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Old 2012-05-30, 16:51   Link #1
Hiroi Sekai
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Japanese Pop Culture and the Critical Thinking Therein

So currently, I am attending a very interesting class that teaches critical thinking by using Japanese pop culture as a medium. While going through the content, I've been realizing that many of us just take modern anime, music, games and other Japanese mediums as it is; it's more focused on thoughts of plot complexity, characters and the tropes that have become our modern day culture.

What I wanted to do is create this thread to see if anyone out there is still interested in this "critical thinking" aspect of overviewing Japan.

"Critical...thinking?" you ask? Basically, instead of summarizing plot and quality, it's a look at how things are created and why it will appeal to certain groups. "Why doesn't this work for me, but is still one of the most popular things ever?" One interesting thing is our current take on "shojo" and "shonen".

As starting examples, I'll ask about the four mediums we went through and see what everyone's personal thoughts are, because I'm interested to hear what you think.


Gunslinger Girl (Manga): It was noted in class that this series is very obviously targeting the shonen market. The young girls are the pawns, and the male handlers are the ones in power. For further analysis, the English Wikipedia page follows the standard of showing plot, characters and then the other mediums involved (manga, anime, music, etc.), but the Japanese Wikipedia page shows the darker truth. Each Gunslinger Girl is given a bio, followed by a list of guns, then a list of cars in the manga. Needless to say, this series is insanely popular with younger men, and the little girls/big guns/shiny cars are all facets of the promotion. By the way, Gunslinger Girl's manga is still ongoing to this day.

Fruits Basket (Manga): It's one of the best selling shojo manga of all time. It's interesting to note that the in-class discussion showed that the bishonen mixed with Tohru's easily attachable personality of wanting to better herself (and probably get with a good looking mate) is targeting younger women. As such, I really couldn't get into reading this in a really focused mindset. Apparently, coming-of-age romances are insanely popular with this target audience.

To Terra (Manga): A grand series that is once again a coming-of-age story. The class had an interesting split in ratings for this one, but while the only 4/5 and 5/5 ratings came from the male side, the only 1/5 came from the female side. Everything else wandered into the 3/5 area, which is what I had rated it as well. The entire manga is slowly paced and very character driven, and because it's set in a futuristic space setting, it appeals much more to the male fanbase. Due to its deeply integrated messages however, it would be more of a seinen audience as opposed to shonen.

Ghost in the Shell (1995 Film): Class discussion has not started for this yet, but I did watch it and write a journal on it. To me this feels like another seinen film, made for a more mature male audience. There's a strong focus on the sci-fi/cyberpunk atmosphere, there's quite a bit of action and a deep meaning behind it all. While the protagonist is female and has internal struggles (okay, she's mostly mechanical, but is still considered to be more human), the whole thing feels like it's going after male interests in the end. Oh, and breasts.


So yes, what are your thoughts on the four series above (with a critical mind)? Apply this to any of your favourite series and who you think it targets. Why do you think it works for you, and maybe not for others? Oh, and in a mindset like this, it's necessary to be critical on yourself as well. If you like something for cute visuals, a weakness for characters or something like that, it's helpful to mention that to deduce exactly why you like something.
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Old 2012-05-30, 17:22   Link #2
NanoDesu
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Personally, I'm not fond of defining anime along gender lines in the first place. What we see coming out of the anime market nowadays (in the 21st century) is very much a product of the disillusionment and need for escape generated by the bubble collapse in the 1990s, feelings that are universal and feelings that affected both genders. This type of historical context is what shapes much of how modern anime is produced - you could argue that there are still "male oriented" series and "female oriented" series, but everything is tied together by a common need for series that foster emotional involvement and escape from a system that, to the Japanese, has failed them. These are the factors that have made things like moe so widespread.

So my question to you is: do you think those four series you chose are really indicative of the modern mindset? They're all rather old, and are heavily influenced by themes like scifi and mecha that are all but extinct nowadays. I ask this because you categorized those series as "modern anime," whereas I would consider them more as "classics." And if the point of this thread is to think critically about the modern era using anime culture as a lens, do you think the things you pointed out about those series are very applicable to how we watch anime (and perhaps more importantly, how the Japanese watch anime) today?
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Old 2012-05-30, 17:46   Link #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by NanoDesu View Post
Personally, I'm not fond of defining anime along gender lines in the first place. What we see coming out of the anime market nowadays (in the 21st century) is very much a product of the disillusionment and need for escape generated by the bubble collapse in the 1990s, feelings that are universal and feelings that affected both genders. This type of historical context is what shapes much of how modern anime is produced - you could argue that there are still "male oriented" series and "female oriented" series, but everything is tied together by a common need for series that foster emotional involvement and escape from a system that, to the Japanese, has failed them. These are the factors that have made things like moe so widespread.

So my question to you is: do you think those four series you chose are really indicative of the modern mindset? They're all rather old, and are heavily influenced by themes like scifi and mecha that are all but extinct nowadays. I ask this because you categorized those series as "modern anime," whereas I would consider them more as "classics." And if the point of this thread is to think critically about the modern era using anime culture as a lens, do you think the things you pointed out about those series are very applicable to how we watch anime (and perhaps more importantly, how the Japanese watch anime) today?
I fear you've misunderstood what I wrote. I don't consider the four series there to be "modern", but I wanted to apply this method of thinking to modern anime, that's all. Like it or not, mediums are brought to life with a target audience in mind, for that is the only way it can sell, so we do have to think on these aspects once in a while. I think that ever since the beginning, the viewers don't need to think about this side and will just pass the thought by. On the other hand, I think it's necessary to step aside once in a while and see how things run, or we're just playing the oblivious card.

You don't have to categorize them as "for males" or "for females", but I am interested in the different ways people enjoy their favourite series and aspects of it. In the end it comes down to stabilizing thoughts so we don't become over-the-top cynicists who criticize anything that isn't to their liking.
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Old 2012-05-30, 17:56   Link #4
NanoDesu
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Originally Posted by papermario13689 View Post
I fear you've misunderstood what I wrote. I don't consider the four series there to be "modern", but I wanted to apply this method of thinking to modern anime, that's all. Like it or not, mediums are brought to life with a target audience in mind, for that is the only way it can sell, so we do have to think on these aspects once in a while. I think that ever since the beginning, the viewers don't need to think about this side and will just pass the thought by. On the other hand, I think it's necessary to step aside once in a while and see how things run, or we're just playing the oblivious card.

You don't have to categorize them as "for males" or "for females", but I am interested in the different ways people enjoy their favourite series and aspects of it. In the end it comes down to stabilizing thoughts so we don't become over-the-top cynicists who criticize anything that isn't to their liking.
I understand the target audience aspect of marketing, but for anime culture especially, pinning things as "for male" and "for female" isn't particularly useful in my opinion, just because the sentiments that go into what is "for male" and "for female" all derive from more universal principles. So while you can make statements like "male-oriented anime have more female characters, and female-oriented anime have more male characters," I think a more meaningful statement would just be "anime gels with its audience when there is the promise of emotional involvement and companionship, which translates to characters of the opposite sex being featured prominently."

But leaving the gender point aside, if you want to apply the thinking to modern anime, what kinds of series would you consider modern enough to be relevant to discussion then? For example, some examples of important "modern" series that I could cite that are indicative of the modern culture are Bakemonogatari or Higurashi (feel free to argue against that). Also, are we talking about why Westerners watch anime or why Japanese people watch anime? Because those two are two very very different ballgames.

I like these types of discussions, but the ground rules have to be carefully laid down or else the discussion is just going to get jumbled up.
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Old 2012-05-30, 18:13   Link #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by NanoDesu View Post
Personally, I'm not fond of defining anime along gender lines in the first place. What we see coming out of the anime market nowadays (in the 21st century) is very much a product of the disillusionment and need for escape generated by the bubble collapse in the 1990s, feelings that are universal and feelings that affected both genders. This type of historical context is what shapes much of how modern anime is produced - you could argue that there are still "male oriented" series and "female oriented" series, but everything is tied together by a common need for series that foster emotional involvement and escape from a system that, to the Japanese, has failed them. These are the factors that have made things like moe so widespread.
You know, nothing you've said goes against the idea of common cliches among works that target a specific audience . The historical context is very important, but I don't see why that means there can't be demographic cliches.

As for universal principles, I think we should look at more examples before we can definitively say that gender-specific cliches all derive from universal principles. Some of the more obvious ones, like more aesthetically pleasing males in shoujo works or more females in shounen, obviously derive from a person's desire to look at attractive people of the opposite sex, but I wouldn't be so hasty to make that generalization for everything. Maybe the differences between how Japanese males and females are socialized might lead to differences instead of a generality.

I don't have any examples though since I don't really think too hard on this type of stuff when I watch . I guess the emphasis that shows like Precure have on clothing might be an obvious example. I don't read a lot of shoujo manga, but if a lot of shoujo romance manga have a stronger focus on things like what happens after a relationship, that might be a difference we can look at since a lot of shounen romance manga tend to have the relationship as the end of the story.
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Old 2012-05-30, 18:26   Link #6
NanoDesu
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Originally Posted by OceanBlue View Post
You know, nothing you've said goes against the idea of common cliches among works that target a specific audience . The historical context is very important, but I don't see why that means there can't be demographic cliches.

As for universal principles, I think we should look at more examples before we can definitively say that gender-specific cliches all derive from universal principles. Some of the more obvious ones, like more aesthetically pleasing males in shoujo works or more females in shounen, obviously derive from a person's desire to look at attractive people of the opposite sex, but I wouldn't be so hasty to make that generalization for everything. Maybe the differences between how Japanese males and females are socialized might lead to differences instead of a generality.

I don't have any examples though since I don't really think too hard on this type of stuff when I watch . I guess the emphasis that shows like Precure have on clothing might be an obvious example. I don't read a lot of shoujo manga, but if a lot of shoujo romance manga have a stronger focus on things like what happens after a relationship, that might be a difference we can look at since a lot of shounen romance manga tend to have the relationship as the end of the story.
Nono, common gender cliches definitely exist. I'm just arguing that they don't go much farther than obvious, *common* things like "girls like series with hot guys, guys like series with hot girls." Which really is just a psychological statement about how heterosexual consumers are more in tune with characters of the opposite sex.

I actually think it's an interesting point to think about whether there is very much distinction between how the genders live in Japan, and whether this affects how anime is made. Based on my previous spiel though, you can probably guess that I would say that this affect is not as important as other things (like the universal historical context). Japan still has a ways to go before their views on gender equality catches up with more Western views, but they're much better than they used to be in this regard and it's only getting better. And I would say that especially for younger girls who are growing up in the 21st century in Japan, they're just as involved with the hyper-consumer culture in Japan as boys are, if not more. If there's anybody here who has studied this stuff before (it's been a while since I've touched Japanese history), I'd love more insight into this topic.
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Old 2012-05-30, 18:38   Link #7
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Initial reaction to your post: "Oh wow, a class that uses Japanese Popular Culture to teach Critical Thinking. Don't know if that's good or bad."

On further thought/after reading the thread so far:

At least as far as what's been said in this thread goes, I am more inclined to agree with NanoDesu although not to as much of an extreme.

I definitely do think that if the class focuses as much on analyzing the success or what have you of the shows through a gender biased lens as much as your post seems to suggest (it's practically male vs female audience etc. and the only other metric you mention is age and even there you are suggesting gender specific analysis), then what you are being taught is a very skewed version of critical thinking.

Also, why do you suggest that discussions oriented to plot and quality isn't (part of) critical thinking?
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Old 2012-05-30, 18:51   Link #8
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I want to add my own as well. It seems the most manga for women in mind or generally josei series when adapted to anime appeal to just about everybody else. The biggest and most recent example would be Usagi Drop. It has the most universal appeal because of its strong family values and problems that are very relevant. I think this one could appeal to all age group like Ghibli Movies because it's presented in rather matter of fact manner.

Another one I'm thinking of is K-on. I thought it was obvious that it would appeal to hardcore otaku with the constant pandering fanservice but I hear, it's rather popular among girls. I guess they don't mind the pointless fluff.
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Old 2012-05-30, 18:54   Link #9
NanoDesu
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Originally Posted by Soliloquy View Post
I want to add my own as well. It seems the most manga for women in mind or generally josei series when adapted to anime appeal to just about everybody else. The biggest and most recent example would be Usagi Drop. It has the most universal appeal because of its strong family values and problems that are very relevant. I think this one could appeal to all age group like Ghibli Movies because it's presented in rather matter of fact manner.

Another one I'm thinking of is K-on. I thought it was obvious that it would appeal to hardcore otaku with the constant pandering fanservice but I hear, it's rather popular among girls. I guess they don't mind the pointless fluff.
Keep in mind that the original planners for K-ON (the ones who first proposed the project to Kyoani) were all female.

But the female popularity doesn't change the fact that it's still constant pandering fanservice =p.
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Old 2012-05-30, 19:12   Link #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by papermario13689 View Post
So currently, I am attending a very interesting class that teaches critical thinking by using Japanese pop culture as a medium. While going through the content, I've been realizing that many of us just take modern anime, music, games and other Japanese mediums as it is; it's more focused on thoughts of plot complexity, characters and the tropes that have become our modern day culture.

What I wanted to do is create this thread to see if anyone out there is still interested in this "critical thinking" aspect of overviewing Japan.
I've been doing this since Day One of returning to anime in the mid-2000s.

There is plenty else to explore besides the subject of gender. In my case, I've always been interested in what anime reveals about the philosophical and sociological outlook of the Japanese, especially given the extent to which it resonates with my own Asian mindset. Shows in this genre include Haibane Renmei, Mushishi and Aoi Bunkaku (Blue Literature).

And while you're on the topic of gender, you may as well explore how gender roles were practically reversed in Seirei no Moribito, where a woman was the fierce warrior, a man was the nurturing healer and a boy was pregnant with a holy spirit.
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Old 2012-05-30, 20:31   Link #11
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I only saw it as a problem because as things change, people tend to apply modern thoughts to older content, which is not how they were presented back then. Naturally, it can be expanded way past gender, but that's just the point we've reached since we're technically still just getting started. If people have more examples of how far the topic stretches, that's an interesting subject to bring up for sure.

As for plot and quality, I'm not saying it's not important discussion topics. I'm just saying that we overdiscuss this anyways; just hit up the discussion threads for any show you want to debate over and everyone will be talking about plot and quality. What I'd like to get here is opinions of the deepest roots of why people like or dislike something. Do you recognize the reasons why a show works in a certain way, and can you recognize what may be considered quality to some people and why it doesn't work for you?

See, the little tidbit about K-ON up above is good. I personally just watched it without thinking too much about it, so I enjoyed it for what it was. Now that there was a bit of info that I didn't know to this point, and I'm glad I know it now. I feel it's just important to look deeper than what everyone focuses on nowadays.
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Old 2012-05-30, 21:13   Link #12
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Originally Posted by Soliloquy View Post
Another one I'm thinking of is K-on. I thought it was obvious that it would appeal to hardcore otaku with the constant pandering fanservice but I hear, it's rather popular among girls. I guess they don't mind the pointless fluff.
That you label it "pointless fluff" simply accentuates that you and some others have totally missed what makes it popular with females (unless you also consider sports-focused anime to be "constant pandering fanservice"). Its a huge crossover both in the female demographic and into main stream (Disney Japan picked up on it for their cable channel). The female development team for the anime adaptation consciously pulled back on some of the manga source (which *was* guilty of some pandering moments).
There's actually very little "constant pandering fanservice" in the series unless you're defining the term in some way new to me. What there is seems to poke at the concept (e.g. 'moe moe kyun' is tongue-in-cheek, the satirizing of the stalking club, etc). Primarily, its a nostalgic look at a group of friends as they make their way through high school and their music club.
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Old 2012-05-30, 21:16   Link #13
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The kind of critical analysis that goes on in western academia around Anime/Manga often is a bit ridiculous, and is looking at the wrong things entirely (while using all kinds of pointless jargon). The main problem is usually that academics don't actually sit down and watch/read anything. They make a lot of noob mistakes.

I don't think gender comes into it as much as your class thought.

Gunslinger Girl: I don't think the genders of the characters is as significant as you might think. There are also similiar manga where the sinister figures are women, both sexes or ambiguously gendered. As for it's demographic, it's not typical of Shonen. Shonen titles almost exclusively deal with spunky young boys(and rarely girls) doing their best, against various types of difficulties and enemies. Gunslinger girl's young girl protoganists, detailed hardware, and ambiguous morality is more typical of Seinen. It was printed in a shonen magazine, but there have been many shonen titles that skew older (and sometimes also to the opposite gender). It's magazine (Dengeki Daioh) is known for having many such titles that "skew older". Another prominent example from that magazine is Azumanga Daioh, which is also much more typical of Seinen.

Why is the Seinen demographic so fond of young girls? Mo. That would take a long time to discuss, but we all know about it.

Fruits Basket
: A fairly typical example of Shoujo. It's a lot like teen fiction for girls in America. IE it's all about falling in love! Nothing complicated.

To Terra: While it is shonen, sci fi, and contains many elements that would appeal to boys and young men, this is actually quite popular among women. One reason is that it is was written by a woman.

The gender bias may be more typical of your north american audience, then the comic itself. That said, To Terra is not really a typical title. It's generally not that popular (largely due to how slow paced it is, and it's shojo inspired art style). Frankly, gender isn't really a theme of the manga. It doesn't really come into it, at all.

That said, it is a decent example of Japanese warfare plots. Like in most such plots, the villainous side has good intentions, and the war itself is a product of missunderstandings. A good comparison would be something like Gundam, or Macross.

Ghost in the Shell:
Pretty much. Though the sexual attractiveness is not straight fanservice, as the major often seems like an inhuman doll, and so the sexuality is more disturbing, rather then attractive.


I don't think Gender is the right mode of enquiry to pursue with regards to manga/anime. Japan is not a country preoccupied with gender issues the way the United States may be. Also, while there are the distinct gender demographics, they're actually very porous. Many women and girls read shonen and seinen, and many men (particularly older men) read shojo. You might find this thread interesting.

It's more interesting to consider the how and why of manga, then the what.
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Old 2012-05-30, 21:35   Link #14
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Well, exactly. Like I said, the gender thing is just the early point we've reached by now. Needless to say we'll look more into things later on, but since some of the people were completely oblivious of this part as well, it's being looked over.

It's more of an idea for seeing the entirety of something instead of its outer shell. I think Vexx mentioned it quite well, actually. I see the bits that are shameless moe, but I see other bits as well. Overall, it's got no reason to be considered a "bad" show, but maybe it just doesn't sit right with you. Why? How? For what reason? That's something that should be actually discussed instead of the usual:

"It's such pointless moe"
"Yeah, but it's awesome"

If people have other opinions, I'm all for hearin' 'em. This is probably why I have a hard time giving low scores to something.
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Old 2012-05-30, 22:12   Link #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by papermario13689 View Post

Gunslinger Girl (Manga): It was noted in class that this series is very obviously targeting the shonen market. The young girls are the pawns, and the male handlers are the ones in power.
DonQuigleone already talked about this but there really is more than meets the eye to gunslinger girl,in fact I'll let the author speak for himself,this is what he said in an interview:


Quote:
Originally Posted by Yu Aida
I also believe that many readers could misunderstand this work at the beginning: being published in a magazine which mainly contains comic or videogame related manga which are all about seductive girls, it’s often confused for a manga of that kind, especially because all the main characters are girls. Truth is that this has nothing to do with these categories: my narrative choices are very similar to the seinen manga like Urusawa’s ones, while the psychological introspection in my characters is often comparable to the stylistic features of shoujo manga.
Really,there's an english gunslinger girl fan forum,you'd be surprised at the number of female members.
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Old 2012-05-30, 22:20   Link #16
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I think that the gender thing gets a bit too much focus because the way they do it in anime (if not in Japan as a whole) really is a bit different than how they do it in most North American entertainment.

Outside of actual porn, North American entertainment doesn't appeal to Gender A by showing loads of attractive members of the opposite gender and very little of Gender A.

Quite the contrary, in fact - Look at pro wrestling, most pro sports, action movies, and most sci-fi shows aimed at guys. These all tend to be very male dominated in their characters/entertainers, and they're aimed primarily at a male audience.

Now, look at what is generally considered "chick flicks" or North American TV shows aimed at women - It's here where you tend to find your highest percentage of female characters, not your highest percentage of male characters.


We tend to go with what I call "the touch-point approach" in most North American entertainment. In other words, we appeal to Gender A by having cool and/or relateable Gender A characters that people of that gender can live vicariously through.

One of the things about anime that really made it stand out to me when I first became a serious anime fan is how it actually had
action-oriented shows aimed at males but with female action leads (such as Shana, and Nanoha). This is almost unheard of in Hollywood. Hollywood is frequently scared to death of running with a female lead in an action movie, thinking it would totally fail to appeal to most males.


So the anime way of doing this is not really how much of the world does it. So that tends to stand out a lot to people just getting to know anime better, probably more than it should (as K-On! shows, anime sometimes can get that "touch-point approach" going do).
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Old 2012-05-30, 22:28   Link #17
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Not really sure why everyone is reducing Fruits Baskets to a pure romance manga? While romance played a large part there was a lot more to it and it primarily dealt with the fear of getting close to others in a metaphorical sense of a curse.

To me it's still one of the best Shoujo around and from what I recall popular with both genders

Also I am a girl who loves Toward the Terra. I think the series is shounen but it was written by a manga-ka who primarily wrote Shoujo from what I understand.
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Old 2012-05-30, 23:05   Link #18
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Not really sure why everyone is reducing Fruits Baskets to a pure romance manga? While romance played a large part there was a lot more to it and it primarily dealt with the fear of getting close to others in a metaphorical sense of a curse.

To me it's still one of the best Shoujo around and from what I recall popular with both genders

Also I am a girl who loves Toward the Terra. I think the series is shounen but it was written by a manga-ka who primarily wrote Shoujo from what I understand.
It hasn't been reduced, that's just the main target audience. It's good to see exceptions, so be sure to mention the little bits as to why you think it works for you.
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Old 2012-05-31, 02:03   Link #19
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Originally Posted by Triple_R View Post
I think that the gender thing gets a bit too much focus because the way they do it in anime (if not in Japan as a whole) really is a bit different than how they do it in most North American entertainment.

Outside of actual porn, North American entertainment doesn't appeal to Gender A by showing loads of attractive members of the opposite gender and very little of Gender A.

[...] look at what is generally considered "chick flicks" or North American TV shows aimed at women - It's here where you tend to find your highest percentage of female characters, not your highest percentage of male characters.
What you're talking about applies to Hollywood, but I wouldn't use "North American entertainment" as a synonym for Hollywood, because that'd be ignoring novels.
The North American novel market is full of women's romance novels with hot guys drawn on their covers, as well as the teen romance market containing titles like Twilight that are full of attractive men.
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Old 2012-05-31, 02:03   Link #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by papermario13689 View Post
"Critical...thinking?" you ask? Basically, instead of summarizing plot and quality, it's a look at how things are created and why it will appeal to certain groups. "Why doesn't this work for me, but is still one of the most popular things ever?"
Being a bit of a creative type myself, I like to analyze why people like the works they do. However, I would advise a certain degree of caution - when you say something about the appeal of the work, you're usually implying something about the fanbase. As a fan, I can say that there's a few things I definitely don't take kindly to people implying about me. And I tend to like a chance to say my side of the story too, which I'm not always given (or is only given when I'm already pissed off).

Anyway, with that warning in mind:

Quote:
Originally Posted by papermario13689 View Post
Gunslinger Girl (Manga): It was noted in class that this series is very obviously targeting the shonen market. The young girls are the pawns, and the male handlers are the ones in power.
Eh, I personally feel your class only got halfway there if that on this one. GSG takes the fantasy of being a father figure to adorable girl (which is widespread among even non-lolicon otaku IMO) and twists and perverts the hell out of it. I honestly don't think it's meant to be straight up fantasy.

Hence I totally agree with Don that it's seinen - many shounen readers aren't going to be old enough to have a father figure fantasy that the work can screw around with.

(BTW, I think a lot of anime and their characters have a sort of twisted appeal to them - in light of Evangelion it's probably one of the most notable things about the fandom.)

Interestingly, I think this might be a case of deconstruction of one's own work. As I understand it, the "proto" version of Gunslinger Girl was a) a lolicon H doujin and b) apparently involves Henrietta's handler betraying their employers to save her. Now, I haven't read the thing but based on those factors I'm guessing it's lighter and has more heroism (and sex with underage girls).

I'll also note that I came very close to participating in a Gunslinger Girl-verse online RP one time before deciding against it due to lack of time. Why am I bringing this up? Because I was going to play a female handler with a couple screws loose and a passion for dressing her charge up in cutesy gothloli outfits. Analyze that.
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Last edited by 0utf0xZer0; 2012-05-31 at 02:24.
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