marshtide: (Rei - go on you know you want to)
[personal profile] marshtide
(This post is partly prompted by talking a little earlier with [personal profile] starlady about old shojo, and partly by [personal profile] timeasmymeasure's post about female characters. Because I've been meaning to inflict some of my favourites on you for ages. I also want to put disclaimers all over this saying I don't know what I'm talking about. Because I don't! But hell with it! Let's roll!)

Let's talk a bit about the group of female manga artists in the 70s often referred to as the year 24 group. They produced a lot of series that are now classics and they pushed, as far as I can tell, more or less every boundary they could think of. Quite a few of them were particularly interested in gender and in sexuality. In the way relationships worked. Or didn't.

From this we get a lot of stories about powerful women and women who struggle for power and women who just don't have much of it at all. We get philosophical stories. We get stories about negotiating gender, including stories which tackle trans issues in a pretty serious (if generally not upbeat) way and stories that play with the construction of gender. And we get stories about gay or ambiguous characters - both male and female, although more often male (in other words, the beginning of shonen-ai). These stories are generally deeply depressing. I get the feeling that a lot of the people who wrote these stories had more questions than answers - and that there were other constraints on what they could actually tackle and how they could show it, to some extent, though I am not that well read up on this stuff. But Oniisama E's pasted on heterosexuality? Yeah, sure, I totally bought that. And the characters who challenge norms tend to die and abuse is rampant and half the characters in a lot of these stories are actually insane and all the rest.

One can view it, in that way, as something negative. But I actually feel like that whole movement was really powerful, anyway, and had really interesting, good ideas, which were pretty far ahead of the curve in some respects. I have a lot of respect for their stuff, even with the dead lesbians/gay people/trans people. Positive representation is great, but what they were doing was pretty amazing on other levels. It is also not, by any means, absolutely all negative.

A few of my favourite series ever come from this lot's work.


My absolute favourite of these writers - of the ones I've managed to track down and read - is Ikeda Riyoko (Rose of Versailles, Oniisama E, Claudine, Window of Orpheus). I think the degree to which she actually nails her ideas is better than quite a few of the others. And her non-gender-conforming women? Yes please.

Possibly one of her best series, and the one I would make everyone read/watch if it was widely available, is Rose of Versailles, set in the run-up to the French revolution. It is gender-defying as anything!

The main character may well have been intended to be Marie Antoinette, but fortunately for me, her loyal guard proved way more popular. I refer, of course, to my personal hero Oscar.

oscar001


Oscar!

Oscar has an amazingly complex gender identity, but does settle on some version of female. She was born female and raised as a man; despite being acknowledged to be a woman as an adult she acts a lot like a man and does men's jobs (with varying levels of resistance). She occupies a complex social position. She goes through a lot of confusion before she figures out where she even wants to stand. But she has some fun with the whole thing too!

oscar004

oscar005

oscar007


Women want her! Men want to be her! Or was that the other way around!

Actually, it was both.

moremanly


Ahahahahaha. Haha.

Yes.

Anyway, Oscar's story is basically a lot about figuring out your identity in a way that works for you rather than going along with the whole gender binary thing. It's about freedom and revolution and, erm, people dying in terrible ways, because this is from the 70s. It's (arguably) a much more heterosexual story than I have just made it look, although I do hesitate over the idea that anything Oscar does with anyone is actually completely straight.

In conclusion:

oscar002


(Images of Oscar stolen shamelessly from Val's stash.)

There are probably a bunch of other things to love about Rose of Versailles, which have just temporarily slipped my mind because, you know, Oscar. It isn't problem-free though. It's melodramatic as all hell, which may be a plus or a minus, depending, and it changes tone from a court drama to a military drama half way through (I prefer the latter by a wide margin), and it fails on the history front about as much as you would expect.

Other people have taken it as a purely straight romance and some kind of shining example of true (possibly DESTINED!!!) love, but they're wrong. I'm just saying. The eventual romance is pretty interesting but that's because it's a pretty tough one to negotiate and it's a struggle to get it to work at all while preserving everyone's gender identity.

But here is the thing, the bit that I really ♥ it for in some respects: Oscar does not have to Become A Proper Lady or put on a dress or whatever the usual bullshit is in order to get a dude.

Hoorah.



...

This post doesn't need to be longer. I'll get back to you about some of the other series and characters I really fell for.
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