Keiko Takemiya, Trailblazer with Stars in Her EyesKeiko Takemiya is famous as a pioneering artist in the genre of shônen ai (now generally referred to as “boys love” or “BL”) and known for her sensitive and nuanced portrayals of androgynous characters and fluid sexualities. Takemiya’s dark and explicitly homoerotic manga The Song of Wind and Trees (Kaze to ki no uta) became a major cultural force as it was published in Shôjo Comic magazine from 1976 to 1984. Takemiya has since stated in various interviews that she was using her beautiful boys to explore issues relating to sexuality that the mainstream media at the time wouldn’t touch. In fact, she had to fight with her editors to get Wind and Trees published, and it was partially because of the support of her fellow artists, primarily Ikeda and Hagio, that she was finally successful. After an outpouring of emotion from readers extending far beyond the shojo demographic, there was no going back. The art historian and manga scholar Masami Toku has identified Wind and Trees as a turning point in shojo manga, after which the genre began to addresses issues of gender and sexuality more openly.
Takemiya expanded her challenges to heteronormative sexuality into broader themes concerning personal identity in To Terra, which ran in Monthly Manga Shônen magazine from 1977 to 1980 (and was published in English translation by Vertical in 2007). Because of its publication venue, To Terra is technically classified as shonen manga. Its two leads are both male, and the story is a space opera with dramatic and exciting action sequences. Nevertheless, the manga has strong shojo stylizations, both visually and thematically.The hero of To Terra is a willowy young man with large sparkling eyes named Jomy, who seems to be living with a perfect family in a perfect city on a perfect planet. When routine psychological testing reveals him to be abnormal, he is forced to flee from the computer that controls his society and is rescued by a group of space-faring psychics. Jomy leads his band of fellow mutants into the free and open expanse of the galaxy, all the while calling out to other young psychics, telling them to resist the society that calls them monsters and forces them to deny the deepest core of their identity. As is the case with the characters in the X-Men comics and movies, it is not difficult to read the trope of “mutation” as an analogy to any number of traits that don’t conform to dominant ideologies. Although Jomy’s source of “otherness” is his psychic ability, his gorgeous androgyny and intense romantic rivalry with his male foil place him outside the boundaries of heteronormative gender and sexuality. To Terra struck a chord with the zeitgeist of the late 1970s, and it ended up winning the Seiun Award for Science Fiction, which had previously only been awarded to prose. While continuing to publish her own stories, Keiko Takemiya has supported and encouraged emerging artists, helping to develop several means by which their work may be displayed as fine art in formal gallery shows. She is now the Dean of the Faculty of Manga at Kyoto Seika University, which oversees the Kyoto International Manga Museum. Because of her influence, shojo manga has just as prominent a place in the facility as shonen manga, and the permanent and special exhibitions celebrate artists of all genders, sexualities, and nationalities.
In order to better understand the cultural impact of the themes and tropes in 1970s shojo manga, in our next segment we’ll return to our discussion of The Rose of Versailles to take an in-depth look at its rising popularity as a franchise and lasting influence.
Coming soon: The Rose of Versailles anime, Takarazuka show, and beyond.