How do you like your Shounen Jump heroine?
Do you love her dressed in a pristine school uniform, where her smiling face (and possibly panties or if your lucky, cleavage) grace every panel? Do you like her making bentou for the hero, sharing laughs right before he enters the greatest of his greatest battles? Or do you love her strong, the type who would smack the hero when he is wrong and is generally unforgiving to anyone who insults her short skirt but is soft to the hero who basically ignores her D-size bra? If she has one.
For years, legions of Jump readers, particularly women from the Western frame of thought1, would write a post or two complaining why women in a particular Shounen Jump manga is often misrepresented. An interesting rant came by my timeline today, a disheartened Katekyo Hitman Reborn! fan who cannot forgive Akira Amano for making cooks out her heroines. In her blog, she pines about why the female characters in Reborn have been ill-presented, nothing but dolls whose only purpose in the story was to make the boys look better.
Seriously, this magazine was not meant for you
There are two key things that “Jump feminists” must remember when it comes to tackling feminism in Shounen Jump. First, the magazine is published in Japan, drawn by Japanese mangakas, edited and published by Japanese publishers, and sold to Japanese people. Second, the magazine’s target market are Japanese boys ages 10 to 15. These two factors play a great role in building and creating the stories that are published in the magazine.
The least of the magazine’s concerns is a 10-yr. old Japanese boys going feminist, suddenly complaining that Kyoko is only capable of making an onigiri. I doubt 10 year olds think this way. I doubt Japanese boys, or even men would actually hate her for that.
A lot of great points about differences in culture and perspectives has been pointed here.
To wrap it up, the magazine was built for a different set of people, with cultures and practices much different than ours. The Western feminist concept does not exactly apply to them. For them, being a woman has an entirely different meaning. Hence, you cannot force the Western concept of what makes a woman unto a working theory that’s already been established and deeply ingrained in Japanese culture.
Japan loves their women pure
Perhaps I will segue here differently from Kae, looking closer to the cultural side of Japan’s feminism on why authors tend to draw their girls like Kyoko and why we would probably be reading more of them in the future.
One of the most interesting readings I crossed was Mikiso Hane’s study2 on how men, after World War II, preferred their women pure. In history, Japanese women were often portrayed as ghosts or sly creatures or crazy ladies who are out to teach men a lesson or two about humanity. The war has taught Japanese men the comfort of a woman’s doting support. The purity and the innocence of loyal servitude.
Women also appreciate this fact, despite Japan’s transition into a modern cosmopolitan country. They understand that their role as women is to help build and raise a healthy family. In fact, this is an accepted reality among women in Japan. Even if they’re career women, they also have to play the role of housewives. One of the most loved comics that’s still running in Japan, Sazae-san, presents a loving wife who has found comfort in taking care of her family. Sazae’s image is one of many that has become an institution in Japanese society. So much so that women dream to be like her once they start having families. I can go on talking about the women’s double burden, but for sure, Sazae’s image is something that men and women both revere. The image of a domesticated woman is highly appreciated in Japanese society.
And this was a facet of Japanese feminism that has been highly translated in manga. From Captain Tsubasa, all the way to Reborn, and even in mangas outside of Shounen Jump, the ideal Japanese girl would be someone who has this doting innocence, the sunshine in the hero’s life.
Her bento skills may make her appear very domestic, but these are the traits that the hero respects so much that he would have an unshakeable determination ( e.g., Tsuna’s Dying Will) to protect it, may it be driven by his affections or his stomach.
But really, do their images and what they represent matter?
I would like to believe that it is not what the heroine in Jump does that really matters. They can be strong tsunderes or they can be quiet girls. They can be important or unimportant to the story. I’d like to think that no matter how small or big their role is in the story, their existence is key in teaching boys how to relate, respect, and treat the girls around them. And I think this is what is primarily in the heads of the mangakas and the editors as they shape and build these women. Maybe there are higher things, but at the core, it all boils to this, for the intended audience of Shounen Jump. They’re actually there to make men out of the boys.
Boys who read this magazine are at a fragile age where they start to realize the stark differences between men and women. In my opinion, Jump does a great job in showing the strangely complex world of women (as much as they show us what a boy’s world is like too). On one end you have the strong and independent women like Hana, Nami and Sakura. On the other end you have Kyoko and Orihime, fragile girls who appears innocent at first but learns to understand their roles in the grand scheme of things and offers as much help that they can give, to the best of their abilities. I believe, characters in Jump titles are built to represent personalities in Japanese reality. This is pretty much a fact for any story, I think. But for those who think these are fragments of fiction, then let me share that yes, strangely, in my experience at least, I have met Japanese girls who are as polite as Kyoko, and some who are as sinister as Nami.
They exist not because the authors thinks their weakness makes the boys look better. That is a lame assumption. Looking back at tons of stories in Jump, their existence are integral to the growth of the hero and his relationships with other people. Even if they’re just a side character, they offer a lesson or two for the hero to learn from.
No really, they’re cool girls
You see, Jump Heroines, weak as most appear, are really great girls. I’ve explained above why they’re admirable to the Japanese. I’ve also shown why they exist in such a shounen magazine.
So do not diss these girls just because they make onigiris than join the boys in a big fight against phantom knights and giant robots. The girls represent so much more than just eye candy for the boys. Really, without them, we won’t have heroes to admire every time we open Shounen Jump.