Aimed at 10-18 year old girls, shojo manga may not be normal reading material for an adult male. While I still like to consider myself male, I can`t make a convincing argument for being normal. So without shame, last week I picked up a copy of volume 1 of one of the most well-known shojo manga stories, the award-winning Nodame Cantabile.
It`s the story of two young classical musicians. The Cantabile in the title comes from the Italian word meaning songlike. I confess I did not know that; I looked it up. After almost ten years in Asia, Italian is as foreign and exotic to me as it is most Japanese. Classical music is not my forte either; I prefer lame oneliners like that one.
Fortunately, gross ignorance of classical music does not interfere with enjoyment of the manga.
Nodame, the main character, is unconventional. Compared to the traditional image of Japanese girls, her behaviour is outrageous. Her personal hygiene is questionable at best – bathes every other day, washes her hair every 5 days. She puts no effort into her appearance. She acts instinctively, uninterested in what people think of her, only what she thinks of other people.
Nodame has a romantic interest: Chiaki, another student of classical music living next door. He is hardly a normal bloke either. When visiting her apartment, he is horrified to discover a gominoyama (mountain of rubbish) in her room. He resolves to clean it up himself, he commandeers the sojiki (vacuum cleaner). Traditional gender roles are reversed – the male tidies up. Chiaki even ends up cooking for her – and washing her kusai (stinking) hair.
The clutter lying about the living room reveal something of Nodame`s quirky character. Amongst teddy bears, comics and boxes of sakiika (dried squid), Chiaki unearths a year-old saucepan of cream stew – now turned black. Next to the piano, he finds a furry bowl of rice, unidentifiable fungi, and at the bottom of the refuse, a bra, a pair of pants and a handful of soil stolen from the revered Koshien (a baseball stadium in Kobe) – Nodame leaps to protect this sacred soil from the sojiki.
These scenes must make readers think. The implications for relationships are potentially revolutionary. Females gain an excuse to litter and hoard at will. Males will have to consider the sad, horrifying prospect that not all women aspire to be live-in cleaners, a world where men must clean. Shojo manga is scary.