Strong Females vs. Dominant Males in Shoujo Anime

Anime like many media products is created to entertain specific audiences. Shoujo in Japanese translates to “girl,” meaning Shoujo anime is anime for girls. This genre of anime has no limitations in plot or setting as they can range from historical dramas to science fiction, but they must capture the attention of their targeted audience of young females. Having a genre that is targeted to females seems like a great idea, as many of these animes have lead female characters that display confident, strong, and independent personalities. From the Journal of Popular Culture, Fusami Ogi stated that this genre is great as it is content for women written by women. It was Shoujo anime that really changed the way society viewed Japanese women. Women were no longer just wives and stay at home mothers, but working with careers just like men.

When watching animes like, Yamato Nadeshiko Shichi Henge or Wolf Girl Black Prince, the female characters can really be made out as role models for their targeted audiences. Yet, the fault in the Shoujo anime is with their male leads. In almost every Shoujo anime that you will watch, the male leads always have an upper hand over the female leads. Whether it be physical strength or mental manipulation, the male characters always have dominance. What this look like in Shoujo anime and what this means for their young female viewers will be covered throughout this blog.

Yamato Nadeshiko Shichi Henge

In my first source, I chose to look at the 2006 anime, Yamato Nadeshiko Shichi Henge, or translated in english to The Wallflower. This anime is about a girl named Sunako, who after being called ugly by the boy she liked, rejects all forms of beauty. Her aunt is determined to transform her into a lady, so she makes the four men who rent her house train Sunako to become a proper lady in order for them to receive free rent. Sunako is not your typical female lead, which makes her even more entertaining. She likes horror films and her best friend is a human anatomy doll. Sunako enjoys being alone and is able to manage herself. Going back to the plot of her aunt wanting to transform her into a “lady,” it sets up this expectation that Sunako would need to become the stereotype of a girl who likes pink, wears makeup, and wants a mans attention, but Sunako being a good friend and overall person makes her a better lady then the other female characters that follow the stereotype. This creates a strong message to the female viewers about what it means to be a lady.

For Yamato Nadeshiko Shichi Henge, the main male lead is Kyohei. Kyohei’s personality is very bitter and negative. He is often described as “God’s gift” for being so beautiful, which is Sunako’s worst nightmare. Whenever she sees his face, she gets a nosebleed because he is too “dazzling.” Sunako, being very dark, makes it her mission to kill him, jokingly of course. Kyohei is the only character in the show who really gets Sunako and often uses her weaknesses against her. He repeatedly saves her from conflicts, like when other characters try to harm her. This follows my observation that although Sunako is this strong and independent character, she can’t beat her opposing male lead, Kyohei.

Wolf Girl Black Prince

My second source, is quite the opposite of the prior as it follows the typical female genre expectation. In the 2014 anime, Wolf Girl Black Prince, Erika Shinohara is the only one of her friends who does not have boyfriend. One day she takes a picture of a random boy and says that is her boyfriend. That boy, Kyoya Sata, ends up being a popular guy at her school. Erika asks Kyoya to pretend to be her boyfriend and makes her life a nightmare by making her into his personal slave or dog, being the meaning behind the title. Erika follows the common female character expectation, as she desires a boyfriend, wants to fit in, and make a man happy. However she does display points of difference as she knows what she wants in a relationship and ultimately ends the torment because she knows that she deserves better. For the audiences, Erika can be character that many young girls can relate to with the pressures of being a high school girl trying to fit in, so showing her actions and how she learns to put herself first is very good of the young girls watching.

The male lead, Kyoya, is just as the title says, a black prince. Kyoya is initially very cruel to Erika, not only by blackmailing her into being his slave, but he plays with her emotions. In episode 5, Kyoya does an entire monologue of how he loves her, only to laugh in her face and say that it was joke. Throughout the entire anime, even after they start dating, Kyoya’s choices and lack of explanation of his actions constantly leaves Erika hurt. He is her love interest and her enemy. This anime also follows the expectation of the Shoujo genre having male leads that dominate over the female leads.

Hana Yori Dango

My last source is different as I’ve chosen to use the live action adaption instead of the anime. The reasoning for this choice being that the live action gained much more media attention globally. My third source is the 2005 drama, Hana Yori Dango or Boys Before Flowers. This drama was the first Shoujo genre product that I watched. The drama really stood out to me and made me admire the Shoujo genre because of the complex plot. The story is about Tsukushi Makino, she is from the working class and ends up attending a school for the rich. At the school she encounters a group of boys known as F4, all wealthy heirs to big Japanese companies. The leader, Tsukasa Domyouji, makes her life hell before falling in love with her. This story structure is very common in Shoujo products, with the poor girl and the rich boy. The difference that this drama had to others is that Tsukushi, which translates to, “tough weed,” is exactly that. Being that her family isn’t wealthy, Tsukushi works multiple part time jobs to help support her family. She also is aiming to attend university after high school and works very hard on her academics. Notably Tsukushi doesn’t take crap from any of the rich characters. Her conflict started with F4 because the were bullying her friend and she stood up against them. The reason Tsukasa finds her so appealing is because of her strong personality. Even he acknowledges that she isn’t like other female characters that just want him for his money. Tsukushi is a great character for the Shoujo audiences because of how tough and selfless her character is. She puts others before herself and doesn’t let negatives keep her down.

In contrast to Tsukushi’s tough personality, male lead, Tsukasa has to beat her. Tsukasa has a similar personality to Tsukushi with the main difference being his class and anger problems. Due to his class standing, Tsukasa often feels very entitled and tortures those who are lesser than him. He initially bullies and abuses Tsukushi, from putting snakes in her locker to paying guys to attempt to rape her. Tsukasa does everything to crush Tsukushi’s positive and strong personality and would have succeeded had he not fallen in love with her. Tsukasa is an example of a crazy level of a male lead possessing more power over the female lead.

What It Means For Viewers

Following the breakdown of the sources, the focus returns to what this portrayal of female and male anime characters means to audiences. A study was conducted to observe the effects the Shoujo genre has a young adults in the U.S (Ramasubramanian 2012). The study hypothesized that viewers creation of wishful identification (WI), or the act of identifying and making ties with a character, would then lead to parasocial interactions (PSI), a relationship that makes an audiences feel as if the characters are their friends. The result of WI and PSI is that the viewer would exhibit personality traits just as the character that they identified with. The study found that female viewers experienced the most WI and PSI with Shoujo characters that portray a prosocial personality (Ramasubramanian 2012). Having viewers identify with the Shoujo female leads is beneficial as these characters are great role models.

Conclusion

Thinking about why Shoujo animes follows the pattern of having male leads that possess more power over their already powerful female leads brings up the question as to what it says about reality. It is no secret that males have been portrayed as more dominant, whether it be in media, careers, or sports. Shoujo would not have been such a big deal when it was created if people weren’t aware of how much media isn’t female dominant. Going back to Ogi’s point of Shoujo being content for women by women, why is it that these women writers are continuing to make men greater in their content?

I believe that Shoujo wants to portray worlds that are relatable and true. We do live in a world that men are more powerful, but we also live in a world where women aren’t weak. These strong female characters are examples of what women are capable of. These female characters are confident, independent, and selfless. As bad and cruel as the male leads are to them, they never let it break them. They stay true to themselves, and that is the greatest lesson that the young girls watching can take away the next time they watch a Shoujo anime.

Learning Moments

From this course, I’ve gained a better idea of what popular culture is and how it affects their viewers. Media is a great thing, we can receive news and entertainment, but we also can receive false information and false expectations and stereotypes. One of the readings we did earlier in the course, “The Urgency of Visual Media Literacy in Our Post-9/11 world: Reading Images of Muslim Women in the Print News Media,” has stuck with me as it discussed the false use of images on news stories. Being the age of social media, I often fall for fake thumbnails. From the readings and discussions we had throughout the course, the greatest lesson I learned is that we must be the ones to filter what media we intake, whether it be finding reliable news sources or understanding the reality of a character than believing how media portrays them.  

References

Watanabe, Shinichi, director. Yamato Nadeshiko Shichi Henge. Studio Nippon Animation / TV Tokyo, 2006.

Kasai, Kenichi, director. Wolf Girl and Black Prince. Studio TYO Animators / Tokyo MX, 2014.

Setogushi, Katsukaki. Hana Yori Dango. Tokyo Broadcasting System, 2005.

Ogi, Fusami. “Female Subjectivity and Shoujo (Girls) Manga (Japanese Comics): Shoujo in Ladies’ Comics and Young Ladies’ Comics.” Journal of Popular Culture, vol. 36, no. 4, 2003, pp. 780–803.

Choo, Kukhee. “Girls Return Home: Portrayal of Femininity in Popular Japanese Girls’ Manga and Anime Texts during the 1990s in Hana Yori Dango and Fruits Basket.” Women: A Cultural Review, vol. 19, no. 3, 2008, pp. 275–296.

Ramasubramanian, Srividya, and Sarah Kornfield. “Japanese Anime Heroines as Role Models for U.S. Youth: Wishful Identification, Parasocial Interaction, and Intercultural Entertainment Effects.” Journal of International and Intercultural Communication, vol. 5, no. 3, 2012, pp. 189–207.

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4 thoughts on “Strong Females vs. Dominant Males in Shoujo Anime

  1. Hi Aimee,

    This was such a fascinating read! I am actually very surprised no one has commented on this earlier. This was really, really good!

    You’re clear and concise description of Shoujo anime helped me understand it right away. It was so interesting reading how empowering Shoujo anime is for female audiences and female artists, as well as the less empowering inclusions of dominating male characters. I think it makes for an interesting topic, as well as a psychological debate on what is relatable to female audiences.

    Also this post was very enjoyable to read. Both the language and the structure are incredibly polished.

    When reading your post, I noticed that most of the protagonists in your artifacts were school-aged women. Do you think that age range for those characters impacts how vulnerable they are portrayed, or does the trend extend to all female characters? It may be written in the context that children in Japan do not have the same autonomy that older students have and thus the presence of dominating male characters. Perhaps dominating female antagonists are less present in Shoujo anime because the popular series have the women as protagonists, not antagonists. I do not know nearly enough about Shoujo anime to know whether this is the case. But you got me thinking questions which is great!

    Again, thank you for this post! I thoroughly enjoyed it!

  2. Aimee,
    I’m into anime and I find your blog on the Shojo genre to be very enjoyable to read through! Funnily enough, when I first learned about the word Shojo (when I was a kid), I thought to myself that something might have been wrong with me for like something aimed inherently towards “young girls” but I soon got over that point because obviously, a taste in something should not underhandedly define who you are as a person. And also I just really love watching Cardcaptor Sakura!
    I believe one of the reasons why Shojo anime and manga have these patterns of strong-willed girls might be because these Shojo protagonists who hold those traits are meant to be emphatic, so that you can relate to the protagonist in a way that you can also see yourself in him/her. That’s why some authors can develop the story to fit the audiences desired reaction when a seemingly-sparkling dominant man comes into play, to develop it to nurture the blending of “two different beings” or to “fulfill the audience’s desires”.

  3. Hey Aimee, I thought you brought up interesting points. After doing some brief research, I feel that Shoujo anime plays into the stereotypical portrayal of what it means to be a young woman and they fall into the media’s trap. However, I do agree with you that staying true to oneself is the main message (since Shoujo is marketed towards women). And perhaps that (according to Shoujo) if that means being feminine then so be it. Thanks for sharing!

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