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Evolution of a Mean Girl: From Nanami to Kurumi

To the delight of my senses, I recently started watching Revolutionary Girl Utena for the first time, but I’m afraid this post is not about Utena. Among what few familiar aspects I could find in Utena, my attention was drawn to Nanami Kiryuu, the ojousama with an apparently mean and manipulative temperment. Nanami easily obtains a despised position with viewers through her bullying, and without developing her redeeming qualities, the personality is far too flat and one-sided to be called likable. But it soon occurred to me that Nanami was a kind of character I enjoy, and she may be the predecessor to some of the more recent lovely baddies. From Nanami to Kurumi, I believe there has been wonderful progress in the realized depth of fictitious “mean girls,” and I think they have been given texture over time which not only adds to the grey about them but allows us to realistically perceive them, enabling an enjoyment or even love for these characters.

Nanami Kiryuu, Revolutionary Girl Utena

Nanami

Unlike the other two characters of mention, Nanami plays a more trivial role in context of Utena’s story [1]. However, she is a qualified ojou of an elevated social status, glamorous, and fitting a most basic form of mean girl archetype; superficial, stuck up, and needing to shine. She is driven by an incestuous lust for Touga, her older brother, and when the spotlight evades, Nanami retaliates in haughty force. Yet Nanami’s tactics are so terrible (usually) that it is easier to observe her in a comedic rather than serious manner. Unfortunately, her slap-stick usage devalues the character, making it more difficult to fully appreciate her nature. Nanami is, in a sense, closer to a pure archetype on the surface but contains a hint of conditional development that may allow the viewer to enjoy her sometimes nasty behavior.

Ami Kawashima, Toradora

Ami

As we focus on Ami, one of the important details is her role as a focal character. Her dilemma spawns from a lack of affection from Ryuuji, someone who sees through the guise but still accepts her presence. Ami goes big with her flare. She is beautiful, a model, but also disastrously fake and hallow. Her attitude towards herself and others touches on the extremes of conceit and condescending, but the internal strife in losing to love reforms her to a more honest state. Like Nanami, she is fairly straightforward, yet she puts on a “good girl” farce as part of her manipulation, complementary to physical manipulation through her luscious looks. Divine, no? But because of her role, Ami is a mean girl developed so well that it is almost impossible to not appreciate her.

Some of her more alluring aspects are her [stray] cattiness, willingness to bitch and even engage in physical fighting. Perhaps that is another interesting aspect to these girls: they fight, sometimes physically, but more importantly, they possess a violent side as well as the prowess to use it. Nanami’s violence came in a formal duel, Ami’s a standard high school girl-fight with Minori, but I believe the trend is away from formal violence and into a darker realm of manipulation.

Ume Kurumizawa, Kimi ni Todoke

Kurumizawa

And then we have Ume Kurumizawa, the gorgeous petite. Kurumi is crucial in understanding these characters, for she is the most complex, textured, and ~lovely~ of the bunch. Frustration of the heart, driven towards darkness, inevitably hidden behind her appearance, but nonetheless Kurumi. She is hardly as blatant as Ami, but she is far more realistic through subtly. Wearing two faces and using her stylish appeal to gain acceptance among peers, Kurumi is similar to Ami, but the persistence and span of her lies show us her mastery of manipulation. Yet her manipulation is not a result of spite, at least not until Sawako comes between her and Kazehaya.

The brilliance I find in Kurumi is that she is a sweet and tender girl by nature, yet she is driven by the fear of looming heartbreak and the potential for Kazehaya to love another. And with her fragile heart, she is capable of becoming dark, beautiful, malicious, and especially significant. In fact, Sawako’s sole defense lies with her friends, who are well-acquainted with the social machine, but Kurumi is built to lose. And it is through her struggle with an inevitable outcome that we are able to see her beyond the menace.

Similar to Nanami and Ami, Kurumi is haughty and transformed, but neither an ojou nor model, Kurumi is far more to unravel [2], and as a character, she shows us there is much to love about mean girls beyond what many love to hate.

Afterthought

These are but a few, but also the few who remain so vividly in my mind. Maybe it comes from knowing these type of girls in reality, and seeing first-hand that the harm they attempt to inflict on others and how it is usually felt internally. They are vicious but sad, hate can be so pitiful.. no I wouldn’t want to be hurt by them, and would easily bite back if tempted, but I feel these kind of characters lack confidence or acceptance from one who knows their true colors. It isn’t about forgiveness, but compassion and loving those who are, to an extent, cruel, yet often incidentally so.

Notes

As an aside I composed a small [and incomplete] list of other characters who might fit the mean girl archetype, though some may be borderline tsundere or just plain bad, possibly evil.

  • Delphine Eraclea – Last Exile
  • Shouko Inari – Kuragehime
  • Zange – Kannagi
  • Kuroha Diana Shiratori – Eden of the East
  • Yomi Isayama Ga-Rei Zero
  • Namie Yagiri – DRRR!!
  • Kyouka Kanejou – B Gata H Kei
  • Touka Ryuumonbuchi Saki
  • Tsutsuji Baba (among others) – Sore Kake Girl

Nanami, Ami, and Kurumi are listed on the Alpha Bitch entry at TVTropes, among other decent cases, but personally I find it tough to consider Kurumi an “alpha bitch,” she’s just not that simple of a character. And I recall the group of girls who directly bullied Sawako already have an alpha bitch; Kurumi is more like a righteous bitch, fuck yeah. ♥

[1] – At least through The Student Council Saga.
[2] – How delightful…

Further Reading

Yi wrote wonderful entry analyzing Kurumi in Bridging the Gap Moé and Authenticity – Kurumi ♥

Categories: Meditation.

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12 Responses

  1. You haven’t seen Nanami yet. Watch moar.

  2. characters that one enjoys in fictional media do not necessarily have to match up with the type of people that one would actually like in real life. i say this allll the time. there are tons of characters i loooove, but would find them quite obnoxious were they real. i find it kindof puzzling when people don’t seem to understand that.

    treeofjessieSeptember 7, 11 @ 2:13 amReply
    • Definitely true, and most real-life mean girls and I wouldn’t get along so well, though there are a few I have enjoyed. The caricatures in fiction tend to be idealized and sometimes romanticized, which we might see in biographical form, but there is such a huge difference between paper and flesh. It might be easy to love/hate someone on paper, but in the physical presence it could be the complete opposite. And I love that about life, that it tends to feel like a “had to be there” experience when it comes to people.

  3. Common denominators of all of the mean girls that you mentioned is they always become the victim of their own meanness because whatever they do it backfires to them, and, despite being mean, they are actually good and sensitive people. I’m not too sure about Nanami because I haven’t seen the entire Utena series but I guess there’s still some goodness in her. She’s doing something beneficial to the heroines even though she was just asked by Touga. As for Ami, her meanness actually led her in accepting that Ryuuji will never like her, and her cat-fight was pushing Minori to get real about her feelings to Ryuuji. As for Kurumi, I only saw S1 and a bit of S2, I find her chivalrous because she’s acknowledging Sawako as her sole rival.

    Also, I guess the “inner goodness” of these mean girls is a big factor why fans loved them. Although they’re manipulative bitches, they’re not totally evil, mischievous and conniving sluts.

    Btw, thank you for this post, it’s such a joy to read. ^^

    • I surely agree that mean does not imply evil, which might be a conclusion some viewers jump to. And I think it’s surprising how many people hate Kurumi (maybe the mean/manipulative types in general), but… I have a feeling that comes with some necessity to love/hate opposing characters/forces in fiction. Personally, I enjoyed Sawako almost as much as Kurumi, but I wasn’t really invested in the competitive nature of fighting over Kazehaya. Without Kurumi, the series would have been mushy garbage imo… I am ranting lol.

      I can’t really say we always see the inner goodness, but maybe we believe it’s there from their development, and as for not being “mischievous and conniving sluts”: that could still be a possibility, but more importantly, I think the realization that they do possess a depth is what gives them an edge into the heart. Personally, I find it more difficult to like an under-developed mean girl character I know nothing about (but that doesn’t mean I’d hate the character).

      Thanks for reading Snippett ^ ^

  4. As someone who usually likes the “mean girl” characters you describe very much, I have quite enjoyed reading your analysis which gave me something to think about!

    As you say in your comment, these girls despite being mean, they are actually good and sensitive people. This in my experience differentiates them from the real-life mean girls, which mostly seem to have a rather shallow personality. These exist in anime as well, e.g. the “school friends” of Anaru’s in AnoHana or Momoko in Hourou Musuko whom I really despise! However, since their personality is so shallow, they usually don’t get much screentime (or should the argument go the other way round?).

    I strongly disagree with Nanami’s personality being flat and one-sided! She may have a somewhat child-like and innocent nature, but the various “psychological” Nanami-centered episodes in my view clearly show a lot of depth behind her bitchy facade. As far as I remember from Toradora, not much of Ami’s motives and feelings is shown and her behaviour kept being a puzzle to me. However, I can’t call her personality shallow – her favourite place sitting between those soda machines imo tells a lot (and is quite cute as well).

    I think “mean girls” as in your examples often are socially underdeveloped and/or emotionally deprived and therefore in fact are quite cute and kawaii.

    Further suggestions for your list: Saori from Hourou Musuko; Miu from Bungaku Shoujo; to some extent I think also Asuka from NGE who acts quite bitchy most of the time.

    • “they are actually good and sensitive people” …yes and no. I feel there is a greater attraction to their “flaws” which is independent of their inner-demeanor; some of them could be truly cruel. I think the idea is that these character have constructed an interesting kind of “box” that they live in, like pit bulls trained to be the aggressor, it’s innate.

      As for RL-baddies, sigh. The texture of reality is so heavy that it’s difficult to really see anything we are not aware of (sensory overload), and I feel many people (including myself) have a closed perception of mean people, who most likely have a more relatable side, but we rarely see it. This is probably a trope, where the character made into a false-antagonist, is actually good; Boo Radley.

      Yes, and I’ll address wingblossom below on Nanami as well. Nanami is developed later on, but she is quite the simpleton (transparent) in the first third. What we come to learn about her in the first saga isn’t anything separate from her brocon motives, but it’s deeper and darker. Of course, that’s what lends us to realize she has character depth and weight, but I’ve yet to witness complex or authentic texture that really makes me question “what is she thinking?” I think you’re relation to Ami exposes the difference between Nanami’s transparent simplicity and these other characters’ opaque complexities. Naturally, I’ll leave the rest of Utena to make a final position on Nanami, but this is based on what I’ve seen.

      And I’ve been meaning to checkout Hourou Musuko, I’ll definitely have a go. Thanks for the read and comment!

  5. I have to say, unless you’ve seen all of the show, I think it’s quite unfair to call Nanami “trivial.” She’s easily one of the most well-developed characters in the end, and plays an important role in the show’s thematics.

    wingblossomSeptember 11, 11 @ 6:25 amReply
    • I will have to finish Utena, but that is a fair argument. I admit to not giving Nanami enough credit or making my position on her seem poignant, but I am open-minded about her further development in the second half of Utena. In fact, I’d love to see more of her development, esp. the kind of stuff that I might find sad or heart-wrenching. But it’s difficult to say she carries much weight in the first half of the series in comparison to the other characters. The cowbell episode didn’t help either.

      I remain optimistic though! ^ ^

  6. Sometimes I feel like we are on the exact same wavelength in our tastes, especially our tastes in women. How wonderful. ^ ^

    “Nanami is, in a sense, closer to a pure archetype on the surface but contains a hint of conditional development that may allow the viewer to enjoy her sometimes nasty behavior.”
    Yes, totally! I really enjoy her, especially those moments when she’s not just a comic relief, but a real nasty force.

    And of course, Kurumi. She still remains my favorite ever~

    • Yes, it is wonderful… until we become rivals over the same girl’s heart! And then it will be extra wonderful! Oh, that would be cute.

      Definitely. I think there’s a point when the viewer may realize that the blade is double-edged, and the pain inflicted on another, is also felt at the source. Or something along those lines…

      Kurumi has a special place in my heart as well. She’s a brilliant character to connect with, really. And specifically, I get the feeling that I’d want her future to be bright more than any other character in that story. A good feeling towards her ability to be wild and passionate.



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