starlady: (utena myth)
[personal profile] starlady
It's now officially Awesome '70s Shoujo Week here in my corner of the internet. I direct every single last one of you to [personal profile] marshtide's Gender, Sexuality, and 70s Shoujo Part One: Oscar Is Hotter Than You.

And, since the ball is now back in my court, I have my review of the rare Four Shoujo Stories for your delectation below the cut!

Hagio Moto et al. Four Shoujo Stories. Trans. Matt Thorn. San Francisco: VIZ, 1996.

Once I track down A Drunken Dream I will have read 90% of the Hagio Moto manga available in English, which frankly compared to her total output (in Japanese) is rather terrifyingly paltry. I like Hagio Moto as much as the next manga fan--she's the foremost member of the Shôwa 24 crew, generally called the "Forty-Niners" in English because Shôwa 24 = 1949 (the year of the births of the mangaka in question)--and she certainly deserves to have her work as widely known in English as some other equally influential creators whose works have gotten more translations.

The four stories in this book include Hagio's They Were Eleven, which is classic 1970s shoujo scifi and displays the same concern with gender and sexuality that animates all of her work that I've read. The plot concerns ten candidates for admission to the Galactic University, who upon their arrival on a derelict spaceship to take the final part of their entrance exam discover that they are in fact eleven: who is the eleventh? And how will the eleventh betray them? Without betraying anything, the plot hinges on bodies and gender; though most of the characters are (assumed to be) male or male-bodied, women function as a powerful absence in the plot. It's fascinating stuff.

I also really liked Sato Shio's "The Changeling," which tells the story of a Genly Ai-like observer making recontact with a lost daughter colony of Earth; why Matt Thorn chose to transliterate "Sephiroth" as "Sephiloth", among a few other notable infelicities, is I suppose ultimately a minor quibble. In his introduction Thorn praises Sato's "ethnographic plausibility", which seems to be a highfalutin neologism for what we in sff generally call world-building. Regardless, it's a great story.

There are also two stories by Nishi Keiko, which are set in contemporary Japan and which, if they have a certain zing! to them at the end, don't seem particularly remarkable to me--but they are certainly very good for what they are.

In his introduction Thorn makes some implicit claims of Japanese cultural superiority that seem very dated, particularly for a book produced in 1996; according to him, the fact that shoujo manga allows women and girls a space in comics to explore gender, sexuality, and relationships (in society) implicitly proves (shoujo) manga's (and Japan's?) superiority to the States and to American comics. This is simple-minded at best, and my immediate reaction is to suggest that shoujo manga offers a rich trove of examinations of these questions because women in Japan (and men, for that matter) are less able to enact such explorations in their actual social lives and practice. I also question Thorn's claim that shoujo manga earns creators and readers the "respect of society"--how many female anime directors can you think of, whether revered auteurs or just earning paychecks? Yeah, me neither, and that is not a coincidence. Nor is it a coincidence that the female mangaka who have earned frequent English translation, such as Arakawa Hiromu or CLAMP or Takahashi Rumiko, work primarily or exclusively in genres such as shonen and seinen, rather than shoujo or josei.

With all that being said, if Thorn has any clout with Hagio he should try to arrange for some of her long-form manga, like Poe no Ichizoku or Heart of Thomas, to be published in English. In the meantime, it's well worth tracking down a copy of this book.

(Final irony: My copy came via ILL from Cornell University.)
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