Shojo Manga no Uchu: Tosho no Ie (ed.)

If you’re a fan of classic shojo artists like Hagio Moto or Takemiya Keiko, you have noticed the science fiction works that dot their oeuvre, books like 11 Nin Iru! or Terra e. If you have dived a little deeper into the Year 24 Group to read artists like Yamagishi Ryoko and Oshima Yumiko (sadly unpublished in English), you’ve come across a lot more speculative manga and maybe wondered to yourself just what was in the water back in the seventies that got all these ladies drawing space ships and spirits. Because I would like to add it back to the water now and get some hot new science fiction from someone like Anno Moyoco. (Can you even imagine what that would look like??)

This is not to say that no manga artist is doing SFF these days. But the particular combination of shojo artist and speculative fiction seems to have fallen out of favour, to the detriment of both genres. The grand ideas and fantastic vistas of SFF seem tailor made for the drama, romance, and introspection that mark shojo manga. And indeed, we saw this perfect marriage in the explosion of popularity of SFF shojo in those long-ago decades. Takemiya’s Bright no Yuutsu, for instance, is a glorious mashup of everything great about these two genres. And I want more, dammit. (If you know of any shojo SFF that I should be reading, you should get down to the comments right now and tell me.)

So I am clearly the target audience for a book about science fiction in shojo manga in the seventies and eighties. And let me take this moment to appreciate the glory of the Japanese publishing industry, producing such a niche book not as an absurdly expensive text from an academic press, but as something that can sit on the shojo shelves at your local bookstore. Less than two thousand yen for an extremely in-depth history!

Put together by Toshi no Ie, a group apparently dedicated to all things shojo, Shojo Manga no Uchu starts off with a beautiful tale of love and loss and space war from Hagio Moto, “Unicorn no Yume”, which is worth the cover price alone. She plays with Grecian mythology here, mixing fantastical elements like unicorns with alien invaders. It’s a great story, and the perfect framework from which to jump into the history of SFF shojo. 

The next section turns its focus on individual artists from the time doing speculative work. This is basically a list of all the greats—Takemiya, Hagio, Oshima, Yamagishi, along with Kihara Toshie and Aoike Yasuko, whose work I am less familiar with, so this was a welcome learning opportunity. Each profile goes over the career of the artist with a focus on her SFF work, complete with pages from notable works and a list of her major SFF manga. It’s interesting to see these different artists side by side like this, since they do have different styles and thematic interests, even while they share a common interest in speculative fiction. 

After this close-up on artists, the book looks at the many shojo manga magazines that came in and out of existence during the period in question, with sections on Shojo Friend, Shojo Comic, Margaret, and other affiliated or not magazines. Many of them are no longer, but some have been in existence for a surprisingly long time. I had no idea Ribon started in 1955! The overview for each magazine naturally focusses on the many SFF pieces that it published, with samples from those works, and a small bio of the magazine complete with a list of its most famous artists. 

Then we get a massive list of 635 shojo manga SFF works published from 1948 to 1992, which is so overwhelming in so many ways. It’s striking how many manga artists there have been just in this one tiny corner of the manga world. I read a lot of books, but it would still take me a significant amount of time to read every work on this list. Although I couldn’t even if I tried since most of them are out of print. But it serves very well to hammer home the point that no matter how much I read, there will always be more books. And this is both my greatest joy and my greatest sadness. Because I will always have something new and amazing to read, but I will also die before I can read all of it. (/mortality)

The final section of the book highlights the SFF novel covers done by shojo manga artists, with full-colour reproductions of those covers and synopses of the books they adorn. The covers are amazing, but more than anything, this section is a great introduction to some of the foreign SFF available in Japanese. I was particularly chuffed to see Takemiya’s illustrations for Ursula K. Le Guin’s work. I really hope they enticed young women to pick these amazing books up. Two Japanese SFF authors are also featured here, which led me to wonder why these shojo manga artists were mostly used to illustrate foreign SFF novels.

And that leads into my biggest complaint with this collection. It’s a list of things that happened for the most part. While that list is indeed very interesting, I would have loved some deeper analyses. There’s no digging into why the boom happened in the first place. I’m sure it has a lot to do with the sudden and new availability of foreign science fiction in Japanese translation, which is alluded to in passages that discuss how these creators were reading SFF as girls and young women, but I would have appreciated some expert thoughts on this. 

Given that the book’s intended audience is Japanese and not a Canadian who happened to end up in Japan, maybe the editors are assuming that readers will already know about the explosion in SFF novels in the general readership of the time since speculative shojo manga is never situated in a larger cultural context. No analysis is done on what made this a noticeable phenomenon in this period. It would have been great to see an essay that dug into why shojo works so well with SFF themes and ideas, or what about this genre attracted these young women in the first place. Or why these women were reading foreign SFF and what the domestic SFF market was like. Especially given that the SFF cover art section specifically notes that these artists were recruited to do the covers in the hopes of attracting more female readership to what was a male-dominated genre at the time. 

As a starting point and a reference book, however, Shojo Manga no Uchu has got you covered. It’s surprisingly thorough, and I have about fifty new books on my reading list because of it. Plus, where else are you going to be able to see Yoshino Sakumi’s cover for The White Mists of Power? (It’s great.)

5 thoughts on “Shojo Manga no Uchu: Tosho no Ie (ed.)

  1. Thanks for this write up! I’ve been obsessed with 1970s shoujo (as well as some 1960s–heads up to Hideko Mizuno’s Fire!) since I was a teen in the 90s and first discovered this stuff (thanks to Viz and Rachel Thorn–when I was 14, somehow a copy of Four Shojo Stories caught my eye in the local Victoria, BC comic store). My Japanese is still pretty rough (to say the least), despite the shelves of primarily Hagio, Takemiya, Yamagishi, Yoshida and other Japanese mangas I have around my room, so your blog–which I just discovered–has been a joy to read and also helped to fill in some blanks.

    Like this one. I remember when it came out a few years back, a manga blogger with very good intentions (and she hadn’t actually seen it yet) championed an English translation as the perfect way to get more classic shoujo out in translation. She was under the assumption, though, that it was a true anthology with, at least, several classic SF stories–not just one vintage Hagio one (a great one, though–I have a French copy actually). And then I never heard about the volume again–although when I read the table of contents I did think it was more *about* SF manga, and so I didn’t risk ordering a copy since really any Japanese book that’s not significantly more illustration than text is wasted on me.

    Sounds like a great idea, and a good book to have out there, though I’m surprised, like you are, that there isn’t ore analysis or critique (as lazy as they can be, I’m surprised there aren’t even any best of or essentials lists).

    Thanks again!

    Eric

    1. I’m glad I could be here to fill in some blanks for you! This is a good book to have out there, but definitely more about shojo than featuring actual shojo, so your well-intentioned blogger was mistaken there. You were right not to risk ordering a copy. It’s pretty great reference of what was out there in the SFF shojo world, though.

  2. And… Just a few more scattered thoughts– As to what caused all this sci fi in the mid-late 70s, I know Takemiya has said that Terra E came about because a shonen magazine approached her–which she saw as an honour and a challenge (I believe she was the first female manga-ka who did a major shonen title). She decided on sci-fi because she felt it would appeal to a shonen audience but still allow her to “expose” them to her shoujo style and themes–so we got Terra E. But right around the same time Hagio gave us They Were 11… If you haven’t seen the gorgeous art book that came out in connection with the Moto Hagio SF exhibit, it does have a number of essays about why Sci Fi became such a heavy theme… for Hagio, so less in general. A bit pricey but if you’re a fan, it’s worth it. https://www.hagiomoto.net/books/illust/sfart.html

    1. Yeah, I’m interested in the larger cultural shift that was happening in this period. It wasn’t just Takemiya and Hagio, this whole generation of shojo artists was dabbling in SFF, which says there was something going on in the world around them that made SFF more accessible/acceptable.

      I actually went to that Moto Hagio SF exhibit, but the art book was a bit pricey/heavy for me. Plus, I’d just seen the images in real life, so. It looks gorgeous, though.

      1. Oh, I’m sure nothing could beat seeing them in person–wow–extremely jealous, as I am of the other exhibits you’ve seen (Yamagishi, etc). The books are great to have, but I’d love to see the full originals. (And the book *is* heavy.) My very limited impression is there really wasn’t any major sci fi (at least full on space opera sci fi) in manga before the one-two of Terra E and They Were 11 and it was their success that led to it being a viable option for shoujo manga-ka to explore in general.

        But I’m sure this book gives some earlier options. Before that, at least going back to great stuff like the early 60s Mizuno Hideko’s Hoshi no Tategoto, there’s a lot of fantasy work of course (and I guess Princess Knight started that off), and in the late 70s Yamagishi carried on that tradition with her long running Yousei Ou, but a lot of the sci fi work seemed to be a reaction to Hagio and Takemiya’s success, who notably didn’t do extended fantasy series in their first decades but sci fi instead–50s born manga-ka like Shio Sato. But of course it’s kinda simplistic to always bring everything back to H and T, and I think you’re right that there was surely something in the zietgeist in general that made the SF setting appealing. (And then at some point… less appealing, at least not in the same way).

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