Otherworld Barbara, vol. 1-2

OtherworldBarbara-1-covVol. 1

“In this classic science fiction thriller by one of the most influential manga writer-artists of all time, there are dream pilots, murderous cannibal nine-year-olds, and more.

Fantagraphics Books is proud to present the first volume (of two) of Moto Hagio’s Otherworld Barbara, in which Tokio discovers a phantom island named Barbara. Then there’s a mysterious and missing geneticist, an eccentric clergyman, a grieving grandmother granted temporary youth, a psychologist killed by a freak tornado… Hagio offers a sci-fi explanation for these seemingly random paranormal elements, and makes it all matter with believable characters in complex and subtle relationships. This book won the “Nebula Award of Japan” (Nihon SF Taisho Award) in 2006.“

[Text from the publisher’s website; see also the backcover]

Otherworld Barbara, vol. 1, by Moto Hagio (translation by Matt Thorn). Seattle: Fantagraphics Books, August 2016, 400 p. (6p. in colour), 7.4″ × 9.9”, $39.99 US / $52.99 Can, ISBN 978-1-60699-943-1. For Young Adult readership (16+). stars-4-0

OtherworldBarbara-2-covVol. 2

“In the conclusion of the shojo manga pioneer’s sci-fi mystery, a man tries to save his son before the world ends… but which world, and which son?

In the second (and concluding) volume, Nanami had sworn to never see her granddaughter, Aoba, again. A despairing Kiriya had rejected his father, Tokio. Yet now both are traveling with Tokio to Engaru, where Aoba has slept and dreamt of the island of Barbara for seven years. The poltergeist phenomena becomes more intense. Can the dreamer become the dreamed, and the dreamed the dreamer?”

[Text from the publisher’s website; see also the backcover]

Otherworld Barbara, vol. 2, by Moto Hagio (translation by Matt Thorn). Seattle: Fantagraphics Books, August 2017, 400 p. (8 p. in colour), 7.4″ × 9.9”, $39.99 US / $52.99 Can, ISBN 978-1-68396-023-2. For Young Adult readership (16+). stars-4-0

>> Please, read the warning for possible spoilers <<

Otherworld Barbara (バルバラ異界 / Barubara Ikai / lit. “Barbara alien world”) is a josei manga by Moto Hagio that was first serialized in the monthly magazine Flowers between July 2002 and June 2005 before being compiled in four tankōbon volumes [B6 format (5 x 7 in) or A5 format (5.8 in × 8.25 in)] by Shogakukan (between June 2003 and September 2005). It was also released in a three-volume bunkoban edition (smaller format paperback, A6 format [4.1 ×5.8 in]) in December 2011 and January 2012. The English edition, translated by Matt [Rachel] Thorn and published by Fantagraphics, was only in two volumes (and in a slightly bigger format,  7.4 × 9.9 in). It has received the 27th Nihon SF Taisho Award in 2006. Moto Hagio is a member of the famous Year 24 Group and has greatly contributed to the development of the modern shōjo manga (I’ve already written about this subject in my commentary about he manga The Heart of Thomas).


Vol. 1, p. 47

This manga, set in mid-twenty-first century, tells the story of Watarai Toshio who is a “dream pilot” as he has the ability to explores other people’s dreams. He usually works with criminal minds, studying their dreams to help find the bodies of the victims or the motives for the police. He is himself somewhat tormented by the situation of his dysfunctional family and the fact that he abandoned his son, Kitakata Kiriya, when he was just a baby. His wife, Kitakata Akemi, couldn’t stand the fact that he could read dreams and she fell in love with Johannes Sera, a priest that she thought was her husband in a previous life. So Watarai left and has seen his son, who is now fifteen, just a few time since. However, his life take quite a turn when he is asked to study the dreams of Jûjô Aoba, a young girl who has been in a coma for seven years, ever since her parents died in a murder-suicide when she was nine year-old and she was found with their hearts in her stomach! Her dreams take place one-hundred years in the future on an isolated island named Barbara. It is a bucolic place, a fantasy island where kids can fly, protected by a murderous beach elephant against the outside world which is at war with the martian colonies. Aoba’s dreams are generating a lot of poltergeist phenomenons and she even appears to Kiriya in a spectral form! Watarai slowly realizes that his own family’s history is deeply involved in this situation…


Vol. 2, p. 12

With the characters and story context being well established by the first volume, the plot thickens in the second part as the mystery resolution revolves around finding Johannes Sera, the founder of an orphanage who has disappeared and who may (or may not) be the same person than Ezra Strady, a researcher studying rejuvenation and immortality and using the orphanage as a cover to create genetically modified babies. Member of a clan of people who age very rapidly, he is trying the find a cure for his condition while also trying to awaken the ancestral memories of the primordial life which came from Mars. With the help of his friends (Professor Daikoku and Momota Taro) and some of his son’s friends, Watarai races around Japan to uncover the truth. It seems that Aoba’s dreams are shaping the future. But when tragedy strikes, even the reality is affected by her dream and Watarai own desire! Soon the boundary between dream and reality is blurred and it is difficult to know which is which…

Otherworld Barbara is offering us a weirdly complex science fiction story as well as a compelling psychological drama. Moto Hagio says that she was inspired by reading Sakyo Komatsu’s novel Gordian Knot (ゴルディアスの結び目 / Gordian Musubime) and books about neuropsychology, but I find there are also many similitudes with the overall works of Philip K. Dick, Shinji Kajio’s novel series of Emanon, as well as J. M. Barrie’s stories of Peter Pan (and lets not forget the obvious reference to Last Year at Marienbad, a French surrealist movie by Alain Resnais). The socio-political context of the story and the ethical implications of the science, which are both barely hinted, make it extremely interesting and fascinating. The intense angst of the characters is also well balanced by humorous scenes. However, the complexity of the plot and of the relationships amongst this large cast of characters as well as the fact that the narration unfortunately sometimes lacks fluidity make it a little difficult to follow the storyline. Also, if the art itself is not exceptional, sometimes uneven and might appear a little dated to some, it is enriched by her dynamic and groundbreaking layout which characterize her style and was once considered very innovative. With its fine and precise lines, its textures and flourishes, its exploded layout that brakes the limit of the panels, her style represents the pinnacle of shōjo manga and superbly supports the complexity of the narrative. Overall, this manga offers an excellent reading that will surely please the enthusiasts of strong shōjo / josei manga, of complex science fiction stories and, of course, the fans of Moto Hagio. It is a must read that I strongly recommend.

For more information you can check the following websites:

[ AmazonGoodreadsGoogleNelliganWikipediaWorldCat ]

© 2003 by Moto Hagio. All Rights Reserved. This edition © 2016 Frantagraphics Books, Inc.

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