The trouble with josei

27 09 2008


Manga is immensely popular with young female readers and many of them have been reading manga since it began to be integrated into public library collections in the early 2000s. These readers are now in their late teens and are familiar with manga and comfortable with its format and conventions. It could be expected that they will continue to read manga but be interested in more sophisticated subject matter and narratives. More good quality josei translations are becoming available in North American to meet this demand and there has been a precedent set by the integration of many seinen titles into public library collections. Despite this josei titles are currently under-represented in many public library collections.

There are a few potential reasons for this.

Providing access to mature material in a comic book format presents a challenge to public libraries. In North America comics are still primarily perceived as being for children and young adults – mature content in this medium can provoke controversy. Josei could be perceived as inappropriate for the public library patrons it might attract but despite the potential for censure public libraries regularly purchase both classic and current seinen titles that would generally appeal to a male demographic. Manga like the revered classics Lone Wolf and Cub by Kazuo Koike (violence! non-consensual sex! single parenting!) and Akira by Katsushiro Otomo (violence! non-consensual sex! mutation!) and newer titles like MPD Psycho by Eiji Otsuka (just think of the worst thing you can imagine!) contain violence and sexual themes. The “mature content” warnings affixed to these materials during cataloguing and processing can be expected to deter some patrons (and attract others) regardless of their age. These titles are included in public library collections based on their cultural and artistic merit or by public request and they are potentially accessible to inappropriately young readers. Clearly, this is a risk that selectors have been willing to take in adding seinen titles to their collections. Public libraries make these purchasing decisions because they have a mandate to provide diverse materials to their patrons and existing policy allows for the incorporation of comics that contain mature content into public library collections.

Reservations regarding mature content should not be a deterrent to providing access to josei. If the aesthetic extremes of seinen have been judged acceptable for public library collections there must also be a place for the decidedly more humane and often humorous mature content represented in josei.

Another facet of comic collection development is that the established readership for comics in North America is still predominantly young men. Public libraries must always consider the needs of the communities they serve. Without a demand for comics marketed for women there is no impetus for public libraries to provide them. Manga, however, has reached a level of acceptance with young women the far exceeds their interest in North American comics. While North American comics have failed to attract a significant market of loyal female readers the potential exists for young women who read manga to retain their interest in the medium. While many public libraries shape their collections based on popular demand there may be a lack of awareness amongst female manga readers that genres other then shojo exist.

Public libraries could be positioned to facilitate awareness of the some of the josei titles that are available to their patrons through recommended reading and personalized title referral services. With a bit of judicious purchasing josei could become a legitimate and popular part of public library collections.

Images: image from the anime television series based on Pet Shop of Horrors by Matsuri Akino, panel from Tramps Like Us by Yayoi Ogawa, character art from Paradise Kiss by Ai Yazawa

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