First volume of Limited Lovers: Nothing to suggest it has anything to do with a young girl in a wheelchair.

First volume of Limited Lovers: Nothing to suggest it has anything to do with a young girl in a wheelchair.

Limited Lovers was brought to my attention when someone told me about how Karin, the heroine, strives for her dream even through she lost the use of her legs and is now reliant on a wheelchair. With a premise like that alone, I was pretty intrigued about this 3 volume manga. You don’t see much diversity in manga. It’s definitely there, but the majority of stories don’t deal with people who have specific health issues, a different sexuality, or gender identity. Retrospectively, the title should have been somewhat of a warning sign. Limited Lovers doesn’t conjure the best implications and images (even if it was probably unintentional going by the ending), but having been told Karin would be striving for a dream against prejudice about her being in a wheelchair, I didn’t pay this much heed.

Now the manga isn’t all bad, but it feels like the standard shoujo tropes have all been gathered to write a story about a girl who just happens to use a wheelchair. This might sound great since people shouldn’t be classified and identified by their disabilities, but when I say standard shoujo tropes, I mean the not so good ones; the ones that have problematic implications. Furthermore, while characterizing someone through their disability is horrible, I think a story about someone fighting against those prejudices is a really great idea. This is what I came to see when I started Limited Lovers. Unfortunately, this takes a big backseat to the romance, and boy is this romance problematic on a number of levels.

First of all, our love interest, Okita, is Karin’s doctor. This already sets up a relationship of dependency between them. The other thing is that Karin grows a sort of obsession with him. She just latches onto him because she has no support in her life. Her parents are busy working (and she’s a rich girl) and her friends are only using her for money. Now normally I wouldn’t mind this sort of setup, but it feels so manipulative here because the author tries so hard to make us believe that Karin would be so lonely and desperate that she would buy Okita’s house and then buy an hour of his time each day. Yeah. For a story about how individuals in wheelchairs can be independent and strong, we are not off to a very good start. In fact, this is actually kind of damning since it plays into the dependency angle of a disabled person and the “needs a man” angle of a woman. Both messages that are so often perpetuated and that really needs to stop.

However, I was warned that Karin starts out rather weak and gradually grows strong so I held out hope. Unfortunately, Karin’s characterization isn’t the only problem. Okita isn’t written to be very sympathetic either. He’s pretty much a jerk. He doesn’t hide the fact that he only sticks around because the house has sentimental value to him and because Karin is paying him. Furthermore, at a certain point in the manga, he lashes out at Karin and tries to have his way with her, callously saying this is exactly what she wanted from him (in other words, that she wants to have sex with him). As true as that may be, it is clear that at that moment Karin is very afraid and doesn’t want him touching or kissing her. In fact, she retreats to her nanny’s house for a few days and stays in bed before her best friend and caretaker, Kiki, manages to get her out of bed. This tells me that Karin was very effected by what Okita did to her, and yet she crawls right back to him and acts like nothing happened after Kiki gets her to start going to school again. Then for the remainder of the manga, the author then tries desperately to justify Okita and to get us to like him, but for me personally, the line was crossed and nothing would convince me that Karin had any reason to continue to stay with him and pine after him.

Natsumu when she confronts Karin after Teppei dumps her.

Natsumu when she confronts Karin after Teppei dumps her.

And if that wasn’t bad enough, Limited Lovers also introduces the other woman, who is characterized as an unstable woman that is unable to let go of Okita. Think I am exaggerating? When he breaks up with her saying he loves Karin, she comes to see Karin with her wrists slit and proceeds to tell her how much she hates her for stealing her man before fainting from blood loss. Yeah. The message is clear, women are creatures that cannot bear to exist without a man, and it is very disappointing to see this in a manga that could have been interesting if the author didn’t focus on the romance. Yes, that’s right, Karin does fight against prejudices like I was told. She decides to be a masseuse but school after school rejects her until she manages to convince one school to let her enrol. And while I definitely enjoyed this part of the manga, it takes a major backseat to everything else. To add insult to injury, even Okita’s dream gets more focus than Karin’s! She even puts her dream on hold just to help him out. She is constantly bending over backwards for him and it hurts to see this because he is often unwilling to do the same until the very end of the manga. Too little, too late for my tastes.

How Shouri is characterized.

How Shouri is characterized.

There is one other problematic trope that comes up in Limited Lovers, but that does not tie directly into Karin’s portrayal. One of Karin’s classmates is a very feminine and flamboyant guy. Now thankfully the manga avoids adding in any homosexual subtext into his character, but it doesn’t avoid the whole idea that showy clothing (or caring about clothing in general) is intrinsically linked with a feminine personality. See, the manga goes out of its way to show us that Shuuei is weak and easily bullied and very emotional; all characteristics often linked to “femininity”. Furthermore, he is always drawn in a very effeminate way. So it’s not hard to deduce that his flamboyance is supposed to be directly linked to his obvious femaleness. Not cool manga. Not only are you perpetuating femaleness as hysteria and weakness, but also the idea that only such persons care about clothing and attracting attention through them because it is somehow intrinsically female just like hysteria and weakness.

Overall, I can’t say I really enjoyed Limited Lovers. The romance made it downright tedious to read and the introduction of ever prevalent and hurtful tropes made it hard to really appreciate the manga for its attempt at diversity. The few moments that focused on Karin’s struggle against prejudice were well done, but those moments were so very few that they were practically drowned out by the more harmful elements in the story. The manga isn’t horrible, but it’s not really all that good either. In the end, I can’t really recommend it because I think it does more harm than good when it comes to writing diversity.

–SW

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