Reviewby Lissa Pattillo,
Drunken Dream and Other Stories
A ten story collection of short stories, A Drunken Dream and Other Stories is an anthology from one of shoujo and manga's most influential creators. Spanning Moto Haigo's work from as early as the 1970s to present day, A Drunken Dream takes on a variety of subjects both social and psychological in this first of Fantagraphics manga releases.
It's hard not to get swept away your first time reading this book through. The gentle tug of the stories' allure that keeps you reading is hard to ignore so it's recommended you give in. Read it all the way through at your own pace. Once you're done, wait a few days or a couple weeks even, and then read it again. Drunken Dream and Other Stories is a collection of subtleties as much as it is one of short stories. While the plots themselves are straight-forward enough (taking to mind how strange some can be), the emotional tone of each individual experience is where these stories truly pack a memorable punch.
Take for example one of the books longest stories – Iguana Girl. The story opens with an iguana wishing to be human and spend her life with a human she fell in love with. The iguana-now-woman is given only one warning – if her husband or anyone else learns she is an iguana, she will change back. Subsequently who the story follows isn't the iguana however, it's her daughter. Born a human to everyone else, Rika appears to herself and her Mother as a giant iguana. Because of this the Mother feels immediate fear and disgust towards her as an outer-representation of what she herself really is. What begins there is a life of neglect and emotional battery, especially after the birth of her entirely-human little sister whom her Mother constantly dotes on. It's certainly odd in itself reading a story where the lead character looks like a giant iguana walking about, but it works this to its advantage wonderfully, weaving a story about Rika's relationship with her Mother, the way she grows up because of it and her struggle to find a love that befits her.
There's so much about this story that can resonate with readers, from Rika's self-doubt despite how others see her (which often results in some amusing confusion for those who can't understand why she thinks she's hideous) to her longing to be loved and appreciated by her Mother only to be heartbreakingly rejected at every turn. This isn't to say the majority of readers will necessarily relate because their Mothers cast them off, but the overlying themes of growing up, having a sibling, seeking love, and seeing things differently as one matures are universal.
Another story tackles the sibling side of things from a different angle. ‘Hanshin Half-God’ is about two girls born attached at the hip – Yudy is intelligent but mal-nurtured and unsightly in comparison to her sister, Yucy, a sweet but mentally stunted young girl with the face of an angel. Much like in Iguana Girl, there's a repeating element of bias for one sister over the other, yet in contrast, despite how unfairly Yudy is seemingly treated, there still remains love for both from the parents. When the opportunity to be separated appears before her, Yudy and her parents must make the decision and see through the life that follows. Like many other stories in the book, the ending proves both a happily-ever-after and a tragedy.
Moto Haigo is often cited as one of the pioneers of boys' love and her tragic romantic tale of two reincarnated lovers here in A Drunken Dream is a notable glimpse at her early work from which it stemmed. One can only hope North American readers have the opportunity to read some of her complete boys' love series for an elegant look at the niche's earliest days. This particular story is printed in colour, a washed out water-colour pallet – and set predominantly in a futuristic colony, feeling very reminiscent of other shoujo-esque sci-fis of that era such as Keiko Takemiya's To Terra
Moto Haigo's artwork is lovely, evident of its age by style-alone, to little fault in terms of effective storytelling, and is quaintly tailored to tell the stories she's written. The line work is delicate and, though easily shoujo by recognition, utilizes a number of varied character designs for its depictions. Characters will look extra pretty if the story calls for it but males and females alike are generally rendered in a way that's appealing but also believably typical.
Probably the best example of the artistic realism is the story titled ‘Angel Mimic’ – another of the book's lengthier pieces. It follows a relationship, not inherently romantic at first, between a college-aged woman trying to commit suicide and the man who near-literally stumbles upon her while walking his dog. When he ends up being a new teacher at her school, she finally begins to find joy in life again by having someone to spend time with and their relationship subsequently, and naturally, evolves from there. The emotions and convincingly benign nature of the events is interesting on its own, especially after the sad reveal at the end, but the artwork really brings it home with characters that look and act their age. Their outfits and hair are notably dated but it sort of adds their charm, if not a tad distracting sometimes.
Other stories in the book include a young boy seeking out a cherished writer, a man who laments on friendships' past, and a family coming to accept the loss of their youngest in an accident years before. The book opens with a woman sharing her experience with a young girl from her childhood that sets an airy, emotional tone for the stories to come while the chapter immediately following tosses on a dash of shock factor as it explores the concept of social conformity with unnerving success. The collection is book-ended by an appropriately chosen story of love and farewell.
A Drunken Dream isn't the first time Moto Hagio's work has translated into English. The anthology's translator Matt Thorn has also worked on several of her books in the early days of Viz Media and brings his knowledge and insight on her career, and others of similar history making up a group known as The Year 24 Group, in the extras at the end. One of said extra includes an interview with Moto Hagio.
The physical presentation of the book itself is immediately indicative that this release is tailored towards a different audience than your mainstream manga reader. While maintaining its original left-to-right orientation, the book comes with a large trim size and thick hard cover. The whole thing is wrapped in a subtle sunshine yellow colour and the lettering accented with glossy foil. All interior pages are printed on bright, thick paper. One could argue it's a bit overdone – does the book benefit from this extra glitz? Will it catch the eye of a new prospective target audience? Could it be too hard to notice as manga by existing fans of the medium when sitting on bookstore shelves? All that in consideration, start reading this book and you'll find the feel of the hardcover and the gentle crack of the gloss-covered spine simply proves to be the icing on the proverbial cake all the same. This is a great looking book that compliments its contents.
Inside and out, Moto Hagio's A Drunken Dream and Other Stories is a mature collection of stories that aims to provoke thought and feeling and succeeds endearingly at just that. A piece of manga history that only becomes more engaging with each subsequent read, A Drunken Dream presents a great opportunity to experience the charms, both subtle and poignant, of Moto Hagio's craft. It may not float everyone's boat, a substance over style menagerie of ideas and life, but those who take the time to explore it should not be disappointed by the experience.
Overall : A-
Story : A
Art : B+
+ Beautiful stories of a variety of different subjects, a lush era-classic shoujo art style by one of the genre's more influential creators and top-notch production values
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