Let me rub this in a little: I found this in a used bookstore for seven dollars. SEVEN DOLLARS. The tradeoff was that someone had clearly scanned every page of They Were Eleven, whether or not this was for personal use or to upload to the internet is left to the imagination.
This was the first shoujo manga published in America, as far as I know. This, A, A’ and Love Song were all things Viz put out briefly before they decided girls didn’t like comics and went back to Baoh, Silent Moebius, Strain, and whatever else they were publishing at the time. Well, to be fair, they had also been trying to push X on people in different forms for years despite the fact that the people said no, and they did pick up a few things like Fushigi Yugi and Banana Fish once Sailor Moon and Rayearth started coming out… so it’s not like they abandoned girls totally, they were just too manly at the time to know what girls liked to read. It took a real girl’s girl like Mixx to bring females to the fold. Actually, I prefer classic stories like Four Shoujo stories to a lot of the carbon-copy high school romances we get now, so maybe the girls that were brought into the fold just have bad taste. Ignore the fact that I buy like half of those carbon-copy series and don’t actually own Swan yet.
What was I talking about again? Oh yes, Four Shojo Stories. In an odd decision, or perhaps just to show a cross section of the genre, this anthology has a high school drama/romance kinda thing, two sci-fi stories, and a josei-ish romance that actually features a male character and adult relationships. Actually, it’s not an odd decision, it’s a great cross-section.
Keiko Nishi is the artist behind Love Song, one of the other graphic novels I mentioned earlier, and she’s the one that did both of the stories that are not sci-fi. Both are fairly good and fairly short and both feel like stories that would fit into “Short Program” by Mitsuru Adachi. I was not a big fan of the last story, though. The last story is about a husband who is meeting with his lover and thinks back to the strange wife he’s considering leaving. A catalyst at the very very end makes him change his mind, but it still doesn’t seem like he’s got much love for his wife. Maybe it’s a subtle love that flew over my head. The first story had a nice supernatural twist at the end that I liked a lot.
They Were Eleven was FANTASTIC. It deserves all the praise I’ve heard for it over the years. The plot, a group of students have to undergo a test in a broken-down space ship with a crew of ten find out they have an eleventh person and the space ship keeps blowing up, is a great thing. It keeps escalating and throwing in these twists, there’s just a hint of romance, and the characters are just androgynous enough in a lot of cases. It was long and I never had any idea where the story was going. It was way different from what I usually read, and I wound up enjoying it a lot more than I thought I was going to. They Were Eleven alone was worth the seven bucks.
The Changeling, the other sci-fi story and the third story in the volume, actually reads a lot like an EC Comic “Weird Science” story. There is kind of a sadness that pervades it, and a lot of emotion, but the plot is fairly straightforward, and it’s definitely lacking in the action department. I liked it okay, but it wasn’t anything spectacular.
This article was hard to write because I kept digressing and my first attempt had about four extra paragraphs of manga history. Some other time.
Also for another time: Baoh. I forgot about Baoh until I started writing this article. The world needs more Hirohiko Araki.
EDIT: Apparently this is rare not because it went out of print quickly, but because it got pulled from the shelves. This had nothing to do with popularity, but because they actually didn’t ask permission to collect the individual comics like this, which is AMAZING. I figured these comics just weren’t that popular, and maybe that’s still true (there still wasn’t anything for me to read when I first got into manga), but… whichever badass decided that it would be okay to make an anthology like this without clearing it first has my respect. Brigid at Mangablog had brought this up after I posted this review, you can find the link and full details in the comments of this post.