Either you love it or you love to hate it -- but let's go back, back, back to the elements of the all-important "girly anime" and learn why it's a great day to be a shoujo freak
You know, being a shoujo fan the past couple of years has been really, truly, forensically sweet. Even during the height of Sailor Moon's popularity, the anime and manga biz on the West Coast was still heavier on the bruiser boys than the dainty crying girls. While some companies like Viz pushed a few shoujo titles into the comic marketplace, for years anime had a definite deficiency of Vitamin Girly. The lack of romantically driven women led me, the strapping young man that I may be, to cry about it regularly into my Dragon Ball Z bath towel.
As Tokyopop started releasing the Sailor Moon manga, and picking up more and more shoujo manga titles, the genre really started to explode in American fandom. Years ago when the idea of an entire convention dedicated to shoujo seemed far-fetched, it now stands as a testament of a growing love of female-targeted and female-created comics and animation.
We are now getting all of the hot titles of Japan, and as pleased as we are, there is still a lack of earlier shoujo works in translation. Shoujo Rewind will attempt to fill in that gap with information on some earlier shoujo works that some searching will bring up. Go back, young shoujo fan...
I admit to being oblivious to the existence of what is evidently one of the seminal blocks of shoujo media, a work that has endlessly inspired countless shoujo artists since its publication in the late 70s. Even after Tomoko Taniguchi kept mentioning its impact on her work before her interview with Animefringe, I kept it filed away in my brain until I could somehow gain access to some Candy Candy and find out what was so important about it. Then those kind fansubbers, known to none yet friend to all, subbed the animated film version of Candy Candy, and thus, this article could be written for all of you shoujo fans. Ah, the circle of otaku life.
First, a bit of history. The manga, written by Kyoko Mizuki and illustrated by Yumiko Igarashi, ran for four years in the acclaimed shoujo anthology, Nakayoshi (famous in America specifically for also running the Sailor Moon manga), and was turned into a popular anime series and film during the late seventies. Much like the regard that contemporary fans place on the other great seminal shoujo series of the 70s, Rose of Versailles, its popularity has continued into the modern era. Merchandise for Candy Candy still exists, the manga is still read, and the anime fondly remembered by contemporary critics and creators of the genre.
The film version of Candy Candy, clocking in at only an half hour, mostly serves as a retelling of some of the earliest events of the manga, condensed for consumption by those who are already avid fans of the drawn pages. The story, taking a serious nod to 19th century European orphan stories, revolves around a beautiful blonde baby left at the doorstep of an orphanage. Taken in by the kind nuns, she spends an idyllic childhood, growing a kind, yet stalwart heart. In a most Dickensian turn, she is later adopted by the rich Ragan family to serve as a companion to their spoiled children, leaving her to face many torments as the poor girl in a new, terrifying, and cold world.
Candy faces immediate social torments from her new family, her "sister" Eliza spilling a tub of water on her before she even enters the house for the first time. Splitting her time with her woefully dusty attic bedroom and familial responsibilities to endure slavery for Eliza's entertainment initially tends to squelch her happy atmosphere. Candy's strength, however, is perseverance in any circumstance, and she does her best to adapt to her new lifestyle. Still, when challenged too much, her temper fires up, and the spunky orphan girl even goes as far as to beat the hell out of her adopted brother Neal when his insults become too much.
In this sparklingly cruel world, she, as any good shoujo heroine, meets her Prince Charming. As is usual with such fairytale imagery, their first meeting leaves Candy with no name, and no identity. However, a Cinderella-esque invite to a society party results in Candy meeting her Prince, Anthony, and his similarly dashing brothers, clad in Scottish garb. Again, Candy's plucky spirit wins out, beating out embarrassment at the party by impressing the imposing mother of Anthony with her earnest nature.
Oh, but this is not the end of such European fantasies. To further complicate matters, Candy meets at the party her old best friend from the orphanage, Annie. However, Annie can't admit to knowing Candy, as to not damage her new life as a rich girl. With a saddened heart, she ignores the servant Candy, leading to more big eyes overflowing with tears.
Even short shoujo films have their own happy endings. In the final minutes, Annie helps Candy escape a locked room that Eliza puts Candy into. To help her fit into the upper class, Anthony bedecks Candy in an amazing evening dress, and the two dance the night away, the room melting away into a green field.
While only a short glimpse into the world of Candy Candy, the influence on contemporary shoujo can be both understood and felt in simply witnessing this half-hour. Candy Candy: The Movie serves as an important piece of shoujo history.
They Were 11
Not only is one of the great pieces of shoujo cinema commercially available in the US, it has been available for almost a decade. Early in the release piles of Central Park Media came They Were 11, an adaptation of the science fiction shoujo manga story of the same name by Hagio Moto, a renowned creator whose seminal shoujo manga was insanely crucial to its growth and development.
The premise is both delightfully simple and wonderfully character-driven. In the future, people across the galaxy are working to get into the Space Academy, the most competitive higher education institute in the galaxy. Entrance to the elite college is guarded by a series of tests, each level successful in weeding out only the most esteemed and motivated of applicants. The applicants, upon acceptable completion of one such test, are immediately escorted, under extreme secrecy, to their final exam.
All those who pass the preliminary round of tests are ushered into another chamber, told to put on space suits, and discover their final mission. Each applicant must join a group of ten aspiring students, who are all then placed on a derelict space ship. Once there, they must survive, using their own means and with no outside help, for over sixty days, without either perishing, starving, destroying the station, or else pushing the panic button that ends the exam early, causing immediate termination.
When the crew reaches their new ship, a startling realization occurs. There is an extra person in their party. When they left the main ship, the group comprised of ten people. Upon entering the airlock, well, They Were 11.
The food, energy, and oxygen supplies provided was just enough to take the ten students through their survival trials in space, but the inclusion of the eleventh members sends everything to chaos. Furthermore, the students are completely cut off from any communication from the outside, except for the panic button that, if pushed, sends a distress signal to the university. Yet, to push the button, however, is to end the test, resulting in immediate failure and termination of their applications to the program.
They Were 11 is very much a character study, a plot that is pushed along as eleven very different people chafe each other in their isolation from outside stimuli. Thus, Moto Hagio creates a diverse cast of over-achievers, great royalty, aliens, and of those who simply want to live the kind of life that they can choose for themselves.
At the center of the story is the young Tada, an incredibly intelligent guy whose parents died many years ago in a space accident. He possesses some minor forms of ESP, which prove helpful in collaborating with the rest of the crew. The anime follows his interactions with the rest of the cast, as he works together with the crew to try and find out who the eleventh person is, and to discover the reason for his/her inclusion into the final test.
Included in this party is King, a lord of a prominent planet who seeks entry to the university to prove that he could rule well; Amazon, a working-class Joe from Earth who despises the privileges given to the rich; and Knu, a scaly, Zenned-out alien. Aristocrats, engineers, commoners, and true aliens, all thrown together to create an immediate tumultuous atmosphere, where suspicions will never die off, no matter how well the mission goes.
Then there's Frol. Few shoujo can escape a little bit of romance, and what Hagio serves up is an exciting sort of romance, a spunky girl who is fighting not only against her own destiny, but her own gender. Her presence itself an anomaly in this universe, where not too many women are able to achieve entrance to the university. As the film progresses, she and Tada become increasingly closer. Hagio, however, is known for her odd quirks in her science fiction, which do come out in the character of Frol. Frol's quest in achieving entrance to the university lies not in academic achievement, but in a strong wish to become a man. Frol comes from a race of hermaphrodites, where upon a certain age, the beings are given hormones that decide their sex. The society functions where the oldest child becomes the male, and receives incredible privileges, such as multiple partners, and the women are second-class citizens. On a path to being a female, she rebels against it to aim for the university that would secure the receipt of the male hormones that she wants. Thus, further complications are placed on Tada and Frol's budding relationship. Still, it creates one of the most intriguing relationships ever put to cells.
As they enter the ship and struggle to figure out who the eleventh is, the ship already encounters danger, as the crew scrambles to the Control Room in order to disable a series of bombs placed throughout the ship. Seconds after averting this danger, the team receives their instructions; the crew must work as a team, isolated, for 53 days. The test is to determine each applicant's ability to work in a team in extreme circumstances. However, if anything goes wrong, a panic button is ready, which would both send the help they needed, but result in immediate failure. As none of the eleven want to fail this test, they decide to continue on with the mystery member as long as possible, and attempt to pass this test at any cost.
Immediate suspicions are cast, people draw up loose alliances, but continue on as a reluctant team. The film follows the rest of the exam, as further complications occur, and everything seems to go wrong. Will the team make it? Will they all survive? Or will they press the panic button and fail the exam? These questions persist till the tense final moments, a constant rollercoaster of emotion, stress, and trauma. A true success of shoujo cinema, clearly displaying that shoujo is more than contemporary romances, it is almost a way of thinking. Sci-fi for chicks, and yet so many of us guys remain big fans. America doesn't get much classic shoujo like this, so we're pretty lucky to have it at our fingertips. Freshly available from Central Park Media on DVD, don't you think it's time to find out if I'm full of crap or totally on the ball with this one? Yeah, I thought so.