Sometimes when you read something very problematic, it’s difficult to figure out which angle to approach it from first. That’s the problem I’ve been having for almost two months. Back in January I wrote my introductory post to the shoujo manga Sensual Phrase, and I briefly mentioned that the series was inundated with issues. Well, it’s time to get into one of them.
While I don’t love Aine as a protagonist/heroine, I do admit that she’s an important shoujo heroine overall and that her character arc… existed. I want to say it was “good” or “meaningful”, I really do. Writing it off completely would be doing it an injustice—she does learn how to be comfortable with herself, and that’s one of the most important things in life for anyone—but it’s not satisfying in the way you’d want it to be, especially after all the suffering she goes through. In fact, it’s almost illogical that she does come to be comfortable with herself. I say illogical because for large portions of Sensual Phrase, it doesn’t feel like the story is even about her.
In fact, it could be argued that while she is the quote-unquote lead of the story, Aine really is just a tool to be used by the men of the series. Any arc of the story that seems targeted towards exploring Aine’s growth inevitably ends up turning into motivations for the men in the story while leaving Aine with barely any character progression for herself. To go along with that, when the audience gets a look at Aine’s inner thoughts, we barely get any reactions from her about the situation; instead, we see her worry about what the men around her will do or what would benefit said men. This isn’t to say that these sorts of actions can’t give way to good character development, but when this is the only focus, it starts to lose meaning and the character becomes nothing more than a prop.
Trigger warning for mentions of sexual assault under the cut.