Sunday, April 22, 2007

Why Hagio writes about boys

David Bowie - Hunky DoriI found an interesting interview with Moto Hagio where she discussed how she ended up writing shojo manga, yet her characters and settings were almost completely male-dominated.

Shojo manga up until that time (and, arguably, this is currently true) focused on girls' friendships, rivalries, interests in boys and so forth. Feelings, relationships and an internal life are very important. Obviously, they were aimed at an audience of girls and women.

Shonen manga for boys featured male protagonists in a very masculine world, with a lot of action and adventure.

So with "Poe", "Tooma no Shinzou" and so forth, which clearly take place in settings where boys predominate, how could these works be classified as "shojo manga"? Or maybe I should be asking another question entirely: why would a female manga-ka want to write about boys, but in a nontraditional context?

It's also interesting to consider the pop culture that was thriving at the time. Musicians like David Bowie, T-Rex and David Essex had launched "glam rock," which celebrated the androgynous looks of both males and females. Album covers and fashion magazines showed women donning pinstriped suits, and men wearing feather boas, sparkly jumpsuits and outrageous platform shoes. Experimenting in unorthodox same-sex relationships was de rigeur within the rock-and-roll world. Like many young people at that time all over the world, the women from the Year 24 Group were into glam rock—you can see an influence in the way Hagio draws her young male characters so prettily, so fey and slender with their elegant attire, doe eyes and shaggy, tousled hair.

I wonder if Hagio Moto had a clear idea of who would comprise her audience for works such as "Tooma no Shinzo." (Although primarily she wrote to satisfy herself, it would be interesting to consider whether she had a clear idea of a target readership outside of herself.) But it does beg the question of who, ultimately, is more likely to be attracted to her subject matter. At first glance it would appear that Hagio offers something for everyone. Yet at the same time, it's just as easy to imagine girls being turned off by uber-masculine plotlines or settings, or—more likely—boys and men (and girls too) reacting squeamishly to the highly suggestive (if not flagrant!) depictions of boy-boy love. So it's a mixed bag, but at least at the time, there may have been more of an open mind regarding her subject matter.

In the end, what's important is that Hagio found her readers and maintained artistic integrity in writing freely on these delicate subjects. But who could have guessed the connection between the spaceships and boarding schools!

Here is the excerpt (full translation here):
Moving to Tokyo

With my publisher located in Tokyo and all, I ultimately wanted to move to Tokyo as soon as possible, but my parents wouldn't let me go. Around that time, I was asked to work as an assistant and that led to meeting Keiko Takemiya, a cartoonist. She had already moved from Tokushima to Tokyo. So when I mentioned how I also wanted to move to Tokyo but was prevented by my parent's opposition, she proposed to live together. An acquaintance found us a house—it was more like a tenement house with three adjoining units. And finally I was able to move to Tokyo. It was around October of the year I became 20 years old.

The house was in Oizumi Gakuen. We lived there together for two years. During this time I was very fortunate to get acquainted with many people, such as Ryoko Yamagishi, Mineko Yamada, and Nanae Sasaya (now Nanaeko). Now that I had many manga friends, I was so happy to talk about manga from morning to evening. I could also draw pictures without worrying about my parent's disapproving eyes.

Road to "Tooma no Shinzou"

One of the friends I made during the Oizumi Gakuen era was an avaricious book junkie, and she recommended a lot of books, like "Demian" by Hermann Hesse. As for Hesse, I had read "Beneath the Wheel" but its dark ending kept me away from other titles of his. But "Demian" was so good that I ended up reading all his stuff after all.

That person really liked the world of shonen-ai [Note 1]. She recommended those, too, even what one might call "porn", but I didn't like any of those. I would say "What's so great about this?" when I returned the book after reading it. In the meantime, Takemiya-san was also reading those stuff alongside me but it was she who got hooked. Later, Takemiya-san invited me to a movie. It was released as "This Special Friendship" (Japanese Title: "Kanashimi no Tenshi" ) back then, but it is now available as video called "Kishukusha".

[Note 1] I believe she was talking about Norie Masuyama.

The hero is a thirteen year old boy, and the story is about the upperclassman who loves him. It was such a beautiful movie—romance developing in a school. But at the end the hero commits suicide due to misunderstanding that he was betrayed. I didn't like such an unreasonable story without salvation and felt really sorry for the hero—it was too much to let him die like this…thinking he was betrayed. Then, I thought of drawing a story in which the hero dies but he gets something out of it in the end. That's how I got the original idea for "Tooma no Shinzou". When it came to that movie, perhaps I had some critical judgment.

Closed Space to Boys' World

I like closed space. That's why I depicted stories with such settings as dramas set within spaceships, or stories about the people who moved to another planet—no wonder I wouldn't be popular with readers. This is how closed space turned into a boys' world:

First of all, "Tooma no Shinzou" was a private work I began in objection to "This Special Friendship" and I had no prospect for publication. Back then I had many pieces like that just for fun. Since I was doing them for fun, I didn't get to finish them of course. But in "Tooma no Shinzou", the characters came to life pretty well as I drew. So I couldn't possibly publish this story, but I wanted to try a short story based on the same settings, and I published "The November Gymnasium".

Since the intended publication was a girls' magazine, I thought perhaps it was not good idea to have a male protagonist, and I developed two plots, with all-girls' and all-boys' versions. Then in the all-girls' version the relationship got wet and sticky [Note 2] for some reason. I was wondering why the all-boys' version did better, and then I realized this:

After you get to a certain age, the male-female gender roles in society have been internalized in your psyche, and you cannot be free from them. Especially so for my generation. But when I draw all-boys' stories, I am not bound by those constraints. It came as a big surprise to me as I drew. That's what interested me in drawing a boys' world.

[Note 2] Original text reads "女の子版の方は、どうも関係がネチネチしてしまう"—"ネチネチ" is a very difficult word to translate. What Hagio meant is that girls tend to have different dynamics and dimensions in same-gender relationships that she perceived boys don't have, such as different sensitivities, means of establishing hierarchies and managing relationships, a perceived style of 'clique-ishness' and so forth. In Japanese, such elements are described in water-related terminology. Thus I used the terms "wet" and "sticky" because they imply complicated, difficult, unclear relationships, in contrast to the cut-and-dried relationships within a boys' world.

1 comment:

Katherine Dacey-Tsuei said...

Thank you for the kind words at PopCultureShock! I'm looking forward to exploring the essays and scanlations you've posted here, not least because The Village of the Poes has yet to receive the English edition it so richly deserves.

I'm also relieved to discover that other folks see the connection between Hagio's long-haired bishonen and the Spiders from Mars...