Drunken Dream and Other Stories (of 1) (Mania.com)
Review Date: Tuesday, October 12, 2010
Release Date: Wednesday, August 25, 2010
A Drunken Dream is America's long overdue introduction to Moto Hagio, in a volume worthy of the honor.
Writer/Artist: Moto Hagio
Translation: Matt Thorn
Adaptation: Matt Thorn
What They Say
Forty years ago, the legendary manga artist Moto Hagio reinvented the shojo (girls' comics) genre with an ongoing series of whip-smart, psychologically complex, and tenderly poetic stories. Here now, in English for the first time, as the debut release of Fantagraphics Books' ambitious manga line of graphic novels, are then of the very best of these tales. The work in A Drunken Dream and Other Stores spans Hagio's entire career, from 1970's "Bianca" to 2007's "The Willow Tree," and includes the mind-bending, full-color title story; the famously heartbreaking "Iguana Girl"; and the haunting "The Child Who Comes Home" - as well as "Autumn Journey," "Girl on Porch With Puppy," the eerie conjoined twins shocker "Hanshin: Half-God," "Angel Mimic," and one of the saddest of all romance stories, "Marie, Ten Years Later." A Drunken Dream and other stories is supplemented with a feature-length interview with Hagio, where she discusses her art, her career, and her life with the same combination of wit, candor, and warmth that radiates from every panel of her comics.
I was predisposed to dislike Fantagraphics' treatment of A Drunken Dream: Early promotional materials praised Hagio at the expense of shojo manga as a genre. The material claimed Hagio was unique voice among a genre awash in Sailor Moon clones and Harlequin romance cliches. I considered the disparagement of an entire genre an unusual way to start a manga line, and I couldn't help but wonder if Fantagraphics had to be dragged kicking and screaming into releasing something as common and popular as manga. My concerns were not allayed when I viewed the sample PDF and saw Fantagraphics had chosen a font for this release that looked somewhat like Matt Groening's lettering in The Simpsons. The choice felt wholly inappropriate, as it clashed with the serious nature of Hagio's stories.
I must say, all was forgiven when I removed the two pound book from the box. Hardbound with gold foil on the cover, A Drunken Dream seems part textbook, and part holy book. The front features an image of a girl reaching out toward a rose blossom, and the back cover features the woman from the Willow Tree story outlined in gold foil. The offending text that dismissed most of shojo manga is not present, and instead the blurb on the back focuses on speaking of Hagio's strengths. If you read from the back, left to right, you're treated to two articles from shojo scholar Matt Thorn, which provide context to the stories. The first is about "The Magnificent 49ers", the group of women who took over and revolutionized shojo manga in the 1970s, of whom Hagio was a key member. The second is an interview with Hagio herself, and she provides a very personal and warm discussion of her work. The interview gives the reader a great understanding of her life and influences, such that it makes reading the works afterward incredibly intimate, if not almost intrusive. I must say I was almost uncomfortable learning so much about the artist upon my introduction. I'm sure its desired effect was to make the reader more curious about Hagio's other works, and in this, it is undeniably a success.
The ten stories presented in this volume are kept in the right to left Japanese format. Most are black and white, a few are partially colored, and one is in full color. The inks used are gold, red, grey, and black, giving the presentation a feel of autumn, which is entirely appropriate for the stories within. Hagio's art is classic shojo, appropriately enough, because she helped create classic shojo. As the work spans over 30 years, art styles vary from piece to piece, with some being more cartoony, while others are more realistic. Overall, instead of a focus on capturing photographic realism, the art seeks to express emotion and affect. Important characters and themes are given great detail, while backgrounds and side characters are often sketched in. Essentially, the more important to the story a character or development is, the more care, detail, and expressiveness is seen. It's impossible not to mention the full-color story A Drunken Dream, which features 21 pages of watercolor art. A showcase piece, the story makes it impossible to deny Hagio's strength as an artist. Matt Thorn provides an expert translation, appropriate for both a veteran translator and admitted Hagio fan. My sole complaint in the production remains the inexplicable font choice.
A Drunken Dream is a collection of ten short stories, which are very difficult to give a synopsize without spoiling the entire work. The earliest story, "Bianca" is a story of a childhood friend told by an elderly woman. "Girl on Porch With Dog" is about a spirited young girl whose only companion is a puppy. "Autumn Journey" tells the story of a young German boy who travels across the country to meet his favorite author. It's impossible not try cry at "Marie, Ten Years Later," which follows a reunion of friends from college ten years after they parted ways. Standout work "A Drunken Dream," a gorgeously rendered sci-fi and fantasy tale, is followed by "Hanshin: Half-God," a story of conjoined twins that might be the best story in the entire volume. "Angel Mimic" examines the life of a troubled young Japanese woman who attempts suicide. "Iguana Girl" tells the life story of a lizard whose wish to become human is granted. "The Child Who Comes Home" explores the relationships in a troubled Japanese family. The concluding story, "The Willow Tree" is told without words, and is impossible to describe without spoiling.
There are a variety of characters and settings, but each story reflects themes common to all of Hagio's work. Characters are forced to deal with a life that does not conform to the ideals, hopes, and dreams they have set up for themselves. Nature is almost always present, with a logic and will that is often indifferent to human suffering. Art and artists play a key role, as art is presented as a method of both escape and self-exploration. When a character's ideals are broken by an uncaring world, they will often turn to art as a way to reclaim and restore those ideals. In the interview, Hagio admits that she has in fact used her art in this way, and it's impossible to avoid seeing the mangaka in each of her stories. While there is some catharsis, no story offers complete closure that makes loss or tragedy acceptable. It's a demanding read, but one in which your enjoyment will be proportionate to your emotional investment.
For American fans of classic shojo, A Drunken Dream should serve as a clarion call. This is a chance to prove the marketability and sales potential of manga more than five years old. It's also an incredible production, and a true labor of love for scholar Matt Thorn, who first discovered shojo with Hagio's The Heart of Thomas. It's hard to imagine a better release for a manga, or a more deserving artist than Hagio. If A Drunken Dream proves a sales failure, it's difficult to believe we'll be seeing anything like this in the English market for a long time. Very recommended.
Mania Grade: A
Art Rating: A+
Packaging Rating: A
Text/Translation Rating: A+
Age Rating: 13 and Up
Released By: Fantagraphics
Orientation: Right to Left