My rating: 4 out of 5 stars
I was interested in this book as I’d heard that Moto Hagio was one of the pioneers of sci-fi comics for girls as part of the ‘Magnificent 49ers’ group in the 1970s. This group included Keiko Takemiya, and I’d already read and enjoyed Takemiya’s ‘To Terra’, as well as Hagio’s own short sci-fi series ‘They were Eleven’, so thought I’d give this one a go.
When I first received the book, I have to say I was a bit put off by the print format. This is a big hardback volume with some colour pages, and very much reminds of those old ‘A Treasury of 100 Stories for Children’ doorstop-type hardback books I remember from my childhood. I was expecting more of a Viz Signature style slightly-posh tankoubon, so this threw me a bit. In the end though I enjoyed the feeling of reading Hagio’s work at a larger size, and will be keeping this book in part as a 70s shojo art reference book, as much as a story book.
This book is a collection of several short stories. They do not seem to be grouped around any strong central theme or genre in particular (bar the obvious shojo connection), but they can all be characterised by a degree of sentimentality, a focus on emotion, and leaving the reader with something a little bit philosophical to ponder after finishing each story.
The most thought provoking tales are ‘Hanshin: Half God” and “Iguana Girl”. Hanshin centres around a set of conjoined twins: a beautiful one who gets all of the attention but does not have the mental faculties to look after herself, and the more intelligent twin who constantly looks like she’s at death’s door, because she has to prop up her sister. It is very much about the relationship between love and hate, and the fact that it could be possible to both love and hate someone else, or even parts of yourself.
“Iguana Girl” is a story about the relationship between mothers and daughters. In this story the author is directly addressing issues she has faced in her life with her mother completely dismissing her desire to become a professional comics creator (and perhaps in turn, completely dismissing the parts of her daughter’s personality or life choices that she didn’t agree with) – the author talks about this a bit in the interview at the back of the book. I get the feeling that any girl or woman could find something to relate to in this story (and perhaps anyone who has become a mum and wondered why they weren’t automatically the ‘perfect’ mother).
Stories like ‘Bianca’ and ‘Girl on Porch with Puppy’ are rather more sentimental and dated-feeling. However if you are a lover of 70s shojo manga artwork these are lovely to look at, with some of the most striking illustrations in the book.
I also can’t finish this mini-review without mentioning the title story ‘A Drunken Dream’ as its the only sci-fi one in the book! I found the plot a little dated and formulaic (it reminded me a bit of Tezuka’s ‘Apollo’s Song’), but the story nails that pulp entertainment feeling perfectly: science fiction mixed with mythology and a dash of surrealism.
All in all I would definitely recommend this book to those who like older-style shojo artwork. The format means that it can definitely work as an art reference book as much as a collection of stories, though I am a bit dissappointed by the lack of sci-fi here. The slightly surreal and thought-provoking tales remind me of Haruki Murakami’s short stories (though with much more of a female perspective, and a little more dated). But even so, I would recommend this also to people who have enjoyed Murakami’s short stories, or anything involving real life with a twist of the strange.