By Moto Hagio (Seattle: Fantagraphics Books, 2010, 288 pp., $24.99, hardcover)
Moto Hagio is certainly one of the world’s leading artists when it comes to shoujo manga (comics for and about girls). Born in 1949, she is one of “the magnificent forty-niners,” a group of shoujo manga artists that broke into the industry to pursue an ambitious and colorful life of stories that broke the conventional mold of shoujo manga.
In this collection of 10 stories, Matt Thorn a cultural anthropologist specializing in Japanese comics, includes 10 translated comics by Hagio, and two articles about the artist and the growth of shoujo manga surrounding her. Most of the stories contained within this collection follow some theme that’s similar to the paradigm described by Thorn — an emphasis on a magnificent being and its inability to connect to normal people through some peculiarity or another. Usually this being takes the form of a beautiful young male, a bishounen, but this was an observation Thorn made for Hagio’s longer works.
The stories are all self-contained, and each are as touching and interesting as the last. The stories all have a sense of mysticism to them, but all boil down to complex question of trying to understand the complexities of human desires or emotion. Hagio proves, through this collection of stories, that she is capable of expressing herself as a storyteller in almost any setting.
Perhaps what is unique about her style of writing, is the twists and turns she can take with her story through the conventions of science fiction. She combines the thought-provoking element of human interaction with the bizarre. Whether the story be about a strange love affair between a student and a teacher, or the portrait of a young girl playing with a puppy, she evokes one layer of beauty with her depiction of human emotion in each panel, and an overall sense of wonder and thought-provoking storytelling (the science-fiction-esque twists that bring a story full circle).
Each story ends cleanly; there is no question of what happened, just a planted thought of the possibilities for the characters after the page ends. Hagio pulls no corny attempt at symbolism and the result of her works are all elegantly presented in easy to follow, but thought-provoking presentation.
The book is laid out to read from right-to-left for the manga, but the back of the book contains two articles by Thorn that read left-to-right. Thorn’s first article on Hagio and the other “magnificent forty-niners” provide a look into the development of famous works in shoujo manga in general. The second article was that of an interview Thorn conducted with Hagio in 2005, which offered a great look into Hagio’s growth as an artist and her family history. A sense of the author is passed through the pages into the reader and may offer insight into better understanding how to approach or re-approach the manga short-stories.
These 10 short stories, which were drawn from as late as 1977 and as recently as 2008, provide the cream of the crop in terms of Hagio’s short stories. This is a fascinating collection, and a definite must-read for those with discerning taste.