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Sunday, March 27, 2005


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‘Shojo Stories’ heralds
a manga resurgence

Shoujo manga (girls' comics) are a driving force in the Japanese-comic industry, with various publishers bringing more of the genre stateside.

But years before the domestic shoujo revolution, Viz Comics published a little-heralded graphic novel in 1996 titled simply "Four Shôjo Stories." At a time when the Sailor Moon anime series was just getting a foothold in America -- with the Sailor Moon comics arriving stateside in 1998 -- Viz's four-story anthology was an attempt to show that shoujo manga consisted of more than just teen romances and magical-girl fantasies.

(Spot Japanese lesson: Due to differences in how Japanese words are written in English, the term for girls' comics can be spelled as "shôjo" or "shoujo.")

The tales delve deeply into interpersonal relationships that are not exclusively male-female.

"Promise," by Keiko Nishi, introduces a high school girl, Reiko, who lost her twin brother at birth and whose father died not long afterward. The losses affect Reiko's mother deeply, and she almost completely ignores her daughter.

The girl finds out by accident that her mother will soon remarry. Upset, Reiko declares she doesn't need a family and starts cutting school to spend her days alone. She often bumps into a boy, not much older than her -- who once helped her when she was a child.

He had come to her aid when she was separated from her mother in a department store. Now, faced with a similar separation, he helps her accept her new circumstances.

The longest story, "They Were Eleven," by Moto Hagio, takes place in the future. Students from various planets attending the Galactic University are about to take their final exam. One group is sent aboard a ship and must serve as its crew for 53 days. Their only contact with the outside world is an emergency button, which if pressed could lead to failing the test.

There are supposed to be 10 men in the group. But once aboard the ship, there are actually 11 -- and all insist they are legitimate examinees. As mishaps occur and nearly kill group members, suspicion falls on a young man named Tada, who knows his way around the ship too well.

But Tada's forgotten past slowly catches up with him as the days go by, and Tada himself begins to wonder whether his memory has been tampered with.

The group bands together despite their challenges, and a strange yet heartwarming romance develops, something that shoujo manga are known for.

"The Changeling," by Shio Sato, is another futuristic story. Lin, as a Seed Seeker, has the job of checking up on Earth's efforts to "seed" far-off planets and build civilizations. Following a request for help during a revolution, Lin arrives at the planet Ilidom. She finds the planet's people are beautiful, kind and, above all, peaceful.

But something strikes Lin as odd, and it isn't until an attempt to sabotage her ship occurs that she discovers what is wrong.

The final story, "Since You've Been Gone," also by Nishi, finds unfaithful husband Michio in the arms of his lover as a powerful earthquake rocks Tokyo. The quake's epicenter is in Michio's hometown, but his once-a-month mistress tries desperately to keep him at her apartment.

Meanwhile, workers are evacuating people at Michio's town when his wife, Manami, insists on returning to her destroyed home to look for her purse. She displays a passionate, devoted quality beneath her ethereal exterior when that she refuses to leave without the purse, which has deep sentimental value.

The two story lines have a star-crossed convergence when Michio, through a mix-up that affects his wife more than he could ever imagine, realizes too late whom he really loves.

"Four Shôjo Stories" is an excellent collection, with its diverse characters and situations. The collection proves that certain qualities transcend time and space -- namely, teamwork, hope, and especially love.

With Viz reprinting older, popular manga series such as "Ranma 1/2" and "Neon Genesis Evangelion," here's hoping that "Four Shôjo Stories" will be slated for another run. These one-shot stories are a good introduction to the genre and are a shining example of all that shoujo manga is. As the book's subtitle states, "It's not just girls' stuff anymore."



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