A Look At Love, Emotions and Ambition Through The Lens Of Josei
At this point its no secret that I am a huge fan of Josei Anime. There are a lot of things about the genre that just draw me towards it, for example its mature take on romance usually seen from the point of view of the woman which in anime is quite rare indeed.
For the uninitiated Josei is a sub genre of anime whose main demographic is older women (i,e 18 years and older), I like to think of it as Shoujos older sister. It shares a lot of similarities with Shoujo anime, the character designs and brightly coloured backgrounds occasionally filled with flowers for instance. However, that is where the similarities end, unlike Shoujo, Josei anime tends to tackle its subjects with a more realistic and mature outlook.
What this means is that the subjects raised in the shows tend to be deeper, take for instance its views on ambition. Most Shounen shows tend to highlight the fact that hard work and training will always lead to success, Goku will always defeat the bad guy if he trains hard enough, Keitaro will eventually pass his entrance exam if he studies hard enough etc etc. More often than not, the root of this ambition is for “the greater good” or for a reason that will have a “positive” moral message at the end. Josei puts a different spin on this by making the route of ambition a lot more personal making it that much more easier to relate and empathise with its characters.
Chihaya from Chihayafuru is a perfect example of this, the main reason she wants to become the best female Karuta player is so that she can acknowledge that her life has some sort of value. Prior to Karuta, Chihaya was just an energetic young girl with no ambition or dreams of her own, constantly in the shadow of her more successful older sister she struggled to find an identity for herself, or to find an identity that would rival or surpass that of her very successful older sister in the eyes of her demanding parents.
The reason we root for Chihaya is not because we think she trains so hard and therefore deserves to win this title, that is all inconsequential. The real reason we are rooting for her is because we empathise with her trying to find a meaning and identity for herself, we want her to win not because she is the best but because we want to believe that if we work hard enough on our ambitions we will find meaning in our own lives.
Josei tends to approach characters expressing emotions with a lot more subtlety than other anime genres, while this may seem like a bad thing for a genre that mainly focuses on Emotional story telling and drama it ends up benefiting the stories a lot more. Take Daikichi from Usagi Drop for example, In the first episode he is suddenly introduced to his illegitimate aunt and the first few interactions he has with her are pivotal. Very few words are spoken but a lot goes on in those scenes, its those interactions that in the end entice him to take it upon himself to raise Rin on his own, despite the fact the he can barely manage it with his finances and time schedule.
The scene in which they meet eyes for the first time is quite symbolic of the state their relationship is in. A similar scene is shown later in the show and the contrast between the two is very apparent. Never has the statement a picture is worth a thousand words been more accurate. Josei uses these short scenes to tell an emotional story without all the melodrama and words needed to spell it out to the viewers. You don’t need someone to tell you what is going on through these characters minds to understand what is going on.
This also reminds me of a similar scene from Chihayfurus’ first episode, the first time we are introduced to Taichis’ character it is more than apparent that he has been in love with Chihaya for quite some time but has not told her for some reason. Unlike most other romance shows, its not the fact that Chihaya is clueless that nothing seems to have progressed (Chihaya is pretty clueless though) but the fact that Taichi manages to mask his emotions when he is around her.
I personally find that these scenes hold more weight and add a lot of drama to the overall story as opposed to the shows that feel the need to spell it out to the viewers from the get go.
Of all the anime sub genres out there I think Josei gets romance right the most. Unlike its Shoujo counterpart most of the romance plots in Josei tend to not rely on “fated love” as its core hook but a variety of other methods and ways, mostly complicated love triangles and unrequited love.
One of the best examples of these would be from Princess Jellyfish, Tsukimi is a college aged otaku that is quite honestly not very confident in her abilities and her physical appearance. Her obsession with Jellyfish comes from the fact that her now deceased Mother told her she would one day become as beautiful as the Jellyfish and be a Princess among them. The harsh reality is that she did not become as attractive as a supermodel and this really affected her self confidence going as far as thinking she would never find someone that loved her for who she was.
Ironically, the male lead of the show who is quite the bishie in both male and female form has always been swamped with girls literally throwing themselves at him for attention and just like Tsukimi he also wonders if he will ever find someone who will love him or who he will love genuinely.
Both of those situations are quite grim and depressing because lets face it, the truth does hurt and Kuragehime does not pull any of its punches when it comes to the romance sub plot. Unlikely situations almost always remain unlikely, Nearly all Josei romance shows have bittersweet endings which may not necessarily be “fun” to watch but are memorable indeed,you know just like real life.
The new noitaminA show Kids On The Slope also seems to be going this route with a love rectangle of sorts and a hell of a lot of unrequited love. The most fascinating thing about these shows is that most of the love triangles consist of close friends which makes the situation that much more volatile. Do you choose between your friends or the one you love? (Honey and Clover) Would you ruin your friendship just to get out of the friendzone? ( Chihayafuru) Would you have an affair just to get away from your nagging girlfriend? (Nana)
The subjects that Josei deals with are quite heavy indeed and don’t always get resolved in the most popular of ways which I appreciate a lot.