Shitsurakuen Manga Quarterly Review
Long post coming up ahead. If you don’t want to read my post, read the manga, Shitsurakuen – all I can say is that it is pretty cool.
So anyways, I was browsing through my MQR folder (yes, I have one) and opened this up since it recently finished (around a month ago; I’ll be adding my completed review after I read the rest~). When I read the first few pages, it felt like some boring moe yuri manga that anybody with half (literally, half) a brain could come up with, to the point that I almost dropped it, seeing no reason to continue reading such a manga with a premise that’s been done, oh, maybe a thousand times already.
But I trusted in the me of the past, who must have had a good reason to put this manga into my MQR folder.
And wow, was I amazed. This premise is… great (YOU WERE EXPECTING ME TO SAY AMAZING, WEREN’T YOU?! WELL, YOU WERE WRONG! WRONG, I SAY! WROOOOOOOOOOONG).
insane boys get ahegao’d this girl, Himoto Sora, transfers to a SUPER ELITE ACADEMY. It’s so elite that it’s completely isolated from anywhere else, because it’s BUILT ON AN ARTIFICIAL ISLAND. As a child, Sora always wanted to BE THE MAN who would RESCUE THE PRINCESS from the EVIL DEMON LORD, and starts the school year with that mentality.
However, the school is run by a huuuuuuuge corporation. Like huuuuuuuuge. Like super huuuuuuuuge. So huge, that with one flick of his wrist, the chairman can obliterate you from the planet – not just kill, but erase all evidence, delete all records, bribe all family and friends and government officials and what have you. Seriously, Japanese companies have too much power. Next thing you know, it won’t be Big Brother ruling, it’ll be Toyota and Honda and Mitsubishi and Sony and wait, it’s already like that now…
Anyways, the chairman is a huge male chauvinist who believes that males are stronger and greater and superior to females, and the goal of the academy is to assert male dominance over the females. In fact, a ‘virtual game’ is played on the school grounds – ‘Exaclan’. First a male swears to ‘own and protect’ a female student. When he does so, the female student is the male’s ‘possession’, and nobody else can touch that female. Whenever a male wants to fight with another male, they pull out weapons from the chest of a female that they ‘possess’ and fight with them. The loser of the fight must relinquish all of his ‘possessions’, and give them to the victor. Each female in the school has a different weapon to pull out – so while some have merely daggers, others have rifles. Eventually, if one is skilful enough, one can amass a large harem of ‘possessions’ to do with as they please.
Which is all fine and dandy, right? That means that women won’t be bullied by groups of men, as other men cannot touch another’s ‘possession’, and they won’t be abused either, as the men want to retain them as a ‘weapon’ to fight against other men.
However, the women don’t actually have any free will. Basically, the female population at the school is completely and utterly oppressed, so that the ‘possessions’ of the student council are even forced to dress up as maids and perform indecent acts for the student council members, who are all male (one’s gay, though). I’m sure there are many other cases of rape in the school, because that’s exactly what Sora encounters on her first day. Apparently, she can also ‘contract’ with other females in the school for some strange reason, and she vows to basically win every fight against every man in the school, so that at the end, she’ll ‘possess’ all the females, whom she can then free.
／人◕ ‿‿ ◕人＼
And that’s the premise.
The story develops as you’d expect it to – Sora meets various girls in various arcs, she vows to protect them, etc. Other side characters are also developed. There’s Sora’s childhood friend, Tsuki, who knows more than she should know about Exaclan (and also looks a lot like Mai). There’s the student council president, ‘El’, a sadistic bastard who does everything you’d expect an evil student council president to do – until you realize that he’s also Asagiya Karin, a kind-hearted man who helps Sora rescue girls. But then, you realize that he’s actually still El, and commands other members of the student council to torture the girls that Sora rescues. There’s a person in the student council who never fights, a little girl who seemingly wants to torture other girls, various other mentally insane student council members (half of the members are insane), and the girls that Sora save all have their own quirks.
And these quirks are actually /interesting/, not lame shallow personality traits or appearances. For example, Sora saves a girl, Oashi, early on in the series. While she is first grateful, Oashi is soon mentally bullied by the other men in the school for being possessed by a female – she can’t take it anymore, and wishes to be captured again to ‘fit in’.
That sounds like a pretty natural personality element, right – the person who is thrust into something different and simply wants to be the same as everybody else. However, instead of being rushed and ‘oh man, this again…’ like other stories would introduce the element, Shitsurakuen manages to make Oashi’s thoughts perfectly rational – you can almost agree with her that what Sora is doing really is bad, and that the status quo should be restored with females being oppressed by the males. However, when Sora leaps into the limelight again, we quickly support her again.
Another girl, Date, clings tightly to the person who possesses her, for she apparently believes that having a successful husband will make her happy. However, her real purpose is deeper – she wants to become the wife of a key member in the giant evil big corporation’s future, so that when the key member ‘accidentally’ dies, only she can take his place, and end the misogyny of the academy. She’s not exactly /wrong/ in what she tries to do, but Sora successfully persuades her – and us, in the process – otherwise. The way she ‘saved’ her is… well… it’s not safe for work.
Swinging swords is not safe for work
I hope I’ve convinced you to read the manga now (no, I doubt it) – please, do read it. The following paragraphs won’t make sense if you don’t.
This story doesn’t actually have much in resemblance to Angel Beats, despite the game-like setting; neither does it have much resemblance to Dantalian no Shoka, despite having men pull weapons/books out of the orifices of girls and sexually suggestive battle shouts (‘UTOPIA IS HERE’). Instead, it reminds me a lot of Kaminomi – the main character attempts to ‘capture’ girls. Although you could argue that Keima uses romance while Sora uses… fighting, Sora actually also uses romance, in a sense – she shows that she cares for the girls, which she really does, though perhaps not in a romantic way. Nevertheless, both ‘capture’ girls – in fact, a girl in the story actually keeps a log of all of Sora’s ‘possessions’, and calls them ‘captures’. Whether that is because of the Kaminomi connection or because it’s logical to ‘capture’ a ‘possession’ (brought to you by Pokémon), I don’t know.
Being Mami is suffering…
Karin deserves a paragraph on his own – while Steins;Gate took 24 /episodes/ to develop an interesting character, Shitsurakuen makes Karin almost every bit as interesting in only 13 /chapters/. It’s its storytelling and pacing that makes Shitsurakuen /so good/, good enough for me to read in just one session – even though each chapter is usually around fifty pages long! Each character is built bit by bit, not firmly, but tentatively. Shitsurakuen never says ‘Karin is a good guy who is just pretending to be bad’, but it implies so when he hides his secret of protecting girls from the insane Shoujou. With that, it makes us speculate more as to what he is – how could he want to protect the girls if he orders people to torture them?! The suspense is killing me, the suspense on all levels – similar to Steins;Gate, there are many ‘hidden’ characters, characters whose intents and purposes are not revealed until much later on. People like Moeka – why would she just kill a dear friend that she met? People like Mr. Braun – why the heck would he want to use a poor girl like Moeka to advance SERN’s plans? Ultimately, everybody is still logical, and that’s what makes it good – you could pretend to /be/ any of these people and you’d do similar things to what they did. You could actually be any of these people. Maybe there wouldn’t be any difference.
Even the males, who are painted as horrible, violent monsters. They’re all forced to wear butler uniforms; they’re all forced to act manly by the company, they all have to participate in Exaclan. Perhaps the men are even more oppressed than the women are – they’re not free to act as who they want to be, they have to act as men.
In essence, Shitsurakuen is just an amazing manga – I swear, I have not read a manga this good for a long time. Right now, my mind’s still not right, having just started reading this manga. I’ll probably wait some time between reading the second (and final) half and writing its post, just because, y’know, Hindsight.
You can read Shitsurakuen as a light, comedic read – you’ll find it’s full of yuri fluff, /very/ nice art, and an engaging, simple story. You can also read it more slowly, and soak in everything the author’s trying to say – the commentary on our current, unbalanced society, which oppresses /everybody/, the commentary on everybody being rational and thus nice to each other, and the commentary on hope, the one thing that everybody /always/ has, no matter their circumstance.
It’s a fun harem story, if you want to look at it that way. But, unlike many harem stories, it is genuinely heartwarming. And that’s why you should read it, because it’s heartwarming.
P.S. Shitsurakuen actually has absolutely nothing to do with butlers, although the school dress code says otherwise. Shitsurakuen actually means ‘Paradise Lost’ – perhaps the ‘Apple’ that Sora must pierce is /that/ apple?
P.P.S. The omakes are hilarious – but if they’re canon, then the omakes actually say a lot more than you’d expect them to…
P.P.P.S. The student council is powerful… /too/ powerful. AND IT’S NOT EVEN A STUDENT COUNCIL BECAUSE ALL ITS MEMBERS ARE ELECTED BY THE STUDENT COUNCIL PRESIDENT, WHO ELECTS HIMSELF. I’ll bet most of the school doesn’t even /know/ there’s a student council.
P.P.P.P.S. By that ‘Apple’, I meant the Apple of OH WAIT STEVE JOBS IS DEAD AHAHAHAHAHAHAHA THAT’S FUNNY