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  • Age of Shōjo: The Emergence, Evolution, and Power of Japanese Girls' Magazine Fiction by Hiromi Tsuchiya Dollase
  • Sarah Frederick (bio)
Age of Shōjo: The Emergence, Evolution, and Power of Japanese Girls' Magazine Fiction. By Hiromi Tsuchiya Dollase. SUNY Press, Albany NY, 2019. xx, 203 pages. $95.00, cloth; $32.95, paper.

This ambitious book provides a clear and readable narrative of the shōjo or "girl" in modern Japan, with a focus on her place in literature and print culture. Hiromi Tsuchiya Dollase covers the core illustrators and authors associated with the beginnings of the shōjo around 1900 and broadens the scope of this category by providing examples that "stray outside the stereotype" (p. xiii) and show "diversity in the genre of girls' fiction" (p. xvi). Dollase reveals the agency of young women who strategically took "advantage of the social marginality of shōjo" (p. xv) to acquire "soft power" by invoking their "shōjo mentality" (p. xiv). The book exhibits excellent primary research and should be highly accessible, including for an undergraduate audience.

There is extensive work in English on the shōjo, but anyone seeking a full account of the major research on shōjo cultural history and literature would do very well to start with this book by Dollase, who explores the richness of this topic. In her introduction, with concision and clarity, she sets out the various arguments from past research and gives exceptionally clear accounts of the types of definitions of shōjo that have been developed in both Japanese and English, before moving on to her own original research which offers detailed examples and analysis of girls' fiction writers. She portrays the print, cultural, and lived contexts that made space for "scribbling girls" from the 1910s and their influence across the twentieth century.

Research on shōjo writing has long had an interdisciplinary quality, with scholars of literature, sociology, anthropology, visual culture, and history weighing in and usually working across multiple disciplines, while bringing their own focus to the subject. Among the many examples, we see that anthropologist Jennifer S. Prough's book on shōjo manga takes an ethnographic approach and considers elements of gender studies and manga studies; linguistic anthropologist Laura Miller considers diverse forms of girls' writing such as altering photographs and forms of script using ethnography, media analysis, and linguistics.1 In addition, coauthored pieces have [End Page 250] productively brought multiple disciplines together.2 In this book, Dollase foregrounds her training in literature but considers also the perspectives of other disciplines. Her literary studies background finds expression in her choice of subject matter, a focus on writers of girls' fiction, rather than manga, anime, or popular culture consumption.

While Dollase covers a great deal of historical ground in the book, she also takes care to zoom in closely on the details of her texts. For example, along with providing in broad strokes information about the history of Louisa May Alcott's Little Women in Japan, in a fascinating section she closely compares the earliest translation (which is more of an adaptation) into Japanese with the original text (pp. 10–16). In the original, Jo March is often described in ways such as "shooting up into a woman" that focus on her development into an adult woman, in tension with her aspirations and boyish qualities. In the first Japanese translation, the equivalent character is described as not having "any maiden-like qualities" and as "like a man," with no sense that growing up will make her more compliant to gender norms. Her language such as "iya de, iya de" and "daikirai" is forcefully used to show her resistance to feminine gender qualities and expectations. Through these sorts of details, Dollase highlights the different relationships between gender and development in 1910s Japan without resorting to reductive contrasts about whether the United States or Japan is more progressive. This is one of the many places where Dollase uses careful research and attention to the texts to show the complexity of the topic and the special qualities of shōjo culture in Japan—such as how it pushed against value systems, including feminist ones, that emphasized shōjo...