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Four Shôjo Stories – Introduction by Matt Thorn (english)

le 31/01/2013

Ceci est un texte écrit par Matt Thorn en 1996 pour l’introduction de l’anthologie Four Shôjo Stories, et que j’ai recopié à partir des scans du livre que j’ai trouvé en ligne (il est aujourd’hui complètement épuisé). Afin de l’avoir en format texte, je le recopie ici, car Matt Thorn parle un peu des mangaka dont les histoires ont été publiées, soit Moto Hagio, Keiko Nishi, et surtout Shio Sato à propos de laquelle les informations sont rares (sauf son décès en avril 2010).

Below is a text written by Matt Thorn in 1996 as an introduction for the anthology Four Shôjo Stories which is now out of print. I copied it from a scan as you can find the book on Mangafox because I wanted to read it in a text format. This text contains information about mangaka Moto Hagio, Keiko Nishi and Shio Sato especially, since there are only a few information about her (except her decease in april 2010).

Four Shôjo Stories

I recently came across a piece in the New York Times that made me cringe. Featured on page one of the « Week in Review » section, the half-inch-high headline proclaimed, « In Japan, Brutal Comics for Women, » and then, in smaller print « Mass-Market Rape Fantasies ». Chock-full of disinformation, distortions  half-truths, and quotes from « experts » of dubious qualification, the article was yet another attempt of the american mass media to portray Japanese society as sick, and Japanese women as so hopelessly oppressed as to have no identity beyond that defined for them by misogynist, despotic, Japanese men. This article was particularly discouraging to me because it seemed to undo in one careless, mean-spirited gesture my own humble efforts over the past several years to increase awareness and understanding in the English-reading world of the fascinating and complex genre of shôjo manga, comics created by Japanese women for Japanese girls and women.

Why condescending, caricaturated images of Japanese women persist in the American media and the American popular mind is a question I won’t try to address here (though friends and family have heard me rant on the subject often enough), but I hope that this volume – the first of its kind, as far as I know – will represent a small step towards countering that image with one of Japanese women who, despite being confronted with tenacious sexism (In what society aren’t they?), are creative, thoughtful, and actively contributing to Japanese – and even global – society and culture in important ways.

The three artists represented here – Moto Hagio, Shio Sato, and Keiko Nishi – are such women. Hagio is the senior of the three, and may be the most beloved shôjo manga artist of all time. I recently attended the big end-of-the-year party at Shogakukan Publishing’s manga division, and every time I saw Hagio she was signing autographs for young (and visibly awed) artists, most of whom were probably too young to have read such Hagio classics as The Poe Clan (1976), The Heart Of Thomas (1974), or They Were Eleven (1976) when they were originally serialized. Hagio is one of a group of female artists (known as the « Magnificent Forty-Niners » because most were born in 1949) who debuted in the late sixties, when shôjo manga were still drawn primarily by male artists. These women revolutionized the genre. Taking up such themes as gender and sexuality, and developing sub genres such as science fiction that had long been defined as « boys’ stuff », Hagio and her peers took a simple and lowly regarded genre geared at primary schools girls and made it into a sophisticated medium for women’s expression that appealed to older and broader audiences.

Shio Sato is a unique artist who for some two decades has quietly pursued her own distinctive brand of science fiction on the periphery of the shôjo manga mainstream, in the process developing a loyal following and garnering the respect of manga critics and fellow artists. Whereas Hagio is outgoing and always on the move (she loves travel and karaoke), Sato is studious almost to the point of being reclusive, and seems to enjoy nothing more than reading at home. Translating her manga The Changeling was an enormous challenge, because it is packed with obscure references to religion, philosophy, science, and parapsychology that I could never have completely deciphered without Sato’s patient and friendly help. As a student of anthropology  however, I have always been most impressed by Sato’s ability to create what might be called « ethnographic plausibility ». Whereas many science fiction writers and artists never manage to escape the world view of their own societies, Sato manages to create worlds that are entirely fresh, yet which have an internal cultural logic that would satisfy the most experienced anthropologist.

Keiko Nishi has also followed an unorthodox path to success. Bypassing the high circulation, teen-oriented shôjo manga magazines and steadfastly refusing to bind herself to a single publisher, in less than a decade she has become one of the most popular and respected artists of her (twenty-something) generation. The two stories presented here, Promise and Since you’ve been gone, are representative of her earlier works, which are characterized by raw – even frightening – emotion, and by themes of alienation and making peace with one’s ghosts. In recent years, her work has mellowed and matured, and while some readers miss her intensity of her earlier work, many new readers have been attracted to her new found (and quirky) sense of humor  as well as to her recent thought provoking, yet unpretentious, philosophical motifs. She is currently working on two popular series, both of which are far longer than any of her previous stories: The Beauty in the Hagiwara Shop in District No. 3, in the magazine Wings, and Rosemary Hotel: Rooms to Let, in the magazine Petit Flower.

I can hardly claim that these works or artists are representative of shôjo manga as a whole, but in such an enormous and diverse genre, no single volume could ever make such a claim. They were chosen for a variety of reasons, including practical considerations, such as access to translation rights and the realities of the English language comics market. But first and foremost they were chosen for their quality. Like any other mass-produced, popular medium, shôjo manga include a lot of works that have no more lasting value than last summer’s Hollywood blockbuster or the bulk of American sitcoms. But because every shôjo manga is ultimately the creation of one artist working with one editor and a small staff of assistants, the genre is far less susceptible to the kind of corporate homogenization and executive meddling that afflicts complex, high-tech media such as commercial film and television. Even in the most clichéd, potboiler shôjo manga, the creativity of the individual artist cannot help but shine through.

This is perhaps the most remarkable aspect of this genre – an aspect that was completely overlooked in that dreadful New York Times article: shôjo manga is a commercially lucrative genre that provides Japanese women not only with an outlet for creative expression, but economic autonomy and the respect of society as well. Further, because it is so popular, it allows female artists to collectively reach practically every Japanese girls and to convey a message to, or even serve as role models for, those girls. So powerful is this genre that even tens of thousands of women and girls who can’t make a living from manga have developed a vibrant and popular amateur manga market in which they can express themselves free of any editorial or commercial constraints. Even these amateur artists enjoy the loyalty of hundreds of thousands of readers across Japan, and many even manage to make a profit or break into the « pros ».

Seen in this light, Japan’s comics for girls and women are not a means of imposing patriarchal definitions of femininity on passive « Madame (or Miss) Butterflies », but a unique forum in which Japanese girls and women can discuss and debate among each other (and now you) what it means to be a Japanese girl, a woman, a human being in relationships with other human beings.

Can you think of an American parallel?

Matt Thorn is earning a Ph.D. in anthropology at Columbia University; his dissertation is on Japanese shôjo manga. His translations for Viz Comics include Four Shôjo Stories, A, A’ (A, A Prime), Sanctuary, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, Horobi, 2001 Nights, Mermaid Forest, and Mermaid’s Scar.


2 responses to “Four Shôjo Stories – Introduction by Matt Thorn (english)

  1. […] daté mais élégant et très charmant – de mon point de vue, et si on s’en tient à l’introduction de Four Shôjo Stories par Matt Thorn, il s’agit d’une auteure difficile à traduire. Ses grands hits sont les […]

  2. […] daté mais élégant et très charmant – de mon point de vue, et si on s’en tient à l’introduction de Four Shôjo Stories par Matt Thorn, il s’agit d’une auteure difficile à traduire. Ses grands hits sont les […]

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