CHAPTER 5: UNSEASONABLE ACTS OF REASON (OR, “A LONGING INVOCATION OF THE CASTAWAY”) — A HARACHI FANFICTION

Summary:

“I wouldn’t call it nothing.”

“Look, nothing I can just… say!” he snaps, but then he sighs again. “I’m sorry, Hijikata-san. It’s been a long few days.”

“For Yukimura’s sake, we’re all going to pretend we have no idea what’s going on. We’re going to let you handle this at home where it belongs.” His voice is stern.

“Yes, Hijikata-san.”

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)




“So, wait, you’re tellin’ me that Chizuru’s actually knocked up?” Shinpachi holds Sanosuke’s eyes, his own brows raised. “Wow, Sano, you sure work fast!”

Sanosuke scowls. “Not so loud! I said, she might be pregnant. Might be. As in, don’t go running your mouth until we know something for sure.” He turns away, glancing over the veranda and past the compound gates.

“I’m just sayin’,” Shinpachi continues, rubbing the back of his head and stepping up to stand beside him, “you seem awfully nervous. Isn’t this a good thing? I mean, if you’re one for all that settling down sort of stuff, anyway. Quick work of starting a family.”

Sanosuke doesn’t respond, but Shinpachi’s not a fool, so he lets the silence linger. Eventually, his friend looks at him again.

“I just can’t believe it’s happening to me.”

“With how popular you are among the geisha,” Shinpachi says, waving a hand, “I can’t believe it hasn’t happened ten times over–iiiipe!”

Sanosuke shakes out his fist and sighs as Shinpachi cradles his skull. “You know,” he bemoans, “you’re gonna give me brain damage on of these days.”

“It’s a little too late for that,” Sanosuke mutters. “And you know what I mean! With the way things are, and we’re leaving for Kyoto t—”

He’s interrupted by a loud crash from the direction of the kitchen. Both men cringe hearing Hijikata’s roar (“Souji!!!!”) echo down the corridor, followed by Souji’s hysterical laughter.

“Damn,” says a voice coming from their left. He, too, stares toward the commotion. “What’s going on over there? Gen-san’s gonna be here any minute.”

“Worried about a lecture, Heisuke?” Shinpachi asks him with a nudge of the smaller man’s shoulder. Heisuke rocks back, swayed by his friend’s girth. He stumbles into Harada, who pushes him fully upright. 

“Hey, watch it, Shinpachi!” Heisuke fumes, “You know how Gen-san can be when he hears those two arguing.” He shudders. “Scary.”

Shinpachi just ruffles Heisuke’s hair with a smile. “Don’t get your ponytail in a bunch, kid. Common, there’s food waiting.” He slings an arm around Heisuke’s neck and pulls him down the hall from whence the yelling originated, Sanosuke sighing and trailing along behind as they bicker back and forth.


The dining room is a stilted affair. Genzaburo lasted all of about five minutes before soundly chastising both Toshizo and Souji, the latter of whom wore his own disgruntlement at being taken to task like a child plain across his face. Souji hums to himself as he eats his rice, amused by the whole situation, as Hajime–sitting to his left–is eyeing the tofu on his tray without expression. The whole group is oddly quiet for once when Kondou clears his throat.

“I’m reluctant to talk of these matters over dinner,” he begins, “but they are pressing if we are to move forward. We leave for Kyoto in two days’ time.”

“Time to kick some Choshu ass,” Souji smirks. Hijikata grunts. 

“The men will assemble pre-dawn; have your units ready with their supplies and ensure they’ve packed proper provisions. Finish your business.” He makes eye contact with each captain before continuing. “This is a big opportunity to prove our valor to the Shogunate. We will show them what the Shinsengumi can do.”

“What of medical provisions?” Hajime’s no-nonsense tone requests prompt clarification.

“We’ve spoken with Dr. Masumoto; he knows we may require his aid upon return. Each unit is to carry the necessary emergency supplies with their rations, as is regulation,” Hijikata commands.

“Yukimura-kun has agreed to accompany us and provide stop-gap medical support,” Kondou adds.

Sanosuke drops his chopsticks on their way to his mouth and Kondou has the grace to look abashed. As Sano coughs, Kondou answers the question in everyone’s eyes.

“She stopped by early this morning to collect some mending, and the subject arose. I saw no harm in allowing it so long as she remains well behind the front. I had assumed she’d discussed it with you.”

Sanosuke wheezes around a bite of tofu. “God-damn–.”

“Sanosuke!”

“Harada-kun!” 

“Sano-san!”

Sanosuke’s coughing as Genzaburo, having come up behind him, rubs his back fitfully. He continues to weeze until the elder’s firm slap dislodges the obstruction.

“Like hell!” Harada insists. He inhales deeply, leaning forward, and when his eyes meet the commander’s, their burning. “Chizuru will not be coming to Kyoto with us. You don’t make plans like that about a man’s wife without his permission, Kondou-san!” He punches the ground.

“I thought she’d discussed it with you, Harada-kun!” Kondou seems truly dismayed, and his hands hover in Harada’s direction. The rest of the captains are looking on, expressions varying in levels of dismay themselves. “It seemed as though it had been well talked-though…”

“God damn it,” he mutters. He rubs his eyes. “No, Kondou-san. It wasn’t. And Chizuru will not be joining us.” He sighs. “I can’t believe it…”

“Sano-san…” Heisuke’s eyes have rarely been so wide, but Shinpachi’s are full of understanding as he clasps Sanosuke on the shoulder. 

Hijikata motions to Hajime, and the latter rises. “I will make tea,” he says in the sudden stillness that has enveloped the table. As he takes his leave, Hijikata continues. “Something you want to share with us, Harada? Unexpected, to be sure, but Yukimura has done this much for us in the past, and your objections were far less vocal after the Ikedaya.” His eyes narrow.

Sanosuke shakes his head. “No,” he says, still rubbing his temples. “Nothing.”

“I wouldn’t call it nothing.”

“Look, nothing I can just… say!” he snaps, but then he sighs again. “I’m sorry, Hijikata-san. It’s been a long few days.”

“For Yukimura’s sake, we’re all going to pretend we have no idea what’s going on. We’re going to let you handle this at home where it belongs.” His voice is stern.

“Yes, Hijikata-san.”


“What is going on?” Heisuke mutters to Shinpachi beside him. Shinpachi shakes his head.




Notes:

I’m sorry I keep having drama at meals I’m sorry I keep having drama at meals I’m sorry I keep having drama at meals…

Is it better to not write until you’re in the head-space to write poetically, or is it better to actually produce some content? I chose the latter!! Anyway, your kind kudos and reviews are reaching me, and I thank you for each and every one. I have the beginning of the story actually plotted out, which isn’t something I normally do, but I’m excited about it. I think it will help me be productive. Timelines are hard!

I hope you enjoy this chapter. 🙂

Next time: What does it look like when Harada and Chizuru clash?? Find out!!

“My favorite things,” –Shipper Edition

Shipping just girls with boys? Who are you kidding?

Boys who love boys are a thing (We stan ZhanYing!)

But HaraChi under sakura in spring:

it is still one of my favorite things.


Cannon romances with chemistry stronger,

or love straight created by fan-fiction authors:

all kinds of pairings are supported here

But still no SebCiel; he’s just a teen!


AMVs featuring good looking protagonists

wrapped in the arms of certified badasses

holding in feelings of love because ANGST

Oh how I feel the ship’s second-hand sting!


When the man dies,

when the girl cries,

when I’m feeling sad,

I simply find fix-it fics on Ao3,

and my shipping heart grows glad.

Or, you know, I find even more angsty fics because I’m a glutton for hurt/comfort.

I’m finally back, and even I don’t know what this is, guys. I could have been writing about Terror in Resonance, but hey, this is good, too, right? If you like this, check out “To Ship or Not to Ship.” Also, from one shipper to another, if you hunt out any good Hakuouki/FMAB/MDSZ/BNHA/No.6 fics, do share, won’t you? 🙂

Love, peace, geese:

Shoujo ❤

Why aren’t we talking about Mo Dao Zu Shi? (A take on 魔道祖师, or “Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation”)

People aren’t talking nearly enough about Mo Dao Zu Shi (魔道祖师, AKA “Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation”). I saw pretty art on Twitter and went hunting, only to find this GORGEOUS work that had me first reading 75 chapters of the manga before marathon watching a full season of donghua (Chinese animation) in one day. One day. Then I started on what I could find of season two.

So, what is it?

Watch me!

Just so beautiful I could cry.

Oh, and it’s boys love.

No, I’m kidding. Well, I mean, I’m not kidding, but let’s just get that out of the way right now. It’s BL. But is more than that alone.

From what I gather, it originates from a novel I’ve never read and spawned a whole bunch of additional media including audio dramas, manga, a two season donghua (both the latter aforementioned, of course), and even a live-action adaptation! The manga is admittedly a bit hard to understand when you’re first jumping in (especially because of all the “formal name/birth name” stuff), but if you hold out it begins to make more sense, and the donghua really clears things up on its end. The animation is also SO BEAUTIFUL that I am obsessed.

wei

OBSESSED.

It’s about this guy named Wei Ying who is kind of a troublemaker, but he’s got a very good heart. This kid lives in a time and place that attempts to cultivate Xain (spirituality, guys) and keep things at peace by balancing forces. To get more specific, there are these “cultivators” who strive to control spiritual power in moral ways to help people and keep them safe from demons, ghosts, spirits, and the like. Well, getting into very minor spoilers, stuff goes down, and this kid falls off the straight and narrow cultivation path for all the right reasons. GUY. BECOMES. INFAMOUS.

After several years, circumstances dictate his death, and he’s reincarnated after several more by a random guy who lost his mind due to familial abuse. (Yeah, not kidding.) That guy dies, and Ying takes over his body, not that he has a choice in the matter. Things get even more complicated when he stumbles upon people he knew in his previous life, including the epitome of straight and narrow himself, Lan Zhan.

Lan Zhan is a man from a very strict and proper cultivation clan who knew Ying from childhood. They spent some time learning together as teens and, consequently…

Well, to avoid further spoilers, I’ll just say that Lan Zhan did doth protest too much, but even he knew that after a while.

That, my readers, is just where the story BEGINS. There’s so much to unpack in this tale of love, morality, and betrayal. The show (and manga, but I’m focusing on this STUNNING show) examines ways in which things aren’t always as black and white as they seem when it comes to right and wrong. It also shows how people grow, change, and adapt to their circumstances for good or ill. So much pressure and motivation go into the choices people make, and family relationships are complicated, to say the least. Friendships fall together and apart. Do the ends justify the means?

There’s not enough self-restraint in the world that would allow me to further sing its praises without getting into heavy spoilerific content, so instead, I’ll tell you how to watch this unlicensed gem.

You CAN watch the first 13-15 episodes (season one) on YouTube thanks to Tencent, but some of those episodes may be region-locked depending on where you live. In that case (and also in order to watch season 2), I must admit… I pirated. Sort of.

I’m ALL ABOUT supporting the official release when possible; I am fortunate enough that I’m even in a financial situation that I subscribe to both HIDIVE and Funimation Now. But this is one of those shows that doesn’t (and probably will never) give a western company a license, so, in order to watch it, I had to stream it on one of the many free-to-watch pirate sites. Keeping in mind that I will ABSOLUTELY support the legal release and buy it because I love it so much, I recommend you check out one of the safer sites to watch. And then, you know, fangirl with me about it.

The show is somewhat obscure, but I can’t figure out why because it’s frankly incredible. Have you seen it? Do you love it? Let me know in the comments below! (Which I always read, guys! And I love them! My brain is just bad at letting me respond right nowwwwww <3)

~Shoujo 🌸

UPDATE: TENCENT IS UPLOADING THE CURRENT SEASON 2 CONTENT TO YOUTUBE WITH ENGLISH SUBTITLES AVAILABLE. THIS IS NOT A DRILL. GO WATCH IT LEGALLY, FOLKS!!

CHAPTER 4: UNSEASONABLE ACTS OF REASON (OR, “A LONGING INVOCATION OF THE CASTAWAY”) — A HARACHI FANFICTION

(The entire work can be found here and the complete list of my fictions here.)




 

In the beginning, they guard her ‘round the clock, and Sanosuke takes the early morning shifts. He doesn’t often see more than her shadow against the blinds. He hears her, sometimes. A small sound–the subtle splash of water in a basin or footfalls against the woodgrain of her chambers–is more reliable than the sun by which to predict time. Without fail, Saito shows up only moments after Chizuru’s first stirrings.

 

The first time she eats with the captains, Sanosuke is quick to offer up his cushion to the girl. Partly born of chivalry, to be sure, but there’s something else in his action that he doesn’t wish to ascertain. There’s no room for that dream here, he thinks, and yet… when he finally sees her smile over the hijinks of his friends, he swears to any gods listening that he’ll do ‘most anything to see it again.

 

He starts with flowers, small things found in abundance that carry meaning based on their shape and hue, not that Shinpachi appreciates this fact when he catches Harada strolling beside the gardens after patrol. Sanosuke is no novice to the fairer sex. If Shinpachi jokingly assumes that he’s looking to win a geisha’s favor for the night, well then…

 

No one needs to know just yet.

 

The flowers left on her windowsill have done the trick. When she smiles at him now, it’s with some trepidation, but at least she notices him.

 

She examines him as a child examines a stranger, peering at him from behind porch posts like a girl hiding behind the legs of her father. There’s a tentativeness there, he thinks, in the way she looks at him. Her eyes meet his regretfully, and her cheeks redden as she turns away in renew of some other task, and it bothers him.

 

That’s not to say he’s frustrated with her, or annoyed by her chargine, but rather… he’s curious. So curious, indeed, that he finds himself thinking of her far more than he should. He wonders what it means that she is young and inexperienced, and late at night–but only then–he reflects on the longing in her gaze, that subtle, hidden heat which reminds him that she’s really not a little girl at all.

 

He begins to seek her out at twilight, now that her house arrest is complete and the commanders bid her roam the compound with some impunity. She’s always by the cherry tree, gazing at the sunlight cascading warmly through its branches. At first he simply watches her, but now he will approach, and Chizuru’s cheeks take on a lovely cherry hue of their own when he calls out to her with a smile.

 

Gods, her eyes. They shine.

 

It’s the night of the incident that cements his resolve, because when she comes running right toward him and nearly collapses in his arms, Sanosuke’s heart stops. “The…they’re at… the Ikedaya!” she gasps out, and he wills his hands not to clench her delicate arms as his heart shudders for a different reason…

 

That night, when all is said and done, they kiss for the first time in their compound by an old, weathered tapestry. Neither know what the future will bring, but her lips, Sanosuke thinks, taste like hope.

“Guide me to the world where your soul drifts”—-Supervillain Ships in “Sailor Moon”

We’re on our way back from our anniversary trip to Chicago. As part of that trip, we visited the Field Museum, and at the Field Museum we saw (amongst many other things) a gemological exhibit.

I noticed this:

We’re all thinking the same thing, right? …no?

Well, I mean… maybe it’s just me? I’ll explain in a bit, anyway. They’re pretty, though, right?

My brain 🧠 immediately whiplashed into Sailor Moon Mode (TM), and things only got worse from there:

NOW we’re all thinking the same thing, right? Yeah?

Before I know it, I’m scouring the display for Sailor Moon characters, but that’s neither here nor there. I don’t know why Naoko Takeuchi chose to name her characters (both good and bad) after gems, but it was a smart move. And this whole affair got me thinking about a great villain ship that, at this point, I probably don’t need to introduce.

But how many villains do I actually ship with their fellows and with their non-villain counterparts? I’d never actually considered it before. Thus, this article is born! I had originally planned on including villain ships from multiple franchises here, but instead, I think I’ll focus on Sailor Moon and save the rest for another day. Without further fare, so begins a reflection.

We’ll start with the pairing that began it all—Zoisite and Kunzite. Let me pull a Bernie Sanders and make it very clear; I don’t care about the relationships these characters had in the manga with the inner sailor scouts. I don’t care if this was anime-only. These two are a SHIP 🛳. Like, they have sailed, and they aren’t coming back to port, guys.

Just try and deny it.

They are such a notable, casual approach to same-sex couple depiction, especially for the 90s. They go about themselves, and clearly love each other. And honestly, I don’t like their coupling for that reason specifically, but it’s worth mentioning.

I watched the dub as a kid that turned Zoisite as a woman, and finding out much later that “she” is actually a “he” was shocking at the time. (This is the same dub that turned Neptune and Uranus into cousins instead of lovers sooo no big surprises there.) And even as a kid, it was so clear how much they mattered to each other.

They’re evil, yes, but what are their motivations? What are their actions hinting at that might run deeper than their orders? Where are their hearts? I’m not spoiling anything for those of you who want to go back and take a refresher course in their romance. I mean, hey, I’m going to do so once Husband and I get home today. Because I need a good cry today, right?

I cried. I totally cried.

I mean, “Zoisite, guide me to the world where your soul drifts” ???? True love, guys.

The original Sailor Moon Anime was surprisingly good at tugging the heartstrings. We’ll touch more on that with our next half-villain couple: Molly (or “Naru”) and Nephrite.

Okay, I know Molly is like 14, so for my sanity, Nephrite is a teenager. That’s how it is. He’s a teen. I can’t find anywhere it gives him a specific age, and it makes sense that he would be, so it’s official. He is.

Molly is totally into the guys, but Again, she’s a teenage girl, and it really isn’t any surprise. (I mean, I was a teenage girl once. I get it.) What’s most interesting about this ship is Nephrite’s particular (and fairly short) redemption arc.

Until the very end, he’s well-and-truly evil while at the same time obviously acting on his feelings for Molly. Does he use her to get to Sailor Moon? Yes. Does he stop his attack on Sailor Moon to run to Molly’s aid when she’s in trouble (after having SENSED as much just from Molly’s thoughts because he’s so in tune with her)? Also yes! He himself doesn’t understand his feelings for her, and he denies them to his fellows, yet he saves her. He laughs with her. He protects her (spoiler because I HAVE TO) at the cost of his own life.

And Nephrite’s first experience with love brings this ship home to harbor in the saddest way…

It made my heart hurt.

Even though this post founds its inspiration and beginnings in Sailor Moon, my reflection can’t end there. I’m going to have to be more observant about the villains I ship. I think I’ll put out a headcannon post in the near future as well.

What really deserves a look are the general relationships in Sailor Moon that proved tragic. Because there are a lot of them. (Saphir and Demande, I’m looking at you.)

Did these ships break you like they broke me? Let me know in the comments below! And, you know, if you find any well-written, clean fanfics, lemme know about those too? :p

Love, Shoujo 🌸

Finding my stride with sci-fi josei– commentary on “Norn9: Norn + Nonette” (anime, sub)

“How they choose to exercise their power could be the greatest disaster a world might know OR its greatest salvation.”

Norn9 is very good, even though I didn’t think it would be. Hear me out, guys.

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I found the 12 (technically 13) episode “Norn9: Norn + Nonette” anime ages ago while discovering both the nature of reverse harem and that I was a big fan of the subgenre, but I didn’t watch it for reasons which, in retrospect, seem a little short-sighted. Norn9 is an otome-based, sci-fi inspired anime that—while technically reverse harem—features 3 lead female protagonists each with their own personality and love stories. I passed it up because, in addition to the uniforms leading me to believe the main characters were in high school (I’ve had enough of that!!) and online plot synopses implying the MC was an elementary-aged schoolboy, I thought it would be too sci-fi and wouldn’t be reverse harem enough.

Yeah, I know the last bits are silly. You can laugh if you want.

Anyway, I passed on the anime and by extension the game (“Norn9: Var Commons”), though as I ran out of media to consume, Norn9 continued to feature heavily in my search results. I ignored it, looking into it briefly perhaps twice more and each time coming to this same conclusion. I honestly can’t tell you what made me finally decide to watch it aside from the rapidly evaporating pool of available titles in the otome-based reverse harem subgenre and my new HiDive subscription (#worthit).

But oh, anime compatriots, I’m so glad I did.

To clarify, “Norn9: Var Commons” (the game) is a separate beast from “Norn9: Norn + Nonette” (the anime), and so for the purposes of this commentary, our references to Norn9 will be indicative of the anime only.

The plot synopses available online (think MAL, for example) are terribly misleading in their anime description (though their description may be more true of the game?). Because of this, I’d like to provide my own:

A naive, innocent, amnesiac, orphaned, ostercaised girl (That’s a lot of adjectives.) with incredible destructive power takes the advice of a traveling stranger. He advises her that, when the time is right, she is to dawn a strange uniform and ready herself for a spaceship that will present itself in the spring of her 17th year. In doing so, she will no longer be cursed to a life of solitude because her mysterious power will be of monumental use.

The time arrives, and the girl is thrust into new experiences, meeting fellows who share her proficiency with strange powers and who are used by a mysterious organization or entity called “The World” for reasons heretofore not fully known. These young adults (aged 17-25), while attempting to navigate their own lives and needs, have a greater responsibility to the world itself. How they choose to exercise their power could be the greatest disaster a world might know OR its greatest salvation.

(And yes, there is a schoolboy character is in the anime for plot reasons, but while he’s probably more important in the game, he’s not the MC of the anime, MAL. In fact, the aforementioned nameless girl isn’t even the only MC. Sheesh.)

Before we get into the more standard commentary, I want to comment on its genre specificity, what that means for the title’s plot/characters, and the implications these things have on the game.

I was correct in my assumption that Norn9 wouldn’t be the most “reverse harem of reverse harems,” but it was due in large part to this that I found it a refreshing addition to the subgenre. I mean, it wasn’t so trope that I felt the need to assign characters a bishounen level, and that says a lot. I’m not normally a fan of science fiction, but the sci-fi elements only served to enhance the title when used properly in conjunction with the fantasy, action, period, and romance elements. Yes, that’s right–period elements! You’re reading about a sci-fi anime that takes place in the past WITHOUT BEING STEAMPUNK. How often do you see a sci-fi set in the past that isn’t steampunk? Norn9 is just that, and it occasionally throws in that appropriate time-period feel without sacrificing its overall exceptionally modern feel. It’s also a josei, a genre not usually combined with this number of fantasy elements, and I adore seeing adult’s relationships portrayed on screen (shoujo is known for its romances’ fantastical natures). I mean—and I say this very generally—not every relationship in life works out the way we’d planned, and josei (unlike its little sister, shoujo) knows that very well.

I recorded a post that will be up tomorrow in which I talk about a different otome-based anime and touch upon many of the “pitfalls of the genre,” but it’s a simple fact that many anime based on other media (manga, otome, RPG, etc.) is done partly for advertisement purposes. For an anime to be a successful advertisement for a game, it has to walk a fine line between engaging its viewers and presenting its content while still holding its most powerful messages firmly in reserve. After all, if an otome-based anime fully explored every theme and world/character background present in the game, far fewer people would play it.

Having said that, you should know that the best otome games have profound contemplations (see here for a great example), so their anime when done well hints at these contemplations in ways that straddle that advertisement line properly. Norn9 does this well, and “Code Realize ~ Guardian of Rebirth” does it very poorly (but that’s a discussion for another day).

“Collar x Malice” (game) asks, “What does justice mean to you?” “Code Realize ~ Guardian of Rebirth” (game) asks too many questions regarding God, religion, science, humanity, and morality to fully mention. Themes hinted at by Norn9 include:

  • To be lonely, you must not have always been alone.  Discussions on the nature of solitude and lonliness.
  • The power of romantic love does not negate every other attachment in someone’s heart. While to love and lose is difficult, it does not dictate the sacrifice of every other love for its preservation. Romantic love WANTS other loving attachments to flourish even after it’s gone. (I am so excited to see this played out in the game as it was so explicit in the anime.)
  • Explorations of man’s reasonings for playing God and the ends they meet, as well as the nature of and relationships between humanity, machinery, and intelligence.

Moving on to more general musings, Norn9 has lovely art and character design. It doesn’t suffer “derpy background character face” syndrome to my notice, and the character uniforms for the men are exceptional even if the ones for women remind me far too much of school uniforms. I think the various color palettes supported the tones of the anime rather than detracting from them and were all appropriately integrated while managing to maintain the anime’s overall visually bright feel.

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Following up, the episodic pacing seems well and good; never did I feel the need to skip episodes, and while I didn’t feel the need to take breaks (as proved by the fact I watched the whole thing in two days), your own viewership might be significantly different, so I encourage you to let me know how you felt about it. In addition, the anime’s initial emphasis on the girl I mentioned in the plot synopsis (her name is Koharu, btw) gave the show a great starting off point and enough subtle focus to form a cohesive narrative while still letting other characters shine. It was fantastically contrived and fitted within the game’s framing, clearly not something they could do within traditional RH parameters.

If you’ve seen Norn9, what did you think? If you haven’t, do you plan to? Do you have any RH josei to recommend me? What’s more, have you played the game?? No spoilers please, but let me know in the comments below! ❤

Love, Peace, Geese,

~Shoujo

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What is Love? (On Romanticizing Abuse in “Hana Yori Dango” [anime])

At the heart of this post lies a singular question;

what is love?

what is love.png

Hana Yori Dango (or Boys Over Flowers) is an anime packed with complex, interesting, well fleshed out, DEEPLY FLAWED teenage characters, both of prestigious means and lacking them. This problematic title, while admittedly cringy at times, holds special appeal for its realistic portrayal of teenage thought processes—the good, bad, and ugly—as well as its fascinatingly successful romanticizing of frankly abusive relationships.

(If you thought that Fushi Yugi using rape as a token plot device was problematic or that Wolf Girl and the Black Prince romanticized abuse, just wait until you’ve seen all of Hana Yori Dango.)

The show, however, is one that I truly enjoy from its vaguely terrible 1996 art (which I now view as “distinct” rather than terrible) to its problematic notions, and I think it did something unique in illustrating how imperfect humans can be in abusive relationships with people that they may honestly believe that they love.

Please note that I do NOT encourage people to stay with SOs who are emotionally, sexually, or physically abusive. NOT AT ALL. If you ever find yourself in that situation, you do NOT need to convince yourself that the person loves you and that you should stay for them; this is dangerous, and YOU DESERVE BETTER, regardless of what you may feel. Any love that the other person may believe they hold for you is NOT HEALTHY LOVE if they are habitually treating you with less than the utmost respect.

Do not stay with an abuser.

But examinations like those prompted by this show do beg the question…

What is love? (Baby, don’t hurt me; don’t hurt me no more.)

We can go to many sources for this answer. The Bible says that God is Love. It also says that love is patient, kind, humble, and enduring. Some describe love as a human virtue rooted in kindness and compassion, while still others say it is a chemical reaction in the brain revolving around sexual attraction/attachment. And, of course, there are many different kinds of love. For the purposes of this post, we’ll be focused on romantic love.

I attest that love can be, depending on how one defines it, either mature or immature, and I also propose that—as a side effect of our imperfect human condition (what my own religion refers to as “sinful nature”)—even mature love can have its failings.

That said, immature love, if called love, can be very many things. I think immature love can be selfish and lacking without being totally void of care.* And as much as I find it interesting to watch the characters’ progressions throughout Hana Yori Dango, I also see hurdles that the character overcome as evidence of the show’s romanticizing of abuse.

Yeah, you heard me. Boys Over Flowers romanticizes abuse. Now, what do I mean by that?

To romanticize something isn’t to make it romantic in nature, at least not in the manner of, say, a moonlit walk on the beach. Rather, to romanticize is to make something seem better or more appealing than it actually is in real life. A romantic is an idealist—a sentimentalist—and so to romanticize abuse in Hana Yori Dango is to take the abusive or problematic behaviors and ascribe positive, more sentimental characteristics to said actions. It can also mean emphasizing them in such ways that gloss over the troublesome notions entirely in favor of more fantasist notions.

To begin, let’s look at our leads in love, keeping in mind that this post is anime-specific. (Thus, none of the many drama adaptations, etc., are here discussed.) Tsukushi Makino (westernized) is a hard-headed, independent girl of limited means who, through hard work and determination, makes it into Eitoku Academy, a school for rich kids with a reputation sure to take her places. Tsukasa Domyouji (also westernized) is the wealthy heir poor in relationships who—as leader of the school’s “Flower 4” of handsome, rich boys—rules the student body with an iron fist and very little patience for things that don’t go his way. When Tsukushi becomes the only girl (aside from his sister, but that’s a different conversation) to ever stand up to him, Tsukasa finds himself falling for her, if only he could admit it to himself! Instead, he’s just going to make her life as miserable as possible. That sounds smart, yeah?

Many things happen from that starting point, and while the show admittedly has moments that serve to make my heart flutter a bit, it also has moments that make me yell at the characters on screen, “WHY? WHY would you do that??” Some of these instances are highly realistic depictions of teenagers making poor decisions (such as when Tsukushi kisses Rui while on an extended date with Tsukasa), but teenage shortsightedness cannot excuse other instances where abuse is romanticized (sentimentalized) in order to create romantic (here used in the moonlit walk sense) tension and drama.

Our aforementioned leads in love are harsh with each other, and so to pinpoint instances of emotional abuse and examine them to determine if they’re truly abuse or just bickering would take a post all its own, so I’ll skip those for now. These sorts of ambiguites aren’t romanticized, and so they fall outside the scope of our discussion. Please know, however, that the outright bullying Tsusushi experiences at the hands of the F4 cannot be overlooked as simply “picking on the girl you like” (which, again, we could spend a week talking about that notion all on its own, but we won’t).

Tsukasa and Tsukushi aren’t actually dating at the beginning of the anime, much less dating exclusively, yet we observe a large amount of control exercised over her whereabouts and actions taken by Tsukasa. He insists that they are, in fact, dating. When her protests prove unsuccessful, she simply goes along with the student body’s perceptions and is treated better by the classes at large. And even though they both protest the idea of affection for each other (they’re only together in Tsukasa’s mind because SHE likes HIM, you see) and infuriate each other, Tsukushi strongly cares that Tsukasa believe her innocent of any questionable behavior when Sakurako frames her as unfaithful or loose.

There is a lot to unpack in this scene, but we’ll focus on the abuse. Tsukushi is being assaulted by a group of guys for messing around with a man other than Tsukasa. Tsukasa, not knowing what’s going on, sees her in trouble and steps in. Sakurako “explains” and Tsukasa is not only swayed, but he WALKS AWAY AND DOESN’T HELP TSUSKUSHI. Because the guys are “doing it for [him],” to use Sakurako’s words, apparently it’s fine that the tar gets beat out of her.

Even if he doesn’t believe she’s telling the truth, the girl he’s supposed to love is barely standing upright. But hey, if she’s “unfaithful” to a fictional relationship, then she deserves to be drug behind a car, right? Yeah.  She begs him for help. She says, “I don’t care if no one else believes me. Tsukasa, I just need you to believe me, please.” (Both because she’ll be beat up if he doesn’t and because the moment also serves to showcase how much she cares about his good opinion even though she won’t admit any affection for him.) She calls out to him desperately, and he turns his back on her and walks away while a group of boys beats up on her.

One word from him could have stopped them in their tracks and cleared her reputation because his influence is just that strong, but he left her behind. And yes, he comes back in the end to save her, but that’s the point. If he’d stepped in right away, there wouldn’t be as much drama or as great of a “hero moment.” His later action doesn’t excuse the fact that he LET THEM WHALE ON HER and didn’t step in, only to come back LATER and say that he believes her (which should not be a prerequisite for stopping them from almost killing her in the first place!).

The show acts as though he’s in a trance until he snaps out of it in Sakurako’s back yard and realizes what those guys are going to do to Tsukushi. As though he didn’t know! He stepped into the situation in the first place before he knew what she was accused of because he saw she was in trouble! In shock or not, he KNEW!! In this way, he can rush back in and play the hero while also avoiding the blame that he let her get into that situation in the first place. It takes an abusive situation and sentimentalizes it, creating a hero moment. (Is it considered abuse if he left her to be pummeled when he could have stopped it? It’s as good as, in my opinion. It certainly isn’t love.)

Tsukushi-on-the-ground
Where are the teachers during this mob action??

On another far more straightforward occasion, Tsukasa—frustrated and hurt about the sort-of romantic (again, that’s another post) relationship between Tsukushi and Rui—actually sexually assaults Tsukushi. Now, while I believe that there are differences between the subbed and dubbed version of this scene, they have some consistency between them. He corners her in the empty hall, pins her, and threatens her. Then, suddenly, he stops. He punches the wall. He goes. I watched the dub, but I’ve only found the scene repeated in sub, so, again, differences from what I remember exactly.

Again, so, SO much to unpack here, but I’m sticking with the abuse itself and not the mental reasoning behind it. (Tsukasa, upset that he isn’t being “respected” and unused to not getting what he wants, goes to take it—in this case, her—, then realizes it is wrong and he can’t do it, but I digress.)

In this case, he ASSAULTS HER HIMSELF and then stops and walk away. The implication that he’s going to “teach her a lesson” is clear, and it doesn’t seem he means with his fists. Rape is not a token plot device, just ask Banana Fish. Sexual assault is not the same as a romantic moment (take note, The World’s Greatest First Love: The Case of Ritsu Onodera). Tsukasa is not a “good guy” because he stopped before he went any farther, but in the case of this romanticizing, we’re expected to focus on a supposition on his mental state—one often misunderstood—rather than the horror of what’s happening on screen. In addition to being completely unacceptable, rape is about power and control (which Tsukasa is quite used to) as opposed to sexual attraction. The moment is so quick and ends so unexplored that the truth behind it might be missed by younger viewers. What’s happening on screen, even if he let her go, is not unrequited love.

I get that there’s a lot going on in Tsukasa’s life and head. This is not a “bash Tsukasa” post, because he is a fabulously crafted, highly-realistic and deeply flawed character just as much as Tsukushi. Rather, it’s a statement on the way that shoujo titles like this often romanticize abuse (think even when they say, “If I do something sexually untoward to you, it’s because you’re just too cute.”) and get away with it. (Irina and I wrote about this.) I’m not saying these scenes referenced weren’t necessary to the story the creators wanted to tell, but at the same time, it’s so important for people to truly understand what they are watching, and I think that a lot of the time girls get caught up in the hero moments created by abusive behavior. And a lot of girls don’t understand why that’s a problem, as seen in the “the cruel one” section of this post questioning why girls like “bad boys.”

As the show progresses, so too do our characters; Tsukasa goes from actually sexually assaulting a girl he can’t have to letting that girl have the freedom to do what she wants, even if what she wants isn’t him. (Surprise, it is.) He risks his life to save her from a blizzard and refuses to compromise his principles sexually with another (very willing) woman even because he doesn’t love her. Seeing the characters mature and learn to truly love another person is a beautiful thing, but it brings us back to our original question; what is love?

It isn’t what we see in a lot of these shoujo titles, that’s for sure.

If we are to qualify it thus, then it is immature. It is selfish. It is uncompromising and controlling. By the end things have improved, but there is that sense in the beginning that our extended cast of characters feel that Tsukasa’s abusive and controlling behavior is okay because he loves Tsukushi so much. That simply isn’t true and sends a very negative message to audiences that is only rectified upon more deeply examining the work as a whole, which is to say that until the end, what they have is not love.

I think Hana Yori Dango is a fantastic anime. I adore it! I’ve watched the series, the movie, the J-Drama, and much of the K-Drama. I think it’s portrayal of its teenage characters as thoroughly flawed individuals is engaging. But I also believe that shows like this might cast shadows of unrealistic expectations which prove to be insidious in the personal lives of girls and women, so they need to be watched with these problematic proclivities in mind.

ebay

What do you think about Hana Yori Dango? What do you think about shoujo’s taste for the problematic? Let me know in the comments below!

Until I blog again,

Shoujo

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*Please see my note on staying in an abusive relationship above.