Kouga Yun’s "Loveless" Strengthen the concept of Humanity
Kouga Yun’s Loveless: Manga that Strengthen Humanity through Visual Art
Gender and Visual Culture
Prof. Genevieve Gamache
Kouga Yun’s Loveless Strengthen Humanity
What is Masculinity and Femininity? It is proven that masculinity and femininity are not related with biological stature but those are most legendary usable words from western modernism era. There are discourses that masculinity is the attitude of male and femininity is the attitude of female but how this discourse becomes knowledge? Which body (male of female) fits with femininity and masculinity? Does it stay in both female and male body at the same time? These questions will be followed in my paper with the focus on the visual art form of Japanese Manga Loveless. Japanese use the visual art form from their edo-japan period as a medium of knowledge through vision. I will focus my paper on how deconstruction of stereotypical masculinity and femininity is portrayed in visual art, spatially in two protagonists Soubi Agatsuma and Ritsuka Aoyagi in Japanese manga Loveless from the perspective of semiotics and Discourse.
Synopsys of Loveless:
Loveless is a Josei manga by Yun Kouga. In the world of Loveless, people are born with cat ears and a tail. They lose their ears and tale when they become an "adult", and the implication is that it is when they have sex. In Loveless it is illustrates that by bond human are animal. Animals becomes human (not man or woman) by practicing knowledge of interacting love and compassion. Cat-featured young and adult fight with seven moon (six enemies) by receiving the combine power of animal and human. These seven moon distracts humanity. Here I found a relation with Indian philosophy where said that, Sat Rupu (six main forces) restrain human being in their spiritual path and prevent them from reaching a state of bliss and self-fulfillment. These sat ripu’s are kama (desire, lust, addiction), krodha (anger), Lobha (greed), Mada (pride), Moha (illusion, attachment) and Maatsarya (jealousy, ego). Kouga Yun relates with six enemies with seven moons. In loveless, Ritsuka, the kimonomini cat-like featured young boy, is the secrificer and Shoubi, the adult, is the fighter. Love, compassion and selflessness are the main requirement of fighter . Secrificer (by getting hurt) rules the fighter to fight with seven moons by compassion and selflessness. This is the main theme of Loveless.
My paper will illustrate that how the stereotypical discourse of masculinity and femininity deconstructed in Loveless with the help of semiotics. Language is the diverse form for representation and semiotics started with investigating the language. On the other hand, discourse, ““A group of statement which provide a language for talking about- a way of representing the knowledge about- a particular topic at a particular historical moment. […] Discourse is about the production of knowledge through language” (Hall, The West and the rest, 1992, p.291)” (Class presentation of Gender and Visual Culture on February 15)
It is difficult to distinguish the discourses of femininity and masculinity. That’s why Jay Lemke says that, “What is ideologically functional is not simply the stereotype for each category, or their hierarchical value relation. […] The most significant characteristic of stereotypes in this model is not their positive content, but rather the obligatory associations they create among the concealed dimensions. Thus stereotype says that there is such a thing as masculinity, and being masculine implies that one is, say, both sexually active and interpersonally aggressive, and it is natural for these traits to be positively correlated to a high degree.” (Jay Lemke. “Notes on Masculinity and Academic Discourse”) Though the distinction is uncertain but it is depressing that male and female bodies are put into the box of masculinity and femininity. The stereotypical female traits value includes gentleness, empathetic, sensitive, caring, sweetness, deference, emotional, and femininity is linked with sexual objectification where their attitude would be passive. On the other hand, stereotypical or high masculinity is the opposite of femininity. Male-valued traits are independent, aggressiveness, unemotional, dominant, comparative, direct, self-confident, never cries, they can able to separate feelings from ideas, they are always active subject. There are also strong discourse about clothing and appearance of femininity and masculinity. Femininity represented with long flowing hair, light skin, a narrow waist, little of no body hear and not facial hair. The opposite of feminine appearance is masculine appearance. In manga, the large expressive eyes, large breast and hips, passive appearance and attitude are express femininity.
In Loveless the manga artist Kouga Yun consciously break the stereotypical discourse of masculinity and femininity. Soubi Agatsuma and Ritsuka Aoyagi two protagonist of Loveless have both qualities of masculinity and femininity in their characteristics. Furthermore, their physical stature also questions that they are female or male. Though there are also have some orthodox female characters with the stereotypical femininity but my paper will only portrays these two questionable characters those are struggling to establish humanity not femininity or masculinity.
Visual description of Soubi Agatsuma and Ritsuka Aoyagi of Loveless:
Soubi is a college going student. He has long hear, narrow facial bone. He talks very politely. He expresses his emotion without hesitation to Ritsuka. It will shock the reader to place him in the box of female and male character by visualize his illustration. He has soft cold eyes that show admiration, compassion and empathy. At the beginning of the story, he lights cigarette gently and wait for Ritsuka in front of Ritsuka’s school. Though his appearance is soft and gentle that goes to stereotypical feminine quality, but lighting cigarette still holds the audacity of masculine characteristics. I do not relate with this character with soft masculinity because soft masculinity is related with objectification. However, I do not see that Soubi want to objectify himself with appearance or attitude. Furthermore, His appearance changes when he is with ritsuka and when he meets his college female friends. When he is with Ritsuka, he become so comapassionate, caring, sensible, polite. He follows Ritsuka’s worder with passion and he has strong desire to be completely controled. He is so gentle and empathetic to Ritsuka but when he talks with his college female friend Kio, he become unemotional. He tries to avoide her indirectly that shows his single concentration over Ritsuka.
On the other hand, Ritsuka is twelve years old. He is slim and has cat like features (kemonomini) with ear and tails. When people say that they like or love him he cannot tolerate. He is kind of sadist. His ear and tail expresses his feelings. For example, when he is happy his ears is vertical, or his ear become horizontal when he sad or upset. When he stays with Soubi, Ritsuka tries to hide his feelings from him. That is exemplified in page 11 in chapter 23. He thinks that, when Soubi touches him he feels alive but he says that he hates Soubi. Hiding feeling is considered masculinity.
Again he gives some books to his classmate Yuiko and orders her not to be passive to reduce her extreme femininity. That shows his masculine quality. Therefore, the artist does not place one character into masculinity or femininity, the attitude and appearance of the characters Soubi and Ritsuka is consigned both femininity and masculinity. Furthermore, when Ritsuka and Soubi fight they touch their hand or they kiss to get energy. It shows that, when people touch with love and compassion, their power enriched immensely.
Analysis through Semiotics and Discourse:
The knowledge of human being is acquired through senses. Language is the diverse medium of representation of sensorial modality. Japanese manga is a language that uses constant visual vocabulary (signifiers) allows reader to focus on the content (signified) of the representation rather than the arbitrary idealism of the representation. “In Saussure’s terms, ‘Language sets up an arbitrary relation between signifiers of its own choosing on the one hand, and signifieds of its choosing on the other. Not only does each language produce a different set of signifiers, articulating and dividing the continuous of sound (or writing or drawing or photography) in a distinctive way; each language produce a different set of signifieds; it has a distinctive and thus arbitrary way of organizing the world into concept and categories’” (Culler, 1976, p. 23) For instance, cat like feature is an idealistic representation where the artist wants to blend her characters with humanity and animality. Again Cats have flexible body, quick reflexes and it can hear too high frequency sound than man. So, cat like feature characters have more powerful ear and kinesthetic senses than man. Kouga Yun tries to signified with that signifiers that before making love human have more sensitive and after making love human become wiser.
Furthermore, manga is the sets of images thus “[…] individual images can convey a great deal of information, the real power of language comes from its sequence – combining multiple units to create a cohesive meaning greater than the parts alone. The system that accomplishes this is the grammar of language, and visual languages draw on their sequence as much as verbal ones do.” (Cohn, Japanese Visual Language, P. 10) For example, five sequences make a sign in page 9 of 22th chapter of Loveless. From left this page starts with Ritsuka’s curiosity to know how he becomes a good secrificer. The curiosity is expressed with his large black eyes with black pupil. A white light shines in the black surface through his head that shows Ritsuka is going to enlightened with knowledge. Second image expresses his compassion to be a good secrificer. This compassion is illustrated by his style of sitting (sitting with keeping his mouth and hands in his knees), his looking to the viewers and the dots around him. The dots around him show his extreme involvement with the conversation. The viewer (the girl) is showed in the third sequence who sits besides sleeping Soubi. In this sequence the sleeping Soubi started to talk. This is a fantastic illustration because, before this sequence Ritsuka and the girl was talking with each other about how Ritsuka would be a good Sacrificer while Soubi was sleeping but this image shows the interference of Soubi in their conversation. Thus the sequence shows that the girl is watching Soubi with encircling her head. This is a fantastic visual signifier because the interference of Soubi is lustrated so vividly by the expression of the girl. Then the forth image express Ritsukars expression about the interference of Soubi. And the last image shows the close image of Soubi. This whole sequence provides the myth, the second level thought, that signified how Ritsuka and Soubi compassionate to each other. That is how visual language of Loveless manga turns out to be remarkable to the readers.
Moreover, Soubi and Ritsuka, the fighter and the sacrifice fight with the seven moons. Seven moons are a strong signifier in Loveless that signigied the seven enemies of human being. In eastern philosophy, every human being is born with desire, anger, greed, pride, illusion and jealousy by instinct. Human beings are becoming free from these sad ripu with the help of love and compassion. Seven moon, the signifier, signifieds the tangible enemy that exist within us. Thus the discourse of stereotypical femininity and masculinity disappear in the signs and myth of Loveless and focus on the compassion of humanity.
Impact on the society:
The concept of stereotypical masculinity and femininity exist in most of the societies. If a boy acts in feminine way his surroundings make fun of him and if a girl chooses to be bold the society also cannot receive her attitude normally. In this stereotypical femininity and masculinity discursive society Loveless manga provides enlightenment for the humanity that explains the termination of the thought within the box of femininity and masculinity. It is time to think about human as human.
When lovers become close together, do they ask themselves that they are female or male or they do try to become one. Don’t they try to be together diminishing the obstacle of body by heart? Does any definition of masculinity or femininity work in the connection of love? Humanity is realized by heart, with oneness, with feelings of connection. I consider that Definition and discourse of femininity and masculinity are making prison to think oneness, prison to think the nature of humanity, prison to think that everything is relational to everything. A female will feel safety with a male when male feel the same safety with female. New days, both of them mix with each other by putting themselves into a box of definition fear each other. People cannot open their heart because of fearing the pain of breaking heart. Thus they choose to be separated and this separation is the evil of oneness. In this circumstance, Loveless amazes me because Kouga Yun struggle with the sufferings of humanity. Human being is one of the natural elements. She illustrates that human being are another animal by cat like feature. She forces her reader to think that every human being needs to fight with the seven moon with their animalist and humanistic knowledge. The seven moons (kama; desire, krodha ; anger, Lobha ; greed, Mada ; pride, Moha ; illusion, attachment and Maatsarya ; jealousy, ego) are the real evil of each human being. If people try to be free from their own seven moons they feel the connection with the nature.
I am extremely grateful to Prof. Genevieve Gamache to influence me about manga culture and Toufiq Taher for his great feedback on my paper.
- Hall, Stuart. 1992. “The West and the Rest: Discourse and the Power”. Cambridge, Mass: Blackwell Publisher, 1992.
- Culler, D. Jonathan. 1976. Saussure. Harvester press, 1976.
- Lemke, Jay. “Notes on Masculinity and Academic Discourse”. www.jaylemke.com
- Cohn, Neil. 2007. “Japanese Visual Language”. www.visuallanguagelab.com