These days it seems as if shoujo anime and manga are a dime a dozen. What exactly are we looking for in shoujo? It feels like most of the time, a “shoujo” anime is a bishounen anime or it’s a reverse harem, and those are released constantly. Aside from those, what else do we get? Not to knock them down but there’s always a sweet and cliche romance like Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun or Kimi ni Todoke, or the ever popular Kaichou wa Maid-sama. However, all these series have going for them are sweet romances and full of drama, but what happened to substance?
Well, that’s why we wanted to start a conversation about why we think the 90s were the time of quality shoujo. Read on to get in on this!
Prior to the 90s
Honestly, prior to the 90s, there were still many great shoujo series like Candy Candy, Lady Georgie, Glass Mask, Lady Lady!! and Ashita no Nadja. These are real classics and even received anime adaptations. These series helped lay the foundation while featuring many aspects that are still used in shoujo series today. The characters pioneered the way for starry-eyed, dreamy heroines with big aspirations and hopes. Of course, there was a lot of drama and many complications as well. As such, it’s important to know that these series really paved the way for the shoujo genre as a whole.
Faceless Main Characters
First off, one of the most frustrating things about shoujo manga and anime alike are the heroines themselves. Most of the time, they tend to be overly idealistic, completely useless when you need them or lacking in personality like the nameless main character of Amnesia. While some recent series have fought this like Ton from Phantom in the Twilight, the series still tend to fall flat. Even Ore Monogatari!!’s Takeo has the same traits where he is passive, an idealist in romance, and down on himself. These may be traits that we may associate with, but do we constantly want to end up frustrated with main characters as we would ourselves? What’s worse is that these characters never experience any sort of growth. Misaki is still the same at the end of Kaichou wa Maid-sama, Mitsuki does not really grow out of her idealistic self in Full Moon wo Sagashite, and Shizuku only experiences moderate changes in Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun, and we’re talking about both in the manga and the anime.
In series like Yazawa Ai’s Nana, we also get a rather frustrating main character in Komatsu Nana who is obsessed with boys and completely childish. Throughout Nana, she experiences real growth and it almost becomes a josei manga as she has to face the reality of taking care of a child with a man who may not even be the father but has the means to take care of them both in a loveless marriage. In Kare Kano, you have Yukino who is actually rather annoying and childish at the beginning as she enjoys having a superiority complex (although we have to admit that this trait does exist in many of us, too), but she, too, learns to make real friends and show her true self around others, especially Arima. Each main character from the 90s shoujo era really sticks to you in a way that doesn’t grate on the nerves. Let us also not forget that Usagi from Sailor Moon is also a 90s heroine!
Maybe it’s been overdone to death in the 90s and that’s why it’s a cliche now, but really, shoujo now is mainly made up of cliches. First, you have the childhood friend (if the romance is not between childhood friends). Then you have the incest route (whether the love interest becomes your brother or your step brother steps in to get in the way). Next you have a male rival come in to steal the main character away from her lead. Then you have a possible fiance or ex girlfriend who is perfect who comes in to steal the lead away from the main character. Then someone up and might move away. The cliches are endless and even this season’s own 3D Kanojo Real Girl has quite a few of these pop up. Heroine Shikkaku actually takes all of these ideas and tries to throw them out the window since the main character believes everything would go in her favor as the heroine of her own story, but things don’t go in her favor at first, which made it such a great modern day shoujo story, but of course, it slowly started to turn towards cliches in order to finish the story.
In older shoujo series, we didn’t really need to rely on these cliches in order to write a good story. Red River, otherwise known as Anatolia Story, never once had a fiance written into the story to steal Kail away from Yuri. There were a few rivals in love with Yuri, but they only added to the other aspects of the story that made it so rich, and the whole manga was not all about romance as it was about Turkish history and the supernatural. Then you have Fushigi Yuugi whose only incestuous couple lay in a side story with twins and even had Nuriko who may have been physically male but identified as a female and was in love with Hotohori, which added more layers to this rather complicated story. Even Marmalade Boy, which you would assume would be comprised of cliches considering its school life background, was full of complexities involving other characters like Meiko’s parents getting divorced and Yuu’s troubled family issues. Then there’s Kodomo no Omocha, which is a story about children, but actually has so much depth involving adoption, obsession, depression, suicide, and a loss of identity.
Reverse Harems - Not Just Another Pretty Face
One thing that seems to make up the market of shoujo now, especially in the 2018 year of anime, is reverse harems. However, most of these are just comprised of pretty faces with no substance. Take a look at B-Project, where you barely even notice that there is a female lead. There’s also Diabolik Lovers, which is essentially an anime about sexually and mentally abusing a single human girl. You have a few fun ones to watch like Uta no Prince-sama or Kamigami no Asobi, but how just how many reverse harem have as much substance as Hakuoki does? Hakuoki is probably one of the few with any substance in the modern era. Another being Akatsuki no Yona.
In the 90s, one of the top reverse harem anime has to be Fushigi Yuugi for showing the complex relationships between many of the characters instead of just 10 boys and 1 weak girl. You have characters like Nuriko who identifies as female, Chichiri who lives in anguish over his lost loves and lives as a facade, and Yui who is brainwashed by the enemy and taken advantage of in stark contrast to how Maika is greeted in the new world. Plus, coupled with the rather sad ending, it’s a series that stands the test of time. The boys in Fushigi Yuugi aren’t there just for the fan service. They have real personalities and substance, which is more than can be said about a lot of shoujo characters these days.
While opinions may differ on this, we think the golden era of shoujo is in the 90s. Since then, it feels like the shoujo genre has declined in quality since 2006 (the year of Ouran High School Host Club, Bokura ga Ita, Nana, and Yamato Nadeshiko Shichi Henge’s airing). There have been some good shoujo series since then, but compared to older ones, they just fall flat. There have been attempts to revitalize the shoujo genre with the anime adaptations of Orange (which failed to capture the quality of the manga, thus failing) and Banana Fish, but do we really expect there to be a rise in quality shoujo any time soon? Not really.
What do you readers think? Do you think we’re way off base and want to argue? Do you feel like we’re just trashing your favorite shoujo series? Feel free to let us know your thoughts in the comments below! Once again, thank you for joining us here at Honey’s Anime.