Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Drunken Dream

Ever since it was announced in March (was it really that long ago?), I’d been looking forward to reading the collection of stories by legendary Moto Hagio. My only experience with her work was her A, A’ Prime and They were Eleven, and was looking forward for more. I was constantly irritated at how other bloggers seemed to be posting advance reviews of the book before I could even get my own copy. I could’ve snatched one up at the San Diego Comic-Con, if not for two things - it was well outside my time zone, and I’d already preordered my copy.

Unlike most people, I don’t like being spoiled about what I’m going to watch or read. This is why I avoid reviews until I’ve read the book or seen the movie. That way, I can enjoy the experience myself without having a reminder of a summary breathing down my neck in the back of my mind. So it was a great relief when my order finally came in, and I could find these reviews again and read them without fear of spoilers.

First up, the cons:
  • The book was much larger than most Mangas than I was used to. The closest that comes in comparision was the release of the “First” Phoenix book, Future to see if there was an interested audience.
  • Not to mentioned that because it was a hardcover, I had difficulty turning the pages, causing me to linger on each page before going to the next one. (Which may be the intended effect)
  • Likewise, upon first reading it, the early stories didn’t seem that special that they necessitated being shown at double-size.
  • The glittering cover at the sides could be a little distracting when turning the pages.
  • There was also a silly spelling mistake in the well-regarded Hanshin, where Yudy was told not to tease Yudy in the bath. Especially since it wasn’t present in the Comics Journal Shojo issue.

Finally, the cover was slightly different. Here’s how the cover was portrayed at the time of announcement:

And here’s how it appeared in actuality.

In fact, the remainder of those children continue on in the back cover, though they’re almost obscured by a drawing of the woman from The Willow Tree.

Now, for the pros:

Despite my earlier fears that they might’ve gotten the addition of the pages wrong (228 pages Vs. 249 pages), the final tally comes out at 288 pages, higher than expected.

At the time of the announcement, Christopher Butcher recommended tracking down the elusive #269 Comics Journal Moto Hagio interview. That’s now rendered moot since the same interview is included in the back of Drunken Dreams. (Read from left to right, naturally)

The level of influence of her stories is simply staggering. When you see the inherent levels that Iguana Girl is built on, you can understand how something like Petshop of Horrors could come about.

In addition to the Hanshin reprint and the Moto Hagio interview from The Comics Journal #269, there’s also a short essay about The Magnificent Forty-Niners by Matt Thorn. The latter of which describes the plot of Banana Bread Pudding, by Yumiko Oshima, which I’ll repeat verbatim here, since it’s too good to let slide in obscurity:

...features a young girl slipping into madness because her older sister is to be married, and won’t be able to accompany her to the bathroom after 10 PM and stand outside singing “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” Without this protection, she believes, a beautiful androgynous clown will take her and run her through a meat grinder. Since her dream is to marry a closeted gay man and help him to accept his sexuality, her best friend convinces her playboy brother to play gay. As it turns out, the boy this best friend is in love with is an uncloseted gay who is in love with her brother. And, in turn, this boy is sexually abused by a middle-aged teacher who is a closeted gay man. Are you still with me? It may sound comical (and it often is), but I’ve had to swear off reading Oshima’s stories in public because I’ve never gotten through one without crying.

As Shannon said, 70’s Shojo Manga is the Best Manga.

There have only been three Mangas that’ve succeeded at making me cry upon multiple rereadings. (The end of the Valerie diary scene from V for Vendetta is the only thing in American comics that comes close) The list includes:
1. In Please Save my Earth, when after Rin misbehaves, his guardian kisses him instead of punishing him.
2. In 20th Century Boys, when an old teacher gives his former student a well overdue gift. (Yes, I’m being deliberately vague here)
3. The aforementioned Hanshin, which features favoritism, sibling rivalry, conjoined twins and survivor’s guilt, all in a mere 16 pages. It’s no wonder Moto Hagio’s considered worthy of doing covers for Ray Bradbury.

Now I’ll have to add The Willow Tree to the list. Upon finishing Iguana Girl, I read the inside cover blurb (which unusually, takes up the entirity of both pages in large text) by Trina Robbins which mentioned that it was a tearjearker. I read the story, preparing myself, trying vainly to find any connection between the silent pages of the woman with the umbrella who was obviously a symbolic representation of the willow tree’s moods. Then the big reveal happened and I was STILL caught off guard, dammit.

It would be a real shame if Fantagraphics didn’t get any supportive business from this collection and demand for more. If they do, I heavily recommend that they release her future books in more manageable bite-sized editions, since lugging around Comic Paperbacks is easier than lifting heavy Comic Hardcovers. Anywhere between the dimensions of a regular Manga volume & the Viz Signature line would suffice. If they happen to pick up the Eroica & Swan licenses (crosses fingers), they’d succeed better if they kept their future volume size similar so all the volumes would be consistent.

I’m looking forward to reading more, and adding to the crying list!

1 comment:

  1. Fantastic review, a good job of selling the book, while not giving away all its pleasures. (And great to see ANY mention of Please Save My Earth--it's such a shame that among earlier Viz releases both it and the surprisingly moving Banana Fish are all but ignored by modern fans...) We basically agree on every point, with only a few exceptions.

    Basically, I disagree with you about the book being too large and maybe even ornate for manga. Keep in mind that the original manga artwork *was* displayed at about this same size in its anthology magazines (I have a 1977 Moto Hagio 100 page illustration supplement a friend found by chance for me in Japan, and it's even *larger*). I think it shows the art work off amazingly well (but I've just spent the past few days squinting at my bunko reissue of Hideako's Fire!, so maybe it's just refreshing to have something so much larger).

    I admit, I don't tend to travel with my manga much--so the fact it's large and a bit cumbersome, doesn't bother me at all--I'm pretty anal about keeping them in as good condition as possible, lol. But I think the deluxe format also signals to people who don't know Hagio's work that *this is an important book*.

    Sometimes, that can be a bad thing. But the past times we've had classic shoujo published, I think this has been one reason it hasn't sold. CMX's Swan and Eroica were packaged and marketed exactly the same as their other titles, which means an audience who doesn't knwo their history might either think the art looks funny and pass it by, or an audience interested in classic manga might assume that it's a modern title and ignore it.

    (Similarly the old Viz releases of A A` and Four Shoujo Stories didn't do too much to make them stand out from the modern Viz titles--ditto as I said with later classics like PSMEarth and Banana Fish)

    Vertical did a largely great job with their two Takemiya Sci Fi titles, but I think those two could have benefitted from at least an essay placing its historical context.

    With Drunken dream, even non manga fans who collect different kinds of comics, might pick it up and give it a look and chance it wouldn't get otherwise.

    Anyway--great review and blog!