Jason Thompson's House of 1000 Manga - Five Badass Shojo Mangaby Shaenon K. Garrity, Nov 15th 2012
Five Badass Shojo Manga
Don't get me wrong. I love shojo manga. I just spent the better part of the morning girly-screaming over my brand-new copy of Moto Hagio's The Heart of Thomas, one of the greatest graphic novels ever made. But sometimes, reading shojo romances and fantasies and nostalgic school stories, I hunger for red meat. Where's the intensity? Where's the action? Where's the violence?
And when I say intensity, I don't mean emotional intensity. When I say action, I don't mean hot boys getting it on. When I say violence, I'm not looking for some mealy-mouthed rhetorical dodge like when Martin Scorsese said The Age of Innocence was his most violent movie. I'm saying, hey, shojo manga! Why is no one in this book firing a machine gun from a motorcycle in midair?
In short, where are the badass shojo manga?
Right here. Below are my five favorite shojo manga with awesomely tough characters fighting through awesomely tough situations. Which then catch on fire.
In one of the liner notes to her most popular manga, Fushigi Yûgi, Yuu Watase mentions that she's more into shonen anime than shojo manga. It shows in her work, which tends to feature crisp anime-style artwork and romantic shojo-style takes on shonen tropes: harem manga, “magical girlfriend” manga, stories about psychics and magic users battling for power.
Watase manga like Fushigi Yûgi and Alice 19th feature more intense action scenes than your typical shojo manga (even blatant Fushigi Yûgi imitators like Tohko Mizuno's Haruka: Beyond the Stream of Time are inert compared to their swashbuckling progenitor), but they pale beside Ceres, her crazed science-fiction/action/horror/feminist epic. Heroine Aya is a more-or-less typical sweet shojo heroine whose goals revolve around love and nurturing, but she lives in a harsh world of scheming millionaires, mad scientists, and monsters, and thus must surround herself with a protective shell of badasses.
When a girl in Ceres saves people with the power of song, she doesn't do it in some sissy metaphorical magical-girl way. She does it by channeling her psychic powers through her voice until she explodes.
Sample Badass Moment: In Volume 10, the most badass volume of Ceres, Aya is about to be raped by an evil spirit possessing the body of her twin brother. (Ew.) Her super-strong bodyguard/boyfriend Toya is unavailable, having fallen from a cliff to his death in the previous volume. Or has he? Cut to Toya washing ashore in an isolated village with amnesia. After gradually recovering his health and his memory, he commandeers a motorcycle and rides hell into Tokyo. The bad guys attack him with cars and helicopters, which blow up; he then grabs a machine gun, flies off a ramp, crashes his motorcycle into a helicopter, and takes over the helicopter at gunpoint. By then Aya is long past the whole rape threat and is in the clutches of an evil laboratory, so Toya crashes the helicopter through the plate-glass windows of the lab. And so, after 86 pages, the sequence ends and Aya and Toya are reunited.
Only to be separated again in the next volume.
Sample Badass Dialogue: “Gaze upon the fool I was, Aya. A fool who had forgotten that men are beasts, only good for their seed.”
Fangirl manga team CLAMP is now best known for works like the frilly shojo fantasy Cardcaptor Sakura and the slightly less frilly shonen fantasies Chobits, Tsubasa and xxxHOLiC, but the group's early works were dark and bloody, a weird mix of graphic violence, goth sex appeal, and a generous dash of pure nerdiness. CLAMP's professional debut, the moody sci-fi/fantasy/religious mashup RG Veda, is pretty badass, but the gang's passion for absurdly superpowered characters beating the crap out of each other reached its peak with X, the story of approximately six million hot young psychic warriors and their efforts to blast ragged holes in each other. Of all manga to feature a death by crucifixion, this is definitely in the top ten.
Fans often express exasperation at CLAMP's tendency to abandon series without finishing them, and X ends on the biggest and most frustrating cliffhanger of them all, with the main characters poised on the brink of their long-awaited final battle to the death. But one of the reasons X remains unfinished is that CLAMP was unable to find a publisher willing to print an ending as gory as the one they had planned. And that's badass.
Sample Badass Moment: Not to spoil anything, but MASSIVE SPOILERS WHERE I TOTALLY SPOIL THINGS midway through X, one of the main guys suddenly turns evil out of nowhere and, just to prove it, murders his innocent curly-haired moppet of a little sister. Then he joins the bad guys, who are hardcore environmentalists bent on wiping out humanity to save the planet. Damn, this manga is messed up.
Sample Badass Dialogue: “We will kill all who defile the Earth! We will bring that change!” Spoken to a guy with giant bloody shards of glass sticking out of his body.
Recently, the movie Black Swan reminded us that ballet is a giant sucking hole of horror, physical torment, and insanity, a truth the 1970s manga classic Swan knows all too well. Sure, it looks pretty—in fact, it's one of the loveliest manga ever drawn—but every volume is packed with grueling training sequences to rival the most outlandish shonen tournament manga, interspersed with characters freaking out from the sheer pressure of ballet while lightning bolts and flames crackle behind them. Kyoko Ariyoshi was clearly influenced by the 1948 Powell/Pressburger film The Red Shoes, which is also very pretty, yes, but ends in violent death. Sorry for the spoilers, but what else do you expect from ballet?
Sample Badass Moment: Is it when Larissa dances Swan Lake and does all 32 turns as doubles? Is it Sayoko's triumphant return to the stage after severing her Achilles tendon? Possibly, but my vote goes to heroine Masumi going psychosomatically deaf, a condition that's only cured by her tutor marching up and slapping her out of it. “You shut down whenever you try to escape from your fears!” he shouts. “Because you are too weak to face them!” Fortunately, the dressing-down inspires Masumi to straighten out and stop being deaf, already.
Sample Badass Dialogue: “Ballet is not all about beauty and purity! No one would improve, if it was! There's also avarice! And ego! That's normal for humans!”
One of the most beloved shojo manga of all time, Banana Fish is also one of the least shojo-y manga imaginable. Set in the gritty world of New York street gangs, as imagined by a Japanese artist who thinks everyone in America is constantly dodging bullets and running drugs, it's about a charismatic young gangbanger and former rent boy rising to power on the streets and taking revenge against everyone who exploited him while an innocent Japanese journalist, embedded in the gang, dreams of jumping his bones.
Okay, the shonen-ai angle is pretty shojo, but the grim story, action-packed plotting, and no-nonsense art are in a class by themselves. Is it the most badass shojo manga? Very likely. And tousle-haired River Phoenix lookalike Ash Lynx is one of the all-time most badass manga heroes.
Sample Badass Moment: Back when Banana Fish was running as the sole shojo manga in Viz's late, lamented PULP magazine, a monthly anthology of badass, editor Carl Horn would sometimes stop by my desk to update me on the action. One month, he criticized Akimi Yoshida for drawing Ash tricked out in huge bandoliers, when the firearm he was carrying did not fire that type of cartridges. In the course of his explanation, Carl may even have implied that a male gun-otaku manga-ka (like, say, Doing Time creator Kazuichi Hanawa, who was arrested in 1994 for hiding real guns in his collection of perfectly-crafted imitation guns) would not have made such an elementary error.
But Carl spoke too soon! In the next installment, instead of firing the cartridges in the bandoliers, Ash set them on fire and used them as grenades! We will never doubt you again, Akimi Yoshida.
Sample Badass Dialogue: “Get back! He's got a grenade launcher!”
All Yumi Tamura manga
Yumi Tamura is the queen of badass shojo manga. All her manga are about super-tough people banding together to do awe-inspiring things. Basara, the 27-volume saga of a girl who disguises herself as a man to lead a military rebellion in a postapocalyptic future, is her masterpiece, which is why I've already written about it in a past column, and is an epic of badass moments.
But there's also much to be said for Tamura's shorter works, like Chicago, about a hard-drinking, hard-fighting mercenary rescue squad in a near future where Tokyo has been felled by an earthquake. Chicago is only two volumes long (it ends leaving plenty of room for more adventures, but Tamura has shown no sign of returning to it since its end in 2001), but virtually every page contains something more incredibly hardcore than you have ever seen from characters with giant sparkly shojo eyes and even more ginormous shojo hair. Most of Tamura's other work, including her current series, 7 Seeds, is still untranslated, leaving English readers deprived of much vital badassitude.
Sample Badass Moment: Okay, so there's a scene in Chicago where the heroine's partner is in prison, having been railroaded by the government after escaping a secret cover-up operation in which he lost a leg. Being a music prodigy, he keeps busy by playing the cello. Then, one night, he escapes by using his cello strings, which are secretly made of razor wire, to cut the bars from his cell window. The prison guards pursue him, but he descends into the sewers beneath the prison and leaps from a sewer pipe, landing safely in the sidecar of the heroine's speeding motorcycle. Which she's driving through the sewers. Did I mention he has only one leg? The whole thing is so badass that the guards decide to claim he drowned and forget they ever saw it.
Do that, Fruits Basket. I dare you.
Sample Badass Dialogue, Chicago Edition: “We're the rescue squad. We don't care whether you want to live or die. Our job is to rescue you! If you want to die later, that's your business.”
Sample Badass Dialogue, Basara Edition: “Having something worth dying for is never the same as the willingness to die.”
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