Friday, March 8, 2013

Created families and Kiss Yori Hayaku

The joy of having such diversity in manga content is that there is always a manga to read that matches your mood.

Recently, I've been really uninterested in manga that make me think a little too much. It's probably all the reading I've had to do for school, but my mind just is not ready for Gantz at the moment. With this is mind, I headed to a manga that I could just read and enjoy without too much mind capacity needed.

So, I read Faster Than a Kiss, or Kiss Yori Hayaku, by Tanaka Meca. I have to admit, any of the manga that comes out of LaLa is usually a fun read. They tend not to be too serious, but have enough "cute tension" that you can flip pages quite easily and at a rather steady pace.

Within this manga, the biggest theme I saw was the created family.

Of course, this theme is really the most important within the plot and characters. The family theme is especially interesting as not only within Japan, but other developed nations are struggling with the changing face of the family unit and how it survives in this overly globalized world. Then there is the added theme of the rich family with stepmother, who was a foreigner, and the "new family" that is created and left one member feeling unloved and then walked away.

When we consider how families are dealt within in popular culture, there are usually two main and opposite ideas. The first is that some families, while slightly dysfunctional, are always there for each other and would do anything to overcome a problem. In the end, that blood family unit triumphs over any obstacle that society throws at it. While there are friends that frequently come in and out of the picture, the nuclear family is the constant and main theme of the story. I usually see this theme played out in American TV dramas (like 7th Heaven, Party of Five, Family Matters and Full House) and movies frequently. Yet this theme has shown up in many a manga before. Look at the Uesugi family from Touch as a good example. CLAMP has also shown this in Card Captor Sakura with the Kinomoto family as a solid foundation and constant in Sakura's life.

The second of these family themes is the created family. This theme can be seen everywhere from shōnen sports manga to shōjo. In Kiss Yori Hayaku, Fumino, Teppei, and Kazuma create their own family and it is frequently brought up through their interactions with each other as seen through other side characters eyes. Numerous times in the manga a side character, who is usually a blood relation to either of them, will comment on how the three of them act and love each other like a "real family". Having blood relations to be the main characters coming to this realization is a huge counter argument to the first family theme I pointed out.

When we look at Kazuma specifically, we see how the family unit can break down out of parental pressure and obligation. His mother dies days after giving birth to him, his father is emotionally and physically distant, and then he gets a brand new family out of no where. From a rich and powerful family, the reader is given the picture that while wealth and power gives you something, it usually does not lead to a happy family. This image is tested later on when you see how Kazuma's father reacts with his, what I will call, "second family". The tension within their family is reflected in Fumino's strained relations with her fathers family and the rest of her relatives, giving both the characters a common point of reference to connect. This image of connection is something tested and emphasized many times throughout the manga.

Quite honestly, I usually find the created family theme in more manga than I do anywhere else. When we take into consideration that shōnen manga use this theme as well, we can stretch the idea over dozens of manga. We have manga like Haikyuu!! where the players families have yet to be seen (even in the tournament arcs!), Gin no Saji, and how Hachiken divorces himself from his blood family and surrounds himself with the other students at his school, Yume Miru Taiyou and the created family of Shimana, Taiga, Zen, and Asahi, Sakamichi no Apollon, Gaku and the small mentions of the rescue workers outside families, xxxHolic with Watanuki's emptiness, Bakuman and how Saiko and Shuujin barely seem to talk to their own families. This list could go on and on and would easily cover hundreds of manga if I wanted to create an annotated list of them.

For me, a lot of the reason that the created family theme is so popular in Japan is because of the pressure of growing up in Japan. At a young age kids are put into cram schools, music lessons, sports, and club activities to get further ahead. By 5th or 6th grade, kids are going to serious cram schools to make sure their get those coveted spots at national universities and therefore a good starting position in a company. A lot of kids aren't home more than 6 hours in a day and then what a lot of them do is study for the most part. Parents, especially mothers, put their kids under a lot of pressure to achieve greatness and get into the best positions that they possibly can. When you understand this, it is not really surprising that so many manga use the created family or make how connected a character is to their family a main plot point within their developments.

On a whole, the Tanaka really knew what issues to drive home in this manga. Not only the family theme, but also how young girls don't really know how to deal with sex. Throughout the manga Fumino is constantly trying to get over not only her embarrassment, but her fear of even the idea of sex. This drives home the sort of morality or ethical lesson of the manga; wait to do it until you are ready emotionally and physically.

The main thing that I noticed is that, unlike manga aimed at older readers, Tanaka keeps that character point with just Kazuma and Fumino. Sure, other older male characters mentioned it in a rather male off handed kind of way, but the anxiety of the physical relationship was kept with just those two. This was a smart idea because it kept the scope of the story in a much more confined and easily managed space.

I find that a lot of manga, or any narrative really, bring in the inner complexities of other relationships which causes the story to get a little confusing. Tanaka is able to bring in other characters and show how outside forces can affect and stress any relationship, but she is able to keep the couples and outside characters unique by not giving them the same problems to deal with. If the same problems had been given to all the couples, than it would have lead to way too much comparison between them. While for more mature readers that would further develop and bring depth to the narrative, the age group this manga is aiming for would have gotten confused.

While the relationships that surrounded Kazuma and Fumino gave depth to the narrative, they did not take away from their relationship. Shouma and Meg were the prefect example of unrequited love and any reader would be able to relate to their inability to truly let go of past romantic feelings. While we are also given to impression that they will actually end up together in some part of the future, the reader is not actually given that ending. We are left to empathize with their continued need for distance from their respective interests.

A fun manga with some positive points over a lot of the tropes that are in use. A worthy read for sure.

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