North Adams Transcript
A Drunken Dream
and Other Stories by Moto Hagio (Fantagraphics)
You can tell a lot about a culture by the popular entertainment that it shills to its kids -- and you can discern even more by the taboo breakers within that landscape.
In both camps, plenty of junk piles up, but sometimes in tearing down the walls, new ways to view the world can be born from the wreckage. These taboo breakers don’t rely on the base and obvious realms of sex and violence that too many utilize for shock value purposes in masquerading as progressive entertainment.
In the world of Japanese comics, the genre of Shojo Manga is marketed to teenage girls, and for years the ensuing product reflected the traditional ideas of what girls should be. The typical vehicles for this view -- frilly fantasies and melodramatic soap operas -- were employed in publications that could seem like a brush-off from the male dominated industry.
Enter creators like Moto Hagio and others in a group now referred to as "The Magnificent 24-Year Group" who, in the late 1960s, began to inject the subject matter not only with stories that reflected the obvious changes in modern girlhood -- and, by proxy, womanhood -- but also the psychology of the changing times, as well as the traditional modes. These efforts often resulted in literate, somber, depthful and allegorical stories that investigated their themes through poetry and mysticism.
One of the prime practitioners of the form is Hagio, and this collection brings together some of her best work over a 30-year period for introduction to an American audience. Revealed in these pages are gentle but dark stories that are preoccupied with the loss and alienation that their intended audiences no doubt feel, often without any tangible reasons beyond the purely psychological.
Several stories stand out for cherry pickers, but you’ll be rewarded by each entry. The title story offers a science fiction setting for some gender-bending drama that investigates the notion of the inevitable in relationships that transcends chromosomes.
In one of the most powerful offerings, "Hanshin: Half-God," Hagio tells the absurd story of Siamese twins, one a beautiful and rapturously adored half-wit, the other a horrendously ugly genius whose physical existence seems only to serve as a repository of extra nutrients for her sister.
In the Kafkaesque "Iguana Girl," the idea of self-image and the way mothers pass it along to daughters is addressed through the story of Rika, who sincerely believes she is not a human girl but an iguana. It’s a grim absurdity that unfolds beautifully and emotionally.
Hagio is able to meet her audience on its own level while still peppering her tales with the understanding of someone past that age -- sometimes her stories touch on some haunting moment from the past reflected on later by the character. This technique acknowledges the intensity of the teenage experience, while also placing it in a realistic context and offering the assurance that the strongest emotions live on through aging.
John Mitchell is the Transcript’s arts and entertainment editor. He can be contacted at jmitchell @thetranscript.com.