The Heart of Thomas by Moto Hagio, translated with an introduction by Matt Thorn

Heart of Thomas“They say a person dies twice. / First comes the death of the self. / Then, later, comes the death of being forgotten by friends. / If that is so, / I shall never know that second death. / … In this way / I shall always be alive / in his eyes.”

Angelic middle-schooler Thomas Werner is dead – his first death happened as he fell from a snowy train overpass. With a final letter he leaves addressed to Juli, the slightly older, unattainable object of his devotion, Thomas bypasses his “second death” forever: “… one last time. This is my love. This is the sound of my heart. Surely you must understand.”

While Juli tries desperately to escape the undying sound of Thomas’ heart, a new transfer student arrives at the boys’ German boarding school. Erich Frühling (his last name means the season ‘spring’ in German – a not-so-subtle hint at rebirth, second chance?) is an exact replica of the dead young Thomas. Juli’s roommate Oskar tries to protect Juli, Thomas’ friend and rival Ante hopes to take Thomas’ adored place in the school hierarchy, and the school’s oldest boys attempt to keep their manipulative machinations in play. Everyone seems to have a secret that could lead to the final destruction of desperate Juli. Somehow, in the looming shadow of Thomas’ tragic death, Juli must figure out how to reclaim his own life  …

Moto Hagio’s almost half-century of creating massively popular, award-winning innovative manga seems to be have limited reach in English translation. Thus far, only three of her major titles, including A Drunken Dream and Other Stories in 2010, have arrived Stateside, thanks to the tenacious translating efforts of Matt Thorn, a lauded manga scholar based in Japan. Underlining Hagio’s pioneering reputation, Thorn provides a thorough contextual overview of modern shōjo manga – titles marketed predominantly to girls 10-18 – including Hagio’s role as shōjo‘s “founding mother.”

For readers looking for impossible adventures filled with aliens and explosions, this emotionally volatile manga would probably not satisfy. That said, Heart of Thomas is already some 30 years old in its native Japan during which time it was transformed onto both stage and live-action film; it’s certainly proved its lasting effects. Never mind the rockets, sometimes turbulent feelings can take you much, much further …

Tidbit: Thorn is such the conscientious translator that almost immediately upon publication – on the day after his wedding, he notes – he discovered a few mistakes and omissions from the U.S. edition and immediately posted a list of errata on his blog and on the Amazon page in the comments section! Will most readers notice? Probably not, but for those who do, careful corrections await.

Readers: Young Adult, Adult

Published: 2013 (United States)

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, ..Young Adult Readers, .Fiction, .Graphic Novel/Manga/Manwha, .Translation, Japanese

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