Four and a half stars. The title translates to Our Happy Hours.
The main protagonist of this tale used to be a promising teenage pianist. Now, as a thirty-year-old woman, she has swallowed a bottleful of pills and is waiting to die. She wakes up in the hospital, where she receives the unsympathetic visit of her cold, strict-looking mother. The protagonist shares with the old woman that she’s been trying to die since she was a teenager because she fears that at any point she’s going to murder her mother.
The protagonist’s fate seems out of her hands at this point. Her mother wants to send her to a mental institution at least for a month, but the protagonist’s aunt, a nun, offers her an alternative: the two of them will meet with a death row inmate who hasn’t responded positively to the nun’s attempts at supporting him. The protagonist can’t spare any empathy for anybody, even herself, but such a visit seems like a better option than getting locked up in the loony bin.
On the day of the visit, we learn that the death row inmate, jailed for murdering three people, is an orphan who lived in the streets for most of his life. He also clarifies to the protagonist’s aunt that the clergy sicken him: they look down upon people and offer empty platitudes. In his words, “The group which discriminates the most are the people who decorate themselves in pretty words.”
As the guards take the inmate away, the protagonist follows them to give him a drawing that some child had drawn for him. When the guy suggests that the protagonist apparently hadn’t gotten enough of looking down upon him, she surprises him by saying that she considers him lucky. She adds, “If people understood those things at the start of their lives, they’d be able to decide on their own how they’d like to live. When people are betrayed at the end of their lives, they hold on to hope until then. I think that would be a blessing. The greatest burden is when a person is let down in the middle of their life.”
As the inmate gets taken away, confused by her words, he realizes that he has seen this woman before: back when she was, for him, the distant image of a girl playing the piano.
What follows in this short series is a tight plot where the main characters spend a bit of time every Thursday getting to know each other, learning why they ended up as broken people who lost all hope along the way. Is it possible for those who have already given up to welcome the light of a new day?
A bleak yet beautiful tale that I’m very glad I read. I have to thank ChatGPT for this recommendation; I asked it what mangas similar to Inio Asano’s Oyasumi Punpun it could come up with. I had already read most of ChatGPT’s suggestions, and I had come across this particular series I’m reviewing, but I had ignored it because I didn’t see myself sparing any empathy for a death row inmate who likely killed innocent people. I thought the story did a good job acknowledging that the guy’s actions were partly unforgivable, certainly from a legal perspective.
Anyway, I recommend this story if you want to end up with tears in your eyes as you read it seated on a bench in the wooded area near your apartment.