Wrapping up our section on Ikeda’s influence, let’s look at two series made in the 2000s, Ouran High School Host Club and Haken no Osukaru, and how they lovingly play with Ikeda’s work.
Part 1: Introduction
Part 2: Origins of Shojo Manga
Part 3: Riyoko Ikeda (Part 1)
Part 4: Moto Hagio
Part 5: Keiko Takemiya
Part 6: Interlude: The Rose of Versailles Franchise
Part 7: Riyoko Ikeda and The Influence of The Rose of Versailles, 1990s
In Ouran High School Host Club, Bisco Hatori uses elements of The Rose of Versailles, as well as The Window of Orpheus and Utena, but plays with the themes and references to the works to subvert the audience’s expectations. Haruhi Fujioka, a “commoner” high-school student is accepted on a scholarship at the super-rich and elite Ouran High School, and accidentally wanders into the host club and breaks an expensive vase on the first day of class. Under the impression that Haruhi (who has a gender-neutral name and wears pants and a baggy sweater instead of either the girls’ or boys’ full school uniform) is a boy, the all-male host club members conscript the “commoner” into the host club to pay off the vase. It’s not until one of the characters finds Haruhi’s student ID with an old photo of her with long hair that Haruhi confirms that she is a (cisgender) girl–but she doesn’t really care if people mistake her for a boy. Because Haruhi’s makeover into a cute boy is so successful with their clients, the host club suggest that she continue working as a host and cross-dressing at school, where no one else has realized she’s not a boy, to pay off her debt faster.
Ouran’s twist on the series it references is that Haruhi really doesn’t feel strongly about her gender, whereas the characters who influenced her creation did have times of questioning and unhappiness. Raised as her father’s heir, Oscar’s early life isn’t characterized by gender-related conflict, but later on in the story she does spend some time questioning what she wants and who she is. Julius from Orpheus is passed off by her mother as a boy even though she wants to live as a (cisgender) girl. Utena is a masculine-of-center girl who spends time doubting if her desire to be a prince is valid because abusive men try to take away her sense of self worth. In contrast, Haruhi doesn’t really care if people think she’s a girl or a boy, or if she has to flirt with girls as part of her job. (She is, by her own account, only attracted to men but doesn’t find a lot of time for romance.)
In addition to the references to The Rose of Versailles and other works, the series nods to and parodies many of the shojo manga tropes that began or appeared in the 1970s shojo manga we’ve discussed. For instance, in the final episode of the anime version, she literally rescues a fellow host club member while driving a horse and carriage, which recalls Oscar’s various heroics on horseback. (The end of the manga is quite different from the anime and is far less subversive than the start of the series.)
Many of the works that draw influence from The Rose of Versailles focus on women performing masculinities. However, not every story inspired by Ikeda’s work contains cross-dressing, masculine-of-center characters, or sword-fighting. One such show is Haken no Osukaru, which translates roughly to “Oscar the Temp Worker.” Instead of being an homage to the stylistic elements or plot of The Rose of Versailles, the show centers on Rose of Versailles fan.
Shojo manga otaku Katsuko Misawa is a temp worker at a cosmetic company, but her dream is to work in manga publishing. Her very favorite manga is The Rose of Versailles, and she even has a shrine to Oscar in her small apartment. Misawa wants to be like Oscar and takes encouragement from the manga as she tries to navigate workplace drama and advocate for herself as a temp worker. However, Misawa is presented as (cisgender heterosexual) “baseline feminine”: her gender expression and identity fall within culturally acceptable femininities, rather than femininities (often queer) that visually challenge the social norm (hard femme, nonbinary femme, punk femme, tomboy femme, etc*). Compared to her CEO-femme and high-femme colleagues, she comes off as timid and mousy. Because Misawa’s outward expression of femininity doesn’t appear to challenge any norms, her coworkers are very surprised when she’s blunt or delivers a impassioned speech about equity. Her colleagues’ and bosses’ dismissal of her as “just a temp” or “just a woman” is part of a systemic devaluation of femininity and those with a femme aesthetic.
Misawa spends a lot of time ascribing her friends and colleagues to corresponding characters in the manga as she tries to figure out how to deal with difficult professional and personal situations, and often imagines Oscar encouraging her. Rather than identifying with her gender expression or identity, the significance of Oscar to Misawa is Oscar’s compassion, her ability to check her privilege, and to be an actualized person who is happy with whom she is. Misawa admires Oscar’s bravery, sense of morality, and advocacy, and she hopes to become a person who sticks up for others and fights against injustice. While it’s very important to highlight people like Oscar who defy social gender norms and/or have trans/gender non-conforming/or nonbinary gender identities, it’s also important to remember that being strong, fighting for equity, and educating yourself about social issues aren’t gendered traits.
Next time: Shojo manga in North America.
*For more on fantastic self-defined queer femmes challenging ideas about mainstream femininities see “What We Mean When We Say ‘Femme’: A Roundtable”