There is something about how Moyoco Anno portrays women in her manga.
Put simply, each and every female character is a bitch. While this may seem like a derogatory way to say it, it is simply how Anno sees all women. To her, women are fierce, fighting bitches, not simpering little things who take life as it comes. The women Anno draws are incredibly complex mirrors of the inner drama real women go through. In fact, many of Anno’s characters are studies of young women at different stages in their lives.
Take Kayoko Shigeta from Happy Mania. She’s so annoying it hurts. She bombs around with no consideration for others, is a total drama queen, makes mistakes and generally doesn’t learn a thing from it. I can see why josei might have failed in America if a lot of readers got their hands on Happy Mania first and not a smoother read. It’s rough to stick around for 11 volumes to see Kayoko grow. Unless you’ve already read Anno’s other work, you’re likely to give up and quit.
Kayoko is literally a crazy bitch throughout her own show. But at the same time, she’s a stereotype of female self-discovery. Her life is so up-and-down, so extreme, can she ever reach the perfect societal ideal of marriage, kids and happiness? Is that what she really wants? Can she ever learn to be introspective enough to get herself together? Is she over thinking things? All questions a lot of women ask themselves while trying to plan their lives in their mid-twenties. (As I can personally attest, since I’m currently at Kayoko’s age. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone found me annoying at my age either.)
Kiyoha of Sakuran: Blossoms Wild isn’t annoying to read about, but she can be as reckless and careless as Kayoko. She paints herself as indifferent, only caring about escape or irritating others around her. She paints herself as the bitch as an attempt not to get hurt, but finds herself to be young and naive instead. She has been too cloistered to truly understand everything she’s trying to protect herself from.
To me, Kiyoha’s story is about the first time a woman gets burned in love, usually as a teenager (like Kiyoha!) This can happen to anyone of any gender, of course, but I think it happens to women first. Women are often sold an image of glamorous love at a young age, just as it was sold to Kiyoha, and we often get our heart broken when our expectations don’t match those of our lover. We feel foolish, we do foolish things, then we go to our safe place to cry, just as Kiyoha did. Then we learn to forgive ourselves and move on with our lives.
Going further back in the development of women, we have Chocolat and Vanilla of Sugar Sugar Rune. Both girls are in their pre-teen years at best, but are very different people, thus both are a different kind of “bitch.”
Chocolat is no-nonsense. She does everything her way. People think she’s a trouble-maker, and therefore a bitch to them. But Chocolat is only diligent in following her own sense of right and wrong, which conflicts with others’. Inside, she’s just as sensitive and caring as Vanilla.
Vanilla, on the other hand, is the good girl. She does what she’s told and takes on the expectations that people have for her. All of this only shocks those around her more as Vanilla rebels and tries to become her own person, not a vessel for someone else’s desires.
Both are excellent portrayals of how society often forgets humans are complex beings and defines people by a one-dimensional trait. This habit is amplified in children, especially in girls. Being the good girl isn’t always a good fit for young women; they either reject the idea completely until they can find a compromise between their personalities and satisfying society, or they play along until the stress of not being able to defy expectations breaks them and makes them rebel.
Just to make sure you don’t think Moyoco Anno’s bitch stops at the main characters, Kiyoko and Harumi from Flowers & Bees; Takako from Happy Mania and just about every woman in Sakuran can all be defined as different kind of bitches. There is no room for delicateness in these manga, except as a mask put on to fool naive men.
I’m really looking forward seeing Hataraki Man in English some day. (Get on it, publishers. It’s only four volumes long right now!) It seems to be the next step in Moyoco Anno’s exploration of female emotion and bitchiness as themes (the character is 28, just slightly older than Kayoko of Happy Mania.)
In the mean time, I am grateful to Vertical Inc., Del Rey, Viz Media and TOKYOPOP for publishing Moyoco Anno’s manga in English, and to Ash Brown of Experiments in Manga for hosting the Moyoco Anno Manga Moveable Feast! (You can find the archives here.)