The shojo demographic is mostly known for representing high school romances and naive first dating experiences. However, there’s much more to shojo series than problematic and overrated tropes, and for those who prefer dark, gritty narratives that don’t shy away from discussing topics like death and trauma. shojo has plenty to offer.
That said, there are plenty of characters in shojo series that were robbed of their opportunity to have a happy ending. Here are three characters in shojo who deserved better.
Ash Lynx – Banana Fish
Banana Fish is a unique shojo and strays away from typical shojo tropes like high school romance, often feeling more like a shonen to some fans. The story of Banana Fish follows Aslan Callenreese, better known as Ash Lynx. Ash is anything but your typical high school senior -- he’s a gang leader who frequents the streets of New York.
In the beginning, a few of Ash’s gang members decide to turn on him, and he receives a mysterious drug from a stranger. Before Ash can truly investigate the drug, he meets Eiji Okumura, a Japanese youth who came to America with his family friend, Ibe Shunichi, to take pictures for the magazine Ibe works for.
Banana Fish features themes of repeated childhood sexual abuse (CSA) and, of course, gang violence. So, this series isn’t something to pick up for light reading. Ash has lived a life full of trauma, undergoing a seemingly endless cycle of sexual abuse since the age of eight. Despite all of it, he manages to keep it together and make a name for himself as a feared gang leader on the streets of New York.
The mangaka, Akimi Yoshida, tells a heart-wrenching story about people choosing to push past their trauma or drown in it. Of course, the tragic twist of fate that befalls Ash is not easily forgotten.
Ash deserved a happy ending where he pushed through his trauma and escaped it in a healthy way -- not through death. Fans who are satisfied with the ending may argue the only way Ash could truly escape the trauma he experienced was in death. Regardless, Banana Fish is a great story -- but any new fans should be aware and prepared for angst. Ash’s death may not have pleased many fans, but most can agree he deserved a happy ending.
Anthy Himemiya – Revolutionary Girl Utena
Revolutionary Girl Utena is well known among anime fans for its distinct art style and story. The series deserves its massive cult following for the way it handles traumatic subjects like familial abuse and sexual abuse. Utena is similar to Banana Fish because it deals with CSA and other forms of trauma, while still being categorized as a shojo. Revolutionary Girl Utena is a series about a tomboyish high school student named Utena Tenjou. When Utena was little she was “rescued by a prince” and was so impressed by him, that she vowed to become a prince herself. Her mission is put on hold when she’s sucked into countless duels for a girl named Anthy Himemiya, also known as the “rose bride”.
One of the core themes of Utena is how despite how hard the titular Utena fights to save Anthy, it does no good unless Anty can see herself as herself as a person worth saving. The ending of Utena is a bit unclear, especially if you're watching the anime for the first time. In the end, Utena sees the “true Anthy” in a coffin and reaches out her hand, only for Anthy to pull herself out of the coffin. This scene represents Anthy escaping the hold her brother, Akio Ohtori, has on her -- breaking the toxic "relationship" they shared.
After the illusion dissipates, supposedly leaving Utena injured in the hospital, there's a rumor floating around the school that Utena transferred to another school. Then Anthy leaves the school too, supposedly to search for Utena. Anthy deserves a happy ending because she’s a great example of a fictional character discontinuing an abusive cycle and working to redefine herself. However, the ending of the series does a pretty good job at giving her an assumed happy ending.
Takuma Kakinouchi – I Give My First Love to You
I Give My First Love to You is a shojo manga by Kotomi Aoki that tells the story of two childhood friends, Takuma Kakunouchi and Mayu Taneda. Takuma has had an unnamed heart condition since he was a child and has been taken care of by Mayu's father, Dr. Taneda. When Takuma finds out he probably won’t live past the age of twenty, he gives up on pursuing Mayu, thinking she doesn't deserve to be with him because of his short life expectancy. The majority of the manga focuses on the complicated relationship between Mayu and Takuma -- as regardless of their feelings, Takuma keeps pushing Mayu away. There are also a few other obstacles keeping the two apart; like their uncooperative mothers and Mayu’s ex-boyfriend, Kou Suzuya.
Takuma’s condition slowly worsens as he grows older, and he soon learns he will eventually need a heart transplant in the near future. After an accident, Takuma receives his upperclassman's heart and undergoes surgery. His surgery takes place within the last few pages of the manga, concluding by blanking out Takuma's heart monitor. The ending is left open to interpretation, showing Mayu and Takuma standing with two kids in a clover field. There are two possibilities: Takuma survived the surgery, recovered, married Mayu, and had two children, or -- he died, and the scene is his fantasy.
Aside from the manga, a live-action film adaptation was produced in 2009. The film follows the same premise, but some events were changed for the film's adaptation, and the ending is slightly different. Takuma has a heart attack and dies, concluding with Mayu marrying his ashes.
Revolutionary Girl Utena, Banana Fish, and I Give My First Love to You are just a few of these unconventional shojo works. However, even if a story is considered “dark” by fans, that doesn’t mean the characters don’t deserve a happy ending.