Moto Hagio article published in Animerica Extra Vol. 5, No. 12, November 2002
This article was written by and is copyrighted to Patricia Duffield and may not be reproduced in part or whole without permission.
Moto Hagio has been likened to Osamu Tezuka because of her work's diversity and the impact it has had on shojo manga. She is one of the revered women who broke into the shojo manga biz in the late 1960's. Once creative control for girls comics was finally in the hands of women, they pushed the envelope of possibilities. Moto Hagio pushed the farthest, exploring sci-fi, fantasy, historic and contemporary settings and writing stories ranging from simple romances to complex dramas, short stories to lengthy series. She has opened the way for modern artists, and the depth and richness of her work has proven a lasting influence on shojo manga.
Beginning a Moto Hagio series is like walking into a web; the plot sticks and tangles until you are helplessly caught in its complexity. This is as true for the characters as it is for readers. At the funeral of his father and step-mother, Ian of Zankoku na Kami ga Shihai Suru (A Cruel God Reigns) realizes his step-brother Jeremy's mutterings are more than those of a bereaved child but of a killer. Yet how could such a sensitive young man commit so heinous a deed?
The story leaps back several months, to when Jeremy's mother became engaged to Greg. Everything was normal then, but when Jeremy ran from Greg's advances, Greg called off the engagement. This sent Jeremy's mother into a suicidal depression that was only alleviated by Greg proposing again. For the sake of his mother, Jeremy had little choice but to become the pawn of Greg's sexual abuse. Like most abusers, Greg forced Jeremy to cut ties with those he knew, to become the dominating force in Jeremy's life. The story becomes more complicated as Greg's family, including Ian, enter into the plot. Perversely, it's difficult not to look forward to the day Jeremy will tamper with the car, sending Greg and his mother to their deaths.
Generally considered the innovator of shonen-ai (boys love) stories, Hagio's leads tend to be male. Set in a European boy's school, Thoma no Shinzo (long o) (Thoma's Heart) begins dramatically with the title character's death. It is thought to be an accident, but dorm prefect Juli has a letter that suggests Thoma killed himself because he loved Juli. The mystery of the series is why? Thoma's Heart is a complex tale of love, faith and sacrifice mixed with the difficulties of growing up, and it's generally considered a milestone of shojo manga.
Despite Thoma's Heart, Hagio's work is a fairly bold example of how shonen-ai and true homosexual love are not necessarily the same. The relationships are often complicated with other issues. In the classic sci-fi thriller 11 Nin Iru! (They Were Eleven), the student Frol is from a race which remains genderless until their "second growth period." Frol is determined to pass the Galactic University's experience test and become a man, but he begins to develop feelings for the hero. In Marginal, men populate Earth, with a single woman to maintain their people. The race of unicorns in the A, A' collection is made up of genetically engineered, low-emotion androgens. Seldom are there cut and dry romances.
Hagio's characters are compelling. Long before Anne Rice's Lestat, there was Hagio's Edgar, lead of the classic Poe no Ichizoku (The Poe Clan). The beautiful Portsnel family has recently moved to town. When the daughter, Marybell, faints in a hotel restaurant, it provides the family a chance to meet a pair of the town's doctors, including handsome Dr. Clifford. Afterwards, the family's secret is revealed to the readers when Edgar confronts his "father"--they are vampanela, and they moved to this English town for new blood to add to the clan. Trapped forever in his fourteen-year-old body, playing the son of those responsible for his inhuman state, this is why Edgar's eyes are too old for his age, why he shows no fear or love toward anyone but his enchanting sister Marybell.
Although she has decidedly fanciful titles, such as The Poe Clan and the Hindu-god inhabited Hyuaku Oku no Hiru to Sen Oku no Yoru (Ten Billion Days and One Hundred Billion Nights), most of Hagio's work has a quality of fantasy, even those set in the future. The rings of Saturn, a solar flare of Proxima, a kite race on Mars--the A, A' collection is filled with sci-fi images which Hagio has transformed into magical moments due to both the art and the story. The unicorns, which are pivotal to the series, are like elves or sprites, thin and otherworldly. Although Marginal takes place primarily on Earth in the distant future, with horses and camels, swords and arrows, the world feels more medieval than futuristic. The snowy, poetic, almost silent opening of Thoma's Heart is a precursor of a story that depicts intense emotional moments with phantasmal spiritual imagery. From ethereal to demonic, fantasy qualities are woven into even the least fanciful of Hagio's titles to add impact to stories.
Dark secrets are essential elements to the engaging, deeply psychological drama Hagio is famous for. Although life as a dancer is competitive and difficult, it doesn't explain Mario's violent streak in Rome e no Michi (The Road to Rome). He must confront his past to uncover the mystery behind his trauma in order to master it and give his all to his dancing. In Umi no Aria (Aria of the Sea), when Colin's twin returns after being lost at sea, there must be more than just memory loss to explain the change in Abel and his strange connection to their school's enigmatic new music teacher. Solving this mystery involves only a few of the story's many secrets.
The qualities of Hagio's work can be found in the manga of countless successors. Shojo romances are often intricate with many difficulties to overcome. In Fushigi Yugi, the romance between Miaka and Tamahome is complicated by more than their own feelings and those of others but by Miaka's roll as the Priestess of Suzaku* and the fact that Tamahome is a character in a book. Compelling, mysterious characters with secrets in their pasts are a staple of shojo dramas. Revolutionary Girl Utena wouldn't be the addictive series it is without all the tantalizing mysteries and secrets hidden in the cast's background waiting to be uncovered by the plot. A lighter, magical feel is more popular with shojo artists than heavier, more realistic settings. Even the gritty Chicago uses ethereal moments to emphasize the emotion of poignant scenes without being melodramatic. It's easy to see Hagio's influence on modern shojo manga artists, yet few creators have combined these elements with her skill and impact.
The historic first sci-fi manga by a woman, They Were Eleven, is available in the English graphic novel anthology Four Shojo Stories. Hagio's A,A' collection is also available in English, masterfully combining hard sci-fi with social evolution and human emotions. These, and the other titles mentioned in this article, are only a fraction of the many and varied Hagio stories available in Japanese. Her work is worth seeking out not only because she's one of the founding mothers of modern shojo manga but also because her stories are so wonderfully engaging and masterfully crafted.
* I took liberties with romanizing names. Feel free to change them. Schodt spelled it Thoma, so I chose to as well.
Please correct the translated FY terminology if I didn't get it right.