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From the Writer’s Almanac

31 Aug
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Now I want to read some of Oshima’s manga.

Today is the 64th birthday of manga artist Yumiko Oshima (books by this author), who was born in Tochigi Prefecture, Japan, in 1947. She is a member of the Year 24 Flower Group, one of two Year 24 groups of women who are considered to have revolutionized shojo manga — comics for girls — and introduced many elements of the coming of age story in their work. Oshima and the other women of her group have brought to their art issues of philosophy, and sexuality and gender, and marked the first major entry of women artists into manga.

Oshima made her debut in 1968 with the surreal-feeling Paula’s Tearsand has continually produced manga on a nearly yearly basis up to her most recent project, which has been ongoing since 1996. In 1973 she wrote To Joker, an allegorical love triangle that includes a boy accidentally transformed into a girl, Strawberry Story in 1975, andBanana Bread no Pudding from 1977 to 1978.

From 1978 until 1987, Oshima serialized The Star of Cottonland in the shojo manga magazine LaLa. The story has since been collected in seven volumes. The Star of Cottonland tells of an abandoned kitten, Chibi-neko, who thinks she is human and speaks human words, although people can only hear her meow. She is drawn as a young girl with cat ears and a tail and believes that all humans were once kittens like her. Chibi-neko is found and cared for by a young man, and when she realizes that he loves a human girl, Chibi-neko wishes she could grow up and become the human she expects she will be. She runs away from home to seek a paradise called Cottonland, where it is said that dreams can come true.

In 1978, Oshima won the Kodansha Manga Award for The Star of Cottonland. In 1984, it was adapted to a full-length animated film that has been praised for its complex characterizations and gorgeous animation, as well as well as for going beyond a simple animal fable to become a philosophical story that explores psychological and emotional states, and functions as a metaphor for adolescence.

On a less contemplative note, the popularity of The Star of Cottonlandhelped make fashionable the Nekomimi, or catgirl, character, a young girl like Chibi-neko who has cat ears and sometimes a tail. The catgirl does not originate within shojo manga, but is rooted in the ancient Japanese folklore of ghosts and goblins, where cats are associated with the supernatural and demon cats can take on humanoid forms. In the ’80s, girls in manga began turning into cats and their real-life counter parts began wearing headbands with kitty ears to identify with and be like the Nekomimi. In May 2011, a Japanese company called Neurowear introduced their nekomimi headwear, which looks like any other headband with ears but has the distinction of also containing a brain wave sensor, so that their ears are the first to be controlled by the thoughts of the wearer, expressing concentration and attention by standing erect, and relaxation by falling down.

In 1997, Yumiko Oshima was diagnosed with and treated for ovarian cancer. She recovered and went on to create manga that shared her experiences with illness and recovery.

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Posted by on August 31, 2011 in contemporary, fiction

 

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