Anime Meta-Review


Glossary Entry : Shoujo


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    Abstract:   This title is used to describe anime that is intended for an audience of young females. Many western fans find this form, which has no western equivalent, fascinating. While the individual titles have much in common the shoujo genre is very wide.

The word shoujo is a Japanese word meaning young girl. When used of anime it is the most general term for a section of the anime market which is aimed at a female audience. Since this market is sizable and well established the actual content and style of this material covers a wide scope. It has also exerted an influence on mainstream anime, and may well be responsible for a great deal of what makes anime worthwhile for a western fan.

One of the most interesting parts of this domain is that there is no direct western equivalent. While cartoons and comics are roughly equivalent to anime and manga these have been almost completely dominated by the young male audience. As such many western male fans, and at least a percentage of the Japanese fan base, find this material intriguing. In addition many female fans find their tastes well matched by this genre, and its existence a welcome discovery.

In Japan the shoujo market is prolific and quite well defined. Certain manga collections focus on this audience and thus are always seeking out more material to please their readers. Thus shoujo is strongly defined by the source of the material and the demographic being addressed.

Outside of Japan the term is often used, and often used poorly, to address the stylistic similarity between these works. This often leads to mis-identification or trouble with shoujo titles that don't fit the mold. However since the importance of the original source and a Japanese demographic are reduced there is good reason to use the word in this way. Many knowledgeable shoujo fans, however, find this more casual usage irritating.

Trying to be too definite in a definition of `shoujo style' leads to many problems. However in general it is possible to say that shoujo material tends to have a strong focus on character and character interaction, with a correspondingly reduced focus on action and global story. In general, atmosphere and complex dialog are prized, and as much time is spent examining the minds, thoughts and feelings of the characters as anything else. Indeed the story often exists simply to set up scenes and explore the actions and re-actions of the characters involved. Even in shoujo with a strong background story and action, such as Fushigi Yugi or Weiss Kreuz, a lot of time is spent on character development. Naturally the interaction between males and females, and the difference in personality between the sexes, are a frequent element of shoujo material. Like most anime `young' characters predominate, and the number of characters tends to be quite high.

It is however an over-simplification to think that shoujo is `soft' or `love' focused. Shoujo stories can have dramatic and terrible events, the difference being that the focus is on the results of these events on the personalities of the characters. Likewise Love and romance can be simply another element for both bringing characters together and tearing them apart. In addition shoujo stories often focus on flawed, or outright villainous, characters. Given that shoujo writing tends to be strong, and the results are fully explored, shoujo can be easily as, or more, intense than any other form of anime.

Trying to identify a common `visual' style to shoujo material is even more difficult. However it is true to say that a great interest is placed in character design, with a notable number of `bishounen' (beautiful boys) in existence. This is especially true where the audience is older. Shoujo anime may also draw strongly from the style of the manga, using `visual' symbols drawn from the manga and even using a simpler, manga-like visual style for the anime.

Note that some of the stuff I include is not `really' shoujo by the Japanese definition, but is strongly stylistically related. This is an arguable decision, and depends of personal judgement, but I think it's more useful to non-japanese fans. Additionally I include magic girl show's here where the `shoujo' elements are strongly dominant. In other words if the `magic' is a seasoner to normal life, rather than a focus, it's probably here. For those who want examples `To Heart' made me determined to fudge the definition (it's not shoujo) while `Weiss Kreuz' made a strong argument for the reverse case (it is shoujo). The magic girl show `Fancy Lala', where the magic simply exists to let her experience a different flavor of normal life, is a shoujo dominated magical girl show.

written: Mon Feb 19 16:24:45 EST 2001

Words by Andrew Shelton, Web by Ticti, Last Compile: Wed Aug 5 12:39:50 WST 2009