White Day: Non-leading ladies of awesomePosted: March 17, 2014
For Valentine’s Day (sorta) I talked about how much I love ukes. In honor of White Day Weekend (because anything non-work-related that falls on a workday is not happening for me), I’m going to talk about female manga characters that I particularly love.
This won’t take long, because there’s only two of them. Considering how much shoujo is out there, that’s kind of a pain, but you take what you can get.
There’s a ton of shoujo heroines that I like, that I sympathize with, that I want to see succeed and be happy, but there’s very few that I can relate to in terms of who I am, who I would like to be, or even who I’d like to fantasize about being. I’ve immensely enjoyed stories about petite girly girls, lovable idiots, and sweet but clueless girls who try really hard, and I’m sure lots of readers relate to all that, but my self-image always revolved around being tall, smart, self-reliant, not particularly feminine, and tall (I’m 5’10”, which makes me officially half an inch taller than the average American man). Even when there is a series where the female lead is tall, academically successful, and strong-minded, I tend to relate more to the traits ascribed to the male love interest, which is not necessarily the point of view I want to read from.
There are plenty of shoujo stories about tall, cool-looking girls, but the leads tend to be unhappy about their freakish height and lack of femininity, and spend many pages angsting over not being able to be cute and girly and wear frilly dresses. Many of them end up getting makeover plots, where the lead meets some cooler, taller guys (it’s usually guys) who teach her how to be cute and girly and wear frilly dresses. I don’t relate to that at all. I want tall, cool-looking girls who are actually cool, confident in themselves, and know what they want. (And not in a yuri series, thanks.) So far I’ve found two. And neither is a protagonist, dammit.
Hikari from Train★Train (Eiki Eiki, English edition DMP 2005)
The main character of Train★Train is trainee railroad employee Asahi, a cute little tidbit who might as well have “uke” stamped on his forehead. He gets assigned to Minami Kitazawa Station, which turns out to be staffed almost entirely by hot guys, two of whom immediately hit on him. When he accuses them of being gay, they deny it, which turns out to be God’s Own Truth; Hokuto is bi, and Hikari is straight – and a girl.
Although Hikari is just one member of an ensemble-cast sitcom, there’s enough room over Train★Train’s three volumes for her to be awesome; she defends Asahi from a violent customer, rescues a kid who fell onto the tracks, and makes all the fangirls who hang around the station swoon with her suave prettyboy looks. One of the things I really like about Hikari is that she is completely comfortable with herself; she prefers to wear pants, she likes being cool and otokoyaku-butchy, and if everyone mistakes her for a guy, that’s their problem, not hers.
One of the other things I really like about Hikari is that she knows what she wants: Asahi on a plate. She takes every opportunity to glomp and / or snuggle him, and constantly suggests that he become her “wife” (to his annoyance). It’s very refreshing after all the timid-girl-pursued-by-agressive-guy stories you encounter in shoujo.
There’s also a great storyline towards the end of the series in which lays the smackdown on a sexist coworker, and beats him at everything, including being a hot guy. (After getting his ass kicked the dude totally falls in love with her, of course, but she’s not having any.)
Hikari also has a cameo (along with the rest of the cast) in a side-story crossover with Mikiyo Tsuda’s Princess•Princess manga, in which she and Hokuto hit on the pretty femmy stars of same. (Because pretty femmy guys are the shiznit. Mmm.)
I could talk about Hikari all day (~heart~), but I need to finish some experiments and then go home and make dinner, so let’s move on.
Ai from Ai Ore! (Mayu Shinjo, English edition Viz 2011-2013)
Despite her name, Ai is not the star of Ai Ore!, more’s the pity. The leads are Mizuki, a tall, cool girl who looks like a hot guy, and Akira, a petite, big-eyed boy who looks like a cute girl. Unfortunately, it’s by Mayu Shinjo, so all the potential of this premise is completely wasted: Mizuki is an insecure wimp who angsts constantly over whether Akira can really like her when she’s all tall and butch and unfeminine, whereas Akira, despite being an adorable little thing who looks great in a frilly dress, is a typical Mayu Shinjo domineering alpha male. In pretty much every volume of this mess I wished that Ai was actually the heroine, because Ai is great (although I could live without the punk-rock mullet). Alas, Ai is merely one of Mizuki’s friends and bandmates and she has the bittiest of bit parts, mostly limited to snarky comic relief and perving over Akira.
Great moments in Ai-ness:
As with Hikari, I love Ai for being tall and unfeminine and totally owning it, and for being clearheaded and direct about what she wants (Akira naked). She’s pretty much the complete opposite of dithery idiot Mizuki. There’s totally not enough Ai in Ai Ore! (her screentime drops like a rock in the second half), but what there is is great. And she has sexy little glasses. Win.