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Friday, July 6, 2012

License Line: Drunk On Shojo Dreams

What is License Line? Put simply, it's a semi-regular feature on Nagareboshi Reviews in which yours truly posts about a certain anime/manga series that truly, desperately needs to be licensed and put on my shelves ASAP - from the obscure but well-deserving manga to the stream worthy but not yet DVD licensed anime.

When I was reading A Drunken Dream And Other Stories, a collection of shojo shorts by manga-ka Moto Hagio, two thinks really struck me. The first was how powerful and emotionally compelling Hagio's storytelling is, how lush and detailed her artwork is. It was, to put it bluntly, a masterpiece.

The second, which came after reading the book and trying to look up more of Hagio's works, is that Moto Hagio books are extremely out of print and expensive to boot. With the exception of Drunken Dream and the up-coming release of Heart of Thomas, her works seem unreachable by anyone with a modest budget. 

Moto Hagio isn't some dime store hack churning out cookie-cutter melodramatic shojo stories. She is a manga idol, a member of the revered Year 24 group of women manga-ka, and her works have been critically acclaimed since she premiered. Readers love her and want more of her in English. So why doesn't the current manga market reflect this?

I can't try to answer this, but I do know it's a flat-out shame that aside from Fantagraphics, no one has her currently in print. Is it because of the age of most of her work? The fact that she's shojo but also sci-fi? The boys' love slant on a lot of her work? All of these and then some? Who knows.

What I want to do is not blame any one in the manga publishing industry over not publishing Moto Hagio. After all, it's hard work publishing her works and making sure her manga makes enough sales to break even. What I'd like to do is point out some of Hagio's manga that is either out of print and unavailable for purchase or has not even been brought over in English yet.

"I won a Shogakukan! 100 bucks, please?"
If there's one thing Moto Hagio brings a truly unique spin to, it's sci-fi. In the late seventies, Viz released A, A Prime, a one-volume manga filled with short stories that takes place in the future with a new race of human beings known as Unicorns. One of the stories in it, called X+Y, won the Seiun Award in 1985. 

Viz also released Hagio's They Were Eleven (which was also adapted into an anime and released by Central Park Media - remember them?) which takes place in a space academy where an entrance exam leads to danger for its young applicants. This particular work won the Shogakukan Manga Award in 1976 (surprisingly enough, for the shonen category).

Despite these being epic award-winning works, you can barely find a used copy of They Were Eleven under a hundred dollars. A, A Prime is only a little better - used copies are ten to fifteen bucks, while new copies are almost forty. Unless that used copy of They Were Eleven is gold-plated, is autographed by both Moto Hagio and translator Matt Thorn, and sings me to sleep every night, I'm not paying that much for a book.

As for Moto Hagio works that have yet to be licensed  - well, there's a ton, but let's just toss out a few suggestions. The sci-fi shojo Marginal is a futuristic dystopia where the single woman on Earth known as Mother gives birth to all men on the planet and the world is a biological wasteland where life has turned back to the days of cultures past. It's a solid five volumes of science fiction and boys' love and is critically acclaimed. They even made a radio drama and a stage play out of it in Japan! If that's not love, I don't know what is.

If sci-fi Moto does not please you, try a historical title on for size: Poe no Ichizoku/Poe's Family is a supernatural drama set in the past centuries that follows a family of vampires through the ages. This multi-volume series is full of vampires struggling with their non-human instincts as well as their efforts to live in peace with human society. Considering how popular the vampire genre is, Moto's Poe no Ichizoku would be a perfect fit in the current market. And guess what? In 1976, it won a Shogakukan Manga Award for shonen at the same time as They Were Eleven won the same award. Come on!

Reading the interview conducted by Matt Thorn, translator extraordinaire, in the Fantagraphics release of A Drunken Dream, it's blatantly obvious how much love and how much hard work Moto Hagio puts into her work. She lives to create these awe-inspiring, absorbing tales of the future and the past - stories that continue to enthrall readers since her official manga debut in 1969. She has been a professional manga artist for over forty years and has shown no sign of slowing down, turning out quality stories year after year without end.

So why is it so hard to buy her works in English? She is the shojo equivalent of Osamu Tezuka; where is the respect in the market? As readers, let's stop this. Let's let publishers know how much we want to read more Moto! Send e-mails, tweet their PR accounts, have them start a Kickstarter effort to gauge interest in her titles if that's what it takes.

It's true: A Drunken Dream took my heart and my breath away, and I want more Moto to follow up on these feelings of reading a superior shojo comic. Heart of Thomas is coming up, but even then I want more! Let's work to see the name of Moto Hagio show up across the spines of many books across America's book stories in the near future, and show new readers who have grown up on Tanemura and CLAMP and Watase how truly classic her shojo is.