*+:｡.｡ Angel, this is a Shōjo! - A Slowburn Secret Ready to Explode ｡.｡:+*
Love. Relationships. Friendships. Beauty. Sugar, spice and everything nice. These are the ingredients for the stories in this demographic and pseudo-genre. Nothing to do with an action story.
(Did we forget the accidental ingredient, the Chemical X?)
Started off for little girls, as we touched before, the shojo phenomenon has a really important impact on its public with the intentions of creating nice and enjoyable stories, so how can we believe Boku No Hero Academia could ever be a shojo? It’s published on Shonen Jump! The themes are for boys! There's nothing cutesy about this! Sure maybe some scenes but most of it-!
It’s something so silly and simple, people didn’t even considered first (or ever)! Ever since the Shōjo VS Shōnen meta, I have been planing to do this one, but Horikoshi is really making things difficult to share this at the “right time” for the series, and more and more people are being much vocal about what was supposed to be the most ridiculous idea they’ve ever thought -let’s dive deep into this sparkle world, let’s see where can we end up!
First of all, we need to discuss what shōjo and shōnen are, of course! In the past we have talked about these being demographics that describe the audience and, depending on the generation, political context and global influences, the characteristics of some bases, but what are these? Besides the obvious ones which come to mind first, there are other that makes it more obvious.
I want to clarify that, even tho they are demographics and not genres per se, in this case we are going to list and explain the differences using the popular shōnen and shōjo manga and anime, aka the adventure, action typical shonen and cheerful, hopeful typical shojo.
The main focus in the narration - Emotions VS Plot.
What is the thing that drives the story? Characters can have emotional reasons why they move, but does the narration focus on that during the whole development of the story, in more obvious or subtle ways? Shōjo’s strong weapon is the emotions not only the characters feel, but also the ones they evoke on the public; the intentions are creating beautiful relationships and let the characters be insecure, conflicted, and create a story that would focus on the importance of friendships and love. This is why the genre is so recognized for its romances, which in the adventurous types would save the day together at the end of the day, many times also along their friends.
In another hand, shōnen focus on the action, the plots and creating complicated stories; its common to see dramatic scenes and emotional ones, but the key difference as we explained before is the importance these feelings have; are emotions relevant at the climax of the battle mainly, or do they follow the story and our protagonists? How were they handled, with what purpose? To serve the action, or to show how the character is feeling truly? Has this death happened for plot reasons, or for emotional distress? If its for plot reasons, it doesn't mean the protagonists don’t react to it emotionally, but that it helps somehow the plot to continue at that moment; usually is unexpected, and the reaction also is, without previously discussing feelings.
Shōjos can have important and main battles, and shōnen can have important and main relationships, but these aren’t what matters the most for the story.
The question is: does it want to tell you an adventure or someone’s story?
The dark themes: realistic or unrealistic?
Something not many people realize is the way shōjo does touch many times real and complicated problems; abuse, addiction, mental illness, complex dynamics between parents and their children… in shojo many times they are brought up in ways of supporting the character affected, trying to find help and narratively speaking, in order to show situations that do happen. In the case of the magical girl genre, the unrealistic ones are typically representations of real life systemic problems like discrimination or misogyny, but also more common experiences like the fear of adulthood and growing up in a closed society. In another hand shonen blatantly have plots focusing on epics, like having to save the world at age 15; just like the previous characteristic, a shonen can also touch on those real aspects, but tends to go to the most dramatic cases and for very specific characters (cof cof villains cof cof) in order to explain their role as such.
Even if we can end up discovering more systematic problems such as poverty or segregation in many stories, I believe this happens thanks to living in this type of society and not because of being fully aware of these issues; when we grow up in a system, even when we have the opportunity of avoiding it and start from zero, we keep repeating what we have learned wether we are conscious about it or not, so its not unexpected to have poor characters and protagonists that just become a part of who they are or their past, with no further discussion. Besides this, its also true the handle of more delicate topics are in many occasions used for its shocked value with no real consequences.
Our main lesson: are you going to become brave, or accept yourself?
It’s not a secret which one is which, right? Shonen tends to focus more on coming from being some form of weak (literally physically, because of their context, because they are alone, etc) to being strong and have courage in difficult times. The lessons is stopping being so afraid and actually taking action to get your goals in life, finding the happy ending after ending with the final boss.
Shōjo prefers to bring the top of accepting yourself and growing thanks to it, having the happy ending after resolving the main problem.
In both cases character developments are common so the key question is, what is the thing that makes you “better” in the end? Becoming physically stronger, or accepting emotions? Achieving this big win, becoming “the best”, or becoming yourself which turns out to be the best version?
You can, actually, judge a book by its cover: the art characteristics.
Even tho every mangaka has their own art style and personal touch in this part we are actually talking about some details commonly found in these genres thanks to the first discussed characteristic, the focus on the narration.
If the plot is moving it, then the visuals will tend to be faster, irregular and sharper as it focuses more on the movements and fights; the characters also tend have more “matured designs” or exaggerated proportions/hairstyles/etc to be recognizable and stand up when you see them. In shojo as a character and emotional driven work tends to have much care on the drawing of the characters, specially their faces, in beautiful ways even in dramatic contexts in order to add tragic to it, and often they have more freedom to play with “cutesy” styles or simply adding bigger eyes.
In this new series we get the shojo and make it the protagonist, so here is a little list of things expected in most works udder this label: h
Inner strength>>>>external strength
Usually, interesting romances.
Heroines are strong and capable, not weak and waiting to be saved.
Can touch many dark themes, more related to the real world, including abuse, addiction, mental illness, death, etc.
Emotions are intense, moving the story with the passion of love and hope.
Tends to have happy endings.
The emotional arcs are made to show important lessons rather than just tell a story.
Uses “fem” aesthetics (sparkles, the color pink, stars, hearts, lights, etc).
Big emotional impacts.
Use of sparkles and stars in order to show emotions and connections.
Alright, now we have an idea of what we can expect on the typical works named after these demographics, so…
How is Boku No Hero Academia a Shojo?
Okay, okay, haven’t you noticed something while listing the things that describe shōjo and BNHA? It has many characteristics in common with that demographic, but it also has shōnen typical parts, how would we explain this?
The hidden shōjo inside a loud shonen
If we consider the first pages and compare them to the last ones, dont we see a huge difference in so many ways? Is this just the development of years drawing and writing, or something else?
As we discussed before, the narration in this work is made in order to trick the audience into believing something is not, and we have multiple examples for this
About the plot:
BNHA presents itself with the action, directly explaining the world built for the story… oh wait, we dont start right off there. We start with Deku as a kid defending another kid and Bakugō wanting to hit them, for the public to immediately know he is our villain… oh wait, thats not the case either. Then why…? The narration tries to look like this is the case, that Bakugō is a big bad bully that likes to hurt anyone for the shake of doing so, that what's important is the heroes and quirks but… emotions are there since the very beginning. Im not talking about characters showing them, im talking about feelings being the ones that move the plot: Bakugo starts bullying him because he is driven by fear, by feeling betrayed, and Izuku the hero starts his story thanks to his emotions, going to save him. If we focused only on quirks and the action, so many others things could have happened to make this point (All Might directly giving him the opportunity of getting his quirk right after meeting him, Deku saving another person, Deku moving without knowing Kacchan was there…).
One of the most repeated aspects in the story is the “my body moved on its own”. This is emotionally-driven, not plot-driven. We have multiple examples on this too.
When paying attention to the details, you end up understanding how quirks are important not because they are quirks, but because they created a whole society that affects everyone involved negatively. Quirks are a pretext to tell a different type of story.
After all, Izuku wanted to be the best because of Katsuki (and this makes me wonder, if he wanted something else, had another goal, would Deku still want to be the best hero? I doubt it tbh. But I’ll discuss this in the Character Acts).
About the lessons:
Again, when we compare there's this “obvious” conclusion we all thought understood: about becoming stronger. Being the best of the best. Explicitly Izuku tells us his story of how he became the greatest hero, coming from a powerless origin… but here is when we get it wrong again. What made Deku great wasn't how strong he could become, it was his heart, that one that he has been hiding since the very beginning and now is being attacked more than ever (and this would be his biggest mistake, cover himself up).
Deku is already strong, what's the lesson here? He is breaking all the time because he is ignoring his biggest strength and rejecting the parts of himself he feels ashamed of, exactly what Bakugō used to do in the past.
Hero society teaches what shōnen usually teaches, but the kids are learning new things… remember this for the future. This deserves a further discussion in another part.
About the drawing evolution
Okay, okay, yes, I know, authors can change their style thru the years, become better, all of that. This point its pointing out the shift in Horikoshi’s drawings’ main focuses; or, better said, Horikoshi’s ability to show clearer and clearer the focus.
At the beginning we have much faster drawings, much movement, but there’s something that was always there: the feelings for a person. Izuku’s feelings for Katsuki, no matter the label we use, are the key of the story. Because yes, Izuku loses control when trying to protect others, when trying to protect his peers, kids, civilians, and everyone else, this is a huge part of his character, but when it comes to Kacchan, it goes to another level.
His teachers and friends hurting, hurt -the drawings show them more clearly, looking at the front, smiling at him-, Kacchan hurting, it’s heartbreaking, impossible, unacceptable -drawings of him being smaller, like he is suddenly “less relevant”, or at least Deku is trying to feel that way. We get Izuku seeing his body, gone, dead, and he just breaks down, when he “recovers”… he is pretty much the same if not worse. Thru the drawings we are seeing a transformation for Izuku “Deku” Midoriya, morphing, showing what the narration is not telling.
We are not getting inner monologues not only because it would be a display of all of Deku’s feelings, but also because this way it looks, at first, like a typical shōnen fight, but the drawings are telling us a different story.
Its not as sharp, its not as fast, even attacks or quirk movements have a meaningful reason related to how they feel, about small pieces the narration tries to progressively show.
Because of this, I believe BNHA has always been a shōnen and a shōjo, hiding this one and just letting you see small shadows of it. Until now.
About parallelisms - Fakeouts
Over and over again, we have been (and will continue) explaining this particular topic in the Character Acts, but can this go even further and change the story this way?
Its expected it does. Boku No Hero Academia is a manga about expectations, self-hate, a toxic society and finding hope in others and yourself, but what we thought when we watched that first episode, when we read the first arcs? Another shōnen, and a pretty mediocre one, nothing new in here… right? Just like Deku’s design was “boring” and “plain” on purpose, Horikoshi wanted this to look like that just to show you how far that assumption was from reality. The series starts framing Katsuki as a bad person, as someone that only wanted to be the best no matter the cost, he would become the villain, right? And Ochako was nice to Deku and is the first girl he meets, being a positive source for him, surely she is going to be the light of hope that motivates him during the worst fights, right? All Might is the best hero out there, he has to be wise and intelligent giving the best advice to Deku, Izuku is going to prove everyone wrong by becoming the greatest hero with the best quirk ever and nobody would be able to make fun of him again-! None of this happened. And you know what's curious? Some parts are shown openly, like All Might being, well, kinda dumb and keeping a dangerous bias. Others, slowly and with care, where shown with subtle touches -like Katsuki’s development.
Besides this, the amount of parallelisms between the characters have multiple connotations, specially if we keep in mind the roles they apparently have: what does it mean for Katsuki paralleling Shoto in that panel before he changed his perspective? Perhaps, a realization? And when it happens with Ochako? And with Toga? With Shigaraki? Or AFO?
All of these have different reasons, and we have to keep in mind that parallelisms can have multiple purposes: to give a certain tone and rhythm to the story, to get a point across… sometimes they also can be used as the narration’s antithesis, providing two concepts, characters, ideas or actions as separated and opposed to the other. In BNHA, the parallelisms ar extremely important, a technique used many and multiples times to show positive, negative or neutral consequences or outcomes. Wether is to show the “truth” or to subvert expectations, they are relevant one way of another.
We will discuss all of this much better in the rest of the Character Acts (tho we already have one published), but for now a question can build up on our heads at this point:
Why some characteristics are more obvious than others?
Contrary to what we could think at first (”maybe its because there's actually no hidden or subtle anything, and we are just seeing things”), I believe this was a purposeful decision in order to make us know, from the start, we are seeing something that is further from our expectations, but safely. By showing an incompetent sensei, could be safer ways of tasting the waters with stuff that wouldn't be that controversial while creating the hidden narration behind closed doors -we can, once again, assume all of our expectations will be challenged this way, directly with characters that have nothing to do with the previous tropes. This is the same reason why we should have asked ourselves back then:
Why are Katsuki and Ochako so obviously typical? Lets rewind, go back to the past: we are in 2015, Katsuki is the rival who is an asshole and picks fights with our hero /and/ Ochako is a sweet girl who helps the protagonist get the confidence he needs to start fighting bravely; this is ordinary, painfully repeated tropes over and over again… extremely suspicious. And it is not what we were thinking, it’s becoming something different from those biases… we should have been paying attention to the open subverted tropes and characters, to understand that there were also hidden, covered ones.
[Edit: this part focuses on the story on its own, not the covers or possible doodles. I stated before the Hagakure cover can have multiple reasons, and because this is a hopeful place I’ll try to stay positive. So pls, don’t shame me for this because I’m just focusing on the plot (〃＞＿＜;〃)]
The comedy is a tool used to fight against the shōnen rules in a subtle way too, without compromising the story, and many times also “giving” something the public would pay more attention to than the fact this even happened; as an example lets think about the funny little moment that happened back at the beginning, Kaminari and Min*ta wanting to see the girls with bikinis during the swimming competition, but their expectations get crushed by reality: they are wearing the school’s swimsuits and stretching normally. Shocking.
As @bicheetopuff explains in DMs (MUAW MUAW GENIUS BIG BRAIN) Midnight’s death could be a representation of how we are over with this on the plot, with the pretending in the main story in order to satisfy a bunch of immature boys (or what adults think immature boys want to see): Ochako is mentally and physically stronger than ever, with a different mindset and ideals, Toga isn't even upset nor fixated on Deku, much more hurt by Twice’s death, Ochako’s rejection and the ghosts of her past hunting her, Jirō ready to fight AFO to defend her friends and being able to break his mask, Momo being a natural leader, keeping the class close and mentally collected in order to fight and create a plan, keeping herself levelheaded and focused on making sure she can provide everyone of what they need, Mina being brave and even in fear facing her rivals even if she paralyzed before (because this is not a story about stopping being scared, of never paralyzing, its about being able to get up even if it happens again, about learning to accept your mistakes and what you consider failure), Tsuyu supporting her friends and making sure everyone is focused on the tasks they need to do in order to help, and Hagakure being the one finding out who the traitor is. We can’t say Hori’s writing of women is good or fair compared to the characters that are men, but I think this is important and a shift in the story; none of them are reduced to be a guy’s girlfriend, and everyone was expecting it, the Kamijiro, the Mina only thinking of Kirishima, Tsuyu and Tokoyami teaming up, Ochako and Izuku of course how else could it be/s, Hagakure and tail guy, Yaomomo being on Todoroki’s side… right now, none of these ships are more real than anyone else’s, and none of these girls care about dating boys, they care about protecting and defending themselves and their people from anyone that attempts to cause any form of harm.
The story is burning its layers (and Katsuki is holding the lighter)
We have to admit it, this war is completely different from the previous arcs but can we really say its exclusively because its the last (or one of them)? Usually final fights are so much less… personal, yet every single one of the fights we have seen touch really personal and emotional aspects of the characters and their backstories.
Foreshadowing the finale: emotions are what will save the day. Emotions are not “a part” of the plot, they aren't “an important” thing that matters at the end of the final battle, emotions are the story. This is the key difference between traditional shōjo and shōnen stories.
An egg that is cracking, reality will be born: which was first, the egg (shōnen) or the chicken (shōjo)? What made the “egg” be an “egg” and not a “chicken”? Which is it, an egg that became a chicken, a chicken at all along or will it always be an egg?
This is a parody of the shōnen genre, wouldn't it be fun this way, to present as such, use its tropes, make references, just to each and every time throw them away and pull another move that denies this? Actually being a shōjo? And fooling everyone?
But can we really play with the demographics of shōnen and shōjo this way? Can it look a certain way yet being a different story? The answer is:
… could it be…? …is the shōnen demographic changing…?
Tik tak Tik tak Tik tak Tik tak Tik tak
The clock is ticking
So, it’s that it? Nope silly. This is after all, a <small> introduction to the new series! Expect more, the questions will be answered.