With all the recent discussion of shojo manga that’s been going on, it should be no surprise that I’ve had shojo on the brain. Some of the comments that have struck me most in all the din have come from adult women who find themselves in the position of wanting to defend shojo manga and its readers, while being forced to acknowledge the fact that they’ve lost interest in most shojo (and its more persistent tropes) themselves.
While this doesn’t reflect my own experience, I can certainly understand how awkward that must be for them amidst the current discussion. And I have to admit that it’s led me to question why it is, at the age of forty-one, I’m not in the same boat. “Shouldn’t I be over shojo?” my inner adult asks. After all, I’ve publicly chalked up my disinterest in the Twilight series to cynical middle-age. So what exactly is it that’s got me going out on a limb to defend the honor of Fruits Basket?
One of the things that has astonished me most, as I look back at a life that includes several major moves (featuring a 9-year span or so in the middle that best resembles nomadism), a series of total career shifts, numerous relationships of many kinds, and a general lack of conventional stability, is really how little my life has changed over the years, or at least how little I have. While it’s true that I’ve learned a great deal throughout the course of my life so far, and have developed a few attitudes and opinions that could be considered jaded or even cynical, for the most part, my core personality has remained intact, year in and year out.
As a child, the trait I most tragically lacked was guile (and the ability to see through anyone else’s), so I spent most of my teen years utterly bewildered by the actions of my peers, who seemed able to make friends and drop them without so much as a thought, and whose skill with a cutting remark or personal insult often left me stunned and bleeding (figuratively, for the most part) on the hallway floor. Though I’ve developed somewhat more sophisticated social skills over the years, and a few simple methods of self-protection, overall, I’m still cursed with what Chris Mautner might view as an “overly sincere, heart-on-the-sleeve-style” personality.
With only that in mind, I think I can perhaps understand some of the reasons why shojo manga (and shonen manga, for that matter) might appeal to me, in particular, and why even some of the most melodramatic stories published for that demographic often ring very true to me. Even more to the point, however, I find that many of the struggles faced by the heroines of shojo manga (or the older-but-still-young heroines in series such as NANA)–particularly in terms of personal relationships and finding one’s place in the world–are struggles I still face daily in my adult life.
Who am I? Who do I want to be? Whom can I trust? Does this person love me? These are all questions that still loom large in the life of this forty-something. When I cried for a half an hour after reading volume four of We Were There, it wasn’t because it reminded me of the pain of adolescence. It was because it reflected pain I was experiencing right then at the time. When I see Shugo Chara!‘s Amu struggling to reconcile the variations in all her would-be selves, it speaks to my ongoing career angst and the many decisions I have not yet made, even at my age.
While there are certainly shojo series that win me over with nostalgia (Please Save My Earth, for example, which is practically a perfect imprint of my 12-year-old mind), many more are favorites because they resonate with the current me. And though there are seinen and josei series that stimulate me much more on an intellectual level, they rarely address the unresolved issues at the core of my own life. Who am I? Who do I want to be? Whom can I trust? Does this person love me? Ask me a question about politics, religion, philosophy, the arts, human rights–on these grown-up concerns I have hours worth of fully-formed thoughts, all ready for discussion and debate. Ask me the others… well, I’m still there with Amu, Nanami, Nana, and Hachi, struggling to figure it all out.
If my life was more settled into a normal “adult” groove, would I still find such resonance in these kinds of books? It’s hard to say. On one hand, I think remaining in close touch with my younger self may just be a part of my personality. Perhaps I’d still enjoy these series as nostalgia pieces, even if I was truly sitting at the grown-up table. But with this in mind, I can certainly understand why a lot of other women might have difficulty finding many of them compelling. And though I think that trivializing them based on that is fairly problematic, I have a great deal of appreciation for women who are trying really hard not to.
I’m well aware that there are plenty of adult women who still enjoy (or perhaps even enjoy for the first time) young adult fiction, including things like shojo manga, so I know I’m not alone. I also know that their reasons for connecting with it may or may not be anything like my own, so this little post can only serve as personal account and nothing more. Take it as you will.