A Profile of the Sparkling Life of Shojo Manga Pioneer Eiko Hanamura

posted on by Lynzee Loveridge & Matthieu Pinon

Inimitable manga artist Eiko Hanamura passed away on December 3 but behind she leaves an impressive legacy that forever shaped shojo manga. At 91-years-old, Hanamura spent over six decades of her life creating artwork filled with soft colors and featuring the cherub-like faces of young girls. Her artistic pursuits would lead her to become the director of the Japan Cartoonists Association and a permanent member of France's Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts.

Long before she was recognized for her art, she was the daughter from a long line of merchants descended from Shobei Sugimiya. She was born in 1929 in the city of Kawagoe in Saitama prefecture, approximately 25 miles northwest of Tokyo. Not long after her birth, Hanamura's parents divorced and she was taken in by her grandmother, who was a businesswoman in her own right. The two lived together until her grandmother passed near the end of World War II.

When it came time to enter high school, Hanamura enrolled in Kawagoe Girls' High School. The institution had remained nearly untouched by bombings during the war. Hanamura herself was fascinated by artist Jun'ichi Nakahara who was renowned for his fashion designs and paintings. His work was featured prominently in Shōjo no Tomo magazine and his art is credited for sparking the large-styled eyes that are a staple of shōjo manga.

Hanamura enrolled in the Joshibi University of Art and Design in Tokyo's Suginami ward in hopes of pursuing an artistic career, but found romance instead. She met stage actor Eiji Hanamura, dropped out of college, got married, and moved to Osaka with him while he pursued his theater career. The two began living in an apartment above a bookstore that rented manga to customers, including works by Osamu Tezuka and Sanpei Shirato. In the late 1950s, manga was considered a burgeoning medium and even the bookstore owner Toshihiko Fujiwara was drawing his own Kashihon manga. Book rentals, including manga rentals, soared in post-war Japan. Fujiwara recruited Hanamura to help him with his comics and payed her...far more than she was previously earning.

In that bookstore in Osaka in 1959, she made her debut as a manga artist with her story Purple Fairy. Her story was groundbreaking; even though shōjo manga was in its infancy, the genre was already dominated by male artists. In 1964, her work moved out of the bookstore rental shelves and into Nakayoshi with the publication of Shiroi Hana ni Tsuzuku Michi (A Road to White Flowers). Her popularity continued to grow when, in 1966, Weekly Margaret magazine introduced The Girl in the Fog (Kiri no Naka no Shōjo). The story grabbed teen readers' attention with its depiction of a relationship between a girl and her mother and drama between classmates. The series was adapted into a live-action show in 1975 titled Katei no Himitsu (Family Secrets).

Beginning in the 1970s, Hanamura expanded beyond shōjo works and into stories aimed at older women, including the publication of her semi-autobiographical series Hanakage no On'na (A Woman in the Shadow of Flowers). She also began working with established suspense and mystery authors to provide illustrations for their stories, including Yasuo Uchida, Shizuko Natsuki, and Keigo Higashino.

Thirty years after her first manga debuted, Hanamura received the Japan Cartoonists' Association Excellence Award for her artistic achievements in 1989. She joined the ranks alongside other comic pioneers like Fujiko Fujio, Riyoko Ikeda, and Katsuhiro Otomo. She continued to win accolades well into her life, including the Grand Prize for Manga at the 1st Japan Media Arts Festival for her adaptation of the literary classic The Tale of Genji.

Hanamura continued to enjoy art into the twilight of her career. An exhibition of her illustrations spanning 60 years was held at the Hiroki Oda Museum of Art in Fukuoka in 2019. More importantly, Hanamura's work will continue to live on in the faces of bright-eyed heroines of comics and its readers the world over.

A version of this article originally appeared in AnimeLand magazine written by Matthieu Pinon.

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