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For The Ladies

By Janet Houck     October 18, 2006

Happy Mania Volume 9
Today, we'll take a look at a genre of manga and anime that has rapidly grown in Japan and the US during the past few years.

Josei manga, literally "woman" manga, targets the older teenage and adult female audience. Often created by women for women, josei ranges from slice of life story about adult women and older teenage schoolgirls to romantic homosexual male relationships (this subgenre tends to be more sexually explicit and have more mature plots than mere yaoi action). In terms of art style, josei drops the big eyes and soft features of shoujo for a more restrictive realistic style. Stories usually center around the everyday life of a woman in Japan, or occasionally, a girl in high school. Although romance plays a large role in stories, it is portrayed realistically, as opposed to the idealized romance found in much shoujo manga and anime. People fall in love, have problems, split up, and get back together, riding the rails of a real-life romance, as opposed to people being destined for each other (see SAILOR MOON), or having an unrequited love. We'll take a look at a few examples of josei in anime and manga.

One of the first Mature titles from TOKYOPOP, HAPPY MANIA is written by Moyoco Anno, the wife of Hideaki Anno of NEON GENESIS EVANGELION fame. Eleven volumes long, it centers around twenty-four year old Kayoko Shigeta, who works at a bookstore. She laments the state of her love life, which is mostly due to her own self-esteem problems and picking the wrong type of men, as well as being hung up on finding her 'true love,' when she has a guy who loves her right there in front of her... except he just wants sex without commitment. Sure enough, HAPPY MANIA runs like a manic soap opera, with highs and lows in each volume, and plot twists galore. It's a guilty pleasure for older otaku.

TRAMPS LIKE US, another title from TOKYOPOP (rated for Older Teen/16+) gives us a woman who takes control of her life in a rather dramatic fashion. Coming in at fourteen volumes strong, it opens with Sumire Iwaya, a newspaper journalist, depressed to live in a society that oppresses successful women. She discovers that her fiancé was cheating on her... and he leaves her for his pregnant mistress. She gets sexually harassed by her boss and demoted at work. Going home, she finds an injured homeless young man outside her apartment. Trying to scare the boy off, she tells him that she wants to keep him as a pet, and names him Momo after her childhood pet dog. To Sumire's surprise, Momo agrees and they make a bargain: she will provide him room and board, and he will give her unconditional love and loyalty, like a real pet. There is no sex in their relationship, but there is definitely something there.

Of course, life isn't that simple. Sumire reunites with the man she was infatuated with during university, Hasumi Shigehito, and he matches all of her criteria for a sexual relationship: he makes more money, he has more education, and he's taller than her. But she can't let go of her pet Momo, nor can she enter into a relationship with Hasumi without regrets.

TRAMPS LIKE US was adapted into a live-action TV show that aired in Japan in 2003, and also won the 2003 Kodansha Manga Award for shoujo (there is no category for josei).

TOKYOPOP's first title in their Authentic line (right-to-left manga, in a size smaller than English comic trade paperbacks) was PARADISE KISS (rated for Older Teen/16+), Ai Yazawa's quasi-sequel to her previous series GOKINJO MONOGATARI, and characters from both series play minor roles in the other series. Our central character, however, is Yukari Hayasaka, your typical high school senior obsessed with passing the exam to enter a good school, or rather, Yukari's mother is obsessed by her studies, and Yukari merely seeks her mother's approval. One day, Yukari runs across a punk with multiple piercings who tells her that she has "the perfect look". Scared, Yukari tries to run away, but runs into Arashi's friend, the transsexual Isabelle. Yukari faints, and awakens in the Paradise Kiss atelier, where the two design students, along with Arashi's loli-punk girlfriend Miwako, explain that they want her to be the model for their clothing line at the school's annual fashion show. Yukari refuses. Enter our eccentric, yet stylish love interest, the designer genius George. Yukari is soon caught up in the world of fashion and modeling by the determination of the Paradise Kiss group to take first prize, the sheer charisma and allure of George, and her own quest to figure out who and what Yukari wants to be.

I don't have to say that this five-volume series is very, very popular. It appeals to teenage girls and women alike, with a unique trendy art style straight from the streets of Harajuku and a hyper-dramatic storyline.

If you're looking for josei in the US, look no further than Ai Yazawa. NANA is still a work in progress in Japan, but is available in SHOJO BEAT monthly and in volumes through VIZ Media (rated T+ for Older Teens). In 2005, PARADISE KISS was adapted into a twelve episode anime series, which summarizes the main plot of the manga. The anime has been licensed in the US by Geneon, set to debut on DVD in December 2006.

And now to perhaps my favorite anime/manga series -- HONEY AND CLOVER. The first season lasts twenty-six episodes (24 televised episodes and 2 special DVD-only episodes, Chapter L and Chapter F), and the second season has twelve episodes, concluding the anime series into something close to the ending of the manga series.

The manga, by Chika Umino, won the Kodansha Manga Award for shoujo in 2003 (yes, same year as TRAMPS LIKE US), and just recently finished its manga anthology run in July. The anime finished its run in September.

Unlike the focus on adult romance shown in all of the examples up to now, HONEY AND CLOVER centers around a group of friends in art college together and how they grow up and away from each other, with Takemoto Yuuta playing the role of narrator (yes, that's a boy). Love is present; there's a love triangle/rectangle between ordinary guy Takemoto, eccentric genius Morita, and the loli art savant Hagumi, with her guardian/second cousin Shuuji Hanamoto, an art teacher who acts as a mentor to the gang, on the sidelines. Another romantic triangle exists between architecture student Mayama, who wants Rika, an older woman with a tragic past, and pottery student Ayumi, who wants Mayama. However, these affairs of the heart only take up as much time as they do in real life; meaning that while they are at the center of the character's lives, they are not their lives. Mainly HONEY AND CLOVER is about friends growing up together while learning about themselves, then finding themselves drifting apart once they finish school and become real adults.

Twenty-somethings like myself will love this series, which has yet to be picked up for distribution in the US. (TOKYOPOP, I'm talking to you. I know you have the Shueisha connection.) Sadly, the numerous insert songs in the anime has probably sealed its fate, making the licensing cost prohibitive on a title that won't have the popularity of a POKEMON or DRAGONBALL Z.

Finally, we have a series that breaks the mold of romance! GOKUSEN is the story of Kumiko Yamaguchi, granddaughter and heir to a yakuza family. However, what Kumiko really wants to be is a teacher. Some of the family disapproves, while others, like her grandfather, approve of her choice. Thus Kumiko comes to work at an all-boys private high school, in a classroom full of delinquents, whom she tries to teach not only about mathematics, but also life outside of the classroom. Kumiko has to keep her yakuza heritage a secret, but she uses her unique experience to reach out and touch her students, often to comedic effect. The thirteen-volume manga series has not been picked up in the US, while the anime series, THE GOKUSEN has been released by Media Blasters in the US, now re-released in an economy DVD release.

I hope that this brief look at the josei genre of manga and anime has been informative, as well as giving you a few titles to try out for yourself at home, or at least buy for your otaku girlfriend, or your girlfriend willing to try to become as otaku as you. Later kiddos!


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