As part of our research, my co-researchers Rei Saionji and Tomoe Hojo and I are working together to document the many ways in which the word “lolita” is used in girls and women cultures in Japan. From punk to girls comics, “lolita” has been used as a word of resistance and resilience against the patriachy.
Today I want to share an example of what we’ve found so far: Yasuko Aoike’s manga series Hadashi no Lolita (Barefoot Lolita) which ran in Shunkan Shoujo Friend, a magazine for young girls, in 1968. I am working with the tankoubon version of the manga, published in 1969. At the time of writing, we believe this is one of the first characters named Lolita to appear in girls comics.
The story follows the adventures of a plucky zookeeper living in France, named Lolita. Lolita is strong, brave and arguably feminist for the way she asserts herself and sticks to her values, wearing frills on her own terms.
In this post I provide an overview of the manga’s context, its character and story. I’ve included a small sample of the pages in this post, within what I am allowed to share for educational purposes. I’ll see if I can have some of these pages scanned nicely for your reference. I will also follow up at a later point with commentary on readers responses once I review the issues of Shunkan Shoujo Friend from the year of its publication. I am also in the process of writing a short academic journal article that closely engages with this text.
Hadashi no Lolita’s Author and Context
Aoike is a famous manga-ka, best known for her series Eroica Yori Ai o Komete (From Eroica with Love; 1976-1989). But before Eroica, Aoike produced an array of girls comics. She is counted amongst the Year 24 Group, recognised for her significant contribution to the girls manga genre.
We know that many lolita fashion practitioners might be interested to learn of this heroine. The practitioners we work with in Japan have not attributed this manga to the coining of their alternative culture’s name, pointing to the kawaii and punk movements of the 1980s and 1990s instead. However girls manga is recognised in scholarship as a great source of inspiration for kawaii fashion, including lolita fashion. Lolitas explain that their street fashion is not cosplaying Dolores of Vladimir Nabakov’s Lolita (1955), but rather that “lolita” refers to a “frilly French aesthetic” with a long history in kawaii culture. I am sharing this manga as an example of how the name “Lolita” has been used in the past to evoke an air of Frenchness for a Japanese audience. For more information, I recommend the work of Dr Masafumi Monden, who has written extensively on the links between kawaii fashion and girls manga and illustrations.
Girls manga is well recognised in scholarship as a culturally significant genre for girls resistance and rebellion. Originally it was linked to cultural programming from the State in the Meiji Period; tales from colonies around the globe were translated for girls in the hopes of making them into “good wives, wise mothers”. But by the Showa era the authors had co-opted the medium to create stories of their own of resistance, rebellion and resilience. In this regard, the colonial was queered and transformed from the inside, where frills became not a site of oppression but rather symbols of revolution. Underneath the lacy veneer of this genre are some very feminist tales. For those interested I recommend Associate Professor Hiromi Dollase’s book, Age of Shojo: The Emergence, Evolution and Power of Japanese Girls’ Magazine Fiction.
Film appears to have played a key source of inspiration for Hadashi no Lolita. Honorary Associate Professor Tomoko Aoyama says she can observe in the style of this manga the work of Mizuno Hideko, who drew on Hollywood films as part of their practice. For those interested, I regularly recommend Aoyama’s and her colleagues work; her edited collection with Honorary Senior Fellow Barbara Hartley Girl Reading Girl as well as her wonderful collection publications are a must-read for anyone interested in Japanese girls comics and literature.
Some of the films that inspire this manga are Anastasia (1956), The Secret Garden (1949; adapted from Frances Hodgson Burnett’s 1911 novel), and Barefoot Contessa (1954). While it’s possible that Aoike chose the name “Lolita” for her character from the 1962 adaption of Vladmir Nabakov’s novel, Lolita, (1955; translated 1959), the story bares no resemblance to the film or novel. It also predates the translation of Russell Trainer’s The Lolita Complex (1966; translated 1969). Rather, “Lolita” is used here as an exotic sounding name to evoke the “Frenchness” of the story’s princess world. As part of our work, we are reaching out to artists to learn more about “lolita” as a word, and if I learn more I will report back.
Who is Lolita?
Lolita is a middle schooler, who lives out in the country in France. She is described as kind, cute and tough. Lolita is a dreamer and flouts the rules. She loves climbing and running barefoot as part of her connection to the earth.
Lolita is the eldest of a family of five. Lolita’s family owns a local zoo, and she is responsible for many of the animals there. Her best friends are her horse Celine, who symbolises her freedom, and her lion Napoleon, who represents her bravery and fierce nature.
Lolita is powerful, resolved and strong. She is never rescued, but rather saves herself through her great tenacity and resilience.
Lolita hates shoes but does enjoy dressing up ruffled dresses. When she wears fine gowns, she is seen as a great beauty. But her uncouth country nature is not becoming of a lady, earning her the ire of the Parisian society. Because of her kindness and earnesty, however, Lolita is a true lady at heart.
Honorary Associate Professor Aoyama notes that Lolita’s characterisation in Hadashi no Lolita could be a variation of “the insect loving princess” character-type. Derived from Mushi-mezuru Himegimi (The Lady Who Loved Insects) from the Heian Period, this tale tells the story of a lady who flouts conventions and rebels against social conventions of the court.
Lolita is a plucky country girl in the city. Coming to Paris with the promise that she was to become a zoo keeper, she finds herself entangled in the social life and political intrigues of the villa of Count Reine. Shunning social rules, Lolita regularly kicks off her heels and runs barefoot.
Lolita has been brought to Paris by Don Carlos, a fast-talking charlatan. Unbeknownst to Lolita, Don is hoping to convince the Count that Lolita is actually his long lost granddaughter and heiress to the estate, Paola. Lolita’s rival, Vicky, is also trying to present herself as the heiress.
Much of the plot is about the Dons attempts to spin elaborate tales around Lolita and give her the airs and fashion of an heiress. Meanwhile Lolita, sabotages his efforts with her outspoken nature, boisterous manner and take no prisoners attitude.
However, the count has a secret. Tired of society and its rules, he has made a secret garden for himself deep in his villa. Lolita discovers this garden and through their mutual love of nature and animals, she cultivates this sanctuary with the Count.
While everyone around her—bar the Count— is deceptive, Lolita’s heart is true. She sees the Count as a lonely old man and earnestly wants to be his friend. Her constant kindness melts the heart of Don, who changes his charlatan ways. While Lolita may not have the airs of one, she’s a true lady at heart.
The cast of Hadashi no Lolita. Image One: From top left, clockwise: Jose, Don’s friend; Don Carlos; Bijin (beautiful) Lolita; Celine the horse. Image Two: From top left, clockwise: Count Reine; Napoleon, Lolita’s pet; Count Fanta; Marie Therese, Vicky’s mother; Vicky, Lolita’s rival.
The story opens with Lolita skipping school to climb trees. Rambunctious and wild, she is scolded by her papa for skipping class and is urgently called to the family zoo as some of their deer are unwell.
Don Carlos is a charlatan, and his latest score is to trick a Count in Paris, who lost his son and daughter-in-law, at sea 13 years ago. Their child, Paola, was lost, her whereabouts unknown. Don’s goal is to find a girl to play the role of Paola and get a reward. By chance he stumbles across Lolita.
After being chased and terrorised by Lolita’s pet lion, Napoleon, in the zoo, Don gets to know Lolita and her family. In that same meeting, he offers to take Lolita to the city to a better school. But Lolita is reluctant to leave the country and her animals, no matter how glamourous and exciting Don makes Paris out to be. It’s after he lies about starting a zoo and wanting her to be its keeper that she eagerly agrees. But only if she can bring her horse, Celine. Hugging her family goodbye she leaves.
Lolita immediately makes a splash in town, riding Celine in the streets. She finds herself at odds with city life and its social rules. She meets Vicky and her mother, who are revealed to be also scheming to trick the Count and inherit his estate. Vicky also has her sights on Don and hopes to snap him up once she becomes the rich heiress.
Don takes Lolita clothes shopping, to make her a proper lady. But lolita hates heels, and after being told she can’t wear her boots, goes barefoot. For the remainder of the story, she regularly discards her shoes, especially when she gets up to mischief.
Lolita gets a makeover in Paris trying on the fine fashion. But she hates the shoes. Don tries to get her to follow the rules of Paris (don’t worry, he fails completely).
Lolita runs into conflict with both Vicky and Don, not standing for their lies and tricks. She’s especially angry about there not being a zoo. She pushes them both in a pool and runs away.
Image one: Lolita, learning that there is no zoo, and that Don as lied to her, yells at him and storms off. Image two and three: Vicky has been bullying Lolita, but Lolita is standing for none of it, and immediately fights back. She also berates Don.
Missing the country she considers leaving, but some visiting birds give her comfort and hope. She decides to continue on with her adventure.
Lolita feels that Paris is full of bullies. She thinks about her animals, her mama and her papa, and wonders if she should go home. She looks over the city, and is comforted by some birds. She decides to stay and brave it into the unknown.
Lolita returns to apologise to Don, who feigns illness. Lolita feels guilty, and cares for him in his sickbed. Don is taken aback by her kindness.
Lolita, Don and Jose cruise around town, Lolita riding Celine. Vicky looks from afar, with a plan afoot. Lolita gallops off into the forest, stumbling into the property of the Count. The Count, taking a walk, is unimpressed and asks his guards to remove her. The guards, in cahoots with Vicky, lock her away in a tower in the villa instead.
Don frantically looks for Lolita. By the time he finds the tower she’s in, Lolita has already rescued herself. Incensed that she had been locked away, Lolita had made herself a rope using the curtains, and swings them both to safety.
Meanwhile Vicky, taking advantage of the opportunity, gives a dramatic performance at the villa as long lost Paola. The Count remains skeptical. Lolita and Don stumble in, and Don also attempts to weave an elaborate tale of Lolita as Paola. But Lolita, outraged that she had been captured, doesn’t hear Don and proceeds to cuss out the Count. He has them both escorted off the property.
Lolita storms up the Count, furious that his bodyguards had locked him away. The Count, unaware of what had happened is startled. Don attempts to interrupt Lolita, introducing her as the long lost Paula. In the next pages, Lolita has not heard Don and immediately smashes his attempts by cussing out the Count.
The Don makes another attempt to present Lolita as Paola at a party at the villa. Lolita makes her debut as a lady in a fine dress and steals the show.
Lolita makes her debut at the Counts party. Vicky feels threatened by her beauty.
During the party, Vicky and her henchmen lock Lolita in a room. She climbs out a window and scales a wall barefoot and in her ballgown. By chance she sees the Count going into a secret passage. She follows him to discover the Count has made for himself a secret garden, where he can enjoy nature away from the stuffy rules of society. The two befriend each other. Lolita returns to the party with the Count, and dances with Don. Vicky schemes to sabotage her yet again, eventually resulting in Don being beaten.
Lolita discovers the Count’s secret garden. After speaking with him about the stuffiness of high society, and the beauty of nature, the two return to the party. Re-entering with the Count, she looks like a true lady.
The next day, Lolita recieves a gift from the Count. But she is more concerned about Don, melting his heart with her earnesty.
From this point on Lolita goes on to variety events at the villa, causing mayhem with her unladylike ways. We also meet Viscount Fanta, Vicky’s beau. During a fox hunt, she rescues the foxes, and gives them to the Count to live in his oasis. As the Count and Lolita tend to their secret garden, he reveals that he knows Don is a charlatan. This is not the first lady he’s brought to the Count as Paola. He’s not evil though, he says. Lolita is shocked.
Lolita writes home about feeling lonely. They send her a heart necklace she wore as a baby. They also very thoughtfully sends Napoleon, who immediately gets to work in fiercely protecting Lolita from the snide remarks of socialites at the villa.
Image One: Lolita receives a letter from her parents with her heart necklace, which she has had since she was a child. Don thinks… her baby photo and necklace look familiar…. Image Two: Special delivery! Napoleon arrives in a package and bursts out, excited to be with Lolita again. Image Three: Napoleon roars at Lolita’s bullies.
At another party, Lolita dresses as Odette and then also a Greek Goddess. During the event she learns the truth of the Counts tragic backstory, and realises both Vicky’s plans and Don’s scheme all along. Heartbroken for the Count and her involvement, she runs away with her Celine and Napoleon. She leaves Don a stern note. Lolita goes to work for a local restaurant to earn enough money to return home.
Image One: Lolita is sent another lady’s black gown by mistake. While Lolita recovers her own dress, an Odette costume, the black dress falls to pieces on the other lady. In the next pages, she offers to give the lady her Odette dress. Image Two: Now at the party, Lolita appears as a Greek goddess. Vicky appears as Cleopatra.
Lolita, learning the truth of Vicky and Don’s schemes, leaves behind her fine princess dresses and dream room. No finery is worth doing things that go against her values. She bravely leaves for the country with Celine and Napoleon.
Don, remorseful, reveals his traumatic childhood (TM). His mother cheated his father out of all his money and ran away. His father died in a car accident shortly after, leaving Don all alone. Don was furious at his father for being so naive, believing that honesty doesn’t pay. But no matter how hard he has tried to convince himself otherwise, he’s too honest to be a good charlatan. Lolita’s honesty and purity has changed his ways. He is distraught to discover Lolita’s letter and that she has run away.
The Count collapses, and takes ill. Vicky and her mother, take advantage of the situation to further convince everyone that she is Paola. Don, is disgusted and vows to protect the Count and stop Vicky. The Count, feeble and bedridden, calls out to Lolita, his only true friend, in his sleep. Vicky is incensed.
Viscount Fanta decides to track down Lolita. He has her kidnapped and locks her away in a dungeon. Lolita tunnels her way out with her barehands, crawling past snakes. She staggers back to the Villa and bursts through the door just as Vicky has found the Count’s will. Seeing the Count seemingly on his deathbed, she weeps at his chest.
Lolita escapes her prison by finding a secret tunnel, braving snakes. She is determined to rescue the Count.
Don and Lolita argue but eventually reconcile. While Lolita waits at the Counts side, he eventually wakes. The first thing he sees is Lolita’s heart necklace about his neck. The Count gasps. It’s the necklace he had gifted Paola as a baby. He realises why there was something so nostalgic about her: she looks just like his son. The Count weeps, holding Lolita. He has found his grand-daughter. Don tries to contact Lolita’s parents to find out more of her history.
Image One: The Count wakes to sees Lolita’s necklace. In the next pages he reveals that he gave Paola a similar one as a child. Image Two: The Count, overcome with grief and joy hugs Lolita, who he is certain is his long lost granddaughter. Lolita is just happy to see the Count has recovered.
The Count doesn’t reveal to Lolita her true identity, but offers her all his riches, anything her heart desires. But Lolita doesn’t want any of it. She wants the country, her zoo, her mama and her papa. Tearfully the Count understands and bids her farewell. To protect her identity, he tells everyone that he has new information and that Paola is confirmed deceased. He would rather protect Lolita’s happiness above all things; Lolita belongs in the country with all her animals.
Lolita whisks Don away on Celine and they ride together back to the country, to tell her family all about her adventures.