In shōjo manga, a uniquely literary genre of Japanese comics, the relationships between characters are as meticulously crafted as the story’s action. Shōjo artists are renowned for their visual innovations, as well. Experimenting with page layouts, panel placement, the interplay of text and image, and expressionistic background effects, the three female manga artists of Four Shōjo Stories create a uniquely absorbing reading experience!
It would be impossible to write a review of Four Shōjo Stories without referencing its unique history. Who better to shed light on its origins than Matt Thorn, the original translator and author of the book’s introduction. Here’s a post he made on MangaBlog in March 2007. Suffice it to say that, although this wasn’t cheap, I am pleased to’ve found a copy significantly below the price range stated in Matt’s comments.
Of the four stories, two are sci-fi works by shoujo creators and the other two are by josei artist Keiko Nishi. I liked those by Nishi least, though they weren’t bad. The second one in particular had a melancholy vibe that I liked, but none of the characters were sympathetic.
I’d expected to like Moto Hagio’s “They Were Eleven,” since I’ve seen it praised before. I wasn’t disappointed. It seemed to drag a little initially (at 120 pp, it was by far the longest story in the collection) but picked up steam and by the end it was clear that all the stuff that happened at the outset had served a purpose. Fans of sci-fi in general but also fans of shoujo series that feature what I call “gender hijinks” would probably enjoy this story.
The surprise for me was Shio Sato’s “The Changeling.” I’d never heard of Sato before, but I liked her story just about as much as Hagio’s. In it, a competent and boyish female space pilot received a signal from a previously uncontacted planet and went to investigate. Her opinions on the inhabitants she encountered were thoughtful and different than I’d expected. The story stuck in my head after I had finished and made me wish something else by Sato would get licensed. It also had a cute final panel.
While the contents of Four Shōjo Stories might not be uniformly stellar, they’re still enjoyable. It’s too bad they probably won’t see the light of day in a readily accessible, $8.99 sort of package any time soon.