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A Drunken Dream

A Drunken Dream and Other Stories

A Drunken Dream and Other Stories
by Moto Hagio
Fantagraphics Books, 288 pages, $24.99.

It will be interesting to see what sort of response A Drunken Dream has in the alt-comix community. While I’m have no doubt that more traditional manga fans (especially older manga fans with an interest in the medium’s history) will lap it up and ask for more, I’m not as convinced that your average Fantagraphics reader (if there is such a thing, and I acknowledge full well that I might be off the rails here in even thinking such a thing) won’t find this to be a little far afield from their purview.

It’s quite unlike Sake Jock, for example, Fanta’s first entry into the world of manga — a collection of work by Garo artists that tend to revel in the profane, surreal and occasionally naughty (“Asia’s answers to Robert Crumb, Dan Clowes, and Chester Brown!” says the PR copy, knowing no doubt how best to entice intrigued the skeptical Eightball reader).

Dream, on the other hand, has both feet firmly planted in the world of shojo manga. The ten tales that make up this book all consist of overly sincere, heart-on-the-sleeve-style work. There’s very little ironic distancing and self-effacing humor here, although it does peep its head out occasionally. Mostly though, that’s been ignored in favor of heightened melodrama and earnest heart-tugging. While it avoids the sort of contrived, romantic, situation-comedy type plots that mark a lot of the shojo manga that has been translated into English over the past decade, there can be little doubt that Dream has more in common with Fruits Basket and Boys Over Flowers than Red Colored Elegy or Abandon the Old in Tokyo.

And that’s not terribly surprising, considering that Hagio, along with her peers, all but invented the genre. As arguably the most prominent number of Year 24 Group, also known as the Magnificent 49ers (and, it should be noted, not an actual organization) Hagio (along with folks like Keiko Takemiya and Yumiko Oshima) helped revolutionize shojo by dealing with more serious issues and  themes (including sexuality) and via their own example encouraged women to start creating their own manga. Don’t like most shojo, yaoi or sci-fi manga? Blame Hagio, if only a little.

With the exception of the title story, Dream largely forgoes the sci-fi and boys’ love angles (two genres that Hagio is known for, although by no means exclusively) in favor of slightly more realistic stories taken from over four decades of material.

Most of the stories in the book deal with young girls (along with the occasional boy) who don’t fit, either within the confines of their family or in society as a whole. “Girl on Porch With Puppy,” a sharp-tongued fable (complete with shock ending!) about a tot who likes to commune with nature in the rain, rather than stay indoors with her sensible and extremely judgmental family, typifies this focus.

Indeed, dysfunctional or deeply wounded families seem to be a staple of Hagio’s work. “Autumn Journey” concerns a young man who attempts to reunite with the father that abandoned him many years ago. “The Child Who Comes Home” concerns a family attempting to deal with the grief of losing their youngest member.

Apparently it’s a theme with very strong autobiographical overtones for Hagio, as she revealed in the interview (reprinted in this book) she did with editor Matt Thorn in Issue #269 of The Comics Journal. It seems the attempt to both be a good daughter and follow her own creative path created a tension that informs the bulk of her work, at least as evidenced by Dream. Even beyond the family issues, societal pressures and the fear of not living up to your potential drives stories like “Marie, Ten Years Later,” about a group of college friends who find themselves far afield of where they hoped they would be a decade after graduation.

Hagio draws these stories as if a full symphonic score were playing in the background. Her delicate, razor-thin pen line expertly captures her characters’ wide-eyed, open-mouthed anguish effectively. Make no mistake, she wants to wring as much emotion out of you as possible, and readers who have heretofore been suspicious of such manipulation may turn a cold eye over such tales, in spite of Hagio’s sumptuous compositions.

The two best stories —  ”Iguana Girl” and “Hanshin: Half God” — are able to convey the sense of loss and longing by tempering them with a bit of comedy and deep sympathy for and understanding of their protagonists. In stories like these, it becomes very clear how and why Hagio has earned the lofty reputation she has.

If you weren’t a fan of shojo manga before, if the big, tear-flecked eyes, sun-dazzled backgrounds, romantic longings and go for broke poignancy didn’t butter your bread previously, I’m not sure Dream is going to be the book that pulls you over to the strawberry pink and lace-strewn side of the path. I, certainly, am very glad that Fantagraphics made the effort (and judging by the exceptional production values it was a tremendous effort) to get this book out there. I hope I’m wrong and that non-manga readers, or those with select tastes, are willing to go beyond their comfort zone, because despite the occasional lapses into syrupy sentimentalism, and beyond Hagio’s historical significance, Drunken Dream will is a book that deserves attention.

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6 Comments

Oh, hey, I get it – it’s a GIRL’s THING< so you had to use the word "pink" and accuse it of "syrupy sentimentality." If it had been written by Urusawa, would it have been a "ground breaking look at the emotional life of the characters?"

Just asking.

No, I think there are comics readers — both male and female, but mostly male — who avoid shojo cause they find it too “girly,” whatever that means. I was trying to articulate that those “girly” books have their roots in Hagio’s work and for that reason, those readers might balk at Dream, despite the luxury packaging and prestige, especially since some of the stories, I think, edge a little too close to the saccharine border. Obviously I did a poor job explaining myself. I’m probably doing a worse one now.

For the record, I think Urasawa is fully capable of syrupy sentimentalism as well. More so at times.

If anything, the current line of S-hero writers could stand to learn a thing or two from Manga Masters in conveying heart-wrenching stories. Lately, far too many of them are relying on the old staple of shock rather than writing something that’ll stand the test of time.
http://sundaycomicsdebt.blogspot.com/2010/09/drunken-dream.html

Also, I was completely unaware of anything other than Anywhere but Here (and Bondage Fairies) that Fantagraphics published.
http://shaenon.livejournal.com/36456.html

This review (Is it a review? Or is it a diatribe? I can’t tell) falls into the “there are those who say” genre of journalism, in which a writer clearly has an agenda, yet tries to put his opinions into the mouths of some hypothetical “they”–in this case, the “alt-comix community”. But you don’t do it very well, Chris. You’re supposed to consistently hide behind the skirts of your hypothetical “they,” but you keep giving away your own bias over and over again.
* “lap it up and ask for more”–A phrase that indicates contempt by implying that the dog-like “lappers-up” are mindless and undiscriminating. You might as well come out and call shojo manga “pap.”
* “overly sincere, heart-on-the-sleeve-style work”–Your use of the word “overly” was overly indicative of your judgment. How sincere is too sincere, Chris? And of course, everyone knows that it’s a very bad, bad thing to wear one’s heart on one’s sleeve.
* “ironic distancing and self-effacing humor” vs. “heightened melodrama and earnest heart-tugging”–Ah, yes, we all know that “ironic distancing and self-effacing humor” is indicative of profundity and intellectualism because EVERY SINGLE “INDIES COMIX” OUT THERE IS CHOCK FULL OF IT. Never mind that it is all done in the service of drawing attention to the artist’s angst and–dare I say–melodramatic solipsism. Why, one might even say that the self-absorbed, masturbating-in-public indy “artiste” is “earnestly tugging at the readers’ hearts” in order to drive home the point that, “I’m depressed, therefore I’m deep.” Sincere expression of emotions, not hidden behind irony? That’s for sissies.
* “Hagio draws these stories as if a full symphonic score were playing in the background.”–Well, there you have it. Everyone knows all self-respecting “comix” use Brian Jonestown Massacre, Sonic Youth, or System of a Down for BGM.
* “Make no mistake, she wants to wring as much emotion out of you as possible, and readers who have heretofore been suspicious of such manipulation may turn a cold eye over such tales, in spite of Hagio’s sumptuous compositions.”–What!? A work of fiction trying to manipulate the reader’s emotions!? How insidious! No self-respecting writer or artist would stoop so low as to use his or her craft to generate any sort of emotional response, convey some kind of message, or, heaven forbid, *entertain*.
* “big, tear-flecked eyes, sun-dazzled backgrounds, romantic longings and go for broke poignancy”–There you have it, folks: the dictionary definition of shojo manga, brought to you by someone who has seen plenty of shojo manga TPB covers in Previews and even flipped through a couple volumes in a bookstore, before quickly returning them to the shelf lest someone get the wrong idea about him.
* “the strawberry pink and lace-strewn side of the path” –What more need be said? That is obviously the girly, sissy side of the path that readers steeped in either the brainless machismo of superhero comics or the pretentious machismo of indies “comix” (I think “comix” should always be put in quotes) will want to avoid like the plague. Quick! Re-read some “Fritz the Cat” or “Witchblade” before you get girl germs!

I’ll take my lumps re: the “strawberry” line. That was a poor attempt at humor that obviously left me with little more than egg on my face.

As far as the rest … I’m not against poignancy, going for broke, sincere heart-tugging, cross my heart and hope to die. I usually prefer it, though I think it runs as much of a risk of heading into saccharine sweetness and shallow sentimentality as ironic distancing and self-effacement lead to solipsism and banality.

The symphonic score line was meant as a compliment. So were many of the other lines you cite, or at the very least they weren’t written with any intended malice.

I think the problem with the review was that I was a) I was curious how the indie comics/alt manga crowd, which (I suspect, without having any real reason to do so) have a mistrust of shojo manga (and genre formulas in general), would react to the book and wanted to address that in my review; and b) I was trying to come to terms to the fact that I wasn’t crazy about every single story in the collection and wanted to articulate why that was so, and ended up conflating the two in a very sloppy way. A better review would have been more direct about the “they” I was writing about and where exactly I stood in relation to it.

Thanks for the clarification, Chris, and apologies if I overreacted.

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