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Ontology on the gone!

The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society
Miscellanea and Ephemeron

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11/21/2004 Archived Entry: "Manga Review: Dolls"

Dolls
by Yumiko Kawahara
Publisher: VIZ

Reviewed by Kathryn Ramage

The 'dolls' in this graphic collection of thematically related short stories are living dolls; according to the dialog in the stories, they are some kind of plant that grows to look exactly like a lovely, golden-haired Victorian-style little girl doll. They live on milk and sugar cookies -- and mustn't ever be fed anything else! -- and will only consent to be purchased by someone they have taken a liking to. But who knows what thoughts go on behind those little rosebud smiles and placidly gazing eyes? The dolls are all sold from one shop in an unnamed city by an androgynous shopkeeper with an oddly low-key sales pitch (but a very effective one, considering the number of initially reluctant customers who are persuaded to buy one of these incredibly expensive, high-maintenance toys).

Owning one of these dolls, it seems, can become an obsession. The collection features a number of stories of doll owners being drawn deeper and deeper in by their efforts to maintain their dolls and keep them happy, including:

A man who feeds his doll foods he shouldn't to try and please it, including a few drops of brandy in its milk.

A father who gives his traumatized and silent little girl a doll that looks exactly like her, and then gets the two of them confused.

Two different tales about the 'Pearls of Heaven," a rare and fabulous jewel that comes from the tears of a doll. But how do you make a doll cry?

An artist who has been commissioned to paint a portrait of a doll for an old man who has fallen in love with it.

A capricious gambler who buys a doll as a lucky charm -- which turns out to be the last straw for his long-suffering girlfriend.

The stories are sadly touching, even haunting, sometimes unsettling, and even occasionally funny. Also, since this was my first experience in reading a graphic novel "backwards" -- i.e., although the text has been translated into English, the layout of the book remains in the original Japanese style, and reads from right to left from the "back" -- I was never entirely certain that I was reading the panels in the correct order, and this gave the plotlines and dialog a somewhat disjointed and dream-like feeling, which increased the uncanniness of the dolls and their world for me. But I think that even the more experienced manga reader with a taste for quirky fantasy will find this to be a strange and lovely set of stories.

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