Why you can’t find Four Shoujo Stories

Today is International Women’s Day, so this seems particularly timely:

MangaBlog was honored with a visit from manga scholar and translator Matt Thorn the other day. He checked out the archives and put this comment in an old post on Four Shoujo Stories. I’m pulling it up here so everyone can read it.

I’m afraid it’ll be a cold day in Hell when Four Shojo Stories is back in print. Now that more than a decade has passed and everyone I knew at Viz has moved on, I suppose there’s no harm in revealing the truth behind the short shelf-life of _Four Shojo Stories_. Anthology paperbacks are all but unheard of in Japan (which is ironic, since almost all the manga magazines are anthologies), and the commonly accepted rationale boils down to “artist ego.” Viz had permission to do all four stories, separately, as comic books, but they never got or asked for permission to put them together in a paperback. When they asked me to write the intro, I asked, in surprise, “They gave you permission to collect these stories?” The editor (now retired) said, “If we ask them, they’ll say no, but if we go ahead and do it, they may complain, but what can they do about it? Pull the book off the shelves?” Well, that’s exactly what they (Shogakukan) did. When the editor in Tokyo responsible for these three artists (and who was later to become my colleague at Seika University!) found out about the book, he popped a gasket. The two top guys at Viz had to go to Tokyo and apologize. (At least they were spared harakiri. (^_^) ) As far as I know, there are a few thousand copies of Four Shojo Stories locked away in a warehouse somewhere in San Francisco. Meanwhile, if you want to get your hands on one of the few that made it into readers’ hands, you can buy a used copy through Bookfinder.com for a mere $60-$155. (^o^) Or you can take the cheaper route and download a scanned torrent at…um, never mind.

This really resonated because I’ve been hearing a lot of talk lately about how particular the Japanese are about rights. That’s why, if you look at promotions that involve online manga, for instance, you’ll see more American and Korean creations than Japanese.

Anyway, if you want to know more, Connie at Slightly Biased Manga beat the odds and found a copy for $7, and she just posted her review. Also, if you haven’t already, check out Matt’s site for lots of background info on shoujo manga, especially the classics.

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  1. Like Connie, I found a copy for pretty cheap as well. I think I found it on Half.com last year or so. It’s a nice book to have and has some great classic stories, but I very much doubt that most readers today would be into the stories it collects. It’s a tad too niche, which is sad…

  2. kuromitsu says

    Good thing I bought (imported) it years ago. It was one of my first exposure of shoujo manga (having been exposed mostly to shounen so far, besides mainstream stuff like Sailor Moon and CLAMP that didn’t interest me at all), and I believe this volume and ‘Love Song’ (the Nishi Keiko anthology, also by Mr. Thorn) are responsible for my love for the shoujo genre, especially the classics that were more like these four stories in mood and style than what “modern” shoujo was available for me at that time.

  3. I was anticipating something more scandalous than permissions when I read the title. Maybe a blasphemous depiction of the prophet Mohamed or something.

  4. Ha! I never would have guessed it was a rights issue like that. What an awesome story. I always figured they’d lost the license to one of the stories or something, but I thought it was weird that this went oop so quickly and A, A’ and Love Song stuck around as long as they did. Now I know.

  5. Wow, i had heard a rumor that it was pulled off the shelves as soon as it was published, but i had no idea it was true. Makes that mint copy i chanced on for $13 a real steal ^^; Speaking of torrents, the torrent isn’t active anymore. Would it be alright to host it and post the link here so others not as lucky can read it? Or if it isn’t, i won’t…

  6. I generally don’t post links to scanlations, and I can’t endorse a torrent (I don’t use ’em myself for fear of viruses, so I have no way of checking it out). On the other hand, I have a policy of not deleting comments, so as long as it’s clear it’s not coming from me, that’s fair game.^^

    And I usually pride myself on being a good bargain shopper, so I’m going to regard it as a challenge that so many of you got this book so cheaply. I’m holding out for $15 or less.

  7. I was lucky enough to read a copy through the public library system—and my college library has a copy as well, surprisingly enough.

  8. I agree with Precocious Curmudgeon, but I was freelancing, so it wasn’t my call, and I was frankly excited about the idea of a trade paperback that could serve as an intro to shoujo manga. Here’s another anecdote, this one ironic rather than scandalous. Back when we were talking about doing shoujo manga (we put out Nishi’s “Promise” and “Since You’ve Been Gone” in February 1994), I told the editor in chief at Viz that it was stupid to try to sell shoujo manga in shops frequented only by (95% male) fans of superheroes or underground/indy stuff. I said we should drop the comic book format, go directly to paperback, and try to get the book in chains like Barnes & Nobles, where it could be shelved with youth novels or romance novels and actually be seen by mainstream readers who might be interested. The editor laughed and said it was totally unrealistic to think that could ever happen. Ten years later, I had the last laugh.
    I got my own copies of _Four Shoujo Stories_ for free, but you’ll have to pry them from my cold, dead hands. (^_^)
    By the way, Senna, when we put out the comic book version of _Promise_, it was picked up by the National Association of Librarians (?) and put on their list of recommended books for teens. As far as I know, that started the trend of libraries putting some of the “classier” manga translations on their shelves.

  9. Torrents don’t usually carry viruses.

  10. This book was the first exposure I had to manga.

    Pity its spilling out of its covers and held together with scotch tape at this point. Not that I would sell it. I read it literally to pieces in high school.

    I haven’t really read any manga since (except for another anthology from around the same period) because all I’ve mostly run into are tv tie-ins; I’m starting to reconsider.


  1. […] always been suspect of the argument that it’s easier to get forgiveness than permission. This anecdote from Matt Thorn seems to confirm my […]

  2. […] the shelves because the American publisher didn’t have permission to use it in a compilation (here’s the source of the […]

  3. […] its origins than Matt Thorn, the original translator and author of the book’s introduction. Here’s a post he made on MangaBlog in March 2007. Suffice it to say that, although this wasn’t […]

  4. […] au lycée. Je n’ai malheureusement pas eu la chance de lire cette anthologie: elle est désormais introuvable, ou alors à prix élevé sur la Toile (elle est également disponible en scans), et pour cause: […]