The stories found in Moto Hagio’s A Drunken Dream are harrowing, rarely uplifting, and severely moving; and were primarily sold to 12 year old girls. The age group of the manga magazines Hagio’s comics originally appeared in is interesting not because her stories deal with suicide, parental abuse, and intense self loathing. The shock isn’t in the plot of her comics, the shock is in how terribly effective these comics are. Because here is something that sometimes people forget: Suicide, parental abuse, and intense self loathing are not “rated R” themes. CONTENT isn’t the ideas found in a piece, it is the execution of the ideas found in a piece and Moto Hagio’s execution is as precise as a surgeon.
In the first three pages of Magio’s Angel Mimic there is an attempted suicide, but it isn’t slit wrists and gore or even dark shading (something Hagio reserves for an emotional breakdown during a phone call which isn’t understood until the end of the title); it is some pills and a coke can followed by a light, thin, dreamlike second page layout. This attempted suicide is the first thing in the story and it is the least emotional part of the story; Hagio doesn’t diminish the seriousness of suicide, but it is not her focus of interest in the piece. What is interesting is that the why of the suicide attempt, while being somewhat of a reveal for the reader, is not the focus of the short either - nor is the why of moving on as the story is actually about expectations.
The Willow Tree is a 10 page comic with a total of 36 panels and 42 words. It doesn’t have a twist ending or a turn around, it just is what it is and I’m not ashamed to say I dropped a tear or two on my new shiny book. It isn’t because of the comic’s simplicity; oh no! The biggest failure done in reading shojo comics is when the reader thinks the key is to shut down their mind and let simple emotion wash over them.
Emotions are not simple. Who are you and what is your life if you even actually think that? Emotions have words assigned to them and short definitions attached so as to make the words functional but emotions are not actually the words. There is no such thing as “simple emotion”.
The Willow Tree is actually very complex, as are most of Moto Hagio’s works (and, you know, art in general). Will it move everyone to squirt a tear like it does me? No. But damn if it isn’t still a highly effective short. The premise of the comic is simple but the theme is not, which is what makes it such an impressive piece as so much emotion is not only packed into something “so simple” but it is understood on a deep level by the reader - inspiring most to flip back and look harder and longer at the details leading up to those last 14 panels.
I am very unoriginal when I say Heshin is one of my favorite Hagio one shot comics. There is some intense mastery at work within the piece that focuses on yet another incredibly complex theme.
Here is Heshin: God Split in Two online if you’re interested in reading it, because I am going to essentially spoil it below.
There is a character named Ringo Oginome in the anime series Mawaru-Penguindrum who is utilized in much of the same way as the character of Yudy is by Hagio within Heshin (and knowing the director of Penguindrum this is possibly intentional). It is a extreme idea to have someone’s identity become lost within their siblings. Which then isn’t really the idea in either title; the core idea is not that of identity but of desire; emphasizing that love and hate are in a sense the same emotion, that even though they are assigned different words and meanings their function and inner expansion within us are essentially the same - to which desire is a conduit for both.
Some heady stuff for 12 year olds, amirite? But it is Moto Hagio’s complete disinterest in lowering her message and meaning that keeps her works afloat, and is a large part of why those of us who grew up reading shojo comics keep coming back to them. As an adult when I want to read something that doesn’t pander down to me and is filled with a sense of emotional honesty and integrity - I find myself in the 12 year old girl section. It isn’t the rainbow filled wide eyed place you’d expect it to be but it isn’t an alley way peddling adult wares to youth either, the shojo section is simply another section of any art form. It has more to do with you than the art, and you don’t have to be or have ever been a 12 year old girl to enjoy the complexities (but sometimes it does kind of help).