Shojo Manga! Girl Power!

Title: Shojo Manga! Girl Power!: Girls’ Comics from Japan
Editor: Masami Toku
Publication Year: 2005
Publisher: Flume Press
Pages: 80

Judging from its front and back cover, you might expect this catalog to contain big, glossy reproductions of artwork gleaned from shōjo manga, like watercolor cover illustrations or the artistic two page spreads that are a defining characteristic of the genre. Aside from six color pages in the middle of the volume, however, there are relatively few images, and majority of the book is printed in black and white.

What this volume does contain are thirteen essays, each three pages long, on the phenomenon of shōjo manga, manga in general, and the impact of Japanese comics on America, followed by page-long profiles of twenty-three manga artists. The essays mainly repeat the same outdated information and stereotypes about manga (and gender) that you can find anywhere. Typical of these short essays is the misleading and essentially meaningless line, “The popularity of the genre [of boys’ love] is reflective of the fact that in Japan, male love, loyalty, and companionship are considered of the highest virtue (Toku).” A few of the essays are well worth reading, however. One of them is Yoko Nagakubo’s essay “Yaoi Novels and Shojo Manga,” which contains the most reasonable explanation concerning gender identification in boys’ love manga that I have ever come across. Another is Frederick Schodt’s “A Different View,” which seeks to correct some of the most widespread American misconceptions about the Japanese manga industry (and which seems surprisingly prescient in light of the current crisis facing the American manga industry).

The main selling point of the book are the artist profiles. These profiles list two or three major works of each creator and briefly cover his or her thematic preoccupations. Each profile is accompanied by one or two small, black-and-white (but still gorgeous) illustrations that demonstrate the artist’s style. Most of these artists are still relatively unknown in America, as only a small handful of them have been translated into English. (And, even if their works have been translated, as is the case with Ikeda Ryōko of Rose of Versailles fame, they are almost impossible to find.) They include Watanabe Masako, Maki Miyako, Mizuno Hideko, Satonaka Machiko, and on and on.

In other words, this exhibition catalog might not be the most beautiful or academically rigorous book ever published, but it serves as an extremely useful field guide to the history of shōjo manga through its creators. It’s also an excellent reading guide, highlighting a manageable number titles as well as the reasons why they are important and enjoyable. I’m definitely taking this book along with me the next time I visit Japan.

Most major university libraries own a copy of this 2005 exhibition catalog; but, since there have recently been several copies floating around the internet (on Amazon and eBay), I thought I’d snag one for myself before they disappear. If you’re interested, I would encourage you to do the same!

6 thoughts on “Shojo Manga! Girl Power!

  1. Looks like an interesting book, but slightly worrying to hear something so far off the mark as the “highest virtue”. I’ve only ever managed to read a few shojo manga, I’m guessing Fruits Basket and “明日は王様” fit in that category, because it’s hard to read them in public, and venturing down that glowing pink aisle in the book store is just too much to bear.
    If you have any recommendations then please let me know. It’s always good fun to get hooked on a new manga series.

    1. Fruits Basket is one of my least favorite manga ever, and you’re right – it kind of is embarrassing to be seen reading the vast majority of shōjo manga.

      A now-classic series that has both a high entertainment value and a high potential for scholarly fascination is Revolutionary Girl Utena (少女革命ウテナ). Shōgakukan just re-released it with gorgeous, non-pink covers, so it’s a good time to check it out if you haven’t read it yet. Probably my favorite shōjo series running right now is うさぎドロップ, which features clean art, a fun and relatively mature story, and cool, minimalist covers (only one of which is pink).

      Good luck! Let me know if you find anything interesting!

  2. Frederick Schodt is the man. How annoying that most of the other essays are just regurgitating tired stereotypes, though.

    I do love compendia for getting ideas of what to watch and read next, but my bookshelf is teeming with the Japanese of all the cross-dressing shoujo manga EVER, while I’m still working on BeruBara….

    1. Frederick Schodt is the man. Any dude who translates Rose of Versailles to show Americans what they’re missing is a hero in my book…

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