Not Just a Pretty Face
By Moto Hagio
Moto Hagio’s Marginal (Japanese: マージナル, Hepburn: Maajinaru) is a science fiction manga. It was serialized between 1985 and 1987.
On all Earth, there is only one person who can birth children: the semi-divine Mother. All across the planet, desperate villages populated entirely by men must wait for Mother to send them children. Mother’s ability to produce children is declining and villages are dying.
A desperate situation becomes a crisis when extremist Grinja infiltrates the city of Monodor and assassinates Mother during one of her rare public audiences.
Grinja flees Monodor into the wastelands. There he encounters Kira, a beautiful boy who appears to have suffered some great trauma and who does not speak. When Kira does begin to recover, what he says does not cast any light on his origins. He seems quite unfamiliar with the common facts of life, whether urban or rural.
Grinja has no particular use for a companion. If he keeps Kira with him, the boy may suffer if Grinja is caught and punished. Grinja sells the boy to an eccentric, Ashijin.
Back in Monodor, the authorities do their best to calm the panicky mobs. They claim that Mother will be reborn, like the phoenix. Lies. The new Mother is an unlucky young man who will be subjected to surgery and brainwashing. Nor will he be the only source of children. The authorities have been importing babies from Mars.
Mars is now the main human habitat. Mars is trying to reclaim Earth, which has become lethal for women. Hence the elaborate scheme for re-establishing the human population. But wait! The plot gets even odder. An eccentric Martian scientist named Ivan has his own plan for reclaiming the Earth. The first fruit of his experiment is even now wandering Earth, as Kira.
This the first work by Hagio I have encountered. Hagio is a Big Name in manga but manga is a very big field. Marginal was well-regarded in its day … yet I only discovered this manga by accident last week. See “manga is a very big field.”
The manga takes a long to time to reveal what I have revealed in a few paragraphs. The author takes her time exploring the all-male world she has imagined. On her Earth, classical Greek pederastyhas been reinvented. Older men seek out much younger partners. Earth humans have been modified; lifespans are short and people change color as they age (they are born dark and then fade to pale). They also go from hairless to hirsute.
This didn’t really work for me. While Ivan’s deranged side-project can be excused because he has some profound personal issues, I kept wondering what possible argument the original researchers could have made to set up their experiment on Earth. How do you sell the idea of a colony of short-lived subjects kept in carefully orchestrated ignorance? And how does this accomplish the task of decontaminating Earth more effectively than whatever alternatives there might be?
Hagio draws detailed pretty faces in a style that seems oddly familiar. I suspect I’ve encountered many manga drawn by people she influenced. I found much of the art lacking: figures are awkwardly posed, landscapes are unconvincing.
Not my thing.
Marginal does not appear to have an authorized English translation