The Heart of Thomas by Moto Hagio
Review by Sandra Scholes
As far as manga goes, this was written way back in the seventies, and had an impact among the early shojo manga community due to its dark subject matter. Originally titled Thoma No Shinzou in its native Japanese, the story revolves around Thomas Werner and the impact his death will have on a fellow school student called Juli. Known for his pranks, it seems this time he went too far, at least according to his other school friends, but as the whole story goes on to mention how Thomas came to his end and what kind of life he had as a child, we get to know more about the kind of person he was and what drove him to such an end.
It doesn’t get too far before you find out the story isn’t set in Japan, which you would expect, but at a boarding school in Germany where all the students are amazed that Thomas has died in a railway accident – it was unexpected for him to fall foul to one of his pranks, but when he leaves a letter which tells Juli that he has left all his worldly belongings to him, he knows there is more to it than he first realized.
When he works out that Thomas killed himself for him due to the intense friendship he felt for him, he has another problem – what he will tell his parents as it is obvious from the story’s setting that they are Catholic, and would view their son’s suicide as the worst possible death imaginable. The Heart of Thomas shows the dullness of how schools would have been during earlier period times, and the helplessness that some of the boys felt there. Juli is in denial as to having felt anything resembling friendship toward Thomas, but Oskar the kid who takes it upon himself to befriend him thinks otherwise.
Oskar seems to follow him around, wanting to know Juli’s inner thoughts and secrets, but he still feels he did not even like Thomas when he was alive, and liked him even less in death. When another boy comes to the school to start his semester there, Juli is shocked that he looks just like Thomas, and feels forever haunted by his presence even after death.
This is not an uplifting tale until at the end, but it is a very well drawn period manga that gives glimpses of what boys that age would have felt being in such an enclosed place. There is a sense of Oscar Wilde about the whole school, but that depends on your impression of the piece.
The manga art itself is reminiscent of the early shojo style where both girls and boys tended to look very similar, with large eyes and beautiful faces, even long hair, a stark contrast to how a boy would look. The cover has a part watercolour cover showing the some of the main characters. Moto’s character styles are still widely used by manga-ka today if you consider such artists as Mira Lee, Seungwon Han and Noriko Segawa. Moto Hagio is well known for writing shojo manga aimed at young to older teenage girls, but some of the material in this isn’t exactly meant for younger girls as it deals with troublesome issues boys might have when they begin to reach maturity.
As is normal with manga novels, the cover and first interior pages are in colour and show the full pastel spectrum of the artists’ style, yet the interior art is in black and white, and has a simplified panel to panel sequential feel.
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