Review: My Broken Mariko, by Waka Hirako

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.

Review: My Dearest Self With Malice Aforethought, by Hajime Inoryu

Our protagonist is a college-age kid devoted to man’s one duty: that of sticking his penis in as many wet holes as possible. He’s been wholly unsuccessful so far. From that introduction, the story could have gone in plenty of directions, but I wouldn’t have guessed that the guy is the son of Japan’s most famous serial killer from the last fifteen or twenty years, and that he has dissociative identity disorder. Looking back at the first couple of chapters, they are incongruous with what’s to come.

We find out that something is wrong with the guy’s brain as soon as he does: he wakes up in bed next to a pretty stranger, a female classmate from college. He has no clue how he started dating her, but she seems quite taken with whoever was commanding the protagonist’s brain until then. This alternate version of the guy is also violent and much bolder. In any case, the guy is happy enough to let this sudden girlfriend of his believe that she’s dating the other version of himself.

However, the protagonist’s missing part isn’t satisfied with a hot girlfriend: he’s also hanging out with members of the worst gang around, one that runs whores and kills people. They idolize the aforementioned serial killer to the extent that they welcomed the protagonist, the serial killer’s son, with open arms.

One person realizes that the protagonist is struggling with some ghastly mental issue: an aloof young woman who attends the same college. She has been following the protagonist around and has learned to identify when the personality switches have taken place. Soon enough we find out that she has a personal connection with one of the victims of the serial killer.

A woman gets murdered in what seems like a copycat case of the serial killer’s modus operandi, and the protagonist finds himself in possession of that woman’s cut-off ear. So is his alternate personality following on his father’s footsteps, or has someone framed him? The clues lead him to the nasty gang that has welcomed him. Helped by the weird girl from before, the protagonist will try to figure out if he’s innocent or if he’s truly the devil’s spawn, as he’s been called since he was a child.

This quickly turns into a brutal, disturbing tale. At first it reminded me of the most hardcore parts of Minoru Furuya’s mangas (a hapless underdog who ends up involved in a life-or-death situation with sociopathic elements of the Japanese underworld), except that this story lacks any humor. However, after a turning point in the story that abandons plenty of the set up elements that came beforehand, the tale turns into a thriller in which anyone could betray the protagonist at any point, and everybody has a secret to hide.

The drawings are detailed and uncompromising. This is one of those iceberg stories in which the author has plotted carefully every character’s actions and deceptions. Unfortunately, he resorts to some clichés, and he also pulls his punches a couple of times.

The moment that bothered me the most happened early on in the story, but it announced that some more bullshit was coming down the road: at one point the protagonist finds himself in the club that the gang owns. He’s prodded into showing his inborn skills as a torturer with a tied-up guy that the gang intended to kill. The protagonist ends up giving a speech, the details of which I’ve forgotten (he said that torturing a random guy was beneath him, or something). His audience, a bunch of hardened criminals who idolize a serial killer, just go along with his excuse, and even end up freeing that man. The author had done a great job setting up those guys as extremely dangerous until that point. As far as I’m concerned, one of the worst things you can do as a writer is building up some symbol as something significant only to end up tearing it down out of convenience.

Later on we get a few clichéd moments that we’ve seen a thousand times: the author makes us believe that a character has shot someone in the head, but that character actually shot into the floor deliberately; X gets shot in the chest at point-blank range by people who could have easily shot X in the head, but X survives because of a bulletproof vest; a murderous bad guy gets knocked unconscious, but instead of finishing him, they good guys walk away, and the bad guy gets back up shortly after; etc.

Although I’m quite sure that dissociative identity disorder doesn’t work that way, I found the story quite interesting. You usually don’t get these kinds of thrillers in manga format.

Review: RaW Hero, by Akira Hiramoto

I found out about this series when it showed up in the books list of someone I’m stalking on Goodreads. If I had paid attention to its terrible rating on the site, I would have missed a gem. This author’s absurd, perverted humor is right up my alley. I don’t know why I pay attention to ratings; how often do I agree with the majority on anything?

The story follows a bespectacled pretty boy in his early twenties. His parents died some time ago. He found himself responsible for taking care of his younger brother, who may be in high school, and of his other much younger brother, who’s a kid. He has promised to them that he’s going to get a great job that will pay well enough that they’ll live in a highrise building instead of in their current hovel. His brothers dream of eating foods that most others take for granted. Anyway, no matter how many interviews our protagonist goes to, he remains unemployed.

One day he’s on a train heading to another interview, but he notices that some guy wearing a suit is fingering a young woman. The protagonist’s sense of justice doesn’t allow him to let this pass, and he chooses to miss his interview and instead confront the molester. It turns out that the guy and the young woman were engaging in consensual mutual perversion. However, the older guy is impressed by the protagonist’s earnestness and sense of justice, and he reveals that he’s one of the big shots at the intelligence department of the country.

This version of Japan includes superpowered heroes as well as people that have undergone operations to become half-beast freaks. The older guy offers our protagonist a job as a spy: he’ll have to infiltrate a small-time group of troublemakers who bother the government by spray painting, giving away leaflets and in general being annoying. For the most part, the government seems to want to make an example out of this group. However, its leader is a dangerous woman who goes by the stupid name of Jelly E. Fish.

The protagonist’s employer is a volatile pervert severely lacking in common sense. Instead of giving his employee the suitcase with the instructions and professional-looking clothes that the protagonist should rely on to infiltrate the group, the older man gives him the wrong suitcase, that contains the skimpy costume that he intended his preferred escort to wear. The protagonist considers this a fucked up test that he has no choice but to pass in order to provide for his family. After a disastrous interview that involved receiving a facial from a half-elephant’s trunk, he becomes a member of one of the propaganda wings of this shady organization.

What follows is an insane ride in which the protagonist has to pass for a woman, avoid getting found out as a spy, and resist the sexual attentions of both men and women. We meet through him an aspiring manga author in her late twenties who also lost her parents at an early age, who grew up with her grandparents in the deep country and now feels uneasy in society, and who has coped by producing romantic mangas that she aspires to publish. I found her the most relatable person in this story, the rock that provided the protagonist with a solid goal for which to endure his otherwise deranged existence.

Our guy is having a hard time: his life is becoming increasingly demented, and he needs to assert his strength and get taken seriously as a woman in the shady organization. Soon enough he finds himself crossdressing in public for no reason. He’s losing the sense of his own identity, and at times he ceases to give a shit about anything.

The protagonist comes across the second most memorable secondary character of this tale: a hellishly sexy cosplayer and yandere who is also his neighbor. She immediately finds out that the protagonist is crossdressing; added to the guy’s delicate genitals with which she quickly comes in contact, she becomes infatuated with our protagonist. She’s also the kind that casually resorts to blackmail.

The plot is tight, the interactions between the characters are compelling and often hilarious, the women are gorgeous (half of the time, even our crossdressing protagonist), the series features lots of retarded crotch shots (even of our crossdressing protagonist), some dialogue bubbles come out of crotches.

My only issue with this story is that the author dropped the ball with that ending. I won’t go into spoilers, but the protagonist and his romantic interest should have gotten a final scene, one notorious character survived when they should have ended up as dead as they come, and one of the most compelling characters disappeared as if the author forgot that they existed. Otherwise, if you are as much of a pervert as I am and you want to have a good time, I recommend this series.

Review: GIGANT, by Hiroya Oku

This is a loose review of the entire series.

The main character of this tale (I wouldn’t dare call him the protagonist) is a sixteen-year-old high schooler that loves Western movies, that aspires to become a film director, and that is obsessed with a twenty-four-year-old half-Japanese, pink-haired, heavy-breasted porn actress who goes by a stupid artist name.

One day as he’s walking around in Tokyo, he comes across posted notices on which someone indicates that the porn actress lives nearby, which could lead a malicious person to harass her. The high schooler tears down the notices. The porn actress casually witnesses him doing so, and they strike up a friendship. Our main character can hardly wait to experience this gorgeous porn actress’ talents on his own flesh and dick, but she intends to put him in the friend zone. Besides, she has a boyfriend: an unstable gambler who beats her up when he remembers that other guys are fucking his girl. After they break up, our high-schooler main character and this big-breasted porn actress end up dating. Some people may have a problem with the fact that she’s twenty-four years old and he’s in high school, but the situation is far worse, because our main character is a toddler; the motherfucker threw a tantrum at a restaurant, bawling and all, until she agreed to date him. I have no clue what the author intended with that moment, but if he wanted the audience to lose all respect for the supposed main character, he achieved it.

Anyway, they work well as a couple: she’s motherly and loves to be needed, and he wants to screw as much as possible the most alluring woman to whom he has access.

Soon enough the tale delves into sci-fi: some weird guy is running around in his underwear while going on about some nonsensical stuff. Somehow he ends up getting struck by a truck. As he dies, he bequeaths to the porn actress a strange device that gets attached to her wrist, and she’s unable to remove it. Once the weird guy dies, he becomes a plush toy.

Our lovely porn actress figures out that the device allows her to become gigantic at will. At around the same time, a website named “Enjoy the End” grows popular: it lets users vote for what strange event they want to happen, and the most popular one becomes reality no matter how absurd: people start witnessing dragons and UFOs, and gigantic monsters descend from the sky to wreak havoc on Tokyo. The users of the website rejoice at the destruction that these manifestations are causing on the capital; most of the users seem to reside in the countryside. When they end up voting for a skyscraper-tall monster to reduce the population of Tokyo to one million, our porn actress decides to become the protagonist of this tale by turning gigantic and fighting the menace while naked (because the process of turning monstrously huge destroys her clothes, as well as anything else she happened to be in).

The story follows how Japanese society, then the rest of the world, reacts to the heroic deeds and growing cult status of the unlikely heroine who keeps exposing her monster-sized tits and genitals, and although the series becomes increasingly more ridiculous and absurd, this porn actress turned Godzilla-murderer remains brave and good-natured to an extent that warmed my black heart.

I don’t know if I can honestly recommend this series. I loved the graphic depictions of the big-boobed heroine, as well as how often she showed up naked. The fights are compellingly choreographed. This author has featured aliens in the three stories of his of which I’m aware: “Gantz” (I gave up halfway through when he killed off a main character, and I wasn’t enjoying it enough) and “Inuyashiki” [I appreciated the anime adaptation as well as its bold, violent nature, particularly the gun fingaz stuff (warning: disturbing)]. I wouldn’t be surprised if the author himself was an alien; he writes his human characters as if he’s only ever watched people from afar. However, I was most impressed with the quality of the drawings, which resemble renders based on photographs or 3D models, as well as with how balls-to-the-wall bonkers the whole thing is; I gotta admire the author for that. The two highlights that come to mind are the whole prolonged sequence involving a gargantuan Satan, and the two gigantic depictions of Socrates and Plato, who speak like teenage “Call of Duty” fanatics.

I had a good ol’ time reading this series. To be fair, I’d have a good time with pretty much anything that involves huge, meaty tits, so make of this review what you will.

Review: ‘Wanitokagegisu’ by Minoru Furuya

The title apparently translates to “Stomiiformes”, which is, according to Google, “an order of deep-sea ray-finned fishes”. This is the fourth series I’ve read of this author, after “Saltiness”“Ciguatera” and “Himizu”. Furuya has become my third favorite author after Shūzō Oshimi and Inio Asano, and this series is my third most favorite of his.

The tale follows a thirty-two-year-old ugly loner who has been working the night shift as a security guard at a supermarket for seven years. A single event defined his youth: during a class in which the students were ordered to hold hands, everybody made a point of avoiding to hold the protagonist’s. Afterward the teacher berated his classmates for being so hurtful, but some girls rebelled and yelled that they didn’t want to hold his hand because he was gross and creepy. As soon as the protagonist became an adult, he went out of his way to avoid people and live as quietly as possible. However, we are introduced to him the moment he fears that he’s missing out, that he’s letting his life pass by. He has made a habit of going to the roof of the building at which he works, getting undressed to his underwear and running laps, but that night, as his anxiety grows, he makes a childish wish to the universe: for someone to become his friend.

Recently he had noticed that someone was spying on him from the shadows of a nearby apartment building as the protagonist ran laps on the roof. On top of that, some sneaky bastard starts leaving notes to him that state that the protagonist is about to go crazy and die before the end of the year. So far the only positive development in his life is that he meets his next door neighbor, who is a beautiful, tall, big-breasted young woman who aspires to become a published writer.

This story contains all the elements of a classic Minoru Furuya tale: an outcast protagonist who has trouble relating to people properly and who experiences intrusive thoughts; some of such thoughts are incarnated into creatures (humans and wild animals in this series, otherworldly “demons” in the other stories); silly humor; unpredictable behaviors; hardcore sequences that should have traumatized the involved characters but that end up having few lasting consequences; secondary characters that impact the protagonist as they play their role, but that then disappear forever; and the sense that by opening yourself up to others or even interacting with them, you are courting disaster.

Through the protagonist we meet a homeless gambler who’s running from the Yakuza; a wired young man who is in love with (and stalks) a dangerous woman; a pea-brained, big-dicked security guard who dreams of becoming rich and popular; a sociopathic hikikomori who murdered his depressive, alcoholic father; a possibly schizoid security guard who has never opened up to others and that if he does he risks finding out the extent of how fucked up he is; a gang of thugs who steal cars; an aging pleasure seeker who’s looking for a way to break up with her murderous Yakuza lover, etc. In the middle of it all, our unfortunate protagonist attempts in his fumbling way to improve other people’s circumstances, even to his detriment.

Most fiction writers, men and women, tend to dump plenty of their own flaws into their protagonists, then they also create romantic interests for those protagonists that in real life wouldn’t even deign to look at them. It rarely bothers me; after all, real life is shit and we ought to escape from it as often as possible. However, I had a especially hard time believing that a beautiful, tall, big-breasted aspiring writer would be interested in this story’s protagonist, who is ugly, unkempt, lacks any interesting hobbies or talents, has few social skills, works a dead-end job, and has never even kissed a girl. I did, however, like the character of that aspiring writer (who does very little actual writing in the story) although I couldn’t believe in most of her motivations. Her relationship with the protagonist becomes the spine of this story right up to the end, so if you can’t buy into it, you may have an issue with this series.

I have come to this story after I finished reading Furuya’s “Himizu”, a mostly serious work in which the author seemed like he was restraining himself from breaking into silliness. I much prefer the demented interactions between his characters that somewhat often end up involving sexual references and/or exhibitionism.

I’ve felt a kinship with this author ever since I started reading “Saltiness”, that remains my favorite series of his. In this story I’m reviewing, the author comments through his protagonist that he feels that his brain lacks something that would allow him to relate to other human beings as it seemingly comes easily to most other people, so naturally I suspect that he may also be autistic and in addition have OCD due to how often he depicts intrusive thoughts in his protagonists, who are often arguing with mental ghosts. So if you want to experience what a nightmare existing in such brains can be, I guess you could do much worse than going through this author’s works.

Review: Himizu, by Minoru Furuya

Minoru Furuya has become my third most favorite manga author after Shūzō Oshimi and Inio Asano, thanks to his series ‘Saltiness’ and ‘Ciguatera’. His stories follow underdogs whose mental peculiarities (OCD and autism are the most likely culprits for me) and shitty luck prevent them from realistically aspiring to anything better than an average life. The author consistently represents, in the three series of his that I’ve read, intrusive thoughts as strange, sometimes demonic entities that stalk the protagonist; I ended up doing the same thing for a novel of mine even before I knew about Furuya’s works, so this must be a result of how certain types of brains operate.

Anyway, the protagonist of this bleak series (by far the most humorless of the three) lives at a shack that also functions as a boat shop. It belongs to his father, but the old man bailed on his family to become a drunkard and a gambler. Now his teenage son has to run the business, because his mother is focused on finding a new husband.

The protagonist is fed up with life from the moment we are introduced to him. As he mentions a few times throughout the story, he knows he came from garbage and that he’s little more than a defective idiot. He tries to regulate his thoughts and actions so he won’t stray from the path that may lead him to live a regular, mediocre life, and he holds a grudge towards anyone who dares to pursue lofty dreams, as he believes that those people are delusional and blind to the fact that they are doomed to fall. He wishes to struggle and perform some grandiose good deed that would justify his existence, but he fears that as a broken person coming from a ruinous family, his destiny has already been decided.

One day his mother elopes with her new lover, never to be seen again. Our protagonist, deprived of parental support, decides to quit going to school and just runs his father’s boat shop. Soon enough, though, he comes to learn through a couple of Yakuza types that visit the boat shop that his father’s debts may become the protagonist’s responsibility as well.

As interesting characters other than the main guy we have the following: the protagonist’s only friend, an ugly, short, nearly toothless kleptomaniac who nevertheless isn’t as cursed as the protagonist because he doesn’t have the same perennially bleak outlook on life; an aspiring manga author who works as a counterbalance to the protagonist with his determined work ethic and confidence in his talent; and a reserved but tough female classmate of the protagonist who is attracted to him for some reason, and who wants to improve his miserable life.

This author’s characters, in the three series I’ve read of his, can often surprise you with their unpredictability. Some writers warn against using “and then” plot points; they suggest that every plot point must be a “but” or “therefore” regarding one or more plot points that came before. However, this author includes some sequences or scenes that in many stories would have long-lasting repercussions or be pivotal to the development of the plot, but in these stories life just goes on, or the important people fail to ever find out that the event happened. To put an extreme example, in one of the three series (won’t say in which), some secondary characters rape one of the main characters, but none of the main characters, including the victim, ever find out about it. On the topic of rape, there’s plenty of strange and/or sudden sexual stuff going on in this author’s works, even as mild as a character suddenly pulling his or her pants down, or fingering someone else. The violence included can often be equally sudden.

They made a live-action version of this story. Here’s the trailer. I haven’t watched the movie yet; apparently the director intended to follow the manga faithfully until the whole tsunami and nuclear disaster of 2011 happened, so they included that in to offer some commentary and a more hopeful message than what this series supports. So far I can tell they made at least one change I consider questionable: in the manga the protagonist’s father was constantly in a drunken daze, but he was never overtly cruel nor dismissive towards his son; the protagonist despised his father because he abandoned his family, and after that point there was nothing the old man could have done to improve their relationship.

It’s a shame that I have already read the three series generally considered this author’s best.

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: 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.