Wow, it’s been awhile since my last post. I apologize for that. I sort of got obsessed with a certain manga and then I had work to do as well, which left me no time to write a post. I should be resuming my regular pace again now. ^^;;; So with that, I’d like to introduce a new feature I’ve been thinking about doing: Shoujo Spotlight.

I think it is pretty easy to hate on things and instead of just having negative features, I thought a good counterpoint to Substandard Shoujo Spectacle would be a feature that is the exact opposite, one that aims to highlight the good in the shoujo demographic. So here it is, Shoujo Spotlight. Perhaps the title is a bit cliche, but it fits rather well. Instead of making this a kind of preview for the manga in question, I thought I’d pick out a theme or element in the manga that I believe makes it worthwhile and discuss it. That way this feature isn’t a redundancy of what I do with Reviews and Impressions.

For the first feature, I decided on Deep Love – Ayu no Monogatari because it left quite an impact on me. Technically, it’s a josei title, but since Substandard Shoujo Spectacle isn’t restricted to just shoujo (it will have josei titles too), I think it is fair game. The series has a lot of themes and things I could talk about, but I think what made Ayu so good was how it portrayed agency in the female lead of the same name. Agency is a pretty simple idea. It refers to showing someone as an individual who acts based on their beliefs and ideas rather than being an object that is acted upon by something or someone. This lack of proper agency is something I often see tying together most of the Substandard Shoujo Spectacle titles. Aki from Suki Shite Sadist, for example, has no agency. Everything that has happened in the manga so far has treated her like an object, which is acted upon by Naoya, rather than an individual in control of her own destiny. Hatsumi, from Hot Gimmick, suffers from this as well. What little agency we do see is utterly destroyed by other people: be it the female bullies that Hatsumi cannot stand up to or Ryouki who intimates her into submission whenever Hatsumi tries to stop his sexual harassment. Hadashi de Bara wo Fume has also severely undermined Sumi’s agency in the second and third chapters by constantly having her swing between extremes and be constantly told what she needs to do (i.e. if you want the money Sumi, say “I do”). The only heroine free from this vicious cycle is Tonari‘s Shizuku, who is seen acting upon her beliefs and desires (i.e. studying when Haru asks her to go out to eat, and telling him to leave her alone after the punch).

However, the best example of this idea is seen in Ayu. Ayu is a teen prostitute who sees no value in living. She sells her body for money because she lacks purpose and conviction. Here in the framing alone, Deep Love is giving Ayu agency. Ayu isn’t a prostitute because of circumstances, but by volition. She isn’t a victim, she’s an agent that uses her own will. The rest of Deep Love explores Ayu meeting up with an old lady who changes her life and subsequently the hard choice she makes to help someone that the old lady viewed as a son and who she (Ayu) comes to love very deeply (and he in turn returns the feelings). I won’t spoil anything, but this will be one emotional and bitter ride. I was literally reduced to a sobbing mess at the end of this manga because the message was that poignant and powerful. And it was this powerful exactly because the manga treated Ayu as an individual with agency. Never once is Ayu treated as someone who is being worked upon by something even though she is thrown some very hard balls by life. She makes a choice and bears the consequences, which is exactly the core of agency: choice and consequence. I feel, at times, like the consequence part of this relationship of choice and consequence that gives a character agency, is often ignored. Usually because hard choices require heavy consequences and don’t lend themselves well to more lighthearted tales. Deep Love, however, is anything but lighthearted and as a result, it was able show the extent of the relationship between choice and consequence that makes someone an agent rather than a passive object. As such, I really do recommend this manga. It’s not perfect, but I do think its framing of agency makes it a very powerful and emotional story.

Just a warning for younger readers. There is sexual content (Ayu being a prostitute and all) and it is quite graphic. To everyone else, I think it’s a great example of how to do agency in shoujo (even though this is technically a josei title…)