As I discovered manga in so-called mid-life, I’m especially illiterate in the shōjo genre – manga marketed specifically to young girls ages 10 to 18-ish with pages that seem to show a plethora of starry eyes, fluffy costumes, talking animals and such. The Japanese characters for ‘shō-jo’ literally mean ‘little’ and ‘female/woman.’ The sickly-sweet Sailor Moon (which I readily admit I’ve never read) is the only example I can think of at the moment … don’t shudder too much.
Because here is artist Moto Hagio, whose work might officially be classified as shōjo manga, but is apparently one important, daring renegade in the manga world. This handsome collection that encompasses almost four decades (from 1971-2007) of Hagio’s short stories comes complete with a thorough, illuminating interview with Hagio conducted by the volume’s translator, Matt Thorn. Thorn himself is quite a manga authority; he’s a U.S.-born, Japan-domiciled professor of ‘comic art’ and self-proclaimed “shōjo manga evangelist.” Also included is Thorn’s essay, “The Magnificent Forty-Niners,” which provides an introductory overview of shōjo manga to the uninitiated newbie (like me).
Hagio’s collection of 10 short manga stories are filled with unexpected twists and endings. The opening story, “Bianca,” sets an other-worldly tone, as a now-elderly artist remembers her young cousin “who shared [her] life for just seven days,” and yet has provided her with decades of inspiration.
In “Girl on Porch with Puppy,” the youngest child of a family unable to deal with any hint of difference literally runs out of time. In “Autumn Journey” a boy visits his favorite writer, and meets the man’s daughter who robbed him of his own father. In the gorgeously-colored eponymous “A Drunken Dream,” two lovers meet again and again, in life after life, only to be separated every time.
Siamese twins literally live off (and die because of) one another in “Hanshin: Half-God,” while a young woman is convinced she’s really an ugly iguana hated by her own mother in “Iguana Girl.”
The collection’s final two stories – my two personal favorites – celebrate (and mourn) the mother/child bond: in “The Child Who Comes Home,” a mother is unable to let her dead child go, while in the near-wordless “The Willow Tree,” a dead mother watches from afar as her son grows to manhood. Yup, that one sent me sniffling … willows weep for a reason, huh?
Published: 2010 (United States)