THE DREAM OF THE BUTTERFLY #1 by Richard Marazano and Luo Yin
THE DREAM OF THE BUTTERFLY #1 will appeal to lovers of Miyazaki or fans with a soft spot for a strong female heroine. Although it suffers from some plot holes, the gorgeous art and compelling characters make this comic leap off the page.
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When young Tutu gets lost during a snowstorm, she finds herself in a strange village in the neighboring valley. Talking animals run the show, a mysterious emperor maintains eternal winter, and Tutu’s identity as a human makes her a criminal and an outcast. In THE DREAM OF THE BUTTERFLY #1, Tutu’s spunky quest to return home leads her to a series of lessons about trust and responsibility. Writer Richard Marazano and artist Luo Yin created this comic, and Lion Forge Comics published the English translation of the French original. Marketed as a children’s book while tackling questions of morality more relevant to adults, THE DREAM OF THE BUTTERFLY #1 offers something for all ages.

Image courtesy of Lion Forge Comics.


The story of a young female protagonist trapped in a fantasy world is not new. Indeed, it calls to mind classics like Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz, and Hayao Miyazaki’s SPIRITED AWAY. Such comparisons remain with readers throughout THE DREAM OF THE BUTTERFLY #1. Does Marazano and Yin’s rendition of this trope hold up against its predecessors?

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On the surface, the tension in THE DREAM OF THE BUTTERFLY #1 lies in Tutu deciding how far to compromise her values on her quest home. Her new factory job drains her of the energy she needs to escape the village. A notorious flying bandit solicits her — to help or hurt her? Finally, the emperor challenges Tutu to capture a mysterious butterfly in exchange for a ticket home. These points drive the story forward. Unfortunately, however, THE DREAM OF THE BUTTERFLY #1 has trouble defining a linear plot.

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Conversations tend to jump around without logic. Some non-sequiturs are more nonsensical than artful. For example, Tutu’s panda friend asks her a question: “Do you think I’m an idiot?” Tutu’s response is irrelevant and puzzling: “Uh…you are a panda…Pandas are pretty cute.” In addition to a number of grammatical typos, these moments leave me wondering if THE DREAM OF THE BUTTERFLY #1 lost something in translation. I would encourage the editors and translators to pay closer attention to these kinds of details in future issues.

Altogether, THE DREAM OF THE BUTTERFLY #1 contains many of the components of a classic, but without the narrative cohesion.

Image courtesy of Lion Forge Comics.


Nevertheless, THE DREAM OF THE BUTTERFLY #1 is ambitious in its ideological goals. Over the course of the first issue, Tutu makes a series of decisions about who to trust. She questions her place in the world and in relation to others. Will she continue to mistrust herself? Will she be able to make it home without the help of a trusted ally? The alternating desire for and rejection of human connection make Tutu dynamic throughout this first issue.

In addition, THE DREAM OF THE BUTTERFLY #1 tackles politics and philosophy with some success. “It sure doesn’t seem good for the environment,” Tutu remarks upon witnessing the village’s energy factory. The author uses dialogue like this to create awareness of problems like climate change, which exist even outside the fictional comic.

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Likewise, Tutu wrestles with her sense of social responsibility. When the villagers insist that her fate is to save them from the emperor’s eternal winter, the creators have seized an opportunity. They momentarily demonstrate that Tutu, an outsider, can selflessly take on the responsibility of helping her fellow citizens.

Does THE DREAM OF THE BUTTERFLY #1 continue to raise awareness about environmentalism and social responsibility, though? Sadly, no. These points have the potential to drive a powerful plot except that they are rather haphazardly dropped in the story. I respect the creators’ ambition to include these kinds of philosophical and political messages. I hope to see them developed further in future issues.

Character Flaws: Humans, Animals, and  Machines

Among the many players that populate THE DREAM OF THE BUTTERFLY #1, an interesting hierarchy connects humans, animals, and machines. For instance, the highest-ranking member of society, the emperor, appears only in the body of a robot. By contrast, the villagers are all animals. Creatures like rabbits, frogs, and pandas comprise the common citizens. At the bottom of the hierarchy, newcomer Tutu repeatedly faces scorn for her human “ugliness” and “stench.” The villagers remind her that humans are the lowest of the low.

In this world, inhumanity is a measure of superiority. Animals rank above humans, while machines are the best. This clever inversion of typical roles allows for a scathing commentary on human egotism. We humans may not be as exceptional as we often think we are.

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To the reader, however, Tutu is clearly the exception to this rule. From the start of THE DREAM OF THE BUTTERFLY #1, Tutu has spunk and wit. For example, when she notices the babbling rabbits spying on her, she repeatedly yells at them and calls them “stupid.” Even as a young girl, lost and orphaned, she is not afraid to speak her mind.

By the end of the first issue, though, Tutu has changed. She grows to recognize a need for respectability: “I’m a stranger here, I have to behave myself at least a little.” In this moment, we watch Tutu’s trademark fire sputter and die. She suppresses her irreverence, the core of her character. This arc gives Tutu, otherwise a frivolous character, the seriousness that accompanies tragedy.

Image courtesy of Lion Forge Comics.

THE DREAM OF THE BUTTERFLY #1 Has Out-of-This-World Art

Above all, the greatest success of THE DREAM OF THE BUTTERFLY #1 is its art. Inventive and inspired, Yin has created an entirely new world in the panels of this comic. It is a world that the reader will, just as the title suggests, want to dream about.

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Yin is a master at evoking mood through the use of color. Cool blues and grays dominate the pages of winter scenes in the village. In a land of eternal winter, darkness reigns supreme. Throughout the story, the art’s dark tones match the sense of foreboding that Tutu feels as a friendless orphan and outcast. Additionally, Yin’s illustrations deprive the reader of color, creating the opportunity for wonderful bursts of warmth — the glow of a lantern, the shine of a butterfly, the reddened tip of Tutu’s nose. These moments of light and vivid color heat up the page.

Undeniably, Yin’s art has created worlds within worlds. Rabbits in trenchcoats and spectacles loom around every corner, the emperor’s spies. A beaked bird-woman serves as Tutu’s wicked foster mother. The walls full of “imperial robots,” the emperor’s inventions, are a spectacle for Tutu and the reader alike. All these images speak to the originality of Yin’s and Marazano’s vision. In essence, if there’s one reason to read THE DREAM OF THE BUTTERFLY #1, it is to immerse yourself in the visual world that it creates. Through fresh ideas and images, THE DREAM OF THE BUTTERFLY #1 pries open the reader’s imagination.

Image courtesy of Lion Forge Comics.

THE DREAM OF THE BUTTERFLY #1: Dream It For Yourself

THE DREAM OF THE BUTTERFLY #1 borrows its title from a Chinese parable by Zhuang Zhou, the author of the 3rd century B.C.E. Zhuangzi. In essence, the story chronicles the confusion that arises between dreams and reality: “Once upon a time, I dreamt I was a butterfly. Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly dreaming I am a man.” How can we trust ourselves when it is impossible to distinguish our dreamed life from our lived life?

Likewise, THE DREAM OF THE BUTTERFLY #1 shifts readers from their realities into its dream-world of talking rabbits and eternal winter. The fluidity with which the creators accomplish this is enough of a reason to read the comic. Dive into THE DREAM OF THE BUTTERFLY #1 to find out for yourself.

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