Back in July, I finished my series of posts on Aya Kanno’s shoujo manga Otomen. Or, I thought I did. Now that the series has reached its conclusion, I have some thoughts on the final volume. If you recall, my previous issues with Otomen could be boiled down to the not-so groundbreaking dismantling of gender roles, the inner workings of Asuka’s abuse, and how LGBTQ+ issues were handled among the characters. And as much as my little shoujo-adoring heart loved the happy-sappy, undeniably predictable marriage ending, the question remains: were any of these problems elaborated on or improved? I’m sorry to say that they weren’t. Not to the extent I would have hoped for.
By now, dear audience, you’re probably a little Otomen-ed out and are wondering when I’m going to stop talking about this series. Fear not; this is the last one (unless something ridiculous happens in the last volume, which I highly doubt)! You made it! Give yourself a pat on the back.
Having tackled the issues of Aya Kanno’s dichotomy concerning gender roles and the confused tone of the series, it’s about time to look at one of the more obvious points of contention: LGBTQ+ representation. It saddens me to say this, too, because starting out I really thought this series was going to be progressive in that sense. However, much like most media here in the States, a lot of the queer plot points are left to subtext and essentially ignored in favor of giving everyone heterosexual relationships. The most offensive example of this blatant refusal to address this issue shows up in discussions of Asuka’s dad, Hiromi. Continue reading →
Before I’m done talking about Otomen, I wanted to address a few more issues that arose in the manga. And to save me the trouble of potentially forgetting some points and having to marathon all seventeen available volumes again (how do you people do that? I’m impressed) we’re going to cover these in quick succession.
I mentioned two points in my previous post that I plan to shed a brighter light on. One, that Asuka’s mother has an illness and two, that the manga slips into something closer to horror than shoujo in some sections. This isn’t implying that Asuka’s mom is slowly turning into a zombie or anything like that. The horror in this series is much less fantastical and much more terrifying.
As much as I love shoujo manga, it’s not a medium that lends itself very well to breaking down societal norms. Shoujo has a strict structure to it that’s difficult to break out of while still remaining true to the essence of what shoujo is: comics that focus on love and tender emotions. When I found Otomen a couple years ago, I had to admit I was excited to see what could possibly be done with the premise of a high school boy who had stereotypically feminine interests dating a girl who had stereotypically masculine interests. Granted, it’s not a new idea, but at its start Otomen really did seem progressive—surprisingly little relationship drama, a main couple that outwardly and strongly supported each other, a supporting cast that, for the most part, didn’t seek to undermine the romance, and a message about breaking down gender roles. Sounds great, right? But as I finally prodded myself to finish reading it Saturday night, something began sitting strangely with me. Maybe, just maybe, the series isn’t as progressive as I thought, and maybe this shoujo is actually detrimental to its intended audience.