Review: ‘Ciguatera’ by Minoru Furuya

Four and a half stars, rounded up.

I first came across this author when I read his ‘Saltiness’, that became my surprise hit of the season. Then I realized that one of the series I had passed up on often was also his; many had mentioned his ‘Ciguatera’ on those long lists of “best manga ever”. However, I had ignored it because all the mentions emphasized how much the protagonist cared about motorcycles, and I don’t give a shit about motorcycles. However, the subject of motorcycles could have been substituted here for any other passion that would align with someone’s instincts to the extent that indulging in it would help the person escape from the nonsense that life hurls around.

This story is a slice-of-life / Bildungsroman that follows an unpopular, somewhat unhinged high school kid who isn’t intelligent enough nor talented enough at anything to stand out. He also seems to be as tall as the average girl. As if that life set up for mediocrity wasn’t bad enough, both the protagonist and his best friend are regularly tortured by a local psychopath that some in general terms would call a bully. That guy is the run-of-the-mill psychopathic type that only finds pleasure in abusing others, and it comes naturally and cheerfully to him. The protagonist and his pal understand that they have no choice but endure being the target of that bastard’s whims, and they figure that once they graduate they won’t have to deal with him anymore. The two friends bond over their mutual love of motorcycles, as it allows them to imagine themselves riding into the sunset away from their miserable lives.

A minor spoiler is inevitable: the entire story ends up revolving around the relationship between the protagonist and the girl he starts dating maybe in the first volume. In contrast with many other fictional relationships, particularly at that age, the protagonist is constantly worrying about the future: he has realized that he loves this girl to death, that if she ends up getting sick of his sorry ass and moves on, he’ll eagerly welcome his own demise. He wants to become a dependable man, a well-adjusted member of society, even if he has to work hard to change himself in the process. I thought it was a realistic depiction of what someone with low self-esteem goes through when having to measure up to the person he loves, with all the anxiety and sleepless nights that involves.

I really liked the girlfriend character, but my main complaint throughout this story was that she simply was too good for him. She’s beautiful; has lovely tits; is kind, accommodating and understanding; and it doesn’t bother her that she has more resources than him. As a girlfriend, she’s ideal, so this reeked to me of wish fulfillment. Often I would be on board with that, but not in a story that revolves around how complicated it can get to sustain a normal relationship when life keeps throwing so much shit at you; most other girls would have broken up quite early. The ending, that I’ve read a couple of hours ago, changed my impression of her character, but it’s too soon for me to articulate my feelings on the subject beyond mentioning that it made an impact on me.

Plenty of weird, often episodic stuff happens in this series. Four distinct sequences end in very disturbing stuff that would have potentially scarred the people involved for years to come, but one of the mirrored points of this story is the sense that no matter how terrifying or disturbing the nonsense that life forces you to endure, and that you believe you won’t get over, somehow you adapt and keep shuffling forward.

This series left me cold and unsettled because it illustrated how that lesson also applies to your personal passions or the most important people in your life: even if you can’t imagine yourself existing without them, you wake up some other day and discover that you can keep putting one foot in front of the other, for good or ill.

I vibe with this author’s sense of humor, the odd stuff he comes up with, and how he makes you feel as if you are right there along with the characters as they experience their little lives. I hope to read everything else this guy has made.

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