17 May 2013

Review: A, A′ [A, A Prime] by Moto Hagio

Comic digest, 207 pages
Published 1997 (contents: 1981)
Borrowed from  the library
Read May 2013
A, A′ [A, A Prime]
by Moto Hagio
English adaptation by Matt Thorn

This collection brings together three works of shōjo manga by Moto Hagio, whose work I previously enjoyed in A Drunken Dream and Other Stories. The works in that collection spanned her entire career (1977-2008), whereas these three all come from 1981, and are all set in the same future milieu, where Earth's colonization of the solar system was aided by a genetically engineered raced called "unicorns." Unicorns have a distinctive mane of red hair (hence, apparently, the name), as well as adaptations to make them good early settlers: they can see in infrared, for example, and they are also emotionally detached. The race is largely extinct at the point the stories in A, A′ occur, but they interbred with normal humans, and occasional throwbacks ("atavisms") exist.

In "A, A′ [A, A Prime]," Addy (one of these atavisms) has died after three years on a distant science outpost, and her clone is dispatched to take her place. She and a man there had been in love, and now they must negotiate what it's like for both of them when she doesn't have any memories of their relationship. It's the best story in the book, with a couple standout moments that are both beautiful and melancholy, such as when Addy alone can see a solar flare in the infrared. I'm not sure what to think of the ending, but I think it works in context.

"4/4 [Quatre/Quarts]" is about a teenage boy named Mori who has strong telekinetic potential, but can't seem to harness it except when in the presence of a very isolated unicorn named Trill. The two are drawn to each other, somehow creating a whole in union that neither of them can achieve alone, two emotional isolates who only respond to each other. It's a darker and more disturbing story than "A, A′," with much more tragedy. The unicorns are shown to experience emotions, just not in the way others expect, which leads to tragedy.

The second half of the book is taken up by one longer story, "X + Y," which focuses at first on a unicorn named Tacto and then a college-age Mori. Tacto seems to be male, but his genes indicate that he is XX, but he seems uninterested in his gender anyway. Meanwhile, Mori finds himself falling in love with this boy despite himself. The two face prejudice as well as their own uncertainties, and some dark secrets in Tacto's past. I liked this one, though Tacto's habit of talking in the third person took a lot of use getting used to. Again, much of the difficulty centers on Tacto's own emotional processes, which exist, but aren't quite like a baseline human's. There's some interesting stuff going on with gender here, as well as some beautiful moments involving kite-flying, which Mori has taken up as a hobby since "4/4." The last two pages are gorgeous.

Moto Hagio's art is great throughout, though I think I'm not quite enmeshed enough in the manga tradition to make the character distinctions that are sometimes required of me. Her sf works in a different register to the one than I am used to, and I am glad that I am getting to know it; I look forward to picking up more of her translated work in the future.

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