Wednesday, 20 January 2016

The Japan Foundation: The World of Shojo Manga


Manga itself is Japanese comics which cones in different genres, Shounen for boys and Shojo Manga for girls’ or ‘girls’ comics’– is a genre of Japanese comic books that has a history spanning many decades in Japan.

Shojo Manga – often translated as ‘comics for girls’ or ‘girls’ comics’– is a genre of Japanese comic books that has a history spanning many decades in Japan. Shojo Manga features stories following girls falling in love, whether it sweet love stories, anguished romances and girls facing real-life issues in different genres. So the stories could be set in a fantasy realm, space, period drama  or based on mythical times.

We had Associate Professor Nozomi Masuda, Konan Women’s University, from Japan, come to talk to us about the subject and importance of Shojo manga, at Foyles bookshop in the heart of Westend. Tracing the origins of Shojo Manga from its beginnings in girls’ magazine as an extra, journeying to full anthologies. One thing that has stayed the same was the significance the genre in Japanese society, and what it has been expressing over its diverse and complex themes over the years.

The styles started very traditional in water colour, characters were drawn as very Japanese, dark hair, lines for eyes and no contouring on the faces to mirror the Geisha image. This soon evolved with Western influences, character faces grew less round, more shaped, noses thinner, skin colour changed from porcelain white to a healthier peach glow. Most importantly the eyes, grew large which was iconic to Western images and then the hair color grew lighter from browns to golden blonde.

Following the presentation from Professor Masuda, Retro Shojo Manga artist Eiko Hanamura, one of the pioneers of Shojo Manga, came on stage and led in conversation by Comica founder, Paul Gravett, and Professor Masuda. Together they discussed Hanamura’s work, reflecting on her illustrious career of over half a century in the Manga industry and how much creativity she had. She starts by saying she was an artist who could not find any work so a friend recommended her to become a manga artist it's all the rage. She tried and people loved her art but she really didn't understand the appeal but carried on. Thus began Hanamura’s commercial art domination. There were set rules to follow to begin with. 

She was given a summary and the girls almost always had a novelty theme 'Nurse in love or 'Air Hostess long lost love'. Even though she followed these cheesy story-lines for a while she was able to pitch her own ideas such as having detective stories which was received very well and given full volumes dedicated to them.


 She also talked of her shock as the phenomenon of Shojo Manga grew and grew and she was attending parties with all the top artists and yet not feeling as one of them. She didn't understand why people loved her art so much, it was being featured on covers of note books, stickers and recently now brought back collaborating with makeup brands. Hanamura not only had a flair for art but fashion also and explained they didn't have tv or fashion magazines, it was what they made it and all her designs came from her imagination and her outfits were creative and very bright.

She recalled a story of her and her daughter going to the Louvre as one of her art pieces was showcased there, she felt embarrassed it was surrounded by amazing art pieces but people came up to her and commended it and she was invited to exhibit again. This time they wanted the whole show for her art alone. Humbled and again so modest about her work she shrugged "Why do they want to see my art in France?"

After the audience got a chance to ask questions, one which really aroused contemplation was 'Why is it early shojo manga characters had large eyes with star patterns ?'. Hanamura paused and said 'That's a good question.' It was a period where girl had big dreams and the stars represented the hopefulness in the youth of that time. Now the stars have dissapeared from shojo manga eyes, perhaps the dreamy nature has gone?

I was interested in finding out what Hanamura though of contemporary shojo manga. She responded with, since everything is all digital (rather than hand drawn as her manuscripts were) the faces all tend to look the same by each artist like cut and paste. She then lamented on a lot of her original art being lost and having no copies and that would literally be it, starting from scratch.

At the end she was given a standing ovation and people were invited to stay have a drink and some snacks and meet and greet with other fans and Ms Hanamura herself. A few hardcore fans had conversations with her and the translator and Ms Hanamura was suprised by the positive comments on her work and overwhelming want for her work translated into English. It was a amazing moment to shake hands with a lady who inspired so many ladies dreams, influenced childhoods, filled people with beautiful dreams.

This was one of the most engaging talks from the The Japan Foundation I have attended and I look forward to the next guests they invite to talk in future events. Join their mailing list for more information.

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