rushthatspeaks: (sparklepony only wants to read)
Subtitle: Gender, Intimacy, and the Cultural Production of Shōjo Manga.

Borrowed from [personal profile] rax's housemate Z. Why yes, I am spending the weekend in a house full of grad students who have piles of cultural theory all over the place. Not that this is much different from the state of things in general, but they're slightly different piles of theory from the ones my house has lying all over the place, which is always exciting.

Anyway. This book? SHINY. This is an ethnographic and sociological study of shoujo manga focused on the interface between production and consumption: the ways in which the main shoujo magazines create and maintain social spaces within their pages and the ways that those social spaces both act as a genuine artistically productive community and yet are centered around the commercial bottom line, and the ways that pop culture in general influences and is influenced by the ideas of girlhood formulated by and reflected in shoujo.

I realize that a percentage of you have at this point gone out to buy the book, and a different percentage of you have tuned out entirely. This is a very academic text, and it will be most useful to those of you actively into manga studies, but I think it would also be interesting to publishing geeks generally and very interesting to people working on fandom anthropology.

Prough did extensive fieldwork at all four of the major shoujo publishers (Kodansha, Shogakukan, Shueisha, Hakusensha) and, while she had the usual problem with getting access to manga artists (who usually work under pen names, have ridiculous deadline pressures, and tend to be reclusive), she interviewed many editors and staffers at several levels. This is therefore one of the most informative books I've seen on the production of manga in general and the ways that editors and artists work together. It is not remotely similar to the model U.S. readers and writers are probably most familiar with.

She also goes into detail about how shoujo magazines maintain a base of devoted readers who feel invested in the magazine's content-- they use features such as reader surveys with prizes, accessories and gifts included with the magazines, mail-order giveaways, and pages for fanart and for reader feedback. In order to get the mail-order gifts or the included accessory pack, you have to buy a copy of the magazine, which encourages readers to get their own; but the commonality of similar characters etc. on merchandise used in everyday life helps foster a social group among readers of the magazine. In addition, the manga contests the magazines run have become the principal way for the magazines to locate and groom new artists, meaning that the artists and the fanbase have many of the same interests and are of very similar demographics. Any reader has the hope of ending up published in her favorite magazine, either on the fanpages or as a professional. Prough analyzes the gendered tracks in the Japanese workforce-- you can be management track or clerical track, and most men are the former and most women the latter-- which means that for quite a while shoujo artists were young and female and shoujo editors were older and male, because editors are a management-track position. This seems to be changing somewhat, and the increasing presence of young female editors who came into the industry through reading the magazines as children indicates to Prough that the community-building constructions the magazines engage in, although essentially corporate and fueled by trendiness, company sponsorship, and the ever-present need to sell more manga, do in fact succeed in arousing a real sense of empathy, intimacy, and artistic inspiration among the readership.

I would love to see someone do a comparison between this and the internet gift-economy of English-language media fandom, which also gives rise to professional artists on occasion, but which not only does not have corporate sponsorship but is possibly technically illegal. (The Japanese publishing companies appear to deal with doujinshi via a lot of really intense denial, the school of ignore harder and maybe it will go away. This is fairly similar in some ways to English-language media fandom; what we don't have here, to my knowledge, is anything resembling this level of corporate-constructed version of fan community, and I am curious as to why not.)

Prough also takes a social trend (the late-nineties kogal style), and shows how it disseminates into shoujo and the manga both modifies and intensifies it-- her example here is a reading of Fujii Mihona's Gals!, which I was glad to see someone giving critical attention to as it is a) good b) sociologically fascinating and c) overlooked.

So yeah, I highly recommend this in several directions. I think it could do more with gender theory, though there is some here, and I'm not sure how I feel about Prough's view of josei as a subset of shoujo, because I do think there is a significant difference in the ways the companies expect their audience to react to character portrayals and to the magazines in general as the audience ages. (Prough talks some about the development of sexual content in magazines for a younger audience, but that's a different thing.) All in all, though, this is a thorough and interesting work covering ground I haven't seen before, and while it's incredibly dense and follows very conventional academic prose structures almost to a fault, it's still relatively readable. It also has a bibliography of Double Amazing Helpfulness, which I am going to be using as reference material for, uh, some time to come.


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March 2017

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