We Need to Talk About Ore Monogatari

maxresdefault Ore Monogatari!! is a popular and critically acclaimed manga. It won the 37th Kodansha Award for Best Shoujo Manga and was nominated for two others. An anime adaptation is coming out this season, and to a much, much more positive reception than I hoped… that is, when it’s not eww shoujo cooties eww. I’d imagined that after the niche status wore off a more critical discussion could take place — I was wrong. Sorry for the horrible unsubtle reference, but I think we need to have that discussion, and I’d rather start it sooner than later.

Talking About Shoujo

There are several well worn patterns I see people talk about shoujo critically, because just like most of shounen, most of shoujo is wish fulfillment and easy to criticize — the difference is of course that most people are predisposed to hate and dismiss shoujo based on little to no exposure. The most common comment is about how the protagonist likes bad boys and rape, but there are also many who complain about the art, about the high school setting, about the melodrama, about how girly the love interests look, about how unrealistic it is, etc. It is a little bit like beating a dead horse and a little bit like bullying girly girls who happen to have a more casual relationship with manga and like that kind of thing. I should know, because — and I am ashamed to say this — I used to do it.

All this is to say that I find it incredibly difficult to frame that discussion and often redundant to even begin. I am also very ambivalent about shoujo itself. There are many great shoujo, and then there are many more with very misogynistic stereotypes that are just as bad as OreMono. Further, the general categorization of shoujo is so narrow it is misleading, because shounen/seinen really mean “general interest” while shoujo/josei really mean “anything else boys wouldn’t want to be caught dead reading.” So when I criticize OreMono I don’t mean 1) you shouldn’t enjoy it, 2) you’re a bad person for liking it and you should feel bad, or 3) all shoujo is worthless, I just mean: OreMono is bad.

So why now? And why OreMono?

What Is OreMono About?

It’s got a “beauty and the beast” premise, kind of. Cute, innocent, high school girl falls for the ugliest guy on Earth, because she sees beyond his hideous appearance to the utter lack of any personality underneath. The handsome, kind, charismatic best friend of the gorilla serves as the foil — because in any other shoujo he would be the true love interest, by unintentionally stealing away all of the credit for gorilla’s good deeds. What follows is, predictably, the most conservative shoujo romance you will ever read. To prove that they are not the sort of terrible people who have real feelings and are affected by complex social conventions — many of which are straw-man, they virtuously devote themselves to the gorilla’s happiness to make up for the horrible trauma callous shallow girls have caused him all his life by committing terrible atrocities such as failing to appreciate what a great person he is and talking behind his back.

I don't think this part has appeared in the anime yet, so I'll save you the trouble and you can stop watching it right now

I don’t think this part has appeared in the anime yet, so I’ll save you the trouble and you can stop watching it right now

I hate this trope. I am utterly fucking sick and tired of it. So girls might not say they think you stink to your face, so fucking what? You know why? Because you’re judgmental assholes who would vilify and demonize them if they show any selfishness. Because of centuries of oppression in which women can’t amount to anything and can’t do anything in the public sphere. If you don’t like it maybe you should realize what a fucking privilege it is to be able to voice your mind. Any shoujo that does this is basically saying fuck you sluts to all of its female demographic.

As you can see, OreMono is not your normal kind of shoujo. Shoujo aren’t often, in my experience, so boner-killing — figuratively speaking. More specifically, in any other shoujo all the usual insults and self-blame (why am I so stupid/clumsy/selfish etc. etc.) are only a precursor, an excuse, for sexy times . The rescue scenario where the girl defies her love interest’s order only to be cornered by the villains, but is ultimately saved by him and gets a sexy possessive reprimand or a sexy event, is my go-to example. OreMono instead plays a different game I like to call Are You Better than Those Other Bitchsluts?™ where at every turn the tension lies in whether Yamato — that’s the girl — passes cheesy purity test of the week. You get the problem, right? There’s no return for all the abstinence, except a light pat on the back for having escaped persecution — this time, which is a pretty soulless manga reading experience. Like when she proves she’s unlike her shallow friends:

Like when she proves she's unlike her shallow friends.

Who, if you’re curious, get trapped in a burning building for their crime, before being saved by gorilla.

All right, so that was a little bit unfair. First, given the benefit of the doubt, OreMono has a lot of potential because the premise is genuinely unconventional, especially considering OreMono’s contemporaries. It is refreshing that the relationship between Yamato and the gorilla does not have the dynamic I mentioned above, which I despise. Yamato is not selfish, incompetent, stupid, or clumsy, but instead allowed to, within reason, have her own needs and wants and still be as competent as her love interest. Most evidently, when the gorilla lifts up a steel beam to save her and she is actually strong enough to aid him, and when she reveals that despite what he may think about her being “pure,” she wants to hold hands with him and kiss him. Indeed, both cases renewed my hopes that OreMono was going somewhere special.

Second, it is somewhat useless to say OreMono fails at being a wish-fulfillment shoujo when it’s trying to become the exact opposite. Indeed, I think it’s actually more similar to shounen romance, especially those (rather rare ones) that are not harem or very harem-like and actually devote some space to the female love interests. Like Bakuman, where, again, the girl plays the Are You Better than Those Other Bitchsluts?™ game by passing (very public) tests of her purity. You will notice manga of these types by their large male following in Western fandoms, who have their own ideas of how girls should behave and therefore feel justified. But especially shoujo like Chihayafuru, which don’t tend to attract males until it gets an adaptation.

Yamato proves she's shallow...

Yamato proves she’s not shallow…

“Unaware” that it was a public confession in front of two men.

And the consummation of their love is not a sexy event, but another public show.

And the consummation of their love is not a sexy event, but another public show.

Finally, as an extension then, in the context of what OreMono is trying to do and say — that is, by OreMono’s own standards and not by the standards of other shoujo, I think OreMono is actually very effective and successful. I mean, I am not calling out anyone for playing along the Bitchslut™ game, because I also played along, and I hate how much OreMono was able to affect me in such a transparent manner. It’s the exceptionalism impulse: I felt compelled to follow Yamato because as my stand-in and representative she must demonstrate that I too can love ugly men for their beautiful hearts.

However, the slightly feminist things OreMono does do not go nearly far enough. When Yamato says she wants to hug and kiss, it is only further evidence of how virginal she has to be — if the mangaka thinks the average girl, no matter how romantic they might have been brought up to be, do not want/go for/already have/at least know and dream about a sexual experience, she is either delusional or full of shit. If she thinks they should not even conceptualize sex, well, I have no words but that’s the impression I got from the revelation. Compare her to Tomoko from Watamote, who thinks about sex 24/7 in ways so real yet so embarrassing it’s excruciating in a completely different way. When Yamato aids gorilla with the steel beam, she only does it once, and she is stereotypically girly in so many other different ways, like baking things all the fucking time. Further, ultimately OreMono is still a hateful and demoralizing Are You Better than Those Other Bitchsluts?™ game experience that is stupid, unsubtle, and repetitive to boot. The fact that it is what it tries to be adequately doesn’t make it less bad or frankly reprehensible.

Because OreMono is Also Just a Bad Manga

As you might have noticed, OreMono carries a hammer and uses it indiscriminately.

Something something

1, 2, 3… I count 7 sentences that express the same fucking thing

Oh wait, my bad, that was

Oh wait, my bad, that was 12

I mean Jesus fucking Christ how old does the mangaka think her audience is? It’s obvious enough from the first chapter that Yamato was in love with gorilla all along, but this is just unforgivable: 013

Wah wah I'm so miserably unpopular and my handsome friend steals away all the girls no. 151

Wah wah I’m so miserably unpopular and my handsome friend steals away all the girls, even the ones asking for my number solo no. 151

Or that time with the Blue Demon story, also known as the most freaking excruciating 8 pages in the history of award winning manga.

Yes, it actually took 8 pages to belabor something this cheesy and predictable.

Yes, it actually took 8 pages to belabor something this cheesy and predictable.

If you didn’t know about the story, spare yourself the pain because rest assured the point wouldn’t miss the target audience. It’s incredibly well known in Japan, and is usually performed for children and/or by children (as the gorilla says) and has been used countless times in other unsubtle manga in much better ways to make the same point. I stress, by children and for children, that’s the level on which this manga works.

OreMono is also repetitive. Arc one: Yamato proves she is in love with the ugly guy, not the handsome guy. Arc two: Yamato is tested by, but is actually much better than more beautiful but selfish and small minded and jealous older woman. Arc three: Yamato is better than her shallow friends. Arc four: Yamato suffers silently because that’s what wiminz do. Arc five: Just kidding, I’m not masochistic enough to read any more after four. You get the idea. Test after test after test, each more and more unbearably misogynistic about the way normal women and girls act, and as long as you identify as female it’s like singing up to be called bitchslut.

I hate this manga so much.

Advertisements
Leave a comment

8 Comments

  1. gilraen_tinuviel

     /  May 14, 2015

    Thank you for an interesting opinion. Well basically, I agree with you, yet I’m always caught in the narrative when I’m reading/ watching. Pretty embarrassing! (some manga are my guilty pleasure)
    But I recognize, even if some things are interesting /good, it has ton of problems too. Especially portraying boys vs. girls’ attitude towards Takeo. I’m sure IRL most boys wouldn’t idolize Takeo like that and all girls wouldn’t be mean bitches. And don’t even start about running gag, when they thank Suna for some good Takeo’s deeds.
    I caught a little hypocrisy in it too, because for all complaining how all girls are shallow and are only interested in good looks, Takeo never has had a crush on a girl, who was a good soul but basically looked similar to him or in a way, which would be considered stereotypically as ugly. All of them have been pretty & cute, including Rinko.

    Like

    Reply
    • It was my pleasure.

      The hypocrisy is alo an important point, and part of a bigger trend, which is that ugly women for the most part do not exist in manga and anime. To be ugly is to be less than human. There are shoujo (because other demographics aren’t even in the running) with protagonists who are initially (described as) ugly, but they always put on makeup, go through a makeover, etc. and the implication is that it’s okay, they weren’t actually ugly. In a manga I started reading recently (Haru x Kiyo) the female lead changes her image briefly and her love interest said, it was nice seeing the real you, or something. Which begs the question, what exactly is wrong with being ugly? Nothing. But no one will tell us that.

      My sister also made the point that self-image problems for girls is actually a much bigger, more systematic, more urgent, more interesting topic, which I think relates here. The RL dynamic is in fact reversed, which is why OreMono holds hardly any reality at all.

      (If pressed to name exceptions on the spot, I can only come up with Kechonpa and Teppu, both of which are near and dear to my heart. Cousins might count depending on where it’s headed.)

      Like

      Reply
  2. SherrisLok

     /  May 22, 2015

    Thank you for the review. What really bugs me is the question of who wants to read this? Do teenagers read this story for wish fulfillment and escapism? I think it’s likely. I don’t think many people would be drawn to this manga because they could empathise with the characters or identify problems the characters face as their own. It’s all just too contrived.

    Personally, I hate the ‘the Beauty and the Beast’ scenarios. So the ugly/scary/disgusting guy has a heart of gold, who would have thought! This thing has been beaten to death in the media. Did the world of manga really need to give us another played-straight contribution? Shrek provided the last nail in the coffin of this rotten scenario. Nothing that came afterwards should be anything other but parody, pastiche or some postmodernist wild ride, which the public loves to call a ‘train wreck’. Give me a break.

    Like

    Reply
    • I don’t know if I’ve explained it poorly or not, but, to reiterate, my point was that I think OreMono is actually the exact opposite of wish-fulfillment, for which my placeholder was “every other shoujo.” I think it’s a soul-crushing experience targeted at young girls who apparently shouldn’t even conceive of things such as sex or hot guys. Only it’s picked up by (grown) men who have very specific ideas about how these girls should act, like the people who gave it the award and all its Western fans, who overwhelmingly have never read or enjoyed a typical shoujo in their lives. I sympathize with the girls who are drawn to it because we’ve all been raised against impossibly puritan standards, not so much the people who keep on imposing them, though it’s not a clear line — I’ve been on both sides of it.

      Like

      Reply
  3. Thanks a lot for the review! What I read up until now was much more positive (but also critical of a lot of aspects you mentioned). I agree with you that the trope-reversal OreMono does (or tries to do) are baby steps and are not at all revolutionary. I haven’t read the manga and I’m not up to date with the anime but I was really creeped out by the „kissing practice“-scene (in episode 6, I think).

    Anyway, like for the other commenter this is a guilty pleasure for me because even though it’s pretty problematic in a lot of ways it’s also heart-warming and sweet at times.

    Like

    Reply
  4. NelLio

     /  August 27, 2015

    i see you read all your comments, in advance, forgive my English, it is actually my 3rd language.
    You should really watch the anime adaptation, its exactly the same but you need to look it from another perspective. The show is all about how nice the relationship between the characters is, I think it never intended to “test Yamato” in any way, more like “how pure is Yamato’s love towards takeo” and “what a good friend is suna” is a light hearted show that portrays the ideal friends/couples in heart-warming situations.
    Iam a 23 yrs old male and i literally cry almost all the episodes from the cuteness/joy that the show manage to transmit. I think that you can only experience this on the anime adaptation.
    Give it a try again!

    Like

    Reply
    • Hi NelLio. I am also not a native English speaker, so please don’t worry about it.

      Actually, prior to writing the post, I was told by my sister, who watched the anime rather than read the manga, that the anime was much more competent with regards to the story telling. Yet she still agreed with my conclusions and contributed some insights of her own that made their way to my post with regards to other aspects. Because the problem is that showing “how pure is Yamato’s love towards takeo,” is exactly the same as putting her through tests of purity. Just because the anime is less transparent doesn’t mean it’s not doing the exact same thing.

      I suspect that on this point we will fundamentally disagree though, because I take as paradigm that feminine purity is a concept socially constructed to repress female sexuality. To call someone pure is to call others sluts, and to use exceptionalism to divide and conquer women. In particular, I draw the line at the point where her friends talk behind Takeo’s back and get their just desserts right afterwards — I find that cliche hateful and have no intention of putting myself through it again. I am not saying people invoke the narrative consciously or maliciously, but it is a reactionary and predictable narrative all the same.

      Finally, I don’t doubt that OreMono is heartwarming. It is certainly supposed to be heartwarming, and as I’ve noted the manga in some ways is very effective even to me, so the anime should be even more so. It is the mangaka’s job, and the animators’ jobs, to make the story compelling. That is irrelevant to and does not change a political analysis of OreMono.

      Like

      Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: