That Type of Girl

That Type of Girl

That Type of Girl is an in-depth exploration of the characters, plot, and themes of Takako Shimura’s manga Sweet Blue Flowers, a landmark work in the yuri genre that portrays the slowly blooming love between Fumi, a young lesbian, and her childhood friend Akira. That Type of Girl situates the manga within the context of contemporary Japanese society and yuri’s century-long history; it also includes a comprehensive index of characters and their appearances in the manga, pointers to online reviews, and an extensive list of suggestions for further reading. It’s a must-read for fans of Sweet Blue Flowers and for fans interested in the broader yuri genre.

That Type of Girl can be purchased on Amazon in Kindle or paperback form and as an e-book at other online bookstores. It’s also available as a free download in PDF format or in DRM-free EPUB3 format for use with other e-book readers.

UPDATE 2022-06-10: There’s now also a complete Japanese translation of the book, downloadable as a PDF file or EPUB3 file. (See also below.)

Finally, I’ve made the complete “source code” for the book available in a public repository on the GitLab service. (“Source code” here refers to the original Markdown files from which the book was generated, along with instructions and scripts to recreate the various versions of the book from those files.)

Answers to questions nobody asked

Even though this book is a small-scale hobby affair, I thought it would be fun to pretend I was on a book tour and doing interviews. I also enjoy writing FAQs, even though these particular Qs are anything but FA. So, without further ado:

Q. Why did you write a book?

A. Why not? Anyone who writes, whether as a profession or as a hobby, should try writing a book at least once in their life.

Unlike blog posts or other online articles, which are dependent on the underlying website or social media service for their continued availability, a book can be transmitted to the future as a whole entity, whether in physical or electronic form. It’s no accident that the book format has endured through the centuries, and will no doubt do so for centuries to come.

Writing a book also forces you to write according to an overall theme or narrative, and to devote some thought to what you want to say. It’s the very opposite of trying to come up with bon mots on Twitter or haunting the comments section on Facebook, and I think much more satisfying and fulfilling than either.

Q. Why the interest in yuri manga?

A. For a long time I’ve been a reader of comics and graphic novels, but not of the superhero variety—my tastes ran toward so-called “alternative” or “independent” comics. At some point, I also started to read Japanese comics, or manga, and found them interesting in terms of the variety of subject matter (not just heroic action) and as a glimpse into another culture that was relatable but also subtly at a slant from my own.

As I’ve grown older, I’ve also become less interested in works driven by action and more interested in works that center emotional relationships. The genre most known for emotional relationships is romance. So I inevitably gravitated toward manga that featured romantic relationships, including manga in the yuri genre that feature romantic relationships between women.

Overall I found yuri manga to be more congenial than either traditional boy-girl romances targeted at teenaged girls (the shōjo demographic), or “BL” (“boys love”) manga featuring relationships between men—although I enjoy many of those of well. Among other things, the relationships in both shōjo and BL manga often have elements that are toxic to various degrees or otherwise distasteful. Those elements are typically less present in yuri manga.

(There are also some good romance manga targeted at the josei demographic of older women, but we don’t get a lot of those in the West.)

Q. Why write about Sweet Blue Flowers specifically?

A. Sweet Blue Flowers (originally published in Japanese as Aoi hana, or “Blue flower[s]”) is an interesting case. It’s reasonably well-known among manga fans, though not as well-known as Wandering Son, another of Takako Shimura’s manga. It’s also reasonably well thought of as a yuri manga, though there are other yuri works that people rate more highly. (That’s especially true as the genre has become more popular in the past few years and more and more yuri works have appeared in English translation.)

But Sweet Blue Flowers has at least three aspects that intrigued me. First, it’s seemingly more complicated than it needs to be. Just as you might look at a piece of machinery and wonder what a particular part of it does, I look at some of the elements in Sweet Blue Flowers and wonder exactly why Shimura included them.

Related to that, there are parts of Sweet Blue Flowers that seem to be at least obliquely commenting on Japanese society. That sort of thing is catnip to me—I always enjoy exploring the social, cultural, and political ideas and assumptions behind things I read.

Finally, Sweet Blue Flowers came out at a transition point in the history of the yuri genre: “Schoolgirl yuri” stories still formed the overwhelming majority of works in the genre. However, yuri works were beginning to appear that dealt with relationships between adult women and/or at least nodded toward the idea that LGBTQ people exist. In Sweet Blue Flowers, Takako Shimura combines elements of both “schoolgirl yuri” and “LGBTQ yuri”—not always successfully, but the fact that she tried to do so is interesting in and of itself.

The result was that starting in the fall of 2017, when a new and complete edition of Sweet Blue Flowers began publication in English, I soon found myself goofing off on Tumblr posting an article every day or so about various things that struck me when reading it. I am not a person who can write and post something every day, so after a while I gave that up. I also came to realize that I was breathtakingly ignorant of certain things I needed to know in order to make better sense of the story.

I’ve spent the last four years trying to become less ignorant. At the beginning of 2020, I decided to publish my musings as a full-fledged book, and committed the first incomplete draft to a private repository. I’ve worked since then to get it polished enough that the thought of someone else reading it wouldn’t embarrass me too much.

But make no mistake: no matter how much I might dress it up with literature references and source citations, at its heart That Type of Girl is just a Tumblr with pretensions of grandeur.

Q. Do you expect anyone to read this book?

A. To a first approximation, no. The fun was in writing it and publishing it. I have very minimal expectations regarding anyone actually reading it.

I happen to work in a sales group, so I’m familiar with the idea of a “sales funnel” as people go from being casually interested in a product through to actually buying it. Here’s how I think things will go:

There are probably no more than three hundred or so people worldwide who might be interested in a book like this (the so-called “total addressable market”). Possibly a hundred people or so of those people might hear about the book one way or another, and of those perhaps thirty of them will visit this page to read more about it. Of those, possibly ten people will bother to download the book (here or elsewhere), maybe three people will go on to read at least part of it, and (if I’m lucky) there might be one person who finds it to be at least intermittently interesting.

Anything beyond that and I’d be both surprised and pleased.

UPDATE 2022-06-10: As it turns out, I was overly pessimistic. I was lucky enough to get a retweet from James Welker, one of the academics I quoted in the book, and even more lucky to get a tweet from Takako Shimura herself, after I sent her a copy of the book. Thanks to their promotion, in the almost three months since the book was released, this page has been visited almost two thousand times, there have been over four hundred downloads of the PDF version of the book, and fifteen people have bought the e-book or paperback versions. So it’s very very far from being a best-seller, but it’s somewhat more popular than I assumed it would be.

Q. Why are you making PDF and EPUB3 versions of the book freely downloadable?

Again, why not? I didn’t write the book to make money, so I have no problem with distributing copies at no charge. Also, given how limited the potential audience is for the book, I wanted to ensure that anyone who wanted to read it would have easy access to it. PDF files are almost universally readable on all devices, and are not tied to a particular online service. Similarly, a standard EPUB3 file without DRM can be read on any generic e-book reader, including reader software supporting special accessibility features.

Q. Why are you also selling the book through Amazon and other online services?

Some people like the convenience of reading e-books on devices like Kindle e-readers that are tied to particular services, and I don’t have a problem with having them pay a reasonable amount for that convenience. I’ve set the price for the e-book versions to be consistent with that of typical self-published works.

Other people prefer reading books in print form, so I’m also offering a paperback version of the book through Amazon. Again, I’ve set the price to be in line with that of other self-published books.

Q. Why did you make the source text files for the book publicly available?

A. Why not? I wrote the various chapters of the book like I do my blog posts, using regular text files and the Markdown formatting language. Again, just as with my blog posts, I use a version control system to keep track of the various revisions I made to the book, using the same “git” software used by many software developers. It was technically easy for me to release the book content in its “raw” form, and I thought it might be helpful for someone, somewhere, someday, if I did just that.

In particular, I wanted to promote the Electric Book software that I used to format the various editions of the book. That software is itself available for download at no charge. I thought it might be useful to other would-be authors for me to provide a real-life example of how they could use the Electric Book software to produce their own books.

(Those who can’t or don’t want to do everything themselves can still take advantage of the Electric Books system by engaging the services of the fine folks at Electric Book Works. They were nice enough to make their software available to people like me, and in return I’m happy to refer potential customers to them.)

Q. Why are you releasing the book under the CC BY-SA license?

A. The CC BY-SA license, more formally known as the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International license, allows anyone to freely redistribute the book’s text, including the underlying Markdown files, with or without changes. The major restriction is that they must distribute such derivative works under the same CC BY-SA license (or a compatible license, like the GNU GPL 3.0).

The CC BY-SA license is also used for Wikipedia’s articles. Its effect in practice is that it’s easy to create and distribute derivative works, and as works get thus modified and redistributed for use in other contexts, the total amount of written material that is freely distributable expands as well.

Thus, for example, if someone were ever interested in translating That Type of Girl into another language, they wouldn’t need special permission from me, as long as they followed the license terms. Their translation could then be further revised and potentially improved upon by others, again without needing special permission.

I doubt very much that anyone will ever bother to make such a translation. However, if anyone does, I don’t want them to have to jump through hoops in order to get the necessary permissions, especially if I’m no longer around to grant them.

UPDATE 2022-06-10: To my surprise, the pseudonymous blogger Konsuke has translated the entire book into Japanese. (See above for the download links.) Konsuke originally published the translated chapters on his blog at con-cats.hatenablog.com, where you can read chapters from the book, his own comments about the book, and correspondence between him and me about various translation-related issues. You can also follow him on Twitter at @hitus_concats.