Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Boys Over Flowers

Overall Rating: A+
Summary: A drama/romantic comedy shojo series created by Kamio Yoko. The TV series is a Korean adaptation of the Japanese manga. The story revolves around Geum Jan Di, a high school girl who works in her family's dry cleaning shop and a fast-food restaurant. The story begins when Jan Di delivers some dry cleaning to the ridiculously posh and exclusive Shinhwa High School. Only the richest and most talented kids are granted admission to Shinwa, and they don't even have to go to class if they don't feel like it. When Jan Di gets there she discovers that the young man whose clothes she's delivering is about to commit suicide. Apparently, he has been getting bullied because the F4 (or Four Flowers) decided they didn't like him.

Jan Di saves the boy before he can commit suicide, and her actions soon become public knowledge, and expose the bullying. The public demands changes at the school, Jan Di becomes known as "Wonder Woman". In order to appease the public, Jan Di is offered a chance to go to Shinwa on a swimming scholarship. Jan Di declines, but her family agrees for her, so our adventure begins!

On the first day of school, Jan Di meets the infamous Four Flowers. They are the most beautiful, popular, rich and powerful boys in the school - Goo Jun Pyo (the leader), Yoon Ji Hoo (the sweet one who plays violin), So Yi Jung (one of the playboys), and Song Woo Bin (another playboy). All of the other students clearly worship the Four Flowers, and try to give them presents and treats. Jan Di is enraged by the boys' behavior, and fantasizes about confronting Jun Pyo.

She finally gets up the courage to do it after he bullies her friend Oh Min Ji after she accidentally slips and drops some ice cream on her shoe. Jun Pyo demands she licks it off, and when Jan Di confronts him he offers to let her take Min Ji's place. Instead she pushes Jun Pyo over.

Jun Pyo declares war on Jan Di, and gets the school to bully her. Jan Di refuses to give in, despite the bullying and the rest of the Four Flowers begin to think she's "interesting". Ji Hoo is totally sweet and offers her a handkerchief when she's covered in flour, and protects her from some boys trying to hurt her. Is it love?

In the meantime, no one has ever stood up to Jun Pyo before. He interprets her actions as a demonstration of love, and begins to develop feelings for her as well.

Who will Jan Di end up with?

The beginning of "Boys Over Flowers" drags a little bit, but once things get going it's a lot of fun. I love stories where A) the main character is a woman, B) the woman stands up for herself, and C) there are pretty boys. I like all of the characters (even the mean girls), and I think they're do a really good job of developing the relationships (Jun Pyo and Jan Di are particularly hilarious). My only complaint is that I wish there were more female characters and that the women interacted more. Regardless, the series is proving to be a lot of fun, and if you like your high school romance/drama with a healthy side of comedy then I think you'll enjoy this one a lot.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

What US Media Can Learn About Dynamic Female Characters From Manga

Last week I came across this article on Jezebel titled "Memo To The Media: In 2010, Add More Dynamic Female Characters" buy Latoya Peterson, and I wanted to spend some time discussing it. The main concept of the article is that while manga has it's fair share of sexism and follows plenty of stereotypes it also has a lot more content for women and by women than you can easily find in mainstream US media.

I loved the article, and was really pleased to see that many of the manga the Latoya recommends are titles I haven't read yet. The one title I had read, Nana, is one of my absolute favorites. Does it portray women in romantic relationships with men? Yes, definitely. The main difference for me between Nana and US-based media representations of women is that it treats them like real people. They also pass the Bechdel test because the two main characters are women, they talk to each other, and they often talk about things other than men. A+

There are plenty of issues with manga and anime and their portrayal of gender (fan service being a prime example), but there is such an amazing variety of options it's easy to find titles that are women-centric, and deal with issues of gender in mature ways. I agree with Latoya's premise and wish that the US would create more material that is for women and by women that presents women as more than accessories, are from different walks of life, and don't have to be made-over to be beautiful.