Valiant and Beautiful: Rethinking gender and aesthetics in shōjo manga

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Conference Proceeding
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Shōjo manga is one of the hot topics in the study of manga. Despite this visibility, scholarly scrutiny in the English-speaking world tends to have focused on limited aspects of the category –e.g. famous works from the 1970s, and/or the “queer” genres of “boys love” or fighting girls. As a result, the more “typical” aspirations of shōjo manga have yet to receive adequate attention. This paper focuses on Miyawaki Akiko’s Kin to gin no kanon (abbreviated as K&G, 1984) in which one of the heroines – Masumi – attempts to escape from her wretched life and determines to succeed with her musical talent at any cost, leading to betrayal, deception and even murder. Through K&G, this paper argues that one of the problems attached to shōjo manga studies is an unconscious avoidance of what appear to be “typical” shōjo manga, perhaps due to their “girlish” aesthetics and “ultra-feminine” protagonists. For some, these might appear too supportive of normative gender roles. If shōjo manga are, as often argued, reflections of patriarchal oppression endured by Japanese women, what sense can we then make of manga like Miyawaki’s, with its significantly ambitious heroine? This manga, moreover, reflects a tradition of shōjo culture where the relationship between girls is a recurrent theme. This might spare the female characters from being portrayed mainly via their relationship to male characters. Does K&G then point to the necessity in re-evaluating shōjo manga from new, more interdisciplinary perspectives? What does this tell us about contemporary Japanese culture and society? Might shōjo manga be re-evaluated by pursuing more “mundane” or less “exceptional” examples?
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