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If you have dived a little deeper into the Year 24 Group to read artists like Yamagishi Ryoko and Oshima Yumiko (sadly unpublished in English), you’ve come across a lot more speculative manga and maybe wondered to yourself just what was in the water back in the seventies that got all these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.)