Tramps Like Us
Shojo manga was feminist. Cease laughing over your copies of Black Bird and Midnight Secretary—I swear it is true. The gang of younger feminine creators who took over women’ manga within the Seventies have been hip to the social and political problems with the day. They explored ladies’s rights in addition to broader questions of sexual id, sexual freedom, and conventional gender roles. They wrote gender-bending comics to check the which means and limits of gender. Keiko Takemiya, creator of the basic Music of the Wind and Timber, referred to as boys’ love manga a “first step towards true feminism.” After I interviewed Moto Hagio on the San Diego Comedian-Con in 2010, she expressed shock that there weren’t extra American comics aimed toward women—particularly tales about stunning males. “Feminism is meant to be extra superior right here within the U.S.,” she commented, “however are there nonetheless some issues that can not be mentioned?”
However within the Nineteen Eighties Japanese tradition received extra conservative, and manga more and more misplaced curiosity in social justice actions and youth revolutions. These days, shojo manga nonetheless has the attractive boys and the gender-bending, however—with notable exceptions—it is misplaced the status-quo-challenging philosophy behind them.
Ah, however what about josei, manga for older feminine readers, a class that grew out of the extra daring and mature shojo manga of the revolutionary interval? Josei has come a good distance for the reason that late Nineteen Eighties, when it was typically conflated with pornographic “girls’ comics” and seen as soapy leisure for bored housewives. It might be a stretch to say that almost all trendy josei romances make deep statements concerning the human situation; if you have not waded by way of the huge physique of untranslated josei, let’s simply say there are a lot of rapey office intercourse fantasies happening.
However simply as many glorious American novels get slapped with the “chick lit” label and high-heel-shoe cowl as a result of some writer determined they will transfer extra copies that approach, the very broad class of latest josei consists of superb, typically massively under-appreciated work. Frankly, if a josei title will get an official English translation, it’s best to in all probability learn it, as a result of josei is a tough promote within the U.S. and it normally needs to be exceptionally good to get picked up in any respect. (Or have vampires. Everybody loves vampires.) And I’ve now wasted a number of paragraphs making an attempt to clarify my love of Tramps Like Us, an early-2000s josei manga that is a heady combination of latest romance, real-world social points, cleaning soap opera, sizzling fantasy males, gender position reversal, and, sure, feminism.
Sumire is a superb, leggy, hard-headed reporter climbing the company ladder like she was born for it—though, as we be taught in flashbacks, she’s secretly a clumsy nerd who solely blossomed into an ice-queen hottie in maturity. From the skin, Sumire seems to be flawless, however in fact on the within she’s a neurotic mess, and one in all her largest issues is discovering a person who is not intimidated by her. After her newest boyfriend, a man who all the time felt inferior, cheats on her, Sumire resolves thus far solely guys who’ve the “three highs” Japanese ladies are purported to search for: larger pay, larger training, and better peak. It is a tall order, no pun supposed, for a girl who attended each Harvard and Tokyo College, is quickly rising to the highest of a serious newspaper, and is constructed like a runway mannequin. (She’s 5’6”, about as tall as the common Japanese man, though my 5’10” self all the time laughs darkly on the manga thought what’s “too tall” for a girl. See additionally Love*Com.)
It is a easy, logical plan, so naturally destiny should screw with it. One night, after a awful day, Sumire finds a cute younger homeless man sleeping in a cardboard field outdoors her condo. She takes him in however insists there’s nothing sexual about it; in any case, he would not have a single one of many three highs. As a substitute, she agrees to maintain him as a “pet,” permitting him to stay together with her in alternate for his doting consideration. She even names him Momo after her beloved childhood canine. Therefore the Japanese title of the manga, Kimi wa Petto (You Are My Pet), which Tokyopop modified in one of the baffling localization decisions I’ve ever encountered. I do not imply it is baffling that they modified the title for no obvious motive; that occurs on a regular basis. I imply that they modified it to one thing requiring music business permissions, essentially the most pain-in-the-ass rights to acquire. Why would anybody try this to themselves?
Tramps Like Us performs with the kinky subtext (okay, textual content) of this relationship, however it’s extra taken with the way in which the association challenges conventional gender roles and what even trendy, liberated Japanese ladies are raised to count on from a person. Not solely is Sumire older, taller, extra highly effective, and within the dom position, she has a blunt perspective and a raft of macho-geeky hobbies like video video games and professional wrestling. She beats up muggers together with her martial arts expertise, whereas her extra female finest pal—already married with a toddler—tries and fails to show her the secrets and techniques of fascinating womanhood. On the distaff finish, the petite, doe-eyed, submissive Momo is…look ahead to it…a ballet dancer. May there be a extra girly occupation? Or are the stereotypes all fallacious? Possibly a sensible lady who performs video video games is the right woman for the proper man. Possibly a male dancer is, how can we put this delicately, versatile.
“Sure, Sumire!” cries my Free to Be You and Me-raised feminist coronary heart. “Defy cultural gendered expectations! Smash the patriarchy by getting with this sizzling younger factor!” In fact it is not going to be that simple. At work, Sumire begins up a romance with Hasumi, a person who has all of the highs after which some, and in addition occurs to be her previous school crush. Again then she was a hopeless nerd, however now she’s received an opportunity with him—and that will be a cheerful ending too, would not it? If this manga have been written by a person, Hasumi would nearly definitely develop into a good-looking jerk out to interrupt Sumire’s coronary heart, however Yayoi Ogawa is not about to make the love triangle that straightforward. Hasumi is a genuinely good man who falls onerous for Sumire and is quickly speaking about marriage. Meaning Sumire has to choose—and resolve how lengthy to maintain telling more and more soiled little white lies concerning the “canine” in her condo. In the meantime, each the boys in her life appeal to different ladies—Momo a cute fellow ballet pupil, Hasumi a scheming dental assistant—as a result of, let’s face it, they’re superior.
Sumire falls in love with Hasumi, and for some time they’ve a picture-perfect romance, save for the key of Momo. However love with Hasumi means consistently sustaining her flawless picture, worrying about screw-ups, struggling to be an alluring girlfriend. It is onerous to not crave comfortable evenings on the sofa with Momo, chain-smoking and watching trashy TV. In the end, Sumire should resolve not solely what she desires in a person, however what she desires out of affection and life. In the meantime, there’s lots extra happening within the characters’ lives than their romantic entanglements: journalism, ballet, workplace politics, journeys to Europe and Hong Kong, friendships that wax and wane.
Ogawa’s artwork is pretty normal for 2000s-era josei, all lengthy legs and pouty lips. She’s finest at drawing the principle characters and their personalities; I particularly like the way in which Sumire flips between smooth business-suited sexpot and gangly nerd, and the design of Sumire’s married pal, who was the category hottie after they have been youthful however is now comfortably letting herself go (and arguably seems to be cuter with glasses and some further kilos). Not like plenty of shojo and josei artists, Ogawa is not afraid to attract motion, whether or not it is a sweaty dance recital or Sumire busting out pro-wrestling strikes on some mooks. However principally the artwork is there to maneuver the story alongside and supply a window into the characters’ minds.
Tramps Like Us is cleaning soap opera, chick lit, rom-com, wealthy bittersweet fantasy. The individuals are stunning, the roles glamorous, the boys incredible and doting. Nevertheless it additionally has issues to say about the actual world: concerning the roles individuals are anticipated to play and the selections they should navigate to search out happiness. It is a uncommon manga that may be goofy and attractive and considerate on the identical time, and perhaps that is why I hold eager about this one lengthy after ending it.
Shaenon K. Garrity is an award-winning cartoonist finest recognized for the webcomics Narbonic and Pores and skin Horse. Her prose fiction has appeared in Unusual Horizons, Lightspeed, Escape Pod, and Every day Science Fiction. Her writing on comics seems repeatedly in The Comics Journal and Otaku USA. She lives in Berkeley with two birds, a cat, and a person.