Strength Does Not Matter! The Beautiful Warrior, Shutumon

That’s the title of episode 16 of Digimon Frontier. There are two things going on here: first the title is suggesting that strength is unimportant and the second that Shutumon is beautiful. It’s not hard to realize what the implicit meaning here is: for girls, their strength is irrelevant, what is key is their beauty. And paired up with episode 15 where the enemy digimon gains her new evolution with lots of strength but at the price of being hideous, well, these two episodes are quite loaded with gender norms and tropes are old as human civilization.

It’s actually been a while since an anime (or manga) that I’ve seen has been so overt with expectations of beauty for women versus men. It’s not at all subtle in the least; there is only 1 female enemy digimon and it is only in her case that the question of appearance is ever raised. The other digimon are all male and are not particularly aesthetically pleasing. One is a mix between a gnome and dwarf, another is an inhuman lizard-like digimon and another a metallic humanoid. None really scream bishounen in the least and when they evolve into beast form, never is there any talk about their new appearance. In contrast, the animators of Digimon Frontier felt the need to make the single female enemy digimon not only cute and resembling a young girl, but also made her into a sort of idol in the digital world. Furthermore, they gave her a vain personality. In other words, they created her in a way that put appearance at the forefront of her character.

ranamon as an idol

Ranamon is an idol in the digital world.


Ian & Rin

Rin and Ian

It’s no secret that I like Fairy Cube. The manga isn’t perfect, but what I really appreciated about it is how well balanced the two main leads were. Often times, it’s so easy for a writer to write one character as strong and the other as weak, or write weakness in a way that denies agency. It feels as if some writers think showing any real weakness would somehow undermine how “cool” or “powerful” or just strong that particular character is. But that’s not really what makes someone strong and furthermore having a character that only knows how to look cool is often the quickest way to make a boring character. Likewise, having characters that embody only weakness and helplessness often causes readers (well at least me) to get frustrated with the character. Weakness is only interesting when it’s paired with some sort of character growth or balanced in some way by adding aspects of strength. Do we really want to see Character A wallowing in self pity over and over? That’s as equally boring as having a flawless character! (more…)

Common Game Elements is a feature where I talk about something that reoccurs a lot in video games. It may be something very prevalent or something that I noticed because it has come up a few times in recent memory. Since the last few features have been about characters, I decided to do something different this time. Once again, as primarily someone who plays a lot of RPGs, I’ve noticed that most games in this genre tend to have a legendary city dedicated to either magic or technology. The city is legendary either because it’s highly advanced, the final surviving pocket of an ancient civilization, or the place to go to learn magic or other scholarly pursuits.

This isn’t necessarily a bad trend, in fact, I quite like it because these cities/towns are always something I look forward to seeing and getting absorbed in the magic of the place. It’s also not exclusive to games either. Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle, which deals with a group travelling to different worlds, had a world dedicated to the scholarly pursuit of magic as well. One could say this is one of my favourite tropes and if I were to make a general rule about it, it would sound something like this:

“There will be one city renown for its magic or technology.”


  • The magical kingdom of Zeal from Chrono Trigger. It is probably the best example of this element.

    Zeal (Chrono Trigger) – The Kingdom of Zeal was a floating island above the clouds that was renown for its magic, scholarly pursuits (3 Wise Sages), and technological advancements (Mammoth Machine, Dark Omen, Blackbird, etc). Its magic was so advanced that individuals on Zeal comment how “weak” your characters own magic is compared to theirs.

  • Lufenia (Final Fantasy) – The city of an ancient technologically advanced people. It is also worth noting that the best magic spells can only be purchased in Lufenia. (more…)

I think now is a good time to publish all the stats on bad story elements I’ve been collecting while doing the Substandard Shoujo Spectacle feature. The story elements have, once again, been organized from most prevalent to least prevalent for easy ranking/comparing (and for elements with the same number of instances, it is alphabetical). Any new element is also in italics. There is also now a total next to how many instances have occurred since the last update (back when the feature started), so you can compared how many times something has occurred in total and just these last 3 chapters. I hope everyone finds this as interesting as I have.

Story Elements Breakdown:

Verbal Abuse/Name Calling {Any instance where the heroine is called stupid, ugly, bitch, etc. by her potential love interest}

– 16 instances; 6 manga // Total-to-Date: 18 instances in 6/7 manga
– Found in: Black Bird [chap.3], Suki Shite Sadist [chap.2, chap.3, chap.4], Hot Gimmick [chap.3 (x2), chap.4], Hadashi de Bara wo Fume [chap.3 (x2), chap.4], The Beautiful Skies of Houou High [chap.2], & The Devil Within [chap.2 (x2), chap.3, chap.4 (x2)]

Heroine must be Saved {Heroine is rescued from whatever distressed situation she is in by a man}

– 5 instances; 3 manga // Total-to-Date: 11 instances in 5/7 manga
– Found in: Black Bird [chap.2, chap.3, chap.4], Hadashi de Bara wo Fume [chap.3], & The Devil Within [chap.2] (more…)

Major spoilers for the manga Basara by Yumi Tamura ahead. Also like the title suggests, I will be discussing rape in the manga pretty extensively.

I was avoiding talking about Basara on Shoujo Spotlight since I feel like all I do is rave about this manga, but considering how many anime and manga I’ve come across with questionable rape themes or scenarios, well, I just could not leave this topic alone much longer. I’ve already written about how the framing of rape has been problematic before, but I’ve never really written about good use of rape in a story. And since Basara is currently the only shoujo I have read that I feel does the topic justice, it was unavoidable that I must once again sing the praises of this manga. Strikingly, Basara actually has three rape victims that play pretty integral roles in its plot while not being centre focus, and what’s more, one is male and two are female. However, I think the biggest indicator of why Basara doesn’t trivialize rape is because it doesn’t use it like other shoujo manga do.


Gender plays a key role in Basara, but rape is never played as a means to enforce Sarasa’s vulnerability as a woman.

As I pointed out in my impression of Fushig Yugi 10, rape plays an almost dramatic role in the series. It is there to raise the tension: Miaka can only summon Suzaku if she is a virgin, so her enemies try to prevent her from doing that by attempting to rape her, twice. Furthermore, it adds another moment of drama for our heroine since it causes her to feel unworthy of being with her true love when she believes she really has been raped. Likewise in Black Bird, rape is also being used for tension: Misao, our heroine, has to constantly watch her back because demons want to either rape or kill her. It’s also being used to paint the sole demon not willing to do that to Misao as romantic and to use that constant threat of rape as a mean to bring them together. Even Boys Over Flowers, as much as I like it, plays into this when Tsukasa sends some guys to rape (well ok just scare her by threatening to do so) Tsukushi in the very first volume. So yes, rape as tension/drama is a pretty regular occurrence in shoujo manga. However, I think this is a pretty basic and tasteless way to include such a touchy subject in a story. Most women are more than aware that rape is this ever present threat. We’ve been brought up in a culture that makes it pretty clear to us, so I feel like these instances don’t really add anything and just reinforce the “rape = bad” idea. Yes rape is awful, but so what? If that’s all you want to express, I feel it’s pretty pointless and in fact tasteless, because it uses a common problem for women to add some oomph to the story. Rape shouldn’t just be some vehicle to spice up your story precisely because it is such a problem. It shows a lack of empathy if all you think rape is worth is some drama. (more…)

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). (more…)

I recently found this link on MAL (from an anti-moe club) to an article about moe (I recommend reading it, it is quite insightful) and the article inspired me to finally write the post I’ve been meaning to write. Now I know that “moe” isn’t suppose to be a particular character trope or a specific something. It’s a feeling. I get it. I really do. And for the longest time, I had trouble making a case that the roots of moe come from a very specific type of moe. Thankfully, the article is written by someone who has the knowledge I was lacking and they laid out the claim I was desperately trying to make, but had no real historical proof to back it up. So here it is, what I always suspected but didn’t have any idea where I could research such a suspicion to back it up:

Today, while hardcore lolicon (and its young-boy equivalent, shota) still exists, the biggest descendant of lolicon has a new name, moe (“mo-eh”) . . . The word moe actually comes from a kanji meaning “to sprout.” “My vegetable love should grow,” to misuse a quote from Andrew Marvell—a slow budding affection, like a tender young plant. Or like an underage girl, unfortunately. The moe which makes me periodically ashamed to read manga in public, and which has caused a raging debate in the Otaku USA letter column, is a particular kind of moe which has its roots in the Japanese love of cuteness, domesticity and—one element among many—the lingering lolicon trend. It’s the moe of stories like Azumanga Daioh and Strawberry Marshmallow and Tori Koro and Yotsuba&!, in which adorable girls do adorable things.


I mentioned this in the comments of the very first ever Substandard Shoujo Spectacle, but I’ve been thinking about writing companion posts for the feature that look into other aspects of the manga that I’ve got running in the feature. I thought it would be interesting to see where these manga run in terms of magazine anthologies. I had suspected, perhaps more so hoped, that they were confined to very specific anthologies. That perhaps the themes running through these manga were a fad of some niche in the market. Alas, this little research attempt broke all my illusions. Unfortunately, except for two manga, all the rest have run in different anthologies. Some are quite surprising actually. So here are the anthologies in question:

Betsucomi (more…)

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