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Spoilers: Spoilers through vol. 16 or so.
Summary: Because girl groups, childhood games, henshin pens, secret passwords, and shoujo manga can save the world.
Notes: Written for ambientlight for Yuletide 2010.

Thanks so much to etothey for beta-ing despite not knowing the source; to [personal profile] busaikko for answering completely random questions about growing up in Japan in the 1990s and 2000s (all cultural mistakes are my fault, not hirs!); and to edonohana for basically coming up with my plot, beta-ing and pointing out that things were entirely too confusing, and mutual moaning and whining as we procrastinated.

Read 21st Century Girls

Source information

20世紀少年/20th Century Boys is a 24-volume seinen manga series by Urasawa Naoki (the final two volumes are published as 21世紀少年/21st Century Boys) about a group of boys growing up in the 1960s and 1970s. They have a secret base where they read shounen manga and the occasional porn magazine spirited away from their dads, and while there, they invent a complicated scenario in which they defeat a supervillain trying to take over the world via an ebola-esque virus, giant robots, possible psychic powers, and laser guns. Fast forward to the 1990s, and Kenji is your average convenience store owner who has put aside childhood dreams of rock and roll and is currently raising his sister Kiriko's infant Kanna. A cult leader called Friend has grown in popularity, and suddenly, things that are eerily like Kenji's boyhood games are happening around the world. The series goes through several timeskips and numerous flashbacks, and I think I spent the first three weeks just re-reading and trying to piece together the timeline.

I love everything of Urasawa's that I've read, and although I don't think 20thCB is his best series, it's my favorite. (The ending is kind of incoherent, even on a reread. Or should I say, especially on a reread when one is attempting to map out when and where everything happens and getting extremely frustrated by the lack of months.) I love it because as with all Urasawa series I've read, it has awesome side characters and kitchen-sink plotting and plot twists like whoa and ordinary people being heroes, but I love it best because you can tell Urasawa crammed it full of all his own id buttons—secret forts and shounen manga and rock and roll and pulp sf, that he loves all the boys in the gang, that even though the specific scenarios are made up, he's drawing from his own boyhood memories.

I actually have no idea how necessary previous knowledge of the source is. The fic spoils a few plot points around volume 16 or so, but mostly in the background as worldbuilding. I think it's confusing if you don't even know the premise of the series, but several people have commented saying that they've only read one volume, or a few volumes, and it was fine. YMMV?

Everything after this has spoilers for the story itself (I can't believe I actually wrote a story that can be spoiled). I'll warn for additional spoilers for 20thCB and other manga as it comes up.

Embarrassingly, this may be longer than the fic itself. It should not be necessary for reading the fic, which hopefully stands by itself without explanations! It's just here for anyone who was curious about details, references, etc.

Process notes

I mention that 20thCB is my favorite Urasawa series, and it is, and I love it to pieces. I also love his female characters: Kanna, Yukiji, Kyoko, Sanae, even the little we see of lawyer Ichihara Setsuko. That said, it's hard to ignore that Urasawa mostly does single awesome female characters among a ton of men. Even though the above women and girls all talk to each other, and not about men, the majority of the series is still so very male. I wanted a version of 20thCB that had all the same things I love about the original, only with girls and the games girls play together.

Obviously, not all girls do this, just as boys don't all have secret forts and read shounen manga. But I did, with multiple groups of friends, with multiple sets of games, with anything that sparked our (usually my) interest: LotR, Power Rangers, 90210, LJ Smith, carousel horses, martians, Disney princesses before they were marketed as such, etc. I have no doubt that if I had read shoujo manga back then, that would have made it in. And I'm guessing that a lot of us who grew up to be fans and writers did stuff like this as well. And just like Urasawa is so fond of Kenji and co. and their games, just as we get Kenji the wannabe rocker and Otcho the action hero and Yoshitsune the unwilling captain and all the others being heroes, I wanted girls I loved, girls who weren't punished for being girly or for being not girly, girls who were all heroes.

And that was about as far as I got for three weeks, as I slowly made my way through a reread. Speaking of which, I'm still annoyed at Urasawa for having Prof. Shikishima's daughter Rena off-screen so often that I thought I could make this her story, but then spoiling my hopes by bringing her back in the very end so I couldn't do anything with her. Rachel amazingly generated a plot out of my extremely unspecific prompt—"So... how would you realistically save the world through the power of shoujo manga? With girls who are childhood friends but eventually drift apart, like Kenji and co." She suggested a group of girls, one of whom was working with Friend. Everyone would think she had betrayed them, but in the end, they would find out she was a double agent the entire time because of the power of their memories of love and justice.

I went with Sailor Moon because it's so perfect for this kind of game: the narrative of saving the world, secret identities and superheroes and masks, reincarnations of princesses and queens and hints of other lives. But most importantly for anyone who has made up games like this, it had a team, everyone with distinct colors and personalities and planets and powers. (My sister used to complain because she always had to be R2D2 while I got to be Princess Leia.) I had originally wanted to do something with the shoujo manga of the 1970s and the Magnificent 24, or Rose of Versailles, but I've mostly read about them instead of reading them, and the format of Sailor Moon fit so well. It also had the bonus of making the ages of the girls much closer to my own, meaning I could rely on memory for some things. For example, I remembered that sparkly metallic gel pens weren't popular until high school and confirmed with my sister; the internet then told me that gel pen technology seems to have been put into mass production around 1997. (The best color was the uniball copper pen, imho. The Signo pens were great and had cool colors, but the ink would break if you dropped it (not sure how to say this in English... 會斷水).) Other manga series candidates were Fushigi Yuugi (too many guys, haven't read), X (cool powers, right time period, too dark), Please Save My Earth (still not enough girls), Rose of Versailles, Song of the Wind and Trees, Heart of Thomas, and Glass Mask (I haven't read the entire series of all of these, which made them harder to reference).

I think I have whined multiple times that this is the hardest fic I have ever written (and the longest! And the most complicated!). I had to write out a straight timeline before splitting it up into scenes, figure out significant dates for Princess Princess and Sailor Moon, and somehow put it all together in a non-info-dumpy way. I also had a ton of other childhood games that I couldn't figure out how to put in; it took me a few days to figure out how to get just the kaibun in. And then I panicked because I could not figure out the character motivation for Takako, and I couldn't figure out a way to fit in both the Expo and snippets from the final time skip in the series without writing 5000 more words, which is around when I begged Rachel for more plot. Have I mentioned I suck at plot? I suck at plot. I suck even more at plots that need things like foreshadowing and timed reveals and one thing seeming to happen while something else actually does and double agents and secret messages. I mean, I have a hard enough time just following that type of plot, much less actually coming up with one! There was one point in which I nearly had to write down what was actually going on, what the characters thought was going on, what the reader thought was going on the first read, and then what the reader thought was going on on a reread, and every time I changed a single thing, I had to change a bazillion references elsewhere and re-foreshadow and gaaaaah. A ton of kudos for my beta readers here, as they basically did the "I have no idea what's going on or who these people even are" reality check for me. I have EVEN MORE respect and admiration for Urasawa now, and he had ten times the number of characters and plot twists and time skips and reveals! That said, dialogue and scenes with unnamed but still important characters is so much easier to do in manga than in prose, when you have to actually attribute dialogue to people! This works much better when they have names.

I've also said that my "Queen and the Soldier" fic was the most idtastic thing I've written since high school, but I think "21st Century Girls" rivals it! It is not from my id now, but it is chock full of my childhood id: magic powers and rings and birthstones and star signs and favorite colors and pretty outfits; notebooks full of characters' birthdays and favorite foods and hair and eye colors; memorizing all the lyrics to songs and dancing to them; running around the playground pretending the swings were rockets; best friends forever; and, most of all, the way those long summer days seemed to never end, the way you knew that someday, you'd be too old for these games but the way you also swore to never grow up, to never forget, to never think of these things as childish or silly or ridiculous because you would always remember that in those days, they were the most important thing in life.

Language notes

Disclaimer: I am not a native speaker of Japanese or Korean, and all errors in the fic are my own. I apologize for anything offensive, and would really appreciate it if people corrected me, although no one is by any means obligated to do so!

Romanization in the fic consists of revised Hepburn for the Japanese with the exception of typed-out long vowels to avoid macrons and Revised Romanization for the Korean, with the exception of "Kim," where I chose to go with the romanization most frequently used for that surname.

There is actually a smattering of Japanese in the fic in my head. After obsessively stalking, I was fairly sure my recipient knew some Japanese, but I didn't want to assume how much, so I only put in the Japanese for the song lyrics and romanizations of the kaibun. The title of the fic is obviously "21世紀少女 (Nijuuisseiki Shoujo)."

I probably could have done Significant Naming like that in Sailor Moon, but that would have made the girls feel too much like manga characters and not enough like ordinary girls playing at being manga characters. I actually did not think out the kanji for anyone's name except Megumi/Hyeseon's, but 20thCB does everyone's name in katakana anyway.

For the record, the girls' names, senshi names, and princess band names are:*
Kim Hyeseon/Kaneshiro Megumi: 金惠鮮(김혜선)/金城恵(メグミ), Taurus Senshi タウラス戦士, Emerald Taurus Princess エメラルド・タウラス・プリンセス
- Hyeseon is 재일교포/在日コリアン/Zainichi Korean. Her father never told her and basically only gave her a Japanese name, but when she found out, she either named herself in Korean or worked with her grandmother to come up with a name. The "hye" in "Hyeseon" uses the same hanja as the kanji for "megumi," and the "seon" is taken from her father's Korean name. "Kaneshiro" and "Kim" begin with the same hanja/kanji; from research, it seemed as though many Zainichi Koreans had pass name surnames that included the hanja from their Korean surname and then added a character to make it sound Japanese. I think I changed Hyeseon/Megumi's name several times after I made her Zainichi to try and find something that would work as a Japanese pass name and as something she could construct a Korean name out of. "Hyeseon" may sound awkward as a Korean name, which is entirely out of my own ignorance, but I was also hoping it would signify someone naming themselves in a language that's their heritage but that they don't actually speak. I figure, like me, Hyeseon probably found her name while searching for Korean girls' names online or in books (or consulting her grandmother).

Yoshida Takako: 吉田タカコ, Gemini Senshi ジェミニ戦士, Pearl Gemini Princess パール・ジェミニ・プリンセス
- Poor Takako. I picked her name just to come up with the mean childhood nickname of "Baka-ko" (stupid kid/girl).

Kobayashi Ayane: 小林アヤネ, Libra Senshi リブラ戦士, Sapphire Libra Princess サファイア・リブラ・プリンセス

Taniguchi Natsuko: 谷口ナツコ, Leo Senshi レオ戦士, Ruby Leo Princess ルビー・レオ・プリンセス
- So named because she's a summer baby, like me.

Inoue Kotori: 井上コトリ, Aquarius Senshi アクエリアス戦士, Amethyst Aquarius Princess アメシスト・アクエリアス・プリンセス
- Kotori's name is also a reference to the Kotori from CLAMP's X.

Kaneshiro Akira/Kim Seonmyeong: 金城明(アキラ)/金鮮明(김선명)
- Hyeseon's father, chooses to assimilate and go by his Japanese pass name, although he was also given a Korean name by his mother. The hanja for "myeong" and the kanji for "akira" are the same.

"Zodiac Senshi" is actually サイン戦士 (Sign Senshi), since as far as I could tell, in Japanese, people usually say "sign" when they mean the Western zodiac to differentiate it from 十二支/the Japanese zodiac (juunishi)**. I translated it to "Zodiac" because it sounded better. Senshi (戦士) means "warrior" and is from 美少女戦士セーラームーン/Sailor Moon (Bishoujo senshi seeraa muun), and I kept it as the Japanese because "Leo Warrior" sounded a bit dorky. Er, even more dorky, that is.

I chose to use the katakana versions of the girls' zodiac signs and birthstones largely because Sailor Moon also uses the katakana version of planet names, and all the girls' attack names are also in katakana, as is "Iron Maleficus."

Sadly, I didn't think of the Japanese for their transformation sequence phrase ("Diamond stars unite! etc."), but I am pretty sure it is in Japanese and not romanized, since the Sailor Moon transformation sequences are also in Japanese.

"The Power of the Heart of the Universe" is 宇宙の心の力 (uchuu no kokoro no chikara).

The Viz translation renders "tomodachi" as "our Friend" or "the Friend," but the scans and what I remember from the original Japanese (I sold my copies) don't have that modifying article. I used "our" for the additional creepy effect for Friend's followers, but stuck with just "Friend" instead of "the Friend" elsewhere. I don't remember the original Japanese enough to recall if "our" is used in front of "Friend" with his followers.

I didn't work out exactly what the last line of Ayane's graduation speech was in Japanese, but it feels very much like a translation to English to me.

Similarly, Takako introducing herself to the girls and saying "it's very nice to meet you" is also a poor translation of よろしくお願いします (yoroshiku onegaishimasu), which has the connotation of "pleased to meet you," but also implies "please take care of me" or "please accept me into your group" or "please treat me well." Obviously everyone says it when they're introduced, but I suspect Takako really means the added implications as well.

The passphrases and "watashi makemashita wa" are 回文 (kaibun), which are Japanese palindromes. Each syllable in Japanese is represented by a single hiragana, so when you read it backwards (or up, since it's usually written vertically), do one syllable at a time instead of inverting the romanized spelling. Natsuko and Hyeseon's passphrases have bits of their name in them; Natsuko's has "natsu" and Hyeseon's has "kane" (for Kim or Kaneshiro) because "Hyeseon" doesn't translate well into hiragana and "megumi" was really hard to find a kaibun for.

私負けましたわ (watashi makemashita wa) - "I have lost" (with what I think is a feminine speech final marker)
夏まで待つな (natsu made matsu na) - "Don't wait until summer" (casual)
世の中ね、顔かお金かなのよ (yo no naka ne, kao ka okane kana no yo) - "In the world, your face is probably like money" (my own translation, which is why it's so terrible!) [eta: correction]

The first two I found via English sites with kaibun examples, but the last one I found by randomly googling in Japanese.

The final translation of Princess Princess' "The Hottest Summer in the World" is by me, which again is why it's so terrible! The "sesuna (セスナ)" that Takako mentions being confused about is the Cessna airplane (I think).

* Zodiac sign romanization source and birthstone romanization source
** Like most of my "research," this is largely based on Wikipedia

References (spoilers for 20CB through vol. 14 or so and for Sailor Moon through Death Busters)

I stole the basic structure of the fic from Urasawa, starting from the musical introduction with nothing changing to the flash forward to 2001 in the first chapter of the manga, along with the reveal about Hyeseon/Megumi paralleling the reveal with Shogun/Otcho. I was hoping there was a teeny bit of misdirection re: Hyeseon being the betrayer, as there was with Otcho, but I cut most of it out when it turned out to be too confusing. The final meeting in the girls' old school in 2015 parallels the meeting in the science room on New Year's Day in 2015 that Kanna and Otcho burst in on.

プリンセス・プリンセス/Princess Princess (プリ2/Puri Puri) is a five-member Japanese girl group from 1983-1995. It seems as though they reached their height of popularity around the mid-80s and early-90s. "Diamonds" seems to be their most famous song ("Hottest Summer in the World" is one of the b-sides). The time period isn't exactly right for my girls, who probably were too young to listen to them when they were really popular, but I figured Takako's older sister was the right age and passed it down to Takako. The band announced their breakup in August 1995 and gave a final tour in 1996.


Hottest Summer in the World:

(I love the 80s hair!)

I had briefly contemplated using the Spice Girls, especially with the five Spice Girl personalities and "Wannabe" being about friendship, particularly since Urasawa used Western rock, but the time period was just a bit too late for Sailor Moon. But Puri Puri had five members as well, with the bonus of having the girliest name ever and a gemstone song that's about precious memories with a b-side about summer and imagination!

美少女戦士セーラームーン/Sailor Moon is an 18-volume manga by Takeuchi Naoko. It ran in Nakayoshi from February 1992 to March 1997. The Death Busters arc ended in the March 1995 issue. I was hoping my recipient would get the Sailor Moon references even if she hadn't read it (or seen the anime), just because its influence on the magical girl genre and shoujo in general is HUGE. The senshi and the zodiac influence and the henshin pens are totally out of Sailor Moon, with a few changes made by adolescent girls who weren't too good (and didn't care too much) about filing off the serial numbers. Also, in my head, the Zodiac Senshi go through "real life" as the Diamond Star Princesses, a girl band, and transform into senshi when crimes are committed! (Jem! I miss you!) I am sure that the girls made it so that they all have symbolic non-senshi, non-princess names like all the sailor senshi do, along with elements and planets and carefully mapped out powers and power ups, and I probably would have figured it all out if there had been more time. A lot of the Sailor Moon villains had gemstone names, which later moved on names of metals and etc.; ergo, Iron Maleficus. Also, it just sounds like a name a sixth-grader would make up! I would have!

For people who haven't read Sailor Moon, the 変身 (henshin, transformation) pens are what the sailors use to transform to their sailor identity. They come with a swirly transformation sequence in which you get to see things like the gloves and boots and earrings and bows and tiara appear on the girl, and I am extremely sure my girls made Kotori illustrate this for each of them.

The bit about the Sailor of Death and Silence (which should be the Sailor of Death and Rebirth) is the ending of the Death Busters arc, which I stuck in a) because it perfectly fit the timeline and b) it's my favorite arc and the part of the anime I used to watch after school in eighth grade and the part of the manga I started reading at the dentist's office when I had braces. I totally think Sailor Saturn has the best power and weapon, and I love her lace-up boots and her star crystal brooch. They are kick ass! (Okay, Pluto and Uranus can complete re: power and weapon, but I still heart Saturn.) The reference to the Black Lady is from the Black Moon arc, in which Chibi Usagi is brainwashed and turned evil by the Black Moon Kingdom, and it's hinted that it's because of jealousy/feeling like she didn't fit in, and it's obviously supposed to signal Gemini Senshi turning evil. But it also foreshadows her turning good again. Sailor Saturn/Hotaru goes through a similar transformation in the Death Busters arc and becomes Mistress 9, which I didn't mention explicitly but was definitely in the back of my head.

The girls themselves don't fit perfectly into the five sailor senshi, since the sailor senshi read as more of a set of character traits than actual characters (probably so girls identify with them more!), but Ayane is a bit like Sailor Mercury/Ami, while Kotori has bits of Sailor Jupiter/Makoto. The tension between Taurus Senshi and Gemini Senshi for the emerald and for the position of queen and lead singer is based partly on the Sailor Moon/Sailor Venus dichotomy, in which Sailor Venus had actually been an active senshi for longer than the others, with her own cat, and also on how Sailor Venus had said she was the Moon Princess for a bit to be a decoy. Minako (Venus) also wants to be an idol and a singer. But as with Sailor Moon and Sailor Venus, what could be rivalry and almost becomes such in the fic works the same way, with the two girls working to help each other instead of compete.

Urasawa packs 20thCB with various shounen manga references, from the Ochanomizu Institute of Technology and Prof. Shikishima to Yabuki Joe. I didn't manage to get in quite as much, since the focus was mainly on Sailor Moon, but as previously mentioned, Kotori's name is a nod to X. The Taniguchi's dog Peropero is from Kare Kano. Natsuko's brief mentions of things she's written include nods to every single gothic shoujo ever set at Tokyo Tower (X!!!), Earthian (winged aliens) and wingfic in general, Heaven and Hell for Yuki Kaori (I am not sure where robot dolls are from, although I am certain they exist!), beautiful cross-dressing boys and dashing tomboy girls for all the gender-bending/cross-dressing shoujo out there (Utena, W Juliet, Hana Kimi, Princess Knight, Rose of Versailles, I could go on forever), and the bizarre school system as a call-out to Utena's rose duelists. The floating sakura at Hyeseon and Takako's tragic (but not actually tragic) parting is no specific manga, since it is in every single shoujo manga series ever. How could I have written something based on shoujo manga without floating flower petals setting the atmosphere?

四コマ (4-koma or yon koma) is more like typical USian newspaper comics than manga, with a four-panel format (ergo the name) that are usually less story-based and more one-shot in nature, although of course there are exceptions (Azumanga Daioh, frex).

All this said, I hope the fic stands by itself even if the reader knows nothing about Sailor Moon or picks up on any of the references.

Shooting paper bullets with rubber bands, picking burrs and putting them on boys' chairs/throwing them at boys, the singing competition at the school festival, spying on adults, red bean popsicles, the drawing of clothes and faces and writing of character traits and etc. for various games are all from my own girlhood in Taiwan. Round burrs work best, and the reddish ones are the prickliest, but if you keep them, they dry up and stop sticking. They grew everywhere on the school grounds, and hopefully they grow in Tokyo too. The broom closet (we cleaned our classrooms, and it seems like Kenji and co. did too) and eating lunch in the classroom is from my own memories; I think it's also in the manga and hope that hadn't changed from the 70s to the 90s. Thankfully, unlike Kotori, I never swallowed a tadpole or knew anyone who did, although the lake by our school was full of them.

Final notes (vague spoilers for vol. 18 or so of 20thCB)

This fic was the hardest and longest and most complicated thing I've ever written, but it was also one of the most fun. I love all five of the girls enormously, since all of them have bits and pieces of me and the childhood friends I played my own games with. I could have spent an entire year fleshing out all their games and secrets and passwords and dances and loved every second of doing so. I had originally checked the "femslash" ticky box when I first put the fic into AO3 and then switched it to "gen" when I realized later one I hadn't actually stuck in any of the femslash in my head. So, read it in there or not. I personally ship Takako/Hyeseon and Natsuko/Kotori, and there's a whole 'nother story in my head on how in high school Natsuko tries to convince Kotori to draw doujinshi with her and how Kotori turns her down but later regrets it. That said, I also did not want to punish any of the girls for any of their decisions, and I hope I put enough in so that Kotori's uber-girliness or Ayane's practicality aren't read as Susan in Narnia analogues that takes them away from their imaginary world, but as something they later use as weapons as well. Ditto with Takako being the fat weird one who is the most socially awkward; I feel she's actually the most awesome out of all of them for being an undercover agent for ten years and trying as hard as she can to save her friends. I wanted to take them to where the series ends, but couldn't figure out how. So if anyone is curious or cares, they are all working with the Genji faction or the Ice Queen and various other resistance movements against Friend, and the information Takako brings out is essential in helping the movements finally win.

Re: guessing, I suspect the question isn't so much "what gave me away?" so much as "what didn't?"

Also, I had figured a grand total of two people would read this, especially compared to the Nikita story, since this one is a) 9000+ words long, b) with almost all original characters, c) and series spoilers, d) for a 24-volume long series, e) that hasn't finished coming out in the US, and f) is from a non-Western fandom. YAY YULETIDE for proving me wrong!

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(Deleted comment)
Jan. 3rd, 2011 04:19 am (UTC)
Awww, thank you! I have kind of been obsessing over this thing for three weeks or so now (ergo the giant brain dump), and I am glad other people enjoyed the world too!
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