The anime community has a longstanding bias against shojo manga. In 2017, not one of the top-selling manga in Japan was a shojo manga. In 2016, there were only two shojo manga listed in 52 weeks of The New York Times Manga Best Sellers. And as of 2018, there is not one shojo manga listed in the top-selling manga of all time. Typically, shonen manga dominate all of these lists instead. But why is that?
Nowadays, manga fans produced countless reasons for why they don’t read shojo manga. Sometimes they feel the genre is too repetitive, or that there isn’t enough action. It is important to note, though, that shojo manga isn’t even a genre. It’s a target audience. The manga can be about anything; “shojo” refers to the creator’s hope that young girls will enjoy the story. That’s why there’s so much diversity between shojo manga like KIMI NI TODOKE and BANANA FISH. With so much variety, prejudice against shojo manga doesn’t make any sense.
Spica Aoki’s BEASTS OF ABIGAILE is an example of a great shojo manga. Every standard shojo criticism falls short in the wake of this delightful series. It has first-rate art, original content, and superb storytelling. It provides the perfect platform on which to explore shojo manga’s best qualities.
The Girl Who Cried Wolf
BEASTS OF ABIGAILE takes place in the fictional country of Ruberia, where local legend says werewolves used to live. The humans chased away the werewolves by planting blood-scented roses. Now, Ruberia is a flourishing nation with a rose-based economy. The only troubling aspect of the idyllic European city is a penitentiary, Abigaile, on an island off the coast.
BEASTS OF ABIGAILE follows Nina, a girl who moves to Ruberia from Japan to live at her uncle’s house. When she sees an escaped convict running from the police, she springs into action and attacks him. But when he bites her, she finds she’s changed into a wolf creature called a Luga. She’s taken to Abigaile, where she finds that the penitentiary is actually a school for captured Luga children to learn how to serve humans. Not only must she deal with the cruelty of the instructors, but she has to navigate the danger of other students discovering she’s not a full Luga.
Repetition Ain’t The Way
When people discuss their disdain for shojo manga, they often mention some degree of repetitiveness. They might say that shojo reuses the same types of characters, or that the beats in the story are too obvious. Certainly, BEASTS OF ABIGAILE uses some of the same tropes as other shojo. However, many shonen manga do the same thing. In shonen, we see plucky heroes with staunch moral codes and fierce loyalty. We also see plenty of tournament-based action sequences, featuring competition with rivals. Any manga genre is guilty of using tropes. All media is; archetypes extend back to ancient times! Rather than basing the quality of a manga off whether it contains tropes, we should examine how well those tropes fit into the story.
In the case of BEASTS OF ABIGAILE, we see a rather standard set of shojo characters. The protagonist is clumsy but well-meaning, with famous main character-pink hair. One of the male leads, Gilles, is princely, kind, and proper. The other, Roy, is rude with a secret soft side. You see these characters all over shojo media. But now we get to see them interact with an environment unlike any other. The world of BEASTS OF ABIGAILE is unique. Nina is an average girl trying to fit into the culture of a werewolf detention center. Roy carries the trauma of his home being colonized by humans. Gilles bears the burden of managing human-Luga relations. Regardless of any likeness to any other manga, no characters have been under the exact set of circumstance presented in BEASTS OF ABIGAILE.
Fights, Justice, Action
Another common complaint about shojo manga is the lack of action. Many people envision shojo manga as high school romance-centered. Since typical high schools don’t have many battles, people assume that shojo manga doesn’t contain a lot of action. As previously said, though, shojo is a demographic, not a genre. Just because people link shojo with high school romance doesn’t mean all shojo is. Even when it is a high school romance, there can still be plenty of excitement. High school romances don’t shy away from including action scenes in their plot. BEASTS OF ABIGAILE, for example, uses intense scenes from the start.
Within the first few pages, BEASTS OF ABIGAILE introduces that Nina knows karate. Throughout the manga, it gets her both into and out of countless dangerous situations. Most notably, it aids her in the introduction, where she chases after escapee and future main character Roy. She confidently tackles him to the ground, enabling the police to catch them both. Then, when Nina first arrives at Abigaile, she boldly attacks a guard attempting to whip a small Luga child. The moment called to mind superheroes and action stars defending the weak from those who would hurt them. This act of bravery kickstarts Nina’s reputation at school, which gets her into plenty of trouble later. Despite taking place in a high school and having a strong romance component, BEASTS OF ABIGAILE refuses to remain dull. Instead, it crafts action into its storytelling.
Not #Relatable Enough
Some people argue that they don’t relate to shojo manga enough. This complaint can extend to countless aspects of any fictional universe, from the family dynamics of characters to the time period it debuted in. Thankfully, BEASTS OF ABIGAILE ensures a comfortable setting with its own twist: the fantasy high school. Fantasy high schools work because they add a touch of creativity to regular teenage life. The “homes” that the Luga kids live in mirror high school cliques, or even college fraternities. You might see familiar groups, such as rebels, honor students, and art kids. The fact that they are werewolves builds on these familiar scenes in order to create something new. Obviously, everyone is a teenager sometimes. BEASTS OF ABIGAILE takes the feeling of school being a prison and executes it!
Along with this, BEASTS OF ABIGAILE offers a second option for people struggling to relate to its characters: the setting of Ruberia. Both the country and the school itself have some prominent social commentary. The takeover of Ruberia by humans mirrors imperialism in world history, and the enslavement of native people after the fact. Even Abigaile mirrors current US prison practices. The United States government allows for indentured servitude within prison walls, and people of color are disproportionately brought into prison systems. The Lugas’ childhood incarceration and later enslavement are not so far off from reality. So even the world building in BEASTS OF ABIGAILE applies to past and current events. If that isn’t relatable, I don’t know what is.
Can We Skip To The Fun Part?
Among the criticisms of shojo manga is the belief that it just isn’t fun. Critics might argue that shojo takes itself too seriously, or that it’s too full of teen drama. Perhaps there is plenty of drama in BEASTS OF ABIGAILE. It takes place in a prison for children, after all. However, that doesn’t mean there can’t be room for fun! Considering her stressful circumstances, Nina’s reactions to her surroundings tend to be humorously overdramatic. This is thanks in part to the art style. Aoki draws Nina with ridiculous, over-the-top faces. Sometimes they take inspiration from dramatic shots in older shojo manga, while other times they look very cartoonish. In either case, Nina’s personality and expressions contribute quite a bit to the humor in BEASTS OF ABIGAILE.
BEASTS OF ABIGAILE also gets a lot of its appeal from suspense. The stakes are high in Abigaile. Both Luga and the officers throw threats of death around, and back it up with their behavior. If Nina makes the wrong move, she’s done for. Plus, there’s the added question of how Nina transformed into a Luga in the first place. The mystery and high stakes hook you in and leave you curious as to what might happen next. Figuring out what’s coming is part of the appeal!
Broaden Your Horizons
Of course, after all is said and done, people still have preferences. In no way is this article meant to criticize your choices in manga. Rather, think about your favorites! What makes a manga good in your eyes? And if shojo manga wasn’t made to look cute so young girls would like it, would you enjoy it more? Shojo utilizes much more intentionally cute character designs and plenty of sparkling visual effects. If that sort of art isn’t your style, then perhaps it is better to stick to other genres. But if your issues with shojo manga stem from its storytelling abilities, BEASTS OF ABIGAILE shows how you can find everything you’re looking for within shojo manga.
With such a strong start, I can’t wait to see where BEASTS OF ABIGAILE goes next. Feeling the same way? BEASTS OF ABIGAILE is distributed in the United States through Seven Seas Entertainment. There are currently three volumes, with the fourth due to arrive in November. Not sure if BEASTS OF ABIGAILE is for you? Try checking out some other shojo and telling us about them! You never know, you might find something special that you never knew existed.
Featured image courtesy of Amazon.