I’ve been working on this post forever! I figured it’s time to finally give up on the editing I keep saying I’m going to do and just put it up already.
When I gave up on my haircutting phase, I grew up from an obnoxious kid into a silly teenage girl. And like most other silly (nerdy) teenage girls I wanted to wake up one morning transformed into an extremely beautiful magical girl so I could go into the world and fight evil–preferably with a super handsome magical protector by my side. We would of course fall desperately in love as I lay in his arms wounded after a fight and his love would give me the will to continue living in spite of the dire circumstances. After I magically recovered my strength, I would go on to slay the “boss monster” or complete my final quest. Then my magical, super handsome protector and I would live happily ever after.
Right. So clearly this never happened. Eventually, I evolved from a silly teenage girl into a cynical college student who would rather have someone pay for her textbooks and random online purchases than be her magical protector. I have no magical powers save the ability to waste ridiculous amounts of time. Point being, there is no such thing as a magical girl and if there is, the 11:11, birthday, and eyelash fairies owe me big time.
I’m happy to admit that I am not super into shoujo anymore, at least not in terms of what I am watching and plan to watch in the future. However, that doesn’t mean that I don’t still appreciate the genre for what it is. It also holds a special nostalgia value for me as that was primarily what started out my anime-watching career. Not to mention, I am still a fairly romantic person and up until probably a year ago still had the occasional musings of being swept up my feet by a mysterious, handsome stranger who claimed to be my soul mate. (I’m still waiting for Iskandar!) I mean let’s be honest though, what single girl doesn’t secretly dream or at least think about this happening? This is the reason that awful books like Fifty Shades of Grey and Twilight gain so much popularity. Most girls want to believe that there is some magical fantasy land waiting for them where they never have to do homework or share a room with their siblings and they get to fall in love with some gorgeous, romantic guy. And I mean when you’re an awkward pimply-faced teenager or a bored housewife that sounds pretty freaking awesome.
(I will be talking about predominantly fantasy-esque shows with magical girls in them because that is the type of shoujo I tend to watch and I think I can make my points just fine with using only those.)
I doubt that I am the first person to make these points so I’ll try and keep it to things I think are strictly relevant. People love to criticize the genre as being stupid and unrealistic, but seem to forget that so many other non-shoujo shows can just as easily fall under these classifications. It isn’t about the genre–it’s entirely dependent on the show. Shoujo of course has its moments (many of them) of stupidity and a fair share of vapid heroines, but so does anime in general. You will find the same types of girls, often worse, in harem shows. Of course, this is another genre that gets a lot of flack, yet it seems to be much more popular. Yet for whatever reason, the anime community seems to be much more forgiving of other genres. They will pinpoint specific shows that suck or a specific theme, but they won’t for the most part throw an entire type of anime under the metaphorical bus.
I am not a feminist, much to the chagrin of many of my friends at school, but I do have to give some legitimate props to shoujo heroines. True they are not generally intellectual or clever, but they have some serious courage and empathy–many things that other anime characters lack. I will give you that this courage often stems from being impulsive – I mean Aya (Ayashi no Ceres) runs after a mugger and ends up falling off a bridge and Himeno (Pretear) runs off with some of the younger Leafe Knights to destroy more demons and finds herself in over her head. However, regardless of the rationality behind these actions, both are done because the heroines believe that what they are doing is right. And who are we to argue? In their own silly ways, these girls promote valiant actions. What I don’t understand is why we as a society don’t see this as a form of strength. Being strong doesn’t necessarily mean slaying a villain or saving the world (although many of these girls eventually do). Sometimes doing the right thing or being kind and caring is enough.
According to modern society, when we define a strong female protagonist, we think of one who is entirely independent and doesn’t need or want the assistance of a man. Ok fine. That’s one side of the argument. On the other hand, these girls are fighting to save the universe or something along those lines. There is nothing weak about getting help. If I was supposed to destroy demon spawn and save the world from the the Princess of Darkness I’d sure as hell want someone to watch my back. And yes I’d prefer it to be an attractive guy (look at me making myself cannon fodder). I believe that a romantic relationship provides a form of emotional support that is extremely helpful in dealing with terrible situations. Why does it make a girl weak to be in love with someone? Why can’t Himeno, Usagi (Serena–Sailor Moon), Aya, et al be courageous and strong girls even with the support of a man who loves them? The two things are not mutually exclusive yet for whatever reason people treat them like they are. You can be intelligent, valiant, strong, and in love at the same time. If it were the other way around and there was a male protagonist who relied upon his loving girlfriend for emotional support, we wouldn’t bat an eyelash. Not to say that there’s anything wrong with being an independent woman who doesn’t want to have any male support, but at the same time there is nothing wrong with the alternative either. Let’s also keep in mind, at the end of the day who ends up saving the world. It isn’t the handsome protector, it is the heroine and she does it by herself because she is the only one with the power to do so. Her protector is there to help her, but she must be the one to save the world or destroy the villain.
According to some perspectives, my above point is completely misguided. Critics have an issue with these shows because they believe that shoujo heroines need to be saved and need to have the emotional support. I completely disagree with this argument. There are several instances where the female gets annoyed about constantly having the guy floating around and getting in her way. Yes she falls in love with him, but at the same time she can go about just fine without him for the most part. Obviously it depends on the shoujo. Let’s take Himeno from Pretear for example: she practices karate and could pretty much kick Hayate’s ass if she wanted to and does on occasion. Eventually she falls in love with him, but for the first half of the show she freaks out and gets pissed off at him whenever he shows up uninvited. Or how about Haruhi from Ouran High School Host Club. She’s dressed like a freaking guy for the majority of the show and while every single other member of the club makes passes at her, she effectively ignores them up until the dead end of the show. I think what these critics are talking about is the stereotype of shoujo (not to say that some shoujo isn’t like that), but when you actually take a closer look at it there are many shoujo anime that do not subscribe to this format. Also, to all you detractors out there, hate if you’d like, but I’d like to see you pass up on some additional protection if someone told you that you would have to spend your time fighting against demon spawn and the like.
People also like to comment that shoujo romance is unrealistic. False. Please tell me that you haven’t seen those ridiculous couples on Facebook who seem to spend every waking moment posting hearts and love notes to each other’s walls. Romance like that exists in real life. Maybe publicizing it is a bit too much and I know that such intense displays of affection are not for everyone. I willingly acknowledge that the romance tends to be a bit much for my personal taste, but hell I’m not watching a show about magical girls for the reality factor. Also just because a relationship like that would be a bit much for me in real life doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy watching it regardless of the cheesiness. Romance is such a subjective topic that condemning the way it occurs in shoujo is unfair and closed-minded.
Yes I understand that guys tend to dislike this genre as a general rule. That’s fine. Shoujo is not made with a male audience in mind. Therefore, I don’t know why guys watch it and then complain about how much they hate it. That’s like me watching something like JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure and complaining about how I don’t like it because it’s a bunch of stupid men running around and killing things. A show like that was not geared toward a female audience. Josh talks a lot about judging a show on its own terms, and I think this applies perfectly to the point I’m making. If you watch shoujo with the intent of watching an intellectual or “actiony” show you are going to be disappointed! The whole point of shoujo is to be a romantic story with a female protagonist, magical or otherwise, who acts like a pretty normal teenage girl. If you don’t like this kind of stuff then it makes no sense for you to watch it for the sheer sake of complaining about it. For example, I don’t really like slice-of-life drama and therefore I rarely watch it. It’s a simple as that. However, I don’t judge those shows or the people who enjoy them. I might dislike them, but other people don’t. That’s the way it’s going to be with any genre. Period. Hating on shoujo isn’t going to change what the genre is or isn’t, so you can either accept it and appreciate it for what it is, or not. It’s up to you.
Flawfinder talks about what makes “bad anime” popular.