The Secret Stars of Anime: Momokuri (and Gender Roles in Relationships)

Is Momokuri one of the best shows this season? Not really. In fact, honestly, of all the shows I am actively following, it is probably my least favorite. However, that just says more about the quality of the shows I have chosen to follow this season, as Momokuri is still quite good. It is mostly a fluff show that you would watch more just to revel in its cuteness than anything, but underneath all that fluff, there is surprisingly a lot to look at regarding romantic relationships.

Momokuri was originally released online way back in December 2015 as a series of 26 twelve-minute episodes, before starting to air this Summer season with two episodes a week put together to make one full-length episode. The story features one Yuki Kurihara, who gets smitten with a cute boy a grade below her, Shinya Momotsuki, who then proceeds to stalk the boy, taking pictures of him in secret and collecting things he’s used such as straws. This part is admittedly somewhat creepy, something that her best friend repeatedly points out. Eventually, though, she summons the courage to ask him out, and he accepts.

Worth noting that as creepy as she can be, she’s not a yandere; she doesn’t really get jealous when her guy hangs out with other girls. Which her guy actually takes some issue with.

While Yuki’s creepy tendencies still continue, albeit toned down somewhat, the real interesting part of this show involves how Shinya, a.k.a. “Momo”, views the relationship. Unaware of Yuki’s stalker tendencies, he is just happy to have a cute girlfriend and, being inexperienced in love, tries to work out this whole “dating” thing on the fly. What develops as his relationship with Yuki continues provides some interesting insight to one topic that comes up often in Christian circles: gender roles in relationships.

She Started It

At the most reductionist level, I have heard Christian gender roles described as “men lead, women submit”. This statement, however, fails to describe the greater nuance in gender roles, or account for why they exist in the first place. Nevertheless, it has become the basis of a number of arbitrary rules that many Christian communities, whether they be homeschool groups, youth groups, or online groups, promote regarding male-female interaction. One such rule that I have heard is that “the man should always ask the woman out”. The reasoning behind the rule is that, if the woman asks the man out, it undermines the man’s role as the “leader”, setting a tone in the relationship in which the woman has power over the man and thus poisons the whole relationship. If a woman likes a man, all she is to do is to trust God that He will have the man ask her out if he really is the one for her. Some groups allow the woman to drop hints or stuff, but asking the man out herself is still considered a no-no; after all, you have to give the man the chance to take charge, right?

This brings us to Momokuri, in which the girl, Yuki, asks the guy, Momo, out. Now, Japan’s view of gender roles is arguably pretty bad—a quick look at salaryman culture will tell you that—but there is not quite that same stigma against girls asking guys out. Still, it is interesting to see just how their relationship starts out. We know that Yuki mainly likes Momo for his “cuteness”, something not associated with masculinity by either Momo or people in general. She also is generally the more aggressive one, though most of that aggression lies in her secret stalking, photo-taking, and item-collection. It would be one thing if the show continued to have their relationship take on this flipped-gender-role nature, but Momo himself is not satisfied with that. He hates being thought of as “cute”, and wants his girlfriend to see him as a man.

Just a friendly reminder to not go too far with physical advances. It looks romantic but pushing a girl against a wall is not cool.

So Momo takes action. He takes the initiative to invite Yuki out on dates, makes physical advances on her (nothing sexual, just stuff like taking her hand) and other small ways to try to assert himself more. This catches Yuki off guard, as the Momo that she fell in love with was the cute boy that got dragged around by his friends, not the boy that is aggressively pursuing her. In a more cynical series, I could imagine Yuki actually breaking up with him since he was no longer the guy she was in love with, butMomokuri is too much of a lighthearted comedy to go that route. Yuki does find herself confused by this “new” side of Momo, but rather than turn her off, it only makes her fall in love with him more.

Regardless of whether or not Momo’s approach reflects genuine masculinity or not, we can take one thing for sure from here: just because the girl asks the guy out, does not undermine the guy’s ability to take on a “leader”-like role in a relationship. The idea of a girl asking a guy out tainting a relationship for good is silly, anyway; it is like saying, “God is all-powerful, but He cannot take a relationship where the girl asks the guy out and get the guy to be more like a leader.” If the girl does ask the guy out, all that means is that, over time, the girl can step back and give the guy room to pursue her if he grows interested in her.

That is where I think the core of this particular issue is. The idea is that any guy who is genuinely interested in you would proactively pursue you. If he is not pursuing you, then chances are, he just is not that into you. He might also have a problem of having too much of a passive attitude, which is just in general not a good quality to have and not something you would want in an intimately-close partner. That said, sometimes the girl needs to ask the guy out in order to give him a push to start proactively wooing her heart. Maybe the guy does not even know the girl exists (Momo only really met Yuki when she asked him out), or maybe the guy is being held back a bit by fear or concerns of ruining a friendship or some other obligation. Whatever the case, if the girl asks him out, steps back over time, and then finds that he still is not going after her, then she has reason to believe the relationship will not work out and can break it off then. However, if the girl wants to start that process instead of waiting indefinitely for the guy to make a move, I believe she can do that without violating gender roles.

I say all this relating to the guy actively pursuing the girl, but I do think it goes the other way around, too. If you are a guy dating a girl that just passively takes all your displays of affection to her, without trying to return them in some form, that is also a sign of something being wrong. It is not like it is a good thing for women to be passive; God designed women to be helpers, not receivers. A girl that is just going through the motions of dating either has her own problem with passivity, or is just not that into you. In a way, this issue is not really a gender role issue at all, but rather an issue of interest and proactivity that has slight variances with gender.

A Match Made in Heaven?

So what are Christian gender roles, then? To understand this, we must first understand marriage to be a reflection of the relationship between Christ and the Church, in which Christ is the husband and the Church is the wife. This is the base on which our view of gender builds from. It does mean that the man takes something of a leadership role, as the Church leading Christ makes no sense. However, the man must also show the same sacrificial love to his wife that Christ showed to the Church, using his leadership to serve rather than to dominate. The woman does, then, submit to the man, but by all means can still proactively seek out ways to serve him and others around her. She can make suggestions and even give advice, which a man of Christlike humility will humbly listen to and incorporate into his decisions where appropriate.

Note, though, that I say all this specifically with regards to a marriage relationship. These gender roles only really apply to a couple once they are married (although outside relationships, they have some application in church leadership). If a couple is still dating, they are under no obligation to reflect the Christ-Church relationship with gender roles. That said, a dating relationship can be used as a training ground for developing the skills needed for future gender roles in marriage, whether with each other or with different people. Given that, how do Yuki and Momo reflect gender roles in their relationship?

In Yuki’s case, her intense and somewhat creepy devotion to Momo actually works quite well for reflecting a Christian’s relationship with Christ. While constantly following around and trying to find out everything about a guy is rather weird, doing so with Christ is pretty admirable. Not that women should be stalking men or prying for info from them, but making an effort to spend time with a guy and learn more about him is a good, moderate approach. More importantly, Yuki uses her knowledge of Momo to better serve him, by getting him things he likes or will help him in times of need. And what better display of a Christian’s love for Christ is there than to learn more about him and use that knowledge to serve him better?

This image doesn’t have much to do with gender roles but I’d like to note that this show does capture the awkwardness of first love quite well.

But what about Momo? Outside of his more aggressive moves, does he reflect Christ’s role in his relationship with Yuki? Well, not really. A lot of his attempts at manliness stem from his own insecurities about his height and his being “cute” (and his friends’ constant teasing about it does not help), rather than out of a desire to serve Yuki. He does care about her and tries to show it, but as he’s new to the relationship, only starting to like her after they start dating, and feels a bit insecure about their relationship overall, he is mostly struggling to figure this whole dating thing out. And that is fine; as I said, he does not have to represent Christ yet in his relationship; rather, it is a time for him to figure things out at his pace.

Before I completely write Momo off, though, there is something worth noting about him: that is, why Yuki fell in love with him in the first place. She saw his changing expressions and how he interacted with his friends and understood him as an honest person who easily brought smiles to those around him. Now, these are not traits naturally attributed to masculinity, and are by all means valuable in women. That said, they are nevertheless good traits to have in a man trying to represent Christ’s relationship with the Church; after all, Christ was a man of truth and one who gave true joy to those around Him. This is a good reminder that there is far more to genuine masculinity than just the stereotypical macho aggressiveness or even the important trait of proactivity. While encouraging guys to be proactive is great, the more we can understand the variety of ways men can display masculinity and encourage them to do so, the less men who do not fit with more stereotypical definitions of masculinity feel undue pressure to conform. Likewise, femininity is also extremely varied beyond its stereotypes, which is also important to keep in mind when exploring gender roles.

Momokuri is available on Crunchyroll. There is actually almost no objectionable content in the show, though you do have to get past how Yuki acts as a creepy stalker girl towards Momo (though at least without the possessive jealousy of an actual yandere). Otherwise, it is all fairly clean. It is a fluffy, feel-good show where you revel in the cuteness of a young couple in love, and honestly, all of my above discussion is over-analyzing an aspect of the show that never really gets fully developed. And yet, the fact that it provides this look at gender roles at all, a topic I am very interested in, is enough to elevate this show above being just another fluff show for me.

What are your thoughts on gender roles in relationships? Feel free to share your views in the comments, but be warned that this topic can get a bit sensitive, so please, as always, be respectful.

2 thoughts on “The Secret Stars of Anime: Momokuri (and Gender Roles in Relationships)

  1. This is an excellent post, using a simpler show as a jumping-off point into some more complicated issues regarding gender and gender roles in Christianity. Here are my thoughts 😀 :

    (1). As you’ve noted, gender roles are a good deal more complicated than a lot of traditional Christian culture seems to suggest. My very Christian sister is decidedly not a traditional passive, feminine type. In fact, she was something of a tomboy in her youth— Very active, outdoorsy, and interested in traditional masculine pursuits like camping, sports, guerilla warfare in the 11th century (Robin Hood style), Native Americans an indigenous culture, etc. She has a determined and fixated belief that someday in Heaven, somehow, she’ll get God to explain why she’s wanted since childhood to have a soul bond with a gigantic eagle. XDXD

    The point is that when you look at my sister and then compare her to her quiet, analytical, scientifically oriented husband, cultural stereotypes about gender and Christianity seem to fall apart. But when you look at how he leads her in Bible study and worship, his reasoned approaches to problems versus her own overpowering force of emotion…You start to see the relationship you’ve actually described above.

    (2). I have my own convoluted relationship with gender roles, femininity, and masculinity in general. You could say that I am aroused by the power dynamics in gender pairings and so myself try to embody a kind of cute, innocent hyper-femininity in many of my relationships. I generally prefer partners who are rather the opposite of passive— Not necessarily hyper-masculine, but very dominant and intelligent in character. I’m not at all Christian, and the sort of people I’m interested in are decidedly not “Christlike,” but it’s interesting that that dichotomy exists in other contexts as well.

    1. (1) Your sister and her relationship with her husband is a great example of how two people can fulfill Christian gender roles without conforming to society’s gender stereotypes.

      (2) There does seem to be psychological evidence for women tending to prefer dominant men, though I haven’t looked too in-depth into studies on the matter, and I don’t know whether it is primarily biological or sociocultural in nature. Nevertheless, the fact that so many female-targeted romance works feature dominant men does suggest that this is something that extends beyond Christianity.

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