Much to my children’s dismay (and longing), we don’t have a dog (allergies). I am, however, so lucky to have a regular canine companion, Z, whose mother brings her on our twice-a-week hikes through the woods. As I was sniffling and snuffling through this heartfelt manga last night, I couldn’t have been more grateful about seeing Z this morning!
Stargazing Dog is quite the effective reminder of how important the four-legged family members are in our lives … and that perhaps no other animal is as devoted and loving, not to mention so forgiving, as our dogs (my Z included). Google “devoted dogs” and you’ll get hundreds of hits, one of the latest about Hawkeye, who wouldn’t leave the casket of his late Navy SEAL owner last August. Oh, but I digress …
As a small puppy found in a box, Happie joins a family of three: “Mom fed me everyday, [daughter] Miku played with me occasionally, but it was always Daddy who took me for a walk.” As the years pass – seven at time for Happie – Miku grows up and away, Daddy loses his job, and Mom suddenly files for divorce. Daddy and Happie pack everything they have left over from their broken family life into the back of the car, and set off on a journey that will last the rest of their lifetimes.
[Sort-of spoiler warning!] Halfway through the book, Daddy and Happie turn out to be the nameless man and dog whose lifeless bodies are found in the story’s opening pages. You know from the third page that Daddy died a full-year-and-three-months before Happie … just how tenderly Happie waited by Daddy’s side will shatter your heart.
The story’s second half follows Okutsu, a social worker assigned to Daddy’s case, as he attempts to discover Daddy’s identity. With the help of a found pawn shop ticket, he retraces Daddy and Happie’s final seacoast adventure, all the while remembering his own childhood with this beloved grandparents, and the dog his grandfather left him who gave him nothing less than unconditional love: “I should’ve played with him more. I should’ve taken more time for a walk with him. … I shouldn’t have been afraid to love him more …”
In the book’s final two pages, creator Takashi Murakami (not to be confused with the artist with the same name) adds a somber “Afterword”: “‘Daddy’ in this story wasn’t really a bad guy who would deserve to die such a miserable death. … [He] was a normal, simple kind of person. It’s just that he was a little too lazy to adapt to change at home and in society … In the past, he would have been an ordinary, good father. However, in today’s environment, it’s adapt or die. And that’s not right. I really feel fed up with this hideous situation.”
Murakami’s debut story surely caught the Japanese public’s attention: it sold some 560,000 copies, became a major bestseller, and is apparently in the midst of a film adaptation. But read it before the international media blitz hits Stateside … savor it now. Then go find your favorite four-legged buddy and give him/her the same endless love he/she offers you 24/7. It’s never too late … well, until it’s too late … so don’t delay!
Tidbit: According to publisher NBM’s blog post for today, Stargazing Dog has gone back to press “to correct a couple typos some reviewers have given us maybe a bit too much grief over.” I wasn’t one of them, I swear! NBM also adds that some of the challenges of deciding to flip reading directions [the original Japanese reads back to front (by Western standards); if you read Japanese, you'll notice all the words in the panels are backwards] have been ”[r]ectified now!” So no more complaining!
Readers: Young Adult, Adult
Published: 2011 (United States)