Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Collection Review: Just Around the Corner and the Student-Teacher Romance in Manga

The teacher-student romance is a common trope in shojo and yaoi manga. Although it has become increasingly stigmatized in American television and literature, it is still alive and well in Japanese manga.

Frankly, the American attitude is bizarre. Not because teacher-student relationships are a good idea.  But because the stigma rests on a proposition that is unsettling in the extreme: namely, that any teenager before the age of 18 is the equivalent of a child.

Statistics from the National Survey of Family Growth indicate distinct differences between 14/15-year-olds and 17-year-olds (16-year-olds occupy an uneasy middle ground). To provide a few examples:
(1) younger teens are far more ambivalent about having sex than 16, 17, and 18-year-olds;
(2) on the other hand, younger teens are more likely to consider getting pregnant a positive event than older teens;
(3) nearly all teens' first sexual encounter is with a partner 1-3 years older than the teen;
(4) the average age for teens to have sex is 17;
(5) older teens are more likely to use contraception during their first sexual encounter--over 50% of all teens use contraception, no matter the age;
(6) teen girls and teen boys who abstain cite religion/morals (culture) rather than worries about STDs as their primary reason--this reason is consistent across the ages;
(7) teens having sex has dropped since 1983, substantially for young men;
(8) teens in general are more likely to believe that it is okay for 18-year-olds to have sex than for 16-year-olds to have sex;
(9) teens' interest in having sex increases by 14% for young women from 14 to 17; for young men, it remains steady across the teens, only decreasing at 18/19-years-old (due, it appears, to worries about college, future jobs, etc.).
(10) types of sex that teens engage in increases with age.
The point: the idea that teens remain little girls and little boys until they turned 18 is stupid and damaging beyond belief. Maturation is more consistent, inevitable, and individual than this perception allows for.

Despite the Edgar R. Burroughs look--
or because of it--I like this cover!
I'm no fan of Twilight but the attitude that "those thoughts" don't belong in a teenage girl's repertoire is ostrich-like in its silliness.

I have always considered teacher-student fantasies a "safe" haven (much like reading vampire literature) for feelings, thoughts, questions, and concerns that American culture is reluctant to address. For me, the story wasn't about vampires or teachers; it was Orson Scott Card's Wyrms. The female protagonist fights strong sexual urges coming from an outside source--by all means, blame the aliens! But her awareness is natural and relatable--a huge relief to my teenage self.

Japanese fiction (manga/anime) likewise seems both more free and less panicked than much American discourse. Considering that Japanese teens have the lowest pregnancy rate worldwide (and a low abortion rate), the literature cannot be blamed for inflaming their sensibilities. Whatever is being worked out in the literature doesn't translate into actual social problems.

From a literary point of view, of course, the lack of social disintegration doesn't mean that all teacher-student stories are good. Toko Kawai's Just Around the Corner is.

The premise: Kiriya and Yuuya have a chance meeting. Kiriya believes Yuuya is 19 (because he looks that old and because he fails to admit the truth), only to discover he is a 17-year-old high school student when Kiriya begins subbing at Yuuya's high school. Kiriya attempts to end the relationship, then resigns himself to its inevitability. Ultimately, their relationship is discovered and the lovers are separated. Yuuya works hard to get into the university to which Kiriya has transferred, and the lovers are reunited at the end of the manga.

An unpretentious, straightforward tale--not particularly unique except for the non-depressing ending. Its uniqueness comes from the characters' realistic reactions and behaviors. Yuuya thinks he is ready for the change in his relationship with Kiriya--we will date but never go out as a couple, or out at all since then someone would guess we are together--but finds it is more unsettling than he anticipated. Kiriya is amused by Yuuya's occasional attempts to make him jealous rather than angered. However, Kiriya worries that Yuuya is trying too hard to be mature around him--not enjoying his youth.

Kiriya still insists on the proper honorific.