Rating: ★★★★★ 

Stargazing Dog, by Takashi Murakami. NBM Publishing (2011), 128 pages.

Stargazing Dog was first published in Japan in 2008, where it has sold over a half million copies. It’s a relatively short graphic novel that should take about a half hour to read, except that I had to take numerous breaks from reading to cry. Do not read this in a public setting.

Happie just wants to be by “Daddy’s” side. His favorite activity is to go on walks with Daddy, but just sitting quietly with him is fine too. Happie is a simple dog with honest and straightforward needs; he is not a dramatic or heroic sort of dog. Except that by being this way he does become a hero—to Daddy.

All I knew when I acquired this book was how the story opens (and because this occurs in the first four pages, I don’t feel anything is ruined by sharing it here): police find an abandoned car in a meadow near an overgrown forest road. The man they find inside has been dead over a year; the dog they find inside has been dead just three months.

The first half of the book is told from Happie’s point of view, and the second half is from the point of view of the social worker who is assigned to investigate the identity of the dead man in the car. At first this shift felt like an intrusion. I was pulled out of the story a bit while I tried to figure out who this new narrator was, and I resented him for being an interloper in a tale that had just left me sobbing too hard to keep reading. But the social worker does belong here. He’s a well-meaning and hard-working man who somehow has not yet become cynical or jaded towards his work, but beyond that we quickly learn that he has deep-seated personal reasons for becoming emotionally invested in the case. Other reviews have made this connection explicit, but I’m going to refrain and say only that I cried as much in the second half as I did in the first.

This is a must read not only for the characters and plot but for the artwork too. Daddy’s appearance, as it dramatically changes throughout the story, has a visceral impact on the reader, and Happie’s simplicity of emotion is rendered perfectly.