Said no one ever. Well… that’s a lie; someone probably said that at one point in their life. I can see why they said it, and maybe somewhere in me I can say its semi-true, but I know overall that it isn’t. The guys in genres such as shoujo are supposed to look great since it’s a genre about romance geared towards young girls and women; what we want to see in guys or what creators THINK we want to see in guys. I will say this though; they’re not COMPLETELY off base.
In shoujo animes as a whole, the guys are supposed to be representations of what women want in their guys. These guys are either really romantic, strong silent types who show they care in their own way, guys who are straight up mean but eventually soften up, or they’re the guy EVERY GIRL WANTS because of some trait like beauty, brains, or a combo of both. They’re all tall and very pretty to look at, and of course they’re paired with some epic story that makes them even better. Are these guys, or “bishies” (short for Bishonen, which means beautiful boy), as over the top as they can be, really that far off from what women want in a guy? Is it unrealistic to want a guy who is always romantic and your best friend at the same time? Is it unbelievable to want a knight in shining armor who will whisk you away from a crappy life and offer a beautiful fairy tale? Honestly, that all depends on who you ask.
Within the genre of shoujo, there are a lot of subgenres, and one of those that really speaks to me is slice of life. Slice of life animes are types of anime that focus on a section of a character’s life. This character can be going through school or just working as an adult, but the main focus is just them going through daily life and finding their way. There isn’t always a fantasy or sci-fi element, but the usual message is that the character you’re following learns a life lesson. In slice of life, the characters can be more genuine and not completely exaggerated. They’re people you may know in your life or someone to whom you can relate.
Kimi ni Todoke (available on Crunchyroll and Hulu) is one of my FAVORITE slice of life, romance shoujo animes EVER! The story follows high schooler Sawako Kuronuma, who is a socially awkward girl trying to learn how to be more friendly and open with her classmates who avoid her like the plague. In her school, there is a popular guy named Shota Kazehaya who everyone loves because he is friendly and kindhearted. Throughout the series, Kazehaya shows various sides to his personality, as he’s not your typical one dimensional shoujo archetype.
As he befriends and watches over Kuronuma, who is his love interest, he goes through all of these emotions that add depth to his character. He becomes vulnerable at times as his feeling for Kuronuma start to grow. He protects her in his own way and smiles at her like she’s the only girl in the world. He genuinely tries to help her grow and offers a lot of encouragement, being very supportive of her, and remaining by her side as a friend; even when things get tough because of rumors. In the end, he learns to trust her and she learns to be honest and to never doubt her heart. Kuronuma finds her voice because she found a strong support in Kazehaya who gave her the push she needed to find happiness.
In the world we live in, masculinity is a touchy subject. The definition of what it means to be a “real man” changes from generation to generation, person to person. Everything a guy does has an effect on how much or how little of a man he is. Some guys make it hard for a guy to be vulnerable because he could be seen as weak. Some women make it hard for a guy to be open because men are supposed to be tough and not “soft.” Anime guys, on the other hand, are above the social rules and limits we have on masculinity. They can operate however they want and not be seen in their series as less than men. They have emotional and mental freedoms and liberties that some guys in real life don’t have. That idea alone is what inspired this piece and what led me to ask, are anime guys really better than real guys?
The answer I got back, combined with my own feelings is, of course not. They’re unrealistic and exaggerated. But the question I ended up really thinking about was this: are they completely unrealistic and exaggerated? In your average shoujo that has all the stereotypes of anime guys, or that are based off of romantic dating simulation/otome games, I would say yes because they’re supposed to be. In slice of life animes where the idea of the genre is to be as true to life as possible, however… maybe the guys aren’t so exaggerated or unrealistic. The guys in that genre are multifaceted. They go through struggles and at the same time, they have joys that they share openly with the ones they care about most. They show that relationships, platonic or romantic, aren’t easy. There are times where you learn to warm up to someone, grow up with them, argue or have a miscommunication, learn how to reconcile, become understanding, work on a friendship, and be open to love. They give an idea or show that it’s possible for guys to be open and vulnerable. That it’s believable for guys to hurt or cry and still be seen as a man at the end of the day.
In a piece I wrote about nerdy women, I asked my guy friends what they want in a partner. In turn for this, I asked women what they wanted in a partner and the answers are identical. I can’t, nor can the ones I ask speak for all women, but what some women want is someone who gets them at their core, who shows love and understanding. Someone open to give and open to receive.
The bishies in otome style shoujo animes might be unrealistic and exaggerated to the max, but at least the guys you see in the slice of life genre show that finding a guy or partner who will walk next to you and not behind or too far ahead isn’t unbelievable.