Review: Japanese Schoolgirl Inferno

Japanese Schoolgirl Inferno: Tokyo Teen Fashion Subculture Handbook by Patrick Macias and Izumi Evers, with illustrations by Kazumi Nonaka

The image of the Japanese schoolgirl is one that many a Japanophile fantasize over and romanticize to ridiculous degrees. But really, who can blame them? With the way that these girls are presented in anime, manga and games, you’d think they were were angels straight out of heaven. However, those of us keen enough to realize that Japan isn’t at all like its cartoon counterpart know that such an image simply doesn’t jive with reality. However, upon opening this book, one notices quickly that the reality behind these girls is much stranger than the fiction.

Japanese Schoolgirl Inferno takes us straight into the belly of the beast without any warning. The introduction throws you into a club with Patrick and crew as they do some research for the book you’re holding in your hands. The image painted by this opening text is one of youth, excitement and energy. Nothing too strange, really. But as your eye scans these opening pages and actually starts to notice the accompanying photographs, you realize that this whole affair is anything but normal. And once the introduction ends, things really get weird. In the best possible way, of course.

Spanning from the late 1960s to the present day, Inferno covers all the major movements in Japanese girls’ fashion, complete with interviews, photos and Macias’ unique brand of writing. In each chapter, Macias puts you right in the middle of the movement, involving you with these girls and their era personally. Simply put, it feels like you’re there. This is actually pretty incredible, considering Macias himself wasn’t even around to experience some of these movements, which just goes to show how great this book is.

It’s evident a meticulous amount of research and love went into writing this, as each chapter contains a comprehensive history of each movement, but at the same time is presented in a very conversational manner. Macias talks to you. He knows this stuff back to front. He’s seen some of this stuff happen, and for the stuff he missed, he talks to people who were there, reads old magazines and just digs around. Then he just tells it all to you, and you simply can’t help but be mesmerized.

This book isn’t all a history lesson, though– as the title states, it’s a handbook. So, between Macias’ witty and entertaining discourses on various fashion movements, the book comes with various “How To” guides, “Day In The Life” segments, interviews with current/former Gals, and each chapter ends with a list of “Must Have” Gal items complete with “Ideal Boyfriend.” This mixture is one that produces a most entertaining read.

Another notable aspect about this book is the design and illustration work. Izumi Evers, the designer, lays out the book very well, and pushes the aesthetics appropriately over-the-top to compliment the subject matter. Similarly, Kazumi Nonaka’s illustrations are detailed, colourful and have a doll-like look to them that works well with Macias’ witty writing style, and interacts nicely with Evers’ design work.

Japanese Schoolgirl Inferno is simply a great book. It’s fun to read, informative, and just nice to look at. If there needs to be complaints to make this review complete, the ending of this book is a bit abrupt. It would have been better if there was a closing statement after the final chapter– a section where Macias could reflect on all this and provide some witty opinions. But that’s being nitpicky. It does come with this “WHAT GAL ARE YOU” test at the end, which is clearly hours of fun for the whole family.

Go out and buy this if you haven’t already. You don’t even have to care about fashion or Japan at all– this book will make you care. Because it’s that good.