Earlier this year, I updated my Facebook status, melodramatically declaring, “I give up. I give up! Anyone want to rec me some seinen to read?” Most people thought that I had given up on school–not true, I would never give up on school! But the truth was, I had given up on finding good shoujo. Perfect Girl Evolution was not updating regularly anymore, Skip Beat! was turning into a hentai.
What is good shoujo? Strictly speaking for the entire genre, the chief romantic tension must be between a female and a male. For my standards, the romantic leads cannot be yakuza, prostitutes, or have anything to do with host clubs. Not being in school or underage is an enormous plus as well. I must not see a bajillion ecchi poses with underwear showing and breasts looking shiny; eroticism must be kept to a bare minimum–erotic titillation only lasts for a few moments and usually adds nothing to the story. Additionally, the storyline must be endearing, even funny, but deep in meaning as well. The lead characters do not have to be knights in shining armor or princesses with ancient curses, fighting over kingdoms and succession to the family business. Simply, I must be able to feel something for the characters.
So it is with Kuragehime. The female lead is a 18-year-old girl named Tsukimi Kurashita, who is a jellyfish otaku (‘otaku‘ is a term used to refer to people with obsessive interests. For example, I could be called a SHINee otaku). She has bushy hair which she plaits into two pigtail braids, and wears 80s inspired oversize glasses. Her outfit of choice are gray sweats. Moreover, the supporting female characters around Tsukimi are all otaku–otaku of trains, Records of Three Kingdoms, traditional Japanese dress, old men. Together, as self-described ‘nuns’ or ‘Amars’ living a life ‘without a need for men’, they live in Amamizukan, a building that is smack-dab in the middle of redevelopment plans for Tokyo. Throughout the story, Tsukimi and her friends seek to find a way to save Amamizukan from redevelopment.
Enter the two male leads, the two sons of the Koibuchi household: Kuranosuke and Shuu. Shuu and Kuranosuke are only half brothers; Kuranosuke being the child of a mistress. Kuranosuke is younger, of college age, and above all, is interested in fashion. It also helps that Kuranosuke is ridiculously pretty, because of course, in Japan, when a male is ridiculously pretty, what can he do but cross-dress? Because of his cross-dressing, Kuranosuke is able to befriend the Amars, though only Tsukimi knows that Kuranosuke is, in fact, a male, and not a female. Shuu is the straight-cut older son in his 30s, and heir to the political dynasty of the Koibuchis. Shuu is also a virgin, ensuing for much hilarity as he starts to fall for Tsukimi.
In this maelstrom of complicated histories and relationships, a message remarkably wholesome and simple bubbles up through the surface of Kuragehime: an acceptance of self. An acceptance of the fashionable, the unfashionable, the jellyfish otaku, the old men otaku, everyone. An acceptance of the self and the willingness to work towards something with unflinching diligence and a belief in your friends. All this coupled with a sense of humor, unspoiled by erotic fan service (I’m looking at you, Yana). Though Tsukimi and the Amars get put through some makeovers, none of them ever comes to care about their appearance in that way. None of them become the vain princesses, enamored of their new appearances. They are as much the same old people they are, while learning to embrace others, different as they may be.
Kuragehime is a load of corn, but it is the kind of corny that makes you truly smile inside. In other words, a truly good shoujo.