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

Chiba Tetsuya - on early shōjo manga

Hanamura EIko, CHiba Tetsuya, Takemiya Keiko

Takemiya: Chiba, you were drawing shojo manga at the start of your career.

Chiba: There were so few female manga artists back then1, so it wasn't just me, but people like Ishinomori Shotaro, Akatsuka Fujio, and Matsumoto Reiji also drew shojo manga back when they were still up and comers. Tezuka Osamu and other artists of an older generation than us were active in shonen manga at that time, so we couldn't break into that demographic. We drew shojo manga because that's where the work was.

Takemiya: Wasn't it difficult for you to draw girls?

Chiba: Not only was it difficult, we were four boys in my family. I wasn't close to any girls growing up. My mother was someone who raised four sons, she ruled with an iron fist. She wasn't traditionally feminine.

Takemiya: She must have been a strong mother.

Chiba: Exactly. So at the beginning, I thought girls were sensitive and would cry a lot, and that a strong girl was someone who would silently endure hardships without ever complaining... that's the kind of image I had of girls in my mind. But no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't really understand the thoughts and emotions of a girl. Back then, I would go to used bookstores in Kanda2 to look for resources like magazines and novels for girls, as well as books on fashion design. I mean, I had no idea what girls were wearing, like what type of underwear (laugh).

Hanamura: You didn't know what skirts looked like?

Chiba: I knew what skirts looked like on the outside (laugh), but I didn't know what girls wore under them. And what would a girl's room look like, how would it be furnished? I especially had a hard time imagining what a rich girl's room would be like. I had a lot of trouble when I had to draw girls who were from well-off families; I had no idea what sort of curtains they would have, so I ended up decorating them with Japanese-style foliage scrollwork3 (laugh). If it's a girl from a working-class Tokyo family, I'd be able to imagine her room a little better, like how she'd probably use an old box of mandarins as her desk.

Hanamura: Back then, Japan was very poor, so I don't think there were that many well-off families.

Chiba: No, but in manga, you'd have characters who are daughters of rich families. I imagined there'd be a fountain in their garden, and maybe they'd have a pool, and so on, and I wrote a great deal of very sad shojo manga that way.

Hanamura: Back then, the publishers all ordered, "Write stories about girls in misery." They told us to make the readers cry as much as we could. That was the atmosphere back when Chiba and I were young manga artists.

Chiba: Movies were like that too back then. The popular movies were all about mothers and daughters, or about step-mothers.

Takemiya: So the editors told you to write manga modelled after hit movies?

Chiba: I'm sure the movies had an influence. Literally writers like Kawabata Yasunari and Enchi Fumiko4 were also writing novels for girls, and most of them were sad stories about girls who had to endure a horrible fate, but still acted admirably. But when I was writing stories where girls endured, and then endured some more, I started having so much pent-up stress. One day, when I was just so tired, my protagonist snapped. She said "I can't endure this anymore!" and slapped a boy. When I turned in that manuscript, the editor was so shocked. He said, "You'd only just gotten popular! Your popularity will suffer with a protagonist like this, please re-do this," but fortunately, I'm a very slow writer, so my deadline had already passed. They couldn't do anything but print it.

What happened was, I received so many letters from fans who copied the scene of the protagonist snapping and slapping a boy, saying, "This is why I love this protagonist, Yuka-chan!" So I thought, "What I drew was right." There's no different between girls and boys, when you're vexed you're vexed, and when you're angry, you're angry. From that moment on, I completely changed what I was writing.

Takemiya: I was reading your shojo manga thinking your girl protagonists were full of energy and very realistic. I think that can be credited with making the readers realize that they were no different from boys. Maybe that was an incentive for some attitudes to start changing.

Chiba: Back then, I reacted very strongly to letters from fans, and they encouraged me to keep going. There were many times I'd read a letter and decide that what I was doing wasn't wrong, and that I should continue down the path I was going.

Takemiya: When it comes down to it, the direct feedback from readers is what writers can trust the most, and what you can most confidently use as guideposts. I'm a fan of your Shidenkai no Taka5, and I feel that how you drew the protagonist of that manga shows influence from shojo manga, such as your Yuka o yobu umi6.

Chiba: You know, I'd been writing shojo manga for so long, when I started drawing boys, they'd still have long eyelashes (laugh).

Takemiya: That's what I love!

Chiba: Their eyes became moist. I was trying very hard to draw boys, but what do you call it, my hand had gotten used to a certain way of drawing faces, so I ended up drawing long eyelashes, and for a while that was a big problem for me. It took me some time to get out of that habit. As I wrote sidekick characters or really despicable villains in shonen manga, the eyelashes started to fade away. But when I look at close-ups from Ashita no Joe, I still think he has quite long eyelashes.

Takemiya: I really loved the eyelashes on Shidenkai no Taka, like how they looked when he had downcast eyes. In many ways, I've been influenced by Chiba's shojo manga-style shonen heroes.

  1. Chiba Tetsuya made his debut in 1958, and wrote his first shōnen manga in 1961.
  2. Kanda is a district of Chiyoda, Tokyo famous for its many used bookstores.
  3. A fabric pattern popular for items such as furoshiki, and not at all associated with the upper classes in Japan.
  4. Both popular writers of the Showa period.
  5. 1963-1965. An early shonen hit by Chiba about young pilots in the Pacific War.
  6. 1959-1960. An early shojo work by Chiba.

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