Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Generic Shoujo Garbage, I Think I Love You

Today Jon Del Arroz is filing in for Declan while he's on vacation. Be sure to check out Jon's book Star Realms: Rescue Run and blog.

This last weekend, I discovered a Japanese drama by the name of Good Morning Call. The premise is that two high school students thought they separately rented their own apartment, with the intention of living alone. When they arrived, they found the place had been double rented. The reasons they can’t back out are thin, but that doesn’t matter as the story progresses. Epic trope-filled relationship drama ensues, filled with love triangles and evil popular girl clubs.

It sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it?  Shoujo is a whole manga/anime genre dedicated to this kind of storytelling.  It’s aimed at a young teenaged female audience and actually can come in all shapes and forms. A great fantasy series, Fushigi Yuugi, is a tale from the 90s where two middle school girls get transported back into a magical ancient China. While a plot does whirl around them, what’s most central to the story is the relationship between Miaka and a brooding man who has taken it upon himself to be her protector. It goes through all sorts of stages as other characters try to date Miaka, including the Emperor, but their souls are destined to be together.

I find myself loving the trope of that brooding man who deep down will protect the woman at any cost, even if he’s stoically focused on whatever his actual problems are.  It’s fun watching the female protagonists pick away the layers to find out the trauma that brought them to this point. In Good Morning Call, Uehara’s parents died in an accident when he was young, and he quite literally has to fend for himself with little to no support. Tamahome in Fushigi Yuugi has a similar story, as he appears greedy on the service, but in truth is solely providing for little brothers and sisters in his family who are dirt poor and have no one else to help them. As the women in these stories uncover these layers, they  are justified in their intense love for these men who, at the beginning, appear to be selfish idiots.

The main focus in these stories is always about coming into your own and discovering love. And that’s what makes it so exciting. That intense emotion that we had as teenagers IS silly, and causes us to do the most ridiculous things. While a lot of this anime can come across as immature and trite, it creates fun because of that. The way that these shows blend comedic humor in situations, with intense love pangs, and very often tragedy that accompanies it, actually pushes the full emotional spectrum and creates more three-dimensional characters than a lot of western stories.
At the same time, almost all of shoujo stories are heavily trope-filled. I can predict almost every episode of Good Morning Call as it gets into the opening scenes of an episode. It completely relies on the character moments and your love of the characters to make the show work, as do most of these series. Nana was a series that had a lot of the same scenarios: girl going out to live on her own for the first time, trying desperately to find love, looking in the wrong places and ending up in some awkward situations. It still stands completely distinct because of how the unique characters interact in other ways.

My favorite in the genre is an anime called Your Lie In April. We have two high school students, but this one is actually from the male perspective. He’s a dorky kid, and finds a blonde goddess who plays music on such a high emotional level that it floors him. He’s also got a hang up in a trope where his mother died (typical to find orphans in these shows) at a young age, and she was the reason that he played the piano, consequently leading him to never play since. His love for this girl is so pure, and comes out through his music, which she prods him into taking up again. She pushes him to excellence, and he overcomes his mental blocks through love and through playing. It’s really beautiful, and there is quite a bit of tragedy in it which I won’t spoil as the show  makes for a satisfying, cathartic experience.

In my own writing, I’ve pushed the boundaries in science fiction and fantasy of how much romance plays a central role to the story. Some have criticized me for that, but I find that these types of human connections transcend situations and genre, which makes it fun to focus on. These shows, while often trite and silly, do firm up those relationship elements to an extent where it helps to create very real characters.

Declan himself pushed the boundaries of vampire horror in Murphy’s Law of Vampires with his own take on the relationships of the dead. It’s really fun to watch, and in our genre, I find that these tropes are not explored nearly enough. You, dear reader, may want to check out some shoujo yourself to connect with feelings you haven’t explored in years, or to find a way to add some depth to genre writing. I’ll be here to chat and be a shoulder to cry on when you finish watching any of these series.

Check out: Fushigi Yuugi (Fantasy), Aria (science fantasy), Your Lie In April (Modern, light supernatural), Nana (Modern, no supernatural)

Don't forget to sign up for Declan's mailing list. His short, Bad Date is still available for free to new subscribers.

For good storylines with some great romantic tension, check out the Love At First Bite Series

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