~by Moto Hagio
I was absolutely thrilled when it was announced that Fantagraphics would be releasing Moto Hagio's manga The Heart of Thomas in English. The resulting volume is a massive tome--a gorgeous, oversized hardcover with over five hundred pages. The Heart of Thomas was originally published in Japan in three volumes in 1975, however the English-language edition appears to be based on a single-volume release published in 1995. Fantagraphics' 2012 release of The Heart of Thomas also includes an excellent introduction by the manga's translator Matt Thorn which explores the history and influence of Hagio and The Heart of Thomas. The manga was at least partly inspired by Jean Delannoy's film Les amitiés particulières. In addition to being an exceptionally influential work for shoujo manga in general, The Heart of Thomas would also become one of the precursors to the the entire boys' love genre.
The students and faculty of Schloterbach, a boys' boarding school in Germany, were shocked to learn of the unexpected death of Thomas Werner, one of the most adored and beloved students at the school. His death is at first assumed to be an accident, but then Juli, an upperclassman with whom Thomas was in love, receives what seems to be a suicide note from the younger boy. Juli and Oskar, his roommate and friend, choose to keep the letter a secret. After a few week pass, Juli and the others are able to begin to move on from the tragedy but the school is thrown into turmoil once again when a new transfer student arrives. Erich, although he has a feistier personality, looks remarkably similar to Thomas; he is a constant reminder to the others of the other boy. While Erich struggles to be seen as his own person, Juli continues to be haunted by Thoams' death, and Oskar becomes the keeper of more secrets than the others know.
Although The Heart of Thomas certainly has a plot, the manga is much more about the characters themselves, their inner turmoils, and their relationships with one another. The main characters have a tremendous amount of depth that is slowly revealed page by page and layer by layer. The further the readers delve into The Heart of Thomas the better their understanding of Juli, Erich, Oskar, and Thomas as complete persons becomes. Even the secondary characters have a distinct feel to them and distinguishable looks and personalities. They all have their good points and bad. I was very impressed by the characterization in The Heart of Thomas. The young men are all struggling towards self-awareness, self-forgiveness, and self-acceptance, each fighting against their own personal loneliness.
While there may not be a lot of action in The Heart of Thomas, there is still plenty of drama to be found within its pages. Schloterbach is its own microcosm, a part of the larger world but at the same time subject to its own rules. There, rumours can be just as damning as the truth and the truth can be all that it takes to destroy a person or to save them. The boys at the boarding school are just that, boys. But their trials and tragedies are no less because of it. Many of them are on the cusp of adulthood and some of them have had to grow up far too quickly. At times Hagio seems to be a little heavy-handed with the religious symbolism and metaphors, but by the end of The Heart of Thomas it is clear why they are included. The Heart of Thomas is a historically significant and important work, but nearly forty years after it first appeared it still remains a remarkable piece of literature.