Hi! While Lady Saika takes care of her obligations I’m going to take care of this new segment she has planned. Spoiler warning right here, right now.
Let me be blunt: I am a romance addict. Rom-coms? Love them. Trashy novels? Can’t get enough. I will watch Pride and Prejudice and 10 Things I Hate About You until the disk is run ragged. So it’s really is no surprise that my manga collection is stacked with shojou. For those of you unfamiliar with manga terms, “shojou” manga refers to what can be boiled down to romance: usually centered on young girls in high school coming into their own. Needless to say, these plots are a breeding ground for exaggerated drama. However, the somewhat more realistic scenario presented in Tomoko Taniguchi’s Call Me Princess is what really drew me in and keeps me coming back to those black and white pages even to this day. This was my first manga so it seems only right for me to review it.
Princess focuses on the rather mundane life of Makoto: a girl in her first year of high school going through the days with her friends Maki and Yo. Quickly we learn that Makoto is looking for her ideal man—her prince—and that he has to fit the qualities held by her brother-in-law. Kindness, chivalry, all that good idealistic stuff. Yo continuously antagonizes her over this, commenting on her unrealistic demands of her future partner. However, Maki has hardly a comment to make on Makoto’s search (this is one of the things I don’t like: Maki really has no personality until later). One day when retrieving a ball from a tree branch—an action Yo deems more suited to a Neanderthal than a princess—Makoto gets stuck but is eventually rescued by a mysterious upperclassman who looks strikingly similar to her brother-in-law.
There is a reason for that: the mysterious boy (Ryu) is Makoto’s brother-in-law’s younger brother… who ends up getting adopted by her family because he has nowhere to go? Tensions rise as Ryu acts chilly in front of Makoto, and Yo begins to act jealous and protective of her. As the story goes on, Makoto comes to understand Ryu’s difficulties with getting close with him as his parents divorced and his mother was a little… emotionally abusive. As Makoto becomes closer with Ryu, Maki reveals that she has a unrequited crush on Yo—which causes a distance between the two girls—and Ryu must figure out his feelings toward his new life and Makoto in particular. Since it’s a shojou, it is apparent that Ryu and Makoto end up together and everyone lives happily ever after. Yes, it’s the old standby for romance but Taniguchi makes it more compelling because of the simplicity. Like I never say: if it’s not broken, don’t fix it. Or rather, if there’s already a group of villains don’t add demon zombies (InuYasha, I’m looking at you!).
In its raw form, there are some problems with shojou as a genre itself. It usually tends to generalize all females as wanting a significant other and willing to do anything to get there. However, the protagonist somehow ends up being a very weak-willed character who needs the love interest to do anything. The second part is the ax in any story. There are, of course, weak characters that are interesting but if the audience is supposed to live through their shoes it gets frustrating to see someone cry every chapter, “Oh, Love Interest-kun! Help meeee!” This is what sets Makoto apart from most shojou heroines: she doesn’t take shit and she knows what she wants. When Ryu comes home late (after worrying the whole family) she doesn’t sit there sobbing in Zip-a-tone and roses. Instead, when he gets home she gets up in his face and pretty much says, “Bitch, when you’re gonna be late you call. I was worried, you ass.”
When Yo tries to basically guilt her into dating him she draws the line and tells him that she only saw him as a friend and never acted like she wanted anything more. I can’t exactly call Makoto Hermione-strong or Riza Hawkeye-Strong, but in a world of wet-towel heroines, I do think Makoto is one of the better ones.
I also can appreciate how relationships as a whole are treated in this manga. It is so easy in the genre to degrade the characters into slut-shaming and just forgetting a character all together once the protagonist has a conflict. Taniguchi doesn’t allow this to happen. When Makoto and Maki have the fight over Yo they make up and accept each other and their weaknesses. Although it is Yo that urges Maki to make up with Makoto, it is the two girls that reform the bond on their own accord. Their friendship has a very “chicks before dicks” (that’s not nearly as catchy) vibe to it that I wish a lot more female relationships had in media today. Speaking of Yo, after Makoto sets him straight he discards his “nice-guy”™ way of thinking and accepts the boundaries of their relationship. No passive-aggression. Another relationship preserved and the issues dealt with. It would have been easier to just write Maki off as a jealous “bitch” and Yo as a creep but in real life, especially in a school setting, it can be impossible to avoid those people that you fight with. I believe it’s a very beneficial message to girls and boys alike that they should face their issues and talk it out rather than storing it up inside and letting it fester. Also, even though after the first few interactions Ryu and Makoto have it is obvious that they’re going to end up together, it does actually take time for the two to fall in love (well, at least crush on each other) and they don’t start off as the two people that like each other but won’t admit it but totally act like they obviously like each other. They start out as two people that don’t understand each other but end as two people that respect each other and are willing to take the time to understand each other.
Their relationship is not perfect and the terms of prince and princess, rather than referring to a pampered fairy tale romance, instead come to represent a balance of duty and respect in a relationship. The roles of both of them, despite Japan’s astringent gender roles, run pretty equal with each other; this is an impressive feat.
There is no denying that Princess is in the shojou grouping of manga but comics like this help to dispel the stereotype that surrounds the genre. There’s love (of course) and there are girls/boys that act annoying at times, but overall the mature and tone-downed dramatics of this series (there were originally four smaller comics—I think—but it’s sold as an anthology as of when I bought it) creates a more believable environment and actually gives some good lessons to its reader. If you can get your hands on it, I would highly recommend giving it a read through.