A Drunken Dream and Other Stories

A Drunken Dream and Other Stories by Moto Hagio

A Drunken Dream is one of the most anticipated new manga in the manga blogosphere. Hagio is an influential author and her works have been hard to come by since the earlier Viz editions of her work They Were Eleven and A, A Prime are out of print. I was very excited when I got my hands on an ARC of this book, which contains short stories that span Haigo’s career. The selections include stories originally published from 1977-2008. For a through overview of Hagio and her influence, check out the Manga Critic’s recent post.

I thought was interesting to read the interviews that accompanied the book, especially the part where Haigo mentions that she read Anne of Green Gables. The first story in the collection, “Bianca,” features a scene straight out of one of the Anne books. Clara’s equilibrium is disturbed when her cousin comes to visit. Bianca likes to run away to commune with nature, and in one scene Clara sees Bianca talking to “Bianca in the Mirror.” Anne invents a friend in a mirror when she’s living in one of her many foster homes before she arrives at Green Gables. The whimsical imaginative children that populate the early works in Haigo’s collection do not end up living happily ever after. Haigo doesn’t go for Lucy Maud Montgomery’s overwhelming sentimentality. In “Girl on Porch with Puppy” the child who likes to sit on the porch and experience the rain meets with an abrupt and metatextual end from the family who doesn’t understand her.

Many of Haigo’s stories express feelings of longing and loneliness, as well as serving as commentary on artistic expression. In “Autumn Journey” a boy travels to meet the author he idolizes, who happens also to be the father that abandoned him. Johann meets his half-sister and they talk in the garden. Johann is content with leaving without talking to his father, saying “He may once have been my father…but now he’s something else. A dream. He’s my favorite writer.” In “Marie, Ten Years Later” an former art student named Taichi remembers the friends he used to be close to in college. None of their artistic dreams have come to fruition, and the marriage of his friends Marie and Katsumi didn’t create happiness for the pair. Taichi is determined to finally put on his art show, but he thinks back to the lost trio of friendship in his youth that contained “Every possibility/Every miracle/We held hands/And formed a perfect circle.”

“A Drunken Dream” will appeal to fans of one of the few Haigo works previously available in English, A, A Prime. A scientist named Safaash arrives at a research center in space where he’s immediately drawn to Lem, a hermaphrodite. Both scientists have had dreams of their past lives which feature each other and a great love that’s doomed to never be fully expressed. Images of the past juxtapose with the futuristic background of the space station as the characters play out a predestined scenario that leads to a lack of fulfillment and endless sadness.

“Iguana Girl” was the story in the collection that remained in my mind weeks after reading it. A mother is horrified by her newborn daughter because to her, the baby looks like an iguana. Rika grows up with her mother rejecting her, while her human-looking sister Mami is given all the maternal affection she needs. Rika is drawn as an iguana in human clothes when her mother relates to her, and when she’s confronting her own self image. But pictures of Rika show her to have a human outward appearance, and her classmates are puzzled when Rika refers to herself as ugly. Rika’s personality is shaped by her mother’s hatred, and as she grows up she marries and moves far away. Rika eventually finds some resolution and peace as she has her own daughter. Haigo’s illustrations of “Iguana Girl” are extraordinary. Seeing Rika-as-iguana going through all the normal stages of human life, relating to her classmates while still internalizing the feeling that she truly is a different species serves to outwardly express her feelings of isolation. The tangled emotions of mother and daughter make Rika strong, but also creates a trap she needs to escape from. Like the best short stories, “Iguana Girl” packs a novel’s worth of emotion and experience into a few short pages.

Since I haven’t seen the book itself yet, I can’t comment on the production quality. But Fantagraphics always seems to be the most lavish of publishers, creating books that are worthy collector’s items due to their high production values and I expect A Drunken Dream will be a worthy addition to any manga fan’s bookshelf. Anyone interested in the historical development of manga and the women who’ve contributed to the art form should read this book. I hopeA Drunken Dream sells well enough for Fantagraphics or other publishers to consider putting out some of Haigo’s longer works. Her short stories are great, but I’d love to see what she does with a longer storyline.