Ongoing manga: Tengoku Daimakyō, by Masakazu Ishiguro

I dislike reviewing manga series when they haven’t finished; more often than not, how all the parts end up tied up together influences my view of the entire story. There are quite a few manga series that I follow and love but that haven’t ended yet, like Dungeon Meshi, Kaiju No. 8, Boy’s Abyss, Chi no Wadachi, etc. However, a week ago I came across the most intriguing manga in a good while, Tengoku Daimakyō (the title apparently translates to Heavenly Delusion), which has “only” reached chapter 55 (such series tend to end at about chapter 100), but that I’ve been looking forward to sit down and continue discovering what it has to offer.

This story is an odd mix of the Fallout series of games and The Last of Us (the first game, not the TV series, and certainly not the second game). We follow two storylines. In the first one, a bunch of kids are living in a controlled environment designed to raise them in a certain way while isolating them them from the outside world. The kids are tended to by AI, as well as by shady adults who seem to be guided by a cult-like drive to create a “heaven on earth,” where people won’t be discriminated in any way. You quickly realize that these kids slash test subjects have been manipulated genetically to whatever extent, and some of the most interesting scenes of that storyline involve children being unable to comprehend how utterly nuts their environment is; they are unfazed when they come across babies that look like alien squids, because that’s how human babies look like as far as they know. One of the children mingling with the rest straight up looks like an alien. We are only given a bit more information than the children, because we follow some of the adults that handle the operation. In general, the whole deal works like a Fallout vault.

The main storyline involves a twenty-year-old redheaded bodyguard who wears a cool jacket, and the fifteen-year-old kid for whom she’s working. They live in the post-apocalyptic ruins of Japan after some cataclysm destroyed a world that had achieved artificial general intelligence. Enough time has passed that the newest generations don’t even care how things ended up this bad. Anyway, for unknown reasons, disturbing monsters with superpowers are roaming the place, which has prevented human beings from establishing lasting settlements.

The aforementioned redhead, who is the main protagonist of this tale, was offered work by a sick young woman who promptly died, but not before bequeathing the redhead a ray gun along with the task of accompanying the fifteen-year-old kid to locate a place called Heaven, where someone who shares a face with the kid will need to receive an injection of a mysterious medicine. Our main couple sets off together to explore a ruined Japan. The redheaded girl also intends to locate the two people she remembers from before a monster attack landed her in a hospital bed for about a year.

The anime adaptation has already been produced. Here’s the trailer:

Troublingly enough, though, it has been picked up in the US by Disney Plus. This is a casually hardcore series that involves regular nudity, murder, The Thing-like grossness, a thirteen-year-old prostitute/hotel tycoon, rape, child rape, and such. There’s thematic stuff that Western fiction wouldn’t touch with a teen foot pole; for example, one of the settlements that the main couple comes across is controlled by a group of female supremacists that cut off women’s breasts if they are deemed too big, that kill any older men they come across, but capture attractive young men (and kids) to keep them as “seed pigs”. I have to assume that the anime, which I’ve barely started watching, must have been toned down significantly, which would be a shame.

All in all, fantastic worldbuilding, very detailed landscapes of a post-apocalyptic Japan, natural-sounding dialogue, cool fight scenes, and a narrative that gets sadder and more tragic the longer it runs. The only downside for me, quite minor in comparison, is that a couple of “evil” characters come across a bit over the top. Anyway, check Tengoku Daimakyō out. Or don’t. Do whatever you want.

Review: Watashitachi no Shiawase na Jikan, by Mizu Sahara

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.

Review: Nozoki Ana, by Wakou Honna

The title translates to “A peephole.” This is a loose review of the entire series.

Come for the “hentai with a plot.” Stay for the feels.

I started this long series a few months ago. I have forgotten most of the details of how the story began, and I’m not the kind of reviewer who would go over the first few chapters to get it right. Ultimately I read (and write) stories searching for meaning and to connect with imaginary humans, because it’s nearly impossible for me to do so with flesh-and-blood ones. I mainly care about what stories make me feel as they go through me, and what they leave behind once they’re done. Above all, I respect authors who seem to have lived vicariously through their tales, who come to care for their characters as if they were more important than anyone in their life.

That’s too serious of an introduction for this story. Our protagonist, a college freshman, starts living at one of those terrible apartment buildings that apparently every young manga protagonist is forced to inhabit. Soon enough, he discovers that his paper-thin wall features a little hole that allows a sliver of light to shine through. And once he peers into the hole, he gets an eyeful of his beautiful, college-age neighbor masturbating. She realizes that she has an audience, but she confesses that she has been peeping on him as well as he happily masturbated away.

Turns out that this young woman attends the protagonist’s college, to his embarrassment. They could decide to cover the hole and pretend they don’t know each other, but she wants to keep the dynamic going. In fact, she will expose the protagonist’s voyeuristic tendencies to everyone in his life unless he allows this kinky game to continue. A dangerous game like that needs some rules: he will get to peep at will some days, and the rest of the week is her turn. They aren’t allowed to cover the hole or acknowledge that they’re being watched even if friends or romantic partners come over.

At first I was impressed by the author’s talent to put her protagonist in as many compromising situations as possible. Sure, we are treated to manga boobs and butts, as well as sex scenes, nearly every chapter, but I kept returning to this story for the entertainment and the way it made me care about its characters. The protagonist is assertive and headstrong; this series wouldn’t have worked with one of those pussy MCs we get in so many other series. And his neighbor, the mysterious voyeur, kept stealing every scene she was in with her cool, controlled personality. Some book on writing I read ages ago spoke that all successful stories have an “us versus them” dynamic with a special character, who isn’t necessarily the love interest, and that they push each other to change for good or ill. As the reader, you become complicit with the growing hole that these two horny bastards keep digging themselves into as their secret threatens to ruin their relationship with everyone else.

I hadn’t expected the author, who by the way is a woman, to delve deeper into why the horny neighbor/blackmailer put her life in a standstill, barely leaving the apartment except to go to class, and refusing to make friends, to peek into the protagonist’s true self unimpeded a few days a week. I’m very glad that she did. This series improves as it goes on, as we are treated to more and more naked manga bodies, sessions of sex and masturbation, or at least panty shots.

What I didn’t expect was to find parallelisms between this story and my favorite manga, Inio Asano’s Oyasumi Punpun. Asano’s magnum opus ran from 2008 to 2013. This series ran from 2009 to 2013. The design of the voyeuristic neighbor and the cursed Aiko Tanaka from Asano’s work (I feel pained just by mentioning her name), as well as their twisted personalities, were similar enough to make me uncomfortable. And some twists and turns included particularly later on in the story reminded me even more of Asano’s devastating tale, although it didn’t come close to reaching those heights. The more casual drawing style didn’t help in that regard.

When I finished reading this manga series, I was sad that I couldn’t too evade my broken life to peek into that hole from which a sliver of light shines through. That’s some of the highest praise I can give any author.

Review: Sensei no Shirou Uso, by Akane Torikai

Four and a half stars. The title translates to “Sensei’s Pious Lie.” I’m reviewing the entire series.

What’s the deal with women? You nod along like you’re listening while they talk or complain or whatever, and then they either let you fuck them, or they don’t.

Our protagonist, a high school teacher in her mid-twenties, was a solitary introvert even before she was raped by her only friend’s fiancé. It happened a few years ago, but the man has kept the protagonist in bondage by blackmailing her, both by threatening to break her friendship with his fiancée, and to divulge some private photos he took of her. In the beginning she kept quiet because she didn’t want to hurt her friend, but over time, as she retreated further into herself, she grew to believe that she deserved it, that she was responsible for turning him on. After all, doesn’t she masturbate regularly to memories of herself being dominated by this rapist who calls her at random hours for a bit more degradation?

The protagonist feels dirty, broken, and undeserving of happiness. Those around her consider her a calm and cool-headed young woman, but in reality she’s coasting through life in the throes of anhedonia, going through the motions with no chance of improving.

We meet the other protagonist of this tale: a seventeen-year-old student of our main protagonist. He’s withdrawn, more interested in gardening than people, and generally considered a non-entity by his female classmates. One morning in class, some local bitch annoys him, which somehow leads to him bending over to pick up something and getting a close-up view of this bitch’s panty-covered privates. As the girl berates him for being a pervert, he assures her, despondent, that there’s no way he could ever get turned on by that pussy. Cue the rumors of him being gay. However, the truth slowly comes out: he’s been seen frequenting the company of an older woman. They were even seen leaving a love hotel together.

The school won’t tolerate students getting it on with adults, merely because it may tarnish the school’s image. Our main protagonist, the kid’s homeroom teacher, is tasked to make him assure that he hasn’t been sexually involved with an adult, regardless of whether or not it’s true. However, he admits it casually. When the teacher, who doesn’t want to be involved in such matters nor talk about them, prompts him for what actually happened, he opens up: the older woman was his boss at a part-time job, and he had felt pressured into having sex with her. Ever since, he’s been afraid of vaginas.

The teacher breaks down. She refuses to accept that this kid could have been raped, because she considers that as a man, he’s always able to overpower the woman and leave. She tells him that she knows what he’s looking for: he wants to be forgiven for being a man, for the knowledge that throughout his life he will defile women over and over again, destroying beauty and innocence in the process.

The teacher bursts into silent tears. As she composes herself, having blurted out a fraction of what she meant for someone else, the kid finds himself stunned. He has connected with this woman’s suffering like he hadn’t with any other human being. However, he believes that there must be a way for both of them to get back to living.

What follows is an emotionally complex tale about men and women and the way they hurt each other willingly or unwillingly. So complex, in fact, that about half of the emotional nuances might have gone over my head, but then again I’m one of the most emotionally oblivious fuckers around. Maybe you’d have better luck with it.

I loved this series. At about three-fifths of the way through, the quality decreased a bit; some scenes meant to hit hard fell flat, often due to the choices in the composition of the scenes. I was tempted to rate it three and a half stars then, but the ending floored me with how the author tied up various character arcs, along with the compelling conclusions we got out of this troublesome mess.

One of my biggest surprises in a while.

Cheating alone would usually be enough to make someone hate their partner. And what you did was worse. Anyone else would find it completely unforgivable. You hate women so much that you can’t help but explode into violence. But to me, and only me, you were always gentle and caring. And I think I found the value of my own life in the fact that I was the only one who could handle a pathetic man like you, who could staunch the endless flow of bile.

Review: Fire Punch, by Tatsuki Fujimoto

Four and a half stars.

Tatsuki Fujimoto became one of my favorite manga authors as I was reading through his wildly successful Chainsaw Man, the tale of a deranged orphan who made a lifelong deal with a demonic dog that is also somehow a chainsaw. This author came out of nowhere as far as I was concerned, but now I know that he was a prolific author of short stories (in manga format), as well as the creator of a single long-form series called Fire Punch.

The little I learned about Fujimoto’s personal life, apart from the fact that he can levitate, is that working through Fire Punch killed him as a manga artist (in a similar way as Oyasumi Punpun killed Asano). Fujimoto considers himself more of a cinephile and an animator than a mangaka, and his stories show this: they are extremely filmable, often resembling storyboards. When he got his one Serious Series (Serious Punch) out, apparently he thought about retiring with one last story in which he would do whatever crazy shit he wanted, without caring about whether or not others would enjoy it. That last story became Chainsaw Man (link goes to an exceptional trailer of the manga version of that story, which is somewhat spoilery for those who have seen the anime but not read the manga).

I was reluctant to get into Fire Punch because I had heard that it was unrelentingly grim, devoid of Chainsaw Man‘s goofiness, which added humor to an otherwise dark setting. And while Fire Punch does contain plenty of black humor, it comes from a few characters that manage to laugh maniacally against the hopeless and unforgiving world they live in.

The Earth has become a ball of ice. The few remaining human communities are ruled with an iron fist. Weaker people are enslaved and put to work, or else raped, or killed for food. Some humans are born with superpowers, which they call ‘blessings,’ yet the majority of such people are eventually captured and enslaved, to spend the rest of their lives as energy sources, strapped to chairs or beds.

Our protagonist and his sister, both maybe in their teens, have escaped from slavery and found refuge in a tiny community. The protagonist was born with the ability to regenerate wounds almost instantly, and due to such a blessing, he has become the only food source for the much older citizens of this community: the protagonist’s sister chops his arms a few times every day, and the citizens make stew out of them. The siblings are revered as a result.

With their parents long dead, the protagonist and his sister rely on each other as if they were the last people on Earth.

One day, soldiers from some tyrannical community raid them for resources. Upon learning that the citizens of the town survive on human flesh, their commander, who was born with special powers, decides to burn it all down. His are special flames: they will keep burning until the victim dies. Soon enough the protagonist finds himself engulfed in flames, and to his permanent grief, he finds out that his beloved sister has suffered the same fate. With her last breath, she utters a single word-long wish.

The protagonist’s blessing is so strong that he regenerates faster than the fire burns him, and yet that fire won’t go out until he dies. For months, long after everyone he cared about has died, he writhes on the snow while the fire burns his lungs. It takes him a long time to even manage to breathe properly. Some years later, he learns to control his regenerative abilities enough to keep the flames away from his face, and once he manages to think properly for the first time in years, he balls his right hand into a fist.

Burning with a desire for vengeance, along with literal flames, he treks the snowfields in search of the commander who killed his sister. On his way, he comes across desperate communities for whom he becomes a source of inspiration and reverence: the only source of warmth in a dead world, someone who with a single punch sets his foes on fire, burning them to death.

Unable to think properly due to the constant searing pain, the protagonist relies on other hardy people; the most notorious of them early on is a hundreds-of-years-old woman with similarly extreme regenerative abilities, a cinephile that only wished to be left alone and watch movies. However, some time ago her stash of movies went up in flames. Long gone nuts from boredom and detachment, she’s planning to follow the protagonist and film on a handheld camera the last movie of humanity.

As our protagonist obliterates his enemies, as well as hundreds or thousands of innocent bystanders, he comes to resent his sister’s last wish. He wishes he had died back then along with her. But a community has grown around him, and in their desperation, they have come to venerate him as a god. Unable to find a reason to keep going, he tries to lose himself in the roles he needs to play for other people’s personal movies. And maybe someone out there could remind him enough of his sister that he could convince himself that she has survived all along.

The further we get into the story, as the protagonist struggles to hold on to his sanity and humanity, he wonders what enemy remains to pursue and kill so he and his sister could rest. That old commander? The myriad of other enemies along the way? Is it Fire Punch himself?

As the haunting finale approaches, we hold on to that unique thing we can do that keeps us warm and allows us to put one foot in front of the other day after freezing day, long after we have ceased to know or even care why.

Review: Boku-tachi ga Yarimashita, by Muneyuki Kaneshiro

Four stars.

The title of this manga series translates to “We Did It.” It follows a group of three hapless highschoolers who happen to attend a high school right across the one that houses the worst youth gang in town. Students from the first high school are routinely tormented by thugs, but weak as they are, they have no choice but to stew in their rage and frustration.

These highschoolers are forced for whatever reason to spend most of their afternoons doing after-school activities, which in their case translates to playing around in a shipping-container-like space on the roof. They are always joined by a graduated older student that although he has been warned by teachers to stay away from the school, he doesn’t have anything else going on. Because he happens to be rich thanks to his absent father, and eager to buy friendships through spending that money, the main trio of highschoolers enjoy fucking around doing more or less expensive activities that this paisen (how they call him; a looser way of saying senpai) bankrolls.

One afternoon, as the protagonist and one of his friends are leaving the school, his pal (who ends up becoming the most obnoxious character in the story), shouts at the thugs gathered outside the opposite high school that they should all die. This guy tried to make sure that he didn’t shout loud enough, but unfortunately for every main character, some of the worst thugs were hanging out close by, behind the duo.

Later, these gang members attempt to kidnap the protagonist for being associated with his friend, but he gets saved by his romantic interest. The thugs do manage to kidnap the guy who wished them to die. They bring him to their hideout, and force him under threat of torture to fight another hapless student they had kidnapped. In the end they beat the protagonist’s friend unconscious, then send him back to his friends in a cardboard box.

The main group, including the rich graduated guy who buys their friendship, is infuriated. But the rich guy has a plan to get back at the high school across the street and its delinquent students: he has procured some explosives that are bound to give them a good scare. At night, clad in animal masks, they break into the opposite school and plant the explosives.

On the next school day, the main group gathers on the roof as they set up the detonators. The thugs that assailed them, as well as a couple hundred of other students, are present as our guys cheerfully blow up the explosives.

Turns out that detonating explosives in a school has concerning consequences for our main characters: one of the explosives blows up the propane tanks, and they witness how ten students or so burn to death. Others are injured to extents that will ruin their lives.

Their stunt got recorded. Some of their teachers and people in their life suspect them. They point fingers their way. The leader of those thugs survived despite his injuries, and is looking to murder the main guys. After their graduated benefactor gets arrested and charged with mass murder, the trio of high schoolers decides to flee. What follows is an anxiety-inducing tale in which the main trio’s friendship will get tested, and they’ll learn to navigate a hostile world that will force them to make some troublesome concessions to survive.

It’s a well-plotted story with plenty of twists and turns, and that in general reminded me of Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment: the four characters involved are eaten up to different extents by guilt due to the crime they committed. The protagonist wonders if he has any right to be happy when he was responsible for ruining so many people’s lives. A moment summarizes this grim manga for me: when a person stalks the protagonist to murder him, the protagonist is overjoyed that someone is about to free him from the guilt and the regret; he gets on his knees, rips open his shirt, and begs the would-be murderer to stab his heart. The would-be murdered gets freaked out and runs away.

My favorite character ended up being the rich older guy. He’s the ugly sort without prospects other than being rich because his absent father keeps sending him money. One of the most interesting sequences of the story involved this guy trying to track down his father to figure out if the old man loved him, with devastating results for his sanity.

Most of the first act of this story annoyed me. The author was trying to set up the main group as carefree, spending their time in silly activities that pictured them as empty-headed idiots. It was mostly done to sell as believable that they wouldn’t contemplate the consequences of planting explosives in a high school, but until then they annoyed me enough that I considered dropping the story. However, it became a compelling tale worth the effort.

Review: Yogen no Nayuta, by Tatsuki Fujimoto

Tatsuki Fujimoto, chainsaw dude and master of levitation, who got banned from Twitter recently for impersonating his little sister, has become my fourth horseman of the Apocalypse after Inio Asano (Oyasumi Punpun, Solanin), Shūzō Oshimi (The Flowers of Evil, Inside Mari, Happiness, Blood on the Tracks), and Minoru Furuya (Buko to Issho, Wanitokagegisu, Himizu, Ciguatera, Saltiness). I loved Fujimoto’s Chainsaw Man and I’m having a blast with the anime adaptation, but I don’t dare to get into his Fire Punch yet, so I’m going through his one-shots.

So yes, this Yogen no Nayuta is one of his short stories. In an alternate Earth where magic is real but not particularly powerful, some prophecy prophesized that a horned baby would be born and she would be the harbinger of the end of the world. This Nayuta girl is born with horns, which rip her mother apart on the way out. Her remaining family are aware of the prophecy. Her father gets killed shortly after for being responsible for this abomination, so only Nayuta’s brother remains to take care of her. Although her brother suspects that she may indeed bring forth the Apocalypse, because she keeps murdering animals for no apparent reason and her attempts at verbal communication are solely composed of ominous words, he’s her big brother, damn it, so he’ll take care of his precious imouto.

If this one-shot is making any point at all, it may be that even if you were born to bring forth the Apocalypse, as long as someone loves you enough, perhaps you’ll be able to channel your homicidal instincts into some activities that don’t involve mass murder. I suppose that’s as good a point as any other.

Curiously, Fujimoto reused this Nayuta girl, but hornless, in Chainsaw Man, although I can’t say in which way because it would be a massive spoiler.

Four stars for this one.

Random AI-generated images #16

Two neural networks, one of them trained on anime-like images, work tirelessly to spread their madness to the ends of the earth. This is the latest batch of about a hundred of such AI-generated pictures.

You can check out so far twenty-eight other entries featuring generated images through this link.

Sunglasses mafia
The cooler Nietzsche
Horrifying anime-like depictions of Nietzsche
Eren Yeager cosplaying as Nietzsche
Erwin danchou
A lion’s heart
Shinzou wo sasageyo

Review: Boku to Issho, by Minoru Furuya

“Whether you’re an idiot who’s watching or an idiot who’s dancing, if you’re really an idiot, you might as well dance.”

Throughout my reading of Minoru Furuya’s Saltiness, Ciguatera, Himizu, and Wanitokagegisu (the links go to my reviews of those titles), this author became my third favorite mangaka after Inio Asano (mainly because of Oyasumi Punpun and Solanin; unfortunately the guy seems to have lost his drive since) and Shūzō Oshimi.

Furuya’s stuff tends to be similar: character-driven tales of outcasts forced to deal with bad luck and troublesome compulsions. Plenty of weird sexual stuff. Although the characters endure harrowing experiences that would have traumatized most people to the extent of ruining their lives, Furuya’s characters get used to trauma. However, the commitments between the characters tend to be equally temporary. His stories rarely include neat resolutions: unless the character in question dies, the issues that person had been struggling with throughout the story are likely to continue beyond the conclusion. The author also has a fantastic sense of the absurdity of life, so his plot points and character interactions are often unpredictable and hilarious.

This manga series I’m reviewing was made in the late nineties. A different beast to his later works, Boku to Issho is an extremely caricaturesque comedy slice-of-life. While the extreme behaviors of the characters put me off initially, as well as the author’s talent to depict ugly faces, Furuya ended up turning the caricaturesque nature of this story into an art form. It became one of the funniest series I’ve read in a long time.

The story follows two brothers (about fifteen and twelve respectively) in awful circumstances: their mother just died, and their violent stepfather booted them out. They find themselves homeless, penniless, with no talents that they can put to use. The big brother acts as a father figure to his younger sibling, but he’s lazy and delusional: although he believes that he’ll become a pro baseball player the moment he applies himself to it, he’s mainly focused in protecting his ego from the damage that testing his delusions in the real world would cause.

They quickly meet one of the other main characters of this tale: a glue-huffing orphan who makes a living by theft and petty grifting.

Later on they also get together with a pretty boy runaway teen. After the glue-huffing guy steals a cellphone, they start selling their services as gigolos. Their naïveté quickly clashes with the real world when one of their first customers turns out to be a young woman with a penchant for toy-assisted domination.

Most of the characters we meet struggle at least with their self-esteem, but often with poverty, and in some cases with compulsions and fetishes. They are rarely sure of their place in life and where they’ll be in a few years.

As mentioned, I’ve been exposed to plenty of Furuya’s works, so I already expected this story to “just end”. The author attempts some circularity, which mostly serves as the thematic point that not much in our lives gets resolved, and we’re left to figure out how to keep going.

Another winner by Minoru Furuya, as far as I’m concerned.

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.