The five flavours of shoujo manga….parenting.
And so, part 2 of MOB commences! Please be sure to vote for me when the time comes!
Now, let the discussion begin!
Also, I’m going to use the same graphic, because I can’t find a better one…
Parenting isn’t really a topic often discussed by shoujo manga readers. I myself tend to focus on the romance involved in a manga, along with the characterization. But in actuality, looking at the parental styles of the protagonists is key in analyzing the realism in character motivation and action. Looking at how a parent educates their child can be a pretty good indicator of how realistic the author intends the series to be, and also how many
psychological issues problems the character can potentially have.
In my opinion, parenting techniques in manga can fall into a very wide (and often unrealistic) spectrum. There are, of course, the parents that shine – the ones that give their child all the emotional support they could ever want, and are fully accepting of their shortcomings…and on the other side of the coin, you have the abusive and cruel side of shoujo manga parenting. And completely out of nowhere, you can get the really insane and zany parents that conjure up very shonen manga-esque situations. Kind of.
Anyway, let’s get started!
(IMPORTANT NOTE: If you do not want Fruits Basket spoilers, you might want to avoid this post.)
1. The unconcerned parent
Notable examples: Natsuno Kirihara’s mother (Nagatachou Strawberry)
This is the parent who trusts their kid to make the right decisions, and can be either mother or father, depending on the situation. Put bluntly, this parent is the type that will give their child condoms so that they will have safe sex. This lack of concern could be perceived as a good or bad thing, depending on your cultural/religious bias.
Now, this parental type can branch into two different kinds of parenting. On the one hand, you have the parent that trusts their kid to make good decisions, and provides them with the tools to make those decisions. On the other hand, you have the parent that just doesn’t care AT ALL.
In the case of Natsuno’s mother, it’s clear that despite being sick, she genuinely cares about her son. Although she might not be curbing Natsuno’s….questionable behaviour as much as the most involved parent would like, she trusts that Natsuno is a good natured kid, and that he wouldn’t maliciously hurt someone on purpose. Also, since he’s been pretty independent for most of his life, she trusts him to take care of himself and make the right decisions. This type of hands-off parenting might not be what everyone necessarily approves of, but it’s what works for Natsuno, and that’s what counts.
2. The overly strict parent
Notable examples: Machi Kuragi’s mother (Fruits Basket)
This parent wants their kid to succeed in everything – academics, arts, etc – in order to save face or to satisfy their own ego. Failure to achieve these goals will often bring about verbal (or even physical) abuse.
One notable example of this parent is Machi Kuragi’s mother (Fruits Basket). Due to the competition between her mother and Kakeru’s mother, she was constantly forced to achieve academic success, in order to beat Kakeru and thus inherit her father’s business. Failure to live up to her mother’s expectations was met with verbal abuse, and possibly physical abuse (I think she did get slapped around a few times…) And these expectations were HIGH. If Machi didn’t get 100% in everything, her mother considered her a failure. As a result, Machi defined herself by her academic achievement as a child, and as a teenager, didn’t even know what her favourite colour was.
I think this is the parental type that most people can relate to. A lot of us have had parents that have stressed academic performance, and have gotten more than a little angry if we didn’t perform to their expectations. Of course, this parental type isn’t always wholly bad. There are times when it shows that the parent genuinely cares about their child, but this concern isn’t manifesting itself in the most constructive way – this usually resolves in the parent chilling out a little and giving their child more freedom. However, it’s when parents take this standard to an extreme that problems arise. Thankfully, shoujo manga is structured in such a way that we can see these types of problems resolved.
3. The overprotective parent
Notable examples: Chiemi Yusa’s father (Love Attack), Sawako Kuronuma’s father (Kimi ni Todoke)
Within shoujo manga, the overprotective parent refuses to allow the shoujo hero to date their daughter. Often, this parent type forces the shoujo hero to jump through a variety of plot-based loops, and ten or so chapters later, the parent (begrudgingly) provides their blessing. Overall, this type of parent tends to dote on their children, and is generally the type that shows their love for their child in the most outward way.
Take Chiemi Yusa’s father, for example. He is so opposed to Hirata dating his daughter that he locks her in her room and forbids her to go to school, proceeding to make Hirata jump through a bunch of physical challenge-based loops to earn his approval. When I read this, I thought it was approaching shounen manga levels of insanity, but this is still considered shoujo manga due to the romance angle (plus, it’s in Margaret, of all things)…in any case, I think this is a pretty good example of a lack of realism in shoujo manga parenting, and this plays into the general tone of the series – that you’re NOT supposed to take it seriously. I’m not saying this is a bad thing, I’m just proving my point.
On the other hand, you have Sawako’s father, who’s really just very wary of guys dating his daughter. He’s not out to be dead against Kazehaya, and it’s clear he’s just concerned about his daughter’s well-being and happiness. Again, this plays into the realism that you find in Kimi ni Todoke, and shows that you’re supposed to take the plot progression somewhat seriously.
4. The abusive parent
Notable examples: Isuzu Sohma’s parents (Fruits Basket), Akito Sohma’s mother, Ren (Fruits Basket), Soiichiro Arima’s mother (Kare Kano)
Child abuse is a theme that is often seen in shoujo manga. It crops up quite a bit, so the challenge is actually to find the best examples. The most effective examples that I can think of can be found within Fruits Basket. Honestly, Fruits Basket deals with a lot of themes of abuse, both verbally and physically, and this is reflected in the parenting styles of the supporting characters’ parents.
Fruits Basket is kind of the go-to manga if you want to talk about child abuse. These people are simply terrible parents (except for Tohru’s parents). Granted, in the series, Isuzu (or Rin)’s parents are said to have “tried hard” to deal with the fact that their daughter was a member of the Zodiac, but then they started hitting her.
WHY?! Rin was the cutest kid on the planet when they started abusing her. She didn’t do anything wrong, She did nothing but love her parents, and yet, they treated her with cruelty to the point that she was hospitalized. And that’s the whole point. It’s to demonstrate that cruelty is irrational at times.
But Ren Sohma (Akito’s mother) takes the cake. Holy mackerel. I mean, it’s not that she was outwardly violent to Akito, but the emotional abuse is on a whole other level. Not only did she reject her daughter (yes, Akito is a girl. This is why I told everyone to stop reading if they didn’t want spoilers) immediately after her birth, but went on to sleep with Akito’s then-lover, Shigure a few decades later. WOW. Whether this is simply abuse or a bitch move is up for debate, but this is a parent-child interaction no one’s going to be forgetting any time soon.
Finally, we have Arima’s mother (I never call Soiichiro by his given name. He’s ALWAYS Arima).
I think that Arima’s mother is the parent I associate most strongly with the most abhorrent parent in the shoujo manga-verse EVER. Not only did she disappear for days on end without leaving her toddler son with any food, upon her return, she would take her anger out on her son by hitting him for hours. When Arima finally made it out of their apartment, the neighbourhood kids ridiculed him, saying that he looked like a “monster” because the bruises and swelling on his face were that bad. Arima went on to repress these childhood experiences for most of his childhood, only to have them surface once his mother reappeared in his life.
Although this part of the series was incredibly difficult to read, the resolution of this conflict with Arima and his father was SO satisfying.
5. The ideal parent
Notable examples: Tohru Honda’s mother, Kyoko (Fruits Basket), Yukino’s parents (Kare Kano)
Along with child abuse comes the parent that every damaged soul wishes they could have had.
I think that Kyoko Honda is held up on a pedestal within the manga as an ideal parent, partly because a lot of the characters had such messed up home lives, but ALSO because Kyoko was an amazing mother. She wasn’t a perfect person – she was a delinquent, and briefly abandoned Tohru after her husband’s death – but she made up for it by making Tohru her top priority and giving her the best life that she could provide.
In addition, Yukino’s parents are also really good examples of shoujo manga parenting. They don’t coddle their kids, but they do provide good advice and are tireless in looking after their children’s well-being. There’s not really a lot to critisise with Yukino’s parents, really.
The ideal parent in shoujo manga, in my opinion, isn’t supposed to be a perfect person. They’re allowed to make mistakes. But the key criterion is that they always have their child’s best interests at heart, and it’s apparent to both the reader and to the protagonist.
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What this list shows is important in demonstrating that there’s a really wide spectrum in shoujo manga parenting. While a lot of these types don’t seem ideal at onset, within every type except the abusive type, the parents can have good intentions towards their child’s upbringing.
I think that the parent-child relationship isn’t addressed enough in shoujo manga. In a lot of the shoujo I’ve been reading of late, the romance is the primary focus, and any adult influences are basically absent, apart from teachers. I don’t think this in and of itself necessarily breaks the potential of a manga. I just think that if more authors explored parental relationships in a more meaningful way, it could make for more interesting and thought-provoking shoujo manga.
And that’s always a good thing.