You never would’ve guessed that Usui’s rich, huh?
As played out as the Prince Charming trope is, it’s still going strong well into the 21st century. Oh, won’t someone save me from such terrible living conditions? Won’t someone sweep me away? Cinderella, of course, wins her prince not by hard work, but through “graciousness:”
Moral: Beauty in a woman is a rare treasure that will always be admired. Graciousness, however, is priceless and of even greater value. This is what Cinderella’s godmother gave to her when she taught her to behave like a queen. Young women, in the winning of a heart, graciousness is more important than a beautiful hairdo. It is a true gift of the fairies. Without it nothing is possible; with it, one can do anything. — Perrault’s Cinderella
In a lot of Asian media, the fairy tale has been subverted a tiny bit. No longer are women winning their Prince Charming’s through grace and beauty (but they’re still beautiful). Instead, they charm their wealthy suitors with a little spunk and gumption instead. Misaki of Maid-sama! is anything but gracious.
Tsukushi of Hana Yori Dango is also hardly gracious.
The girls of shoujo aren’t always the kick-ass, name-taking types though. Nodame Cantabile demonstrates that these heroine can sometimes be clumsy and a little offbeat.
When the Japanese shoujo isn’t impressing you with her propensity for elbow grease, she makes up for it with immense talent; in Nodame’s case, her incredible piano-playing skills wins us over.
Even so, these ladies all share a couple common traits. First, the heroines are almost always of very modest upbringings. Secondly, there’s usually a wealthy bishounen around the corner who’s just absolutely tired of the spoiled girls he meets everyday. Naturally, nothing intrigues him more than a normal woman, such a strange and mythical creature that she is.
From broken houses to quaint families in the countryside, these Asian Cinderellas don’t exactly have a fairy godmother to give them that nebulous gracious quality. They only know a good ol’ fashioned work ethic. But if hard work and determination is all we need, what’s with the rich boy then? Is this the shoujo’s idea of bootstrappin’ her way to the top? Be the most wholesome you can be to win your very own ticket out of the lower classes? These stories seem to imply that hard work can only go so far for young women in Japan — certainly not enough by itself to transcend social classes — , but with some luck, these young women might catch the eye of someone willing to pluck them out of squalor. Perhaps this is why these stories resemble fairy tales so much. Or maybe I’m just imagining things.
One final related thought: these rich boys are always incredibly cool and talented, but surely neither of these two qualities require wealth. Hell, we had no idea Usui was rich and we never would have assumed as much. He just conveniently is.
Other Bits & Pieces
I don’t know what’s lamer than a pat on the head. In fact, I would dislike it. I would find it incredibly patronizing and so would my girlfriend. For me, a pat on the head is what parents do to calm down their crying children. You can thus imagine my skepticism when this particular trick worked twice in the tenth episode of Maid-sama! I think my girlfriend would troll me a good one if I tried patting her on the head after she’s had a hard day. A hug maybe, but a pat on the head?
Sakura: “The next time I fall in love, I’ll make sure he’ll be someone who’ll pat me just like this.”
But hey, maybe that’s just another cultural difference between East and West.
I was a little disappointed with the apple scene; sometimes an apple is really just an apple.