Is Shoujo Manga Becoming More Varied?

This is a follow-up to my previous post, A Sexy Star is Born: Thoughts on the History of Romance in Shoujo Manga.

While romance has been the dominant force in shoujo manga for over 40 years, lately I’ve begun to wonder if a quiet revolution is occurring within the shoujo manga industry, or at least within the publisher Kodansha.

For example, recently there has been a comedy manga about young girls who use model guns and play in survival games. “But Stella Women’s Academy C³-Bu isn’t shoujo!” you might say. You’d be right, except that I’m actually talking about the shoujo manga Survival Game Club! by Matsumoto Hidekichi.

What’s remarkable about Survival Game Club! is not only that it’s a manga which eschews romance in favor of firearm gags, but that it runs in Nakayoshi, a magazine whose primary demographic is 5-10 year old girls and whose alumni include Cardcaptor Sakura and Sailor Moon. These aren’t jaded manga experts looking for the next big thing, they’re readers who just want to enjoy their comics (and their free goodies). That said, the expectations for 10 year old readers might be surprisingly different, given that Survival Game Club! starts with one of its characters threatening a train molester.

Survival Game Club!

Other titles currently running in Nakayoshi include No Exit/Deguchi Zero by Seta Haruhi, about a school for aspiring actresses which becomes a survival horror story, and Kugiko-chan by PEACH-PIT (Rozen Maiden, Shugo Chara!), a gag spinoff of a manga about a ghost who is said to drive nails into people’s eyes. Both of these series not only revolve around a horror theme but are fairly unorthodox when it comes to art style.

No Exit

Kugiko-chan

According to Wikipedia (so take it with a grain of salt), the shoujo magazine Bessatsu Friend began to shift away from romance because of manga by artists such as Suenobu Keiko. Notably, her 2009’s manga Limit, a story about a group of girls in a life or death situation where the social statuses afforded to them by their school cliques no longer matter and feelings of betrayal and revenge run high, stands out as being very far from the romance-centered stories associated with shoujo. While Bessatsu Friend targets an older age group compared to Nakayoshi, I wonder if its influence slowly bled down to the younger audience.

The sense that there’s a quiet revolution isn’t just coming from shoujo manga which de-emphasize romance, however, as there’s a sense that titles about love and relationships are approaching them with greater mindfulness and breadth of topics. For instance, 3D Kanojo by Nanami Mao, about a popular girl and her otaku boyfriend, deals with the lack of respect that sexually active girls can get. One story from the girl’s past involves her trying to express her feelings of frustration and loneliness to her then-boyfriend, only to realize that he wasn’t really listening and was trying to just make out with her. Pochamani by Hirama Kaname, about a chubby girl and her handsome boyfriend, looks at body image issues and the ability to be confident in an appearance which does not fit the social standard. In both cases, these manga are about relationships already in motion as opposed to the journey towards one, and so bring to attention the challenges which can confront couples.

Of course, this is all more or less a hunch, and while I read a good deal of shoujo manga I’m not as well-read in it as other bloggers like Magical Emi or Kate from Reverse Thieves. If anyone can provide examples to further prove (or even disprove) the idea that shoujo manga has begun to move somewhat against its long-standing conventions of love and romance, I’d be more than welcome to hear it.

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A Tale of One Bishounen’s Love of Large Ladies: Pochamani

Thanks to one Mr. Ed Chavez I was recently informed of an unusual shoujo manga called Pochamani. It’s short for “Pocchari Mania,” which translates into something like “Chubby Chaser.” It’s a pretty rare concept in manga but especially shoujo manga where characters are generally known for being thin wisps, be they male or female. The series also earned a mention in the annual These Manga Are Great! (Kono Manga ga Sugoi!) 2014 edition, while the author Hirama Kaname mentions that her own preference for chubbier folks was the impetus for this series.

The main character of Pochamani is a chubby girl named Tsumugi who begins to date a handsome classmate who has a thing for larger ladies. While on some level wish fulfillment, the manga does a number of notable things. First, is that Tsumugi is not “fat” in the way Yomi from Azumanga Daioh or Hiro from Hidamari Sketch are “fat” (meaning visually indistinguishable from other characters in terms of weight and relying solely on text and speech to make this point), but is drawn differently from other characters. Though the art is inconsistent with how big she’s supposed to be (perhaps due to the artist being unfamiliar with how to draw such a body type?), it generally gets the point across that she’s small and round.

Second, while the manga, at least from the first volume I read, is not super progressive or tactful in every way (one of the most common scenes is the boyfriend rubbing her underarm flab with excitement), it does point out that the boyfriend is into her not simply because she’s chubby. Instead, it has a lot to do with her personality and demeanor, namely that whereas the girls he’s dated in the past have been depressed about their weight, Tsumugi is comfortable with how she looks.

Third, it covers those moments where they’re walking down the street and getting stares because people simply can’t believe that a guy like him is with a girl like her. Tsumugi is confident but not unshakable, and seeing her strength even through this is admirable.

Probably the strangest thing to come out of Pochamani is its official website, which is designed to be a fan club for people who like their partners on the large side. It has a list denoting the “charms of chubby people” and even an interview with a handsome male voice actor (seen above) about how he likes chubby girls (and also the manga of course). They also have a female Osakan comedian named Babazono Azusa as their somewhat corpulent spokesmodel. I’m not 100% behind the site because it seems to veer more towards a more simplistic fat fetishism compared to the actual manga, but I know Japan of all places is not known for its acceptance of fat as a type of beauty, so I see it as a kind of marketing decision within this context.