Can sexual harrassment ever really be “funny?” That is the question I asked myself as I picked up the first volume of Alice on Deadlines. As the pages piled mortification upon embarrassment, I began to suspect that, for me the answer would always be “no.” As with so many things though, as I thought about it, I came up with the somewhat different answer of “it depends.”
The manga itself is a pretty standard pervy-guy-perves-on-women-who-can’t-stop-him storyline, attached to the vaguely overused plot complication of a Shinigami sent to earth to complete some important task that must be done before he can move on/graduate/reincarnate/get off probation/something else.
Lapan is a slacker Shinigami who would prefer to spend his time reading porn than doing his job. His boss sends him to earth to accomplish a really important task to get back in his good graces. To punish Lapan for his slacker ways, he’s meant to be incarnated into a skeleton but…for reasons which we will call a ‘lame plot complication,’ he is instead incarnated into the body of a young girl, Alice, while she is displaced into the body of the skeleton.
Lapan immediately abuses Alice’s position as beloved idol of her all-girl school, sexually harrassing and molesting Alice’s fans, and Alice’s own body. As with Your and My Secret, Lapan is in no rush to switch back, so poor Alice is stuck in the role of skeleton-shaped boke, to a her own body-shaped tsukkomi, in a not terribly funny manzai routine. (For pretty funny manzai, I recommend watching Sean Gaffney and I nightly on IRC. We’ve got the routine down pretty well these days – I even slap him around a bit for effect. ^_^)
By about halfway through Alice, my progress through the story was positively glacial, because it just wasn’t making me a happy camper. And I began to think about the question that has come to me over and over as I read what passes for “comedy” in manga. Can sexual harrassment be funny? No, I said, and I meant it. (A small Lewis Carroll reference, in honor of his just-passed birthday.) But…why? Why can I read Ikkitousen or Ultra Sword and have absolutely *no* issue whatsoever with it, yet this kind of manga – which isn’t 1/1000th as offensive and violent as Ultra Sword – makes me want to stab something?
It came to me after a little thought – the issue is one of *power.* As anyone knows who has ever studied anything about sexual violence knows, the crime is not a crime of sex, but one of power. The criminal seeks to impress upon the victim that they are the one with the power and can therefore take away any and all power the victim might otherwise have.
Likewise, in manga where a character is endlessly sexually harrassing other characters, it becomes a fact that they hold the power in the relationship, since the harrassed character(s) *cannot* put a stop to it. (This is avoiding the issue of plot contrivances in which the harrassed character(s) *does* not want to put a stop to it. That’s a whole different rant.)
Put simply – the characters in Ikkitousen *do not care* that their clothes have just exploded off their bodies, or their underwear is exposed. They are annoyed, perhaps angry, and they go about showing their displeasure by establishing their complete dominance over the perpetrator. What they do, of course, is beat the bad guys flat. In Ultra Sword, the sexual molestation doesn’t stop the characters from beating the living daylights out of the bad guys. They are not disempowered by the actions of the molesters. In fact, they are *empowered* by the actions of the molesters, and subsequently adminster a violent – sometimes fatal – lesson in why hurting people is BAD.
But, in Alice physical, and in Mariaholic emotional, abuse actually robs the victim of something. They are disempowered, damaged, broken. Their pride, their world, their whole lives are taken away from them. That is true in real abuse, of course, and is very hard for me to tolerate as entertainment in any way. Especially not as “comedy.”
Which brings me back to this volume. Having learned this about myself, I turned back to the book, hoping to cope better with the contents.
The story took this opportunity to step off the path into a not hideously offensive side story about Lapan’s “date” with the beautiful guy Alice has admired for a long time. It wasn’t nearly as heinous as the previous chapters and the ending is sort of touching in a really bent way.
The second half of the book turns the tables completely on Lapan with the introduction of Ume, another Shinigami who lusts strongly after Lapan – even if he’s in Alice’s body. Ume engages in a little crossplay to join Lapan at school and pursues the entirely unwilling Lapan for the remainder of this volume. And because I now knew that it was an issue of power, I was completely fine with Ume making Lapan as miserable as he had made Alice. So there, nyeh. :p
Yuri in this volume is Alice’s body inhabited by Lapan sexually molesting Alice’s fans, and Ume crossdressing and molesting Alice’s body with Lapan inside. If a female-shaped being groping another female-shaped being’s breasts is good enough for you as Yuri, then this a Yuri manga. At least we are told plainly that in the world of the Shinigami, same-sex relationships are not taboo, which was completely unnecessary to the plot, but is the same level of relief as pulling a splinter out before it even hurts.
As a comedy, it wasn’t that funny. As a journey through bias into enlightement, it was about 5 minutes of good conversation. The *best* thing about the book is the title.
Art – 6
Story – 3
Characters – 4
Yuri – 5
Service – 7
Overall – 4
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