Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Strobe Edge and the Shōjo

The Shōjo. She was, and still is, a fascination to Western academics in the 90s and the idyllic image of an otaku's dream women. Yet through all the in depth analysis of Utena, Miyazaki's young female protagonists and adorableness of CLAMPS Sakura there has always been something more important about these females. It is not only the sheer about of femininity that runs through Japanese women and young girls, it is the fact that they will always been able to connect with the characters.

Pictures trigger so many emotions and memories. Within seconds of seeing an old picture memories long forgotten are dragged to the front of your brain and sometimes played through before your very eyes. Yet the combination of both picture and words is a very quick highway to high school and the innocence of youth for these women.

Shōjo comics have the easiest route into the Western market because for girls, the issues dealt within are easily understood and easily connectable. Because of this connectability the next major emotion that readers will feel is nostalgia. Reading shōjo now as an adult always brings that sense to me. I remember times in high school or situations that happened to others that are very similar to what happened in the manga I'm reading. There is no escaping it really.

I remember seeing Strobe Edge everywhere on the net a couple years ago and I remember hearing good things about it. I was at bookoff, as always, when I saw it in the shōjo aisle and I thought, the mangaka started a new manga this year; which means it's finished. That was really all the incentive I needed to adding it to my "manga I want to read" folder. Sakisaka is very good at capturing realistic teenagers to be her heroines, though I'm still on the fence on her two leading men characters. There are parts of them that I found very interesting and pretty realistic, but others I just found to be stereotypical.

Ninako is what I would call a very normal teenager, maybe even a very normal teenage Japanese girl. She doesn't really have any dreams for the future, that are revealed to the reader, but she is always thinking about Ren the school idol, the boy she has fallen in love with. Ninako has her core group of friends and she is just trying to get through high school. Past those 2 things, she doesn't have all that much that worries her. She is 100% normal girl whose world consists of boys, her friends, and watching her favorite dramas. 

Actually, there were times in the manga that Ninako reminded me of Yui from K-ON, mostly because they this lack of drive and very small world that they created for themselves. Though Yui doesn't even evolve beyond her 2-D character, Ninako's story is the story of joys and pain of first love.

Every single shōjo manga deals with love. It does not matter what kind of love, just love. Strobe Edge deals with first love, particularly Ninako's love for school prince Ren. Yet what Sakisaka accomplishes toward the beginning of the timeline is that Ninako's love for Ren is pure love. There is no physical attraction that really displayed, just her feelings for him and the kindness that he shows her. The more her feelings develop, the purer they seem to become. 

Ren is the perfect manga hero. He is good looking, intelligent, athletic, aloof and "cool". It is no wonder that he is the school heart throb. Yet the underlying image that the reader gets of him is loneliness. He is shown with no real close friends and throughout the entire manga, the reader is never introduced to his family. Does he have siblings? What does his father do? The reader is not given this information which compounds Ren's isolation at school and further creates his characterization as the ideal boy.

Yet what the reader cannot forget is that this manga is not about Ninako and her feelings for Ren. The main story here is "First Love". Every bodies first is a memorable experience. Most do not end well and the 'first love' is often another level of nostalgia for people. You always remember the good and then you remember the bad, or sometimes it is the opposite and only the bad is remembered. Those strong feelings and misunderstands are always placed next to each other when the theme of 'first love' comes into play.

Ren and Mayuka, Dakiki and Ninako, Sayuri and Yuu, Takumi and Mao. These relationships cover the whole spectrum of misunderstandings and feelings that are seen in 'first love'. Change is always the major factor. Ren and Mayuko made a promise when they first started dating and in the end didn't keep that promise. They both changed and saw their relationship as both a security blanket and a promise, not a relationship. Yuu did not see what he had until it was already gone when Sayuri broke up with him. Takumi had what was the ultimate betrayal, his girlfriend using him to get closer to his best friend. Daiki developed feelings for Ninako that Ninako could never return.

The failures of all these relationships, of these 'first loves' make the backbone of the story. With these failures the characters grow and learn that love is not as straightforward as they though. Yet Ninako, whose love for Ren was viewed as the purest love, is the one who turns into the self-protector. Even after Ren confesses his feelings for her, she is the one who could not accept it. As the plot continued, Ninako has put her love for Ren on a pedestal. A place where it can on longer hurt her and yet she can no longer do anything about. It is almost relegated to the love of a fan for an artist. Ren became a safe place for her feelings to go without receiving the possible painful consequences. 

These portrayals of 'first love' are all very powerful and they hold true to what a realistic first love is. These realistic renderings of 'first love' connect the reader to the plot and then also to their own memories. Nostalgia is an emotion that easily carries a person to better times and also brings the emotions that are evoked from the manga that much more powerful.

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