mō ichido, shōjo. (70s, 80s & 90s shōjo manga retrospective)

Takemiya Keiko - Kagami no kuni no shōnen-tachi

Kagami no kuni no shonen-tachi
  • Boys Through the Looking Glass
  • B5 / hard cover / 117 pages
  • Shinshokan / 1980

To be quite honest, I don't like "boys" as the object of fangirlish "moe" very much, or really at all. So it's pretty odd that I'm a Takemiya Keiko fan, because a large part (or at least a large famous part) of Takemiya's career has focused on exploring what it is about "boys" and "boyhood" that she finds so fascinating. This is an art and essay collection about exactly that: poetry, novels, movies, actors, and singers that Takemiya encountered in her youth and early adulthood, which led her down the path that would culminate in the creation of an entirely new genre of shōjo manga: "shōnen-ai". Although the word had yet to be invented in 1980, when this book was published, you could say this is a record of Takemiya's "moe".

The book starts with Byron, Rilke, and Cocteau, which will be of no surprise to fans of Takemiya's work (Gilbert Cocteau, you see? And Rilke is featured heavily in Takemiya's popular science fiction piece Silvester no hoshi kara), then goes on to explore novels about boys that Takemiya discovered and fell in love with when she was young, such as Hesse's Beneath the Wheel and Henry James' The Turn of the Screw, as well as the classic boys' adventure books of Erich Kästner. I love this part, because I did not expect to see Takemiya draw fanart of Peter Pan and even Arsène Lupin in The Hollow Needle!

Kagami no kuni no shonen-tachi

As said, I have very little interest in boys, but when Takemiya writes about how the gentleman thief Lupin is lovable because he's a grown man with the cheek and odd sincerity of a young boy, I can't help but nod along. I was initially confused by her inclusion of The Turn of the Screw (mostly because I dislike it), but then I remembered that all the while reading it I kept asking myself, "Okay, is Henry James actually insinuating that Miles was sexually abused by the man now possessing him, and it's his Victorian sensibilities making the insinuation really truly opaque, or am I merely reading this through my slash goggles?" and then her fascination with the book clicked with me. If I had discovered the novel much earlier, it might have fascinated me, too.

The next section is about movies that Tekemiya has found inspiration in, such as Malcolm McDowell's If.... (1968). Takemiya writes that this was the first time she saw a concrete example of the workings of an English all-boys public school, which she would later incorporate into works such as Kaze to ki no uta. She claims that If.... gave her almost everything she needed, so when she finally saw Les amitiés particulières, she wasn't nearly as impressed. I found that quite interesting, because I'm pretty sure that Les amitiés particulières is what gave Hagio Moto the material to draw November Gymnasium and later The Heart of Thomas, and I had always assumed it was the same with Takemiya and Kaze to ki no uta. Other movies she mentions include Tarkovsky's Ivan's Childhood and Girl with a Suitcase with Jacques Perrin. This section also features fanart of Ivan's Childhood and If...., as well as Bergman's The Silence.

Kagami no kuni no shonen-tachi

Sadly, he rest of this collection left me cold. It's almost entirely about... the Vienna Boys' Choir. I don't think there's anything in the world that I find less interesting, and Takemiya spends twenty-eight pages talking about boys' choirs and her travels in Europe attending concerts. I just. I can't. I find reading about the inspiration behind the Year 24 Group's work incredibly fascinating, which is why I bought this book to begin with, but I just can't. But if you're a fan of European boys' choirs, especially from the late 70s, I'm sure this section of the book will be of great interest to you. I guess. I think. I wouldn't know. I believe the gist of it is that Takemiya finds the short period between boyhood and adulthood fascinating because it's so fleeting, and what's interesting about boy singers is that they themselves are old enough to realize on an intellectual level that their boyhood is fleeting and almost at an end, because it's made so blatantly obvious by the threat of the voice change that will inevitably end any boy singer's career. I get it on an intellectual level, too, but I just don't care. I'm so sorry.

At the end of the book there's also two short manga by Takemiya, Hime kuzushi and its sequel, Shinbashi no gofunkan. They're about a high school boy nicknamed "Hime (princess)", who is in love with a beautiful older woman who works as a hostess (what the Japanese call modern-day geisha type work, which may or may not include prostitution). In the first story he sleeps with her and gets obsessed with her to the point that he starts dressing up as a woman to crash her bar, and in the second story he picks up and messes with an older straight guy who gets an erection looking at him in the subway. These stories were great, completely made up for the boys' choirs, and I think they must be pure reductions of Takemiya's moe.

Other than the fanart I already mentioned, this collection also contains a handful of artworks that were used as covers for JUNE magazine and a few Kaze to ki no uta pieces. These, too, are amazing, and I think if you're interested (like me) in the Year 24 Group, this book is well worth getting a hold of. But if you're only looking for color art by Takemiya, I wouldn't recommend it—too much text, most of it probably about topics you don't care about, and only around 20 pieces of art.

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Writings > Translations