A, A’ by Moto Hagio: B+

Back in the late ’90s, Viz dabbled in this weird thing called “shojo manga” and released a few one-shot volumes. A, A’ (A, A Prime), a collection of science fiction stories, was among these, and (lamentably) represents the largest chunk of material from Moto Hagio available in this country. Hagio, along with many other women who were pioneers of shojo manga, was born in 1949. These women came to be known as the Year 24 Group, as 1949 was the 24th year of Japan’s Showa era. Exploring themes of sexuality and gender, many of their works are considered classics. Hagio’s contributions include some of the earliest boys’ love stories, like The Heart of Thomas, and Shogakukan Manga Award-winning story “They Were Eleven,” published by Viz in floppy comic format as well as in the hard-to-find Four Shojo Stories anthology.

The three stories in A, A’ also deal with themes of gender and identity, each involving a member of a genetically engineered race of people called “Unicorns.” In the title story (my favorite), a team of people is working to develop an icy planet. Because of the dangerous nature of their mission, each person’s genetic information was saved prior to their departure so that they can be cloned if they should die. Adelade Lee has just undergone that process, and has returned to her post with no memory of the past three years she spent there or the comrades who greet her so warmly. The original Adelade’s lover has a great deal of trouble adjusting to the clone, insisting that it isn’t really her, but growing confused nonetheless. I really like the resolution to this one and would’ve been happy to read more about these characters.

Instead, the other two stories feature Mori, a young man with telekinetic powers and a “kaleidoscope eye” that allows him to see the infrared spectrum, similar to what the Unicorns can see. In “4/4,” we meet Mori as a teenager who, along with other kids with special powers, is living on Io and training to control his abilities. Things aren’t going well until he meets Trill, a Unicorn who is the subject of a scientific experiment. The pair of them “resonate,” allowing Mori temporary access to more control and also eventually providing Trill with the ability to object to the experiments being performed upon her. This story is my second favorite, and I particularly like how Trill’s lack of emotional involvement is portrayed; there’s a great scene where Mori seizes and kisses her and she just sort of blankly endures it, like a doll.

Unfortunately, I didn’t like the last story, “X + Y,” very much. There’s a conference being held on Mars to discuss plans to improve its conditions, and the team sent from Earth to take part includes a male unicorn named Tacto. On Mars, he meets Mori, four years older now, who becomes obsessed with Tacto. I understand that back when this was written, it was probably a stunning thing for one guy to confess his love to another, but in “X + Y” it all seems far too rushed to me and I never understood why Mori feels that way. He also gets on my nerves by behaving very stupidly when he and Tacto are out riding a space scooter on a ring of Saturn (really!), resulting in a life-threatening accident. The Mars theories don’t make much sense, nor does a subplot about Tacto’s chromosomes. Hagio tries to interject some humor into this tale, mostly by having Tacto (who refers to himself in the third person) say random things like, “Tacto likes pudding.” It’s cute, but not enough to improve my opinion of the story.

To modern eyes, Hagio’s artwork will surely look old-fashioned. Drawn between 1981 and 1984, it features some interesting fashions (particularly for Adelade) and a male romantic lead with a flowing mane of curly hair. There’s a lot of variety in the page layouts, and more than one image of characters superimposed over moons, stars, and other celestial bodies. I may mock it a bit, but I do genuinely like it; it’s nice to read something that doesn’t look like anything else.

For the title story alone, A, A’ is worth picking up. I can’t remember how much I paid for my copy, but I don’t think it was much. There are ten copies listed on Amazon right now so it shouldn’t be hard to find.

Review originally published at Manga Recon.

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