Four Shojo Stories

March 7, 2007

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.

6 Responses to “Four Shojo Stories”

  1. […] more, Connie at Slightly Biased Manga beat the odds and found a copy for $7, and she just posted her review. Also, if you haven’t already, check out Matt’s site for lots of background info on […]

  2. P-chan Says:

    I just “stole” this from my friend (don’t worry, she’ll probably smuggle it back the next time she visits) and I have to say this is a definite buy. They Were 11 is brilliant, though when I first started reading I was like, “This is by Moto Hagio? It looks nothing like her!” This was definitely the best story in the collection, and it should have been the last. I would have liked the last two stories a lot more if I hadn’t read them right after They Were 11.

    I really liked the first story, especially since it didn’t try to sugarcoat anything by having everything being just some weird misunderstanding between the mother and daughter. And I really liked the girl’s last words to the boy. They really struck me more than if she had lied about life being some beautiful dream come true or some other out of place sentimentality.

    The last two stories were good enough, but they REALLY shouldn’t have been placed after They Were 11. It’s just not fair to put them in a order where they don’t have a fair fighting chance. The only trouble I had with them was the end of last story. I didn’t like what happened to the wife. It seemed a bit too cruel to me.

  3. Connie Says:

    I haven’t read very much Moto Hagio, so I didn’t notice that They Were 11 looked different from her usual style. I read A, A Prime, but that was years and years ago, and I’d read a short story that was in The Comics Journal a few years ago, but I’ve always been a little disappointed that more of her work hasn’t been sneaked into English over the years.

    I agree that They Were 11 should have been the last story in the collection, though. I think all the stories in the volume were good, but you’re right that the last two were completely underwhelming after finishing that one.

    I have to try and dig the book out and take a look at the other stories in order to remember them now, though. I think that two of them were by Keiko Nishi, and I think I preferred them to any of the stories in her book Love Songs, but you are right in that they were completely blown out of the water by They Were 11.

  4. P-chan Says:

    Moto Hagio is really good. I keep hoping that Vertical or CMX will see the light and start publishing more of her and the rest of Year 24. Titles like Song of Wind and Trees, The Rose of Versailles, A Cruel God Reigns, and Hi Izuru Tokoro no Tenshi are long overdue for an english edition.

    At least they finally got Black Jack published.

  5. Connie Says:

    I hope so. I keep hearing that the licenses for those old series are expensive since they’re so famous, and that they tend not to be well-received since a lot of people that read contemporary shoujo dislike the art, which is a real shame. There is much I would do to be able to read The Rose of Versailles and The Song of the Wind and Trees in English, and I’ve recently become very interested in Hi Izuru Tokoro no Tenshi. I’m also really, really fond of The Star of Cottonland and Yumiko Oshima’s art in general, and would love to see that series coast in on the recent popularity of Chi’s Sweet Home. And anything by Moto Hagio really, anything at all. The Poe Family, November Gymnasium, Otherworld Barbara, Heart of Thomas, A Cruel God Reigns, a short story collection, any and all of that would be fine, I think.

    I’m a little sad that the Year 24 work that Vertical dabbled in was To Terra, though I’m happy I got to read at least some Keiko Takemiya in English. Science fiction isn’t my preferred genre (though it certainly works for Hagio), and I think I would enjoy any of those other series a lot more than I did To Terra.

  6. P-chan Says:

    I haven’t read To Terra yet, though the recent anime adaption was really good (probably because it was 26 episodes instead of three volumes), and I liked it despite not liking sci-fi in general (Soldier Blue is too cool for words).

    It’s ironic that I dislike sci-fi when two of my all time favorite series are sci-fi. Cardcaptor Sakura won a the Seiun Award, which is sci-fi exclusive (CCS is science ficiton how?). And Please Save My Earth (potentially my favorite manga series of all time anywhere) is technically science fiction. Thank god that Viz had the guts to publish it in English.

    Still, it’s practically a sin that the famous Candy Candy or iconic Glass Mask hasn’t been put out especially when they have such a strong fanbase in the US. And I’m surprised that they keep publishing Kaori Yuki’s lesser manga when her strong point is obviously her one volumes series and oneshots. No one can make insanity as gorgeous as she can, especially when she applies it to gothic shounen-ai stories, like Kaine (not to be confused with Count Cain) and Boys Next Door, which I consider some of her best. Well, Camelot Garden was also pretty good, but that’s fake shounen-ai, and probably needed to be a few pages longer in handle the humongous amount of information overload.

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