Covers THEY WERE ELEVEN, A, A PRIME, and A DRUNKEN DREAM, all short works by Moto Hagio In honor of the release of THE POE CLAN by Moto Hagio, longtime manga reviewer Kate Dacey (@manga_critic on Twitter) and Shojo & Tell host Ashley take a look at some of Hagio’s shorter works. They talk about how rare and refreshing it is to read a shojo scifi story, Hagio’s influence on the space of girl’s comics, and how the exploration of gender in THEY WERE ELEVEN and A,A' does or doesn’t align with our modern understanding of gender. If you learn nothing else from this podcast, remember: Iguanas and bulls forever.
Covers They Were Eleven, A, A Prime, and A Drunken Dream, all short works by Moto Hagio
In honor of the release of The Poe Clan by Moto Hagio, longtime manga reviewer Kate Dacey (@manga_critic on Twitter) and Shojo & Tell host Ashley take a look at some of Hagio’s shorter works. They talk about how rare and refreshing it is to read a shojo scifi story, Hagio’s influence on the space of girl’s comics, and how the exploration of gender in THEY WERE ELEVEN and A,A' does or doesn’t align with our modern understanding of gender. If you learn nothing else from this podcast, remember: Iguanas and bulls forever.
Click here for a transcript of this episode
ASHLEY: Welcome to Shojo and Tell, where we discuss shojo manga, tell who’s not and who’s not, talk about themes, and just generally geek out. Today, August 6th, 2019, we’ll be shojo and telling about They Were Eleven, A,A Prime and A Drunken Dream and Other Stories, which are all short works by Moto Hagio. I’m your host, Ashley McDonnell, and I’m joined by long time manga review, Katherine Dacey.
KATE: Hi Ashley.
ASHLEY: Hey. I’m gonna call you Kate now.
KATE: Yes, excellent. Thank you. I appreciate that.
ASHLEY: Okay great. Yeah you’ve had a long history reviewing manga, and so tell the people about all of that.
KATE: Okay. It’s been about 13 years. I started writing about manga in 2006 for PopCultureShock, which is a site that doesn’t exist anymore. And then I wrote about manga for the school library journals good comics for kids blog, where I had a column that I called good manga for kids. And I’m not doing that anymore. And then I started a website in 2009 called The Manga Critic which is part of the Manga Bookshelf network. Some of the folks I used to know at PopCultureShock started manga bookshelf and I joined up with them. And The Manga Critic just celebrated its 10th anniversary back in April.
KATE: I’ve also done a little bit of published writing on manga. I contributed a chapter to Manga: Introduction, Challenges and Best Practices, which is a book that the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund and Dark Horse put out a few years ago, and it’s meant for librarians. So that’s my history of reviewing manga in a nutshell.
ASHLEY: So much manga. Are libraries getting cool with the manga again? Are they learning?
KATE: I don’t know. I think it goes through cycles. I think there was a big wave maybe 10 years ago that you also started really pushing the idea that manga was important and it was a great way to bring teens into your library. And they’re still recommending quite a bit of manga if you look at their Great Graphic Novels for Teens list, there’s always great manga on that list. They’re still going on. I don’t know how much patrons are taking out manga from libraries, it’s almost impossible for me to tell from my local library. They do have a pretty big section of manga so I’m guessing that folks in Salem, Massachusetts are reading manga and taking it out at the Salem public library. But it’s hard to know because I think most of my impression of how much people are reading manga was initially shaped by going to Borders and Barnes and Noble.
ASHLEY: RIP Borders.
KATE: Right. I don’t know how much manga is circulating around from libraries, but I know that libraries have made a really big push to try and collect it and make it available and use it as a way to sort of bring teens in and introducing them as a place where they might want to hang out.
ASHLEY: Yeah, my used copy of A,A Prime actually still has a Borders price tag on the back of it, which brings me great joy.
KATE: That’s an artifact.
ASHLEY: I know. It’s all sorts of artifacts going on here.
KATE: Yeah, two or three layers for sure.
ASHLEY: I know. My goodness. Do you want to describe what They Were Eleven and A,A Prime are about? Since A Drunken Dream and Other Stories has like 10 stories in it. We can get into that later.
KATE: Sure. Thumbnail plot for They Were Eleven. It kind of plays out like a Star Trek episode. You have a group of cadets who are taking an exam to get into a space academy so they can all become pilots. I’ll call it Star Fleet for the sake of convenience, because that’s essentially what it is. It’s a confederation of planets made up of lots of different races and species. And there’s a group of 11 of them who end up on a space ship as part of the test. There’s only supposed to be 10, however, and so you can imagine the discord that’s sewed by discovering that there’s an extra person and nobody can figure out who that extra person is and why they’re on the ship. And meanwhile the ship is starting to break down as it’s orbiting the sun. They have to stay on the ship as long as they possibly can without pushing the abort button and chaos ensues.
ASHLEY: Chaos ensues.
KATE: I think that’s a pretty spoiler-free description of They Were Eleven.
KATE: A,A Prime is even harder to summarize. But it’s a collection of three stories. They’re kind of mood pieces. And the one common thread that kind of binds the three stories is a type of character. Unicorns, which are actually not horses with horns, in this case we’re talking about a specific group of people who were bred for deep space travel and research. They’re emotionless, they have very high IQ’s and they have a very distinctive physical appearance, this shock of red hair and a sort of a crest on their head. And these Unicorns occur in all three stories in A,A Prime. And then two, the same human character who has some supernatural abilities also appear. So he also becomes a kind of unifying element in the stories.
KATE: So far I’m really selling the hell out of these.
ASHLEY: No. I think what makes them unique is that it’s one of the few scifi shojo things around that I’m aware of.
KATE: Yeah after you mentioned that, I went through your list because you said Please Save My Earth, that would’ve been the first thing if somebody told me, “Name me three shojo scifi series.” I was surprised at how little there really is.
ASHLEY: I don’t think I can name three.
KATE: Well Clamp has worked in that area a couple times. Clover and X are both shojo. Natsumi Itsuki wrote Jyu-Oh-Sei. I don’t know if you ever read that, that was a Tokyopop special.
ASHLEY: I didn’t read that one.
KATE: Moon Child is some of that CMX classic manga weirdness. And then the only other thing I could find was AI Revolution, which was something I had a dim memory of reading maybe 10 years ago. But it was a shojo romance with a robot.
KATE: Or something along those lines.
ASHLEY: I’m like, okay, is Absolute Boyfriend a scifi then? Because she loves a robot.
KATE: Yeah. I don’t know. This was a little more explicitly science fiction though because there was some plot with androids and cloning. It was a little bit more of a plot contrivance, it had more of a scifi vibe than that. But yeah there really isn’t a lot and I don’t know if there’s a good answer for why there isn’t.
ASHLEY: I know. I mean I understand scifi books as well are generally more of a male space, but I’m like, it’s not that bad.
KATE: Right. Well especially because there are so many great female creators working in science fiction across lots of different media and so I don’t know why there isn’t a lot. Maybe it has to do with the editorial biases with some of these shojo magazines, or they do reader polls and girls are like, “Ew I don’t like science fiction.” I just don’t know. It’s some of the most interesting stuff, particularly some of the most interesting classic manga is in that particular genre. And I don’t know why there isn’t more, but I’d love to read more.
ASHLEY: I know. Reading this sounds like … This is shockingly way more scifi intensive —
KATE: It’s out.
ASHLEY: I know. And just queer and everything than I thought it would be.
KATE: I know. It’s the mot bizarre combination of reading a 13-yea- old girl’s diary, hard science fiction, it’s queer as hell in a really fabulous, positive way. I don’t know whether or not that was intended when it was written, but it’s sort of beautifully queer in that way too. It’s all those things. And I don’t know. Words are sort of escaping me right now because I’m sort of caught up in the tumult of emotion that goes along with every plot development in these stories.
ASHLEY: Oh yeah. They’re very emotional. You got into all things. I don’t know, this is also just a good reminder. I think I had my mind blown when I went to a publishing course in 2012 and David Levithan, who’s a big YA author, he was just like, “YA is not a genre. It’s just an age designation that has all the genres within it.” And I’m like, “Oh yeah. Shojo is not a genre, it’s just a weird marketing term.”
KATE: Right. Yeah. And things that you think ought to be shojo, aren’t. Take Keiko Takemiya’s work, like To Terra… And Andromeda Stories, those are both actually written for shonen magazines but the artwork that looks a lot like the artwork in A,A Prime and A Drunken Dream and They Were Eleven. And all the characters have the galaxy eyes, and there’s a lot of fervent conversations about reproduction and parent child relationships and emotion and all the things that I associate with Hagio’s work, so it’s really interesting to see that that, just by virtue of where it was published, it was understood as being shonen material.
ASHLEY: I know. This is what baffles me. I think right now, Boys Over Flowers has a second season that’s also in Shonen Jump, and I’m like, “This is so weird and confusing. I’m so confused.”
ASHLEY: It’s baffling. I don’t understand.
KATE: It is.
ASHLEY: You were the one who suggested that we read these things. You did give me other options, but I chose this one because I was like, “This sounds intriguing.” And beyond the connection to The Poe Clan by Moto Hagio is coming out — it will be out by the time this podcast comes out —
ASHLEY: — from Fantagraphics, but beyond that connection, why did you want to discuss these in particular?
KATE: Well I’d say two reasons. First, I love short story collections, and in fact I wish there were more available in English because I often find longer serialized stories start really well and then start to peter out somewhere about volume 10 or 20. I get this fatigue sometimes. And there are authors who can write longer-form stories and the story just feels like the author carefully mapped everything out and the characters developed and the arcs are very satisfying. I think about like Naoki Urasawa as somebody who writes that way and I’m happy to read 25 volumes of a series that he has written.
KATE: But increasingly I find myself getting really impatient. And so I like short story collections because they let you sample an author, get to know what kind of genres that author works in, familiarize you with their artwork, and then you really get to see how good their story telling craft is. Because if you’ve only got 15 or 20 pages to tell a story, you really have to kind of strip things down to their essence and you have to be really economical. I think Hagio does that really well. I’d also put people like Rumiko Takahashi, Katsuhiro Otomo, and Osama Tezuka in that category partly because some of their stories are a little bit more playful than the longer form series that they’re known for.
KATE: Tezuka’s stories are bananas. He’s really experimental. Sometimes you’re like, “What? This doesn’t make any sense.”
ASHLEY: He’s like, “I don’t care.”
KATE: Yeah. He’s just like, “Oh let’s have …” he just comes up with crazy, crazy ideas. And not all of them are successful. Some of them are flat out terrible. But it’s kind of fun to watch him experiment with these ideas and just kind of throw spaghetti at the wall. And he doesn’t test your patience because they’re like 20 or 30 pages. For me I think that was part of the appeal. And the second thing of course is, her short stories I think are more accessible than some of her longer works. Otherworld Barbara, for example, is really kind of this gorgeous, messy fever dream and it doesn’t really hang together very well. It’s probably best read when you’ve had about two glasses of wine and you’re in this right frame of mind to listen to it and you’re sort of caught up in the emotion and it’s washing over you and you’re not thinking too hard about the plot mechanics. Because there’s a lot of stuff in it that doesn’t make a lot of sense. Sometimes on a page-by-page basis. And there’s a lot of really bald exposition like, “As you know, I’m your dad.”
KATE: The seams show a lot more even though there’s some ravishingly beautiful scenes in Otherworld Barbara. So for me, I think these short story collections are the perfect distillation of what Hagio does best as an artist and a writer. They’re really emotional. And I think for me, as I was saying earlier, every time I read them it transports me back to that period when I was about 12/13 years old and they reconnect me to how I felt at that age, and how intensely I experienced those emotions when I was that age. They do so in a way that feels really authentic. I don’t feel like I’m reading a story an adult has written for a teenager. I feel like she’s somehow channeling her own experiences at that age and capturing it in the stories that she’s telling without explicitly making them YA or stories about teenagers. So that’s why I thought it would be really fun to talk about these stories with someone else.
ASHLEY: Yeah, that YA point really strikes me because I’m like, “Yeah, these are all about pretty young people.” But I definitely never interpreted them as for young adults necessarily.
KATE: Yeah. I think some of the themes in them are really resonant. They offer so many readings. And at different stages of your life, they invite you to read them differently as opposed to feeling like you’ve outgrown them. There’s definitely manga that I’ve read where I’ve felt, sort of like groaning the whole way through because I was like, “I haven’t been this dippy and boy-crazy since I was 14.” Then it sort of feels like a chore to read them. This, I just felt like it gave me more insight into the person I was when I was that age, when I was reading it as an adult.
KATE: I didn’t read it as a teenager, I found out about They Were Eleven by reading someone’s LiveJournal. Talk about ancient history. We’ve been talking about Borders and all this other stuff.
ASHLEY: CMX, dead. Borders, dead. LiveJournal, what’s that?
KATE: Yeah so I read about it on somebody’s LiveJournal and I was like, “That sounds really cool.” And I remember ordering the copies off of eBay, the Flower Comics edition. I think it cost me like 99 cents. It was probably more expensive to shop the comics to me than to actually buy them, and I was blown away. And that started me on my journey with this material.
ASHLEY: Yeah. So I definitely didn’t read them until you were like, “Let’s do it.” And I was like, “Cool, let me go find some copies of those things.”
KATE: Well I’m glad you were able to find copies. Because as we noted when we were going back and forth and talking about what we were going to cover, this stuff is all out of print.
ASHLEY: Yeah, it’s very unfortunate.
KATE: And I’m glad that there’s a cheap way to get They Were Eleven. Four Shojo Stories, which is the volume that it’s all … There are people asking like 100 bucks or 200 bucks for a copy.
ASHLEY: Oh yes.
KATE: Yeah, so I’m glad that there’s a cheaper way to get your hands on it without going to scans.
ASHLEY: The story behind Four Shojo Stories, though, is pretty funny and bananas to me though. Apparently, back in the day, in like 1995 or something, Viz was like, “Hey we have the rights to all these short stories.” And they were like, “Cool.” And they’re from different authors and everything. So then they’re like, “Okay, let’s put it in a collection.” I work in publishing in a digital publisher, the tech side of things. And when I heard that story, I was like, “Oh no, this is going to be a right issue. They didn’t really clear them.” Apparently they did not clear with the initial publishers to publish them as one thing, so they’re all from different places and all these things. So then, Viz is like, “Whatever. They can’t do anything. We already published it.” But publishers are very stingy so they were like, “No. Stop publishing it. Recall all the copies that you possibly can.” Take that, Viz.
KATE: Yeah. I know, and it’s such a shame because the four stories fit together really nicely. It’s sort of bookended by two stories that are a little bit more rooted in the real world, and then it has those two sort of glorious scifi sagas in the middle that feel like they’re sort of a piece with one another. It’s kind of a shame that Viz kind of whiffed it on the rights with that, because it would be amazing to see it in print again. There is a Japanese publisher who just put out an anthology of classic shojo scifi stories from the 70’s and 80’s, but no one has picked it up for distribution in the United States. I think it came out about a year or two years ago because I saw something about it on Anime News Network. I was like, “Whoa. This is timely.” And I started looking around and nobody has licensed it. But it would be great to get it over here just to have those stories again in print and maybe to see some authors who haven’t been represented in English before.
ASHLEY: I know, Viz, get on it. What’s up. You need to take these chances.
KATE: I think that’s what we’re going to have to do periodically, pause it, “Viz get on it.”
ASHLEY: Viz, come on. But yeah, so They Were Eleven though was published in floppies that are pretty cheap on eBay, you can get each one for two to three dollars. That’s not so bad. I would recommend starting there if you’re curious and you haven’t read these stories before. It’s weird to read manga in floppies, at least for me, I was like, “This is strange.” But that’s fine.
KATE: Yeah. It’s a different experience, especially when they break up the story into the sort of standard floppy length which is really about 32 to 48 pages when they do that. It’s really weird to read manga in that kind of format because you’re used to getting a chunk of 160 or 180 pages in one go. And it’s even weirder when you’re reading something like Urusei Yatsura or some other really early stuff that Viz serialized that way. Sometimes the format doesn’t feel quite right for the story.
ASHLEY: Yeah, it kind of tricked me. I was like, “Oh yeah, They Were Eleven. That’ll be easy to read. It’s not that long.” And then I’m like, “Actually it’s basically the length of a manga just split into four very big floppy volumes.”
KATE: Yeah. It’s sort of like a novella. If someone asks me, if I want to be really pretentious about it, that’s the word I’d use.
ASHLEY: It’s true. It’s a little bit shorter than a normal volume of manga. It’s missing a chapter. But yeah, as I mentioned before, The Poe Clan, which is also by Moto Hagio, is currently being published by Fantagraphics, so if, you know, you got to go support the old stuff if we want to have any hope of more of it coming over here. Everybody go buy The Poe Clan.
KATE: Yeah, and the Fantagraphics editions of Hagio’s work are beautiful. If you’ve looked at Heart of Thomas, if you’ve looked at Otherworld Barbara, they’re hard cover books, big trim size, good paper, great translations. I think Rachel Thorn has been responsible for all of the translations as she was for They Were Eleven and A,A Prime. It’s really, really well done. A Drunken Dream has this great interview with Moto Hagio that Rachel Thorn did, as a well as a reprint of an article that appeared in the comics journal about her work. It’s definitely worth spending the little bit of extra money on those editions because Fantagraphics is really taking the responsibility with this material seriously.
ASHLEY: I know. Don’t get scared or wait for it to go on sale. Wait for it to be 20% off at your Barnes and Noble —
KATE: The one Barnes and Noble left in your neighborhood.
ASHLEY: Yeah, you’ve got to go there. I feel a little ignorant in this regard, but I do know that Moto Hagio is very … There is a shift in the 70’s towards shojo becoming the genre that it basically more is today — not a genre, but the marketing term that is it today and all these styles. And I know that she’s very important to that. I don’t actually know that much about it, but I feel that it is important to note that in general.
KATE: Well yeah, if you look at the history of magazine publishing in Japan and the 20th century, you can find girls’ magazines going back to the beginning of the century and they often had short stories and illustrations in them. And those were the sort of fore runners for modern shojo manga magazines. You can find magazines for kids in the 1920s, 1930s that have stories with animals and adventures and that sort of thing. And those are a little bit more gender-neutral. And then after World War Two, some of the first manga written specifically for girls were written by men. Lots of male manga artists broke into the industry writing that way. And the stories that they were telling were pretty innocent. A girl who thinks she’s an orphan and then she discovers her true family. Her parents are fabulous and wealthy and somehow she’s been separated from them and then she’s happily reunited with them.
KATE: And our modern sense of what shojo is, the sort of dynamism through which the stories are told, the emphasis on interiority and all of that, starts to emerge in the 60s and 70s with a generation of female artists who are beginning to enter the profession. There had been examples of women before, if you think about the strip Sazae-san. Debuted in 1946. It was written by Machiko Hasegawa, it was a newspaper comic strip. And she’s really one of the first important female comic artists in Japan. Then as you get into the 60s you have people Hideko Mizuno and then she’s followed by a wave of young women like Keiko Takemiya and Moto Hagio, who are building on the legacy of people like Osama Tezuka and taking it in a new direction. They were inspired by his layouts and his treatment of the page itself and the panel shapes and the way in which he brought this kind of cinematic flair to his storytelling.
KATE: But they brought a whole other dimension that’s missing from something like Princess Knight, which is basically kind of an action-adventure story with a very conventional ending. Princess Sapphire hangs up her sword and she decides she’s going to be, sort of assume a conventional feminine role as wife and mother. But if you look at the stuff that’s coming out in the 70s, you start to see these really innovative layouts where people are sometimes just obliterating panels and they’re using all the signification. Flowers and galaxy eyes and sparkles and characters sort of falling through space and all these things to try and suggest the intensity with which the characters are feeling things and allow you to sort of step into the characters head for a moment and appreciate it. But also to tell stories that spoke more specifically to girls.
KATE: Not that Princess Knight doesn’t, but if you think about something like A,A Prime, it resonates with me because it reminded me of reading things like Madeleine L’Engle and Frances Hodgson Burnett and Ellen Montgomery. It sort of builds on that legacy it just has a really different sensibility that the kind of shojo that male artists were creating for girls in the 50s and 60s
ASHLEY: Yeah and all the impressions I’ve gotten so far of these old things that I’ve read, like Claudine and The Rose of Versailles, I’m like, “They’re all so queer. What’s going on? It’s great.”
KATE: They are. Yeah ,and I don’t know that I have a good answer for that. That sounds like a question to ask Rachel Thorn to sort of think about it. But I think on the sort of basic level, one of the things I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about when I’m sort of thinking about some of the characters who are androgynous or non-binary or hermaphroditic depending on the story that we’re talking about, I think a lot of it … For me, I remembered being about 12 years old and having this epiphany about misogyny, about gender roles — it just never really occurred to me before. And it hit me really hard and I could see that happening to other girls my age and seeing them respond in lots of different ways. Some people started embracing their emerging sexuality and the attention they were getting for being female. Other people sore of tenaciously clinging to their childhood as a way of almost remaining non-binary or androgynous.
KATE: And then other people feeling, like me, feeling a lot of trepidation about it, not feeling comfortable with that kind of attention and not comfortable with the idea necessarily that I had to be a wife and mother that that was sort of pre-ordained. And I think that part of the queerness sort of speaks to that, it kind of allows you a space to plug into that discourse without explicitly being about getting a boyfriend or getting married or some of those things that might sometimes feeling like an abstraction, or a terrifying abstraction when you’re 12 or 13 years old.
ASHLEY: Yeah being more about your fundamental identity is changing, not just in relation to other people but in your own self-identification it’s getting like, “Whoa.” Blown up here.
KATE: I think that’s a really good way of putting it. And I think too, men have always been free to have adventures and so some of these characters, like if you think about Lady Oscar in The Rose of Versailles, where you think about Claudine. These characters who we understand some level as being women, are allowed to have male privilege and act on it and be bold and decisive and have lots of authority and agency in a way that I think sometimes female characters aren’t allowed to. Or at least in that period it would’ve been more unusual to see a female character that feisty and sort of self possessed. So I think that some of that queerness too speaks to just wanting to present women doing something bold, but having to sort of work around gender stereotypes to do it.
ASHLEY: Yeah that makes sense. That makes a lot of sense. So from here on out, I will give the spoiler warning — I realize I didn’t really give that very clearly. So from here on out we will clearly spoil what goes on in They Were Eleven and A,A Prime and some of the short stories. So, you know, if you haven’t read those things, you might not want to listen, or maybe you do. I don’t know. I don’t control you. But you’ve been warned, is really the thing here. We’re going to start with the … Because it leads in, this queerness talk leads into a question we got on Twitter from @brainchild129 who has been on this podcast to discuss The Key to the Kingdom and The Full-time Wife Escapist. And the question is, “Do you think that Hagio’s portrayal of non-binary characters in They Were Eleven and some of the other short stories holds up to our modern understanding about gender?”
ASHLEY: To answer that question I feel like we have to first establish what our modern understanding of gender is.
ASHLEY: I actually tried to discuss this with my roommate and best friend, he’s transgender. He lives with me. So I was like, “Okay let me make sure that my understanding is clear. Let me make sure I’m somewhat up to date.” It’s like, gender is fluid, it’s not a binary, there’s no male or female. It’s a sliding scale, you can be 59% male, 41% female. It doesn’t have to be this clear division. It’s not related to sex, it’s not related to your sexual organs, not related to your sexual preference in people, and it is something that you can chose for yourself. So it is not being locked into anything, you can be assigned female at birth and you can choose to identify as male or … There are many designations that I’m unaware of. I believe demi-boys is one. There’s lot of things that you can choose.
KATE: I like the way that you describe it as a continuum because I think that’s a more contemporary discussion and I think going back and looking at these, because I read these the first time in 2007/2008 and I thought they were progressive and bold. And looking back on them now, I don’t know if I’d quite call them woke, but it’s really fascinating to see how fundamental that dilemma is — where do you fall on that continuum — that are in A,A Prime and also it’s an element in They Were Eleven and to see it foregrounded so specifically. I think one of the things I’d love to know is whether or not anyone ever tried to translate some of the characters as “they” instead as he or she, especially some of the characters who are a little bit more ambiguous or sort of sit pretty in the middle of that gender continuum. And that was rejected because that wasn’t standard editorial practice in the United States in say 1995 or 1997.
KATE: Or if that’s actually in the original text, that would be really interesting to know how much of that is an artifact of the translation and how much is inherent in the original story.
ASHLEY: Yeah that’s definitely a question I had, especially with Nuum. I don’t know how to say his name.
KATE: Your guess is as good as mine.
ASHLEY: Yeah exactly. So the scaly one who tried to be like … No, Frol is very androgynous. He actually looks very female. And I believe that his sex is female. And it’s supposed to be a group of all men. But Nuum is like, “No, Frol and I are the same. I also don’t actually have the assigned sex organs and stuff.” But they also talk about how it’s supposed to be a group of men, so they identify Nuum as male. And I’m like, “Okay is this for real though? I don’t know.”
KATE: Yeah, well he’s an interesting character. It’s sort of disappointing that he doesn’t get developed a little bit more in They Were Eleven. But talking about his experiences on that harsh planet and the whole life cycle of his particular species where they’re tough and scaly and hermaphroditic and then the sun comes out once every 29 years and they have this brief summer and they reach their sexual maturity, they have off spring and then the parent dies and then the cycle is repeated in the next generation. And he’s one of those few people from his planet who gets caught in between the cycles because he doesn’t come to his sexual maturity so he’s stuck in this kind of liminal state. He’s really interesting. Of course he’s the only person who recognizes that Frol is sort of in that same kind of a place and recognizes that very early on. They have a conversation where he used his planets word to describe somebody who is, I guess we might say non-binary or androgynous. And Frol is a little unsettled by that whole experience.
KATE: I don’t know. I think he’s an interesting character and I think you’re right that everyone talks about the fact that only men are allowed in the academy and that this is an opportunity that’s only available to men, which adds another layer on top of the story. But yeah, Frol and Nuum are both really interesting characters. I think for Frol too, part of the reason I was talking about that moment when you’re 12 or 13 and you really start to imagine what is it like to be a woman, a grown woman, is that Frol’s whole rationale for being on that ship is to prove that Frol is worthy of being a man. To have her family decide that she can in fact become a man so she doesn’t have to marry some ancient man who has all these wives already and children, which she wasn’t do. And she sees this as a way out of that path.
KATE: And so when I was thinking about the gender issues around Frol, that was one of the first things that popped to mind, alongside sort of thinking about Frol with our modern understanding of queerness and gender identity and sexual orientation. I think that was more secondary for me when I was thinking about Frol and just how old is supposed to be and where Frol is in her development.
ASHLEY: Yeah, Frol is like directly confronting those things being like, “My future will be decided by my gender.” Basically.
KATE: Yeah, it’s not subtle.
ASHLEY: It’s not subtle at all.
KATE: No you get hit in the face with a hammer on that one a few times. I think it’s handled really beautifully just because there are a lot of hints early in the story that there’s something going on with Frol and the tension between Frol and Tada is really interesting the way that it plays out in that Frol is always comparing … I guess I realize over the course of our conversation I’ve used “him” and “her,” maybe “they” would probably be a better word in this case. But that Frol is always comparing their physique. You know, “I’ve got broader shoulders. You’ve got smaller hands.” That kind of thing. And that there is a dynamic between them that feels almost more like a traditional heteronormative screwball comedy.
KATE: There’s all those layers to unpack with that particular relationship there.
ASHLEY: I know, yeah. And it’s like, to me I think the modern-ness of it breaks down in that it’s like they’re still very clearly a binary usually, even in A,A Prime and They Were Eleven. It’s not like they can just choose to be, “Whatever, we’re all always the same sex organ.” That’s why with Nuum, it would be interesting to know if he does identify as he, because if he is just like actually, “Oh I’m both.” More of a Two Spirit Native American type deal, then that would be interesting. But as we know it, it’s like no there’s very clearly a binary. You do have to choose one or the other, you can’t just stay in the liminal space forever.
KATE: Yeah. I think that’s an excellent point. If you’re thinking about what makes this more problematic for a modern reader is that there is no recognition that there’s something beyond the social constructs of male and female. And then that idea gets hammered on. And then of course there’s the other problematic thing which is that in order for some of these relationships to really be acceptable, one of the characters has to decide to become female. There’s that dynamic in the final chapter of A,A Prime in the relationship between Tacto and Mori. Tacto trying to decide, “Am I going to be a man, am I going to be a woman?” And in the end it seems as if Tacto is sort of embracing a traditional feminine role in the relationship with Mori. As I read it, it seemed to imply that Tacto was willing to become a woman for Mori’s sake. And maybe that’s me misreading it, but it seems like that’s another thing that by 2019 standard maybe seems a little less with it.
ASHLEY: Yeah, I think there’s also the point with Tacto is that like Mori is like, “So what do you want to be, Tacto?” And Tacto is like, “Well which one do you prefer to be with, Mori?” And Mori is like, “No this isn’t my decision.” But Tacto also does not provide a clear answer to the reader so it’s kind of like our last impression of him is trying to pawn off his identity to somebody else and it’s like, “Come on, Tacto. Get it together.”
KATE: Yeah. Tacto has dynasty levels of trauma that endures, both in the story itself and then things that happened prior to the story that are fundamental to some of the big developments in the end. His father, who invents the system that allows people to spontaneously change their sex. I was like, “What?” The first time I read that I was like, “Wow.” It was the 70s, I guess it was different. [crosstalk 00:36:16] But I loved it because it was just so out. Who would’ve thought of that. And that actually leading to the great tragedy of Tacto’s mother committing suicide in front of her son. Because of sort of being stuck in this in between space between genders and sexes and sort of that trauma has been passed on to Tacto and Tacto’s guardian, Anan, is really adamant that Tacto has to be … She’s shocked by the revelation that Tacto has two X chromosomes and there’s all this discussion about hormone treatment. And that seems, in a way, oddly contemporary.
ASHLEY: That’s true. Hormone treatment.
KATE: Yeah that bit, and the speech that you just references a minute ago where Mori says to Tacto, “You have to be the one who makes the choice,” I suppose redeems the story from feeling like Tacto is being forced into being a woman at the end of the story. But it’s interesting because it feels like it resonates with a lot of current discussion, for example about what age somebody can decide that, “I was born in the wrong body. I’m a woman and I want to complete that full transition to being a woman.” There’s a tremendous amount of debate about what age that’s appropriate in and debate about whether or not parents should be recognizing some of those tendencies in some who’s maybe six or seven years old or maybe 12 years old. Sort of trying to decide at what age somebody knows their own self well enough to make that choice and how to facilitate that transition and when it’s appropriate for medical intervention. In that sense, there’s a lot of resonance with the sort of moment that we’re living in right now.
ASHLEY: Yeah, those things are really difficult. I actually really struggle with our modern sensibility of gender and sex. I asked my trans friend what it is and he’s like, “Okay I’m going to try to illustrate for you.” I have trouble because I’m like, once you decouple everything from everything else, you can be feminine or masculine without identifying as male or female and you don’t have to have the sex organs of those things to identify as a certain gender, and all these things. And I’m like, okay, but at a certain point where everything is just not necessarily connected to anything else, what is the point of any of those things? And if gender is a social construct, then how does somebody who’s six years old fully understand the gender that has been constructed? It’s all very confusing to me sometimes. It gets all distraught in my mind. He made me a chart … Not charts, but he graphed things where he’s like, “Okay, the initial understanding of gender is genitals = sex = gender = identity = roles = sexuality.”
ASHLEY: And he made more of like a heat map where it’s like, sexuality is off in the corner. He wrote, “An entirely different animal.” And I’m like, “Awesome.” And then it’s just like words kind of loosely associated, somewhat associated by color and this is like, assigned sex, genitals, body, hormones, strength, chromosomes, a voice. Then another cluster is names, identity, pronouns, roles. And then there’s presentation which is like, hair, clothes, mannerisms. It’s body, identity, presentation. For me it’s just like, it’s so cool that these characters in these manga are exploring this. It sucks that they’re stuck in a dichotomy that they don’t seem to necessarily want to be in all the time.
KATE: Well the 70s were kind of queer in their own special way. I teach a class on the history of rock, and when we watch rock performance from the 70s, it’s on this really fascinating continuum because you have this incredible homo-eroticism in performance. You have people like Robert Plant and Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin up on stage. I don’t think Robert Plant wore a shirt at any point in the 1970s. And he’s up there and he’s wearing these jeans, they’re like hanging on his hip bones and they’re really tight and he’s not got a shirt on, he’s got a little bolero jacket and he’s sort of strutting around the stage with his long flowing locks and singing at Jimmy Page. There’s this really homo erotic element to the performance. But it’s also understood as being hyper masculine.
KATE: And then you have people like Freddie Mercury and David Bowie who are inhabiting a totally different space as a strategy for engaging the audience. I mean David Bowie sort of … When I think of some of the characters in A,A Prime, I think a lot of his Ziggy Stardust persona and the man who fell to Earth, and that sort of phase in Bowie’s journey as a musician. Because it seems like Bowie himself was actively resisting and challenging that binary. The Ziggy Stardust character is really hard to pin down. The word most people use to describe it as androgynous. Because the way he sort of simultaneously has feminine and masculine traits or things that are sort of commonly understood as being feminine and masculine. And then there’s this really aggressive sexual energy and flirtation with the audience. It’s out. It’s really out.
KATE: If you’ve been watching a Led Zeppelin concert or you came across the David Bowie Ziggy Stardust album, how some of that stuff might have sort of percolated through your consciousness and manifested itself this way in the science fiction story.
ASHLEY: Yeah, that makes sense. There’s so much going on. It’s kind of like … I guess the 70s are the time when we realize, “Oh everything that we think of as hyper-masculine, maybe it’s all just homo-erotic instead.”
KATE: Right. Think about disco and the incredible, crazy backlash that disco engendered at the end of the 70s with the Disco Sucks rally in Comiskey Park which happened in 1979. But it was a total backlash to idea that men had to get dressed up, look nice, learn social dance moves so they could do partner dancing out at the disco tech. And then to dance to music that was being performed by a lot of women of color, a lot of queer vocalists, floating on top of this shimmering disco beat. And it seemed to embody a totally different value system than rock. So you have this interesting moment in the 70s where queer culture seems like it’s going to become mainstream. There was this moment in 1979 where disco was just absolutely inescapable. Ethel Merman put out a disco album. Ethel Merman. It’s just as awful as it sounds.
KATE: And yet, if Ethel Merman is doing it and Sesame Street has a Cookie Monster disco record and everything gets the word disco slapped on it, it seemed like this was a tipping point. And then we had this huge backlash in the sort of disco culture and the queerness that it was bringing into the spotlight sort of recedes a little bit.
KATE: When I’m thinking about where all Hagio’s stuff fits into the 70' and the early 80s, I think a lot about that particular moment and that moment where fashion was pretty … I wouldn’t quite say unisex, but if you look at how people were dressing in the 70s, that sort of hyper feminine style that became really popular in the Reagan years with really exaggerated shoulders, really nipped in waists, right skirts, super high heels, giant hair, that kind of thing. I think it’s just sort the total visual opposite of how people were dressing in the 70s was just sort of like earthy and shapeless, comfortable. Everybody looks comfortable.
ASHLEY: Everybody looks comfortable. No yeah, I definitely think of like … Even with Tada, I was like, “Is Tada male or female?” In the beginning I was like, “I don’t know.” It could go either way. And then at the end, the last shot of them all walking away after they’ve passed the test and everything and they’re like, “We’re going on to our separate futures.” I’m like, “All of you look feminine.” King is wearing high heels and all these things. I’m like, “What’s up?”
KATE: Yeah and some of the men had hair I would kill for.
ASHLEY: I know, right?
KATE: I was just saying, “I want my hair to be that.” I love it because it’s just weird and out in a great way that invites so many different readings. And you can be totally oblivious to all that subtexts and totally enjoy it or you could read it and it could resonate with you in a way that it wouldn’t resonate with me as a cisgendered woman in her 40s. I think that’s one of the things that’s really beautiful about it.
ASHLEY: Yeah and I think it’s fun because, I think so many queer stories are like, this is ABOUT queer stories. But I’m like I actually don’t feel like They Were Eleven is necessarily about … It comes down on that pretty hard sometimes, but overall it’s a psychological story of how can we trust anybody and in that way the gender aspect is great and fascinating because the way that they start to actually bond with each other at all in the story is through being like, “Oh Frol is weird, we have to figure out Frol.” And all these things. And then in trying to figure out Frol which they do not do in that moment because Frol is a complicated human who is still figuring stuff out themselves, it makes them talk about all the planets that they’re from and then they focus more on the similarities in the end. They’re like, “Oh we all have different creation stories but they’re all basically the same. Isn’t that fun? Yay.”
KATE: Yeah. That’s why it feels like the queerest episode of Star Trek ever made. Because it has those great moments where they’re comparing notes, as you say, about their origin stories and each character gets a chance to say why they’re participating in this exercise and what it means for them and what opportunities it becomes. You get a little glimpse into the sort of class system in this United Federation of Planets and all the different cultures that are represented there and what it’s like to sort of be on the cusp on adulthood because all those characters are really sort of sitting in that space. Yeah, it’s a lot of fun. I loved it. They Were Eleven is definitely one of my all-time favorite short stories.
ASHLEY: I regret that I didn’t have enough time to reread it. I only read it once, why? It was so good. I’m sure I would get more out of it the second time.
KATE: Yeah. So do we want to talk A Drunken Dream or did you want to talk a little bit more about A,A Prime? Because we talked a little bit about Tacto and Mori, but we didn’t really talk about the first two stories which are actually, in some ways, even weirder than —
ASHLEY: They’re definitely weirder.
KATE: Yeah, so where do you want to start?
ASHLEY: Well I also wanted to mention that to me it would be correct that Tacto in Japanese would be referring to himself by male pronouns, because he talks in the third person. That would be an actual translation thing, and I’m like, that must be so weird, he is so aggressively trying to confirm his gender identity and I’m like, “Oh poor Tacto. He just needs a hug.”
KATE: Oh yes, definitely. But I felt that about all of the Unicorns. They all sort of needed a hug. Do you want to go back to the first story or do you want to talk a little bit more about Tacto and Mori?
ASHLEY: No we can go to the first story because the first story is definitely like … It has so many standard scifi elements, but I feel like again it’s like, I have no subtly, I’m just going to hit them on the head so hard. To me it reminded me of … It’s about … The first story, the actual titular story of the collection is about Addie, who is a Unicorn, but she has died. But she has a clone. The clone is from like three years ago, but they’re like, “Oh well we have to keep doing research on this planet and Addie is the best at it, so we’re going to send three years prior Addie clone back to this planet.” Where everybody who she’s known for those three years, still lives. They’re like, “Oh, Addie is back.” And I’m like, that’s weird. That’s very weird for them to behave that way first of all. And then the only one who doesn’t really behave that way is the one who was romantically involved with her. What was his name? Regg?
ASHLEY: Yes, Regg.
KATE: With two G’s.
ASHLEY: With two G’s. Yes exactly. So Regg was like, “No, it’s not Addie, it’s a clone.” And then of course he goes away and he dies and now his clone is somehow involved. To me it’s weird because I feel like there’s plenty of clone stories out there and all these things, but normally I feel like they don’t have to necessarily interact with people who blatantly know that they’re a clone or are trying to treat them that they are not a close necessarily. It reminded of Kazuo Ishiguro’s … What’s that book called?
KATE: Are you talking about … Is it Never Let You Go? Never —
ASHLEY: Yeah, Never Let Me Go. Exactly.
KATE: Yeah. It does raise really interesting ethical question about the whole cloning process and how the people in the space station are supposed to interact with Addie’s clone when she arrives. There’s a whole sequence where people are trying to interact with her as the original Addie and of course she doesn’t have the memories of interacting with them and they keep trying to adjust their expectations and interact with her in a way that feels natural. That to me feels like, I couldn’t off hand name a specific scifi story that did that. But then there’s this overlay, the shojo-ness that comes in. The utter shojo-ness.
KATE: That opening bit where the clone is recovering some of Addie’s memories and has this brief memory of Pony, which when we were corresponding about what we were going to talk about, you mentioned this. And I don’t know if you want to take that idea and run with it, but I thought that that was, for me, that sequence of flashing back to this really painful, terrible moment in the original Addie’s childhood and having this memory that pops up, and the clone of course hasn’t lived through it but feels it like she has. And she wakes up weeping. I was like, “Oh that’s so shojo.”
ASHLEY: The most shojo thing.
KATE: Yeah. All they needed were some flowers and sparkles and that would make it the ultimate shojo —
ASHLEY: The ultimate shojo. It just needed some flowers.
KATE: Yeah, but you were raising this really interesting point, and I don’t know if you want to take that ball and run with it because I think that that’s a really interesting … The point you were making about Ponies and Unicorns was actually really interesting.
ASHLEY: Yeah, so I keep trying to be like, “I don’t feel like I quite have it squared away in my mind.” But I’m just like — beyond this gender thing, most of the stories have to do with finding yourself or whatever. It’s like literally they have different selves. There’s a clone. There’s this added layer with Addie where it’s like, she’s a clone and not human, she’s this weird Unicorn thing. And I like to think that as a child, I guess, Addie was very distraught by all these things. She has a pony that dies and that’s very distressing to her. And it starts off with lower case P it’s like, “This is a pony.” But then at some it’s just like no, she just calls the pony Pony. Its name is Pony. And it’s like, wait a minute. This could be like any pony. There is that sort of any pony dying sort of thing.
ASHLEY: There’s both a distance from it but also a very All Ponies Matter sort of thing. It would be like if Addie was called Unicorn. They’re just like, “Oh and Unicorn over here is doing the thing.” There’s very much this struggle between like, is Addie just a Unicorn? Because many people point out how she’s cold. The Unicorns apparently aren’t supposed to have feelings even though of course that’s always nonsense. They totally have feelings, she just expresses them differently than a human because whatever, we’re programmed that way. I don’t know.
ASHLEY: There’s just all these elements. It’s like the pony somehow gets frozen in this memory with this clone and Addie is literally frozen somewhere in like a tundra land, OG Addie. Then there’s the clone who’s living this on loop sort of thing because everybody keeps projecting their memories of previous Addie onto her and she’s like, “What? Am I supposed to like black coffee now? With sugar? What’s up? I like it black but you tell me I don’t. It’s very confusing.”
KATE: Yeah, I thought that that was a really interesting point you made because it, as you say, is this symbolic … It’s a time loop that this clone is experiencing and sort of feeling a little almost a-syncronistic, she’s on a different timeline than everybody else in the space station. She’s haunted by this memory, this experience that really isn’t hers. And then when it ends and we meet Regg’s clone, she feels relieved because she feels like the clone is the only person who will sort of understand her predicament and for whom her telling the story of the pony is going to be an authentic experience. And I thought that that was sort of an interesting way to end the story. The first time I read it, I wasn’t really sure where it was going and then I just thought there was sort of a brilliant answer to that loop, that instead of just sending endless replacements that now we have these two clones of people who had originally been together and they have the memories of those two people from before they met, and so there’s a purity to their interactions that isn’t true of their interactions with the rest of the crew. And it’s a really interesting and cool resolution to that story.
ASHLEY: Yeah, and I’m just like, “Okay, everybody has to become a clone now. Y’all got to die. Only the clones can interact with other clones.” That’s basically … But yeah, it’s so weird because it’s like it’s a clone plus the Unicorn thing and I’m like, wow this is a lot of elements to deal with in 40 pages. What’s going on? And then it goes into the second story. The three remaining stories are all connected, whereas the first one is like, “That’s just setup for these three stories.”
KATE: Yeah, I think the most disturbing by far is the plot line involving Mori and Trill. I think partly because Trill, unlike the other Unicorns that you encounter over the course of that collection of stories, Trill really seems to have the mind of a child. She has a lot of difficulty speaking and forming thoughts, of giving really meaningful consent to anything. She’s been subjected to these terrible experiments and Mori’s intense interest in her and his romantic interest in her feels deeply problematic. I don’t know if it did to readers when it was originally published, but certainly in 2019.
KATE: The scene, for example, where he tries to kiss her, then he’s furious because he feels like she’s only reciprocating the way a child would reciprocate if you said I love you. I read that and I was like, “Oh this is really uncomfortable.”
ASHLEY: That one is definitely the most uncomfortable in this collection both because Trill is … Because everyone is just using Trill. And it does address that overtly. Mori’s mom is like, “You are just doing the same thing as the doctor that you hate who’s doing terrible experiments on her because you’re just using her for your own gains to help your telekinesis powers and feel fulfilled.”
KATE: As one does.
ASHLEY: As one does. You just borrow the cool-looking Unicorns … The Unicorns are very cool looking, I do like their red mane thing, I’ve got to say.
KATE: Although I wish it was in color. You have to project that onto the designs. But I agree. I like that it’s subtle. It’s just something that makes them look a little bit other worldly. And it’s done just deafly enough that you get a sense that they’re a little bit strange even though they look essentially human. And I think it’s just a tiny little detail, but it carries through in all of the stories.
ASHLEY: It carries through pretty well. Poor Mori.
KATE: Yeah he knows how to pick them doesn’t he?
ASHLEY: Mori. This boy.
KATE: His whole dilemma and meeting Tacto and seeing echos of Trill’s face and all of that. It’s interesting. I think for me, going back and re-reading the story with Trill and the doctor, it made me even more uncomfortable. I remember sort of feeling Mori’s outrage the first time I read it and seeing that story through his eyes the first time I read it. And then coming back and reading it again many years later, I had a very different reaction to it, very visceral. And I think I saw more the way Mori’s mom did that Mori is not seeing the way in which he’s imposing himself on Trill and altering her life in ways that mean that she’s sort of on the collision course with disaster. And I think of the stories and that’s the most problematic. It does have some of the most amazing art though.
KATE: I have to say, the shared dream that Mori and Trill have in that story is really a master class in how to depict a nightmare. They have a dream where he sees what looks like a butterfly collector’s case full of specimens. There are all these corpses and they have a lepidopterist … I can’t say that word. I should never say it. Probably just say butterfly collectors pin that has been pushed through them into that black velvet, and that’s what it looks like. You see these bodies strewed around. And the full horror of what the doctor is doing to Trill really comes through in that image in a way that them simply talking about it doesn’t or just acknowledging that Trill is being violated. You just get this sort of horrible vision of what’s happening and all of the emotion and the confusion that Trill is feeling.
KATE: And it’s so powerful, because it’s just a couple of panels. It doesn’t go on and on, the imagery isn’t sort of falsely surreal. Sometimes when people try to represent dreams it doesn’t look like any dream I’ve ever had. I was like, “My dreams aren’t like that.” They’re sort of this combination of the familiar and the strange, and I think that it really walks that line beautifully and it really just sort of, in that one moment you just realize how horrible and wrong the experiments have been. And I think it’s what Dr. Sazen has been doing to Trill, it’s … For me, that’s the thing that really redeems that story is, that sequence and the beauty of the illustrations. Like every time they go to the aviary, that’s really beautifully illustrated and it feels almost primeval or like they’re going to the garden of Eden or something like that, and it stands in real contrast to the rest of ship which is pretty standard 70s/80s scifi. Everything is clean and white and sterile-looking. And then there’s this beautiful jungle on the ship.
ASHLEY: I’m trying to be like, is this story … I feel like They Were Eleven ends on a pretty happy note, overall this collection ends on a solid-ish note. The first two stories are pretty disturbing, but then I’m like, I feel like those two stories line up best with more of her more realistic short stories though in A Drunken Dream and other stories. Because I felt like those were more about darkener themes.
KATE: Oh wow. Yeah you definitely want to have a bottle of scotch on hand before you sit down with A Drunken Dream because those stories will make you … I cannot. And it’s funny because I read a lot of manga and I’m moved by it in some way, but I ugly cry when I read “Iguana Girl” because —
ASHLEY: Oh my god is that your favorite? Because that’s my favorite.
KATE: Yeah. You first. Why is it your favorite?
ASHLEY: I mean definitely of all of the ones that are in there, I was like, “Oh my god I’m going to cry about this story.” It has such a good juxtaposition between the iguana is cute and this is funny at times and then it’s just like deathly crushing in the way that it’s like, she thinks that she’s ugly, other people see her as a regular girl except for her mom for all these things and I’m like, it’s so relatable and cute and also sad and so distressing.
KATE: The thing that it really struck is, is that for … I think especially as I’ve gotten older, one of the things that I’ve realized when I’m teaching is that when you’re interacting with somebody that reminds you of the worst aspects of yourself it can be very difficult. Things you don’t like about yourself. Difficult to just deal with them as a separate individual and not impose all of your own fears and self doubt on that person. And parents wrestle with that too. You have a daughter or a son and that child embodies some aspect of yourself that you don’t like. And you see that in them and you’re sort of repelled by it because it’s like holding up this mirror to yourself. And the way Hagio does it where there’s this possible element of magical realism or just the iguana could simply be a metaphor for the way Rika goes through life. The way she feels, rather than it being some sort of literal thing.
KATE: And the interactions you can see how vulnerable she is and you can see how much her mother’s self hatred and fear of being exposed comes out in her interactions with her. And it’s really powerful. Every time I read it I was just like, “Oh my god. I need another Kleenex.” It’s a gut punch. And yet it has such a lovely ending.
ASHLEY: Yeah, lovely things happen in it. And I really like the moment where the sister who is not cursed with anybody thinking that she is an iguana, she’s like, “Oh wait.” She starts being a little bit of a jerk — not the worst manga character I’ve ever encountered, but not the best manga character I’ve ever encountered. And then she has this moment where Rika, the iguana girl, confronts here and is like, “Yeah this is just how everybody has treated me throughout my life. It’s a self fulfilling prophecy.” And then she’s like, “Huh. That’s true. Our mom is mean to you. Maybe I should tell her not to be mean to you for a second.” And I was like, that’s so nice. That’s so nice.
KATE: Yeah, well I think it has a lot to say about things like sibling dynamics and rivalry and particularly mother-daughter relationships. Although I can certainly imagine that there are plenty of fathers who feel that way about their sons, seeing some aspect of themselves in their sons that they don’t like. And then this beautiful resolution that Rika finds her own family. I love the way she initially sees her husband as a bull. He’s drawn as this sort of a quasi, almost like a centaur or something and she loves him because he’s sturdy and sort of emotionally stable. And the way she builds a life with him and the fact that his family embraces her. Those are things that I found … You know it’s like the first time I read it I found it powerful, but I think now that I’m just that much older, it really like … Oh my god it was such a gut punch, and it’s such a beautiful ending that she makes peace with her mom and realizing how much her mom was just really poisoned by her own self loathing. For me that’s a really powerful story.
ASHLEY: Yeah, to overcome … Not even overcome but realize that it’s like, oh you know … A lot of these stories also have to do with … Even going back to the gender it’s a lot of like how much can you choose to be who you are in terms of your identity and how much do other people affect who you become and the choices that you can make both literally and physically and all these things in all these stories. In the scifi stories it does manifest more as physically can I become, can the Unicorns become humans, can they be male, can they be female, can they switch whenever they want to? All these things. Whereas the more realistic ones are much more interpersonal human drama. Like I am connected to my sister and my mother and they have influenced me in these ways but I have also come and been my own person.
ASHLEY: Where does this legacy end? Where do I begin and where does the poison from them come in? All these things.
KATE: Yeah. I think, that particular collection works really beautifully because it has lots of different periods in Hagio’s work so it goes back to the very beginning of her career and has more contemporary examples. I think for me, the Iguana Girl and then was it Marie? I don’t know how you pronounce it. Ten years later. Also resonated with me a lot because when you’re in college you form these bonds with people. You’re breaking away from your parents, you’re finding your own identity and then you often create this instant family, a small group of people that you hang out with and maybe live with them. There’s this kind of magical feeling that lives with that. I certainly remember having that experience in college. I had this group of people and when we were all in college together it was really meaningful and I felt very close to those folks, and then your life takes all these different directions.
KATE: And I remember for a good part of my 20s really hanging onto that feeling and being sad when I realized that that moment had really passed and that I was sort of filled with this nostalgia for something that I couldn’t recreate in my post college life. That story resonates with me too for that reason, just having it and looking back on that experience and just sort of recognizing it as a sort of normal part of growing up and entering adulthood.
ASHLEY: That makes sense. I really think “Iguana Girl” resonated with me the most, but the second story, I’m trying to remember what it’s called … Okay yeah. Girl on Porch with Puppy.
KATE: Yeah that’s out.
ASHLEY: I know. That one’s weird. That one is the one that I keep being like, “That sure was a story I guess.”
KATE: Yeah. It’s dark. It reminds me more of like Shirley Jackson. It just has a really dark ending and it’s a little ambiguous. The girl disappears.
ASHLEY: I think she died.
KATE: I think so too. I feel like I should check doesthedogdie.com to see whether her pooch made it or not because that wasn’t clear from the illustration. But yeah, it’s a really weird … It’s weird.
ASHLEY: It’s super weird. I think that’s the weirdest one actually. It’s not even that it’s supernatural … I don’t know. I guess it was realistic up until the very end. They all pointed at her and she disappears and you’re like, “Excuse me what?”
KATE: Right. I guess that was one of the reasons I thought about Shirley Jackson, was that is exists in this space where everything seems sort of normal, almost hyper-normal, and everybody wants you to behave and have good manners and do what you’re told. And the little girls transgression, just her unwillingness to do that, not in a bratty way, she just likes hanging out with her puppy, leaves this savage ending. It was like whoa.
ASHLEY: Whoa, where did that come from? What’s going on?
KATE: Yeah. Moto Hagio loves to kill off her characters. At least it seems that way in A Drunken Dream. There are a lot of dead people in that series.
ASHLEY: Yeah. They’re already dead, they die throughout it. Yeah.
KATE: Yeah. Of the three collections, which one did you like the best?
ASHLEY: Oh boy. I think I did like They Were Eleven the most just because, again, we don’t get that much scifi shojo. And also I just feel like it has enough room to be, it’s short manga but it’s not a short story necessarily. It’s like a novella. It was like, this is a solid story, we got the time with all of these characters. And I’m impressed by the economy of pages to story. It was just very solid. I was impressed with its gender exploration and impressed with the world. I think it’s fun that A,A Prime and They Were Eleven kind of interconnect in that there’s still Terran terminology. Clearly she’s just created this scifi world and she’s like, “All of my stories kind of take place somewhere in it.”
KATE: Yeah, I don’t know. I have a hard time picking, although I do think if you haven’t read anything by her, A Drunken Dream is sort of a Whitman’s Sampler, lots of different genres and styles and you sort of want to get a sense of where she fits in the history of shojo manga, that might be one way of dipping your toes in the water. But I think just for sheer fun, They Were Eleven is the most fun by a long shot. As I said, it’s got that kind of next generation vibe, you can almost imagine Captain Picard coming on at the end and delivering some kind of little sermon and making his earl gray tea. It just kind of has that feeling to it. But at the same time, it grapples with lots of really big issues and it’s fun, it’s a little bit silly too and I love it.
ASHLEY: Yeah. If you don’t want to cry, read They Were Eleven.
KATE: Yes. I think that’s a good way of putting it. If you do not feel like you want to have a Kleenex on hand … It doesn’t have the same emotional impact as the other two, for sure.
ASHLEY: If you do want to cry, read the other two.
KATE: Yes. Guaranteed to make you cry.
ASHLEY: Something in them is going to make you cry. And if you don’t, you’re heartless.
KATE: I know. I had this argument with somebody who didn’t like Iguana Girl, I was like, “What? I don’t think we can be friends anymore.”
ASHLEY: Are you not friends anymore? I think that’s the only proper response to this. That is how much I liked Iguana Girl. It is so good.
KATE: It is. And it seems like the most improbable thing, if you describe it to somebody, you just summarize the plot, it doesn’t sound moving at all. Especially because, as you say, the iguana version of Rika, the way Rika sees herself —
ASHLEY: It’s so cute.
KATE: She’s cute and she’s vulnerable and she’s so innocent and you can see how she’s crushed by all of her mom’s comments. The first time I read it, I was only a few pages in and I was like, “I’m not sure I’m going to get to the end of this.”
ASHLEY: I think it works really well too thinking about it in terms of children’s literature, the way that most children’s characters are cute little animal critters, right. And it’s like, that’s totally what this story could be, but it’s like no, this little cute character is bad. And I’m like, “You can’t convince me that she’s bad. You can’t tell me that.”
KATE: Yeah, no, that’s interesting. I hadn’t thought about that, why she chose that particular strategy, but I think that makes a lot of sense. In many ways I think it invites you to put yourself in Rika’s shoes that in a way, if she was drawn simply as a human child she might not seem actually as vulnerable, as weird as that might be to say. I think that there’s something about the fact that that’s how she sees herself that makes her so much more vulnerable.
ASHLEY: Yeah. And there’s the moment, I think the moment that really devastated me was she buys a present for her mom which is a little hand held mirror and then her mom is like, “How much did this cost?” And it cost like $15 or whatever and her mom was like, “What a waste of money, go return it.” And it going to return it, Rika is standing on a bridge where she wants to throw the mirror away, but she first looks into it and you’re like … At first I’m like, “Oh it’s fine. She’s going to see her human self because it’s in pictures and stuff.” Even her mom sees her as human. But it shows her as the iguana in the mirror and I was like, “NO.” It’s so sad.
KATE: Yeah, I don’t think I could sit through an animated version of this story, I think I would probably need therapy or just an IV drip to replace all the lost fluids as I sobbed uncontrollably. But yeah, it’s a good cry though.
ASHLEY: It’s a good cry, it is, but it’s just like, “Oh I didn’t know I could be so attached to an iguana.”
ASHLEY: Okay so I feel like we should get to the legitimately, somewhat silly, but maybe somewhat serious discussion about gender and things, part of this podcast which is Shipping Corner. Unless you have something else you really want to discuss?
KATE: No I don’t think so. I have to say, shipping wise, I looked through that and I was like, “I don’t know. I think these ships have sailed.”
ASHLEY: These ships have. I know, I’m not saying that any of them were healthy, but they were implied to be things.
KATE: Oh yeah. Oh definitely. All right, so your topic for ship?
ASHLEY: Okay, I wrote them somewhat in order that I read it. It was Frol x Tada. Because they have a very explicit conversation in which Frol is very distraught that they’re going to not pass the test because they didn’t complete … Because Frol got sick, so they pressed the button to say there’s an emergency. And they were like, “No, it’s before the 53 days that we’re supposed to live together.” And Tada is like, “You know Frol, but I can kind of save you … It’s just you don’t want to marry a crappy dude on your planet. You can marry me instead. Become a lady, marry me.” I was like, “Okay. Okay Tada.” And Frol seems into that actually for a hot second, when they think that they’re not going to pass this test. I guess once they pass the test it’s like, “Oh peace. I’m done here.”
ASHLEY: Tada is a little sad about it. Overall I thought they were cute.
KATE: It was probably the least problematic ship of the four. Thinking about their relationships, that’s one I think you’re right. The comedy aspect softened some of the somber. And as I said, it sort of strikes me like they have kind of a screw ball comedy relationship anyway. They bicker a lot and argue over really silly stuff, and that’s sort of meant to show us that they’re really meant for each other on some level. Or that’s of sort, that’s kind of implied.
ASHLEY: Yeah, that’s the deal there, yeah. Overall I’m like, okay, I like this. I don’t know that I like the, “Oh it’s okay. Consolation prize. Become a woman to be with me.” I’m like, “Okay. Tada, I don’t think you understood that question but all right. Your heart was in a good place, Tada. Your heart was in a good place.”
ASHLEY: If they got together because Frol agreed to it, I’d be like, “That’s fine. I dig it. I could read some fanfiction about that.”
KATE: Yeah I think of all of the pairings, that was the one that struck me as least problematic and something where you could have a lot of fun with it if you were inclined to write fanfic. Some of the other ones I think would be so emotionally tortured.
KATE: Mori and Trill was just off the table. I was just, “Nope. No.”
ASHLEY: But Mori and Tacto? Is that off the table? Are they cool?
KATE: I think they could be a couple. Either way, whichever way Tacto decides to go. I think they’d be fine that Mori has reconciled himself to feeling like he’s … This spirit that he saw in Trill is present in Tacto and he feels this powerful connection to Tacto. Yeah, I certainly could imagine that there’s … I’m sure it’s out there somewhere on the internet, somebody has written —
ASHLEY: Somebody has written this fanfiction.
KATE: Oh please. Even in English, I’m sure it exists in Japanese, but I mean just thinking about it in English, I’m sure somebody has shipped them through many stories just because there’s a really furthered intensity the way the two of them interact, and I could definitely see that leading to some fanfic.
ASHLEY: Actually it’s like Mori is the … Mori is the thing that sucks about him and Trill, he’s not there yet in that relationship. But then in Mori and Tacto it’s like, Mori is the one who got there, Tacto is the one that I’m like, “Oh that boy still needs whatever he decides to be … They need some time to figure all that out.” Because I mean it’s pretty late in the story that they go to meet Tacto’s dad. And the dad is like, “I invented this drug where you can change sexes.” And then he wasn’t supportive of his partners multiple sex changes and so they died for whatever. I’m like, “Whoa. Dark.”
KATE: That whole bit is like … What? It goes by in a blur because it happens, it’s just such a left turn and you’re not really expecting it. And as you’re processing it, all of a sudden you get the big reveal and you know why Tacto has been suppressing his emotions and what that whole thing is about, and you almost don’t process the most shocking part of it which is, the whole serum and the changing back and forth. I guess of all of the pairs, Regg and Addie’s clones are probably the most normal. And almost, they seem so vanilla in comparison with some of the other match ups. It’s like, well I’m sure they’ll be okay because they don’t remember each other so everything should be good.
ASHLEY: Everything is good. Yeah that’s true. It’s like Addie and Regg … It’s like what does that even mean actually? Original Addie and original Regg, they seem fine. That’s fine. Clone Addie and original Regg, not fine. No don’t do that. And then it’s like clone Addie and clone Regg, that’s fine too. That’s probably fine.
KATE: Yeah. I don’t know. I have to confess, I really am not put much of an aura in the fanfiction world just because I discovered manga pretty late. I was in my early 30s I think when I started reading it. It’s just a part of the culture I never really experienced. I know it’s out there, I’ve read a little bit out of anthropological curiosity like, “Whoa. Who dreamt that? Wow. That’s a really weird cross over. Battle Royale and Inuyasha. Who’d have thought of putting those two things [crosstalk 01:21:03]”
ASHLEY: Wacky children of the internet.
KATE: You read these really weird, beautifully specific, and totally individual sort of mash ups of stories and characters and plot lines and stuff. And it’s really fascinating, but I have to admit, I have never really been a participant or a big consumer of it. When you’re like, the shipping corner I’m like, “Uh oh.”
ASHLEY: Whoa. You’re like, “This is scary.”
KATE: It’s a little scary —
ASHLEY: It doesn’t have to be scary.
KATE: And of course being old like me I was like, “Oh UPS?”
ASHLEY: Amazing. No just, the cute couples or the not so cute couples.
KATE: Yeah I don’t know if any of them were really cute. I think they were fascinating, strange, problematic, maybe a little amusing. I don’t know. There was a lot of weird stuff going on in those stories.
ASHLEY: Rika and her bull husband are great.
KATE: There you go. I ship them.
ASHLEY: We ship them. They’re fine.
KATE: Iguanas and bulls forever.
ASHLEY: Yes. That’s it. That sure is a note for this podcast.
KATE: Yes. There’s a sentence I don’t think I’ve said anywhere before in any other context.
ASHLEY: I know. Look at all that original content we’re making. All right, well, do you have any other final thoughts? Should people … I want to be like, “People should go read this.” But it’s so hard because it’s so expensive to find these things used.
KATE: It is, but I think if you’re interested in what we’ve talked about today, the best bet is the library, if you don’t want to spend a lot of money, you can definitely find copies of A,A Prime and A Drunken Dream in libraries. If you local libraries doesn’t have it, one of the easiest ways to find it is to see whether your local library has some kind of interlibrary loan program. So where I am up on the North shore of Massachusetts, I can log into my library systems website and if they don’t have a copy of a book, I can do a broad search and request a copy from any other member of the network that they belong to. And it’s usually delivered to my local library in two or three days. If you’re taking advantage of that at your library, you should because that could definitely put you in touch with like A Drunken Dream, which I think that something that libraries bought because it’s hardcover and it’s prestigious and it got awards and people were taking about it. So it has all the things that a library would think, “Ooh-
ASHLEY: We must have this.
KATE: Put this out. We have a graphic novel. A graphic novel. I would definitely say try your library for that, and you may find A,A Prime as well, depending on when the library got hip to buying graphic novels. That might take a little bit more searching. But you can also find used copies of that on Amazon that are not outrageously expensive. If you’re interested in what we’ve been talking about, I would start with your library first. And then as you mentioned, Ashley, at the beginning of the podcast, They Were Eleven is available cheaply on Amazon if you’re willing to buy it in floppy form and you’re not holding out to get it in Four Shojo Stories.
ASHLEY: Four Shojo Stories is so expensive.
KATE: It is. I lucked into a copy years ago for about $25.
ASHLEY: Wow, you stole that copy.
KATE: I did. I feel like I should send somebody a little check, it’s like, “Well actually …” but then I was like, it’s just a book. So I’m hanging on to it and trying not to crack the spine too often because the binding is terrible. I was trying to read it in the tub and I realized I was going to lose pages because the glue was breaking —
ASHLEY: Oh you need to re-glue it.
KATE: Libraries, try WorldCat too, because that can also alert you to it being in collections where you might not have thought of, something in your area where you might be able to get it. If you don’t want to spend the money or the time to find this old stuff, keep out for The Poe Clan. I think that’s at least … Like August 29th is when Fantagraphics is putting it out. I’ve already seen Deb Aoki raving about it on twitter and posting a couple of pics and just swooning over the art work and the story. That’s all the endorsement I need.
ASHLEY: Yeah. Everybody should go get that. Yeah okay, so everybody, thanks for listening to Shojo and Tell. If you have any comments, questions, constructive criticism or concerns, you can email firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment on shojoandtell.com/motohagio. And we’re @shojoandtell on Twitter, Instagram and what other things? I mean there is a Facebook, but don’t go there. Facebook sucks. Tumblr is another place. And Kate, where can people find you and your work on the internet?
KATE: They can find my work in two places. They can find me talking to other people on twitter under the handle @manga_critic. And I’m in the process of revamping my blog right now, but you can find me at mangacritic.com. I’m also contributing to the weekly features at Manga Bookshelf. Particularly we do a pick of the week which comes out on every Monday, where we sift through what’s arriving in comic book stores and each of us in the manga bookshelf collection picks one. So you can find me there. If you do Google searches for some of my older manga reviews, you’ll find me at the school library journal, I wrote a few things for the Hooded Utilitarian and I’m just around. I’m on the net.
ASHLEY: You’re on the net, yeah.
KATE: On the net, and nothing says old person like calling it the net.
KATE: [crosstalk 01:26:34] the world wide web.
ASHLEY: You’re on the world wide web, exactly.
KATE: Exactly. I’m on the world wide web.
KATE: Well Ashley thank you so much for having me on your podcast. It’s really been a lot of fun. You’ve made me think about these stories in new ways and it was just a real pleasure to meet you and chat with you today, so thank you.
ASHLEY: Oh yeah. No, I’m so thankful that you responded and came on. I was like, “Yes, this is a big dream.”
KATE: Thank you.
ASHLEY: Are you excited every time you see a new episode from us? If so, please consider leaving a rating in iTunes or Stitcher. This will help the podcast reach more hearts, or at least ears. Thanks again for listening. We’ll be back next time for A Silent Voice, by Yoshitoki Ōima … I’m sorry, I did not say that well. But maybe by then I’ll figure it out. This will be our first Shonen Exception covered on the podcast, so yeah I’m finally making good on that promise, although I don’t know how many of you are excited for that. I mean, A Silent Voice in particular you might be excited about. So stay tuned, until then, bye.