Genders
 

Genders 36 2002
 

Japan's Feminist Fabulation
Reading Marginal with Unisex Reproduction as a Key Concept

by AKIKO EBIHARA

Note: Click on each image to see an enlargement of it.

[1]   Genres of expression favored by female authors in Japan such as science fiction and manga (graphic novel) have long been classified as subcategories of so-called subculture with labels like girls' manga and female sci-fi writing. From the sheer number and variety of works penned by female creators in these fields that touch on the theme of reproduction, a topic rarely seen in "mainstream" male literature, one can see how painfully important this subject has been to women. In particular, we see in their creations repeated attempts at the frank re-representation of sex - often a male-led activity - and its consequence, childbearing, from the woman's own point of view, as well as the deconstruction of traditional outlooks on sex and childbearing through wildly imaginative fantasy novels. In the USA, Gilman wrote Herland in 1915, a tale centered around the theme of parthenogenesis, and the 1960s and 70s saw a golden age of female science fiction writing. The talents of authors such as Ursula le Guin, James Tiptree Jr., Joanna Russ, Octavia Butler and Suzy Mckee Charnas put "serious literature" writers in the shade, producing works that went beyond conventional science fiction territory and establishing a new genre of writing called speculative fiction. Their works, to put it simply, were experiments in a Copernican revolution over women's role in society. Marlene S. Barr calls these feminist-themed sci-fi novels by female authors a form of "feminist fabulation" (Barr) . These novels ("experimental fables", as Mari Kotani, Japan's leading critic of sci-fi writing, puts it) used an experimental framework to show that the concept of reality realist writing had been treating as fact was merely a patriarchal reality based on Western monism or centrism (any system of oppression, be it capitalism, monotheism based on original sin, patriarchy, logos-centrism or monarchy). These novels were enthusiastically welcomed by women in Japan.

[2]   Many of Japan's monumental works in science fiction are from girls' manga. Part of the reason for this is the fact that science fiction writing has long been integrated into the male-dominated Japanese literary hierarchy which largely denied women entry, but another problem was readers' rejection of science fiction by female writers. The idea of science fiction writing being a male preserve (even though the readership included women as well as men) was not unique to Japan's literary society, but because Japan had girls' manga, which already enjoyed a huge following and was ready to receive something new, female sci-fi creators did not have to knock their heads against the brick wall that was the exclusive club of science fiction literature. Girls' manga creators who had been churning out sweet and innocent love stories for romantic girls suddenly started producing science fiction manga. The first to break into this new genre was Moto Hagio. Her early works mostly centered around the idea of as a boy's dream of space, typified by her adaptation of Ray Bradbury stories, but as she established her popularity and matured as a woman, her science fiction started to evolve into speculative fiction. Staa Reddo (Star Red) was the story of a conflict between male and female principles, and in her next offering, Maajinaru (Marginal) she developed this thesis into a more fundamental, species-level question: the root of maternity. This paper will examine Marginal by Moto Hagio using unisex reproduction as a keyconcept and consider how girls' sci-fi manga reflected Japanese women's views and thoughts. manga is now a mainstream form of popular entertainment, and the standard of manga in Japan, compared to the comics and cartoons of other countries, is exceptionally high. The girls' manga genre in particular boasts an impressive level of reading quality, and the group of authors who set the standard in this genre are the "Year 24" artists, influential female creators born in the year Showa 24 (1949 by the Christian calendar) who have been drawing amazingly frank and comprehensive pictures of how women in Japan see their own sexuality from all sorts of angles, ranging from lifestyle, fashion and work to attitudes towards love and romance, family and life. While Japanese men were dizzy with the excitement at the country's phenomenal economic growth, their women quietly nurtured their own very different hopes and dreams, and the vivid imagination of these artists provides a window through which one can observe them. Their works make an ideal subject for gender study.

[3]   It is clear from their own admission that Hagio and her fellow sci-fi manga creators were avid readers of female American science fiction writers and adopted similar approaches and ideas in their works. It is particularly interesting to note that many of them used the motif of parthenogenesis and other forms of unisex reproduction, and Hagio explains that Ursula Le Guin was a major influence. Even in a society where women have enough economic power to sustain themselves without relying on men's support, natural law dictates that reproduction requires the presence of men. When the act of reproduction itself is perceived as the very source of the pain and inequality of being a woman, however, it is only natural that women start thinking how different things might be if only they could bear children without men. Marxist feminists insist that women are always second-class citizens because they are reproducers, and that they are bound to the role of reproducers because they are second-class citizens. It was, however, not feminist academics but women authors who took up the challenge of attempting to answer this outrageous question: what if there had been no men? What if society consisted entirely of men? Men who have never come across women would not exploit women. Without men, the idea of women being second-class citizens itself could not exist. This provocative question from women seems finally to be close enough to reality to threaten men today. In a column that appeared in a national newspaper, Professor Toshiyuki Shiomi of the University of Tokyo asked: "Are men necessary?", and warned that the time might come when men would become nothing more than sperm producers (June 13, 2000). The real world seems to be imitating the worlds created in manga. I intend to start this paper with a brief outline of the changes girls' and boys' manga have gone through, followed by an analysis of Marginal by Moto Hagio using unisex reproduction as the keyconcept in an attempt to gain insight into her motivation in choosing this subject. It is my contention that this will serve as a starting point for an examination of today's society, where women are removed from, or driven to reject, their own maternity.

[4]   From late 1960's to 1980's, both girls' and boys' manga created their own world of fantasy where characters of the other sex were completely removed from reality. Many girls' manga stories centered around a few cliched themes: the heroine meets a dashing and dependable older man; or she meets a handsome rebel from a broken family who hides a soft center and successfully reforms him by the power of her love. This phase was characterized by the praise poured on femininity and maternity by women themselves, and by their comfortable illusions. Moto Hagio's stories of love between boys at a German boarding school, which appeared at the peak of the first girls' comics boom, were an admiringly brave attempt at dealing with girls sexuality head-on, a taboo subject then, by transposing the issue onto the more distant -- and therefore safe -- world of boys. This, however, was a compromise devised by the artist working at a time when girls' sexuality was supposed to be something that had to be preserved as a "gift" to her one and only true love. Her stories merely cast boys acting out girls' sexuality and did not deal with the reality of boys' lives or sexuality.

[5]   In boys' manga of this period, on the other hand, machismo was the ruling theme, typically seen in Otoko Ippiki Gakidaisho (The Lone Wolf) and Ore no Sora (My Sky) by Hiroshi Motomiya, with emphasis on the hero's quest for physical strength and worldly power. Women were simply the object of sex; they were there to appear occasionally in the course of a man's pursuit of masculine goals as the legitimate mate with whom he could satisfy his sexual drive. These stories totally lacked a woman's point of view, and women in them were never important enough to put the hero's mind through metaphysical turmoil. In this sense, perhaps it is fair to say that one can find the pedigree of boys' manga of this period in the tradition of modern male Japanese writers such as Naoya Shiga and Yasunari Kawabata.

[6]   From late 1980's to present girls' manga started to draw men more realistically. Having realized that men were neither as wonderful as they dreamed nor reformable by the power of their "maternal" love, women started drawing the sort of men they came across in real life as the partners of their heroines. As a natural consequence of this shift, conflicts between the two sexes started to feature strongly in many works. Oishii Kankei (Delicious Relationship) by Satoru Makimura and Furebarii Janpu (Fragrant Jump) by Motoko Tsujii are typical of works of this new mold, solidly woven and realistic relationship stories that follow women's search for the ideal modern man and their frustration with their current partners.

[7]   In this same period, realistic women were still conspicuous by their absence in boys' manga produced by men. Women were still sex symbols. It was in this period that female characters with baby-like faces and huge breasts (often crudely described as "huge jugs", "a pair of warheads" and such like) started proliferating in boys' manga. The same taste for "babes with boobs" was also prominent in computer games and the world of TV "idols". In a paper considering why Japanese girls' manga frequently deals with homosexual relationships, McLelland touches on Japanese comics for men and describes, quoting Anne Allison, that men in these comics are "hyper-masculine figures who look and act like brutes", with the sexual aims of "seeing, possessing, penetrating, and hurting" women(McLelland, 13). Men's outlook towards women had actually regressed in this period.

[8]   In this same period, stories departing from conventional heterosexual relationships started appearing among girls' manga. Lesbian themes were tackled seriously, with an approach totally different from the old "love between boys" genre (which was an attempt to justify the sexual theme by transposing the creators' own identities onto young boys). This new attitude went further and produced stories dealing with transsexuality and transvestism. Similar themes were also seen in boys' and men's manga, but, in contrast with the girls' manga counterparts, these were full of mocking, contempt, degradation and misconceptions. It was at this point that the theme of parthenogenesis appeared in girls' manga like a swelling wave. For a long time, reproduction was treated in mainstream film and literature as a natural consequence of heterosexual relationships: a man and a woman fell in love, and a baby was the result of the love. Now, heterosexual relationships and childbirth are no longer connected with a single, straight line. The primary cause of this weakening of male-female relationships is the acquisition of education and economic independence by women. It has laid bare the fact that the main motivation for a woman to build and protect a home with a man has been to secure the money to put bread on the table. It has also broken the basis of a male domination in the home, his power and privileges, his right to use violence, to represent the family and to monopolize property rights. These were once justified by the perceived superiority of men, but that perception lost substance when it was revealed that the magic word was economic power. The spell of "home" that once bound a man and a woman has been broken, and the woman, the oppressed half of this relationship, no longer feels the need to view her matrimonial home as the fortress of her life. Now single women with careers receive praise, not scorn.

[9]   This change, however, has not dissipated women's own instinct to seek comfort in seeing part of themselves in their offspring. Neither has it stopped society frowning upon women who refuse to have children nor dispelled the idea that a woman never matures until she has given birth and brought up children. As a result, we are now seeing an increasing trend within which women seek motherhood without marriage. A website run by Japan's only sperm bank, Excellence, receives a huge number of accesses, which shows the strength of interest in this method of conception. Sharp-eyed female authors were quick to pick up on this tidal change when they took up the theme of unisex reproduction. Marginal, the subject of analysis in the next section, appeared as a serial between 1985 and 87 in Petit Flower, a magazine published by Shogakukan which had a broad readership including working adults as well as teenagers. Incidentally, 1985 was the year in which Canadian writer Margaret Atwood published The Handmaid's Tale. It seems the whole world was witnessing female creators in complex reflection on the issue of reproduction that year.

Figure 1

[10]   Earth in 2999 A.D. is a barren planet. After disastrous environmental pollution left women infertile around year 2300, the human race deserted for Mars and other new homes, and the Company, a family business that runs an economic empire across the solar system, has been using the sterile Earth as a base for conducting their experiments. Thirteen domed cities built on Earth sustain artificial ecosystems, and in surrounding deserts men dwell in villages built around wells. In this strange world, people have a level of civilization and enlightenment comparable only to that of ancient civilizations, and yet the Company's helicopters in the sky are a familiar sight. As the story unfolds, it becomes apparent to the reader that these Earth colonies have no women. Females exist only among animals of lower orders, and men believe that all human children are born and given to men by the Holy Mother who resides in the temple of Monodor City. Men deposit their blood and semen in the holy temple when they reach adulthood, a rite of passage known as "conjugation with the Mother". Backstage, the Company's medical team inseminates eggs supplied by women from the Moon and other space colonies with Earth men's sperms, grow babies in artificial wombs and send them to men according to a roster. Sex life is fulfilled solely between men. Young boys play companion to older men and experience sex in a passive role and, on reaching maturity, move on to buying their own boy-companion. The aim of the Company's experiments is to establish if it is possible to restore maternity (fertility) in the polluted ecosystem of Earth, but they are about to reach the conclusion that it is a hopeless cause.

[11]   The local supervisor of the project posted by the Company is referred to as the "Margrave" after the marcher lord of the Roman Empire, ruler of marginal regions, and Earth is regarded very much as a peripheral territory on the margin of the Company's world. To this marginal planet comes a maverick scientist from Mars, who rebels against a genetics research code and creates quadruplets using his wife's eggs and genetic materials from a descendant of a race that has been prohibited to recreate because of a hereditary defect it carries: powerful empathic ability. The quadruplets are hermaphrodites. On an Earth where there are no women, men know no contempt or love for women. The central concern to them is the fact that the number of children born by the aging Holy Mother is on a decrease (as the Company winds the experiments down engineering a decrease in population), and that their turn for a baby does not come quickly enough. Then, one of the genetically-engineered quadruplets named Kira, a "human female" with the ability to conceive, appears before these men. Kira and two young men living in the desert set out on their wandering path over the apocalyptic Earth under a dark shadow of doom and death, in search of the secret of maternity.

[12]   This epic manga by Hagio is full of complex plots, subplots and surprises and is difficult to summarize. The lost dream child named Kira is a hermaphrodite carrying XXY genes, but this mystery is beyond the comprehension of the people of Marginal, who have a level of cultural development comparable only to that of ancient civilizations. The child is simply accepted as a boy by the appearance of her genitalia. In the old tradition of girls' manga, homosexuality has largely been used as a safety mechanism whereby the sexual desires of authors and readers are given an objective perspective and thus the taboo of women talking openly about sex could be circumvented. In Marginal, however, homosexuality is an inevitable consequence of a society without women and is described as a social system modeled on the boy brothels of Yedo-period Japan . The men of Earth, who know female beings only among livestock and small animals, do not have any "instinctive" desire for women. The central concern to them in this turbulent time is not getting hold of women to bear their children but the fact that the system of child supply by the central government is breaking down.

[13]   Maternity and women are not synonymous in this world. Marginal is the place Hagio reached after her long journey through different periods of expressions in girls' manga. After a period of withdrawal, in which women attempted to neutralize or erase their own sexuality and reject maternity as the result of the oppression of women by a male-centred society, followed by a period characterized by stories of love between boys in order to express female desires and sexuality, Hagio emerged with Marginal, which heralded women's own attempts at examining the meaning of maternity. Hagio explained: "our generation had to break down the brick wall that was paternal society. Marginal was an experiment; I wanted to recreate a maternal society and re-examine it (January 1, 2000)." Many female authors choose the future as a backdrop for their creations in order to escape the annoying shackles of reality in which being female is synonymous to possessing maternity. A world where maternity has been obliterated is a popular setting designed to remove the synonymity out of the equation. This is often explained as being a result of chemical or environmental pollution or a consequence of advancement in medical technology leading to overzealous longetivity treatments or genetic engineering. One can read behind these settings female authors' anger towards men's obsession with industrialization, which has created a society where efficiency and profitability rule supreme, sacrificing nature against women's wishes.

[14]   Hagio, however, chose to analyze maternity using a male-only society as a setting, not the female-only society favored by many female science fiction writers, and her approach also distinguishes itself from once popular "green sci-fi" novels, which had their roots in ecological feminism. The kind-natured common men of Marginal are depicted as oppressed people under the control of the Company, and thus the simplistic equation of men = destroyers versus women = victims is carefully avoided. Marginal also rejects another common setting, that a male-only society ruled by a single queen figure worshipped by men. The Holy Mother of Marginal is simply a figurehead, revered not as a woman but as a child-giving god. To the Company's men, who know that the Holy Mother is merely a young boy surgically turned into an artificial deity, she is merely a pitiful robot. In this story, even the way men view a woman is expertly designed to be completely free from conventions through a set of complex story-telling devices.

[15]   Marginal consists of several main plots working in parallel: the story of Meyard, the Margrave sent by the Company; the story of Iwan, a scientific genius from Mars who creates Kira; the story of Asijin, a young Earth man who has become an outcast and lives in a cave outside his village because of an operation he was given as a child at the Company's underground medical center hidden deep underneath Monodor City following a near-fatal accident; and, lastly, the story of Kira.

[16]   Hagio chose not to draw Meyard, a member of the Company assigned to the Earth as Monodor's Margrave, as an embodiment of male-centric views like his counterpart Paveman in Star Red, her previous work which dealt with a similar theme. Meyard is a carrier of a cursed gene he inherited from his ancestors and is prohibited to procreate because of it. Furthermore, female hormones he has been given as a treatment for his serious disease has turned his body partially feminine, making him a person of ambiguous gender, just like Kira. Meyard is portrayed as a victim of a social mechanism that discriminates against sex and class, and his unstable gender symbolizes the precarious position in which the experimental colony he presides over stands. However, Meyard himself is not aware of his position as the oppressed and acts as a male ruler sent from the normal world outside. Seeing that the maternity restoration project on Earth is failing, he says "I am the last watcher of dying Earth", a remark fitting for a marcher lord deserted by the retreating Roman army. This is the kind of self-pitying utterance often heard from men who have been betrayed by the company to which they devoted their working life. Meyard could have been a bridge between the two worlds, but he can only see the fact that part of his body has turned feminine as an unbearable shame. A loser pushed out of the power center yet acting as an arrogant ruler in his marginal world, Meyard's identity is on precarious balance, and as he loses sight of himself, he dies a tragic death at the end of the story, calling the name of a woman he once loved. Hagio looks on Meyard with cold and unsympathetic eyes, yet there is no sense of repulsion detectable in her treatment of Paveman in Star Red. Meyard is a figure who could neither be a man nor a woman and neither be the oppressor or the oppressed, and one could see in him a reflection of confused men in Japan who are at a loss at a time when the relationship between men and women is going through a transition.

[17]   Iwan, a scientist from Mars, is a so-called "adult child", an adult who has not got over a psychological trauma he suffered as a child. His father had an affair and left his mother, but when the mistress deserted him, he tried to get back with her. When she refused to take him in, he shut his little boy out of the room, beat his ex-wife unconscious and raped her. She survived the ordeal, but the memory of fear drove her insane, and she killed herself half a year later. Since then, Iwan has been thinking how it happened. The womb must be capable of dreaming different dreams from those of the cerebrum, he concludes. In the womb, even time flows differently. Why did mother go insane? What scared her out of mind? She was raped when she was unconscious and could not have remembered the event. He has come to believe that it was her female reproductive organs that remembered the experience and drove her mad. He grows up to be a scientist and decides to create "happy children", children who live in perpetual dreams, free from hatred, bitterness and the fear that ruined his and his mother's lives. This requires genes that give powerful empathy, the ability to feel other people's happiness as one's own. He finds a descendant of a tribe that possesses these genes. The tribe is known to have caused lemming-like mass suicides every century or so and is now prohibited to procreate by the genetics law of the solar system because of its destructive genetic disposition. The descendant Iwan found was Meyard. Iwan marries his college sweetheart, injects Meyard's genes into eggs taken from her and, after much trial and error, produces identical quadruplets. This banned experiment, illegal under the genetics law, was conducted on polluted Earth, in a forest outside the protected dome of Monodor. The quadruplets share minds between the separate bodies, and although they grow up healthy, Iwan's wife finds the mindsharing children too grotesque to bear and runs away from the hideout, seeking refuge from the Company. The Company burns down the forest in which Iwan and the children live, and all except Kira die in the fire. Hagio tells this story to show how technology bends and twists maternity and turns it into a cradle for the grotesque delusions of men. Hagio depicts Iwan as a self-centerd man who uses other people's lives in order to accomplish his own quest for identity, as is typical of a grown-up mummy's boy who has internalized his mother's suffering to an extreme. She uses this character to mirror the image of male gynecologists in the race for developing new reproductive technologies and highlights sharply how maternity itself is coldly sidelined in this race.

[18]   Asijin, who stands out as the only optimistic relief in this epic, is a son of the chief of the Village of Flowering Pomegranate. When he was eight, he fell off a cliff and was seriously injured, cracking open his forehead. One of the Company's machinae (helicopters) that was flying by took him to the underground medical center below the holy temple of Monodor City, where he was treated for 6 months. Strapped onto state-of-the-art medical equipment, he saw Meyard, then a newly installed Margrave, walking by his bed as he inspected the medical facility; a scene that has stayed vivid in his memory. "A world without women, such a pathetic world", the new Margrave muttered; "this is Marginal, a futile world populated only by men." The words were imprinted in Asijin's head, and as an adult, he can still recall this memory like an incredible daydream. When he recovered and was returned to his village, he found himself an outcast, feared as an almost ghostly being by villagers who thought that he had been taken to the holy temple's underground level, which they believed to be a catacomb, as a dead body. Asijin was sent to a cave on the edge of the village, where his uncle, another "weirdo" of the village, lived. It was this uncle who told him that there used to be people called women on Earth, who, like female animals, bore children. A man with an open mind, Asijin can see that humans could have children without the Mother if there were women and realizes intuitively that there is something strange about the way the world is today. He meets Glinja, an assassin who has killed the Holy Mother for his cult beliefs, and as the two men fight for Kira's favor, they unwittingly uncover the secret that lies at the center of the Company's operations: a project to create a new Mother. The Company has kidnapped a boy and is surgically remodeling his body and erasing his memory to present him as the next Mother. Asijin is depicted as a young man of simple beliefs, full of life and with a positive outlook. He sometimes acts impulsively and foolishly, but his sincerity is hard for the reader to dislike.

[19]   Hagio pits Meyard against this young man, contrasting the two worlds they live in: Meyard's high-tech and thoroughly artificial future world versus Asijin's life in harmony with nature (man-made though it may be) and knowledge comparative only to that of people of ancient civilizations. By deliberately highlighting this contrast, Hagio questions the way the human world is today. Here the conventional concept of men representing culture while women symbolize nature -- an idea fiercely opposed by feminists -- is presented with a twist. The conflict between technology and nature is another simplistic notion, but Hagio is not trying to draw a conclusion as to which is better. As we read Marginal, it becomes clear to us that both technology and nature were responsible for maternity's demise. In the climax of the story, Asijin is stranded in the city which has been engulfed by a great flood and keeps vigil beside Meyard as he dies. In a water-filled underground cavern, Asijin dreamily speculates: "Kira will survive the flood and come back. She will bear my baby. The child will grow strong. The Holy Mother will return to the city, and villages will have fruitful harvests. The great flood will become a legend. The water will make earth fertile again..." Meyard snaps. "You stupid, don't you see? This floodwater comes from a subterranean dam under automated control. We have underground cables and pipes crisscrossing the entire region to control temperatures in and above the ground, to protect the habitat from germs. But people still die young, and diseases are rife. Our project has been sustaining your world for hundreds of years in this way. You can't live without our project. We decide your fate. And we've already decided. The project ends. This futile Earth is mine. I am the last watcher of your world!"

[20]   What has caused the flood is the extreme empathy of Kira the dream child, who is bound by Iwan's dreams and has synchronized with the dreams of people who wish the world to end. However, while struggling with a powerful psychic hired by the Margrave to hunt her down, memories of the ancient sea etched into her genes are awakened, and Kira's empathic mind shares a dream with the polluted Earth, the dream of restoring blue, clear seas that nurture life. Kira, a hermaphrodite, has a chance of becoming pregnant and thus offers to those around her a hope of regeneration. On the ailing planet of Marginal, however, what saves the Earth is not the action of bearing a child but the wish to be one with nature. Kira's image of ancient Earth, a blue planet full of life, resonates with Earth's own dream and brings about a fundamental change that breathes life into the planet itself; Kira's presence deactivates factor D, the infertility-inducing substance that has been covering the whole planet. This revelation reminds us of the fact that the basis of maternity is not the impregnation of woman by man but the existence of woman herself, the being that spins the endless yarn of life, and the natural environment in which she can live out a healthy life. Yukari Fujimoto comments in her review of Tenshi-tachi no Shinka-ron (Evolution Theory for Angels) by Reiko Shimizu that "we have this urge to leave a part of us behind when we are gone, but I feel that life itself has more profound dreams of its own, and our obsession seems out of place in the great scheme of things"(Fujimoto,289). This is an observation we must take note of when we ask what maternity is. The story ends with a hint that, in the end, Asijin's optimistic prediction will become a reality in the distant future. This ending appears on the surface to be similar to that of Star Red, in which the heroine, a descendant of Martians, lights the fire of life in a dead planet by her own death. Star Red told of life that stands upon maternal sacrifice; the long chain of life staying unbroken thanks to the sacrifice of a woman's life. In Marginal Hagio flatly rejects this scenario. Will her message, that the yarn of life cannot be spun in a world where women have to be sacrificed, one day reach Japan's intellectuals who bemoan the social changes that have caused a decline in the birth rate?

[21]   Marginal has a first-class plot structure by any standard of entertainment, with its futuristic setting providing a backdrop for a highly imaginative presentation of problems and solutions, conflicts of opposing concepts and a surprise conclusion of the complex storylines at the end. However, the theme Hagio tried to pursue in this work, the revival of maternity by women themselves, appears to have been left open-ended and ambiguous when the story ends in a rather esoteric atmosphere of the occult and pseudo-religious mysticism. At the end of the story, having died in the flood and been resurrected, Kira returns to a quiet life with Glinja and Asijin. As pointed out by Eiji Otsuka, this can easily be interpreted as the classic cliche ending of girls' manga, where the heroine is saved by a prince on a white horse (Otsuka,66). When one reflects upon the bitter history of hollow mystification and sanctification of maternity, however, one realizes the need to ask why "the revival of maternity", a theme that would please men who blame selfish women for the declining birth rate, was taken up in the medium of girls' manga and proved such a major hit. Leaping a whole millennium in order to leave behind the history of tricks and make-beliefs chaining women to maternity, Hagio set Marginal in a society of men who do not understand maternity. It can be read as major propaganda against the revival of maternity using theatrical staging techniques, where women are the intended audience. The "maternity" against which Hagio is arguing is, of course, the made-up concept of maternity in which women have no active role to play -- maternity as an ultimately convenient device to submit women to a puppet existence. Kira empathizes with the dreams of others in the later stages of the story, following a disposition nurtured by the scientist father who bore the cross of his mother's "humiliation of being female" (This phrase, made famous in Japan as a quotation of Beauvoir, does not exist in the original French book. It was Ryoichi Ikushima who translated the French passage "servitudes de la femmelle"; the servitude imposed by the female nature, as mesu no kutsujoku the "humiliation of being female", which has since been sensationalized out of context. This "imaginative" translation exposes a typical male view of the maternity of women). It mirrors the way a woman exists through her empathy with a man's dream and a daughter conforms herself to the wishes of her father. When Kira hears a rumor that a new Holy Mother is going to appear and bear children, she cries out in joy: "I don't have to have a baby any more! Mother is going to do it for me instead!" This scene vividly describes the inner feelings of the woman as a "child-bearing machine" whose empathic instinct to follow men's wishes has become her raison d'etre. Surrounded by people who wish her to bear a child and having internalized these wishes, Kira has fitted herself into the role of a child-bearer. However, when she faces the overpowering danger that threatens her, her struggle leads to a climactic turnaround where she finds inside her a deeper source of power, an infinitely deep maternity that empathizes with nature. In that very moment, she overcomes the immediate father-child tie and the internal struggle born out of it and connects directly with "the dreams of life". The scientist obsessed by the trauma he felt at the fate of his mother which he saw as a humiliation could not locate the true source of life in a woman. His idea of the womb as a marginal world that can exist independent of the woman's personality is not unlike that of today's male gynecologists in pursuit of reproductive medicine. The question Hagio is posing here must be: "does maternity exist where the womb is?" This story rejects this materialistic view of baby-making and proposes a global-scale perspective that maternity -- source of life -- is what makes Earth a living planet.

Figure 2

[22]   In creative works by men, a woman's personality is often seen as something growing straight out of her womb or vagina. Hagio's question is also repeated by Storm Constantine, a British female writer, in her visions of the future. In her early work Hermatech, she tells of a future world where female reproductive organs are biomedical accessories that can be manufactured and retailed. Advances in medical technology have blurred the distinction between the two sexes, and a man can even have a sex change operation to have multiple vaginae implanted into his belly. Telling the story of a man who has become a woman with six "artificial cunts", Constantine gleefully shutters the ontological proposition much favored by men that female genitals hold a woman's personality. Hagio's Marginal also questions and seeks to refute the idea that a womb contains maternity, a definition that is extremely individualistic and yet fits dangerously snugly into totalitarian ideology.

[23]   Hagio has also incorporated a device that gives the reader an illusion of being in a theater watching a play. Men of the experimental colony call the Company's helicopter a machinae, a word that means a contraption in Latin, from which the English word "machine" derives. The machinae, an artificial messenger from heaven that carries the Margrave -- marginal overlord of the Roman Empire -- is symbolic in that it also represents "Deus ex machinae" of the theater, omnipotent God descending from heaven. In an allegorical sense, Deus ex machina is a device that aids the suspension of disbelief as the story unfolds. Using a device that implies the presence of one omnipotent god, Hagio traverses time as well as space, telling a tale of discontinuity between "regeneration" and "reproduction", showing the reader the reality of an ailing Earth and suggesting the possibility of a revival of true and fundamental maternity.

[24]   There is not a woman who has never even vaguely felt irritated by the fact that being a woman is synonymous with being a reproducer. Regardless of whether or not they have children or what views they have on childbearing, women have always asked what maternity is, an attribute they are all supposed to be endowed with. Women with means of self-expression have been pointing out from all angles how maternity, an immensely loose notion based on men's preconceptions and shoved upon women, has been used by men as a convenient tool, but their voices seem condemned to be forgotten again and again like fleeting dreams. Is it not perverse that, in films, novels and manga created by men, they keep telling us about a man's long and hard quest for his own identity, at the end of which, they have us believe, he discovers that the key to his regeneration is a woman? Male creators still treat women as a means of regeneration through reproduction; they do not seem to have wakened up to the fact that women stopped believing that men could be their key to regeneration a long time ago.

[25]   The imaginary worlds Moto Hagio and fellow authors created to reflect their own ideas and feelings have scared the people who can only think of reproduction as something based on a relationship between a man and a woman. However, when one sees the astonishingly low total fertility rate statistics, it is clear how faithfully their voices represent the deep psyche of women. Women are running away from their duty to reproduce. It is a drastic and desperate antithesis presented by women to a world where reproduction is -- and seems set to continue to be -- equated to the impregnation of women by men, a world that has forgotten "the dreams of life".

WORKS CITED

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Constantine, Storm. Hermatech. London: Headline, 1991.

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Hagio, Moto. Sutaa Reddo (Star Red). Tokyo:Shogakukan.1985. First serialized in the Shoujo Comic magazine, Shogakukan,1978-1979.

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McLelland, M. The Love Between 'Beautiful Boys', Journal of Gender Studies Vol.9, No.1, ed. by Wolmark, J., Billington, R., and DuBois, D., London: Calfax Publishing, 2000.

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______. Ore no Sora (My Sky). vols. 1-11, Shueisha Bunko Comics. First serialized in the Shukan Pureiboi magazine, Shueisha, 1975-1978.

Otsuka, Eiji. "Bosei" tono Wakai wo Saguru (Searching for Reconciliation with Maternity), from Komikku Gaku no Mikata (How to View the Study of Comics), Tokyo: Asahi Shimbun, 1997.

Russ, Joanna. The Female Man. New York: Bantam, 1975. Japanese translation by Tomoeda, Yasuko Fiimeeluman. Tokyo: Sanrio SF Bunko, 1981.

Shimizu, Reiko. Tenshi-tachi no Shinka-ron (Evolution Theory for Angels), Hana to Yume Comics. Tokyo: Hakusensha,1991.

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Tiptree Jr., James Houston, Houston, Do You Read?. from Star Songs of an Old Primate 1978. Japanese translation by Ito, Norio Hyuusuton, hyuusuton kikoeruka. Tokyo: Hyakawa, 1989.

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AKIKO EBIHARA is a member of the faculty of English at St. Margaret's Junior College in Tokyo, Japan. She is also a director of Japan Society for Gender Studies. Her major papers include Motherhood and Its Future and Gender Gap in Terms of Address.

Copyright ©2002 Ann Kibbey. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.
 

Copyright ©2002 Ann Kibbey.
 

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