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: ‘Chainsaw Man, Vol. 1’ by Tatsuki Fujimoto

Straight from my Goodreads profile.

While the first volume by itself is closer to four stars, I’ve read the first three already, and I’m hooked.

A brutal dark comedy set in an alternate modern world in which powerful, more or less sentient demons appear suddenly to cause mayhem, so the various societies have set up organized ways to hunt them down. The friendlier demons offer contracts to humans in exchange of boons, usually to gain superpowers that would allow that person to hunt down worse demons.

We don’t know any of these details as we are dropped into this story to follow an orphan whose pet is a dog demon with a chainsaw sticking out of its head. This kid’s dad got in debt with the Yakuza but then died, so the Yakuza are forcing the son to pay off the debt through murdering demons that presumably have a bounty on their head.

I was already enjoying the somewhat sloppy, but very expressive art style, but when the inciting incident hit, I got why this series has become one of the most popular ones: our protagonist, now a teenager, [spoiler] gets betrayed by his Yakuza handlers, who have made a deal with a demon: they murder the protagonist along with his pet demon. They chop him in pieces and throw him in a dumpster. But the kid, while he was still alive, had made a contract with his pet demon: it was free to take over his body once he died. The sentient demonic dog liked the kid well enough, so he resurrects the protagonist, physically takes over his heart, and turns him into a devilman, a cross between a human and a devil [/spoiler].

The protagonist becomes one of those extremely common cases in Japanese fiction in which he rides both worlds: the common world of humans and the special, conceptual world of this story. Whenever he can pull the cord that hangs from a hole in his chest, he transforms into a devilman with chainsaws coming out of his head and arms; along with his unstable nature, that turns him into a proficient killer.

We are introduced to the broader setting through meeting so far the most important person of an organization that hunts down devils: a beautiful, mysterious, poised young woman called Makima. She embraces the protagonist as he was coming down from his murderous rage, the first kind gesture any human being had for him, so he agrees to become this woman’s “dog”, who’ll kill whoever she orders him to.

The protagonist is my kind of guy: illiterate, half-wild, worried mainly about figuring out whether or not he’ll get to eat and sleep soundly that day, eager to kill to satisfy the first woman who was kind to him, and solely driven by his need to fondle some boobs. His ridiculousness, short-sightedness and general lack of care for whatever big plots may be cooking contrast with the human cast around him. I found this guy refreshing; the tremendously driven protagonists of other series often seem to know from the get-go that they are getting involved in several-seasons-long plots that will involve killing increasingly tougher enemies.

We also meet a fast favorite “devilman” partner: an even wilder young woman who calls herself Power and is contracted to a Blood Demon, which gives her the ability to conjure weapons out of her own blood. She’s crass, impulsive, a pathological liar, has two horns sticking out of her head, refuses to flush the toilet, and is so far solely driven by her need to rescue her cat.

I’ve already read the first three volumes. I hadn’t gotten this hooked on a manga series in a while. It’s dark and brutal, yet consistently funny. The author throws you into increasingly deranged and convoluted circumstances that you live through along with the protagonist and the other characters you get to care about.

The worldbuilding and the protagonist’s role in it are suspiciously similar to ‘Jujutsu Kaisen’, another tremendously popular series, but ‘Chainsaw Man’ contains the kind of brutal grittiness that I wished the other series contained (I ended up dropping it because I couldn’t take it as seriously as it wanted). Even the protagonist’s handler, a demure loner contracted to a canid demon, is virtually identical to his counterpart in ‘Jujutsu Kaisen’. As far as I’m concerned, this series does everything better except that it lacks Nobara Kugisaki.

Some of the best animators in the world are already working on the anime adaptation of this series, which will surely become a hit:

Don’t Google anything about this series. The author isn’t afraid to make you care about his characters only to kill them brutally a short time later. You gotta admire that kind of shit.

Review: ‘The Science of Storytelling’ by Will Storr

From time to time I post on Goodreads the reviews of books I’ve read, and some of those reviews may be suitable to appear in my personal blog or whatever this WordPress site is. I merely copy-pasted this text from that other site, but you might get something out of reading it (I doubt it).

Four and a half stars.

I used to be obsessed with reading books about writing techniques, surely because I believed there was a correlation between learning the right techniques and me being able to avoid having to work full-time at some office. After reality proved that hope to be a delusion (reality tends to do shit like that), I stopped reading such kinds of books for a while.

In any case, I learned I could classify them into three categories:

1) Those that don’t believe in rules and that want to inspire you to write. They love expressions like “writer’s block” as the reason why you can’t push scenes out. I found such books mostly useless, but I guess they help those who want to brute-force their way into writing a novel. Or at the very least, the kind words contained in such books comfort those writers as they inevitably end up stuck in a ditch.

2) Those that have studied many stories that worked, and have synthesized sets of rules or suggestions so you can build your own stories. They range from Campbell’s mythical stuff to random fiction writers of which I had never heard, but that have produced useful lists that probably improve your stories.

3) Those that realize that human brains are organic machines that respond in somewhat predictable, researchable ways to stimuli, so if a writer wants to capture the reader’s attention, surprise them or in general affect them reliably, there might be scientific studies out there that suggest how to do so. My favorite of this category might be Lisa Cron’s ‘Wired for Story’, but I can’t recall any other at the moment.

Although you can’t go wrong with many books of the second category, I prefer the latter. This book I’m reviewing contains plenty of references to scientific studies or to books on popular science to justify its conclusions.

In general, the author advocates for the following:

-One’s stories should be built around a main character’s fatal flaw. The book says plenty of interesting stuff about how to build those fatal flaws (the author calls them ‘sacred flaws’) and how they should affect the story.
-An inciting incident should kick off the story with unexpected change tailored to a main character’s fatal flaw, which causes that person to react in unexpected ways.
-The plot’s main goal should be a result of that main character’s reaction to the inciting incident.
-Instead of going on about acts like most books that get into plotting, the author considers that you should focus on figuring out different stages of that main character’s development, in which he or she is a “different” person.
-The story’s ending should answer definitely whether or not that main character has outgrown his or her fatal flaw, or if it has grown ten times worse.
-Character growth shouldn’t be limited to the main character. The writer should explore how the interactions between all the main characters cause them to grow (this is a contrast with other books that suggest that the rest of the cast should remain steadfast to avoid stepping on the main character’s journey of growth).
-Likely other stuff I can’t remember.

I would have rated the book five stars if some of its points didn’t get repetitive. For example, it brings up studies that show that our ancient brains make our decisions for us, and the parts of our brains that evolved later mostly make up a story of what has bubbled up to its department, the same way it tries to build a coherent narrative out of dreams. In general we just delude ourselves into thinking that we hold certain beliefs (religious, political, tastes, and about the people we love) for logical reasons. We are little else than filthy monkeys with delusions of grandeur, whose tribal impulses, that have changed little in millions of years, will inevitably fuck us all up. Such monkey-brained loons shouldn’t be trusted with the fate of thousands or millions, and to be honest we likely shouldn’t be writing books either.