Every once in a while, a unique work of art comes out of nowhere that really hits you. You know what I'm talking about: After you finish reading it you set it down, take a deep breath and say, 'Whoa.' When, despite being drawn in a way you've never seen before, you 'get' it. That was me after reading Pandora, the latest from manga publisher Glacier Bay Books. Drawn and written by Hagiwara Rei, this is a manga I would recommend to everyone. If you are able to connect with this book like I did, it is something special.
Pandora is a collection of five short stories that Hagiwara drew from 2020 to 2021. They aren't connected by plot but by a set of themes. The Pandora of the title references Pandora's Box, which unleashed all the evils into the world. Hagiwara drew these stories at the height of the pandemic and the 10th year anniversary of the 2011 Japanese earthquake. As such, these stories address the trauma of grief and loss. They typically don't address the events directly but instead how they made people feel. The grief could be for a loved one, family history, or people they have wronged. But, like the original Greek tale, hope appears at the end to give the characters a reason to keep on living. The stories and message may be simple, but the way it is told is deep and profound.
Every manga panel is a painting, and that is literally true in Pandora. Hagiwara makes extensive use of watercolor to give the backgrounds a dream-like feel. They then pencil the characters in with thin lines. It appears the characters are a part of the background, the barrier between the worlds of the mind and reality indistinguishable. In essence, the characters are the backgrounds. This is important because color is essential to understanding the stories. Colors more than set the mood, they also communicate the mindset of the characters. So when you see pages of a single color, it tells you more than any piece of dialogue ever could. At one point, there was a page that was all black and it left a pit in my stomach. It's strange how, despite being open-ended, I was able to understand the artist's intentions.
This unique approach forged a deep connection within myself with the author. Despite the language and cultural barriers, I understood the artist's message and feelings at a deep level. This is different from what I typically experience with works that are "artistic." I am able to appreciate the craft but often feel emotionally distant. Hagiwara makes me feel like I am in the room with them. I can watch them create their story, feeling what they're feeling in synchronous harmony. These are feelings that are hard to put into words, and everyone will feel different. But Hagiwara's stories struck an emotional chord with me. Days later, they still reverberate within me.
I started this review calling Pandora a work of art because it felt like I was reading a series of paintings. That is what every comic or manga is, but watercolor gives Pandora a look that stands out from the rest. It allows Hagiwara to explore the themes of loss and grief through color and composition. You only see art like this in places like galleries or museums. But Hagiwara's art is not snooty or elitist. They tell stories that everyone can connect to, at a level that is personal. You will understand who Hagiwara is through this book, and things about yourself too. I wasn't expecting Pandora to be my favorite manga so far this year, but I'm glad I gave it the chance it deserves. You should as well.
PANDORA, The Receding Sound of Footsteps is Hagiwara Rei's masterpiece. Rei is a comic artist based in Japan who has self-published their work at Comita through the domestic indie manga scene since 2018. Born in 1993, Rei first became known to English language readers Fall of 2020, through the Glacier Bay Books publication of their sparse and emotionally resonant debut Ripples.
PANDORA expands on this with their second long form work, a lyrical, full color 264 page collection of five stories. Painted in delicate watercolors during 2020/2021 and the initial throes of the COVID-19 pandemic, PANDORA simultaneously reflects on current events as well as the 10th anniversary of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster.
Gorgeous and direct, these stories tenderly reach into your very heart of hearts. Hagiwara Rei masterfully paints the elliptical nature of life and loss in the present time, depicting five scenes of the grief and hope to be found in the modern age.Add to CartLearn More