Like Ikeda, Moto Hagio’s work deals with themes of gender identity, political upheaval, and class issues, themes that she often refracted through the lens of androgynous young men in love with each other.
Although she self-published her own comics in high school, and although she began publishing one-shot manga stories in 1969, Hagio’s first major success was a historical epic titled The Poe Clan (Pō no ichizoku), which is about a family of beautiful vampires named after the original brooding dark prince of horror, Edgar Allan Poe. The Poe Clan began serialization in 1972, but the story that has been more widely cited and translated as one of the classics of shojo manga is The Heart of Thomas (Tōma no shinzō), which ran in a magazine called Shōjo Comic from 1974 to 1975.
The Heart of Thomas is set in an all-male boarding school somewhere in Germany in the early twentieth century. An underclassman named Thomas has committed suicide at the same time a note was delivered to Juli, a popular upperclassman. Thomas had confessed his love in this note, and Juli is torn over what responsibility he may or may not have for Thomas’s death. Shortly thereafter, a student (Eric) who looks exactly like Thomas transfers into the school and immediately takes a liking to Juli. Juli had loved Thomas but had been sexually abused by an upperclassman; and, now that Thomas has died, Juli cannot bring himself to accept the younger student’s feelings.As the story expands, what initially seems to be a melodramatic tale of forbidden love reveals itself to be rooted in a deep conflict over economic status. Juli was born out of wedlock and cannot inherit his family’s wealth, while Eric’s widowed mother has remarried for reasons that are primarily financial. The boys gradually begin to reject their gender fluidity and each other’s tenderness, taking on more stereotypically masculine roles as a means of confronting the harshness of a world that does not care about them. The implicit allegory for the young women reading this story in the 1970s suggested that traditional gender roles may protect young people when nothing else will, and that the process of learning to play these roles is a tragedy in which one’s true identity must be sacrificed.
Hagio is also published science fiction manga throughout the 1970s and 1980s. Stories such as Half-God (Hanshin) and Marginal are more philosophically feminist, presenting the reader with speculative answers to questions such as “What would an all-female society look like?” and “How can our species overcome the challenge of having women bear the burden of childbirth?”
A selection of Hagio’s shorter works and can be found in the anthology A Drunken Dream and Other Stories (published by Fantagraphics in 2010), along with essays about her influence and the heady cultural atmosphere she worked in at a time when many female artists were challenging the gender binary in progressive and socially informed manga. Along with Riyoko Ikeda, one of the most celebrated of these artists is Keiko Takemiya.
Coming soon: Part 5: Keiko Takemiya