Saturday, September 26, 2015

YALSA top ten GNs 2013: Stargazing Dog

Stargazing Dog 
Written and illustrated by Takashi Murakami.
Published by NBM (2011).

Have you heard of Into the Wild? It's about a true story about a guy who wandered off into the Alaskan wilderness and died of starvation. Some people probably think it's romantic. Stargazing Dog is a somewhat similar story, except told from the point of view of a dog.

To put all of my biases up front, I don't really like dogs, and this comic kind of provides examples of why. Specifically, their personalities and apparently unending loyalty are not things I view as positives (though I am aware that many other people do). So a comic told from the point of view of a dog (and not an incredibly intelligent one) that seems to in part about how great that loyalty is has an uphill battle with me.

A girl finds a puppy, and convinces her parents to adopt it. Like most children, she soon pays little attention to the animal and her parents end up taking care of it. The human father, referred to as "Daddy" by the dog, seems to spend more time hanging out with, and talking to, the dog than he does to his wife and child. Eventually, he loses his job, loses his family, and goes off on a doomed road trip where more bad things happen to him and he dies (not really a spoiler, since it's revealed on the first page).

What really pissed me off was the afterward, where Murakami stated that his reason for creating this comic was because:
"In the past, he ["Daddy"] would have been an ordinary, good father.
However, in today's environment, it's adept or die. And that's not right. I really feel fed up with this hideous situation."
And really? Fuck that. He may have been an "ordinary" father, but in no way was he a good one. He paid no attention to his wife or child in any way, and was so uninterested in their lives and feelings, that he is shocked when his wife wants a divorce. That's hardly a "good" father in my eyes (though maybe it says something about Japanese society and familial expectations).

The back cover says that this is an "inspiring" story, but I'm not sure how I'm supposed to be inspired. A guy doesn't get his own way, so starves to death in the middle of nowhere while condemning an animal to the same fate? The message seems to be that if things aren't going your way you should leave everything behind, never ask anyone for help, and die because you're incredibly stubborn. This is even pointed out in a later part of the story where a character says "If he had gone to see you for some advice, Mr. Okutsu. He wouldn't have been dead now." 

Kind of weirdly, this manga was actually flipped so that it reads left-to-right like western books. You can definitely notice it as there are some signs in the pages where signs are backwards (and so are all of the Japanese sound effects), and there are references to right and left that don't always match up with the art. It's kind of strange to see a book published in this format so recently, as it seems the vast majority of manga is now published in right-to-left format. One of the complaints of flipping manga is that it brings out flaws in the artwork, and the awkwardness of some of the panels here seems to indicate some truth to that. Apart from that the artwork is well done. The dogs are drawn well, and the rest of the story telling is pretty clear (though there are some problems with scale).

But really, if you want to read a comic about a homeless person in Japan, read Disappearance Diary by Hideo Azuma. It's way more interesting, in part because it's an autobiography. Reading that review kind of reveals a lot more about the societal pressures that exist in Japan than this comic does. But because Stargazing Dog was created for a Japanese audience, all of that knowledge can just be assumed by the author as already known, and none of it has to be said on the page. If this comic actually explained some of the pressures of Japanese life it might have made "Daddy" a more sympathetic character. 

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