From the stack: A Drunken Dream and Other Stories

A Drunken Dream and Other Stories, the Fantagraphics collection of short stories from across Moto Hagio’s career, is one of those books that spoils you. It’s so lovingly conceived and beautifully produced, and the material it contains is so strong that it’s hard not to envision who might be next to receive this generous treatment. Hagio, one of the founders of modern shôjo manga and great contemporary manga in general, certainly deserves as much of a gracious spotlight as publishers are able to provide.

We all knew this already based on work like They Were 11 and A, A Prime and the loving profile and the interview by Matt Thorn in that great issue of The Comics Journal. Thorn is back to select and translate the stories here, and really, every great manga-ka should have as devoted and talented an admirer. A Drunken Dream and Other Stories is obviously a labor of love.

It’s also vibrant reading. When you consider vintage material, there’s always the awkward question of whether this material is being republished for archival completion or because it’s as good today as it was when it was first published. Prevailing market conditions may not be especially friendly to a virtue-based publishing strategy, but Fantagraphics is just the type to at least partially ignore those conditions for the sake of the canon. Fortunately, Hagio’s work passes both tests, historical significance and timeless excellence.

The oldest work here, “Bianca,” is potent and alive. It’s about a brief, intense relationship between two young girls, and Hagio hits all the right notes. Visually, it tracks closest with what might come to mind when one thinks of “classic shôjo,” and it has a fascinating psychological directness that balances the glowing sweetness of the illustrations.

From there, it’s fascinating to watch Hagio set aside visual delicacy for a style that matches her unflinching commitment to emotional detail. Take “Hanshin: Half-God,” a tale of conjoined twins. One is beautiful but virtually unable to function, with her bright, starved, ugly sister literally doing all of the heavy lifting. The amount of punch Hagio derives from the scenario is just staggering. Her grasp of an emotional triangle in “Marié, Ten Years Later” is almost as assured. She captures the wistful sadness of a trio of friends forced apart by jealousy and individual need.

All of these stories aren’t created equal, obviously, though they all make sense in curatorial context. Having now read Hagio’s more grounded stories, I find (maybe blasphemously) that I have a little less patience for her tales that are tinged to some degree with science fiction. The centerpiece, “A Drunken Dream,” is lovely and accomplished, but the fantasy elements feel like a distraction in light of how much she can do without the extra trappings. It’s not that she’s clumsy in their execution, but the more naturalistic stories are just so piercing. Who needs jumpsuits and telepathy when you’ve got such a complex emotional core?

Of course, a little weirdness can be tremendously advantageous, as in the gorgeous, lengthy “Iguana Girl.” In it, a smart, sensitive girl builds a satisfying adult life in spite of her mother’s neurotic cruelty. The mother sees the girl as a repulsive lizard, and the girl’s self-image agrees with the mother’s. Hagio’s rendering of the iguana girl is kind of cruelly accurate, but she finds ways to tinge the reptilian expression with sadness and regret. Even with the scaly flourishes, Hagio gets to the heart of ways a parent’s opinion can shape a child.

I could find something to say about every story here, but I’d rather you just read them. You could even read the introduction by Trina Robbins if you absolutely must, but it doesn’t tell you anything Hagio doesn’t show in her stories. (“Make sure to have tissues on hand!” Sigh.) And after you’ve read them, I wonder if you’d agree with me that there should be more collections of this nature – short, representative works that introduce a creator over time. (And I’d love to see a companion volume of Hagio’s boys’ love stories. I have to suspect that one is in the works, as it seems bizarre for it to have so little presence here when that’s one of the reasons Hagio is a living legend.) I know that they probably aren’t easy to assemble, what with rival publishers and shifting creative fates, but I think it’s an amazingly persuasive way to sell a talent and perhaps open up demand for their longer works.

And since I’ve ended up with a clean, extra copy of the book, I’d like to give it away. So I’ll do one of my slapdash contests. Email me at DavidPWelsh at Yahoo dot Com and name a creator who you’d like to see get the “Drunken Dream” treatment with a brief argument in their favor, and I’ll pick a winner to receive my spare copy. Deadline will be Sunday, Sept. 5, at midnight.

9 Responses to From the stack: A Drunken Dream and Other Stories

  1. DeBT says:

    Good to see that you enjoyed the collection of short stories (did I expect anything less?). Your feelings are pretty close to mine, though it didn’t occur to me that Fantagraphics might publish another anthology collection. Being stupidly optimistic, I thought that maybe they’d jump straight to publishing one of her longer stories, such as The Poe clan in a more manageable format.

    If another collection is ever published, I wonder what would be added as a supplement for added incentive? They’ve already reprinted everything Hagio-related from the Comics Journal #269. What’s left?

    I’m also glad that you’ve been reluctant to describe any of the stories in the book, especially Iguana Girl, which every other review I’ve read has practically spoiled the big twist by announcing it beforehand. This is why I avoid reviews like the plague so I won’t be spoiled beforehand by a seemingly innocuous sentence.

    Here’s my review of the book, which strangely enough (now that I think of it) talks ABOUT the book, but doesn’t really go into much detail about the STORIES inside the book.

    As for who to give the copy to, all I can think of are the current crop of S-hero writers who’re constantly going for “shock” scenes to garner interest rather than scenes that’ll pull at the heartstrings. They could stand to learn a thing or two from the Shojo master. Unfortunately, chances are they’re so openly hostile towards anything girl-friendly that they’ll take the wrong lessons from her works in the same way they misinterpreted Moore’s intentions in Watchmen.

    Still, it’s worth a shot.

    • davidpwelsh says:

      Glad you didn’t find the review spoiler prone! I can certainly understand the desire to talk about the stories at length, but I think part of the joy of them is watching them unfold as Hagio conceived them. So I’m sort of torn. But I’m glad I erred on the side of spoiler avoidance.

  2. Jade Harris says:

    I have to agree that you did a great job avoiding spoilers. I think there’s a tendency with good books to want to discuss them in detail, like you said, but this book is pretty new.

    Maybe you could jot down a quick separate article for discussion with spoilers?

    • davidpwelsh says:

      I was toying with the idea of looking at a few of the pieces individually, and I can certainly do that behind a spoiler jump. Thanks for the idea!

  3. Eric Henwood-Greer says:

    I stand by what I said earlier–my guess (ok, my hope) is that her (and arguably *the*) first manga to hint at “boys love”, the 45 page November Gymnasium from 1971, will be included in a collection along with the full Heart of Thomas. That would make about 500 pages, I believe, though I’d also love if they could include the shorter 1980 prequel Houmonsha. That’d make for about a 600 page volume–not toally undoable.

    She really doesn’t have a LOT of “boys love” short works, though gender is always one of her top themes, but it seems more common in her longer works, for whatever reason. So I’m not sure what else could be included in a Boys love anthology–but a Heart of Thomas “collection” tracing it from the Gymnasium prototype, all the way through to her 1980 revisiting makes a lot of sense to me. (I’m an even greater fan of Cruel God Reigns, but that’s so long I don’t hold up hope for it anytime too soon).

    I’m so glad this volume was published in chronological order, so you can see her writing and themes, as well as her art, develop. For some reason, I find it particularly fascinating to see how the manga-kas from that era’s art changed. If you read Ikeda’s Rose of Versailles from ’72-73 it’s FILLED with very sketchy, cartoony panels as well as the big striking montages we’re used to. By the time she did Orpheus’ Window in 1975 she’d all but given up on those cartoony (I guess early “super deformed”) elements, as I guess they already seemed outdated in dramatic shoujo works.

    Hagio goes through a similar transition. With Hagio though and, interestingly, with Takemiya as well, their work was filled with extremely florid layouts and art from the 70s (which I admit I have a soft spot for), in works like Poe Clan and Song of Wind and Trees, but also in their more streamlined sci fi works like They Were 11 and its sequel the epic Horizon of the East, Eternity of the West (which needs a translation), or To Terra. By the time you get to the mid 80s *both* artists had really changed their basic style (I’m some would say “masculinized it”, but I think that’s unfair), in a way that makes the art both a bit more plain, but also more direct.

    Part of this of course had to do with changes in manga fashion over time (and keep in mind how massive shoujo works like Akimi Yoshida’s brilliant Banana Fish with her very shonen-esque art were). But I think part of it too was, as you say above, finding a more direct way to tell the story. Anyway, I find it fascinating to see the progress–I could picture someone new to their work having a hard time placing the Takemiya of Spanish Harem from the late 80s or the Hagio of Cruel God, with those of Wind and Trees or Heart of Thomas, though when you pay attention it’s obvious it’s by the same women.

    As per the question of what classic shoujo artist deserves her own anthology–it’s something I’ve actually thought way too much about (I won’t enter the contest since I already have a great signed copy). Moto Hagio could *easily* have several more volumes of her short stories, that would be worthy reads–but at this point I guess that doesn’t make much sense. I do hope that, if they don’t do a Heart of Thomas type volume like I suggested, they tackle another of her longer works next. My vote actually goes for Mesh, which at under 800 pages wouldn’t be too big a commitment, and is vastly underated (maybe because it doesn’t have sci fi or fantasy elements?) I find it terribly moving (well from the little I can read…)

    As for other artists from that era, I admit the titles I’m most interested in (and know of) are almost all long pieces that wouldn’t work for an anthology. Riyoko Ikeda has many short works, but I think they pale compared to Versailles, my fave Orpheus’ Window or even “novellas” like the 500 page Oniisama E, so I don’t think introducing her via a short work anthology makes sense.

    Similarly, I’d love to have the underated (among Westerners) Ryoko Yamagishi’s Arabesque (not as pretty as Swan when it comes to ballet manga, but far more emotionally rich), or her Hi izuru tokoro no tenshi, but both are huge lengthy works. I’d also love to see one of the earlier realistic shoujo epics, the early 70s Ashita Kagayaku from the brilliant Machiko Satonaka, but that seems little known in the West so a long shot.

    And I recently found a complete set of Mizuno Kideko’s Fire!, which was a revelation. Coming from the late 60s, the art and storytelling seems to completely foreshadow every single thing we cherish among the later Group of ’49’s work (almost a bridge between Tezuka and, say, late 70s Hagio). It’s completely awesome, and at about 800 pages not inconceivable to be picked up, but Hideko isn’t as well known as her later sisters, here.

    So my choice for another anthology–and not a longer work–would be the queen of the 1970s shoujo short story, Yumiko Ooshima. Her strength (and most of her output) was in short fiction, and I think her stuff would work best in a similar to Drunken Dream-style release.

    Anyway, sorry for that exhaustive rant–this era of shoujo manga has been an obsession of mine since I was a young teen reading Manga! Manga!, so a good dozen years–and it’s exciting to *finally* have another new release of it to discuss.

    • JennyN says:

      The title-page from “November Gymnasium”, reproduced in Frederick Schodt’s MANGA! MANGA!, along with a page from “Candy Candy” in the same book, were the hooks that had me looking out for shoujo manga before I even really knew what it was, and certainly before any of it was available in any Western country.

  4. Who needs jumpsuits and telepathy when you’ve got such a complex emotional core?

    I had the same reaction to the title story: it was fine, but compared to “Iguana Girl,” “Bianca,” and “The Willow,” it just didn’t move me the same way, perhaps because it seemed to rehash ideas from her Unicorn stories.

    Lovely review, BTW!

    • davidpwelsh says:

      Thanks, Kate!

      I should probably also note that I hate reincarnation stories about the same couple suffering the same miserable ending over and over. See also: Hawkman and Hawkgirl. I find that kind of inevitability really dreary.

  5. […] have a Drunken winner Congratulations to Julia on winning the copy of Moto Hagio’s A Drunken Dream and Other Stories (Fantagraphics). As you may recall, I asked entrants to pick a manga-ka who should receive the […]

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