Friday April 20, 2012
WORLDS OF WONDER By ELIZABETH TAI
Story and art: Takashi Murakami
Publisher: NBM Publishing, 125 pages
DON’T let this manga’s cute cover fool you. Despite Takashi Murakami’s cartoonish art, Stargazing Dog is not the doggie version of Chi’s Sweet Home, where we follow the cute little adventures of an adorable little kitty. This is a manga that will hit you where it matters and where it’ll hurt the most. So, prepare some tissues, dear readers. Stargazing Dog will make you despair at the unfairness of life and wonder at the power of love and loyalty.
The manga opens with a mystery. A car has been found in the middle of a field off a road. Workers find something startling inside.
Then, we segue into Happie the dog’s story, which is told from his perspective. Happie enters the life of “Daddy” when Miku, Daddy’s daughter, picks him up from a litter of puppies left in a box. Daddy was initially reluctant to adopt the dog. (After all, Happie did bite him!) But Daddy eventually gives in, and even ends up taking care of Happie the most.
On their long walks together, Daddy would talk to Happie about his problems and the two form a close bond, even if Happie does not fully understand what Daddy was saying. Their bond becomes such that when Daddy ends up abandoned by the people he thought he could count on, only Happie remains loyally at his side.
We get the impression that Happie is the only being that Daddy could talk to. He is mostly aloof with his family. He barely interacts with his daughter and often dismisses his wife’s attempts at a discussion with a “do what you like”. But “Daddy” is not a bad fellow. He is what Takashi Murakami calls a “normal, simple kind of person”.
“It was just that he was a little too lazy to adapt to change at home and in society, or wasn’t good at changing himself, that’s all” said Takashi Murakami in the Afterword.
He’s the modern-day tragic hero; a man who would’ve done well in tradition-infused, family-oriented old Japan but is swept away by the fast-paced, highly-individualistic world of modern Japan.
So, tragedy befalls Daddy. A simple man through and through, Daddy chooses to live life by the moment with Happie at his side and Happie is only happy to be his steadfast companion.
But as Daddy and Happie’s journey nears the end, the reader is left disquieted. Although there’s no doubt that Daddy loves Happie, he also possesses a streak of selfishness that eventually causes suffering to Happie. In the end, when Daddy thanks Happie for his companionship, one can’t help feel angry at Daddy for rewarding Happie’s steadfast devotion with abandonment. What’s more heartbreaking is that Happie never really understands what’s happening to him. The dog’s childlike perspective makes it even harder to digest the turn of events.
Life is unfair, especially for the pure and innocent, it would seem. Fortunately, Murakami rewards the readers with a resolution that will stem the tide of tears.
The manga is told in two parts. The first part is about Happie and Daddy’s life together. The second segment, Sunflowers is told from the perspective of a 50-year-old social worker, Mr Okatsu.
Mr Okatsu lives in a 58-year-old house that belonged to his grandparents. Like Daddy, he’s a bit of a loner and enjoys the simple things in life. He spends his free time taking care of the house, his “antique car” and the field of sunflowers in front of his home.
Although he believes that “adventurous lives, romantic loves, stimulating days, they are all in ‘books’”, Okutsu could not resist trying to find out more about the abandoned car the social workers found. Okutsu puts on his sleuthing hat to find out who owned the car and as he delves into the car’s sad origins, Okutsu begins to ponder about the relationship he had with his dog, who, though not very bright, liked to watch the stars.
In Sunflowers, Daddy and Happie’s story is given closure, even if not every plot strand is neatly tied up. There’s no display of remorse nor is justice truly ever served. Instead, as Murakami says, “Everyone is the same … as long as we carry on living”.
This short little book is sad, but it’s a beautiful kind of sad; it gives you profound insight of the unique bond between man and dog, a bond that is sometimes truer and more steadfast than the bond between two human beings.
One doesn’t really understand what loyalty really means until he sees it through the eyes of a dog.
n Elizabeth Tai, who shared 15 wonderful years with her late dog Nicky, knows how beautiful the bond between a man and a dog can be. The manga is available at Kinokuniya Suria KLCC.