jump to navigation

Feminism in Shoujo Manga: NANA by Ai Yazawa July 18, 2006

Posted by Naughty Ninja in Feminism, Manga, Nana, Shoujo.

Previously >> Feminism in Shoujo Manga: Introduction

This article is the first installment of a series exploring feminism in manga marketed under the shoujo genre outside of Japan.

As of late, more pop culture enthusiasts have come to question the representation of women in manga, particularly those within shoujo. There are those who choose to interpret the soft-spoken heroine as an exemplifier of what they perceive as an inherent regressiveness in Asian gender roles.

The more forgiving choose to regard this as part of a simple cultural difference that can be overlooked in favor of shounen manga. Then there are those who enjoy shoujo well enough to not write it off as completely counterfeminist, but may not have found a way to articulate why this is so.

With this series, I endeavor to find a way to do so.

The immensely popular shoujo manga sensation known as NANA recently hit shores outside of Japan, and starts out strong for its first three volumes. It takes a more mature route than most shoujo titles, and seems to be a perfect place to start our feminist analysis of shoujo manga. However, being immensely popular has always been an invitation for mean-spirited cultural punditry.

I can already imagine a slew of women writing off NANA as another title wherein use of romantic tropes and melodrama makes it just as trite as all the other shoujo entries that have come before it. These naysayers would insist on “stronger female leads” or “girls who don’t need love to be happy”. And let’s face it, there’s no faulting a desire for ass-kicking heroines disinterested in romance.

But to look for feminist value in manga is not the same as looking for ball-breaking monuments to womanhood, as that would be a shallow reading of what feminist values are in the first place. It is not necessary for female characters to masquerade as men and claim masculine qualities to be deemed “strong”.

Proper representation should focus on what is truthful and free of delusion just as much as it should focus on the ideal and the empowered. The girl you find on the street is just as important in her mundane ordinariness as any other representation, complete with her flaws and shortcomings. And one thing manga has proven capable of is showing these women, resolutely mundane or extremely symbolic, as possessing genuine desire for change and self-actualization.

NANA begins with two young women on a train to Tokyo, both closing the final chapters of their late adolescence and journeying towards tumultuous adulthood. No two girls could be anymore different, or lead such disparate lives. It’s love that drives them to the city, but more than that, it’s a calling to find their true selves. Both these girls have the same name: Nana.