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[Fruits for thoughts]

Fruits for thoughts, again… You say genred, I say generalised

More fruits for thoughts for the day….. It must have been the grey and miserable British weather!

I will be totally frank and direct here.

As I have mentioned in my earlier post, I was left “slightly” agitated after reading an article by Brigid Alverson, a manga critic, here, in which (the definition of) shoujo manga has obviously been overly-generalised and “unfairly criticised” by the author. I quote:

….. Shoujo manga is a genre, and that, not the fact that it’s read by girls, accounts for its low status…. If you are a fan, that changes—you read the books carefully, you know the different creators and the different worlds, you see a hierarchy in terms of literary quality. But a genre is a genre is a genre, and you simply can’t write a shoujo manga in which the girl is, for instance, a lesbian, or the hero is a boy because by definition that isn’t shoujo manga.

I come to this conclusion after reading a great deal of shoujo manga, and getting really, really tired of those conventions…..

I was particularly annoyed by the poor choice of examples Brigid has used to support her arguments in the article  – let’s just say Fruit Basket and Boys Over Flowers alone do not represent shoujo manga as a whole….I mean, come on!  At the same time, I felt agitated to the point of being upset, because in a certain way, Brigid’s article has also demonstrated perfectly why and how shoujo manga is being prejudiced by many others in the general public.

If only….

I wonder how Brigid might have tailored her article otherwise, if she has by any chance read YAMAGISHI Ryouko’s Hi izuru tokoro no tenshi (also know as “Heaven’s Son on the Land of the Rising Sun“) or YAMATO Waki’s Asakiyumemishi – The Tale of Genji, both of which are SHOUJO manga series consists of beautiful and poetic depictions based on Japan’s greatest historical figure and literature of all time.

Alternatively, I wonder if any of those series mentioned in my earlier post here could have convinced Brigid otherwise, that SHOUJO manga is also about depiction of sentiments (typically of young girls/women) with respect to social beliefs and values, therefore more than JUST following a same pattern of storyline, or so-called “the conventions”….

In the meanwhile, I am curious if Brigid has also made any attempt in reading a SHOUJO manga series consists of two homosexual protagonists (yes, call it BL, shaonen-ai, yaoi, or whatever….), such as ARIYOSHI Kyouko’s Nijinsky Guuwa, a heart-tearing tragedy inspired by the Diary of Vaslav Nijinsky, the legendary balletomane of the early 20th century.

In any case (of the above I mentioned), it would be great if Brigid had read them albeit those series had not been (as far as I know) officially licensed, translated and published to a wider English-speaking public, yet.

Pride and prejudice?

In a way, I agree with the points Brigid has raised – the fact that shoujo manga in general does not gain respect amongst the general public because it is not (perceived to be) a literary work…. (NB. note my highlight).

Like many others (regardless of whether eastern or western countries), Brigid was convinced that shoujo manga could not be deemed as literary because, based on her reading experiences, shoujo manga follows “conventions”, thus could only be identified as genre work. The question is, would it have changed Brigid’s perception otherwise, if she had read any GOOD shoujo manga series besides those I mentioned above? Likewise, would others change their perceptions or prejudice against shoujo manga also, if they have been given the chance to sit down quietly and read through a GOOD shoujo manga series thoroughly?

To be fair, Brigid did what she does as a manga critic, reviewing on manga available to her at the time; I would imagine none of the series I mentioned above was available to her in English at that time. Pardon me if I am making a wrong assumption here, since I do not, as the editors do, have a list of manga titles which are or are not published in English/ in the States. But from the impression I have been given by Brigid’s article, if only  Fruit BasketBoys Over Flowers and other similar shoujo series of a limited kind is available in the market… it is not difficult to see where the prejudice is coming from, right?! (NB. Don’t get me wrong – i do love Fruit BasketBoys Over Flowers and many others of that kind, and would recommend others to read too!.. but that’s besides the point here.)

(In other words, the root to the argument here is not about shoujo manga being formulaic or “conventional”, but what is being made available and published by the printing houses as well as how these manga series are being marketed in the US market…….)

Genre or Literary? 

Below another excerpt of Brigid’s article:

Here’s the thing: You read your chosen genre for relaxation, not literary quality. Stop!!! You’re about to tell me that there are science fiction novels and westerns and shoujo manga that have great literary quality. Of course there are, but they are the exceptions. Most genre stuff, from The Da Vinci Code to Kitchen Princess, is predictable and two-dimensional, and that’s how most people like it…..

…. (Shoujo manga)’s age-appropriate for them (teenage girls); for us, not so much. So while I do sometimes feel sheepish about reading shoujo in public, I have the same problem with Archie comics. It’s not just a genre, it’s a kids’ genre, so I’m out of my home demographic.

And really, I am. I’m tired of shoujo manga because it doesn’t reflect my life or my interests but I can understand, like Melinda did with Twilight, that there was a time when it would have really resonated, and I would have found it irresistible.

Brigid’s article also brought some debates (in the comments) about:

1. whether or not shoujo manga, as a whole, should be treated as a genre, and

2. is non-genre work (or literary work) somehow “better” than genre work?

First, as for 1:

Ok. As far as a manga reader like me is concern, there are “only” two types of manga – one that is marketed to female audiences predominately, aka shoujo manga, and another to mainly the male species, thus shounen manga.  What gets complicated then, is the cobweb of genres (and sub-genres) spinning around underneath these two manga categories – and that is also what makes the differences (or relationships*) between shoujo and shounen manga, in terms of the type and tempo of stories.

To days, the complex genre cobweb of mainstream shoujo manga has extended to include works of josei, BL & yaoi, slice of life, historical, food & drinks, SF, magical, sports, school-life, thriller, romances of various kinds, i.e. be it a heart-warming/ sugary sweet/ passionate/ smutty/ tradegy…. etc. Nonetheless, a manga series that was drawn for female audiences (predominately) would still be known as a SHOUJO manga fundamentally, be it josei, yaoi or whatever genre, as demonstrated in my earlier posts here (or here).

Nonetheless, in that respect, I would tend to agree with Brigid that the CURRENT shoujo has become genred, in the sense that MAINSTREAM manga series these days are being created (by the joint force of editors and manga artists) based on the demographics of target audiences. These days, shoujo manga can no longer be distinguished or categorised merely based on the gender of the managaka (or manga artists) or their styles of artwork, as it used to during the earlier days of shoujo manga history…..

Having said that….

Generally speaking, in contrast to shounen manga which often offers fast-paced action-typed stories, shoujo manga may require more attention on storyline structures as well as character designs in order to reflect the “feelings” or “sentiments” which are the core elements of a shoujo manga. In comparison, fairly or unfairly, one may say that shoujo manga carries a higher “literary quality” than a shounen manga?  ^^:


Looking back, when those (post-war) vintage manga were most often created based on mangaka’s inspirations on story plots and artwork at the time….. their creativity was encouraged to grow under an environment that was less commercially driven compared to what it is these days (thus the formation of  the magnificent Year 24 Group…..).

So going back to Brigid’s point about shoujo manga being genred…. I would only agree it to the extent of a MAJORITY (i.e. not all and I refuse to generalise here ^^) of the ‘contemporary” MAINSTREAM shoujo manga only. Since most, if not all retro and vintage shoujo manga were created individually and its artwork made clearly distinguishable between mangakas (e.g. “otomechikku (maiden’s) manga” vs. manga by the Year 24.), I would therefore disagree on these shoujo manga being genred or created to fit the purpose of “pass-time leisure” only. As a matter of fact, many of those work have become timeless classic even to days!

…. and that leads us to 2:

Digress, I confess that I do not hold a history/ art/ literature degree or any academic background (as romantic!) as such, and it therefore really confused me to hell reading the comments about genre vs literary work. So I did a bit of research for a better understanding… and I found a post by junebugger on Literary vs. Genre writing:

….one major factor of what makes literature literature is how the sentences are sculpted so carefully that even a single phrase might contain a significant story of its own….. The writing in romance novels tend to be straightforward because a reader is meant to breeze through it–or else how can such a novel be used as the “escapist” novel so many women crave for? Whereas with literature, we aren’t meant to breeze through it, but to pause time to time and wonder what-the-heck the author is trying to tell us…..

…. which I couldn’t agree more!!

In light of above, I have decided to look at 2 from a different prospective. Instead, I am going to (TRY to) “investigate the literary quality” of shoujo manga, from vintage to present, from smutty to BL….


-to be continued.

=== GALLERY ===

Hi Izuru Tokoro no Tenshi by YAMAGISHI Ryoko

Asakiyumemishi - Tale of Genji by YAMATO Waki


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