The Silence on Josei Manga
So Ed Chavez posted a really interesting question on twitter the other day. Why aren’t we talking about Josei?
It made me think a bit about the genre, reflecting on the things that have been posted and realised, yes, we’ve been quite mum about Josei. There’s hardly any people talking about it. Interestingly, there are people saying Josei in relation to a manga and loved them dearly (Wandering Son, Pink, Helter Skelter, Sakuran, etc.) but it is a surprise that as readers and to a degree, critics, haven’t really voiced what we think of the genre. Even academics hardly pay attention to josei with only one book and a handful of articles discussing the genre.
Is it because it’s hard to talk about what women want? Is it because women would rather escape in the pages of shoujo or shounen and be immersed in a fantasy rather than face the reality of loneliness, fears, and worries of an adult woman?
Maybe. I say that as a woman who hardly talks about Josei as a genre. I’ve actually mentioned a couple of Josei titles and authors in this blog but I really haven’t exhausted the genre as I have boys’ love.
At most I can reflect on my interactions with my friends and sixty percent will admit that they refuse to touch Josei things for various reasons (too boring, too sad, rather read shounen, i like my shoujo/bl fantasy, etc.) and the remaining forty will admit that reading Josei has been painful. Beautiful but painful. Josei manga touches on issues that trouble women at their worst, containing insecurities piled up by years of media identifying how women should be. What women must be.
In yesterday’s discussion, Ed Sizemore raised the point that maybe it’s because the likes of Frederik Schodt didn’t talk about it. Well he did in Dreamland Japan but back then it was labeled as Ladies’ comics. レディースコミック (Ladies’ Comic) is a different animal compared to what we know as Josei. He featured Comic Amour and Yan Mama for mothers. He also did a feature of Milk Morinaga but I’m surprised he didn’t touch upon comic magazines like Feel Young, Young You, or Chorus where all the josei action was really happening. I mentioned that Schodt’s focus on Ladies’ comics was at most a predecessor to what we know as Josei today. In reflection, maybe Schodt’s feature is also the reason why people hardly talk about it. If women are so hooked on crazy fantasies of housewives, then really it’s not worth investing time on it. Back in the day, I reckon that we identify a Josei title if it had some kind of explicit sex in it since they never really showed that in shoujo (and boy was I sooooo wroooong about this). There was also a time that josei titles were associated with yuri too. Surprisingly, this messy view of josei is also true for me in the academe, where in my old university, the sociological exploration on why women are drawn to these kinds of materials are considered irrelevant. The reality is I needed to get out of that university just to find one that would consider this a relevant issue.
It’s interesting how quick we are to dismiss the interest of housewives while people still continue to sing and dedicate issues of journals and books to Osamu Tezuka. I find this particularly frustrating when manga has so much to offer but sadly, that’s just how the world turns and sadly things like this stay outside of the radar.
Take for example the interest in Insufficient Direction by Moyoco Anno. It’s basically a story that captures the relationship of Moyoco Anno with her husband Hideaki Anno. But looking at the asks in Vertical’s tumblr; people are more concerned in reading more about Hideaki Anno’s thoughts on his works or influences rather than read about his marital bliss. But what about Moyoco? Can’t we be interested with Moyoco Anno’s work process and inspirations too?
The silence on Josei might also be a reflection on our own neglect for things related to women. It’s not just men neglecting women but even women neglecting women. And this might be deliberate for some but it can also be something that we’ve just forgotten or taken for granted. I wonder if it’s a reflection of our submission to “the man” and how we can’t be bothered fighting the system anymore. Interesting how this thought has suddenly become a feminist argument but really, if anything, Josei manga is perhaps one of the most feminist genre out there and that should be recognised.
I think, more than ever, it’s time we should be talking about Josei. With more Josei titles coming in English, people can finally have an idea on how amazing this genre is and how diverse and subversive it can be.