It seems like every manga series has at least one volume where the bratty girls drag the heroine up to the roof (geez, where are the hall monitors?) and bully her—I mean, bully her, like beat her up. The hero inevitably shows up to save the day although there’s one very funny series (High School Debut) where the hero shows up only to find that his girlfriend has thrashed the third-year girls.
The reasons for the bullying are, quite bluntly, that the heroine doesn’t know her place. Nobody pretends that the bullying is being done for personal reasons. It’s just “You shouldn’t be dating a senior” or “You get better grades than us.”
How mean are Japanese girls?
Eugene: Good Morning Call has almost the exact same scene. It long ago entered trope territory. But it reflects an ugly reality.
Back to School at 35 is a live-action series in which Ayako Baba (Ryoko Yonekura) returns to her alma mater to complete her senior year. It covers all the relevant social issues, especially the problems that arise out of the homeroom class being the same class for all the students in that class for all their subjects. The series similarly concludes with the message that, well, yeah, the system sucks (a root cause in the bullying problem), but we prefer it that way.
One of the best movies in this regard is A Silent Voice (Netflix). It is basically an Afterschool Special, but was produced by Kyoto Animation, so it’s a really good Afterschool Special.
The big difference between boys and girls, of course, is that boys really do beat the crap out of each other.
|Loud, sweet-natured, dyed-blond Natsuku from Osaka |
Characters in the series are constantly making comments about Osaka and at one point, the mother of an Osaka student shows up. She’s got big hair, a loud mouth, and dangling jewelry. The narrator keeps adding comments like, “Not all people from Osaka are like this,” the implication being that the mother represents common assumptions about Osaka. (This is Osaka, the area, not Osaka, the name, which, according to the helpful narrator’s notes, uses different characters.)
During the Edo Period 1603–1868), the Tokugawa shoguns imposed an
authoritarian form of federalism on the provinces. This was to keep
discontented governors from banding together and overthrowing the
regime, which was exactly what happened in 1868. But they kept it at bay
for 250 years.
Traveling from one province to another required an internal passport and getting caught without one would get you tossed in jail (though the draw of the big city was enough that many risked it). As a result, the provinces developed distinct identities and dialects.
The traditional Osaka greeting is “How’s business?” A common dubbing mistake is giving characters from Osaka a Southern accent. You’re right; they should sound like they’re from Jersey. “It ain’t personal, it’s business.” After all, the Osaka (Kansai) region is also home to Japan’s biggest and oldest yakuza gangs.
Kate: Speaking of regions, Hokkaido is the “hicks” but in a cool way.
At one point, a manga character who lives in Hokkaido decides to go to Tokyo University. Everyone acts like he’s moving to the moon—America would be closer. I was so puzzled, I looked it up. It appears to be the same distance as Portland, Maine to Washington DC which, granted, is quite a ways (and in Japan, there’s a sea to cross) but not THAT far.
I've since gotten the impression that it’s the Portland part of the equation that makes Hokkaido the “hicks”—that is, Hokkaido is “hicks” like Maine is “hicks” (as opposed to Arkansas “hicks”). It’s remote and mysterious and kind of otherworldly. Which is pretty much how people in Washington State reacted when I told them I was moving to Maine.
Hokkaido is like Maine married to Minnesota only with volcanoes and
earthquakes. There’s a ton of open land, but given the choice, hot and
crowded Tokyo wins out every time. For example, Nana (HIDIVE)
begins with two girls fleeing the sticks for the big city. Enough people
are doing it that many rural towns in Hokkaido and elsewhere are drying
up and blowing away.
Fifty years ago, the coal town of Yubari, made famous in the 1977 Yoji Yamada film, The Yellow Handkerchief, had a population of 120,000. Since the mines closed in the 1980s, the population has declined by over 90 percent.
A cute anime series that takes place in Hokkaido is Figure 17 (Tubi). An elementary school student moves to Hokkaido with her father (he’s apprenticing at a farm bakery) and runs into a bunch of aliens. It’s The X-Files meets Little House on the Prairie. The aliens aside, it puts the region in a romantic light (man-eating monsters aside), to the extent of making all that wilderness look downright exotic.
The deserted element definitely shows up in the manga I read! If a series has a ghost story, it takes place on Hokkaido. That is, Hokkaido is where spooky stuff happens—in the woods. Likewise, the two questions I was asked by folks in Washington State about my move to Maine were “Will you see a moose?” and “Will you see Stephen King?” (A third was, "Isn't Maine in Canada?") Bizarrely, I’ve seen the latter in-person but not the former.
Speaking of Americans, an assumption throughout many manga series is that Americans kiss more—all the time, constantly, and they kiss everyone and everything from pets to family members to significant others to people in the street. I think this perception may mostly be due to television.
Actually, according to the people who measure such things, American do
kiss more than Japanese (though not as much as Europeans). For what
it’s worth, there’s more kissing in shojo manga than on Japanese TV. You
can watch a bio pic series on NHK that covers the protagonist’s entire
life, including marriage and children, and not see a single kiss.
You know what you see instead? Hugs. Like the nosebleed, it’s become symbolic shorthand for everything else.
How symbolic is the nosebleed? Nineteenth-century women swooned. Not as much as literature depicts, but they did swoon (possibly due to corsets). Is the nosebleed a common occurrence, an uncommon occurrence that provides go-to emotional relief, or purely symbolic?
Eugene: By this point, it’s entered the realm of the purely symbolic. For example, the aforementioned hugs. In Hanako and Anne
(on NHK), there is a dramatic hug in the pouring rain between Hanako
and Eiji, her future husband, but at the time married to somebody else.
The plot developments and dialogue that follow only make sense if they
slept (or almost slept) together, but that is left entirely to the imagination.
As noted, the exception, and a fascinating example of cultural compartmentalization, is manga (and to a lesser extent, anime).
Cheese! is an imprint of Flower Comics that targets a female
audience starting in the late teens. It is often as explicit and
gratuitous as Japanese law allows. A recent review of Yakuza Lover on ANN, published in Japan under the Cheese! imprint, reminded me of my Cheese! posts.
In one of those posts, I quote Tokyo-based writer Roland Kelts, who argues that
the strict codes of etiquette and behavior that govern daily life in Japan also allow for an extraordinary degree of creative and social permissiveness, the freedom to explore other identities, to test the limits of possibility.