Layers of the ethereal: A cultural investigation of beauty, Girlhood, and Ballet in Japanese Shōjo Manga

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Journal Article
Fashion Theory - Journal of Dress Body and Culture, 2014, 18 (3), pp. 251 - 296
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© 2014 Bloomsbury Publishing PLC. The popularity of classical ballet as a cultural form grows apace in a global context. Even in a country like Japan, which has not been previously identified as a “ballet capital,” it is receiving wide public attention. As a conventionally female-dominated arena, ballet and the ideas that circulate around it reveal the complex interrelationship between femininity, beauty, and selfhood. A prime example is the understudied genre of “ballet manga” in Japanese shōjo manga culture. With the first examples published in the mid-1950s, the history of ballet-themed manga reveals that, particularly in the years following the Second World War, ballet was the epitome of a dream world, connoting luxury, beauty, and glamour. “Ballet manga” used this particular art form, its costumes, and romanticized, almost fairy tale-like settings of Old World Europe as a mix of femininity, rigor, and elegance remade for Japanese audiences. Since the 1970s, some authors have attempted to combine this imagery of ballet with the idea of feminine independence and agency, thus negotiating the paradox of reality and fantasy in lived experience. Ballet, therefore, is not presented simply on the stage but in Japan is frequently interpreted/experienced through shōjo manga. This distinctive situation deserves closer scholarly investigation.
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