In April 2012 the leading shōjo manga artist Hagio Moto published a collection of five new works in response to the Fukushima nuclear disaster. Titled Nanohana (Rape blossoms), the volume was hailed by a review in the Mainichi newspaper as proof that manga subculture responds to societal problems “more quickly and more incisively than any other medium” (Figure 1). 1 But the Mainichi review, like those in the Yomiuri and Asahi Weekly, stopped short of spelling out the exact nature of Hagio’s insight. 2 And there were also disgruntled otaku bloggers who complained that Nanohana merely repeats the same antinuclear slogans (“It’s not safe!”) we have already been hearing for decades. 3
In this essay I propose that what is interesting about Hagio’s contribution to Japan’s denuclearization debates is the way she connects the problem of the nuclear with the problem of desire. In “Purūto fujin” (Madam Pluto) and “Ame no yoru: Uranosu hakushaku” (A rainy night: Count Uranus), radioactive elements take human form and become irresistible to everyone but a tiny minority who refuse to forget their chemical properties. With wry precision, Hagio equates the ability to be humanly wanted with the inability to be materially questioned or acknowledged. The target of her critique is our dominant [End Page 3] model of desire, in which it is only after some original, physical object goes missing that we can begin to desire its substitute, which is de facto entirely cultural.
This essay expands my reading of Nanohana by drawing out its affinity with an earlier and much longer work by Hagio, Sutaa Reddo (1980, Star Red). Here Hagio not only sharpens her critique of desire-as-usual but offers a brilliant alternative. The heroine Sei is a galaxy-traveling shōjo who refuses to accept “love” as compensation for the destruction of her beloved planet, Mars. In the process, she teaches her lover Erg how to go back to his own culture’s dead planet. There, at her insistence, he relearns human love by reawakening his capacity for human/nonhuman interaction. The result is joyously eco-positive—the rebirth of a planet! And yet, in the rich body of [End Page 4] Japanese feminist writing on Hagio, this eco-critical element has gone mostly unremarked (Figure 2).
At stake, I think, is how we conceive our relation to material origins. What does it mean to love a planet the way Sei loves Mars? Do we really need to sever our relation with the physical object before we can begin to make sense of it? Desire it? Desire each other? Indeed, what would it mean for intra-human relations if they were not founded in a prior sacrifice of the material world? These are questions that a group of North American feminists has recently begun to ask under the rubric of “new materialism.”4 What I propose in this essay is that a similar set of questions is key to a rich but tantalizingly incomplete debate that has been swirling around Hagio’s work since the 1980s: the debate about the hyper-girl. [End Page 5]
“Hyper-girl” (chōshōjo) is a term coined in 1984 by critic Miyasako Chizuru in her study of Hagio’s early manga, Chōshōjo e (1984, Toward the hyper-girl). Miyasako argues that we can situate Hagio’s heroines along a continuum of feminist progress from the shōjo demanded by patriarchy, to the hishōjo (anti-girl) of works like Heart of Thomas (1974, Tōma no shinzō) and Pō no ichizoku (1972, The Poe clan), who seizes agency as a “boy with no genitals.”5 Then, even more positively, we have the chōshōjo of Star Red, who takes the stage emphatically as a girl. The chōshōjo draws her identity...