Thursday, February 18, 2010
Shitsurakuen is a manga that I started off liking, despite (or because of?) its wholesale imitation of Utena. (My reaction was pretty much, "Whoo-hoo, it has action and yuri!") Over half a year since I first tried it (and 2 volumes through the series), my opinion of it isn't nearly as sunny as it once was. Shitsurakuen is undoubtedly spawned from the Utena family tree, but it seems to have fallen from the gnarly, parasite-infested branch.
Shitsurakuen is about a girl named Himoto Sora who is transferring to the prestigious Utopia Academy, which her best friend Tsuki has been attending for years. (Why didn't Tsuki warn her about the school- or ask anybody else for help- when she was still outside of it?) Upon arriving, Sora learns that the school is headed by a corporate bigshot who hates women and makes Utopia's students participate in Exaclan- a game in which male students duel each other by drawing weapons out of the female students. The "winner" of each duel gets the loser's girl/weapon. Sora accidentally participates in a duel and wins, saving her first new friend at Utopia from an abusive "master." She decides to keep participating in the duels to free more girls. Meanwhile, the evil student council is plotting against her. (It really shouldn't be as hard as it seems to be for them, considering Sora's aptitude.)
In volume 2...stuff happens. We see a flashback to how one of the characters received a letter of acceptance from Utopia, much to her and her parents' joy. In the present, the school forces her to give her parents phone calls telling them that she's "happy" and "fine" at school. This still doesn't explain why they never visit Utopia- it isn't plausible at all that two parents who seem to love their kid would never visit the school that she's attending and living at. And what about vacation time? The school can't keep the students there indefinitely, and once they do leave for vacation (or the third-year high school class graduates), you would think that someone would tell a parent/guardian/authority figure what's really going on at Utopia.
Even setting aside the objectionable elements- the incessantly negative portrayal of men, save for one character; the stereotypical "evil gay" male characters; the voyeuristic perspective found in a number of scenes (the lowest point was in chapter 7, where one of the male characters spends twenty-some pages beating and flaying the clothes off of a middle school girl- the same one who faced the threat of rape in chapter 5- with a whip, before Sora belatedly "saves" her); etc- Shitsurakuen's plot has holes big enough to drive a fleet of trucks through. The blind, unwavering trust that the other girls (aside from Tsuki) place in Sora saving them is irritating also. She's a blessed idiot- and even if she were a genius, it would still be stupid to completely rely on her. Shitsurakuen's yuri comes in the form of the two girls who seem to have a crush on Sora, and smatterings of subtext elsewhere.