Girls, Fandom, Twilight, and Shoujo Manga

There’s an interesting discussion going on over at Robot 6 about the recently announced Twilight manga. Although my personal reaction to the Twilight news was less than enthusiastic, I think that an adaptation of Twilight in manga format has the potential to be great for the industry, and if it does well for Yen Press maybe they can continue to do great things for existing manga fans like reprinting Yotsuba&. Having read all the Twilight books and seen the movie, my reaction to the series was initial enthusiasm (I plowed through the first book and read it two times in a row) followed by disillusionment as the quality of the writing and plotting in the series didn’t improve. I ended up hating the final book, because my usually healthy suspension of disbelief wasn’t able to handle the slipshod way the book was plotted, and some of the elements like fang aided Cesarean sections were simply bizarre in a book that was aimed for young adults. I’m sure I’ll end up reading the Twilight manga though!

Many people have expressed concerns about the relationships portrayed in Twilight, and while I share the concerns about stalking being portrayed as romantic, I also think that the push back about Twilight in comics fandom is happening because it is from a female-centric genre, and fanboys are scared of enthusiastic teenage girls. In the Robot 6 discussion much was made of some previous posts over at the Hooded Utilitarian saying that shoujo art has a Kindergarten feel. There’s a follow up post comparing the reaction against Twilight with a particular commentator’s aversion to a whole manga genre aimed at women by calling the art childish. Criticizing Twilight for the poorly written text and problematic themes is actually engaging the text of a specific work while criticizing an entire genre of manga for having childish art with absolutely no reference to specific artwork is just speaking from pure ignorance. Those acts of criticism are in no way equivalent.

I can see why many of the commentators on Robot 6 are still reacting strongly to the “kindergarten feel” comment about shoujo manga. Not only is it demonstratively false (see Bannana Fish, Tokyo Babylon, They Were Eleven, and Nana*) invoking the idea of a child when discussing entertainment for women is incredibly problematic and a distressing example of the way romance as a genre continually gets less critical respect than male oriented genres, like murder mysteries or science fiction.

The male panic at the idea of teenage Twilight fans invading Comic Con would be funny, if it weren’t so sad. Likewise, the male panic at encountering female oriented manga is predictable. Twilight is a moneymaking juggernaut, and even though the manga industry in the USA is beginning to correct itself and the initial rush of manga is beginning to scale down as publishers adjust to economic reality, both Twilight and shoujo manga represent fandoms with significant economic power that must seem alien and frightening to the traditional comic reader. Perhaps since I was one myself, I don’t find teenage girls too scary.

* Thanks to Melinda for the great examples!