Haikara-San: The Romance Anime Film That Will Make You Feel
Intro and Plot Summary
You, Benio, are here to beak us free from that old way of life.— Shinobu
Haikara-san: Here Comes Miss Modern is an endearing romance about a bright, outspoken young lady named Benio. Benio wants to be a modern girl during the Taishō era. It was a time of big change for Japan, in the early 20th century, following the Meiji era. The Taishō era was marked by liberalization. Japanese citizens were electing their leaders, a marked shift from past centuries under the rule of samurai lords. (More about the historical time period later.)
Like many romances, Haikara-san is about a spirited girl. Benio is not afraid to speak up against customs she finds outdated. She is supposed to go to a finishing school to learn traditional domestic arts. This is to prepare her, and girls like her, for service to a husband her family will one day choose for her. But this is a modern period, and Benio is strongly determined to have her own way in affairs of the heart.
Benio absolutely wants no part in the tradition of arranged marriage. But, her father says she must marry an aristocratic young officer named Shinobu, because of an old promise between their families. She is sure she will not go through with it. She visits his mansion, set on making herself look impermissible as a bride. She tries real hard, in other words, to make a complete ass of herself in front of his stuffy, aristocratic family. It almost works, but eventually she does fall for Shinobu, and is endeared to his family.
And then wouldn't you know it, World War One calls him away. Benio stays with, and looks after, Shinobu's family, hoping for his safe and quick return.
I won't spoil anything specifically, but the ending is bittersweet, yet ending on a hopeful note. The ending also implies that there is more to come (sequel hook).
Our spirited, outspoken heroine. Benio is a total failure at almost all of the domestic arts she's expected to learn in school. Similarly to Mulan, that makes her question her gender role and want something more in life. She is very passionate. Her main weaknesses are not knowing her limits when it comes to sake, and not having a lot of tact when it comes to boldly speaking her mind.
Benio's arranged fiancé. He comes from an old aristocratic family and is half German. He likes Benio's fiery passion. Shinobu is an officer in the Japanese military, but his fellow soldiers don't respect him very much, as both a noble and as someone who is half European. He tends to respect Benio, standing up for her when his family criticizes her.
The unlucky childhood friend. Ranmaru is a cross-dressing man who has had a crush on Benio for a long time. Briefly, the two plan on eloping together, but Benio eventually realizes she was just doing that to escape, but she didn't ultimately return Ranmaru's affections. Ranmaru stays by Benio's side as her maid anyway, accepting this rejection rather well.
Benio's school classmate. She is more feminine and does better at 'wife prep' school than Benio. However, she shares Benio's sentiments about modern womanhood and rejecting arranged marriage. She is in love with Shinobu, unfortunately.
This movie is adapted from a manga from the 70's by Waki Yamato. The characters are redesigned though, so it has a more contemporary feel than the original manga. The 1970's were the birth of shoujo (girls' manga) as a genre, airing the first magical girl show Sally the Witch, and seeing the release of historical drama Rose of Versailles, which was a smash hit in Japan both as a manga and as an anime. At the time, it makes sense to see a story about the "modern woman", asserting female independence against patriarchal tradition. This was a big cultural deal in the Taishō period, but also in the 1970's. Haikara-San definitely feels like a product of an unabashedly feminist time. I like that about it.
I criticized, earlier, Wonder Woman for having a feminist message that is undercut by the fact that that character is not really a woman, but a half god. That is, she represents an inhuman ideal no real woman can live up to. I said only in manga do you get these strong female characters, like Utena in Revolutionary Girl Utena, who are fully human and fully feminine, while still kicking ass and being heroic.
That makes a more powerful statement than simply slapping a corset and skirt on a Superman-type hero. What the West does too often in comics is simply make female versions of male heroes. They don't write women who feel like real women (with a few notable exceptions).
Haikara-san is about a tomboyish girl who boldy defies centuries worth of cultural tradition. But she does this without sacrificing the weakness and vulnerability that make someone human. So Western comic book writers and wannabe comic authors could probably learn a thing or two from picking up this manga, or watching this film.
Facts About the Movie:
Haikara-San: Here Comes Miss Modern
Japanese Release Date:
Nov. 11, 2017
Select Theaters Beginning June 8 (See Below Link!)
Romance, Historical Fiction
Nippon Animation Co. (Production), 11 Arts (USA Distribution)
Manga by Waki Yamato
What Was the Taishō Era?
The Taishō era followed the Meiji era in Japanese history. The Meiji era began when Japan was threatened by U.S. gunboats and opened itself to trade with the West, in the mid to late 19th century. The Taishō period that follows was from 1912 to 1926 (the film takes place in 1918). It was, like the Meiji era, a time of rapid modernization, continuing Japan's drive for industrialization and keeping up with Western powers in terms of military strength and technology. In the Taishō period, the emperor's power became weak relative to that of the Diet, or Japan's parliament. So along with technology, Japan was starting to import Western ideas about government and society. This included more and more women wanting to marry for love, rather than accepting arranged marriage. It also saw the rise of women working, taking on jobs that were not traditionally considered meant for women. This is shown in the movie by Benio taking on a job as a journalist during Shinobu's absence.
Both women and men at this time started wearing more Western-style clothing, especially when, like Benio, they wanted to express their modern, Western values. Gradually, the kimono would be almost entirely reserved for ceremonial and festival use. You also saw the rise of women choosing short hair cuts as as a sign of their liberation (like their flapper counterparts in America). Benio does this later in the film. But from the above picture, you can also see girls liked big hair ribbons with long hair, especially younger girls. The period was not entirely traditional or entirely modern then. It was a time of rapid change, great upheaval to the Japanese social order. It was also a time of the swift rise of Japan's millitary power, and the era of Japanese imperialism that ended with their defeat in WWII.
Haikara-San was an absolute delight. A breath of fresh air. Maybe they just don't make anime like they used to. On recent articles, I've whined about the slow, agonizing death of shoujo as a genre. This movie could be the start of a shoujo revival of sorts. Is that too much to hope for? At any rate, if you're like me and you're sick of the dominance of shounen (boy's demographic stories) in the industry, please see Haikara-San: Here Comes Miss Modern in theaters now. Not only to resist that near monopoly shounen has, but because I can guarantee the movie will get you right in the feels, much like a Miyazaki movie.
And it was directed by the man who also directed Samurai X. If you liked Rurouni Kenshin, er, before certain uncomfortable facts about its author came out, you'll definitely love this movie. It his the same notes in terms of endearing, timeless historical romance.
Rating for 'Haikara San: Here Comes Miss Modern' 9/10
Special thanks to 11 Arts for sending me a copy of the film!