Last month on Failure Friday, I discussed a deeply flawed manga that I love despite its flaws. This month, I’m going to go in the other direction. Though it would be incorrect to state that I “hate” this manga, I find one of its flaws is so distasteful, it ultimately fails to work for me as a reader.
The manga I’m getting around to here is Ugly Duckling’s Love Revolution by Yuuki Fujinari, published in English by Yen Press.
Ugly Duckling’s Love Revolution is the story of Hitomi, an overweight student surrounded by impossibly pretty boys at her elite high school. Even more impossibly, all of the school’s prettiest boys live in the apartment building where Hitomi resides with her brother. Furthermore, they all seem to have an attachment to Hitomi in one way or another, bringing us to the real point of the story: Will Hitomi become romantically involved with one of them, and will she have to lose the weight to do so?
In case you haven’t guessed by now, this manga is based on a dating sim. And though this accounts for the simplicity of its plot, that wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing. I genuinely enjoy romance, even sometimes of the harem variety, so the overall lack of thematic complexity is not in itself a deal-breaker. Even the brother character’s blatant sister complex is not enough to drive me away.
What makes this manga’s simple-minded approach less palatable, is its portrayal of Hitomi, particularly in terms of her relationship to food and to her own body. As any obese person can tell you, there is absolutely nothing simple about a young fat person’s daily life, and as a result, the manga’s approach seriously marginalizes its heroine and any readers who might genuinely identify with her.
Let’s begin just with the artwork. Here are a few things I wrote in my (not uncomplimentary) discussion of volume one:
While the series’ other characters get relatively detailed facial features–shaded eyelids, carefully lined, large eyes, real contour to the nose and cheeks–Hitomi gets two dots for eyes, a comic-strip nose, a Simpsons-quality mouth, and a couple of giant circles on her cheeks. She’s like a permanent chibi. Furthermore, the story’s other overweight character (a boy who supplies her with cookies, natch) is drawn in the same caricatured way. Newsflash, people: Fat girls have faces too.
Even just with the character design, the artist has already made it clear that fat kids aren’t real people. They may be kind and helpful, and others may even like them, but they can’t actually be fully-realized human beings until they’ve adequately slimmed down. Hitomi’s not working so hard so that she can finally get some romantic attention from the hot neighbor boys, no, she’s fighting to earn irises and normal NOSE. And while a more thoughtful artist might indeed use something like this as a metaphor for Hitomi’s actual feelings about herself, a concept like that is clearly well out of Fujinari’s depth.
Now, I mentioned that my discussion of volume one was not uncomplimentary, and that’s true. Even with this major caveat, I thought the series had some good points. As I made my way through volume two, however, my patience began to wane. Here Hitomi endures nasty comments, some pretty grueling exercise (thin people, try climbing a mountain with a 100-200 lb weight wrapped around your torso, and you might have some idea of what it’s like for Hitomi), and some physical symptoms of dieting she didn’t quite expect. And while these are certainly realistic things, there’s absolutely no sense of Hitomi’s real feelings about them.
She gets momentarily angry at the mean, thin girl who treats her like dirt, she feels tired from the exercise, and she worries about her split ends. This is seriously the extent of her emotional range on these issues, which makes one wonder how she even became overweight to begin with. Fat people eat for a reason, and any one of these might do, but nothing seems to have much of an effect on our easy-going heroine, whose only real stumbling block seems to be an occasional, vague longing for her beloved cookies, which is easily dismissed by her newfound sense of duty.
I have to wonder, is there anyone involved with this manga (or the game it was based on) who has struggled with overweight? It seems impossible that there could be. Even taking into account the game’s backstory, yet to be revealed in the manga but uncovered by Brigid Alverson in her review of the series, the entire thing reads like a thin person’s perspective on obesity. The series exists in that stereotypical mindset where physical fitness is as simple as a balanced diet and exercise, and fat people are lazy gluttons who simply lack willpower (and possibly basic intelligence). It’s simplistic, insulting, and just blatantly not true, which begs the question, who is this manga actually for? Surely not fat girls, or at least not real ones.
All this said, it would be reasonable for one to ask why I’ve bothered reading this manga at all. What did I expect from a series based on a dating sim? Why don’t I just walk away?
The truth is, it’s hard to walk away, when this highly flawed story is still the only manga I’ve personally encountered that features an overweight, female romantic lead. And isn’t that just sad?
So, readers… Ugly Duckling’s Love Revolution: failure or not?
Daniella Orihuela-Gruber saysNovember 26, 2010 at 3:14 pm
Thank you! I always kind of hated how fat people’s faces in manga were some how small and squeezed like the fat on our faces some how makes our features less prominent or something. Excuse me, no. My eyes are just as large as they were when I was skinnier. I guess it’s just harder to draw a double chin right than fat cheeks.
Melinda Beasi saysNovember 27, 2010 at 9:37 am
I think if an artist is incapable of properly drawing a fat person, they probably shouldn’t write a manga about one!
Travis saysNovember 27, 2010 at 12:10 am
Stuff like this really makes me wish Renai Catalogue would get translated! I’ve talked about my love for this series before, especially in terms of its fat positivity, but honestly I think it’s probably the only manga I’ve read where a plotline about being fat didn’t end in the character slimming down. She struggles with dieting and other characters try to give her makeovers, but in the end, she is still just as fat, still has her own unique style, and has learned to be happy with herself. And not only does she getsa boyfriend (who has lots of other girls interested in him) but they’re shown as being just as sexual as the thin couples in the manga (she actually ends up pregnant by the end of the story). That is pretty radical, not just for manga, but for almost any type of story. (And while this particular character does struggle with her weight and her romantic misadventures are many, she is contrasted by a minor character who is just as fat (and I mean, these two are not typical manga fat where they complain about it but still are drawn as stick figures) but is happy with her body and cheerful and also has a cute boyfriend. (Not that everyone needs a boyfriend (or girlfriend), but in stories like this where most characters are paired up, the fat friend is often left single.)
Melinda Beasi saysNovember 27, 2010 at 9:36 am
I remember that you talked about a manga like that, but I’d forgotten its title! I’ll have to move it to the top of my license request list. I would really love to read that. And yeah, it’s not that everyone *needs* a boyfriend or girlfriend, but most people want one, and it’s rare to see any writer allow a fat character to have one, especially a fat woman or girl.
Travis saysNovember 27, 2010 at 2:56 pm
The series is over 30 vols. long so I kind of doubt it will ever get licensed. Companies don’t want to take a risk with a longer series (understandably, but it’s still annoying), especially shoujo (especially just a daily life shoujo focusing on romance and friendship with no fantasy/supernatural elements). :( There were other things that really impressed me about it, too.
kisa saysDecember 12, 2012 at 3:52 pm
if u mean the manga by Nagata Masami …..
than i am comfused in which point whas mika fat ? well as far as i remember she whasent ever she is shy and self-conscious 17-year-old-girl bla bla bla yda yda yda tiypcole Shoujo i honesty have not one good thing to say about this one or eny other of the manga i read about fat people ill keep lookin tough and hope that some one gets up and realise that there is an inrmese chunck of marker of people who crave there fat and plain heroen to get a happy ending stil
Travis saysDecember 13, 2012 at 12:12 am
I never said Mika was fat. The fat character is Mika’s friend.
Sara K. saysNovember 27, 2010 at 10:32 pm
“The truth is, it’s hard to walk away, when this highly flawed story is still the only manga I’ve personally encountered that features an overweight, female romantic lead. And isn’t that just sad?”
I agree. That is sad. I wish I could help, but I can’t.
To be fair, Hitomi could be overweight because of genes, not emotions. Of course, trying to resist (or possibly accept) genetic destiny would add a layer of complexity that, based on your description, this manga wouldn’t even touch.
Melinda Beasi saysNovember 27, 2010 at 11:13 pm
Well, for nearly all of us it begins with genes. But considering that they make Hitomi a glutton who is obsessed with cookies in the first volume, I’m doubting that’s the take they’re going for. Also, apparently the game backstory claims she was a former beauty queen who became obsessed with junk food. Heh.
Sara K. saysNovember 28, 2010 at 12:06 am
Wow, the plot really is … thin.
On the other hand, this is what I would expect of a manga based on a renai. When I was playing Re:Alistair++ (an English-language renai game) I was struck by how “studying” would increase your intelligence. I mean, studying can make you more knowledgeable, but I don’t think it affects how intelligent somebody is in any direct way. But the game designer(s) needed some simple way that you could build stats to impress boys, even if it wasn’t how reality works. And I think that tying exercise and dieting to create slimness to impress boys is much more problematic that the studying to create intelligence.
Now I want to see Fumi Yoshinaga make a romantic comedy featuring a fat woman. Since she made the most nuanced gay male character I’ve seen in manga, I think she would give a fat character some nuance as well.
DeBT saysNovember 30, 2010 at 8:13 pm
Was browsing around various people’s comments’ links, and found a webcomic about a chubby adventuress wearing the stereotypical Sonja Chainmail outfit. This doesn’t stop Swordi from being extremely competent and humourous.
She’s the kind of “Fun” Fat Girl that was described near the end of the first story, “Big Boned” in Joe Ollmann’s This Will All End in Tears. (Page 28)
Prankster saysNovember 16, 2011 at 11:25 am
Hey, thanks for the link! And for the nice words! My comic is humorous, so not to make it sound like I take it too seriously, but one of my motivations in drawing it was to showcase some female characters with body types outside the perfect supermodel template that you usually see in comics.
Connie saysNovember 30, 2010 at 9:57 pm
I came so close to trying this out because of the Yen Press sale, but backed off in the end. The cover was enough to tell me that this was going to be exactly like The Wallflower, and I hated what I read of that. It’s got the same problem of the heroine being drawn chibi all the time while everyone else is drawn realistically, and a harem of men trying to change who she is for shallow reasons. Plus, I was really afraid Ugly Duckling didn’t live up to its premise and turned all sorts of wrong later.
There’s a Moyoco Anno one-shot called “In the Clothes Named Fat.” I can’t read it very well, but it’s one of the more realistic (if horribly depressing, disturbing, and over-dramatized) treatments of weight issues I’ve seen in a manga. The main character, Hanazawa, is an overweight office lady. She works with and dates terrible people, and the story also depicts a binging (and later binging and purging) problem she has. She eventually successfully loses weight, but her self-esteem issues stay with her, along with the terrible people. It may be even more depressing than I’m describing (and maybe more insulting too), since most of the dialogue is lost on me, but it’s still something I’d love to see in English. It’s also got art that doesn’t shy away from sex scenes and nudity for Hanazawa, too.
Kelsey saysJune 2, 2011 at 7:26 am
I agree with everything being said. but the thing I’ve found with the wallflower is that Sunako (the heroine) doesn’t change at all. She likes what she likes, and its not as if she remains permanently chibi (usually thats part of the comedy) and the three guys who are living with her aren’t that bad actually. If you keep reading the story line you’d find that the three guys don’t actually try to change Sunako, rather they come to accept her the way that she is, and when they do try to change its usually either to do with their rent, or because of the emotional effect on her, or the way she lives her life- hating being in the sun, constantly getting nosebleeds, freaking out and breaking any mirror or reflective surface she can clearly see herself in, etc. frankly I would too.
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