Blonde is the new Japanese: Transcending race in shōjo manga

Olga Antononoka

Abstract


There is not much research available on the issue of race in generic manga. If addressed at all, the focus is on manga as overcoming the confines of race. The assumption that manga representations overcome racial barriers can lean on the fact that characters’ supposed race and visual representation frequently do not correspond, creating a character design visually abstracted from any specific race. Furthermore, on a global scale, manga has a racially diverse readership: readers project themselves onto allegedly Caucasian manga characters regardless of their own skin colour. In this paper I will focus specifically on shōjo manga, and will trace how visual racial abstraction transcends specific race, yet remains involved with race-related topics such as alienation and otherness. I will start by analysing possible meanings of race-relevant elements in character design with emphasis on gender. In order to do that, I will begin with investigation of Oshiyama Michiko’s analysis of essential gender traits in shōjo manga. Further, I will introduce several discourses of race in manga, such as theory of “speciesism” by Thomas LaMarre’s and Terry Kawashima’s theory of “selective reading” of racial traits. In the framework of shōjo manga, I will focus specifically on the image of the Westerner, from early shōjo manga elaborated on by Ōgi Fusami and Ishida Minori, and proceeding with analysis of the eroticized image of the foreigner in contemporary women’s manga by Nagaike Kazumi. I will introduce theory of “plastic lines” by Thomas LaMare in order to focus on the construction of “the other” in relation to the visual representation of race via specific lines. I intend to conclude that shōjo manga may transcend visual traits of any specific race, but that it retains the recurring theme of conflict and otherness, which in part is related also to racial issues. Visual abstraction from specific race, however, appears to imply “otherness” as an external feature, placed by society upon the characters’ bodies, while the visual representation of their interiority facilitates the impression of sameness, or absence of otherness.

Keywords


Race; Manga; Manga Studies; Visual Studies; Shōjo manga

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Mutual Images Journal by Mutual Images Research Association is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.