In Which Willow Reads Shojo Manga


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The first movie I ever saw in the theatre with friends, sans parental supervision of any kind, was Ghost in the Shell. I was thirteen.

My homies and I were proto-goths—baby bats, the older cooler goths called us—and had a high opinion of our taste in music and film, though we only saw films and listened to music the older cooler goths had seen and listened to first. (These older cooler goths went to high school and college with Trey Parker and Matt Stone, providing the inspiration for the goth kids in South Park. The hilarity of “Burning Down Hot Topic” takes on a transcendent degree of nuance if you were a goth in Colorado in the mid- to late-nineties.) Anyway, this is all to say that my taste for artsy anime was developed at a young age, but only because I was a total poser.

Since then, I’ve consumed massive amounts of the stuff: Neon Genesis Evangelion (with both alternate endings!), Cowboy Bebop (series AND movie!), Serial Experiments Lain, Vampire Hunter D, all Miyazaki films ever, various Ninja Scrolls. But the anime fetish never translated into an interest in manga, which appeared fraught with hentai and teen romance. I never really understood teen romance books, even when I was a teen. But these days teen romance seems to drive the entire publishing industry, especially the manga bits (Fruits Basket, anyone?), so it I decided I’d better find out What The Deal Is.

This month, Venus In Love (Volume 7. Seven!) showed up in my comp box. It seemed a reasonable place to start. Having read it, I’m hard-pressed to imagine what might have happened in Volumes 1 through 6.

The story goes something like this: blond girl likes blond guy. Blond guy, who is best friends with Michael Jackson, passes out in the heat at an archeological dig. Michael Jackson and blond girl tend to him diligently and all is well. Blond girl makes him a special lunch the next day, which he eats in a totally unappreciative manner, but eventually they kiss. Then he asks her if she wants to have sex. Fearful of her virtue, or something, she races home to make out with her stuffed rabbit. Enter brunette girl. Brunette girl is in love with her Greek professor. Thankfully, Greek Professor returns her love in a far more mature manner than the blond stooge in the previous story. He proposes, she accepts, and they have a good chuckle. You can tell because the word ‘chuckle’ is written in the space between their mouths. Fabulous! A happy ending.

Clearly I don’t have the cultural understanding to appreciate this stuff. I’m not even sure what culture I’d need to understand—the Japanese? Teenaged girls? I’m kind of at a loss. But it’s interesting to me that so many people—particularly young women—have taken the time to familiarize themselves with whatever it is you need to ‘get’ (girls are horny too?) in order for shojo manga to make sense.

The genre has been defended on blogs and comics sites with admirable eloquence. I’m a fan of that kind of cross-cultural literacy, even when I don’t share it. Viva diplomacy. If Venus in Love Volume 8 (Eight!) shows up in my comp box, I might even read it.

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  • Andy Oliver

    Andy Oliver Oct 20, 2009 at 2:15pm

    I can only echo your thoughts. I could stay up all night and watch a marathon of Miyazaki films but I just can't get into Manga. And I've tried on many occasions! (Mainly because I feel horribly ignorant that, beyond a few, brief exceptions like LONE WOLF, YOTSUBA and some of the horror-themed material, I just don't seem to be able to connect with it.) Perhaps there are some kind souls out there who can suggest an easy break-in point?

  • Anthony_Z

    Anthony_Z Oct 25, 2009 at 9:17pm

    A couple of years ago some friends and I were self-publishing some comics but this being Australia the only real avenue you had to get them out to people was to bust your arse going from convention to convention and hope that you'd at least break even on publishing costs, flight and beer money. Which we always did, so I always think back on those times as being a success.

    Anyhow, this one year were at a convention in Sydney at a really lovely harbour side convention centre...which we were all stuck in the back shed of. Where our table was just happened to be right next to the "anime theatre" put in inverted commas there because it was just a screen and some chairs set up at the back of this big tin shed which itself was the back end of this convention hall. The entire weekend the only people who dared venture as far down as our table were those cosplayers on their way to the anime theatre. Lucky for them the girls who were displaying next to us were selling their own yaoi books. They made money hand over fist. All we got was a lot of disdainful looks because our books had no obvious Japanese art influence. I was eventually asked to take down the sign I put up that read, "just because it's not manga doesn't mean you shouldn't buy it."

    This whole experience gave me such a bad opinion of people who are into manga that for a few years afterwards I couldn't even watch anime I loved without the urge to kill rising. Which brings me to my whole point of this rant: I don't get manga or the people who read it.

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