Bishoujo is a Japanese word describing a young lady with a beautiful appearance. Initially aimed for male audiences, it eventually garnered female audiences. The art style is similar to shoujo: detailed pupils, emphasis on youth and cuteness, fluttering hair and fabric, and light pastel colors. A bishoujo character doesn’t have to be a young girl to qualify as one.
Bishoujo is not the same as another word moe (萌え) or the affection for anything cute or adorable. Any series consisting of predominantly pretty ladies counts as so. Japan has been creating bishoujo art, manga, anime, visual novels, and video games for decades.
Some examples of franchises featuring bishoujo characters for the past decades are Ah! My Goddess, Clannad, Nisekoi, Love Hina, and Sakura Taisen.
Bishoujo (美少女) comprises of two kanji: 美人 (bijin) or beautiful person, and 少女 (shoujo) or young woman. An alternative and older synonym for bishoujo is 美女 (bijyo), or “beautiful preadolescent woman.”
A Brief History
The concept of bishoujo predated the word itself. Japanese artists produced ukiyo-e woodblock prints around the 1600s. Prints focusing on beautiful women are called bijin-ga (美人画). In the 1920s, Kirin featured advertisements with beautiful women similar to Western ones. In 1953, Tezuka Osamu created one of the influential manga for bishoujo. Inspired by Western art and the theater group Takarazuka Revue, (リボンの騎士) Ribon no Kishi or Princess Knight is about Princess Sapphire, who is both an attractive princess and a charming knight. Princess Sapphire owned both a male and female heart, which allowed her to defy society’s norms.
Bishoujo, at first, had a negative connotation. It first appeared in doujin circles in the 1980s. Fans of the (ロリ) loli genre refer to beautiful girls using the term. The Japanese Adult Video industry also used the term as part of their pornographic category. Some associated it with the derogatory word (ロリコン) lolicon or the prohibited attraction for young girls. Thus, the word was not yet recognized at that time as part of the Japanese slang. Only the otaku community used the word as an insider jargon.
The first known use of bishoujo in Japanese commercial event was (株式会社オスカープロモーション) Oscar Promotion Co., Ltd’s (全日本国民的美少女コンテスト) Zen Nihon Kokuminteki Bishoujo Kontesuto or Japan Bishoujo Contest. The first Japan Bishoujo Contest was held in 1987. Most of its winners and favorite contestants got a career in acting and singing.
((東映株式会社) Toei Company, Ltd. also popularized the word on Japanese television. The company produced (美少女仮面ポワトリン) Bishoujo Kamen Poitrine or La Belle Fille Masquée Poitrine in 1990, and (美少女戦士セーラームーン) Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon or Pretty Warrior Sailor Moon in 1992. Both female-oriented shows propelled the word into the consciousness of the general viewership. The stigma for the word soon faded into obscurity.
Bishoujo is more of a character design rather than a genre. This means that it is not limited to Japanese media aimed at females. Male-oriented series like the Monogatari series, High School DxD, and Kantai Collection are informally called bishoujo series. These series come with tropes like gorgeous female characters, harem, and fanservice. Such overused tropes, along with shallow writing, give the character design a bad reputation. Nevertheless, this never prevented even female fans and authors from liking bishoujo. Everybody is free to appreciate bishoujo characters.
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Pixiv Encyclopedia, https://dic.pixiv.net/a/美少女仮面ポワトリン, Retrieved 02 December 2020.
Bishōjo, Anime News Network, https://www.animenewsnetwork.com/encyclopedia/lexicon.php?id=6, Retrieved 02 December 2020.
Kikuchi, Daisuke, ‘Bishojo: Young Pretty Girls in Art History,’ The Japan Times, https://www.japantimes.co.jp/culture/2014/12/11/arts/openings-outside-tokyo/bishojo-young-pretty-girls-art-history/, 11 December 2014, Retrieved 02 December 2020.
藤谷美紀、結婚していた！すでに妊娠8カ月, The Sankei Shimbun & Sankei Digital, https://web.archive.org/web/20150312173626/http://sankei.jp.msn.com/entertainments/news/121211/ent12121111480009-n1.htm, 11 December 2012, Archived on 12 March 2015, Retrieved 02 December 2020
Bishoujo Series, TV Tropes, https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/BishoujoSeries, Retrieved 02 December 2020
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