Along with a tendency to depict single-gender relationships and an aesthetic preference for sameness, shojo manga also inherited from prewar girls’ magazines a narrative style that emphasized emotional interiority. As shojo manga developed in the 1970s, this expression of emotion became an exploration of psychological interiority. This narrative emphasis on the deep self also found expression in the visual style, which used a layered panel arrangement to create the illusion of depth.
The author most closely associated with creating a recognizable prose style in girls’ magazines is Nobuko Yoshiya (1896–1973), a prolific writer in the 1920s and 1930s whose stories of doseiai and of female friendships had a direct impact on later shojo manga. Her distinctive narrative style with its gentle tone of nostalgia, lyrical descriptions of beauty, and polite, feminine diction seemed to be an authentic expression of the innocence and purity of the shojo identity. Her most popular and influential work is Hana monogatari (Flower Tales), a massive collection of vignettes, each named after a flower. These stories were originally published in girls’ magazines between 1916 and 1924 and were subsequently compiled into a three-volume collection in 1934. Yoshiya’s prose is filled with words such as “delicate,” “slender,” “lithe,” and “exquisite,” echoing the aesthetic of the ideal girl image seen in Jun’ichi Nakahara’s artwork. For example, one story, “Sazanka” (Camellia), begins as follows:
The tale I am now going to relate is about an outstanding poetess named Ruriko.
“The flower of memory that blooms in my breast is the camellia.”
That modest flower possessed of a splendid simplicity. Oh, that thing whose every
petal appeared to me like the whisper of a beautifully refined lyric poem—
Many years ago, I had an elder sister with graceful eyebrows who tragically
passed on while still quite young. (Yoshiya 2003a, 1: 32)
Words such as “refined” (yukashii), “lyrical” (jojo), “tragic” (itamashii), and “graceful” (uruwashii) appear with great frequency in Yoshiya’s prose. Yoshiya also tends to repeat certain phrases and words two or three times to heighten the emotional impact. Her narration has a breathless, rushed tone, as if the narrator is so caught up in passion of the moment that she can barely express herself. Many of the sentences are fragments held together with ellipses or dashes or left dangling in successive rows, like poetry. In this example from Yaneura no ni shojo (The Two Girls in the Attic),6 the protagonist, Akiko, returns from visiting relatives in the country to the boarding house room where she has a doseiai relationship with Akitsu.
Akiko left behind the morning of the country town railway station and departed
for the capital.
Aah, her distant freedom!
At once Akiko’s chest swelled in anticipation.
[ . . . ]
—Ah! To the attic!
—Oh! To the triangular blue room!
—To the attic! To the attic!
The locomotive ran along on Akiko’s fevered imaginings and tears of longing.
The locomotive came to rest at the station in the capital—the pain of separation
lessened with every passing moment. (Yoshiya 2003b, 256)
This repetition of words and use of dangling phrases creates a style approaching poetry. Shojo manga writers appropriated this prose style as a means of expressing the inner thoughts of the main character. The throbbing, palpitating excitement, readily flowing tears, and lushly blooming flowers of Yoshiya’s fiction allowed the expression of the passions of teenage girlhood in ways that were not only acceptable to authority figures but also aesthetically pleasing to girls themselves. This narrative style became as recognizable a feature of shojo manga as the large eyes and willowy limbs of Nakahara’s illustrations.
In shojo manga, the fragmented narration expressing the emotions of the main character became a means of exploring the character’s interiority. Eiji Otsuka argues that extensive use of interior monologue is the fundamental difference between shojo manga and shonen (boys’) manga, as well as other action-oriented genres in which the story progresses through dialogue (Otsuka 1994, 60). Furthermore, shojo manga usually do not feature third-person narration. The interior monologue of the main character appears outside word or thought balloons; this approximates voice-over in film or first-person narration in the novel.7 ×Otsuka states that, therefore, in shojo manga, the feelings of the characters become as important as the dialogue, and the reader is drawn into the inner world of the characters (Otsuka 1994, 61). As in girls’ magazines, the emotional lives of teenage girls are given weight and significance. Interior monologue remains one of the dominant modes of expression in comics by women artists, even when those artists have moved beyond the bounds of classic sho jo manga in other ways.
The exploration of interiority in shojo manga also encourages the reader to identify with the main character. The inducement to identification is an inherent part of the comics medium, which shojo manga exploits. In forms of visual narrative that rely on photographed images, such as film or video, the viewer’s primary identification is with the camera; identification with the characters on screen is secondary. In comics, on the other hand, as Scott McCloud points out, the more generalized or iconic quality of the drawn face has the effect of drawing the reader in (McCloud 1993, 36). McCloud also points out that Japanese comics, which often juxtapose a simply drawn or “cartoony” figure against a more detailed background, emphasize this effect (1993, 37); shojo manga often use this technique. According to McCloud, this contrast encourages the reader to identify with the characters. In this case, that identification by the reader complements shojo manga’s exploration of the subjectivity of teenage girls.
As part of the attempt to invest shojo manga with emotional depth, the artists of 1970s shojo manga created a three-dimensional effect on the page through layering. This can refer to layering panels on top of each other; laying dialog, narration, or sound effects over two or more panels; or laying the faces or full bodies on top of or beside other panels.
In addition, artists also made liberal use of white space and diagonal lines, with the result that the panels appear splintered or exploded, while characters and scenes appear to float in space. Because the stories emphasize emotion and are not actionoriented, the composition of the panels is intended to create a mood rather than to guide the reader’s eye from one moment of action to the next. The effect is dreamy and nonlinear, which is appropriate to the tone of the stories, and illustrates the inner psychology of the shojo characters. The use of layering to create depth is analogous to the narrative attempt to give the characters emotional and psychological depth.