We’ve all had that moment of feeling like a fish out of water: trying to get by in a completely new area with just your wits and common sense. It’s uncomfortable. It’s educational. It’s real life. So a hearty “heba” (hello/goodbye) to the life of one, Haruo Hattori, in the slice-of-life comedy Club 9 by Makoto Kobayashi.
Haruo is country girl from Akita who has been accepted into a college smack in the middle of Tokyo. Her life previously was devoted to her boyfriend, Kingorou, her somewhat dysfunctional family, and the true love of her life, baseball. Soon after she arrives in the big city, the story jumps to where Haruo is set up in her dorm and has made a couple of friends, Aki and Fuyumi. Due to a certain event [see: ghost sexual harassment], Aki takes Haruo in and exposes her to the life of a so-called “Ginza girl”: a catchy name for a hostess working in the Ginza. Soon, Haruo is gaining a reputation throughout the Ginza and making waves and friends in a higher echelon of the population. Men, fancy clothes, and keeping honest to your roots? That’s a lot to deal with and it’s not always easy for Haruo. I would like to say more about this series, but unfortunately it’s another one of those that just stopped coming out and to my knowledge there is nothing past Volume 3. So the last thing we’re left with is Hauro, oblivious to three guys that want to marry/actually date her, vowing to work hard so she can return to Akita and her family with a teaching degree. Not exactly a satisfactory place to let off (but better than X/1999, at least).
As you can probably guess, Club 9 is rather liberal with the fan service and panty shots but strangely enough I find them less offensive in this tale than in other comics/games. Let me explain: compare this to another comic, let’s say Love Hina. When cleavage or nudity is shown in the latter, since the series is essentially about the socially inept nerd dealing with his pervy ways, or rather, seems to focus highly on scenes of “whoops, I accidentally walked in on you in the hot springs again” the nudity reflects the pornographic, voyeur feeling of the main character. That shit’s annoying and offensive and really shouldn’t be a trope outside of hentai. However, since the tone is completely different in Club 9 (Haruo’s catch line of the series is: “Ah swear t’stay a virgin”, which she does), while still unnecessary, the tone is more exploitative of Haruo’s innocence rather than her body. It’s doesn’t come off as trying to be sexy to me; it’s more reminiscent of what people really act like when at a hostess club (hint: they don’t like you for your personality most of the time). Of course, your mileage may vary on this.
This brings me to what I’m the most impressed with in this series: the portrayal of women. Now I’m not saying this is some sort of feminist story by any stretch of the imagination, but Kobayashi manages to escape a huge chunk of the negative female stereotypes and makes a set of characters that are likable and realistic. Whereas the fact that Haruo is a complete country bumpkin this trait is not played negatively. In fact, even in the big city she manages to keep her true nature because no one wants her to change. It sends a positive message that even if you’re klutzy and don’t have the best fashion sense and talk in a “strange” way that people will still accept you and if they don’t you should just move on. It’s a rather refreshing breath from everyone being perfect and good looking with their only flaw being something stupid like “I am too cute and no one understands”.
Another example is that of Aki: remember her, the one that got Haruo into the hostessing business? So easily she could have fallen into the “snarky bitch who is also a gold-digger” trope yet she genuinely cares about her friends and understands how her business works. She has a motherly/big sister feeling among her which is further exemplified—in her own way—by her admission that she wants to be a host club “mama” (one who takes care of the girls, the boss of the hostess bar) when she graduates. And as for the other girl I mentioned, Fuyumi, if you read my last post you would know my dislike of portrayals of heavier people in any medium, really. However, while Fuyumi plays “the fat girl” of the group she isn’t stupid or played off for laughs. In fact, she has a group of regulars at the club (even semi-dating a movie star) and is a good friend to the other girls. In fact, all the girls get along and look out for each other.
Strangely enough, the good characterization travels to the male characters as well. We have the sweet and naïve manga artist, Lewis Ono to the secretly lewd and entitled (and soon to be arrested) anchorman, Iejirou Tokugawa. What I guess I’m trying to say is that on both sides there is a well thought-out continuum of characters that really makes this series seem realistic. Also, Kobayashi inserts himself into the characters as well and often pokes fun at himself with hilarious, slap-stick-esque results.
Another thing I like about this series is that Haruo actually keeps in contact with the people from her past: her family, her boyfriend, etc. And they also keep in contact with her. In many series, the family (whether direct or not blood related) is mentioned at the beginning and then completely forgotten about so the protagonist can go off and have adventures without the repercussions of a scolding from mom. Haruo knows about her parents having a fight because her mom is having her mid-life crisis and they know about why she moved out of her dorm. If such a family-oriented person such as Haruo just didn’t talk to her parents anymore it would break the believability of the story. Plus, her parents are hilarious, so it doesn’t seem taxing to read their dirty laundry.
Obviously, I like a lot of things about this series, but one of the most glaring issues is the glamorization of the hostessing business. It’s no lie that if you get a job hostessing in a huge city in Japan that you can make a lot of money, but that really depends on the club. Not everyone is going to have such nice customers. Not everyone is going to have such a forgiving boss. Club 9 is essentially the prefect club. Also, the “mama” of this club distinctly tells her girls never to “put out” and whereas this sounds nice, that’s all it is. I would fathom to guess that it’s not really looked down upon to do so and in some clubs it’s probably even expected to sleep with the clientèle to make more money or to gain a regular customer.
Unfortunately, it also tends to tone down the severity of sexual harassment. Groping and goosing is laughed off (which is probably how it is in real life, unfortunately), and in fact, the only one who gets in trouble is the guy that follows Haruo home and tries to force himself on her. And even this attempt is made light of slightly. I figure it’s not really the best topic to tackle when writing a comedy series but it’s still a little disheartening.
Despite some glaring social misconceptions, I would recommend reading this series. It’s light-hearted and funny, and you really get to cheering for Haruo and the other characters. And maybe you’ll even learn a little bit about Japanese baseball on the way. Heba!