Triumph of the School Girl

Simpler times.

by Keenan Thompson

History

The shojo genre was originally aimed at young, Japanese girls. Shojo kai was the first of a series of girls’ magazine’s begun in the early Meiji era as an attempt to increase the literacy rate. Soon after these magazines’ birth, short, comic manga strips surfaced. Usually the story followed the lines of some inept female heroine being rescued by a handsome man, but for a long time, shojo romance was taboo. Eventually the taboo of shojo romance was overcome and the genre became redefined by it. The stories, however, keep the same form of a girl waiting to be saved.

Present

The genre has since evolved far past its original demographic. This is a unique phenomenon. American culture is largely segmented. Older boys do not listen to Hannah Montana or the Jonas Brothers. Manga and anime cross these barriers smoothly. While shojo was aimed at young girls and included them as protagonists, it included a character for everyone. The female attraction is obvious, they are the stories’ leads. For boys, shojo manga and anime are pleasant middle-grounds for exploration of the mysterious feminine that is somewhere between playing with dolls and actually watching live women.

Party in the U.S.A.

The characters in shojo fiction exist in extremes. In some way they are vastly separated from the rest of world. The boys are either delinquents, troubled geniuses, nice guys, rich playboys, or, in rare cases, absolutely perfect. The girls are consumed by emotion in an excessive, almost inhuman way. While from common Western viewpoint shojo may be seen as degrading women, only giving them value by means of the affection of a male character, shojo is empowering to all in a way. Boys see themselves as hero characters who trump the greatest odds (usually some inner deficiency) to win the girl. Girls see the ability to connect to someone difficult to connect to. Shojo literature is about youth overcoming their mutual interpersonal (especially romantic) ineptitude to achieve the salvation of a perfect relationship.

It is likely the mediums of manga and anime that make shojo accessible. Shojo manga is the emotional pornography we all need at some point. It is a collage of archetypes presented to us in bright colored simplicity (or, to ease us in, sometimes it is  coated with faux complexity). Shojo manga are most comparable to children’s television. The children are not watching the programs for a deep intellectual end (mostly because they can’t), so children’s programming is not designed in this light. It is designed to stimulate them, and with bright colors and loud, funny voices, it does. Shojo is the same way. With bright colors and ridiculous characters, it stimulates us emotionally. It is funny that sometimes emotions have to be made into cartoons to feel real again.

The strength of shojo is in its repetitiveness, in its constant use of simple and overdone archetypes. People can easily place themselves into these templates. Shojo seems to be about finding significance in a system of restraints. Real life shojo were largely confined to their school uniforms, but they became creative with their socks. In the same fashion, girls in shojo manga and anime are hard cast into roles of seeming worthlessness, but this is adapted to some virtue of patience, waiting for that deeply conflicted boy to say what needs to be said.

Those are some fly socks.

Judging from his hair, he is a cactus.

Future

Shojo media has a stake in the American market that does not appear to be waning. The market and interest is still fairly niche, but it is no passing fad. Shojo has gone a long time without any significant change to its format. There are of course a few exceptions, but largely the genre is stale, regardless if the next love interest is a vampire or a mermaid. Shojo will probably always persist in the same form. Some may call its methods cheap (much like the juvenile, shock humor of the “Scary Movie” series), but in the end, a stimulus is a stimulus. Tears are tears no matter if they are brought on by the greatest literature or the melodramatic, romantic issues of teenage cartoon characters.

Fruits Basket Opening

Kawaii ne?

Discussion Questions:

1. Is Shojo fiction a childish escape or has the genre grown to fit its audience? Should shojo shift to fit this audience?

2. Does Shojo literature marginalize the worth of its female protagonists as single entities (absent of a male love interest)?

Sources:

“Shōjo Manga.” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Web. 04 Apr. 2011. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shōjo_manga>.

Garrity, Shaenon K. “The Boys of Shojo Manga – ComiXology.” ComiXology – Pull, Rate, Preview, Discuss. Web. 04 Apr. 2011. <http://www.comixology.com/articles/52/The-Boys-of-Shojo-Manga>.

Ogi, F. (2003), Female Subjectivity and Shoujo (Girls) Manga (Japanese Comics): Shoujo in Ladies’ Comics and Young Ladies’ Comics. The Journal of Popular Culture, 36: 780–803. doi: 10.1111/1540-5931.00045

Comments

  1. dbreilly says:

    Interesting article! I think you’re certainly right in how you speak of the formulaic nature of shojo manga, as well as its primary role in stimulating emotion. What may be a good addition, though, is to see if there are any shojo manga that subvert or play with the stereotypical notions of the genre – especially with gender roles starting to shift in Japan, girls may find themselves wanting something less blushy and bubbly and a little more independent.
    I was also intrigued by your references to boys reading shojo manga – I’m not sure if this is more common in Japan, but I don’t see very many guys in the US flipping through the pages of girlier titles. It may be good to “get into the mind” of some males that read shojo and their various reasons for doing so.

  2. Very interesting post. I really liked your recap of its history within Japanese culture and your use of American pop cultural references to explain its place within Japanese pop culture. As someone who is not at all familiar with the Shojo genre, I would like to a little more background information on how it presents itself today. Is it limited to manga and anime or can films and magazines be construed as Shojo as well? I think it would also be interesting from the GNC perspective if you to discuss what its “stake in the American market”is? Does it have a cult following in the states or has the themes or actual characters begun to appear in American pop culture as well? Looking forward to hearing more about your topic in class.