Last Dance with Shinobu-chan
By Project Pegasus
Appendix: In defense of Last Dance with Shinobu-chan
WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD!!!!
It seems that some of you have misread what I've written. I would simply like to write a short appendix to explain my motives.
Fate and Free Will: One of the basic cornerstones of Love Hina is its focus on Keitaro's search for his Promised Girl. His Promised Girl told him that if two lovers go to Todai together, they will be happy forever. This is what motivates him to study and take the Todai test over and over again. The problem is that Keitaro's Promised Girl made this arrangement when she was five years old. Is Fate so stupid as to listen to a five year old? Keitaro, Naru, and to a degree, Mutsumi all accept the conventions of Fate even though it is an absurd and dehumanizing logic. They do not try to fight against It. Shinobu, on the other hand, battles against Fate. She tries to break the spell that Fate has cast upon Keitaro, her, and the rest of Hinata Sou. She knows there is no way that she could be Keitaro's Promised Girl, but she persists against all odds. She fights the gods, and she loses; no mortal can win against the gods. But even so, her struggle is what gives her integrity and maturity.
Maturity: The unstable center of Shinobu's self-image is her supposed immaturity. This is expressed in a number of images and metaphors throughout the fan fiction.
Breasts: Whenever Shinobu fearfully compares herself to another woman, she laments over the fact that her chest is smaller than the woman against whom she is comparing herself. For instance, she concedes that her breasts are smaller than Naru's and Moto's. (Moto is her main tormentor at school.) In one way or another, she view both as rivals and enemies and feels inferior to them because of her chest size. They are both more "womanly" because of their chest sizes. This, of course, is an absurd standard by which to judge any person. Such a bizarre standard leads to bizarre incidents, such as the 'exploding bra' segment. Coming to realize that society's fetish with breasts have nothing to do with her maturity is part of Shinobu's process of growing up.
Clothes: Shinobu switches clothing a number of times throughout the fan fiction. This is usually done when she is trying to conform to a new standard. But often she finds herself unable to fit the prearranged roles. For instance, she feels self-conscious when Moto calls attention to the ill-fitted, flat front of Shinobu's school uniform. When Shinobu changes into her training gi, she is unable to fulfill her role as either Motoko's sparring partner or her lover. She finds herself unable to fit into Haruka's old prom dress, so she cannot go as the prom queen. She openly rejects Mitsune's tacky gown, declining Mitsune's invitation to go to the dance as the prom slut. Shinobu can't find clothes that fit, just as she can't find a proper identity that would allow her to reach maturity. Mitsune draws attention to the fact that women have a much harder time than men when it comes to finding clothes that fit. It is only when Mutsumi tailors her best dress to fit Shinobu does she begin to realize that she doesn't need to fit into prescribed and streotypical roles, but can make her own identity.
The Dance: It is a hollow and meaningless right of passage with the semblance of a real one. The dance represents a fabricated and incomplete path to maturity. Shinobu puts so much emphasis on the dance because she expects something extraordinary will happen at the dance that will turn her into a real woman. The dance is, after all, only the auditorium with special lights, music, and tacky ornaments. Shinobu symbolically abandons this misleading passage to growing up when leaves the dance.
Sex: Shinobu sees sexual initiation as a dangerous but sure way to guarantee her maturity. Her anxiety can be seen in Part II of Perestroika when Mitsune is dolling her up. Mitsune, for her part, probably had no intention of making Shinobu into a slut, but only dressed her up as she herself would have dressed. Shinobu brought her own anxieties to the incident, the reason she reacted so erratically at the end of the chapter. The broken teacup and the stained sheets are symbolic of . . . well, you know, Shinobu toying with the idea of compromising herself for the first time. Watch for the teacup in the final chapter.
Mutsumi: In many ways the emotional cornerstone of Hinata Sou. She has long ago accepted in her mind that she and Keitaro are not Fated to be a couple. Of course in her heart, she has yet to come to terms with this. She recognizes a fellow exile in Shinobu: a woman drawn to Keitaro despite knowing that he is Fated to be with Naru. Her wisdom and acceptance of the inevitable are great comforts to Shinobu. Her insights allow Shinobu to begin to think of maturity in totally different terms than what she had been used to. Her important symbolic act of adapting her best dress to fit Shinobu is the beginning of Shinobu's realization that she doesn't need to fit the roles and expectations of others in order to reach maturity. In it final form, Shinobu realizes that she doesn't need to accept the role of Keitaro's lover in order to find fulfillment.
Motoko: She herself falls into some of the same traps as Shinobu. In order to retain an identity, she accepts roles that she cannot fulfill. One role is of the great warrior. At one point she mentions Achilles. Achilles, like Motoko, thought of himself as a warrior without peer, the archetypal hero of heroes. But like Motoko, Achilles was a flawed tragic hero whose blindnesses and imperfections prevented him from fulfilling the role as the exemplary hero. Motoko isn't flawed because of her desires, but because she cannot come to accept or deal with them. She denies them because to admit them would be to shame herself and bring dishonor on her family. For a martial artist following the way of the warrior, dishonor and shame are intolerable; she would rather banish or kill off part of herself rather than forfeit her warrior identity. Her disavowal of her true self is channeled into a terrifying but childish wrath that hangs over the rest of the story.
Hotaru Tomoe: Shinobu's mystery friend who bears a strange resemblance to Sailor Moon's Hotaru Tomoe (a.k.a. Sailor Saturn). In Sailor Moon, Saturn was the senshi of death, rebirth, and revolution. When Shinobu leaves her dance, all of the assumptions of her old life are dead. Her reality has crumbled around her. She can no longer rely on Keitaro. Her dance, the critical component to her passage into womanhood, has been a failure. Hotaru works to point out that Shinobu shouldn't be devastated by these seeming catastrophes. She takes Shinobu's raw experiences and recasts them in a totally new light. Instead of focusing on how Keitaro has abandon her and how her dance was a failure, she argues that Shinobu now realizes that concepts like male protection, chivalry, the prom, and unrealistic social standards are all illusions and bankrupt concepts. Unrealistic and foolish ideals (i.e. princes) are dead in the real world, and dead in Shinobu's life. Hotaru has given Shinobu the power to revolutionize her seemingly devastated world. She has helped Shinobu to dispel her false gods. By doing so, she has reached true womanhood.
Keitaro: In many ways, the plot wouldn't have taken place without Keitaro. Indeed, even as he argues, he was the one who agreed to the prom and the one who wouldn't let Shinobu withdraw her invitation. He is sweet, thinks of the needs of others, is pleasant to a fault, and works hard to earn what he thinks he deserves. He also helps Shinobu come to an understanding about her painful past. But these positive attributes cannot conceal his shortcomings and defects. He thinks of Naru as his wayward property that Fate will one day return to him. The price he pays for his peonage to Fate is his dignity, but even so he hold the illusion that he got the better part of the bargain. He can either challenge Fate by taking Shinobu as his lover, or can accept Fate by choosing Naru. But unlike Shinobu, he cannot defy fate. He will not take the risk of loosing his Promised Girl. He thinks in terms of investment and return: Fate as the cosmic cash register. An investment in Shinobu is high risk; there is a good chance of failure (especially since he will have to lay back for a few years while she comes of age), but also the chance that an investment in Shinobu will yield a higher return than an investment in Naru. An investment in Naru has no chance of failure, but the returns on such an investment are pitiful and discouraging. His complacency and inability to gamble everything are his fatal weaknesses.
Naru: Perhaps the character that has the most bearing on everyday people. She knows that she can never fully love Keitaro, but she finds herself cornered by Fate. She doesn't have the emotional tools necessary that would allow her to challenge It. Instead she conditions herself again and again to internalize and accept her Fate. Unwilling to fight Fate, she tries desperately to convince herself that she is happy or could be happy with Keitaro and works distraughtly to introject Fate as part of her identity. She does such a good job that even she begins to believe her own lies. She plays games with Keitaro, and seeks to lose herself in the labyrinth of her internal thoughts rather than face the reality of her misery or oppose Fate.
Shinobu: Realizes that she is better than Keitaro. Enough said.