I read Stargazing Dog during one of my lunch breaks and had to take a few minutes to collect myself before heading back to my desk because I didn’t want my coworkers to notice that I had been crying. What a touching book! Stargazing Dog may weigh in at only 120 pages, but its direct, thoughtful message is expressed in such a delicate manner that adding any more to the story would be to the book’s detriment. Like the sunflowers that adorn its cover, Stargazing Dog is absolutely radiant and well worth taking a moment to stop and appreciate.
Broken into two distinct halves, Stargazing Dog tells two very different stories, though they are intrinsically linked and should be considered one complete work. The first half of the book is told from the perspective of a dog whose owner, who he calls Daddy, eventually loses almost everything he has. As the author explains in his afterward, Daddy is not a bad man, but rather just a man who is unable to adapt, and society leaves those types of individuals behind. Yet through it all Daddy perseveres as best he can, thanks in big part to the friendship he shares with his canine companion. The loyalty Daddy’s dog shows for his master and the selfless affection Daddy provides in return brought tears to my eyes.
The book’s second section focuses on a middle-aged man named Okutsu. He lives a solitary existence, tending to the home his grandparents left behind and making weekly trips to the local library to stock up on books. However, when his job as a social worker brings him into contact with Daddy (in a manner of speaking, anyway), Okutsu’s life is dramatically changed, especially when he contemplates the very different relationship he had with his own dog compared to the one Daddy shared with his. One scene in which Okutsu thinks back to a time he purposely mistreated his dog is exceptionally heartbreaking. It prompted me to give my dogs special attention when I got home from work!
Author Takashi Murakami’s previous experience drawing humorous manga bleeds through in his artwork. The characters in Stargazing Dog are all drawn in an unrealistic, comical manner, but this allows for Murakami to effectively portray emotion through the use of slightly exaggerated features and expressions. Also, I have to tip my hat to Murakami for bringing the dogs to life by perfectly capturing their energy and mannerisms. He has obviously spent a lot of time in the company of canines.
Considering such care was put into the artwork, it’s a shame NBM didn’t give Stargazing Dog the proper translation and localization it deserves. In particular, the pages are mirrored so the book reads in a left-to-right format, which regrettably causes all of the Japanese characters used for sound effects—not to mention some English words that appeared in the original version—to be displayed backwards. In addition, there are a couple instances where the translation does not consider the reversed panels, mixing up descriptions of direction as a result. It’s not a disaster, but NBM’s effort just seems lazy and rushed.
However, even a substandard localization can’t deter the emotional impact Stargazing Dog leaves behind. The book’s initial impression of simplicity quickly gives way to an unexpected depth, and it will leave readers with an aching heart. Adults, especially, will appreciate Stargazing Dog’s core message, which stresses that deep down we’re all the same, continually longing for that which is out of our reach. It is the perfect book to enjoy on a quiet evening, preferably with a dog by your side. And chances are you’ll wind up taking your dog for a walk afterwards, pondering what you’ve just read as you gaze up at the starry sky above you.
by Takashi Murakami
NBM Comics Lit, 2011
Publisher Age Rating: (16+)