30 August 2012

Review: Moto Hagio's A Drunken Dream and Other Stories

Comic hardcover, 256 pages
Published 2010 (contents: 1977-2008)
Borrowed from the library

Read June 2012
Moto Hagio's A Drunken Dream and Other Stories
translated by Matt Thorn

I read a couple stories from this collection of short-form shōjo manga in a class on graphic novels that I was taking, and I was sufficiently intrigued to track down the whole book. My previous experience with shōjo was pretty slight, and I imagined it as an entire genre of awkward high school relationships-- we can probably blame this on my experience reading Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane. Hagio, who was one of the founders of shōjo, showed me with "Iguana Girl" that this was entirely untrue: "shōjo" simply means "girl," and these stories are simply stories designed to appeal to girls, which seems to basically mean that they have high emotional content.

"Iguana Girl" is one of the most touching stories I have ever read. It's about a girl who is born an iguana-- but only she and her mother can tell, to everyone else she looks human. She spends her life constantly ridiculed by her mother and her sister, and Hagio makes the story hurt. Rika's pain is every child's pain, the pain of the daughter who's never quite what her mother wanted. We follow Rika as she grows up and finally comes to understand her mother, though it's not enough of course. This was one of three stories excerpted for our class, making me want to read the book-- and on reading the whole thing, it's definitely the best one.

But this is praising with faint damn. A Drunken Dream and Other Stories collects ten stories spanning Hagio's career. I found the material from the middle of her career the strongest. Her early 1970s stuff is perhaps a little too slight and overly saccharine-- but though I say that now, flipping back through "Girl on Porch with Puppy," I recall the deep emotional shock of its ending, so maybe that's a lie to make myself feel superior to this deeply emotional and melancholic work.

Her stories become stronger in the 1980s, which includes "A Drunken Dream," a strange gender-bending sci-fi story about reincarnation and the cruelty of destiny. This is where Hagio begins including more fantasy motifs into her stories, which heightens their power. "Hanshin: Half-God," about a pair of conjoined twins, is another highlight. So many of these stories I felt like I shouldn't like-- "Angel Mimic" is about a college girl falling for her professor and has a bunch of cod-evolutionary theory-- but I did anyway. Hagio's writing is lyrical, not in her dialogue (which has, after all, been ably translated by Matt Thorn) but also in her beautiful illustrations, which put emptiness to amazing effect. Even when I didn't want to be moved, I always was.

I borrowed this from the library, but I want to buy it now-- and I definitely want to pick up more classic manga, both stuff written by Moto Hagio and stuff translated by Matt Thorn. Even better when it's both of them together again!

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