The Saint’s Magic Power is Imposter Syndrome

US release cover photo of The Saint's Magic Power is Omnipotent manga
US release cover of The Saint’s Magic Power is Omnipotent manga

One of the most anticipated shojou/josei animes coming out this spring is an adaption of “The Saint’s Magic Power is Omnipotent.” Per the manga cover (released by Seven Seas) the story follows 20-something, workaholic Sei as she adapts to living in a new magical world after being (accidentally?) summoned to be a savior “saint.” Sei is dismissed as a spare by the eldest prince of the magic world, since a younger, innocent ingenue girl was also summoned during the same ritual. 

The readers follow Sei as she processes her new situation. From the first pages, Sei describes herself as someone who works very hard at her job, to the point of exhaustion. After sleeping for two weeks as a guest in a castle, she wanders into a new area that is the Medicinal Flora Research Institute where she eventually becomes an employee. Even though her new employment does not demand it of her Sei continues with her M.O. of overworking and needing to prove herself through her productivity. For example, even though for the first 2 weeks of her residence in the new world, she is a guest in the palace, waited on hand and foot by servants and put up in a plush bedroom, when she starts her “job” as a researcher, she says she’s “gotta work work if [she] wants to eat.” There is a dichotomy of expectations presented – the ones expressed by the locals who feel honored by her presence and welcome her to simply be in the palace (or as a token employee of the Research Institute), versus her expectations of herself, which is stated that she must work to eat and must contribute productivity to “earn her spot.” We see Sei’s self definition come from her work: After she makes her first potion, she states “That’s how I came to live here…not only as a medicinal flora researcher but as an inhabitant of [the] world.” 

With a light and fluffy isekai (read: magical world) framework, this story taps into and addresses a deeper transnational psychological trend, what is commonly known in the US as Imposter Phenonmenon (aka Imposter Syndrome). This phenomenon was coined in research in the 1970s on high-acheiveing women, but gained larger societal awareness as a buzzword in the 2010s. It is defined loosely as “doubting your abilities and thinking you are a fraud” (HBR) and “experience of feeling like a phony—you feel as though at any moment you are going to be found out as a fraud—like you don’t belong where you are, and you only got there through dumb luck. (VeryWellMind). 

This manga answers the questions that imposter syndrome poses, and the reader watches as Sei’s journey to accept herself and her impressive abilities improves her health and makes her stronger. This content and the light-heartedness and entertaining way it is communicated positions it to be relatable to audiences anywhere there is imposter syndrome, but for countries where that term is not used, anywhere where women are entering fields and achieving leadership in fields that are male-dominated. 

This leads to the drawback of the manga: As a comic, it would be targeted to teenage girls, but imposter syndrome is largely a college-age and employment-related phenomenon. To better fit a younger demographic, adaptation would need to highlight the some root symptoms of Imposter Phenomenon: the need to overachieve, the inability to recognize one’s own talents and skills, unrealistic expectations.  

On the whole, if executed well, the anime version stands a decent chance to garner international commercial success, and I’ll be interested to see how the production studios smooth over some of the rough edges of the light novel/manga (namely, pacing issues, some awkward word choices, and plot holes) and highlight the deeper emotional development of the protagonist to draw in and relate to the audience. 

For those who are familiar with Japanese demographics, Saint’s Power is a shojou manga that deals with josei issues.

For my fellow American otaku, if you liked “Boys over Flowers” (“Hana Yori Dango”) or “(Kaicho wa) Maid Sama” you’ll enjoy Saint’s Power, even though its set in a magical world and not a high school.

For European manga-fans, if you liked “Kimi wa Petto” you’ll enjoy Saint’s Power, which has a little less romance at the onset.

Resources for talks given at Otakon Vegas, part 1

“Disappearing Women: Tracing Women’s Roles from Yaoi to Reverse Harem and Beyond”

1: “You only have two hands”

  •  Women who try to balance personal/familial life and professional ambition. The story is made up of their struggles and failures, sometimes they come out balanced, sometimes not.
  • Japanese Examples: Kaichou wa Maid-sama, Hana Yori Dango; Kimi Wa Petto; Gokusen. (Honorable Mentions: Pride, Anego, the Wallflower.)
  • USian examples: Iron Lady, Zero Dark Thirty, The Devil Wears Prada; Mona Lisa Smile; Dream Girls; Frozen. (Honorable Mentions: Twilight, Sherlock)
  • Thematic trends: Women have to chose either proffessional life or personal/familial life. We also see the emergence of the need of concealment of “feminine” or “familial” side of a woman in the professional sphere. There is also the smaller trend that women must be workaholics in order to be present (possibly succeed) in the professional sphere.

2: Feminine Body, Masculine Mask (building from ideas presented in Fanon’s “Peau noire, masques blancs” from 1952)

  • Cross-dressing and gender-bending stories
  • Japanese: Ouran High School, Hana Kimi (from manga to j drama to dramas throughout asia, then j-drama reboot a few years later with the same props.) Also from other regions but internationally popular: Taiwan’s 1/2 Prince, Korea’s Cafe Prince, to lesser success mainland China’s My Bratty Princess
  • Western Examples: Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, Queen Christina (1933, satisfies the Bechdel Test,) Disney’s Mulan
  • Conclusions communicated through these stories: To qualify for the possibility of success, women have to suppress part of themselves. It isn’t a way to succeed, it’s a way to get a chance to succeed.

3: Absent Women: Gender Displacement

  • The rise of Yaoi and Slash in Japan and USA
  • They arrived at the same time: Yaoi grew from male homosexual love stories written for a women’s target audience in the late 1970s and published in doujinshi (Kaze to Ki no Uta, often attributed to being the first yaoi, was published as a manga in 1976.) The first slash between Kirk and Spock appeared Star Trek fanzines in 1970s.
  • Yaoi: seme and uke as masculine and feminine
  • Slash: Even without sex scenes, we still see the main pairing as feminine and masculine. Protagonist is more often the bottom, as is the POV when applicable. USian slash is a little less gender dichotomous than Japanese yaoi.
  • Yaoi is on the decline in USian markets, but slash is on the rise, especially with the growth, strengthening, and gaining of recognition and credence of the fan fiction medium.

Questions for Discussion:

  1. What does it mean for our societies when the ideal woman is a man?
  2. Is forsaking our femininity the only way to succeed in the professional sphere? In what ways is our femininity an advantage in the business world?
  3. Is yaoi/slash pure escape from a misogynistic world? Why do we read it?
  4. Name a famous woman who has both successful home and professional life. (The only ones I came up with before the talk were Meryl Streep and possibility Angelina Jolie. Although, my listing Ms. Jolie may be more indicative of how ignorant I am of her life.) The groups came up with Ms. Streep as well. Still, only one name?
  5. Self-fulfilling prophecy?
    • Stories sometimes tell us how we wish things would be, but also tell us how things are. Are the telling and retelling of these negative stories disempowering women? Making them unable to envision a better world? Is it adding to the strength of the glass ceiling by saying “you cannot do this, no one has done it, even this awesome character” ?
    • If these stories are cautionary tales, do they make the women who consume them too cautious? Are women unable to take the necessary risks for success (especially in USian culture where we reward risk taking behavior)  after be informed by these stories?