The Schoolgirl Body in Pieces: The Manga Portraiture of Makoto Aida
Manga has been an established form of popular expression in the Japanese visual field for centuries. During the postwar era, manga reflected a cultural shift in the identity of the national body, as a formerly cohesive imperial nation fell into fragments in the wake of defeat and control by American military forces. Framed by this shift, the manga renditions of brutalized and sexualized Japanese schoolgirls by the contemporary Japanese artist Makoto Aida convey elements of a nation’s fractured identity still shaped by its postwar temperament and global positioning. Certain moments of Japan’s present-day manifestations of postwar trauma find revitalized visual expression when inscribed upon the bodies of these girls, revealing the psychic role of the body in postwar and present-day Japan and the ways in which national memories of the past are constructed through bodily tropes. Aida’s appropriation of these bodies also reveals the engagement of the wound with historical memory, and the unstable constructions of female sexuality and identity that linger in contemporary Japan.
The narrative of the male fantasy in which a young girl is desired, attacked, stimulated, and brought to ecstasy has been present in Japan since the 1970s, persisting as a major trope within manga and anime. Graphic depictions of sexualized young girls play a major role in contemporary Japanese visual culture and because of this, “she” has become a highly readable and visible format from which to instigate social criticism and expression. I would like to suggest that the immediate and cursory misogyny that is visible in Aida’s depictions of young girls borrows from these pornographic genres as a subversive gesture that reappropriates this bodily narrative vessel for social commentary. An examination of Aida’s imagery unveils the social forces shaping the artist’s source material, the implied spectators and their habits of bodily consumption.
I will discuss two of Aida’s manga works in which the young girls are presented with varying degrees of agency and submission when confronted with their brutalization. In Harakiri Schoolgirls (2006) a bevy of vibrant, uniformed Japanese schoolgirls is depicted in a relatively individualized and essentialized manner as they commit stylized acts of self-inflicted suicide (harakiri) and decapitation. Of Aida’s schoolgirl imagery, this piece is unique in that the girls retain a certain control over the fatal violence. The second, The Edible Artificial Girls, Mimi-chan (2001), is an example of Aida’s work in which the girls are presented en masse and in pieces as the main ingredient in an array of delicious Japanese dishes. It works as a hyperrealized riff on the dominant characterization of Japanese girls as the ultimate material consumers and the problematic consumability of these bodies. Aida’s portrayal is connected to the ideological commodification of the female body that was conceived during the postwar era.