Review: ‘My Wandering Warrior Existence’ by Kabi Nagata

This is the newest entry in the series of autobiographical mangas that started with the cult hit ‘My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness’ and that followed with ‘My Solo Exchange Diary Vol. 1’‘My Solo Exchange Diary Vol. 2’ and ‘My Alcoholic Escape from Reality’ (the links go to my reviews of those titles).

I’ve been fond of the author ever since I read her first autobiographical manga, and not only because her stuff is like witnessing a colossal train wreck; she’s fearlessly honest about her brokenness to an extent that you don’t see in virtually anyone else.

In the previous entry, Kabi Nagata opened up about having caused herself acute pancreatitis due to imbibing in three years the amount of alcohol that seasoned boozers rarely achieve in twenty. She almost died, and she’ll be forced to take medication for the rest of her life. I was eager to figure out how she recovered mentally from that self-inflicted ordeal, but in this newest entry she speaks casually about her liberal alcoholic intake and mentions that she moved out to her own apartment. I realized, to my disappointment slash dismay, that the events depicted on this entry are precursory to her alcoholic debacle. She was likely working on this manga when she was forced to sidetrack it to suffer through that personal catastrophe. That’s fucking sad; the previous entry ended with her waking up from a prolonged nightmare to find herself as a mentally and physically broken woman in her mid-to-late thirties that nobody wants to or can love.

Anyway, this newest manga starts with Kabi wanting to do a photoshoot of herself wearing a wedding dress; she’s aware that she’ll likely never marry, and her mother had expressed a desire to see her in a wedding dress, so that’s what she does. During the shoot, though, Kabi grows increasingly depressed as she realizes how sad the whole thing (and her life) has become, although her mother is loving it; she’s taking photos of her own with her personal camera.

Afterwards, Kabi decides to embark on a personal quest to find someone who might love her. We realize (or remember; she probably exhibited this in previous entries), through her fumbling attempts at using a dating website, how terribly inept she’s at dealing with technology, which has furthered her isolation. She speaks at length about her confusion regarding love, even understanding what it’s supposed to be; her parents are together because of an arranged marriage that involved no love at all, and they behaved, for the most part, just dutifully towards their only daughter. Kabi was a withdrawn, fearful, friendless child. I think that she was in her late twenties when she finally decided to experience some close contact with another human being by hiring the services of a prostitute. In fact, she has only been intimate with prostitutes (maybe only that first one, I don’t remember) to this day.

Kabi goes at length about her fears and confusion regarding the process of finding a date, but never ventures beyond creating a profile on a dating website. In the most memorable chapter of this manga, she writes a self-deprecating bio, opening up about her mental issues and her inability to live by herself, because “that way whoever tries to date me won’t be disappointed once they get to know me.” When she receives some likes and personal messages, Kabi is appalled. Who could be so crazy as to want to engage with her despite how much of a broken mess her bio reveals her to be? She considers that maybe she should improve the honesty of her presentation. She turns her bio into a parade of self-disdain, painting herself as the most horrid, incompetent human to ever exist (which she pretty much believes herself to be). She says that she’s distrustful of anyone who seems to like her, because she doesn’t believe such a thing could be possible, so those people must be trying to take advantage of her. She still gets likes and personal messages that she never dares to check out. Eventually she removes her profile and drops her quest. Later on she figures out that those that contacted her were the types that thought, “she’s so horrible that I may have a chance!” so she was better off avoiding them anyway.

She spends the rest of this manga wondering how come she’s so broken, why she fears human beings to such an extent, even those she’s come to know reasonably well, and why she’s unable to understand other people’s motives. She opens up about her issues regarding gender identity: she doesn’t like being a woman (“I don’t like breasts, bras or periods, and I wear men’s underwear”), but she doesn’t want to be a man. She admits that she isn’t even sure if she’s a lesbian (to be fair, despite the title of her first autobiographical manga, ‘My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness’, her being a lesbian was incidental there); she considers that maybe she chose to visit lesbian prostitutes because she’s more comfortable among women, but that it may not speak much about her sexual preferences.

She opens up about a sexual assault back when she was a child; the first time she mentions it. A guy in his twenties approached her kid self, led her to a deserted hallway and fondled her genitals. It traumatized her, and she became more fearful of human beings (but she mentions that she also came to consider herself an idiot for following this stranger). However, she seemed even more distraught at the consequences: when she opened up to her mother about the assault, she contacted the school, which made a point of informing pretty much everybody. A teacher chastised Kabi for following a stranger. Other children whispered about Kabi as “the girl who was assaulted by a pervert.” Kabi wishes she had kept it to herself.

She quickly dismisses that sexual assault, though, as the source of her issues; she has known other women who were sexually assaulted, even much worse, but they grew up into happy adults who got married and had children. So how come she’s so fucked up?

An inability to understand herself and others properly, gender issues, sexual issues, fear of humans, only comfortable in solitude, sensory issues (she mentions how one of the main reasons to leave her parents’ apartment, apart from the depressive, loveless atmosphere, was that their voices sounded shrill), plenty of executive dysfunction (she can’t organize her own life for shit). Bitch, you are clearly autistic. Or maybe I’m delusional.

She renders the letter that some nice stranger wrote to her regarding love, and she comes to understand that years ago, when a fan who had realized she herself was a lesbian approached Kabi wishing to date her (Kabi found her nice, but didn’t feel a spark), the author may have fucked up turning her away, because if they had come to spend more time together, it may have turned into a proper, loving relationship. But by the end of the manga, Kabi admits that she’s quite comfortable alone, so maybe she’s just envious of loving couples, and sad that she may never know the love that most other human beings seem entitled to experience.

I enjoyed this newest entry of Kabi’s descent into madness, that unfortunately will likely end in her death through self-neglect or suicide, but it left a worse taste in my mouth than usual; I know that not only Kabi gave up on her quest to find love, but she fell deeper and deeper into alcoholism to the extent that she nearly died, and the last we know of her is that she wishes she would disappear, because she’s sick of being a mentally and now physically broken creature who feels like she has no place in this world.

Review: ‘Atomised’ by Michel Houellebecq

When I started reading the book, I thought I was delving into a lesser work of this author, but turns out that this is an alternative title for Houellebecq’s possibly most famous novel, ‘The Elementary Particles’.

An uneven novel. I’d rate the first four-fifths of it three and a half stars, and the remainder four and a half stars except for the epilogue, which I found completely unnecessary. There are flashes of brilliance throughout.

I hadn’t read anything of Houellebecq’s, although I harbored the uncomfortable suspicion that I would identify with plenty of his stuff, mainly because my own works involve sexual matters. And for the most part, it has been the case. This was one of the bleakest, most horrifyingly truthful novels that I’ve ever read.

The narrative follows two half-brothers. Michel is asexual, anhedonic, incapable of connecting with human beings, and eager to lose himself in scientific research, which he does in a dispassionate way. Bruno is controlled by his need to fuck as many 14-to-25-year-old girls/women as possible, which he mostly fails to do because he’s plain-looking, generally powerless, and has a small dick. The author suggests at some points that Bruno is something of a symbol for modern European men.

We’ve barely understood anything about the protagonists’ current life in their forties when we are provided with the history of their whole lives up to that point. Such info dump of backstory annoyed me, and I nearly ditched the novel; I have very little patience left these days. Their parents were dissolute morons wholly incapable of raising children, and who later on fell into the whole New Age nonsense, lived in communes, etc. At least their mother did; I don’t recall much about their fathers except that they frequented whorehouses. Bruno himself was sent to a boarding school, where he was not only bullied but also raped regularly.

We meet Michel’s childhood sweetheart, Annabelle, a gorgeous blonde girl who loved Michel in an innocent way, but unfortunately the guy’s brain was incapable of forming proper connections with human beings. In their teen years, she eventually gave in to the attentions of older guys who only wanted to fuck her. For many years, she continued on the common doomed course of seeking wholesome love from men who intended to pump and dump her.

Bruno failed to fuck the teens he lusted after at the same age, and in general was ignored by everyone. He studied to become a teacher, possibly because he still lusted after teenage girls, but he didn’t last long at the job. The author goes in depth about how Bruno jerked off under his desk while ogling his female students, and almost came to blows with a black student because he was dating the white, blonde girl he lusted after the most. Witnessing that relationship also convinced Bruno to write a few pamphlets that went on about how black people are inferior, which he failed to publish, but in truth he just resented that the girls he liked went for stronger guys with likely bigger dicks. In his last day as a teacher, he tried to get an arab student to jerk him off, but she just laughed and left the classroom. He checked himself into a mental institution. Once he walked out of it willingly, he spent most of his free time trying to figure out what kind of groups that he could snake his way into would allow him to fuck as many holes as possible.

We follow one of those outings in depth. Somewhere in the backwoods of France, a group of aged New Agey types spend their days gathering for spiritual workshops and shit like that, which Bruno spends his time mocking internally as he attempts to figure out who would open her legs for him. There we meet Christiane, who ends up becoming his romantic interest. In contrast with Annabelle, the only parts of Christiane I believed were the beginning and the last we know of her. Bruno meets her in a swimming pool, where she’s fucking some other guy. When the other guy leaves, Christiane swims over to Bruno and gives him a blowjob. Although Bruno would prefer a teen, he’s happy to start an extended sexual relationship with this forty-something-year-old who wants to have sex with him and is inordinately understanding and accommodating. That’s for me what I couldn’t buy about her character: Bruno opens up about his crusade to fuck as many underage girls as possible, as well as his antics as a teacher, but Christiane just rolls with it. This reeked of wish fulfillment on the part of the author.

For the first four-fifths of the tale, we barely follow Michel, the other protagonist; most of the times that the narrative focuses on him, we get into abstract digressions that attempt to connect the narrative to the zeitgeist at the time. My brain has a hard time handling abstractions; unless a text produces sensorial impressions, it mostly goes over my head. In any case, Michel lamented that at this point of scientific progress huge breakthroughs seemed almost impossible, and most of his research, related to improving the genetics of cows, involved routine computer work.

What this review doesn’t represent very well is the atmosphere of the novel, which is permeated with the lack of hope and meaning very familiar to many citizens of Coudenhove-Kalergi’s empire (the so-called European Union), a despair that has been steadily growing for as long as I can remember. Christiane, Bruno’s sexual partner, resents that her small town somewhat close to Paris has become a dangerous place due to mass immigration from Africa and the Middle East; she can’t take leisure walks around town, and she mostly hurries home because she presumes she’ll be safe there. As many have attested, including myself in my city, that’s one of the first stages; later on come the rapes at the entrance of the apartment buildings, and the break-ins. This novel was published at the tail end of the 20th century; living in this continent has only gotten worse since.

Europeans have been systematically humiliated, forced into a submissive mindset, by obscure authorities that have decided to replace us and that bankroll our extinction with the money they steal from our paychecks; just a few days ago the local newspaper in my province published that the welfare checks of those “in risk of poverty” have been raised. They earn almost the same as I do by working my ass off. Not only you can enter Europe illegally and have access to that paycheck, but those people are prioritized, and the more children they have, the more money they receive. All of that fosters the sense in many Europeans that there’s little point in doing anything, because we won’t have a future. The media is generally publicly funded, so they support this situation; even in private newspapers or stations, it’s well-known that you almost need to be a card-carrying supporter of certain political parties to be able to be employed there. The citizens that complain are routinely censored if they speak publically. Elon Musk got in some trouble with European authorities recently because he supports free speech for his Twitter (that’s his image anyway), and European politicians said the equivalent of, “We don’t do that stuff here.”

The author comments through Bruno that Western men feel the need to buy into the whole “liberal humanism” stuff merely so women will fuck them, therefore failing a civilization-wide shit-test, because those same women more often than not consider such men weak. I’ve never pretended so, even when some groups I found myself in cheerfully demanded to buy into their ideology just to be there. The media dictates what constitutes a “good person” and most human beings want to align with that, because they are terrified of social suicide. In general, human beings make my skin crawl, so I’ll happily remain alone.

All the parents in this novel are unable to connect with their kids; as the children grow up, they fall prey to the political influences hammered into them in the schools and the media, and some of them also hang out with shady groups, so they quickly turn into strangers. The parents are acutely aware that they’ve forced their kids to exist in a world that is progressively worsening. The kids were also produced out of a biological urge; one of the sentences in the book, that for me summarizes not only this story but modernity in general, says, “It’s a curious idea to reproduce when you don’t even like life.”

The author also goes on about the current role of religion in Europe. Most are unable to believe in any of it (in fact, growing up I knew a single christian in school; she was epileptic and believed she saw God during her seizures. These days, however, I know that my former philosophy teacher had to change his curriculum due to the influx of muslim students), and there’s the sense that the religion we’ve been left with is unsuitable in general. In the novel, when one of the protagonists, I can’t recall which, goes to a catholic wedding, the preacher goes on about how the couple will serve the god of Israel. The protagonist does a double take and says something to the effect of, “the god of Israel? Are they jews?” The author doesn’t follow that thought for long, but yes; thanks to Constantine of the Roman Empire we abandoned our own stories (and lost many of them; the christian mobs destroyed most libraries and even burned private collections. This is a good book on the subject), and for the last 1,700 years or so we’ve been dedicated to perpetuating the heritage and in-group priorities of a whole different set of people. Of course many are still brought into it from birth, so they never escape that cage.

The last one-fifth of the story gets brutally real, and I don’t want to spoil it too much. Annabelle is a salient point; Michel’s former childhood sweetheart meets him again after decades. She’s now in her forties and utterly miserable. The poor girl had only wished to love, but found out the hard way that no matter how intimate you get with someone, that doesn’t mean that they love you or ever will. For some time she had refused to get into personal relationships, afraid that her fragile heart would get hurt to the point that she wouldn’t want to continue living. Now that she has met the anhedonic, asexual Michel again, she considers that maybe she’ll have her last shot at a real, long-lasting relationship, and possibly even start a family.

As an overarching theme there’s the sense that aging is possibly the worst curse of mankind as sentient creatures, that in a blink you’ll find yourself too old to love, too old to even reproduce, that beyond the distractions you’ll find as you fumble in search of meaning, you’ll have little else to do but wait until your body inevitably betrays you sooner or later. You fear that death won’t come quick, but instead will present itself as some lingering illness that will torture you with constant pain until you cease to exist. One of the dialogues near the end of the book says it well:

“Humor won’t save you; it doesn’t really do anything at all. You can look at life ironically for years, maybe decades; there are people who seem to go through most of their lives seeing the funny side, but in the end, life always breaks your heart. Doesn’t matter how brave you are, how reserved, or how much you’ve developed a sense of humor, you still end up with your heart broken. That’s when you stop laughing. In the end there’s just the cold, the silence and the loneliness.”

I like this novel, but I suggest that you shouldn’t read it if you are very sensitive and already depressed, because you’ll find yourself feeling much worse.

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.

Review: ‘Saltiness’ by Minoru Furuya

Behind this unassuming title, I ended up finding the closest thing to a manga masterpiece in a good while.

Our protagonist is deranged a guy in his thirties who lives with his younger sister and their grandfather. They are stuck in the boonies. This is another one of those Japanese stories in which people either live in an isolated town or in Tokyo. Anyway, we quickly realize that our guy isn’t quite right in the head, but it’s never clear if his strange hallucinations are due to intrusive daydreaming or schizophrenic hallucinations. I’d say he’s closer to autistic.

He lives a carefree life of contemplation as the town loon, until his grandfather approaches him to open up about his worries: the protagonist’s sister is an attractive, well-liked local teacher, but she’s quickly approaching thirty and she hasn’t bothered to date anyone. Although our guy has a hard time grasping mundane facts, he can’t deny that he’s at fault. His sister’s kind nature prevents her from focusing on herself instead of making sure that her brother returns home after another afternoon skinny-dipping in the woods. The protagonist’s love for his little sister has been his main drive ever since they were both children (and once we learn later on about their ruinous childhood and what this guy struggled through to keep his sister going, it’s no wonder they became so close).

He realizes that he’ll cause his sister to feel lonely for the rest of her life because she needs to take care of his deranged ass, so he leaves for Tokyo at once. He suddenly finds himself homeless and hungry. Armed with the social abilities of a particularly screwed child, he goes door to door asking to be fed out of the kindness of their hearts.

What follows is a bizarre, unpredictable tale that features a cast of mostly broken outcasts, held together by the protagonist’s boundless willingless to understand people and life itself. Far from a zen-like master, this guy kept surprising me not only with his unpredictability (the shit that came out of his mouth, his casual threats, turning into a sobbing mess because he hurt someone’s feelings), but with how human and vulnerable he remained throughout.

For someone who dislikes humanity as much as I do, it’s rare to finish a manga and feel glad to have met the people within it. A shame that I can barely find anything about this series online, and its abysmal rating on Goodreads is another proof of how stupid everyone has become.

For whatever reason, the following sentences uttered tenderly by the protagonist (to a mentalist who wanted to build a cheese empire) ended up synthesizing this story to me:

“According to the standards of society, [my sister] is a beautiful woman. Not long ago, she still believed in Santa Claus. But now she’s able to impress me with words such as monotheism and polytheism.”

Review: ‘Parasite in Love’ by Sugaru Miaki

This is a review of the whole series (three volumes).

The main concept of this story, which is unveiled slowly so it’s somewhat of a spoiler, resonates with the notion that likely most depressed people have had at some point: that they are inhabited by an alien presence that feeds upon their anguish. But the story goes further: what if that alien presence has actually caused a symbiotic relationship? Although the parasite leads the host to isolate itself and develop troubling compulsions and/or fears (like germophobia or scopophobia), the alien presence also acts as a dam of sorts, consuming the excess anguish that would otherwise overwhelm the host and lead him or her to suicide. Maybe worse: what if love itself is a lie fabricated by these alien presences to manipulate human beings into doing their bidding?

Our protagonist is a germophobic twenty-seven-year-old programmer who develops a virus that will shut off telephone and SMS services during a few days of the Christmas holidays. He rationalizes the fact that he feels lonely during that period, so he would prefer if other people weren’t able to contact their family members or their romantic partners. Some mysterious older guy finds out about his intentions somehow (this ends up having surprisingly little to do with the rest of the plot), so he blackmails him into being the babysitter of a troubled seventeen-year-old girl who refuses to attend her high school classes.

This high schooler suffers from scopophobia as well as misanthropic tendencies that have led her to quit society. Initially it seems that this girl’s “handlers” are partnering her with somewhat like-minded individuals in the hopes that these third parties will end up convincing the girl to go back to school and behave like a proper human. However, the truth is more complicated, hence the parasite thing in the title.

The story ended up being far deeper and philosophical than I expected. However, I was tempted to rate it lower because it never quite nails the execution. Some of the character designs are a bit too samey; combined with some extended flashbacks awkwardly introduced, at times I wasn’t sure if some characters were the same but with different haircuts. I’ve lived plenty of years already but I doubt I’ve gotten that senile, so I suppose that my confusion was due to this manga’s shortcomings. Also, I thought the protagonist was a bit weak. For most of the story there was little more to this guy than his germophobia and his tendency to isolate himself.

I particularly enjoyed the ending. It was bold but subdued in a haunting way.

In any case, good story. I wasn’t too surprised to find out that this author also wrote the manga ‘I sold my life for ten thousand yen per year’, which is great if you are into psychological pain.

Review: ‘Ana Satsujin, Vol. 1’ by Rahson

I can’t find the correlation between volumes and chapters, so I’m not sure how far I’ve gotten into this series, but for now it’s a cool blend of dark comedy and horror. I’m a bit stumped by the abysmal rating for this one on Goodreads; then again, I don’t understand most people’s reasons for anything.

After our protagonist graduated from high school, he failed to get into college. He finds himself living in the archetypical shitty residential building in Japan that is one story tall and with a balcony leading to all the apartments. Any young guy doomed to fail must get shipped to one of these by law.

In any case, the protagonist has run out of money, his utilities are about to get shut off and the rest of his life is a mess, so he figures that he might as well die. He attempts to hang himself from a hook attached to the wall, but his weight ends up tearing the hook and part of the thin wall off, which reveals a peephole into the adjoined apartment. An attractive young woman lives there. The protagonist, intrigued by this development, decides to postpone his death to spy on his neighbor as she sleeps, gets changed, and masturbates.

However, one day a shady-looking older guy follows her home. He pushes her onto the bed and attempts to rape her. Next thing the protagonist knows, because he’s witnessing this through the peephole that has become his private television, his neighbor pulls out a Stanley knife and murders the wannabe rapist. Quite gleefully, too. The protagonist freaks out and hides in the dark, but shortly after, she’s ringing his doorbell. He has nothing else going on, so he lets her in. She’s bringing him leftovers. They enjoy the meal together like good neighbors, while he tries to hide how overwhelmed and confused he feels about this whole situation. That precarious mental state becomes the norm for him at least twenty or so chapters into this thing.

His attractive neighbor kills again and again. She was an accomplished serial killer all along. Because the protagonist can’t tear himself away from the peephole, he witnesses her luring a variety of men home only to slash their carotid arteries open. In the serial killer’s equivalent of lighting a cig after sex, after her victims lie dead, she walks to her neighbor’s apartment to bring him food or cook for both.

One day, though, the protagonist fucks up. In the middle of a kill she notices a flash of light entering through the peephole, and when she looks through it, she finds herself staring into one of the protagonist’s eyeballs. Our guy is terrified. This accomplished mass murderess is now aware that he has witnessed at least one of her crimes, and he’s too reclusive and powerless to defend himself or rely on outside help. Will this lead to his demise, to a beautiful friendship, or both?

Somehow they even made a movie out of this: here’s the trailer.

As long as you follow this series as a sort of carefree black comedy, it’s quite entertaining, and frequently hilarious. I appreciate the author’s sense of humor. Initially the art style reminded me of hentai for whatever reason, but then I realized that the author probably published some hentai that I’ve come across.

All in all, a satisfying find.

Review: ‘Himegoto – Juukyuusai no Seifuku, Vol. 1’ by Ryou Minenami

Three and a half stars.

Only when I searched this series on Goodreads I realized that it’s an earlier effort by the author of the story that has impressed me the most recently: ‘Boy’s Abyss’. Someone also recommended ‘Himegoto’ because it reminded them of Shūzō Oshimi’s stuff, so I guess Ryou Minenami is on the fast track to becoming one of my favorite authors.

However, this series I’m reviewing is much sloppier and less impressive than ‘Boy’s Abyss’. We follow mostly four college students, all of whom have issues with what they were either born as or were pushed into being.

The main protagonist is a pretty tomboy who has been locked into acting like one of the guys by her shitty childhood friend (an infuriating idiot that I didn’t find interesting enough as a character despite his personal issues), and now is having trouble accepting herself as a woman and dealing with not only her need to dress more girly, but also with her growing urges to be dominated sexually by men. We get a few scenes of her alone in her bedroom feeling bad because she can’t reconcile her masturbatory fantasies with her inability to accept her female nature.

The second most important main character is a pretty guy who’s popular for that reason, but who in reality wishes he had been born a woman. In his spare time he dresses with women clothes as often as he can (usually imitating a gorgeous classmate of theirs, whom he admits he’d rather be). However, he’s attracted to women, and gets particularly turned on by handling girly women aggressively while wearing women clothes. This person and the previous main character spark a compelling friendship through such an encounter.

The third main character is a baby-faced eighteen-year-old girl who’s revered for her beauty and fashion sense (this is the girl that the previous character is imitating). However, she’s terrified of growing old, and in fact moonlights as a prostitute mainly to cosplay as a fifteen-year-old girl during the act and be treated as such by middle aged men (some of which approach the act with cosplay of their own, well aware that this girl isn’t fifteen). Interestingly, the girl despises men and is sexually attracted to “boys”. She becomes infatuated with the main protagonist because that one has looked like an innocent, pretty boy throughout her life. She has no trouble imagining the protagonist’s naked breasts in her romantic fantasies, so she’s likely dealing with further repressed urges.

The fourth character is the previously mentioned childhood “friend” of the protagonist, a guy who has been in love with the protagonist precisely because she looked like a pretty boy. He has made every effort to restrain the girl’s urges to grow as a woman. The protagonist had hoped that her new life in college would be her first opportunity to express herself freely, but her dickheaded childhood “friend” has made a point of following her there, and is eager to inform everyone who approaches her that “she’s one of the boys”. The author could have attempted to make this idiot somewhat sympathetic, but the volume ends with this guy’s outrageous reaction to the protagonist presenting herself with girly clothes, which solidifies him as the nasty villain of the tale so far.

An interesting, compelling volume which almost made me miss my train stop this morning. However, the contrast between the author’s drawings, as well as his writing and storyboarding abilities, in this series and in the superior effort ‘Boy’s Abyss’ prevents me from rating this one higher.

Review: ‘Boy’s Abyss, Vol. 1’ by Ryou Minenami

I’ve read virtually everything that the manga artist Shūzō Oshimi has released, which is unfortunate as he has become my favorite. I searched online for other series similar to what that author produces. Many recommended Inio Asano’s stuff, but I’ve also gone through his. Then someone mentioned this series. Although I’ve only read the first volume so far, it has become my most intriguing find in a while.

Shortly after we meet the protagonist, a high schooler, he tells to his homeroom teacher that he won’t go to college, as he needs to stay at his town to help his mom: the father isn’t in the picture, his grandmother has dementia, and his older brother is a violent hikikomori. Our protagonist has resigned himself to a life of misery. He feels powerless to change his fate. The guy is, however, somewhat obsessed with an idol group, whose casual, carefree cuteness and cheerful songs provide a fast escape.

His only friend is a short, somewhat chunky (certainly for manga standards) girl he’s known since childhood. However, she’s leaving soon for college, and she’s worried that the protagonist’s mental health will only deteriorate once he’s left behind. We learn about a prominent feature of their small town: a fabled spot on a bridge, where hundreds of years ago a couple of lovers jumped to their deaths. It ended up getting called “Lover’s Abyss”. It recently got featured in a popular novel, and some of its fans travel to this town in the boonies to visit the site.

As if his home life wasn’t ruinous enough, the protagonist has to endure having turned into the de facto gofer of a local gang leader, who was also his childhood bully. Worse yet, the protagonist’s mother, intending to relieve herself of her burden, has pleaded to the bully’s father, who runs a construction company, to hire her son so he can contribute to the household income, which will likely end up turning her son into a sort of slave not only for this bully but for his entire crew. The protagonist suspects that his mother knows he’s been bullied by that guy, and that she’s sacrificing his well-being for her own benefit.

During one of the runs to buy cigarettes for the gang leader, our protagonist deals with a new clerk at the convenience store. She refuses to sell him the cigs because he’s underage. Afterwards he witnesses this beautiful but aloof clerk handing some expired food to a homeless guy, who winks at the protagonist as he passes by. Then the protagonist realizes that the clerk is none other than his favorite member of the idol group with which he’s obsessed. He’s stunned. What the hell is this girl doing here? Why is she working as a clerk? How come she looks so despondent?

The protagonist reveals that he has recognized her. She makes him promise that he won’t tell anyone, and asks him to please show her around town, because she’s just moved there and is a bit lost. She ends up sitting on the back of his bicycle as he visits some local spots. The girl, who’s a few years older than him, gets the sense of how miserable he feels. They talk about the famous local spot for suicides, and as they stand on a bridge looking down at the river below, she offers the protagonist to kill themselves together.

From then on, at least until the end of the first volume, the story has become a psychological roller coaster. Why does this beautiful twenty-year-old, who had it all in a big city, want to die? Is she romantically interested in our hapless protagonist? Was that guy she met at the back of the convenience store truly a random homeless person she was helping out? The protagonist can’t understand this girl, but he doesn’t want to stay away from her, and the notion of jumping off the local bridge and freeing himself from a life of misery is becoming increasingly alluring.

The drawings and compositions set up well the somber, gloomy mood of this story. Whoever is in charge of drawing the scenery does a particularly good job. However, the main artist uses classic exaggerated expressions to add levity in certain moments (just a few, thankfully), but for this story they feel as out of place as they would be in Oshimi’s “Blood on the Tracks”. However, regarding the story, he does a great job setting up dramatic questions, and I feel in good hands.

Unfortunately I had to stop reading it on the train yesterday, as it features nudity. In particular a really nice pair of perky tits. So you might dislike this series if you are against drawn tits, I guess.

Review: ‘Tomo-chan is a Girl!’ by Fumita Yanagida

This is a review of the whole series.

The most endearing romantic comedy manga that I’ve read in a while. Our main couple are two emotionally stunted individuals who grew up competing and inflicting violence upon each other. As children, the guy often got the tingles for the titular Tomo person, but he repressed them, as he didn’t want to consider himself a homosexual. It took him until middle school to realize that his childhood friend was in fact a girl, but by then the damage was already done. Tomo is too wild, too much of a tomboy, and too generally uninterested in lovey-dovey stuff for the main guy to consider her a romantic prospect, although he doesn’t want to spend his time with anyone else.

The manga starts with both in high school. Tomo has become an extremely fit girl with uncomfortably large breasts. The guy has gotten buff from years of martial arts training in the hopes that one day he’d manage to defeat the titular Tomo. Most of the initial comedy comes from their inability to deal with their long-standing, repressed feelings for each other.

As the two remaining main characters we have a raven-haired, cynical and aloof girl who acts as Tomo’s confidant.

Also, a doll-like, mostly dumb, inexplicably British girl who bridges the difficult emotional issues of the rest of the cast with her big-breasted innocence (sort of like Chika Fujiwara from ‘Kaguya-sama: Love Is War’, but without the malice).

We meet a few memorable secondary characters. The British girl’s mother got pregnant at thirteen years old, is extremely rich, and cheerfully explains that she coddles and overprotects her daughter so she’ll never leave her side. Tomo’s mother is an older clone of herself, except married to a big oaf of a man who runs a dojo famous enough that the Yakuza is wary of its members; however, the guy can barely stare at his wife without fainting. One of my favorite “arcs” of the series comes from a pair of high schoolers who mistake Tomo for a romantic rival, but when they confront her, they quickly realize that they dared to intimidate someone who would eagerly send them to the hospital. They remain terrified of Tomo even after she takes upon herself to help them approach their romantic interest. Eventually, the two girls shift into admiring Tomo’s cool, manly demeanour, while regretting that she hadn’t been born with a dick.

For whatever reason, this series seemed to have been released on a page by page basis, with a fixed format: four stacked panels. An odd choice for a story that develops arcs for not only every main character, but for a few secondary ones as well. In any case, this is an almost entirely character-driven, consistently funny series that features well defined, contrasting personalities. I thought there was plenty more to squeeze out of these people, so it’s a bit of a shame that it has ended unambiguously.

Review: ‘Memories of Emanon’ by Shinji Kajio

A short story in manga format, about a smoking wench who goes around breaking people’s hearts, and who also retains the memories of her entire evolutionary line. So she says, anyways.

The tale is set in the late sixties. As the protagonist we have an alter ego of the author, a curious young guy who reads plenty of sci-fi.

He has boarded a big ship that will presumably end up in some Japanese port, and inside he comes across a mysterious, hippyish, beautiful young woman. He’s eager to get to know her, but as his opening he admonishes her for smoking, which annoys her. However, faced with the closeness of drunk old guys who are eager to ply her with liquor, she prods our protagonist to leave with her to get some fresh air, which will allow our hapless protagonist to get to know this girl.

Most of this story is about unveiling the concept: as far as Emanon (‘NONAME’ backwards) knows, she’s been reincarnated hundreds of millions of times, ever since she was a multicellular organism floating in the primordial soup. We still don’t know how that transfer works; when she dies, does her consciousness jump to another body? Is she reborn in her own offspring?

The protagonist has read enough sci-fi that he can come up with a few suggestions for why Emanon exists. The guy believes, assuming this beautiful gal isn’t lying, that her purpose must be to exist as a witness to human evolution, and possibly become the trigger for the next step once our species outgrows its brutal instincts.

The protagonist, being a young, red-blooded guy in the presence of a fascinating, beautiful girl who can carry a conversation about any obscure topic, is on the fast path towards falling in love. Will that lead to happiness, or to ending up haunted for the rest of his life?

This manga is short enough that you, whoever the hell you are supposed to be, should just grab a copy and read it. It’s good.

In the afterword, the author comments that he came up with Emanon back in the sixties, when he himself was travelling around for work in the big ship featured in the story. He daydreamed that one day he’d end up meeting another passenger who would turn out to be that kind of beautiful, mysterious girl, wearing the kind of fashion he was into, with whom he’d spend a few hours that he would remember forever.

Reality rarely blesses us in such ways; fortunately some people’s minds are strong enough to conjure up daydreams that allow their owners to forget for a while about life’s eternal disappointment.