The flow of time in shojo manga

The flow of time in shojo manga

After marrying Naoki, Kotoko struggles (but ultimately succeeds) in becoming a nurse.

There are many things shojo manga does extremely well. Crafting multi-layered characters, engrossing romances, and addictive melodrama are all staples of the best shojo on the market today. But one element that is often overlooked that stands out to me is the way shojo subtly handles the passage of time. While many shojo series seem to be stuck in the golden years of high school, several of my favorite manga take place over many years of the protagonists’ lives. This allows us to get an all-too rare glimpse at the adult phases of life – careers, marriage, and the start of a family. One of the very things I love most about Itazura na Kiss is how much time passed over the course of the series. At the start of Naoki and Kotoko’s rocky relationship, both charcaters are seniors in high school. They quickly enter college and are faced with important life decisions – especially Naoki, who despite his father’s expectations for him to take over his toy company, starts to dream of becoming a doctor. But I think watching Kotoko’s career path is even more fulfilling – because for so long in the series her attentions are only focused on Naoki. When Kotoko fails to graduate on time and considers dropping out of school, Naoki scolds her for shirking her responsibilities and never giving any serious consideration to her future, she ultimately decides to become a nurse because her dream is to help Naoki. Through the passage of time we can see the characters mature and not only overcome their foibles, but also learn how to accept responsibility.

Photos and Ann’s iconic hourglass shows the importance of the passage of time throughout the series.

One series in which the passage of time, especially the passing of the seasons, is especially important is Sand Chronicles. The series follows main character Ann from ages 12-26, and each chapter is given a title using the Ann’s age and what season it is (e.g.: Winter, Age 18: First Star). The seasons add to the mood and forbode important events, such as the death of Ann’s mother during the snowy winter or the end of Ann and Fuji’s relationship amidst the late fall trees. But the passage of time is most clearly represented through Ann’s hourglass, which was given to her by her mother at the beginning of the series. After her mother commits suicide, Ann breaks the hourglass, but it returns to her hands when Daigo buys her a new one because she shouldn’t ever let go of the things that are most important to her. On that day, Ann makes a wish: that she and Daigo will be together for the rest of their lives. But when Ann’s depression from her mother’s death begins to consume her, she breaks things off with Daigo and puts the hourglass away – a symbol for Ann being stuck in time. Their decision to live by the sand once Ann overcomes her depression and reconciles with Daigo is meaningful because it shows that time has started for her once more.

But series don’t need to take place over years and years to feel the passage of time. One series that makes use of a detailed account of time is Red River by Chie Shinohara. In Red River, 15-year-old Yuri Suzuki is sucked into 14th Century Anatolia. Shinohara intergrates real-life historical figures such as Kail Mursili, prince of the Hittites, and Egypt’s Nefertiti. Historically-accurate events such as the death of Zannanza (Kail’s brother and a prince of the Hittites, who became pharaoh of Egypt but was killed before he could take the throne) give me great respect for the series. But the series in which the flow of time feels the most authentic is without a doubt Nana. Cell phone conversations are given exact dates and times, enveloping the series within the real world.  Beginning at volume twelve, the series occassionally flash-forwards several years into the future, giving the audience clues of what will happen during the present. We Were There also uses this technique after it’s main couple goes their separate ways, and the audience is thrust five years into the future to figure out little by little what happened to each character. Thus, there are many interesting ways to use the passage of time within a series to make it feel unique. Overall, I think the main reason I have such a fondness for series which take place over a long portion of the cast’s lives is because it allows the audience to grow even more attached to the characters and their personal stories. Watching characters grow over a specified period of time makes them feel real, as though their stories are taking place somewhere else right as we speak.


6 thoughts on “The flow of time in shojo manga

  1. I always enjoy series that allow you to move ahead in time. The series that only focus on the high school lives of the main characters makes me wish we can see further into their futures. I always wonder how a couple deals with the highs and lows of a relationship.

    From what I have read of Sand Chronicles, I definitely loved how seasons and Ann’s age were used to set up each chapter. It really worked beautifully. I have to finish the rest of the series sometime.

    1. I didn’t know you were reading Sand Chronicles – I’m glad you’re enjoying it. I agree – you really feel the sense of time by being reminded of how old Ann is and what season each chapter is taking place in. And I not only like seeing how a couple’s relationship develops after the love confession, but also seeing some of the non-romantic aspects of life like choosing your career and finding your place in society.

  2. I agree with you. I haven’t read many series that actually take place over a long period of a character’s life, or actually fast forward abruptly and expected the reader to figure out what happened in the past by what’s happening in the present future, but I do appreciate when time (via flashbacks or two constant timelines) are used to flesh out the world and story. I think the two timeline approach was my favourite aspect of Please Save My Earth, and I thought the author did a lovely job of intertwining the past and present without it feeling confused. I also liked how flashbacks were used in Basara to flesh out characters and the world, or to put a new perspective on something that happened before. It certainly wasn’t a big aspect of the manga, but it was a nice little touch that added more depth to the story and characters. Cat Street did the abrupt fast forward and showed us Keito at different times in her life as well. The abrupt shift was a bit messy imo, but I really liked how we got glimpses into a young Keito and how she became what she was and finally an older Keito who had moved passed all her problems and was a successful person.

    1. Okay, so from now on flash-forwarding in order to connect to the present-day storyline will be called the ‘two-timeline approach.’ I like that name. 🙂 I can see how it would be messy – most authors try to keep certain details ambiguous at first, which can make a series confusing to read, and I imagine that some authors are better at writing this way than others. There were a few flashbacks in the first volumes of We Were There that I didn’t realize were flashbacks until I re-read the series! As the series progressed, Yuki Obata did a much better job of clearly distinguishing flashback sequences. But when it’s well-done, it makes for a truly absorbing read.

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