Friday, September 10, 2010

Manga Review: A Drunken Dream And Other Stories

Yes, this isn't yuri (or yuri-ish), but I'm a fan of good, classic shoujo stories, and there are hardly any "old school" shoujo titles officially available (and in print) for the English-speaking market. (Quick, think of as many as you can that were published in Japan before 1990- or even 2000.) I'd been looking forward to this collection ever since its release was announced.

Moto Hagio is a member of the "Magnificent 24-Year Group" (or the "Magnificent Forty-Niners", depending on which calendar you go by), a group of women who revolutionized the manga industry by pioneering the shoujo genre as we know it today. Before the Year 24 group, comics aimed at girls were, as described by translator Matt Thorn in his intro to this collection, "...a backwater in which most male artists, unable to find better work, drew either light humor strips that were cute-but-forgettable, or sappy, formulaic melodramas about some pretty, passive little girl tossed by fate from one abusive circumstance to another, until some handsome, kind young man shows up to rescue her and reunite her with her mother...."

Moto Hagio is especially well-known for her sci-fi stories like They Were 11, and she played a significant role in the early creation of yaoi. A Drunken Dream is a collection of one-shot stories by her, published from 1977 to 2008.

In the first story, "Bianca",  an elderly artist remembers the girl from her childhood who inspires her paintings.

"Girl On Porch With Puppy" is an allegorical tale about the consequences imposed on people to don't conform to society's expectations.

In "Autumn Journey", a boy visits his favorite novelist.

In "Marié, Ten Years Later", two men grieve over the woman they have both been in love with since the three of them were best friends in art college.

"A Drunken Dream" showcases Hagio's fondness for gender-bending sci-fi, with a story about two lovers who wish to escape the tragedy that they've been repeating over and over in their numerous incarnations. As a bonus, it's in full-color.

"Hanshin: Half-God" is one of the most interesting stories in this collection, about two twins conjoined at the hip, one of whom is intelligent but ugly and skeletal-looking, and the other who is incredibly pretty, but barely able to function. The intelligent one is offered the chance to be separated from her twin, although the pretty one won't survive on her own.

"Angel Mimic" is about a woman who wonders whether people could evolve to grow wings someday.

"Iguana Girl" is, arguably, the best story in this collection, about an iguana who obtains a human form after falling in love with a man, but is horrified to see that her firstborn daughter Rika looks like an iguana. (But only to the mother and Rika- other people see Rika as a pretty girl and don't understand why she deprecates her appearance.)

"The Child Who Comes Home" is about a family coming to terms with their grief for their youngest child who died in an accident.

In "The Willow Tree", one isn't really sure what the story is about until the last few pages- but it demands immediate re-reading after being finished.

This collection might sound sad and melancholic, but each story has a human core to it that prevents it from being schmaltzy or tragic for tragedy's sake. (And not all of the stories have sad endings.) These stories don't only entertain- they frequently invite reflection and at least some level of emotional recognition. The circumstances might often be strange, but Hagio's eye for human interaction keeps her characters (largely) grounded in believability- and that equals good storytelling.

The packaging is top-notch. Hardcover, extra-large, thick pages, with an introduction about the "Magnificent Forty-Niners" by Matt Thorn (which is worth getting this book for alone), and Thorn's introduction about and exentensive interview with Hagio-sensei herself. (I expected it to be good, but I was surprised at how incredibly thorough it was, and how straightforward Hagio is.)

Story: A (Must-read if you enjoy manga and want to appreciate the people who have been trailblazers its development.)
Art: Mostly B+, sometimes reaching A-
Overall: A

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