This is a post (mainly) about nipples

This post includes links that are NSFW

If you follow me on twitter and were online in the early hours of Christmas morning 2011 (GMT), you may have noticed @LeaBecca, @jolantru and I discussing nipples. In particular colonialism, body politics and how they affect nipple colour. You may want to read their write ups on the topic before continuing, Body Politics and White Skin, Pink Nipples.

So now you know that there is a ‘right’ colour of nipples. And that there are bleaching creams available to turn brown nipples lighter even as there are ‘brightening’ creams for the face and the body. That pink nipples are a sign of innocence and lack of sexual knowledge.

When I reblogged this anime style drawing of a brown-skinned, female character on Tumblr, I wrote ‘Finally the artist got the right nipple colour!’ because at that moment it struck me just how often I’d seen brown- and dark-skinned anime style characters drawn with pale, pink-ish nipples. There’s been a lot of discussion on how ethnicity is presented in anime and manga, on the ‘race’ of characters in anime and manga. It is relatively rare to see characters with darker skin tones in anime and manga, nevertheless they exist and several people of colour who enjoy watching anime and reading manga across the globe are happy that they exist.

But what happens when your favourite brown-skinned character takes of his or her clothes to reveal pink nipples? Take for example, this image of Miyuki from the anime Basquash!. What would you think? Initially, I thought this suggested that the brown-skinned characters are actually white-skinned characters in blackface. The implications of imperialism and body politics that affect brown-skinned women did not occur to me at that point. I was genuinely confused, I understand some brown-skinned characters look tanned (and are supposed to be tanned) but why would you draw a brown-skinned character that has locs or a huge Afro and colour their nipples pink?

The first time I recall noticing pink nipples on a brown-skinned character was when I came across one doujinshi with characters from Code Geass by Nekomata Naomi, a female hentai mangaka. When I saw the manga, ‘Brown New Wife’, I barely registered that the new wife had brown skin and pink nipples on the cover (mostly because I was squeeing over Nekomataya being a female hentai mangaka). I must have laughed shaking my head and wondered if these artists had seen brown women topless before? Or who knows there could be brown women with pink nipples in this world. I convinced myself that it was a one time thing. I did not want to ‘overreact’ and basically silenced my own criticism.

I joined Tumblr recently and it did not take long for me to come across this photo blog dedicated to brown-skinned females in anime. As I went through the archives and saw that when they were shown, most of the brown-skinned characters had pink nipples I grew disturbed. I was confused and not entirely sure how to react, so I saved the pictures for later discussion.

That was until I saw the art I reblogged. I was surprised at how relieved I felt to see that at least one artist got the colouring things right. I believe it was at that point that I decided it was okay to say something. I am glad that @LeaBecca and @jolantru had things to say as well. As I mentioned above, most of my earlier thoughts revolved around blackface. I wondered if all brown-skinned characters in anime, doujinshi and art are actually white-skinned characters in blackface or tans? I briefly entertained the idea that all of us brown-skinned people who have adored brown-skinned characters in anime and manga have been hoodwinked.

I still do not understand why an artist would draw a brown-skinned character and colour their nipples pink but now I know how they conform to white supremacist ideals by doing so. In a world that regularly extols white skin, straight hair, skinny figures, and now pink nipples, as beauty ideals colouring a brown-skinned character’s nipples pink plays into the idea that there is something wrong with the natural tones of brown-skinned women.

On The ‘Whiteness’ of Manga

Recently I got into another conversation on how characters in Japanese comics look just like white people. I’ve had several conversations and arguments about this and I personally do not agree that all characters in manga look like Europeans because they have big eyes and hair that is not black. Today I remembered an episode in which I bought comics and a friend who doesn’t read manga decided to comment on them. I had two comics with me that day, one was a Korean comic (manhwa) and the other was a Japanese comic (manga). The Korean comic was Cynical Orange while the Japanese comic was Ooku. Both comics are vastly different in themes and plots and this obviously affected their respective cover artworks. As soon as my friend saw the front cover of Cynical Orange her reaction was akin to disgust and she said something that went like this; ‘What is up here? Why does this character look so white? I mean look at her eyes and her hair. Why can’t they draw characters that look more Asian?’

I tried to explain to my friend (who is Persian and white btw) that the character on the cover, the heroine Hye-Min actually didn’t look like that within the pages of the comic. She actually has black hair and though the big eyes are to be expected in any manga or manhwa that does not mean that she’s white. I also mentioned that the fact that she’s drawn with blonde hair on the cover should not be taken as proof that the author has some sort of racial inferiority complex and secretly wants to look white etc. However when my friend saw the cover of Ooku, she was much more satisfied saying something that went like; ‘This is more like it. This comic is definitely better, the character looks more Asian.’

Somewhere along the line I must have mentioned that the comic with the blonde woman on the cover was Korean and the one with the ‘more Asian’ looking character was Japanese. Due to this my friend concluded that Korean authors like to draw their comics so the characters look European while Japanese authors are more realistic in their depiction of characters in their comics. Needless to say I found her reaction interesting.

In case you’re wondering, here are the comics she commented on

Cynical Orange (the Korean manhwa)

and Ooku (the Japanese manga)

Like I mentioned above both comics have vastly different themes. Cynical Orange is the typical shoujo manga about a beautiful high school girl bullied because of her perfect looks and actually very ugly (and violent) on the inside who falls in love with a playboy. The major conflict is that the heroine has to discover and deal with the fact that the man she has always looked up to as her older brother may actually be in love with her etc. Ooku on the other hand is a mature comic with more complex. It is a historical (I guess a more suitable term would be alternate historical) piece of work set in an alternate feudal Japan in which most of the men have died due to an unknown plague causing the women to take up the men’s jobs leading Japan to become a completely matriarchal society where women hold the most important political positions and men are their consorts. The comic is particularly centred on a female shogun and is named after the ooku (which was historically the harem of the Edo castle accessible only to the shogun during the Tokugawa era).

Of course I could go on about how the plot influenced the cover artwork and all but I know that if my friend had seen another work by Fumi Yoshinaga (the author of Ooku) she will not have reached the conclusion she did.

Manga for Women: Yuki Yoshihara

This post is slightly NSFW

I am a huge fan of shoujo manga, that is comics aimed at young girls and teenagers yet a short while ago, I found myself getting bored with shoujo manga. I believe this was due to the fact that most if not all the heroines in shoujou manga are in high school. Also most of these comics have a high school setting and even if the manga is say a fantasy, the heroine would still be 16 years old or thereabouts. I remember getting quite upset after reading several manga in which a high school girl falls in love with a guy and marries him immediately after graduating (from high school just to make that clear). Thus I was extremely excited to discover the world of josei manga, comics targeted at older teenagers, women and those of us who may not want to admit that we have started having difficulties identifying with high school girls.

At first I was not sure if josei manga would hold my interest. Most of the manga I checked out had plots that resembled soap operas while others were basically really cheesy romances and yet others read like a typical Mills & Boons. I was persistent though, very sure that I’d find a mangaka whose works would hold my interest and indeed it was only a matter of time before I found a josei mangaka that I liked (which led to me finding a whole host of josei mangakas I now like). One mangaka I really adore is Yuki Yoshihara.

I would classify Yoshihara’s works as been the manga equivalent of a romantic comedy. Now those who know me will most likely not classify me as the type to like romantic comedies but Yoshihara is an exception. She is very talented and I love that in her works her heroines are almost always very confident in their sexuality (while on the other hand her heroes tend to be cool cold saying things like ‘I wanted to have a ‘pure’ relationship before marriage’ usually after they’ve done the ‘impure’ deed).

I personally find that unique about Yoshihara, I like the way her female characters are unconventional and for the most part independent. They are also usually strong-headed, stubborn and almost always horny which to me is a breath of fresh air as they differ from the shoujo manga I read. There are several ways in which Yoshihara’s works were new to me as a fan of shoujo manga. First of all, most of her characters are working women. They are secretaries or teachers or office ladies or magazine editors etc. Her female characters tend to be outgoing and generally very assertive.

Oh and in case you haven’t guessed already, most of Yoshihara’s manga fall in the ecchi/smut category which makes them basically light-hearted sex comedies. All of the manga by Yoshihara I’ve read have sex scenes which is why I find it very interesting that Yoshihara is sometimes labelled a shoujou mangaka. A few of Yoshihara’s manga are supernatural (one of my favourites is Ningyo Ouji which happens to be a one-shot about a woman who falls in love with a merman and there is a twist which I can’t reveal) while others such as Blanc and Kizuato (also one-shots) deals with more mature themes such as incest. I personally prefer her light-hearted stuff.

There are little quirks that make Yoshihara’s works even more enjoyable. The dialogue remains hilarious even though it has been translated. When her female characters get excited, they start bleeding through their noses and basically jump on their love interests (and they are usually in their chibi form when they do this). Yoshihara’s art is always nice and easy on the eyes but what I love the most is when she draws her characters in chibi form. That usually makes everything even more hilarious.

Yoshihara’s romantic comedies have become the guilty pleasure I regularly indulge in. If you are interested in checking out her work I recommend Itadakimasu, Haa Haa and Darling wa Namamono ni Tsuki*.

*All of the images in this post are of tankobon covers of Darling wa Namamono ni Tsuki.

Absolute Desting Apocalypse, Take 1

The original post turned out to be excessively long so I broke it down into three parts.

I guess it is time for some another manga/anime related post. I have several things to say regarding the many manga I have read and anime that I have watched in the past 3 years (I have reason to believe I have entered the 4th year). I have decided to say something positive now, just so that I’m not entirely negative because there are some really good anime/manga out there. I have a problem with female representations in manga and anime however, one of the best shoujo (girls’) manga/anime titles out there with great messages and life lessons* is Revolutionary Girl Utena aka Shoujo Kakumei Utena 少女革命ウテナ.

Before I watched the anime series I was very cautious. Every single book I read that analysed anime mentioned it. The books would try to analyse the recurring themes in the anime (such as roses) and its feminist themes. Revolutionary Girl Utena is really unique and I didn’t watch it at first because I had I had reservations. As someone who reads spoilers before watching movies (because I would prefer knowing ahead what I am going to watch), I knew the plot of Revolutionary Girl Utena and was concerned because of its incest themes. Yes that is a biggie and I tend to avoid any work of fiction with themes along that line. I was also a bit reluctant with the lesbian themes as before Utena, I had never seen yuri (anime/manga with lesbian content). So I was sort of expecting the whole objectification of women under a male gaze as then I did not know that the person behind Utena, Chiho Saito is a woman.

Yet, I couldn’t completely rule it out because Revolutionary Girl Utena is one of the few manga/anime series out there with a dark-skinned character that plays a very important role (yes, that matters too!). In the end my curiosity got the best out of me and I watched the entire anime episodes and am currently reading the manga. I only own the first volume of the manga and I am aware that there are many differences between the manga and the anime. I’m yet to complete my Revolutionary Girl Utena manga collection (because I’m simultaneously reading at least 6 other titles) but I hope to in the future.

*Spoilers* abound in this post, therefore if you don’t want to know then it is better not to go any further.

Once upon a time, many years ago, there was a little princess, and she was very sad, for her mother and father had died. Before the princess appeared a traveling prince, riding upon a white horse. He had a regal bearing and a kind smile. The prince wrapped the princess in a rose-scented embrace and gently wiped the tears from her eyes.

“Little one,” he said, “who bears up alone in such deep sorrow, never lose that strength or nobility, even when you grow up. I give you this [a ring] to remember this day. We will meet again. This ring will lead you to me one day.” Perhaps the ring the prince gave her was [really] an engagement ring.

This was all well and good, but so impressed was she by him that the princess vowed to become a prince herself one day. But was that really such a good idea? (Emphasis mine)

The quote above really sums up our main character and the story. Revolutionary Girl Utena is a story about a girl called Utena Tenjou who has this sort of obsession with a prince she met in her youth. It is a coming-of-age story and while I watched the series I relived the emotions I went through while ‘growing up’. I picture that part of my life as a crossroad where I had to choose a path; either left or right, I didn’t know what is beyond the path but I knew I had to make a decision and I knew the decision is scary.

In my opinion Revolutionary Girl Utena is based on this, all of the characters are at the points in their life where they can either choose to ‘grow up’ or remain youths seeking some obscure goal that possibly does not exist (known as ‘the end of the world’ in the anime) for life. This complex decision they must take is symbolized in their constant duelling for ‘the power to bring revolution to the world’ and to gain the Rose Bride, Anthy Himemiya as a fiancee. Revolutionary Girl Utena also explores the loss of innocence, a sexual element is introduced complicating things further because now that characters have to deal with these new emotions. Revolutionary Girl Utena is one of the most complex animes out there and it really made me think, after I watched all 39 episodes I was completely speechless.

*Yes life lessons. I also used to think cartoons were just mindless fun however Revolutionary Girl Utena was like the first anime that I actually learned from. I liked its messages on ‘coming of age’ and to be honest, it has left an impact in my life especially in regards to folk/fairy tales and the ‘witch’ trope.