Why You Should Read… -Classic Shoujo-

Shoujo is one of the genres that lately I’ve found to be monotonous. There are a bunch of standard cliches that I have come to expect, and rarely see anything deviating from that set formula. It seems like it’s hit the glass ceiling – a culmination of tropes and ideas that girls cling to, repetitive ideas and themes and plots that are recycled because those are what girls today read. It’s tiring, it’s saddening, and most of all…. it’s boring. I can only read so many carbon-copies of a story before I start looking for something new and different. Surprise, surprise, I discovered that what I’d been looking for isn’t all that ‘new’, but most definitely different!

Manga has had over 50 years to develop into what it is, but that means that while it was developing, it had a lot more room to experiment with the story. I rarely come across shoujo with the intrigue and mystery of They Were 11 – in fact, the only one that I can think of is Arisa, which came out in 2009 The mangaka, Hagio Moto, is a master at shoujo, creating interesting, unique storylines. She’s written some of the most iconic titles out there, and they are still as good today as when she wrote them! Her speicalty is shoujo stories with shounen-ai, a genre I’m hesitant to read most of the time. A lot of it tends to be oversexualized and rushed, without really exploring the relationships. It’s there for the fangirls.

What I really appreciate about Hagio’s approach is that a good deal of her characters are broken on some level – mentally, emotionally, and are often troubled by their feelings as often as they just deal with them. More importantly, the relationships aren’t glossed over in favor of sex! There’s real development, her stories taking time and care to develop, often with more than one misstep. The most favored modern shoujo follow the relationship patterns set in these manga; The vast majority aren’t done nearly as well.

A number of older shoujo also deal with the effect of life choices on their relationships. While they can be dramatic to the point of melodramatic, they explore how their actions have a wider range of effects than just on their inner circle of friends and crushes – they explore things that affect their Entire Lives. Swan explores how a girl becomes a famous dancer, and what ripples those have in world-renowned circles. The internal politics of ballet companies are exploreed, and how the effects of what she learned in her country (and how her countrymen are affected!) are even gone into, however briefly. The more modern Skip Beat!, as fond as I am of it, can’t even compare.

I love seeing how others are affected by the main character’s choices. And when going into something as high-powered as show business, having the director giving special treatement to you (and let’s face it, giving her those assignments to directly affect her growth and bypassing most of the industry’s crap is special treatment!) isn’t really as interesting as seeing them fight things out the old-fasioned way, like in the classic Glass Mask. I think it’s a darn shame that hard work is bypassed for romantic shennanigans instead of developing side-by-side with them.

And that brings up one of the perennial themes that shoujo involves: Romance. Today’s shoujo tend towards reluctant relationships, where it doesn’t seem like they would be a likely couple. Some of the most popular romances (Kaichou wa Maid-Sama, Lovely Complex) involve two people that just don’t click at first. That’s fine, and I don’t have a problem with it. In fact, I can and do enjoy it. Sometimes, though, I’m in the mood for that fiary-tale romance with love at first site – but don’t be fooled, most of the time these couples have to work for their happy ending! Real issues and troubles and doubts make it certain that they’ll go through emotional hell to be together. The modern-day throwback to a similar romantic style is Kimi ni Todoke. It’s not an exact parallel, but is so different from most modern romances and with enough hallmarks from traditional shoujo that I can’t help but feel drawn in! (First feelings aside. Yes, I thought it worked better as a manga.) I appreciate that little spark of magic in more cynical stories, especially in how gut-wrenching and emotionally deep the traditional shoujo tend to be.

Now, classic shoujo isn’t perfect. It has rough archetypes and stereotypes that we’re familiar with, and there is the melodrama, but the deeper storylines and more character-oriented stories make for great reads. Color me a fan!

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