Jul. 23rd, 2013

the_sun_is_up: Twilight Sparkle reading a book. (mlp - happiness is a good book)
At first glance, Sugar Sugar Rune by Moyoco Anno is your typical Cute Witch tale. Best friends Chocolat and Vanilla are young witches-in-training and candidates to become Queen of the Magical World. They travel to Earth in order to collect hearts by getting boys to fall for them and then extracting those feelings of love in the form of heart-shaped crystals. Whoever collects the most hearts will become the next Queen.

So yes, this is a society that chooses its supreme leader based on how many boyfriends she can bag. If this sounds like a terrible idea to you, don’t worry: the author is very much in agreement.

What follows is a surprisingly intelligent and complex fantasy series that examines what happens when you pit two best friends against each other in a competition for power and popularity, a competition in which their chances of winning hinge almost entirely on their ability to conform to narrow-minded and restrictive gender norms. And it does so while also providing us with a pair of fleshed-out relatable heroines, a richly imaginative non-standard fantasy world, and Anno’s lovely josei-esque artwork.

The first hurdle that our deliciously-named heroines face is that the Magic World and the Human World have very different ideas of how a woman is supposed to act. Headstrong, confident, and aggressive, Chocolat was very popular in the Magic World where those traits are prized and admired, so she’s bewildered when all the human boys in her class find her too intimidating and avoid her like the plague. Shy, timid, and clumsy, Vanilla’s social life languished in the Magic World, but on Earth, her moeblob appeal makes her an instant boy-magnet.

Be true to yourself — it sounds great, but... )

My thoughts on this series are too lengthy to fit in one post, so: To be continued...
the_sun_is_up: Kyoko and Moko from Skip Beat standing inside a heart shape, smiling cutely at each other. (skip beat - so adorable and gay)
In my last post on SSRune, I talked about how both societies portrayed in the series have their own narrow expectations about how young women should behave, and how the Queen contest throws our heroines into conflict with those restrictive ideals. But this pressure to conform doesn’t just harm the girls individually; it also drives a rift in their friendship, as each feels jealousy for the other’s desirable traits. Vanilla in particular starts out admiring Chocolat’s courage, reminiscing about how Chocolat was her only friend back home and would always protect and stick up for her, but that admiration quickly turns to bitter envy, leading Vanilla to turn to the Dark Side in a desperate bid to gain the confidence she desires.

Vanilla: I’ve always envied Chocolat-chan, who acts like a real queen. I finally realize my hatred toward her. Things between us can never be the way they used to be. [...] Everyone loved Chocolat-chan. Pranks, jokes, and big laughs... I was never good at any of them. [...] I felt like I didn’t belong anywhere. So I can’t let anyone else have that position. To be the queen... that’s the only place I have left to belong.

Which leads into another big theme of Sugar Sugar Rune: Chocolat and Vanilla’s fight to maintain their friendship, even as the Queen contest does its best to tear them apart. This is a theme we see a lot in fiction and real life: in a patriarchal society, women learn to prioritize Getting A Man over everything else, which forces them to compete with other women (since desirable men are a finite resource), making it difficult to maintain any kind of female bonds or solidarity. In fact, you could interpret the Queen contest as a big metaphor for Life Under Patriarchy: In intensely male-dominated societies, the only way for a woman to gain power is by Getting A Man — seducing him, marrying him, being his mistress, or otherwise using sex to manipulate him into doing your bidding. Chocolat and Vanilla are competing for a position of power, but that power is only attainable by G-rated-ly seducing boys.

Whoever wins, or whoever becomes the queen, we will be friends forever. )
the_sun_is_up: Fugo and Abbacchio standing extremely close together while making model faces at the camera. (giogio - personal space invasion)
Previously, I’ve discussed the trend of bad-boy romances in girls’ media, and how it’s apparently really difficult for authors to write such romances in a believable and non-gross way. Sugar Sugar Rune isn’t one to buck trends here: Chocolat’s endgame boyfriend is Pierre, a black-hearted blonde ice king whom Chocolat defrosts and redeems over the course of the series. So the question must be asked: Does SSRune succeed with its bad-boy romance?

Uh...... kiiiiiiiinda?

I really like the romance in this manga, and in a lot of ways, it does a good job and is certainly miles better than many of its shojo peers (SO MANY MILES BETTER), but in other ways, it kind of falls on its face. It’s a mixed bag.

First, let’s look at Pierre’s character and his suitability as a love interest. He does have a lot in his favor:

a) He’s not a rapist. I really wish there was no need to even mention this, but a lot of shojo series have the love interest commit rape or attempted rape, or just be a sexually harassing creep, and then expect us to forget all about that once he gets redeemed. Pierre does nothing of the sort, so he gets a brownie point, because the bar is just that low.

b) He has a legit motivation for being horrible to Chocolat: he’s her mortal enemy, on the opposing side of a cold war that’s much bigger than either of them. He’s not just being cruel to her for his own entertainment (though there’s certainly some of that) — he’s doing it because he wants to beat her in battle.

Cut for more blonde bastardry - contains SPOILERS through Vol 6 )

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the_sun_is_up: Panty from PSG wearing glasses. (Default)
Sing me a bawdy song, make me merry

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