Saturday, April 21, 2007

Moto Hagio's impact on youth (Otaku) culture

This YouTube video is about a place called Otome Road (乙女ロード) in the Ikebukuro district of Tokyo, where otaku girls gather to consume Otaku culture for women. (Otaku boys go to Akihabara.) The main attraction is fanzines known as dojinshi (同人誌) on BL (Boys Love) or shonen-ai. You can pretty much say the BL manga in those fanzines are equivalent to slash fictions. Those girls (known as "Fujoshi") also indulge in Cosplay (dressing as manga characters) and hang out at Cosplay Cafes to be entertained by hostesses dressed as men (Danso). With girls going to one place and the boys the other, no wonder Japan's birth rate is so low.

According to this essay by Bill Randall, Moto Hagio's "The November Gymnasium (11月のギムナジウム)" is:

a short story openly dealing with homosexual love between two boys at a boarding school. The story was one among many that had a watershed effect, making explicit the undercurrents just below the surface of girls' comics all along.

While "The November Gymnasium" does contain hints of shonen-ai, I don't think it is the real theme. It is really about a story of self-identify, and about coming terms with oneself, or even about the rejection of one's self and its ultimate consequences. The German boarding school, the transfer students, the school pet—those are just components to drive the story. Nonetheless, it is true that this work of Hagio is one of the first manga that introduced this "shonen-ai" element into the shojo genre, and enabled the "BL" boom and Otome Road phenomenon today. Before "The November Gymnasium," it was simply beyond comprehension to do an all-boy story for a manga intended for girls, period.

Along the long journey, however, it seems like the original question Hagio had posed was lost and taken over by Yaoi (no climax, no punchline, no meaning). That's too bad.

"The November Gymnasium" was published in the November 1971 issue of Bessatsu Shojo Komikku, about 6 months before she published the first episode of "Poe no Ichizoku." She would use the German boarding school setting again in the "Kotori no su" episode in the "Poe no Ichizoku" series and later revisit the theme raised by "The November Gymnasium" in another influential work of hers called "Tooma no Shinzou".


Anonymous said...

Hello Nancy,
I'm very much impressed by your elaborated work and love for Moto Hagio's classic manga, the Clan of the Poes. I'm not a big fun of manga but Moto Hagio has a special place in my heart. I still recall my high-school days where I was fascinated by the most sensitive, touching and well-made story of the Poes. I totally agree with you when you say this classic of shojo manga doesn't have the attention it deserves. I hope it'll be published in English very soon so people outside Japan can discover this epochmaking comic book.

Nancy said...

Thank you very much for your kind comments. Are you Japanese or a native English speaker? (Your English is awfully good, if you're not!)

I also hope to see this published in English soon--if not by me, then by some other capable translator. I'll let everyone know if that comes about!

Anonymous said...

Hi Nancy,

Thanks for your reply.

When I said I wanted see the story published in English, I had you in mind as its translator, of course. I can't think of anyone who has deep insight and love for the story and good translation skills like you.
Your comment on Hagio's influence on "boys love" is exactly what I think. And your English translation successfully carries the feelings and tastes that the original lines have.

Japanese Manga seems really popular around the world these days. But it's a pity such a great manga like the Poes is still unknown to most of the world. I really hope to see your project come about.

Rika from Japan