Shojo Needs a Shake-Up

I’m going to put this post in a category of an addition to ThatRandomEditor’s post, “Where Are the Shoujo Anime?”. You know it’s a good day when another blog comes along and inspires you to write something! When I read their thoughts, I realized that I’ve been pretty checked out of shojo as a genre for awhile. And that the problem is much deeper then just shojo anime, and I’d like to talk about it.

Shojo as a genre is in a slump. Therefore, it needs a serious shake-up and soon.

Now, you can say this just about any genre. That themes are stale, characters are nothing more then trouped figures repeated continuously, etc. For now I want to focus in on shojo anime and manga for the moment because the decline is fairly noticeable. Let’s focus on shojo anime, first.

Maybe I’m just nostalgic for the past. With the recent super success of the Fruits Basket (2019) reboot, I’ve come to realize that there hasn’t been a big shojo in ages it seems. Sure, the live action market says otherwise (guilty as charged for feeding into that demand), but for anime there’s a dismal amount of choices. Prior to Fruits Basket (2019), I racked my brains trying to think of a shojo title that had any amount of hype.

I referenced ThatRandomEditors post (prior linked) and that Banana Fish is the next big title under this in 2018. I felt that cheated a little since I had no clue it was shojo and it was very rarely described as such. The next title I thought of was Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card-hen (2018) which was another reboot, and rather mixed received in my opinion. So I hopped on my Anime List Seasonal to take a look and see what titles were coming up in the recent past.

There was a surprising lack of titles for the shojo category. There were a large amount of titles that I thought would be considered shojo, that are not. That’s another blog post for another day. But my search results were pretty dismal. I searched based on seasons, double checked cover art, and tags, and after about the 4th row would stop. I wasn’t looking for diamonds in the rough, but titles that were shojo and proud of it, to speak. So we had 2017 nearly empty and it was only in 2016 when I started getting popular titles with relevancy like Kiss Him, Not Me! and Orange, repping that shojo tag loud and proud.

I know our sense of time is screwed up thanks to the pandemic, but that twenty sixteen friends. Nearly four years ago that we were getting big hits that even people who didn’t like/watch shojo knew shojo titles.

Are you kidding me? Seriously?

We’re getting dumped the same rinse and repeat isekai stories, every damn season. But for going on several years now, we can’t even get one big shojo anime that isn’t a reboot? There’s gotta be something in the water. Shojo use to be so much more!

Again, referencing ThatRandomEditor, shojo manga is much easier and cheaper to make into a live action series then an anime. If you take a look at any ‘coming soon’ section of Japanese theaters there’s bound to be at least two films based off a shojo manga coming. The cost of production is much more effective, and this transition makes the Japanese market a lot of money.

The only exception to this was the dual release of the live action and then animated film of Omoi, Omoware, Furi, Furare or Love, Be Loved, Leave, Be Left in English. This dual release in my research, wasn’t intended to be nearly on top of each other. However, due to the pandemic the movies were shifted around and both versions were released within a month of each other. The live action was released on August 14th, and the anime is set for September 18th. Only the end of the year box office numbers will tell, but being honest; I’m betting the live-action will make more money. That’s just my conjecture though.

So what gives about shojo anime in general? It’s certainly not a lack of titles available, either from the past or present. But I think the problem stems with issues shojo has had for quite awhile. The first being, is can you even name a shojo anime that’s and original anime-only story? If you’re like me, I don’t think so off the top of my head. If you can though, please do comment because I’m utterly curious.

Which then leads into shojo anime’s source materials. It’s typically split between light-novels, which are quite rare, and manga which is most common. And I’m going to be honest here, because I’ve felt this for a long time. Shojo manga is boring. It desperately needs to change it up a bit.

The first factor being similar art styles. This has been a problem for ages, even before I had a blog. Since it’s been a problem for 10 plus years, you would think something in the industry would have changed to remedy this issue. Shojo has it’s hallmarks, doe eyed protagonists, lanky love interests, usually very clean, light lines and illustration styles inside pages, and pastel or muted primary colors for covers.

I don’t like admitting this but there’s way too many authors I get confused. Some variety examples of this being; I was sure that Matsuri Hino penned both Meru Peri and Ultra Maniac. Ultra Manic actually being penned by Yoshizumi Wataru. From the recent past, I was convinced that Strobe Edge (Sakisaka Io) and Honey (Meguro , Amu) were the same author until I really looked. And most recently as of a few days ago I was convinced for whatever reason despite how wrong I was, that Waiting for Spring (Anashin) and Honey Lemon Soda (Murata, Mayu) were both the same author. I’m pretty sure that last one was because their covers were next to each other and the characters resembled one another but nonetheless, this happens a lot more then I care to admit.

It doesn’t help that all the stories are the same elements. Setting; high school. Characters; two boys one super cheerful with brown/red hair, one kinda tsundere with dark hair, girl clumsy but kind whose inexperienced in love, rival popular girl who use to date one of the boys. Dynamic; clumsy girl falls in love with boy, gets confessed by the other, the rival wants her ex back, and shenanigans ensue, including a love triangle at a minimum or at least one character making an attempt at the female lead. Couple this with the similar art styles, and you can barely tell one story from another these days. Sure, these titles aren’t getting licensed as often in the West, but you can see why. You can only sell the same story different cover, so many times.

The thing is shojo wasn’t always cornered into high school romances. I can’t tell if this change is from the publishers forcing mangaka’s to rinse and repeat the same series over and over or if magazines are too scared to let anything new and different be marketed towards girls. Because at the end of the day, shojo isn’t set by it’s story, it’s set by the demographic; 10-18 year old girls. And let me tell you as a 10-18year old I was weird. I liked occult things, sports, music, just as much as I liked shojo.

So where are the Kaori Yuki ‘s of this generation? The ones bringing occult to the young girls and making it fun. Like Blank Slate (similar to Banana Fish if you’re curious) or Heaven’s Will? Where are the fantasy stories for girls like CLAMP use to do? Are there even any Sci-fi series aimed at girls? Damn, where are the stories of just a bunch of girl’s hanging out and being friends? Kamikaze Girls anyone? Or something like Crimson Hero, that girls can be competitive and still have romantic interests? Where did those titles go?

Similarly, where are the stories focused on family relationships? Something like Baby & Me, and Aishiteruze Baby where the focus is on sibling bonds, without a traditional female protagonist. Even a series like Nijiro Days is a welcome change of pace with a boy protagonist. Of course, these shouldn’t dominate the genre, there’s shonen for a reason, but at least they break up the troupe with a gendered swap.

To link back to anime, I think a largely problem is that there are a lot of shojo not being labeled shojo these days. I think a lot of studios/mangakas want to market their works towards teenage girls. But know that doing so would lump them in with being just another high school love story, might stifle any future projects. So a lot of titles, in my opinion might check all the classic hallmarks of shojo title, or even just the target demographic, but they won’t commit to that shojo tag, so it’s more marketable.

I know in my heart of hearts that I am no longer 18 and no longer the core demographic. I also know that I’m not a Japanese girl and not a publishing agent so what do I know? Maybe for shojo playing it safe and rinse and repeat stories are the only way their print magazines get sold, and the rights to a live action sold to a studio for profit. If their audience isn’t requesting anything other then recreations of a recent hit, why would these magazines waste precious space on creating a supply of something unwanted?

My point is, that shojo in some form or another needs a shake up. Whether it be an animation studio taking a risk and animating an original for the genre, or more mangaka’s deviating away from high school romances; I have faith something big is coming in the near future. I can only hope it comes sooner rather then later!

I’d love to hear other people’s thoughts on this topic. If you can point to a recent title that you think is going to pave the way for a resurgence, please let me know! If you disagree, also let me know! For now I’ll be back on my way to a live-action shojo movie, and I’ll see you guys next post!

9 comments

  1. On one hand, I agree with you, and have thought so for years. On the other, with so many isekai series dominating, it’s kind of hard to say that shoujo needs a shakeup when the market is happy with so many near-identical I Got Swept Away To Another World in This Series With A Title That’s Way Too Long.

    Personally, part of me blames magazines like Nakayoshi for aging away from fantasy series, particularly the mahou shoujo fighting type and not just seeing or interacting with the supernatural. On the other hand, it’s also as a result of girls’ magazines mostly being monthly, meaning needing a longer time to find the next chapter to adapt, and anime has shifted away from the “fillers are okay” approach to seasonal adaptations.

    Probably also needs some new leadership. I mean, like Jump has pretty much said no female editors because they don’t understand the hearts of boys. But yet we know plenty of men work on shoujo magazines. Maybe if more females were put in positions of power in publishers, they could encourage more variety than just stories about the most popular guy on campus and the (usually relatively average) protagonist.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I totally agree. It’s way more nuanced then just shojo being repetitive since well, the market does appear to be happy with the same story told over and over again. Isekai’s just being the prime target to be made fun of recently.

      I really should take a deeper dive into the monthly magazines and just when exactly they started transitioning away from mahou shojo fighting style, or even just fantasy. I remember Fushigi Yugi being huge in the 90’s early 2000’s right up there with Hana Yori Dango. The nature of most girl’s literature being monthly over the shonen counter parts being weekly is also interesting that I didn’t pick up on/notice until you pointed it out. I’m glad the mangaka’s aren’t as over worked with a longer period of time between chapters, but that does pose a problem with getting animated like you said. I’ve never really disliked shojo fillers and they’re usually pretty decent in comparison to their shonen counterparts.

      Also, 100% agree. A lot of Japanese industries need new leadership in general, more women and younger staff in general. I wonder how well the world would react if any of the big shojo companies downgraded their male staff since they can’t understand the hearts of girls afterall. Probably would kick up more of a fuss then the Jump statement (which still rubs me the wrong way).

      Thank you for your extended thoughts! I really appreciate knowing it’s not just me who feels this way. Plus your additional examples are more food for thought and maybe a follow up on my part?…

      Like

  2. I never liked shoujo in the first place, but this situation definitely stinks for those who do like shoujo.

    But if you want a truly great shoujo (at least I think it’s shoujo?), check out the manga “Children of the Whales”. It takes the classic artistic elements of shoujo, but expands upon them to make something more abstract and whimsical. Plus, it’s set in a fantasy world and has a complex and engaging story. It’s still ongoing, but has been under the radar for a while. I highly recommend it!

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s always hard to see a genre go through a rough patch.

      I actually have read “Children of the Whales”! It’s got a lot of the artistic hallmarks of the genre and I really enjoyed reading the series! I’m glad to find another fan of it! (Although according to MAL not quite a shojo but… it’s still a great series!)

      Like

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