Fangirl Saves the World

just who the hell do you think you are, anyway?

darling, darling please: the politics of representation

with 3 comments

the main cast of "Lucky Star"

the four main characters, from left to right: Tsukasa (the airhead, looking a little surprised) Konata (the ringleader/fangirl, making a cat face), Kagami (the realist, pointing at the viewer), and Miyuki (the perfect girl, posing cutely for the camera).

I recently started watching the moé anime, LuckyStar. There is no plot; the anime is based on a four-panel comic strip of the same name, so each episode is just the four main characters having silly conversations and going about their daily lives. It passes the Bechdel Test with flying colors, since it’s a show about girls talking. I think boys have been mentioned once, not including their immediate family members.

Cool, right?

It is, actually. It’s refreshingly light hearted and I can see elements of my own high school life in there. (I like to watch it after catching up with Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, to take some of the edge off of the latest cliffhanger.) What was surprising to me, and what I’m going to be writing about here, is that LuckyStar is for and by men. The author is male, and it’s published in a seinen/shounen magazine.

It seems strange at first, but I can relate to the appeal even if I can’t articulate it. After all, I am an avid fan of the series Hetalia, which is essentially the same concept: characters talking and getting up to silly antics, only the characters in Hetalia are mostly male (and anthropomorphisms of countries, but that’s another problem for another time). The fandom is mainly female. It’s the same idea.

I’m sure a lot could be said about why people are drawn to moé shows full of characters of the opposite gender doing cute things, but that’s not what I’m here about (this time). Instead, I’m writing about the politics of representation.

I mentioned on my personal journal that I had basically the same issue with LuckyStar that I have with Bayonetta and even Portal. They are all women’s worlds – with the exception of the hapless assistant in the Lucky☆Channel segment at the end of each episode (which hilariously deconstructs the kawaii/moé/genki girl trope by showing the female idol acting cranky and embittered when her lines are unscripted) – there is not a single major male character in LuckyStar. The girls talk about whatever is on their minds whether it be the correct way to eat certain foods, how to win a raffle prize or a UFO Catcher game, whether or not it’s better to study long before a test or cram all night before, and so on. It’s a homosocial female universe, but it’s a universe created by and for men.

When I posted about the fact this was a seinen/shounen comic, one of my friends commented that I wouldn’t have a problem with a similar story that was all male, but written by a woman. (Hetalia‘s author/artist is male.) Well, I guess not, but then again, we don’t live in a world where women have been historically granted (almost) exclusive rights to (the representation) of men’s bodies.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with LuckyStar on it’s own. It’s a cute show that puts the emotional world of the female characters front and center. It’s all about them, and that’s cool. Still, it exists in a context, and within that context it’s part of a larger system of male control over the female image/ideal. I wonder, LuckyStar sell so well if the author/artist was female? (I can’t think of any moé series about girls written by women, or about boys written by men; so much for “write what you know.” Write what you feel is missing in your life, maybe?)

I don’t know much about the whole moé thing, but I’m familiar with a few series marketed towards women: Hetalia, StarrySky and Miracle Train. StarrySky was developed by a game team, not a single person; the others were written/directed by men.

The politics of representation are complicated. I can’t hope to sort it all out in one post, and I’d like to hear your thoughts on moé and who is represented and who does the representing.

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Written by Fangirl

February 2, 2010 at 8:21 am

3 Responses

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  1. I would at first be like: “Hooray! Something which passes Bechdel!”

    And there can be the sharing perspective element.

    I don’t know about making the emotional world of women central in a comic that both men and women will read.

    The only full-length kind of thing which was created by a woman was the Chalet School series which is 58 books.

    Adelaide Dupont

    February 2, 2010 at 10:20 am

    • There’s a lot of manga for/by/about women and girls, which is one of the things I really love about the medium. (Which isn’t to say that it’s completely unproblematic, but shoujo manga is mostly written by women nowadays, and focuses almost exclusively on girls’ emotional worlds. Sometimes also while they’re saving the rest of the world; e.g., Card Captor Sakura.)

      “I don’t know about making the emotional world of women central in a comic that both men and women will read.”
      I think moé manga does just that, actually, though for some reason it is more popular with men than women. It’s not sexed up at all, which is nice; the Wiki article mentioned some theory that the girls basically serve as stand-ins for the (single, unmarried) reader’s daughters. They want to be fathers, but aren’t yet, but live vicariously by caring about these girls in the comic.

      Fangirl

      February 3, 2010 at 10:04 am

  2. […] reading this post about representation and Lucky Star, I ended up thinking about how I feel about creative works […]


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