Nov 19, 2020
Gyaru or as known to the Western world, "Gals," are the gaudy, hilariously tanned party animal girls of Japan that were quite the hot issue back in the 2000s. They're what would be if the popular white girls of Cali spent every afternoon at a Brazilian tanning salon and romped around downtown with flashy hairstyles and clothes that look like a unicorn's salad. And most importantly, there's a manga about them. And it's actually much better than you'd expect!
On the surface, GALS! seems like your run-of-the-mill uber-girly shoujo manga from the 2000s. It's got the same big bubbly eyes plastered on every female character in
the story, it's got a handful of conveniently handsome hunks, and everything about it basically just falls under the category of something that'd get you beat up if you were caught reading it in the locker rooms (back in the day, of course.) But to pass this manga off for those trivial reasons is one hell of a crime. It's complexity and variety of true-to-life topics it deals with, blanketed with routine gags and cheesy romantic subplots are a delightful surprise and one that would make you guffaw if you were to look back at the cover and think "something like this, is actually something like that?"
GALS! starts out basically like a gag manga; you've got the main character Ran Kotobuki, self-proclaimed "Queen of Gals," who lives solely and proudly for the present with her girlfriends and doesn't give a flying frick-frack about the past and future. She also couldn't care less about love, complex relationships or studying; she'd rather put all her focus into picking out the perfect outfit, stuffing her face, and trying to wheedle some extra dough out of her tight-knit policeman father (who is completely done with her B.S.) She's loud, she's mean, she's a hardass when she needs to be, but a complete dumbass otherwise. You take one look at Ran and think, "How the hell is she a shoujo protagonist? Why should I like her?" but that's only because you're comparing her to what I like to call "wet cardboard" protags (found in 95% of shoujo manga) and that's where you're wrong.
Ran and her friends seem perfect on the outside. They're pretty, popular, they've got mad fashion intellect, and they radiate pure moxie and spunk. But the point of the manga was to show young readers that not all which glitters is gold. They're not cookie-cutter bubbly-eyed Queen Bee girls. Each and every one of the characters is flawed and do or say things that will probably piss you off (and I admit, I got pretty pissed at times) but that's a sign that the story and it's characters are GOOD. They act and say things irrationally like real people, and later suffer due consequences. There's the stubborn, holier-than-thou bitchy type, there's the clingy insecure type, the wild-child-turned-tamed type, each one with their own backstory and point-of-views and each of them struggling in their own ways. The "romance" in GALS! isn't very orthodox, either. The entire manga is unpredictable for better or for worse.
The topics that GALS! deals with are the real gem. They range from the mundane such as dealing with exams, personal goals, and work, to the much more dark and serious, like bullying, stalking, self-harm, suicide, theft and fraud, and even child neglect and abandonment. They're all written and dealt with very skillfully and responsibly, in my opinion, and the morals to be learnt from each situation shine in contrast to the manga's otherwise glitz and glam nature chronicling the Gals' everyday adventures between school and Shibuya.
I can't let this review slide without noting some of the disappointments I came across in GALS! To begin with, the more darker-tanned girls (Ganguros) are drawn and treated in a...quite inappropriate manner. I understand that this is just one of the many Gyaru styles, but here the Ganguros are seen as ugly, disgusting and unworthy. Why? Because of their dark skin tone and lips. That's literally the ONLY reason why. It raises a lot of red flags and shows you that no matter how good a manga can be, mangaka are prone to fucking it up by cracking a joke solely at the expense of a character's appereance. Not very good for a manga aimed at children. There's also a slightly uncomfortable minor/adult relationship, which, unfortunately, is one of the main focuses of the manga so if that kind of thing irks you, you could just gloss it over like me, but if you can't, pass (let it be known though that nothing "explicit" happens until the minor is of age.)
On a more positive note, the art is absolutely gorgeous. Everything is drawn so neatly and the constant shifts in style between normal and comical are almost seamless. Despite the pages being packed with illustrations and effects, they were never an eyesore to look at. One teeny tiny little nitpick I had, however, was that the eyes are all identical on the females, no matter main or supporting characters. I had a hard time telling the characters apart sometimes for this reason, but that's just me. I love this art style so I can't even complain that much.
Mihona Fujii is clearly someone who knows her stuff and wants to do it right. And it's apparent, as in the process of writing GALS!, she regularly went out into Shibuya to observe firsthand the daily affairs of real-life Gyaru, the places they frequent, the issues they face, etc., and she also documented her research in the sidebars of the manga itself, which were neat little tidbits I looked forward to reading along with the main story. Her effort made the story that much more worthwhile and believable, which is quite commendable. Fujii loved the culture and wanted to portray it as accurately as possible through her characters, while still making them fun and relatable. And she succeeded since GALS! is now regarded as a Gyaru Bible of sorts.
I wouldn't really blame anyone for overlooking GALS! for a mere chick-flick on paper if they saw it on a shelf or a website; we all tend to judge books by their covers, and with all literal meaning especially in manga. But this is one of those rare instances where you simply can't let yourself be bamboozled. I enjoyed it a lot, even though I went into this thinking what so many people have probably though, that this was just another colorful, flashy kiddie manga. GALS! takes the phrase "live, love, laugh" and paints it all in your face until it's ingrained in your soul. It's about having a good time and letting yourself go, living life to the absolute fullest not by being irresponsible, but by believing in yourself, doing what's right and pushing forward no matter what you might face in life. There's more to girls than a pretty face, and there's more to GALS! than just hotties, heels, and hibsicus flowers.
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