Book review

International perspectives on shojo and shojo manga, edited by Masami Toku

Nicolle Lamerichs

HU University of Applied Sciences, Utrecht, The Netherlands

[0.1] Keywords—Anime; Fandom; Transnationalism

Lamerichs, Nicolle. 2017. International Perspectives on Shojo and Shojo Manga, edited by Masami Toku [book review]. In "Queer Female Fandom," edited by Julie Levin Russo and Eve Ng, special issue, Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 24.

Masami Toku, editor, International perspectives on shojo and shojo manga: The influence of girl culture. New York: Routledge, 2016, hardcover, $96.45 (268p) ISBN 978-1138809482; e-book, $54.95 (13538 KB) ASIN B00YY63KQM.

[1] As a visual medium, manga is influential in Japan and beyond. Manga developed in Japan after World War II as entertainment for children, but eventually broadened to address different age groups and genders. Since then, manga have been split into two broad categories: comics for girls (shojo) and comics for boys (shonen). Shojo manga were influenced by a long-standing history of girls' magazines since the Meiji era, which portrayed girls with beautiful big eyes and slender bodies. Shojo manga are unique. Unlike comics for boys, they do not focus on fighting, power, or ambition, but can be understood more as coming-of-age stories. Shojo manga emphasize romance and being in the world, and favor social relationships. Even when these stories are set in fantasy worlds, or involve superheroes or magical girls, love remains a common theme. The aesthetic and narrative differences between shojo and shonen have great effects on readership, fandom, and authorship that are worthy of study.

[2] Broadly speaking, the popularity of manga, anime, and gaming has been the subject of many manga studies by Japanese and non-Japanese scholars. The first American book on manga, Manga! Manga! The World of Japanese Comics (Schodt 1983), was published over 30 years ago. Since then, manga has been studied from different angles, focusing on its reception, fandom, visual aesthetics, transmedia qualities, and localization. International Perspectives on Shojo and Shojo Manga (2016), edited by Masami Toku, is a timely, global collection that examines manga and its culture. It pays specific attention to an underexplored genre of manga, namely shojo manga. These comics cater specifically to girls, and have a long history that has partly influenced Japanese views on girlhood. Shojo manga are unique, and well-received abroad. As the first collection that focuses specifically on this genre, International Perspectives on Shojo and Shojo Manga has a lot to offer to those who study comics and their transnational reception.

[3] This collection offers a critical and global view on manga beyond the borders of Japan. The book consists of three parts. The first part offers local perspectives on manga culture. The second focuses on global perspectives on manga, and is written primarily by non-Japanese scholars. These essays discuss the influence of manga on other countries, such as Taiwan, Indonesia, and the United States. The third part is a rather exceptional section that offers profiles and interviews with renowned shojo manga critics and artists.

[4] Rather than discussing the chapters individually, I want to address several themes that emerge in this collection. The first is that shojo manga can be a powerful tool for media literacy. Several of the scholars, including Masami Toku herself, discuss the merits of the pictorial style of manga, and how this influences children. In her chapter, Toku integrates a case study of a young boy, Theo, and traces his interest in manga and the development of his manga style. This chapter shows that manga is more than a set of visual tropes, it is a form of media literacy and an aesthetic that influences youth. She argues that shojo manga influences children's aesthetic development, and plays an active role in how they view the world. This is also stressed in the chapter by Michael Bitz, who ran an after-school program in North America in which at-risk students were encouraged to create their own graphic novels. By drawing comics, these children could explore their own life stories and find their voice. Interestingly, most students mimicked manga styles rather than American comics. Bitz explains that it was difficult for children to relate to the perfect superheroes from American comics, and that it was easier for them to identify with the real-world problems that were depicted in manga.

[5] A second theme that emerges is the construction of girlhood, and how this representation was affected by girls' comics within Japan. Shojo manga heavily favor romance over fighting, and emphasize cuteness and beauty. Cuteness is the essence of shojo, as Nozomi Masuda writes in her chapter: "The Japanese word and concept of kawaii ('cute') has become popular in East Asia and Europe as a result of manga and anime and related merchandise. Japan may be a unique country in that kawaii is everywhere in Japan and is loved by people of all ages and genders. The kawaii culture developed alongside shojo (girls') culture, with shojo manga as the benefactor" (p. 23). She writes that that the category of "shojo" was constructed in Japan's modernization process. After the middle Meiji era, a modern education system was developed that separated male and female students in middle and high schools. The concepts of "shojo" and "shonen" related to this division and the consumption society. Boys and girls were conceived of as different target groups. Since the first Shojo-kai, published in 1902 by Kinkodo, many shojo magazines were published that catered specifically to girls. In the post-war era, many of these magazines slowly started to incorporate comics, which drew from a particular visual style that was already developed in the shojo magazines. Popular illustration styles from the magazines, with big eyes and slender bodies, were adopted in the 1970s by famous mangaka such as Riyoko Ikeda.

[6] Cuteness, in other words, slowly became a prominent theme in shojo manga. This collection unpacks the kawaii culture around shojo manga primarily through the formal analysis of comics. Tsuchiya-Dollase analyzes one of the most influential shojo manga characters, Sakura Momoko's Chibimaruko-chan (1986–1996). The titular character is an eternally cute little girl, a third-grader nicknamed "Chibimaruko" (small round girl), who grows up in the 1970s. She is understood as kawaii, but Tsuchiya-Dollase emphasizes this is a special brand of cuteness. Unlike other shojo characters, her cuteness does not stem from weakness, or a need to be protected by a male hero. "What makes Maruko's kawaii interesting is that the flaws of her personality and unfeminine qualities make her cute," the author emphasizes (p. 45). She is a cute little character, and sometimes a bit silly, which brings readers close to the author. This is not a romantic cuteness, but a silly cuteness that brings Japanese women together. Other authors also note that kawaii is a complex, and multifaceted concept. Masuda argues that today, kawaii culture has become less about visualizing or merchandising specific characters, and has extended to embodiment in Japan and elsewhere (pp. 29–30). Through street fashion, Japanese youth embody cuteness by wearing cat ears, colored contact lenses, and Lolita dresses. They remind us that manga visuals are not only flat representations, but that manga itself is a participatory medium, which is also reenacted. Contemporary cuteness, in other words, is visceral.

[7] As a third theme, many of the chapters explore the inclusivity of shojo manga. While romance may be considered the main theme of these comics, many of them focus on love in a broad sense. Yukari Fujimoto writes about Sailor Moon and its controversial reception in other countries. LGBT themes were important in the Japanese version of the anime, but often censored outside of Japan. In Japan, however, these themes were influential in fandom and also boosted the prominence of same-sex romances in mainstream manga. Many fan comics ("dojinshi") in Japan inspired by Sailor Moon emphasized canonical and noncanonical LGBT romances. In addition to this chapter, Kazumi Nagaike focuses on the popularity of "boys' love" in shojo manga, or same-sex romance between men. This genre is popular among women, but Nagaike interviewed gay men to see how these manga affect the men's identity politics. She argues that boys' love can also be the subject of queer reading, and become a powerful tool for gay readers. Inclusivity, however, does not just pertain to LGBT issues. Shige Suzuki shows that manga can also be an agent of change by representing autism. By closely reading the manga With the Light, Suzuki argues that manga can be persuasive, and represent difficult social issues. Prior to this manga, autism was rarely discussed in Japan, but this manga made people aware of disabilities. Suzuki explains, "Tobe's With the Light contributed to Japanese society by visualizing the issue of autism that would otherwise have remained marginal, if not invisible" (p. 51). These chapters argue that comics are a powerful tool for social communication and have potential for social change.

[8] Finally, it becomes clear from this collection that manga is best understood as a transnational phenomenon that is no longer restricted to Japan. Jin-Shiow Chen examines how Taiwan has developed its anime and manga fan culture and its own fan comics scene. Cheng Tju Lim also offers an overview of manga's influences in Southeast Asia, and provides examples from manga published in Indonesia. Finally, Frenchy Lunning reads shojo characters as universal figures. Her chapter is a manifesto for shojo culture and its beloved characters and tropes. She unpacks shojo manga through the concept "kyara," a complex way of referring to characters as they become symbols, and spill over into merchandise and visuals. Kyara refers to a kind of proto-character, shaped by visuals rather than by a narrative herself. Perhaps the best example of this is Hello Kitty, who is more a mascot than a character. Lunning explains, "the shojo character of shojo manga is an excellent example of a kyara. The shojo has eclipsed her manga form to become a complex, multilayered, transnational compendium of commodities that circulate in the realms of advertising and packaging, illustration and art, toys, and girls' accessories" (p. 88). While this may seem negative, Lunning is by no means critical of the mass consumption of shojo imagery. In fact, she sees this as a powerful kind of femininity. Girls and their culture are now acknowledged in the patriarchy of Japan and beyond. The shojo character is an agent of positive change. "She is now ubiquitous, transnationally exchanged, and she has begun to inject the feminine into culture. Having gained admittance, she has stealthily brought in her siblings—the adult female heroines of gaming, the gay guys of yaoi, and the transgendered hero/heroines of manga—all as subjects in her family of forms" (pp. 98–99).

[9] The last part of the book consists of unique interviews with shojo mangaka and critics. This will interest fans as well as scholars, since several prominent mangaka from the 1970s are included. The authors of the earliest boys' love comics, Moto Hagio (Heart of Thomas) and Keiko Takemiya (Kaze to Ki no Uta) provide their views on the craft and the development of shojo manga throughout the years. This is very interesting reading material and worthy of studying further in some form. I wish the editor had written a conclusion to these interviews or done more to position them. This data is unique, but readers need to be informed of manga culture to fully understand and judge the statements of these artists and critics.

[10] International Perspectives on Shojo and Shojo Manga is a unique book that emphasizes the cultural specificity and historicity of shojo manga, as well as its circulation outside of Japan. It does justice to shojo's unique imagery, and stands out for its close readings of manga narratives. This is an ideal collection for fan scholars to use to gain more in-depth knowledge about manga as a medium, and its reception. The book's case studies include fan comics inside and outside of Japan, and show that manga is above all participatory. The collection is the first of its kind, and will undoubtedly be of interest to scholars of comics, fan works, and media at large. Moreover, it sheds light on the complex transnational dynamics of media and fandom, of which manga is a pivotal example. The aesthetics of girlhood and cuteness in Japan cannot be compared to how girls are represented in any other country. In this sense, Western countries may learn a thing or two from Japan. In the United States or Europe, we readily dismiss things that are "girly," "cute," or even feminist, but in Japan, cuteness is embraced by all, and can be a powerful agent of social change.