The Perception of Heroines in Otome-ge

It isn’t otome-ge as a genre which can arguably be considered rather unfair in its treatment of heroines, but rather, the people it caters to who are most unforgiving when it comes to the judgement of a heroine. No matter the target demographic, it will have its share of dynamic protagonists, as well as those who are mere surrogates who lack emotional depth. While there are the supposed “blank template” heroines, there are certainly several others who defy that stereotype. Just like how for every good-natured hero in eroge, there are just as many cruel and remorseless men. Yet the assumption persists that female protagonists are written the worst, with the most flaws and least likeable characteristics.

While it may be understandable to first make that assumption, considering some of the most well-known otome-ge are infamous for their problematic portrayal of abusive relationships, it doesn’t justify the amount of hatred for the starring young ladies, that comes often from women themselves.

To many, a girl who is unable to consistently endure her burdens,  no matter how difficult the circumstances, who is torn between romantic options, or who displays naïvety and innocence is called a weakling or useless, despite her own strengths as an individual. There are also instances when a heroine is dominant and unwavering, and these traits are considered offensive and vindictive. It is a contradictory logical knot: a perfect heroine incites boredom, but a heroine with flaws earns her derision.

“Doormats”, “idiots”, and a slew of derogatory names are mostly directed at the more idealistic and sweet-tempered heroines, and while some may indeed fit the description of being powerless and gullible, it is often more undeserved than the frequency of its use suggests. Which begs the question: If such terms are entirely inappropriate, why are they used so often? Why is it that optimism and purity are considered to be signs of low intelligence, a dislikeable personality, and unjustifiable reactions? Why are such faulty judgements used as justification for contempt, and why does the heroine receive so much hatred, while the heroes are excused? Simple bias, perhaps, or it may very well be that the accusations reflect more on the audience’s sense of judgement than the one supposedly deserving of it.

While initial impressions may be strong, I find that too many are eager to hate and insult, preferring the cheap satisfaction of schadenfreude that comes with easy blame, instead of distancing themselves and trying to follow a definite reasoning behind such misguided opinions. While it is simpler to mistake ignorance or pacifism for stupidity and the like, in the end, it only gives the hasty detractors an image of egotism and superficiality,  instead of serving as any proof of superiority.

6 responses to “The Perception of Heroines in Otome-ge

  1. Such a good read! Very well-written!
    On the topic, I think it’s very different for everyone playing visual novels in general. I sometimes tend not to think of myself as the heroine, since she sometimes say/make choices I wouldn’t and instead see her as just main character. This I can imagine upsets a few people, since they want to be as much in-role as possible. It’s also depends on the setting/characters and even such things as which game I recently finished (and how the heroine in that game acted) that can change my opinion on the otome-ge I’m currently playing. In the end I think it’s about taste/mood/personality of the reader.

    • That’s true, it does depend on individual judgement. For me, though I just see so many actually good heroines being called “bad” (like Nazuna from Gekka Ryouran Romance or Chizuru from Hakuouki), and so forth. Which just got me wondering why people think the way they do…is it just a personal matter of taste, ect. I guess you really have to consider the game’s time period, the setting/culture, and the heroine’s personal history as well, and how that can influence her actions.

  2. This is why your blog is one of my favorite stalk ever. You always managed to outline every little details so neatly~ (I hope you won’t find me a creeper, though ^^;)

    Anyhow, I’ve to partially disagree regarding Chizuru’s hatred. From what I see, Chizuru frequently topped on favorite otome heroine poll in Japan. Yes, she is hated, though mostly by western fans which I blamed in culture’s variances.

    Actually, what got me into VN is my details’ obsession. That, and I really enjoyed analyzing characters with psychological flaws; Hakuouki; Shikkoku no Sharnoth. Given that, I don’t really mind seeing the romance taking backseat.

    Though for characters as damaged as in Gekka, I see Nazuna as a light for them and I believe the story could be very entertaining if the methods used to corrected their way of thinking is done properly instead of Nazuna also sinking into darkness.

    I think most stories are just good at raising questions and laying out problems instead of providing justified resolutions. But this is WHY we loved VNs so much eh, since there are so many things to ruminate and discuss about.

    As for me, I rarely views the heroine as myself since like Yumii said, they would normally opt for choices I would never pick. I’m comfortable enough with viewing them as a medium for another character’s explorations, and if they’re given a special circumstance (Ex: Fiona from BWS), I’ll TRY to understand their predicament and appreciate them.

    God, this is why I loves story/character-driven instead of romance-driven VNs lol. Thanks for this piece, I shall be anticipating your next analysis. ^^

    Just wondering, will you be playing Shinigami to Shoujo / DRAMAtical Murder? I heard these two spawns numerous thought-provoking questions about life / death / humanity. I’d love to hear your analysis on them if you ever going to play it.

    • I’ll have to disagree with you on Nazuna. She does help each love interest with their issues in a healthy way in many endings, although in others she certainly does slip more into darkness. But that’s exactly what I find so fascinating about her. She’s the first otome-ge heroine I’ve ever seen who is actually borderline yandere. She’s an accessory or an accomplice to crimes, and what other heroine has become so desperate to be with the one she loves that she is willing to be corrupted right alongside them? Of course, I have a major weakness for yandere, so I’m biased.

      I wasn’t considering DRAMAtical Murder or Shinigami to Shoujo. Neither of them are really my taste.

      Thank you for your support! ●´∀`●

  3. This article was awesome. Recently in the past 2 years I’ve been getting into a lot of translated otome games. I noticed a pattern with all the games that I really dislike.The Heroine is always very weak,innocent and apparently flat chested. The guys who are experienced with women fall head over heels for her innocence as if that’s some rare gem among 15 year old’s in ancient and modern japan. I don’t mean that I hate the character because she can’t fight but I mean the basic otome girl is a young girl who has the personality of a push over cry baby who’s only goal in life is to get a husband and is always described as a plain face girl yet can get the hottest elite of guys without actually trying. This girl also is very sweet and gentle all of the time and animals love her…really everything does. (Basically all shoujo and a complete FREAKIN MARY SUE) I completely agree with your article.

    If you don’t mind me asking, since your more experienced with otome games do you know why japan seems to force players to play the same retard not relatable mary sue character? And why is it in most otome games the guys aren’t interested in any females other than you? (it’s like all the beautiful women with good personalty died off leaving you the only one remaining. I’m trying to think of the culture differences ) I just love VN otome games, but I can’t stand it when I’m suppose to be the character and I have no options to be mean to a character, have a life outside of the guys, have a normal flaw that isn’t considered “cute” or just not be whinny because I’m so plain and flat! all the time.

    • You’re doing exactly the same thing that I’m berating in my article, so how can you possibly agree with me when I am defending the sort of quiet, sweet, gentle girls that you’re attacking?

      The “Mary Sue” character type is a fallacy. Because it has such vague qualifications for a heroine to be described as one, it can be applied to anything, and it cannot work as a label. Say, for instance, there’s a strong, masculine heroine who wins in fights. They would be called a “Mary Sue” for being “too strong and perfect”. But then, you’re attacking the shyer, sweeter heroines for being “too weak” and also calling them a “Mary Sue”. They’re a “Mary Sue” if they complain because they whine too much, yet they’re also called a “Mary Sue” if they don’t say anything, because it must mean that they’re a spineless doormat. They’re a “Mary Sue” if they don’t attract men because they’re heartless, man-hating bitches, but if they do attract romantic attention, they’re scheming whores, or a “Mary Sue”. The label doesn’t work because it can be twisted to fit any meaning, until it has now come to simply mean a girl you don’t like, for no proper reason. Which is the definition you’re using. The “Mary Sue” term is a scapegoat for those who don’t want to supply proper evidence and explain why being sweet or likable is somehow a negative character flaw.

      Even heroines I dislike, I have never complained about because they’re “whiny and too flat”. Rather, the heroines I dislike are not the type who are sweet, kind, and timid, or even if they’re lacking in self-esteem or confidence. The heroines I do dislike are heroines who assume destructive behavior is romantic, and encourage it because they are so deluded. Of course, how the story is framed is important as well. If the otome-ge or eroge is legitmately trying to convince me that abuse is romantic, of course, I’ll hate it. But if the heroine is encouraging her sadistic partner, and it’s clear that the poor thing is insane, that I can enjoy as a good example of how such destructive relationships don’t work. Then she becomes pitiable, rather than frustrating.

      So, what exactly are you agreeing on with me on? I’m not addressing the genre’s treatment of heroines in this essay, but the audience’s perception of them. Your comment is the perfect example of the attitude that this entire essay is disapproving of.

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