’s plight throughout the manga; while also rooting for the other two as well. I daresay Yamamori sensei had done an excellent job with this story which I will never forget, and I hope it opens up the gates to more realistic shoujo manga in the future.

*All images in this post do not belong to me and are owned by their respective owners.*

Please feel free to comment if you have any thoughts on this! 🙂

Spoiler Comparison: Strobe Edge vs Heroine Shikkaku

El Manga Heroine Shikkaku de Momoko Kouda tendrá adaptación a película Live-Action en Verano.

Heroine Shikkaku

Strobe Edge - Gacchan, Ren, Ninako and Andou

Strobe Edge

*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.*