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If you have dived a little deeper into the Year 24 Group to read artists like Yamagishi Ryoko and Oshima Yumiko (sadly unpublished in English), you’ve come across a lot more speculative manga and maybe wondered to yourself just what was in the water back in the seventies that got all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

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Revelation: Yamagishi Ryoko

It is a strange thing to jump from the debut work right to the most recent series in the decades-long career of an artist. You see none of the intervening years of slow evolution as they hone and refine their style, just a strange disconnect, two works of art obviously by the same artist but with equally obvious different means of expression at work. In Yamagishi’s case, that first work Arabesque is full of movement, a nearly 700-page love letter to dance, while the last (but hopefully not final) work is Revelation, which depicts a world almost devoid of movement and depth. Art-wise, I mean. The story is plenty deep and nimble. 

And it’s a story most of us in the west at least are familiar with, that wacky teenaged warrior Joan of Arc. A peasant girl hears God talking to her and runs off to fight in some war before getting burned at the stake as a witch. And then she gets canonized a few centuries later. That was more or less my understanding before digging into Revelation. I mean, I knew there was a Dauphin in there somewhere and maybe a miracle (otherwise why was she canonized?), but I wasn’t clear on the details. I sure am now, though! Because Yamagishi does not mess around when it comes to retelling history. She gives us dates, names, battles, and all the players scheming and intriguing behind the scenes. I think this is the most French history and geography I’ve ever studied in my life, and at university, I minored in French. 

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Arabesque Part 1: Ryoko Yamagishi

arabesque_yamagishiIn the last few years, it feels like there’s been an explosion in manga-related art shows in Tokyo (and in the rest of Japan too, but I’m based in Tokyo, so that is what I notice the most). The cynical part of me notices the vast array of merchandise at these shows and scowls at the blatant cash grab on the part of museums and galleries and publishers. But the comics-loving side of me is delighted to see this medium getting some recognition as “serious” art. And all parts of me are thrilled that I get to see the original art from some of my favourite manga, like the pages from Sakuran at the Moyoco Anno exhibit this fall or from Shinjuku Lucky Hole and Kuslar at the onBLUE show a couple weeks later. (I may have given into the naked cash grab at the latter show and perhaps bought a Shinjuku Lucky Hole mug and probably have no regrets about that choice.)

I also got to see unpublished pages from Taiyo Matsumoto’s upcoming contribution to the Louvre series (about cats!!) and a retrospective of the career of Ryoko Yamagishi, one of the Year 24 Group, who I know mostly from her pioneering yuri tale Shiroi Heya no Futari. Because I spend a lot of time thinking about gender and manga and sexuality, not because it is her most famous work. That title would probably be given to Arabesque, the story of a young would-be ballerina in the former Soviet Union. Nonna Petrova is the second daughter of a moderately successful ballerina in Kiev, who began teaching at a ballet school when her own stage career was finished. She raised both of her daughters as ballerinas, but it is clear to everyone that it is the older girl Irina is the more talented of the two. Nonna is just too tall, too “dynamic” of a dancer to really make it in the strict world of Soviet classical ballet.swan_yamagishi Continue reading “Arabesque Part 1: Ryoko Yamagishi”