Ask John: Should There Be More Variety in Shonen & Shoujo Anime?

Question:
How come the creators of anime think that boys like action and girls like romance? In shojo, there’s always romance stuff. And shonen just has epic action and adventure. I think some girls get tried of romance and desire to see something with action packed stuff. Can shojo have some action adventure stuff just like shonen? Or boy and girl mangas should remain separate? They should try something besides romance.

Answer:
Classifications like “shoujo,” “shonen,” and “seinen,” used to distinguish the primary intended audience for an anime or manga series, are useful for assisting conversation and comparative discussion, but fans shouldn’t become shackled by them. Anime itself does not strictly adhere to these genre classifications, and fans that do only limit their own potential enjoyment and appreciation of anime.

Shonen anime is not always strictly sensationalistic action, and shoujo is not always feminine romance. Escaflowne is probably the best example of a “shonen” anime that has a nearly equal shoujo component. Unlike shonen anime such as Weiss Kreuz, Gensomaden Saiyuki, and Gundam Wing, which are shonen anime that also appeal to female viewers, Escaflowne is a shonen action/adventure anime that implements typical shoujo characteristics like bishonen characters, a female protagonist, complex romantic relationships, and a heavy emphasis on emotional responses and interpersonal relationships. Rurouni Kenshin is an adventure series that originated in Shonen Jump magazine, yet it also contains romantic and Romantic elements (a developing love relationship, and a literary characteristics of Romanticism – namely the tortured soul hero).

Examples of shoujo anime containing shonen characteristics are much more common and easy to identify. The first two Pretty Cure magical girl series are, by definition, shoujo, yet they were directed by the director responsible for Dragon Ball Z and feature a plentiful dose of shonen style bone crunching fighting action. CLAMP’s Rayearth is conventionally thought of as a shoujo anime since it features magic using heroines, yet its action and RPG game style format make it equally shonen adventure anime. And CLAMP’s X originated in the shoujo manga magazine Asuka, but it features plentiful action and gruesome violence that would normally be expected from a “seinen” young men’s manga or anime.

On a related note, X is one of the very best examples of the ineffectiveness of attempts to strictly classify anime or manga into categories like “shoujo” and “shonen.” The X manga may originate in a typically shoujo manga magazine, and it’s drawn with the ornate and florid visual style of conventional shoujo manga, but it emphasizes ideological conflict, physical violence, and moral conflict like a shonen manga rather than the feelings and romance typical of shoujo manga. There are plenty of anime which are neither shoujo or shonen because they don’t emphasize characteristics of either. But X is neither strictly shoujo nor shonen while it does exhibit characteristics of both. So I think that strictly calling X either shoujo or shonen is inadequate to accurately describe the series.

These examples, I believe, prove that there are shonen anime with overt and intentional shoujo characteristics. And there are shoujo anime with clear shonen characteristics. These sort of intentionally cross-gender audience stories probably aren’t very common because effectively creating a story that respectfully contains both shonen and shoujo characteristics is difficult. Concentrating on one genre or theme is much easier than effectively mixing two. And focusing action anime for boys and romantic, emotional anime for girls makes anime easier to market and therefore more likely to be successful in its niche. After all, there are doubtlessly many male viewers who would never willingly watch a “girls” anime, just as there are girls who avoid exploitive and graphic anime targeted at boys. But avoiding certain anime just because of their labels or superficial appearances is itself superficial and only limits one’s own knowledge and appreciation of anime. There definitely are shonen anime with shoujo characteristics, just as there are anime for girls with “epic action and adventure” elements. Anime doesn’t limit itself or impose strict definitions upon itself. Viewers who are genuinely interested in the art of Japanese animation, and who want to explore and appreciate all that anime has to offer should likewise not limit themselves with arbitrary classifications and words.

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