Shoujo Manga

Girls' Stuff, January (?) 94

If you hadn't noticed, this column is now dedicated (more or less) exclusively to shojo ("girls'") manga, and as such is the first of its kind in the English language (as far as I know). The trouble is that shojo manga—a huge sector of the manga industry—have received so little attention outside of Japan that many fans don't even really know what they are. In April I offered a general introduction; in July I talked about shojo manga giant Moto Hagio; in an earlier column, I discussed my research on shojo manga; and last month I announced in a very roundabout way the coming release of my translation of shojo manga artist Nishi Keiko's "Promise" (from Viz). This month I offer mini-intros to a number of other artists, so that the curious will have some idea of where to begin looking.

Yumiko Oshima
A "founding mother" of the genre and my hands-down favorite artist. Best known for her only long work, Wata no Kunihoshi (The Star-Country of Cotton), she approaches profound and disturbing issues in eccentric ways, fooling the reader into thinking she's reading a cute, nonsensical farce, then leaving her in tears. Check out Banana Bread Pudding, To Joker (Joka E), and her recent releases, including Rambling Rose, Rambling Rose (Tsuru Bara Tsuru Bara) and Diet.
Taku Tsumugi
Perhaps the most innovative artist of the 'eighties and still going strong. Best known for her 5-volume Hot Road, she often takes as her heroes marginal teenagers, often motorcycle gang members. Her stream-of-consciousness, expressionistic style, however, can be intimidating for those unaccustomed to the "visual grammar" of shojo manga. Sensitive, moving stories. Titles include Without a Blink (Mabataki mo Sezu), Jun, With a Desk for a Stage (Tsukue o Suteeji Ni).
Ryoko Yamagishi
Another "founding mother." Though much of her work is "occult," she is best known for her turning-history-on-its-head portrayal of Prince Shotoku, Heaven's Child of the Land of the Rising Sun (Hi Izuru Tokoro no Tenshi), and for her Russian ballet story, Arabesque. Much of her work is erotically charged, and her distinctive drawing style is well-suited to her often disturbing subject matter and themes. Titles include The Faerie King (Yousei OU) and short stories such as "Tennin Karakusa" and "Daphne."
Akemi Matsunae
The reigning queen (as far as I'm concerned) of the love comedy, Matsunae deals with issues close to the hearts of the Japanese Generation X, including working women, casual sex, divorce, etc. Very sophisticated and very funny. Titles include The Kingdom of Romance (Romansu no Oukoku), Purehearted Crazy Fruit (Junjou Kureijii Furuutsu), An Illustrated Guide to Love in Primary Colors (Genshoku Rennai Zukan).

"But Matt," protests the shojo manga fan, "you didn't mention (fill in the blank)!" I know, I know. More blanks to be filled in in the months ahead.

©Matt Thorn 2004

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Matt Thorn ()
Cultural Anthropologist
Freelance Writer