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Dissociative Identity Disorder: Alternate Personalities in Shonen and Shojo manga.

By Sarah Ash (2006-03-17)


Author Sarah Ash once again delves into the world of Manga, looking at the theme of mutliple or alternate personalities.


High school romance, with all its sexual tensions and misunderstandings, is one of the most common themes of shojo manga written by female mangaka. Intriguing differences are revealed, however, when a high school romance is tackled by a male mangaka. All the young protagonists in these series have problems with alternate personalities which turn their lives upside down. None more so than Ponta in Satomi Izekawa’s prize-winning ‘Guru Guru Pon-chan’. Ponta is a playful Labrador retriever puppy who turns into a girl after swallowing Grandpa Koizuma’s latest invention. Grandpa has developed the ‘Guru Guru Bone’ (later referred to as the ‘Chit-Chat Bone’) and hopes to make his fortune by creating a talking dog – but he is unaware at first that his invention has produced a very different result. Cue an escalating series of misunderstandings when Ponta, who still thinks and behaves like a dog (pooping freely, scratching, and licking her owners with effusive enthusiasm), has to learn to speak and behave like a human. Suddenly she finds herself in competition with her teenage owner Yuka for the affections of good-looking Mirai Iwaki, the most popular boy at high school, who also happens to be working as the family’s gardener in his spare time. It was Mirai, after all, who rescued Ponta the puppy when she ran into the path of an oncoming car and since that day she has adored him with all the devotion a dog can lavish on her favourite human.

Ponta ‘s utter bafflement at the complicated ways in which humans behave towards each other is particularly touching. And Izekawa is not afraid to deal with all the aspects of doggy behaviour that are singularly inappropriate in a girl, such as sniffing the class representative’s outstretched hand when being introduced on her first day at school, or leaping on the table and stuffing herself with any available food in the cafeteria. Yet the transformation is not permanent and Ponta slips between her human and dog forms by licking the Guru Guru Bone. When the bone goes missing, complications and heartbreak ensue. As with all the other excellent Del Rey manga translations, there are fascinating notes at the back explaining cultural references, which might otherwise puzzle Western readers.

‘Guru Guru Pon-Chan’ is a whimsical and charming contemporary fairy tale. Will Mirai-kun guess Ponta’s secret? Will it affect his feelings for her? Will the sudden appearance of Mirai’s glamorous ex-girlfriend Hana ruin their chances of romance? When the Guru Guru Bone goes missing, is Ponta doomed to stay a dog forever?

Girls with huge, soulful eyes are one of manga’s most easily identifiable traits and Satomi Izekawa’s characters have the most soulful eyes in any of Del Rey’s manga list to date. In ‘Othello’, painfully shy Yaya dreams of being a singer. Yaya’s alter ego is feisty Nana, who takes control whenever Yaya is in danger, laying adversaries low with her fists and shouting out her triumphant slogan, ‘Justice is done!’. Quiet Yaya is attracted to ‘nice-guy’ Moriyama, classmate and guitarist in an aspiring band, and it is Moriyama who first realizes that she is completely oblivious of her rowdy alter ego’s existence. ‘Othello’ portrays a sensitive girl’s conflicts as she struggles to assert herself and achieve the goals she so desperately desires. Moriyama’s moral dilemma is also explored: should he tell Yaya about her alter ego, for if he does, will the knowledge destroy her? Even though the notes at the back of Volume 7 discuss Dissociative Identity Disorder, the translator, William Flanagan, suggests that Yaya is not suffering from DID, proceeding to pose questions about situations that arise during the manga. ‘The genius of Ikezawa’s story is that she doesn’t give you the ready-made answer. You supply that yourself. So ‘Othello’ is about you and your personality.’

Considering that ‘Othello’ is a shojo romance,  the level of incidental violence is surprising. Moriyama’s arm is broken by a gang seeking revenge on loud-mouthed Nana. Yaya is threatened with rape.  And when at last she gets her One Big Chance to appear in a Rock Festival, she finds herself confronting Keisuke, the unscrupulous concert promoter, who tells her, ‘You can do it. But on one condition. I get a crack at punching you in the face! A little payback is only natural, right?’ And even though her Nana-self is protesting, Yaya says, ‘If that’s the only price to pay for going to the Rock Festival, it’s a bargain.’ Can Yaya find a way to reconcile the two sides of her personality, or will this constant internal conflict ruin her chances of achieving her dream?

In ‘Gacha Gacha’ Hiroyuki Tamakoshi gives us the male perspective on a girl with personality problems. Kouhei, an average fourteen-year old boy, finds himself developing strong feelings for his childhood school friend Kurara. When she returns from a summer vacation in Hawai, he is alarmed to discover that she seems to have suffered a personality change and ‘comes on all erotic’ to him. Yes, folks, it’s time for fan service – and then some! We meet the seductive Arisa, then precocious Alice, who asks Kouhei, ‘What do a boys’ privates look like?’ and coerces him into a demonstration, only to turn back into demure Kurara at the crucial moment. Yet the reason for Kurara’s bizarre behaviour is not even hinted at until the preview for Volume 2 at the end of the first book. This only reinforces my initial feeling that Tamakoshi (best known for the long-running manga series ‘Boys Be’) is not really  interested in developing his characters and plot beyond a fairly superficial level and that Kurara’s antics only serve as a kind of titillating cosplay. And why is she behaving in this way? Because her (unbelievably young and sexy) scientist mother has been working for the Rose Corporation, developing the ‘Gestalt Psychological Assimilation Chance Generation #2’, a virtual reality game called Gacha Gacha. ‘This game links to the human brain using electrical signals. We’ve introduced the latest 4th generation artificial intelligence into that virtual world,’ she tells Kouhei, inviting him to try the game for himself. ‘These quasi-human personalities exist autonomously and practically carry out there own lives.’ It transpires that during the vacation Kurara was asked to test the game and during the testing, she rashly disobeyed a sign reading ‘Danger! Do not touch! Beware of bugs!’ As a result, she has developed multiple personalities from the originals in Gacha Gacha. By the time Rin appears, a tough martial arts champion, who floors all the security guards, Kurara’s mother warns the horrified Kouhei that, ‘When the data transfer took place, I’m estimating that at least different 151 personalities were absorbed.’ Even when one of these alter egos is a cat, Kurara’s behaviour, although diverting and amusing, does not develop the theme with the same depth as Ikezawa does with the endearing Ponta. In spite of this knowledge,  Kouhei bravely volunteers, ‘No matter what happens, I’ll be there to protect Kurara!’ a promise he will frequently regret as the story unfolds.

‘Gacha Gacha’ is another kind of manga altogether, written with a mainly shonen audience in mind. No opportunity is lost to show Kurara behaving provocatively, alternately teasing or attacking Kouhei, as one of her many alter egos takes control. The arrival of an attractive new girl in class, Reona Grace Tokiwa, only adds to Kouhei’s confusion; it’s hard enough trying to deal with Kurara and her many personalities. Is there a deeper subtext in ‘Gacha Gacha’? Is it a metaphor for the utter bewilderment of an adolescent boy trying to make sense of the perplexing behaviour of the young girl he fancies? Or is it just a romp, taking every opportunity to portray Kurara scantily dressed, always titillating yet never resolving the staunchly faithful Kouhei’s amorous dilemma?

I’ve saved the dark jewel of this collection of adolescent psychic confusion for last. Seimei, Aoyagi Ritsuka’s older brother, has been murdered. Ritsuka, who has been suffering from amnesia for two years, is left to live with his abusive and disturbed mother who keeps demanding that he return the ‘real’ Ritsuka to her. ‘Loveless’, by Yun Kouga, is a twisted tale of loss, awakening desire and magic. In this alternate version of our own present, children are born with cat’s ears and tails that disappear when they lose their virginity. (Ritsuka’s new teacher, Shinonome-Sensei, still has her ears and tail, which causes some comment in the school corridors.)

On the first day at his new school, the aloof and prickly Ritsuka is adopted by Yuiko, a sweet but needy latchkey child, tall and well developed for her age, who constantly refers to herself in the third person. Yuiko may seem a bit of an airhead but she is quick to notice that Ritsuka is skilled at presenting a cheerful front to the teachers. ‘Sorry. I just can’t stand when people worry about me,’ he tells her to which she says, ‘You’re weird. Like you live a double life.’

On leaving school, Ritsuka is met by a good-looking stranger who introduces himself as Soubi – and tells Ritsuka that he was Seimei’s friend. Ritsuka instantly demands that Soubi go with him to ‘make some memories’ and proceeds to take photographs. ‘We have to take pictures or you’ll forget all about me.’ When they are alone together in the park, Soubi begins to behave very strangely and having assured Ritsuka that he won’t do anything to him, kisses him. Now Ritsuka finds himself bound to Soubi in an intense and dangerous world of spell battles against Septimal Moon, the mysterious organisation that killed his brother.

Yun Kouga reveals this perverse and compelling tale through her beautiful and evocative artwork; two colour pages are a bonus, further demonstrating her range as an artist. If any readers feel uncomfortable with the underlying implications of this work, especially the developing relationship between the student Soubi and twelve-year-old Ritsuka, they should first read the fascinating epilogue by adaptor Christine Boylan, ‘Words as Spells in Loveless’.  The first volume leaves the reader desperately eager to unravel the mysteries surrounding Ritsuka; will he and Soubi track down Seimei’s killers? What happened to Ritsuka two years ago? Can Soubi be trusted?  Excellent, distinctive artwork conveying a compelling piece of fantasy storytelling: ‘Loveless’ is manga at its best. Volume 2 is promised in June… 

Sarah Ash

Guru Guru Pon-Chan Volumes 1-3
Satomi Ikezawa
Translated and adapted by Douglas Varenas
Del Rey $10.95  Rating T 13+

Othello Volumes 1-8
Satomi Ikezawa
Translated and adapted by William Flanagan
Del Rey $10.95  Rating OT 16+

Gacha Gacha Volumes 1-3
Hiroyuki Tamakoshi
Translated and adapted by David Ury
Del Rey $10.95 Rating OT 16+

Loveless Volume 1
Yun Kouga
Translated by Ray Yoshimoto, adapted by Christine Boylan
Tokyopop £6.99 Rating OT 16+



Sarah Ash © 2006



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