Part 2 of 2 in our super-sized Shoujo manga podcast with Caitlin and special guests Ashley and Lianne! Now that we’ve covered the basics of the demographic genre, the trio deep-dives into creators, licensing strategies, and audience understandings and expectations.
Date Recorded: 21st April 2018
Guests: Lianne Sentar, Ashley
0:00:55 Popularity of shoujo in the West
0:10:05 Women in comics
0:15:47 Popular critique of shoujo
0:21:16 Gendered differences in publications and fandom
0:26:29 Breaking down demographics
0:31:29 Western licensing strategies
0:33:46 Generations of shoujo
0:37:40 Getting men to read shoujo
[Editor’s Note: Slight correction—While Kurt Hassler and Rich Johnson played a large role in keeping Borders/Waldenbooks stocked with manga, Rick Adler was the first manga buyer for the company.]
CAITLIN: Hi, and welcome to Chatty AF, the Anime Feminist podcast. My name’s Caitlin, a writer and editor for Anime Feminist, as well as the owner of the blog Heroine Problem. Joining me today are Ashley and Lianne.
ASHLEY: Hi, I’m Ashley. I run a shoujo manga podcast called Shojo & Tell.
PETER: And I’m Peter, the podcast editor. This podcast ran on a bit long, so we cut it into two pieces. Last week, we put up the first piece—if you haven’t caught that one yet—and this one is the second half. They didn’t actually break in the middle of it, so you’re just gonna get dropped right back in the conversation here at what I thought was kind of a natural breaking point. So, please enjoy the second half of this podcast.
CAITLIN: You know, we’ve all been into shoujo for quite a while. Lianne, you were in on the ground floor of it coming out in the US, and I think Ashley and I both got into it when it was first starting to become considered even possible to US markets.
LIANNE: 2002, I would say.
CAITLIN: 2002? Yep. Yep, 2002. Because I know that Fushigi Yugi was considered a huge financial risk, because it was aimed at girls unambiguously.
LIANNE: Yes. Sort of. So, are you talking about it was considered a risk in Japan or was it considered a risk here?
CAITLIN: In the US.
LIANNE: What’s interesting about that was Sailor Moon was such a success and it was also one of the first manga to come over here, and it kind of made Tokyopop into the company that it eventually became because of that success. So, although I agree that it was a risk, there wasn’t that much that had succeeded that was shounen either. [laughs] So, I know that at that point—
CAITLIN: There’s Ranma. [Chuckles]
LIANNE: Ranma, right. At that point, the shoujo that Viz had been experimenting with was [chuckles] some stories by Keiko Nishi: Love Song and other stories. I think that was Keiko Nishi.
CAITLIN: There was a Moto Hagio—I think it was a Moto Hagio…
LIANNE: [crosstalk] There was a Moto Hagio, A, A Prime, which I read too young. It messed me up.
CAITLIN: [chuckles] I got the Viz catalogs in the mail. I never bought anything out of them because I was 13, but I got them in the mail and spent a lot of time looking at them, thinking about all of the series I wanted to read and watch.
LIANNE: I think they might have started with Banana Fish around then with Pulp magazine. And then they were also doing X, Clamp’s X, also known as X/1999 in America. And these are not beginner shoujo, so I can see why Viz might have been apprehensive about that, because it was like, “Well, we’ve tried all of these shoujo!”
CAITLIN: Yeah. And also, I would say that they are series that are more… Disguising them as shoujo is a lot easier. Banana Fish is a gritty crime drama. X is super-duper gory and violent, which were both qualities that tended to be marketed towards boys in US media.
ASHLEY: I literally didn’t know that X was a shoujo manga until very recently. Making the list of everything that’s available in America basically for my podcast, I was like, “Wait. X is a shoujo manga? I’m so confused!” [laughs]
LIANNE: Oh, yeah. I think it might have run in Asuka, which was not the most femme magazine.
CAITLIN: Right. But I feel like it took a long time for shoujo manga to be considered even remotely viable in the US. But—
LIANNE: Sort of.
CAITLIN: Yeah, but I feel like… And, plus, there’s not a lot of scholarship about it. There’s a lot of little things that add up to the picture that shoujo manga isn’t really considered… people might like it, but it’s not taken quite as seriously. I’ve had people tell me that once you get outside of the pocket of fandom that’s like, “Oh, yeah, shoujo manga’s great,” the general assumption in anime fandom is that shounen is better.
LIANNE: Right. Oh, for sure. If you’re talking about critical acceptance, for sure. Totally agree with you there. The stuff that tends to be considered works of art are seinen. They’re targeted to adult men, big surprise.
LIANNE: But at the same time—
CAITLIN: [sarcastically] You mean the people who have been forming the US anime industry ever since the beginning? The stuff aimed at them is taken more seriously? Shocking.
LIANNE: What’s interesting about the manga industry is: upper management and the owners are all men, but the editorial level, there’s tons of women in the manga industry. I’ve worked with more women than I’ve worked with men, and I think part of the reason that happened is because when manga was picking up steam over here, one of the big series that tipped the scales was Sailor Moon. And then Fushigi Yūgi, that came shortly after that, which was also a success. And then you move a couple years forward and now you’ve got Fruits Basket, right? So, shoujo as a commercial success was pretty ground floor for the West.
So, the idea of women as a demographic—and I’ll tell you part of the reason why this worked is because… You should really read Casey Brienza’s— It was her dissertation when she got her PhD, but I think it’s called Manga in America. It’s basically her book where she went and interviewed a ton of industry people and she was talking about how the manga industry started over here.
And there was a concerted effort— Before the manga boom, manga was sold floppy, in chapters, in comic stores. That’s how you used to be able to get Ranma 1/2. And sometimes they’d do graphic novels that were very expensive and they were slightly bigger trim size.
CAITLIN: Oh, yeah. I remember that. [chuckles]
LIANNE: Oh, yeah. And there was a concerted effort to working directly with Borders Books and Music at the time, with “Okay, let’s just go straight to the graphic novels. Let’s put them in bookstores. And women are in bookstores more than men.”
Local comic stores have always skewed kind of male, whereas they say twice as many women read in this country than men, so women were at bookstores. So, when they started putting shoujo manga in bookstores, that was a big component of the manga boom, that they were reaching girls who were not reading comics.
CAITLIN: Yeah. And I 100% agree, because I remember when the boom started and all of a sudden… I thought my Borders was great because they had one copy each of most of the Maison Ikkoku series, which I at the age of 12 years old sat on the floor and read all of it in the store.
LIANNE: I think we all have done that. [laughs]
CAITLIN: Listen, I didn’t get an allowance. [chuckles]
ASHLEY: Yeah, that’s fair.
CAITLIN: And part of what I was getting to was that I think the manga boom started when—and Viz had put out a few titles—but when Tokyopop turned around and they were like, “Sailor Moon has been a big success for us. Rayearth has been a big success for us. We’re gonna start putting out all of these series.” And a fair portion of what started with the right-to-left, original, unflipped manga, a lot of those were shoujo. And I think them getting it into bookstores was important, and also, like I said before, the young female demographic is so neglected.
LIANNE: Right. Absolutely.
CAITLIN: And it’s gotten better in Western media, like Hunger Games and, for better or for worse, Twilight.
LIANNE: Mm-hm. For sure.
CAITLIN: And I know at least it was the case for me that all this stuff started coming out. Kodocha, Marmalade Boy, Mars…
LIANNE: Peach Girl, ParaKiss, yeah.
CAITLIN: Yeah! All of a sudden, it was like, “Oh, my gosh. These are series about teenage girls!” And different kinds of series.
My favorite shoujo series have always been the action-adventure ones like Fushigi Yugi, Basara, or the ones that have a fantastical element. But I just rebought the first five volumes of Mars because that is such a stellar series. So, bringing over not just the action-adventure ones that maybe guys will see and think because they’re fighting that it’s okay for them to watch, but the ones that were just about ordinary girls that the readers will be able to relate to.
There is a lot to say about Tokyopop as a company, but I will always credit them with recognizing the power of the female demographic and committing to it.
LIANNE: Yep. And I think that’s partially why, when you look not just at what I was saying earlier about how there’s so many women in editorial… I mean, if you look at books, the book industry is mostly women, too.
But if you look at the fandom in manga and you compare it to the fandom in… let’s say superhero comics, [laughs] and how much better our fandom is compared to superhero stuff, compared to more general Western comics. Not webcomics, that’s a totally separate thing. Video games is the worst. That’s the worst fandom. [chuckles]
I think manga and anime has been a lot more egalitarian when it comes to gender, when it comes to sexuality, partially because when it started over here, it started catering to a broader audience to begin with than a lot of these other things that were like, “Oh, let’s market this to men, and this will be for men.” Not only did Japan have stuff that was more clearly “This is the stuff for men, and this is the stuff for women, and we do both,” but also because the stuff for women, quite frankly, I think, because of Sailor Moon, was really commercial and, like you said, filled that vacuum.
And if you want to talk about the biggest manga in the West right now, absolutely the Shonen Jump titles are outselling everything. I mean, that’s just the way that it works. It’s always worked that way. Shonen Jump had a specific outreach plan to get more female readers when they used to joke about the nickname for it being Bishonen Jump, where they were like, “No, we need more slashable moments. We need more beautiful heroes. We need to get more women to read this,” and also just because—I think maybe it was Ashley who said it—that women will relate to a male character; men will not relate to a female character, so stuff that skews male does generally get bigger audiences.
At the same time, even though those are the biggest, the stuff for girls, even though critics brush over it a little bit more—not the good critics, but the snooty kind of “Oh, the good manga is this random seinen that I picked…” Like, I love Golden Kamuy. Don’t get me wrong. But that is not the only kind of story that is told. Anything by Urasawa and stuff, great, great comics—not the only artistic stuff that’s being told.
And I think that the numbers didn’t lie. The stuff that people were buying, the stuff that people were enjoying, the things that people were cosplaying as at cons… There’s always been a really good contingent of girl power in there from the ground up. So, there are so many problems still, but I consider myself pretty lucky. [laughs] I could be in video game fandom, and then where would I be?
ASHLEY: [chuckles] Yeah.
CAITLIN: Yeah. And, like you said, webcomics are a separate thing. I would say, at least for the webcomics people I know, they are far more influenced by manga than they are by anything Western.
LIANNE: There’s a lot of that. I mean, partially because webcomics is so global. That’s a topic for another podcast, and it’s also where people who were not really allowed in the industry clubs ending up doing their own work, so it does tend to be more female, queer, and full of people of color, because that’s where those people who are not maybe getting their stuff picked up because they’re different from the people who have been hired before—and I’m talking Western contracts, right, because in Japan, totally separate thing…
Speaking of which, I read a really interesting story about how Marvel did a portfolio review in Japan at some Comiket or something, and they were like, “Okay, we’d love to see artists here. Apply if you want to work for Marvel.” And it was like 80% to 90% female were coming saying, “Oh, I want to work for Marvel. These are my Spider-Man drawings and stuff.” So, we want to talk about who’s creating comics; there are far more women creating comics for men than vice versa in Japan.
CAITLIN: Absolutely. Yeah, I can’t think of any male shoujo manga writers. And that could be partially because of pen names…
LIANNE: Yeah. I have a feeling there are more than we know.
CAITLIN: À la Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun. [chuckles]
CAITLIN: Not shoujo itself, but it’s really such a lovely parody of shoujo manga, and you can tell it’s affectionate because the writer does do primarily shoujo manga.
LIANNE: Yes. That is an awesome series. 100%, everybody should watch that.
CAITLIN: But yeah. Shoujo manga has been really incredibly important, and it really frustrates me when people don’t take it as seriously. I both love and am frustrated by the fact that Viz’s Shojo Beat line exists.
ASHLEY: [chuckles] I have so many feelings. [laughs]
LIANNE: Ooh. Spill.
CAITLIN: Listen, [chuckles] I don’t want to say that it’s not as good… I spend a lot of money on Shojo Beat manga. I check out a lot of Shojo Beat manga from the library. They are working so hard to bring over titles aimed at girls, but at the same time it’s so easy for people who are dismissive of shoujo manga to look and see the Shojo Beat label and be like, “Eh. Nah.” And they miss out on it and… [sighs]
ASHLEY: Again, why I started my own podcast was because exactly what you’ve all said: shoujo manga is commercially successful but overlooked by critics, and nobody writes long essays about it, even though they’ll write long essays or whatever about trash like Darling in the Franxx. I love Darling in the Franxx, but come on, guys! God. [chuckles]
What frustrates me, too, is that… My romantic partner works at Viz. We talk a lot about manga, obviously. He’s also really into podcasts. He listens to hundreds of podcasts. Viz has its own podcast, the Shonen Jump Podcast, which Jeff has been on. So, he’ll come home and talk about how cool or whatever that is. He’s been on the One Piece podcast. He talks about Gintama podcasts. I’m sure that there are plenty of Naruto and whatever specific shounen series podcasts.
And it makes me so mad that Viz as a company has a podcast that excludes half of their own company! Like, what are you talking about? [laughs] I don’t understand. I just don’t get it. [laughs]
CAITLIN: The Signature line, which just has these beautiful releases, and they are great paper stock, really nice covers, bigger trim size… One josei manga. One shoujo manga.
LIANNE: Fumi Yoshinaga breaks barriers a lot. I mean, What Did You Eat Yesterday? is technically a seinen. She’s done, kind of, every genre. And then Natsume Ono, her stuff’s not really shoujo. I don’t know about ACCA: 13, what that technically was, but Natsume Ono has done stuff for various lines. And she’s really cool, but she definitely writes slightly more masculine things.
Yeah, no. I mean, you’re totally right. And this is where it comes down to that “Oh, this is the classy stuff that gets nominated, and this is everything else.”
CAITLIN: Oh, yeah. Tenjho Tenge, very classy.
LIANNE: Pff! Well, I’m not sure anybody was really considering that “art,” but your point taken, yeah.
CAITLIN: [chuckles] So, why are these action-driven, masculine series better than emotionally driven, feminine series? Like, why is Tokyo Ghoul better than… I’m looking at my bookshelf.
CAITLIN: [aughs] Why is Tokyo Ghoul better than Yona of the Dawn? I love Yona of the Dawn. I am all about Yona of the Dawn. Why isn’t Utena released under Signature? I mean, it did, to be fair, get a beautiful re-release. Or Basara? These are all series that are just as good if not better than a lot of what’s released under the Signature line. But because they’re shoujo, they receive the same release as everything else.
LIANNE: I would be interested to see if they’re gonna do something with Banana Fish, now that the anime is coming.
CAITLIN: Oh, God, please!
LIANNE: You know, Banana Fish… Credit where credit is due. They really tried to make that work, and they were from minute one incredibly… Okay, maybe not minute one, because I’m not sure what they did in Pulp, but once it was really hitting graphic novels and stuff, they were like, “This is a shoujo,” and it was one of the first titles that had the shoujo logo on the side.
CAITLIN: That’s true.
LIANNE: It was really important in Japan that this was a shoujo. When Banana Fish was running in the ‘80s, you could see salarymen on the train reading… I think it was Flowers magazine, just something really femme, because they had to know what happened in Banana Fish, because Banana Fish is a hard-boiled gang drama with extreme homoerotic tension in it. And it is an amazing series. Freaking don’t get me started on Banana Fish, and I’m so stoked we’re getting an anime. You have no idea.
LIANNE: I’ve been waiting for 30 years.
CAITLIN: Oh, directed by Hiroko Utsumi.
CAITLIN: I love her. It’s gonna be so good!
LIANNE: It’s a good team. I mean, I’m bummed that they’re putting in it modern day because so much of its premise is based on the ‘80s. I do think it can be updated, but it is a little bit of a bummer because it partially had to do with the rise of “super crime,” quote-unquote, in New York and how everyone was afraid of it. [laughs]
But, yeah. Banana Fish, it is still quite masculine for being a shoujo. It is the shoujo that men would read, so it might be one of the ones that gets the Signature line. I think, unfortunately, with Basara, my guess is it wasn’t that commercially successful and it’s very long.
CAITLIN: No. It’s not pretty.
LIANNE: I think it’s beautiful, but it is certainly not a marketable art style. 100% agree with you there. People are not gonna pick it up and be like, “Oh, this girl can be my waifu.” It is the furthest thing from waifu styling that you can get, where it looks like a watercolor painting of people crying blood. It’s great, but yeah. [laughs]
CAITLIN: [chuckles] Yeah, it’s a little bit of a bummer because there are other manga lines that really do give really nice releases to shoujo and josei manga. I’ve been buying Fruits Basket and Princess Jellyfish. And I know Fruits Basket is a proven property. I’m sure it did very, very well for Tokyopop when they first released it, and there was a lot of excitement over the re-release from Yen Press.
But these other companies give their shoujo manga these beautiful releases, and I feel like that is less likely to happen by… Once again, do not want to put down the people who work with the imprint because all of the people who I’ve talked to from it are very passionate and they really do love the series that they work on. But these series are so much less likely to get a release like that from Viz. And Viz is great because they do license a lot, probably more than others. I just wish they had a chance at getting that kind of treatment.
LIANNE: Yeah. I wonder a little bit if girls care, too. There’s something that I’ve noticed a little bit more the older that I get. It’s funny, but when I worked at Sparkler and we would take these survey polls and see who our demographic was, and now I’m at Seven Seas…
Seven Seas and Sparkler have basically opposite demographics. It’s like 60% female and 20% male in one and vice versa for the other one—at least the people who take the surveys, right? [laughs] We publish a lot of male-oriented stuff. And I’m starting to see that some of these nicer releases, the idea of collector’s editions seem to appeal more to men.
And I’ll tell you why. This is just a personal theory of mine, but when it comes to male fandom, I see a lot of trends in things like collector’s stuff, for sure, collecting things: figurines, pins, baseball cards. It starts at a young age. There’s all these collector mentalities and also things like running wikis. I think a lot of male fandom falls very heavily on canon and making sure everybody is following canon correctly. There’s a little bit of that gatekeeper thing, for sure.
ASHLEY: Oh, my gosh, yes! It’s the thing I hate most about fandom. [chuckles]
CAITLIN: It’s the curative fandom versus the transformative fandom.
LIANNE: Exactly. Personally, it seems to me that male fandom is curative, whereas female is more transformative. They all go to fanfic, cosplay, fanart. It’s why sometimes there’s a series that is targeted to women that is the biggest thing in fandom and it’s kind of struggling financially because the women are not buying it, because they don’t necessarily care about the original core story; they care about the feelings that it brought out of them and the other ways that they can recreate that feeling or expand upon that feeling.
It’s less about “What do I have?” and more “How does it make me feel?” I think female fandom is a little bit more experience-based. Like, the catharsis. “How can I get that catharsis again? Well, if I go off and make a fanfic about this one part that I liked again, I can recreate that feeling.” Et cetera.
LIANNE: So, I think when it comes to nice releases—I totally agree with you in that I don’t like when the Eisners was almost always boys’ stuff coming out, where it’s like, “Yeah, I get it. You guys like seinen.” [laughs]
LIANNE: It’s definitely been better in later years, and—
CAITLIN: I think women are more likely to use libraries, too.
LIANNE: Yep. Yep, I think they are.
CAITLIN: So, it’s great when we check stuff out from libraries. It’s great to support libraries, and checking this stuff out from libraries will make the libraries buy more of it. But at the same time, it’s not the same as, every person who checked it out from the library, if they had all bought the copy for themselves. So, even if the audience is the same size, it’s a less profitable audience.
ASHLEY: Yeah. I wonder always… This is a real basic, very high-level thing, but there’s always talk about “Women make less money,” so I’m like, “Yes, if we make less money, we have less money to spend, and theoretically…”
LIANNE: Yeah. I was just gonna add that. [laughs]
CAITLIN: I work in the pink collar. I’m a toddler teacher. I wouldn’t want to do anything else, but since it is traditionally women’s work, it pays like crap.
ASHLEY: Yeah. And I think that women are also expected to buy things that men are not, like makeup and all these extra things that dudes don’t have to worry about at all.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] The pink tax.
ASHLEY: So, we both make less money in that and it’s terrible. And I’m like, “Yeah, so we have less money to spend on manga. Obviously!” [laughs]
LIANNE: Oh, yeah. But I do feel like things are changing. Not to get too much into Seven Seas mode, but I’m gonna do Seven Seas mode a little bit. We put out a book that I’m sure you’ve heard about, which is—
CAITLIN: You know what? I love it.
LIANNE: I’m sure you’ve heard about My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness, which ended up becoming…
CAITLIN: I checked that out of the library.
LIANNE: There you go!
LIANNE: That is actually a nicer release, as well. You can probably tell from the paper. And it was color, sort of. It’s a pink and white and black.
That book has ended up becoming one of the female-oriented stories—it’s not exclusively, and I’ll go into that in a second—that ended up becoming something that… You know. It’s called My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness. The book is pink. And it’s been sweeping awards categories and selling really well and just left this profound effect on people, partially because it’s largely about things like mental illness and there’s not a person who will pick up that book and not find something to relate to in this poor woman’s life.
There’s so much going on and she’s dealing with so many issues. And the cover, which has a nipple on it, is her staring down a lesbian escort when she’s like, “I’m gonna lose my virginity and hire this lesbian escort because I think I’m gay. Maybe this will solve my problems.”
LIANNE: But really, her sexuality is just one piece of a very big puzzle about identity. Full disclosure: I did work on the script on that one, too, besides the fact that we’re marketing the hell out of it. But the first time I worked on that, I cried. I think I hit page 40 and I was crying. The sequel is coming out very soon. That also, I was crying in the shower. After working on it, I was just like, “Oh, my God, these books are so emotional.” [laughs]
CAITLIN: Yeah. They’re really excellent. And I think that the growing prominence of webcomics, as well, is blurring the lines a little bit because they’re not instantly tossed into this magazine surrounded by advertisements.
Diary of an MMO Junkie… I haven’t read the manga, but I loved the anime. Full disclosure: directed by a Nazi. He does not get any money for it. But I feel like I have to say that every time it comes up. I have made peace with the fact that I still love the show, and I will still continue to talk about it because he is not going to get to work with that studio again. He is facing consequences for his views.
CAITLIN: But anyway— I know! It’s so unexpected.
LIANNE: So refreshing. [chuckles]
CAITLIN: [laughs] But that was a webcomic. Yuri on Ice is anime original, and they’re making more original anime these days. You can’t just categorize it immediately. You can look at it and be like, “Oh, this feels like josei to me,” but it’s not defined, and I think that’s really cool because I do believe that (A) shoujo manga—and this is probably the case for most demographics—it’s kind of a feedback loop, because I feel like the kinds of stories that get put into shoujo manga these days are more limited—and josei manga, as well—because anything with potential crossover appeal tends to get put into shounen and seinen magazines.
And there are exceptions. But I look at a lot of the more recent shoujo I’ve read, and the stuff that got me into the quote-unquote “genre,” stuff like Fushigi Yugi, stuff like Basara, stuff like Magic Knight Rayearth, you’re not seeing it quite as much. It tends to be more focused on school romance or supernatural romance. There’s not a lot of high adventure. The main exception that I know of is Yona of the Dawn, which is great, but it still feels like a throwback.
LIANNE: It is, yeah.
CAITLIN: Yeah. Which, my view could be limited by what is coming out in the US versus what is coming out in Japan, but—
LIANNE: Yeah. It’s absolutely an issue of the stuff that’s not being brought over anymore. Actually, there were a couple publishers who were tackling adventure shoujo a lot in addition to Viz. One of which, Tokyopop, was doing a fair amount of that stuff because, again, from the beginning shoujo was a good seller for them. And the other one… I don’t know if you guys remember CMX, which was technically an imprint—
CAITLIN: Yeah, a little bit.
LIANNE: Yeah, it was an imprint of DC Comics and thus backed up by Time Warner. And the shit they brought over was amazing, but I’m sure none of it was a financial success at all. I always figured the line was by somebody who really liked cool ‘80s shoujo, who was just publishing as much as possible before she was caught by Time Warner being like, “Wait a minute. Everything’s losing money.” And we got all kinds of things like Saki Hiwatari’s weirder stuff. She did Please Save My Earth, but like Tower of the Future, which unfortunately was not that good. I liked it better in Japanese when I couldn’t understand the words.
LIANNE: She has trouble keeping a story together. Such great premises, but then it’s like, eh, it all falls apart. They brought over Cipher, which is… I don’t know if anybody has ever seen that meme of an anime guy in a jeans jacket dancing. A really old anime. It’s used as a reaction GIF.
It was from Cipher, which was basically a Japanese mangaka who is obsessed with American music videos was like, “I’m gonna write a story about twins who are sharing a life in New York City.” It’s really great! [chuckles] It’s very, very… And Swan; From Eroica With Love… These are amazing titles! Why would you put them out over here? They’re all gonna fail!
CAITLIN: But also, the series that you’ve named are older series.
LIANNE: Yeah. A lot of them were old.
CAITLIN: And the newer series that I see coming out, even if I’m looking— I haven’t done many deep dives because I try to keep it to licensed stuff. I don’t like reading scans, (A) because I like supporting companies, (B) the translations in scans tend to be awful and I cannot deal with the stilted machine-translated English anymore. Cannot do it.
Even looking at what’s up and coming in Japan, I don’t see a lot of the action-adventure shoujo anymore. So, I feel like it is a little bit of a feedback loop. “These are the series that we can tell. These are the stories that we can tell.” I have gotten some of the sense that a lot of editors do have a fair bit of control over what goes out into manga. “These are the series that we get greenlit.”
And, yeah, admittedly, a lot of this is guesswork. I don’t know what goes on in there, but that’s always been my sense, that the commercial shoujo has become more focused on these traditional romance stories.
LIANNE: Yeah. No, I think you’re right. What I’m trying to think about… I remember Aria magazine, which unfortunately just shut down, which is kinda proving your point. They started Aria for girls. I think the tagline in the magazine was like “For girls who are tired of romance,” and it ran stuff like No. 6. Things that were in there were non-romance shoujo, and they just shut down, literally this month or something.
So, I think you’re right that a lot of the epic stuff— I’ve always used Hana to Yume magazine as kind of a barometer of a lot of stuff because it is one of the bigger ones in Japan, and I think Hana to Yume sort of jumped the shark with Fruits Basket, quite frankly. Skip Beat! runs in there, and I love Skip Beat!, but… And Hana-Kimi? I think that ran in Hana to Yume.
CAITLIN: Hana-Kimi ran for a very long time.
LIANNE: It did. It was around the 2000s, where I do feel like shoujo lost its bite a little bit, because the ‘80s stuff was wackier and wilder. The ‘70s stuff was wacky and wild.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] I love ’80s shoujo.
LIANNE: ‘80s, yeah, was more grounded, but they were like, “Let’s talk about gangs more!” and that’s why you get… [chuckles] Even Cipher is kind of about how crime-filled New York is and how people’s lives are so wild. And then, the ‘90s is when you had a lot of this big adventure stuff. The big series were Basara and Fushigi Yugi, among others.
CAITLIN: Red River. I like—
LIANNE: Red River… Oh, boy, talk about…
CAITLIN: Red River’s a problematic fave.
LIANNE: Oh, yeah.
CAITLIN: Problematic fave.
LIANNE: I like how so many portal stories are about you being summoned to be a hero. In this one, it’s like you’re being summoned to be a blood sacrifice. It’s like, “Page two! Great.”
Yeah, I do think you’re right that there’s a little bit less adventure, and I think that’s also… You were mentioning earlier that some of the big comics now in Japan actually started on the web. My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness was a comic she had done on Pixiv that she expanded into a book. There’s a lot of that.
CAITLIN: Wotakoi, too.
LIANNE: And a lot of those tend to be more like diary-style or four-panel comic stuff, things that are just really not adventure. Four-panel comic, or 4-koma, is quite big in Japan right now. Some of it comes over here; some of it doesn’t.
The really good stuff is things like… Nozaki’s a four-panel and it’s great. Some of the stuff we’ve worked on at Seven Seas, too… I mean, My Lesbian is a good example of it, but we have other ones, too. I think New Game! is… It’s very far away from a shoujo, but the one about the moe girls making a video game. That was a four-panel. I think some of the stuff that’s coming later… I think it’s just becoming a bigger thing in Japan.
So, yeah, and that stuff is not gonna lend itself… So, I think that you’re probably onto something there. It’s just not really in the cards.
CAITLIN: Yeah. [sighs]
LIANNE: It’ll shift. It always does.
CAITLIN: It’s a bummer.
CAITLIN: Yeah. Yeah. It’s very trend-driven.
ASHLEY: I was gonna ask, actually, how… This is only tangentially related, but do you have a way in which you make dudebros who have never read shoujo manga read a shoujo manga? Because my struggle is that I meet so many people who are like, “I love manga!” and can list off a jillion shounen and seinen things, and they’re like, “Eh, maybe I’ve read Ouran” or one of the ones that is acceptable for everybody to like. [laughs]
LIANNE: Well, actually, I think you answered your own question there. There are a couple series that have been really good crossover. I find that comedies tend to be the best to get boys over.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] I agree.
LIANNE: When I lived in Toronto, there were two incredibly girly shows that the boys were super into, maybe even more than the girls. One was Gals! [through laughter] Did you guys ever see Gals!?
ASHLEY: I did not.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] No, but I know a little bit about it. [through laughter] It’s definitely not—
LIANNE: It’s kind of about aggressive street fashion girls taking over different areas of Tokyo and beating up boys and making them carry their bags. For some reason, the boys loved this. It was very funny, and I think it was also nonthreatening, the way these really scary girls were fifteen. And the art style is very 2002. And the other one was Princess Tutu. A lot of dudes were really into that because—
CAITLIN: Yeah! Guys like Princess Tutu.
LIANNE: Yeah. It’s got some of these elements that overlap into moe. Magical girl series actually tend to do quite well with boys. There are a lot of different types of them, but a magical girl series that works on a couple different levels like Princess Tutu is a pretty good one.
I think, also, if you want to talk about what is some of the coolest shoujo coming out right now, in terms of mainstream stuff, I don’t know who the editor-in-chief of LaLa is, but they have been knocking it out of the park. When you have a magazine that is running Ouran High School Host Club, Vampire Knight, and Natsume’s Book of Friends right next to each other—those are three really great examples of things you can do with shoujo, and Natsume is another really good reach-out if you want boys to watch more shoujo because it’s kind of like Mushishi if Mushishi were fun.
LIANNE: I’m not a big Mushishi fan, in case you can’t tell.
CAITLIN: I like Mushishi, but I definitely wouldn’t call it fun.
ASHLEY: I watched it and I was like, “I’m bored.” [laughs]
LIANNE: Pretty much, right? “It’s lovely. I wish this was more accessible.” Then you can go watch or read Natsume’s Book of Friends. And in fact, I think the anime improves on a lot of things from the manga there, because I think her imagination—for the art, anyway—exceeds her talent a little bit. Even though it’s a great manga, the animation studio decided to go sort of Ghibli with it and it’s great. It’s such a great series. And it keeps going! It’s really successful in Japan. And that cat is pretty marketable.
CAITLIN: Yeah. And this is where the lack of prestige releases galls me, because it’s so much easier to hand someone something without that watermark, with that beautiful release and be like, “Here. Check this out.” What my strategy has been with my boyfriend has been “No, seriously. Watch this with me. It’s important to me that you sit down and watch this with me. You’re not going to get out of this. We’ll watch a shounen afterwards. But watch this with me.” And that has worked a few times.
But yeah. I would say, find the stuff that makes a good entry point, like Yona of the Dawn—
LIANNE: That’s a pretty good one, yeah.
CAITLIN: —would be a good one. It’s more historical fantasy. And, you know, what do they like?
LIANNE: Nozaki’s a good one, too. Like you said, I don’t think it’s technically a shoujo, but it is absolutely about shoujo.
CAITLIN: I haven’t read Oresama Teacher, but if it has a similar sense of humor…
LIANNE: Could be. Oh, that reminds me that Otomen is another really great cross-gender crowd-pleaser, because it’s basically about how gender is a social construct and it’s really fun.
CAITLIN: Or Lovely Complex.
LIANNE: Oh, God! Love-Com is the best!
CAITLIN: I love that series.
LIANNE: Yeah, I think a really good romantic comedy. I’ve seen a lot of dudes into those ones. I think the epic shoujo fantasies are a little bit harder. I do think Basara is one that you could get a lot of men to read, but it’s pretty out of print. I mean, I think maybe you can get it digitally, but they did a brief anime for it and it wasn’t very good.
CAITLIN: Yeah. That’s something that I hope all of the ‘90s revival series that come out do well, because I would love to see a real adaptation of Basara.
LIANNE: Totally agree. And you know what? It’s post-apocalyptic. I think it ties into trends that are happening now in the kinds of stories people want to read instead of, like you were mentioning, that so many were historical, these ‘90s adventures. That one was really like, “Okay, this is after the fall of civilization, and we’re down to kind of a desertpunk.” And yeah, you’re absolutely right. That would be awesome. Maybe we’ll get it if Banana Fish does well. [chuckles]
CAITLIN: Everyone watch Banana Fish. You must!
LIANNE: Everyone in Japan will. I hope everyone here does, too.
ASHLEY: Is it just that shoujo manga needs more anime adaptations? That’s more what I’m hearing right now. [laughs]
CAITLIN: Quite possibly. I think that honestly might have something to do with it, and I do think we are starting to see more shoujo manga adaptations in anime, or at least more stuff aimed at a female audience.
LIANNE: Definitely a lot of josei compared to, like, there was no josei.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] A lot of josei.
LIANNE: I think maybe shoujo has upped a little bit. I mean, in the same way, there’s more josei; there’s more boys’ love. I think there’s a little bit more shoujo, but I think more than anything, they’ve expanded outside of the traditional shoujo demographic.
Yuri on Ice is a really good example of something that was definitely aimed to women and penned by women, but you wouldn’t compare it to Fushigi Yugi, right? It’s a little bit more adult and sophisticated. I’m really looking forward to watching Wotakoi now that I read some of the manga in preparation for this podcast.
CAITLIN: I’m really enjoying it.
LIANNE: I love it! Oh, my God, I love it so much!
CAITLIN: [chuckles] I’m really into it.
LIANNE: Oh, God! I mean, it just started, right? There’s like one episode?
LIANNE: Okay. Ah! I’m so excited. I’m gonna watch it tonight.
CAITLIN: It’s really good. [laughs] I’ve really been enjoying it. But yeah, that community was more on-board with shoujo anime, and I hope to see more shoujo anime being made, maybe as an offshoot of more josei and josei-ish series being put out.
LIANNE: We don’t have to pick. We should have all of them.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Fingers crossed. There was a lot this season, and most of them aren’t good.
CAITLIN: Most of them are not good, but they exist.
ASHLEY: That’s a start.
LIANNE: Like otome game adaptations. There’s always like one or two of those, and most of them are quite bad.
CAITLIN: So, I sort of want to move into wrapping up with recommendations, series that we feel like don’t get enough attention, that deserve more. And talking about Kare Kano made me think of A Devil and Her Love Song, which is not a series I’ve heard anyone else really talk about, which is a shame because it’s sort of a counterpoint to the issues that we weren’t talking about with Kare Kano.
It has some problems, but it’s got the strong, defiant female lead with the grouchy, isolated male love interest. And it has a near-rape scene. Sorry, spoilers, but I also think this is something that people should go in knowing. And he apologizes.
And so much of the series isn’t just about her relationship with him, but also her relationship with her friends, and that is shown to be just as important and just as valid and fulfilling to her. And it does not end with, “Well, everyone has to get married and have babies,” which is two things that you see a lot in shoujo manga, and I really, really appreciated how it handled things even when it had issues.
CAITLIN: Yeah. So, real quick, some other recommendations that I didn’t get to mention, but that might touch on things that we talked about: The Story of Saiunkoku.
LIANNE: [chuckles reverently]
CAITLIN: The anime is unfortunately very out of print. I have it all on DVD, though. Ha ha! [chuckles] I have so much stuff that is so hard to get. It is wonderful. There’s benefits to buying stuff physically. I have Millennium Actress.
CAITLIN: [chuckles] Anyway, The Story of Saiunkoku. The manga is out from Viz. It doesn’t cover everything in the anime. They’re both based on a long series of light novels, which should be brought over. Bring over shoujo light novels! That’s something that has not happened yet, much.
LIANNE: Digital. There’s some in digital. Not really in print. I mean, a few spinoffs. They had a Hot Gimmick light novel. There’s one or two Vampire Knight ones, the ones that are actually tied in. But yeah, there’s not many. But go online, and I think the name of the company is Cross-Infinite World. They’re doing a couple of shoujo.
CAITLIN: Yeah, they’re just getting started. But anyway, The Story of Saiunkoku is another series that acknowledges and deals with the patriarchy in a pretty decent way. It’s a fantasy pseudo-China, and the main character is from a poor noble family. They’re aristocrats, but they’re also extremely impoverished.
Her whole thing is that she wants to become a government bureaucrat, but she can’t because she’s a girl, even though she’s incredibly intelligent, incredibly competent. And she goes to the palace to fix the new emperor, who is totally withdrawn, not governing at all, and so she gets hired to be his pseudo-concubine for a while and basically whip him into shape because she’s a teacher. But once she goes there and she meets people there, she finds allies who are like, “Okay. How can we make this possible?”
And there’s actually a scene—spoiler alert: the emperor turns out to be the main love interest—where he’s like, “I really, really love you, and I really want you to stay here,” and she’s like, “I love you, too. But this is my dream. And I’m not gonna just walk away from that to be with you.” Which is so great to see in a series aimed at young women.
That is much more Tamora Pierce-esque, I think. It reminds me of Tamora Pierce in a different setting and not action-oriented, because it’s bureaucrats instead of knights.
Is there anything else that’s coming readily to mind? No, I feel like we’ve talked a lot about a lot of series that I really love. Do either of you have any series that you think are underappreciated?
LIANNE: For sure.
CAITLIN: [chuckles] Yeah.
LIANNE: Do you want to go first, Ashley? I’ve been talking a lot.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Yeah, you’ve got a long list, I’m sure.
ASHLEY: Sure. The latest episode of my podcast is about We Were There, which I talked about with the head of Shojo Beat, Nancy, about why it’s so underrated, is part of the podcast. But I definitely feel that it is very underrated, at least in America. It’s very much a dark slice-of-life about a boy whose first girlfriend died, and he’s trying to move on from that with another girl who has the same name, Nana.
And the first arc is very much a high school romance story, and then he leaves and they don’t see each other for several years, so the second half becomes a different story about growing up and moving on—or perhaps not moving on—from that relationship and meeting each other again. And it went to stereotypical dark places of shoujo but handled them in a much more beautiful way than many series often pull off.
Then I guess my silly recommendation would be… I’m really into QQ Sweeper/Queen’s Quality.
LIANNE: She’s a great mangaka. You know what?
ASHLEY: [laughs] But I feel like I don’t see any—
CAITLIN: Dengeki Daisy didn’t work for me, but I like Beast Master. Those are the two things of hers that I’ve read.
ASHLEY: Yeah. So, I feel like everybody is still like, “What is this weird manga about Sweepers? Why are they cleaning?” And I’m like, “No, you guys, it’s great! I love it! It’s so fantastic!” It’s throwing around a “silly to dark” that I really love. I still don’t understand why it’s two different series. QQ Sweeper is very much a prologue setup feeling. So, you’ll definitely just want to go on to Queen’s Quality. I don’t know. Get on it. [chuckles]
LIANNE: Yeah. I have to bring up Seven Seas books. I mean, that’s my job.
LIANNE: And also, I think the shoujo that we publish, people either don’t see or they don’t think of. One that we’ve had that was very successful and actually was nominated for an Eisnerl was Orange, which is a good one.
CAITLIN: Oh, yeah, I like that one.
LIANNE: Yeah, if you like We Were There, another one that’s about… It’s got a little sci-fi element to it. That one’s really good. The one that I am currently super into, and I’m gonna scream it from the rooftops whenever I can… If we publish a series called Beasts of Abigaile, which almost nobody has heard of, and it’s incredible, and every volume that I read, I’m just screaming every other page. And I’m a grown-ass woman. It’s kind of Omegaverse for babies, about—
LIANNE: If anybody’s familiar with the Omegaverse, I’m not gonna go into it, but it’s about wolf people. Sort of. I mean, they have wolf ears and wolf tails, and some of them have more. But about a girl who’s a karate master who is visiting this lovely island covered in roses, where there’s this castle/prison that she can’t see. It’s basically like prison school for wolf kids.
She ends up sprouting ears and a tail, and nobody really knows why, and she gets thrown into this terrible place with all of these werewolf kids who move in packs and have alphas and betas and omegas. And there’s the really nice guy who’s gonna help her and the really mean guy who marks her on the first episode.
CAITLIN: Oh, geez.
LIANNE: But first of all, she’s fully trained in martial arts and keeps kicking everyone’s ass. Secondly, it’s got the usual alpha bad boy with wolf ears taking his shirt off a lot and going after her and her kicking him in the face, but there’s also the band of transgender wolves who pick her up, and they all become really great friends, and the really nice prince who’s really kind to her is basically a beta to this lady who’s student council president who steps all over him.
It is so much fun! It’s got all the shoujo stuff that you’re used to but with a lot more bite and a lot more firepower, so everybody is constantly either super nice or super mean to everybody. Everybody’s always slapping each other and biting each other. And it’s just so much. I love it so much!
LIANNE: But it never goes the kind of edgy that’s uncomfortable. It’s fun edgy because everybody’s giving as good as they’re getting. And if you like Omegaverse, which is kinda like dog people, wolf people, this is a really easy teen-friendly entryway before you get into the weird stuff with knotting and male pregnancy. If you like Beasts of Abigaile, there’s a whole thing you can go to online about this.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Oh, boy.
LIANNE: And people who are from Teen Wolf fandom know all about that.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Oh, boy!
LIANNE: But this is the teen-friendly tapping into the Omegaverse with all the shoujo tropes, everything cranked to 11. So, I freaking love Beasts of Abigaile and recommend it to everybody! Anybody who likes shoujo, I slap a copy in their hand like, “Please read it, so I can talk to somebody about it, how great it is.” So, that’s my pick.
CAITLIN: And also, everyone should watch Utena.
LIANNE: Oh, yeah. You kinda have to.
ASHLEY: Well, yeah, obviously.
CAITLIN: It didn’t come up. It didn’t come up very much. So, everyone should watch Utena. And that’s pretty much my final thing to say. Anyone have any final thoughts?
LIANNE: We’re getting Rose of Versailles one of these days; the manga.
LIANNE: In English. Udon licensed it a while ago.
CAITLIN: I know, and we’ve been waiting for so long.
ASHLEY: [crosstalk] But we don’t trust that.
ASHLEY: I don’t trust it.
ASHLEY: Skeptical until it’s real. [laughs]
CAITLIN: You guys have Claudine, right?
CAITLIN: Seven Seas is releasing Claudine, right?
CAITLIN: Is that Seven Seas?
LIANNE: Yeah, actually. That’s also by Riyoko Ikeda. That’s a one-volume… It’s arguable if it’s about being transgender. It basically is, but there’s been some debate about if that’s the story she was trying to tell when she wrote this like 40 years ago. But yeah, it’s basically about gender and sexuality. And it’s short, too. It’s a one-volume thing.
CAITLIN: And it is in my Right Stuf cart.
LIANNE: Yeah, it’s coming very soon. Actually, I think I just got my early copy, the digital version, anyway. But yeah, we’re really excited about that and we were so happy, because we’ve been doing a lot of classic… You know, the original Devilman is coming out. The original Harlock, the original Cutie Honey, Space Battleship Yamato.
Claudine is the classic shoujo that we’re doing right now. So, yeah, if you want stuff like that, guys, go buy it. It’s a sad manga, for sure, but just so good. [laughs] She’s one of the big shoujo mangaka, the founding mothers of: Moto Hagio and Keiko Takemiya, and Riyoko Ikeda’s a big one.
And we were talking about Utena. Utena is kind of a love letter to Rose of Versailles, which one of these days, in theory, we’re gonna get. [laughs]
CAITLIN: Everyone should buy classic shoujo so that more of it will get brought over.
LIANNE: There’s quite a bit of it available now. You can get a lot of Moto Hagio stuff.
CAITLIN: Yeah. Thank you to Rachel Thorn and Fantagraphics, largely. But anyway, let’s wrap up.
CAITLIN: As much as I really enjoy discussing this with you guys… So, thank you for listening to Chatty AF. If you want to listen to more or read more, you can find us on iTunes, Stitcher, wherever you can get your podcasts. Our website is www.animefeminist.com. I don’t know why I just added the “www.”
ASHLEY: It’s very important.
We also have a Patreon, patreon.com/animefeminist. So, if you enjoy our work, we would really appreciate whatever donations you can make. Even a dollar is really helpful because we are getting close to breaking even but still not quite there. So, whatever you can contribute would be great. And we also welcome pitches from people of all demographics, every single one. If you are a person, you can pitch to us.
CAITLIN: So, thank you for listening, and… I never know how to end these sign-offs. Thank you for listening! Bye!