In the wake of the success of the Wonder Woman movie, today I want to talk about something that is only obliquely related to Wonder Woman: shounen series created by women, and shoujo series created by men.
As with all my meta blog entries, I am writing for me me me and will only reference series I have seen.
So first I'll mention all the manga/anime creators I'm going to talk about. I'm only going to talk about series I like:
Women who've created at least one shounen series:
-Hotta Yumi, author of Hikaru no Go (manga)
-Takahashi Rumiko, author of Ranma 1/2, One Pound Gospel, and others (manga)
-Arakawa Hiromu, author of Fullmetal Alchemist and Silver Spoon (manga); note that her birth name is Hiromi, a more typically feminine name
Woman who created a shoujo series in a mostly-shounen genre:
-Suetsugu Yuki, author of Chihayafuru (manga)
Men who created at least one shoujo series:
-Ikuhara Kunihiko, director of Revolutionary Girl Utena (anime); also Sailor Moon, but that one's an adaptation.
-Urobochi Gen, writer for Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magika (anime)
Men who created an almost-shoujo series:
-Mizushima Tsutomu, director of Shirobako/White Box (anime about making anime; genre-wise not really shoujo at all, but the main characters are all female and it's such a sweet story about friends achieving their dreams together that it feels plenty shoujo ^_^)
Beware of minor SPOILERS for these series!!!
What's immediately noticeable about the lists above is that the women creators I've mentioned are manga authors, while the men are anime directors and writers. That might just be because of my limited knowledge of anime and manga history, but I think it's also likely there's some kind of bias there. Anime requires a bigger staff, a bigger budget, a bigger risk, and men are probably more likely to be given the trust to handle all that.
That said, I feel that those male writers and directors up there probably understand that they're in a privileged position, based on what I've seen of their work? Utena and Shirobako address male privilege pretty directly, and Shirobako addresses it specifically in the anime industry. I actually really like how Shirobako does it--there's no overtones of women vs. men, just women and men working together professionally and with mutual respect. There's also the recognition that while there are more men in management positions now, women are slowly but surely increasing their influence in the industry. I don't know how many anime studios can say that's what's happening to them, but I'd like to think the fake studio portrayed in Shirobako provides a good role model for the future. Collaboration between the genders--it's amazing that this is so rare in fiction! And men who write with sensitivity, and young women who drive too fast and become managers!
When we get away from gendered stereotypes it just leads to more interesting and varied work. The series I listed up there are ones that I love because they push the boundaries of their genres. But it's not JUST the push. I feel as if there's a real spirit of respect there for the genre itself. (In Ikuhara's case, he helped build the magical girl genre, so of course there's respect there lol.) Hikaru no Go, for instance, is a shounen sports/game series through and through--you can't help but come out of the series loving Go and understanding how much it means to these characters. But Hikaru no Go also gently tugs at the shounen formula. Hikaru doesn't go through the school tournament path for very long, he loses pretty often, and there's quite a bit of slice-of-life stuff in there. The emotional roller coaster feels a leeeeetle bit shoujo. The only other sports/games series that hits this emotional range, at least in my limited knowledge, is Chihayafuru, which runs in a shoujo magazine.
Is Hikaru no Go so unique because of its female creator? Maybe. When Hotta Yumi digs into the male-dominated world of Go, she does so from the position of outsider--both because of her gender and her status as a non-pro. What she tells us about the Go world from her outsider position is illuminating: it's a place that's insular, and weird, and full of nerds...who are, in fact, just like you and me, in that they are full of hope and love and humour and terrible heartbreak. In a way, Hikaru no Go didn't have to be a sport/game series; Hotta could have told us a regular old ghost story and set it in Hikaru's middle school. Yet Hikaru no Go's peculiar charm is predicated in large part on its genre--the games, the jokes, the relatively sparse text (shoujo usually has more), the Obata Takeshi art, the big Shounen Jump-worthy budget. And perhaps what makes Hikaru no Go extra interesting is what Hotta does with the usual shounen sports themes--friendship, a love of sport, competition, winning winning winning. She doesn't exactly turn these themes on their heads, but she gently...bruises them a little so that they hurt, and there's a price for them. A very shoujo thing to do!
I'd like to think that Hotta Yumi's treatment of the shounen sports genre is so astute because she researched so much and collaborated. Not just with her main artist Obata Takeshi, and the rest of her Shounen Jump team, but also with tons of go pros, male and female both (Yukari-sensei!) and people from the different Go Associations. That's the impression I get anyway from her author's notes. So Hikaru no Go wasn't just a female commenting on a mostly male world through a shounen lens--it was a female author talking to a lot of different people so that she could develop a well-informed viewpoint and give it her own unique outsider's spin. Yay!!
Buuuuuut of course, not everyone is Hotta Yumi. Having a female creator on a shounen genre doesn't necessarily mean that she'll push boundaries. It might just mean she'll just make all the boys real pretty. And there's nothing wrong with that! I am all for the pretty boys! It's just that, in the long run, the series I remember are the ones that are a little weird.
Takahashi Rumiko's Ranma 1/2 is definitely weird. Weird and hilarious! Most of the time I wouldn't say it's the most...feminist work in the world, considering how often Akane gets kidnapped and how shrewish most of the girls get when they fight over Ranma. It's also strangely heterosexual at its heart, despite all the crossdressing and magical gender-shifting. But geez, it's a fighting/comedy series where half the male cast ends up wearing female clothing on a pretty regular basis, and the message in the end seems to be "Who cares! Love is love!" Sometimes I'm not sure if it's a very very shallow treatment of gender or a very very deep one, but I do know that it's an incredibly unique and entertaining one. There are lots of great series that deal with gender out there (like IS, which is about an intersexual person, and constantly makes me cry), but how many of them have the male protagonist fighting in leotards and figure skating outfits and schoolgirl uniforms? Sometimes precisely in order to defend his masculinity?
Takahashi has also written a lot more generic fighting and adventure series like One-Pound Gospel, Inuyasha and more recently Rinne, so she's not an author who goes out of her way to break conventions. Ranma 1/2 was probably just a wonderful accident. But it is, I think, more likely that a woman would create that accident if she works outside of the usual shoujo comfort zone.
Would these kinds of serendipitously original series come about more often if women and men tried more deliberately to break genre and gender boundaries? I feel as if they might. And I feel that women are less likely to do that. They are probably more likely than men to censor themselves and try to write in a more "masculine" way for a shounen series, especially in a shounen publication. Just look at how Hikaru no Go's romantic-esque elements are so ambiguous. And then we have Arakawa Hiromu, who is extremely popular after Fullmetal Alchemist, but who still uses a male pen name. I suppose that's mainly a marketing/organizational thing, and most people do know she's female, but still, it seems unfair.
At the other end of the rainbow, we have people like Ikuhara Kunihiko getting tons of kudos for Sailor Moon and Revolutionary Girl Utena, and Urobochi Gen for Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magika. As they should! These are amazing series. Utena did to magical girls what Evangelion did to magical giant robot shows, but Ikuhara does it without ripping apart our souls, ya know? (God, Eva makes me so mad sometimes.) Like Hikaru no Go, Utena pushes at the boundaries of the genre with a sense of respect for what's come before.
Madoka though....actually it's really hard for me to talk about Madoka. Maybe THIS is the real Evangelion of magical girls, even though Utena was closer to being contemporary with Eva. Hm. I like Madoka though, and I kind of don't like Eva. Maybe because the animation budget ran out. Part of what makes Madoka so great is that big budget. The fight scenes are awesome! Have you seen the movie? That art direction! Wowza!
So basically, what Madoka teaches us is that men working on shoujo genres can find both creative AND financial success. It's true that men who write females also sometimes make really shallow fan service-y works (eg: some magical girl series that are just a bunch of lame panty shots), but hey, women sometimes do the same with their pretty boy shounen series. It's not an equal comparison--I'm pretty sure men do it more--but it's not necessarily the worst thing in the world, unless there are so many fanservice-y series out there that other sorts of work get drowned out.
Overall I think it's pretty great when we see people considering the world from a different perspective from their own--it leads to really interesting work. Now I would love to see women becoming able to do that without worry about being impostors--and with big budgets to match what the men get.
So that brings us back to Wonder Woman. Female protagonist, female director, big budget. A story about an outsider looking in. Not a perfect movie (the second half is confusing and hurried and generic), but a pretty good one. And definitely an interesting one, because it pushes a little at the genre in little ways--through compassion, through love, through ice cream. The least interesting parts, I think, are when the movie doesn't push at the genre, like when it insists on having a big explosive battle at the end. Let's learn from this.
To sum up, I like:
-The weird/interesting results of women doing shounen and men doing shoujo
-Pushing genre and gender boundaries respectfully
-Collaboration and steady progress rather than mean/angry gender wars
-Big budgets and no need to hide for women creators
-Hikaru no Go :D