Another Defense of Twilight (Sort of) with Comparisons to Manga

Votaries has addressed Twilight on a few occasions, starting with an in-depth and spot-on critique of the books by Carole.

This was followed by a critique, by me, of the hoopla surrounding Twilight: although I am not a fan of the books, I think criticisms of Twilight's social effects (not its writing) are rather pointless.

Recently, I've formed the conclusion that not only is it pointless to get all bent out of shape over Twilight's supposedly chauvinistic, anti-feminist messages but Twilight meets a need sometimes ignored by American teen writers.

I formed this conclusion after reading a couple fantasy short stories by American writers and then some manga.

The fantasy short stories were retellings of older fairy-tales in which the gal gets the guy (or prince). However, the updated American versions end with the gal patting the prince on the shoulder and deciding, "Well, that was an adventure. I learned something about myself. But now I'm going to go to college. Goodbye, prince."

I understand these endings; to a degree, I agree with them. I've often thought that Bella should just get on with her life instead of moping about over her limp feelings for two boys.

On the other hand . . .

One of the refreshing aspects of Shōjo manga (manga that is aimed at girls and often deals with romantic relationships) is how often the female characters are simply allowed to be in love.

Not just attracted. IN LOVE. Not just "wow, he's so handsome, but I hope I can keep my head and focus on having a career" but IN LOVE. Not "ooooh, I don't know what I think."

IN LOVE.

In Hana-Kimi (the English it's-a-mouthful title is For You in Full Blossom), the female character Mizuki Ashiya--a romantic and sweet-hearted young teen--disguises herself as a boy to pursue the love-of-her-young-life, Izumi Sano (dark-haired boy on the left). She ends up as his roommate at an all-boys high school. She is in love with him for 23 volumes. He figures out she's a girl in Volume 1 but doesn't tell her and spends 1/3rd of the series protecting her; 1/3rd of the series struggling with his feelings; and 1/3rd of the series head-over-heels in love with her.

It's really just an excuse for girls to read about what boys supposedly think and do when they aren't seen by girls. The series runs from completely unrealistic to surprisingly spot-on in terms of events, behavior, and consequences.

And through it all, Mizuki remains devoted to Sano; nobody, including the narrator, has a problem with this.

The two adults who discover her secret during the series support her decision to pursue the man-boy she loves. (The third, her college-age brother, has his doubts but supports her decision.) The narrator never implies that Mizuki is making the wrong decision to spend 2-1/2 years of her high school career in a Japanese boys' school. Mizuki is encouraged to follow her heart, not in some fuzzy, everything-I-feel-is-okay sense but in the "love is hard/let's see if you can take it" sense.

Although sex is discussed, the real issue is how does one behaves towards the person one loves. What sacrifices should one make? Can one really fix the beloved's problems? What does it mean to be supportive?

These are questions that interest American teen girls as well as Japanese teen girls. Learning to handle these issues is part of growing up. And I think this is what Meyers, however poorly, was offering American teen girls with the Twilight series.

At their worst, manga series are a little too much like Twilight: the heroine is clueless, passive, and windging; there are far too many potential romantic leads (oh, which one will she choose?!); events force her into action (she doesn't make independent decisions). Altogether, she's a tad too much as Plinkett's interviewees describe Queen Amidala: monotone.

Unfortunately, there are manga series like this. (At the risk of getting hate-mail, Vampire Knight strikes me this way; I only made it through four volumes before getting fed up with the soap-opera-y, reactive story-lines.)

At their best, manga series are funny, cute, and insightful: there's one romantic lead; the relationship develops over the course of the series; other story-lines and characters enter into the picture, but the underlying focus of the narratives is always the relationship and what it means to be in love. The heroine has a distinct personality; she is often naive, even reckless, but makes tough decisions regarding her immediate and long-term opportunities. She defends her friends physically and vocally but also (hey, she's a girl) emotionally; in fact, she's usually something of a Pollyanna but in the cool Hayley Mills way, not the limp, air-heady way.

The world of teen lit has thankfully expanded a great deal since the "realistic," "relevant" books of my teen years, both topically and internationally. However, even now, until teen writers can say, "Hey, teen girls, it's okay to grapple with being in love," they won't get very far.

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