Moto Hagio is one of the godmothers of shojo manga. Her work was at the forefront of the development of shojo in the 1970s and she’s been working in manga ever since. Fantagraphics, known for its independent Western graphic novels, has never before published manga, but when it made up its mind to do so it did it with style, starting with this hardcover, right-to-left collection of ten of Hagio’s stories. Putting an anthology together can be tricky. There has to be just the right balance of stories, so that one or two do not either overpower or sink the others, especially when those works, such as Hagio’s, have a very emotional core. Editors Gary Groth and Matt Thorn walk that line carefully and end up with a collection of ten stories where each tale flows nicely into the next without overwhelming the reader with sentiment. Readers are invited to dip into each selection, savoring Hagio’s words (deftly translated by Thorn). She brings up ideas which are not new—regret, self esteem, societal expectations, grief—but presents them in such as way as to make them fresh and new again in the readers’ eyes.
Science fiction stories have always interested Hagio, as she reveals in an extensive interview with manga scholar Thorn in the back of the book (reprinted from The Comics Journal) but though some stories have a whiff of the fantastic about them, it is really only the title story which seems to be wholly science fiction. Instead this collection is focused on the connections between people, especially in family situations. “What drives us together and what tears us apart?,” Hagio seems to ask. Sometimes, as in “Girl on Porch with Puppy,” she looks at what society expects out of its members, but other times, such as in “Iguana Girl,” she asks us to think about what we expect out of ourselves. Fans of manga creators Fumi Yoshinaga and Mitsukazu Mihara might well be a good audience for this collection, though Hagio is less arch than Yoshinaga and less intrigued by the gothic and the grotesque than Mihara.
The stories in this collection range in original publication date from 1977 to 2008, but Hagio’s art does not seem to age noticeably. Her characters’ dazzling eyes—the hallmark of 70s manga—seem less dated and more retrospective than they would in another artist’s hands and even an out-dated fashion item seems acceptable in this setting. What will stun readers is the level of detail that Hagio brings to even the smallest element of her stories. The roses in “Bianca” and “Autumn Journey,” the title page of “Hanshin: Half-God,” the characters’ in “Iguana Girl”—all glow with their own life, carefully crafted to bring reality and depth to her tales. “The Willow Tree,” the final work in this collection, is almost completely wordless. The action takes place in two large panels per page as a young woman standing under a willow tree watches the world change around her. It is a beautiful work, one which readers will want to linger over as they absorb the tiniest details. Fantagraphics has taken care to showcase Hagio’s work in as beautiful a package as possible. “A Drunken Dream” is presented here in a beautifully muted color palette of greys, browns, and just the right amount of red for impact. Several of the title pages have touches of color. Samples of Hagio’s art—color illustrations, rough sketches, and manga pages—illustrate the interview portion, bringing her words to life.
This collection seems to be aimed more at adult readers and it true that they will be the most likely to appreciate its subtleties. But there is nothing in terms of sexual content, violence, or language that would keep this from being appropriate for a teenage graphic novel collection. For the right reader, adult or teen, man or woman, these stories can be windows into a world where finally they can see themselves, both their strengths and their flaws. That’s a powerful thing for a book to be able to do and it takes a masterful craftsman like Hagio to be able to do it.
Reviewed by Snow Wildsmith on July 2, 2012
A Drunken Dream and Other Stories