Four and a half stars for the titular story, three and a half for the other one.
When I bother to read fiction, I usually look for well-constructed mirrors. In the titular story from this manga, because it features two, the protagonist is a high-strung failed adult with a dead-end job that pays her rent but otherwise just grates on her nerves. On the very first page of that story we learn that her best friend, only friend, the titular Mariko, has committed suicide.
Along the way we learn that Mariko was as broken as they come, and little of her true nature had a chance to come through given that she suffered a childhood, up to her twenties, full of physical and sexual abuse at the hands of her father. The only person Mariko approached for help was the protagonist, who in school was already a delinquent from a broken home.
Ever since they met, the protagonist had always been heartbroken because she couldn’t find a way to save Mariko both from her father and then from herself. Now that she won’t be able to help her anymore in life, she decides to grab a knife and visit Mariko’s father to steal her best friend’s ashes.
I won’t go into further details about the plot of a one-shot, but I loved the realistic way the author treated someone as damaged as Mariko, as well as her relation with the protagonist. Mariko knew she was broken, and even after she became an adult she searched for man after man who would mistreat her and hurt her, because she couldn’t relate on a deeper level with people in any other way.
But this titular girl wasn’t innocent either: she monopolized the protagonist’s life and attentions by guilting her into not interacting with other people and particularly not getting a boyfriend, because that would mean that Mariko would lose her chance to be saved, even though she knew from the beginning that she was doomed. That dynamic continued until a week or so before the titular character killed herself, so most of the reasons for the protagonist’s isolation and her unhappiness are related to having been tied down, and dragged to the depths of despair, by someone who had no means and no intentions of getting better.
The protagonist deals not only with the grief of losing her best friend whom the protagonist had tried to save since her school days, but also with the anger and remorse caused by the fact that the person to whom she had dedicated her life chose to abandon her. So we have a fucked up, failed adult for a protagonist, who also has a huge savior complex, and an impact character (the most influential character for the protagonist in a narrative) who is doomed from the beginning. I’m not surprised about the comparisons with Inio Asano’s “Oyasumi Punpun”, which remains my favorite manga series.
As if the story of this one-shot manga didn’t attract me enough, I found its artistic style tremendously compelling, over the top but in a way that emphasized the characters’ emotions perfectly. The depiction of both the shit they go through as well as how they react to it is more raw, and real, than in most manga, which I’m all for.
I didn’t rate it a five because it left me wanting to know more about and spend way more time with the protagonist. I thought there was far more to develop about her.
The second story takes place in the United States near the border with Mexico, and it reminded me a lot of “No Country For Old Men”. I won’t say anything else about that story except that it was a bit more on the nose than I would have liked, but I still enjoyed it a lot.
I want to read more stuff by this author, but apparently he or she has released nothing else. If this is really this person’s first manga, I look forward to that successful career.