nana note: this is a guest post courtesy of the lovely alex (@_kokotomo)
For Nagata Kabi, her true self is not one to be shared with the world. Stealthily indulging her eating disorders during breaks at work, hiding mental breakdowns from her parents, and always striving to live up to their expectations, Nagata’s life is one of being constantly conscious of how others view herself. This anxiety dominates her life so thoroughly, she is hardly given any time to consider herself as an individual with unique wants and dreams that exist independent of others. The constant activity may have given her some sense of belonging but it was devoid of any joy, any of the “sweet nectar” that the rest of society seemed to enjoy. In order to attain her dreamed of ‘real adulthood’, Nagata concludes that she must break free of the need to appease her parents, to live for herself, and to experience comfort and affection as an adult. And while constantly providing meta-commentary about how warped and backward her thinking was, she elects to hire a professional escort. Attributing to her not understanding human communications the experience is a spectacular failure, in both being pleasurable and curing her loss of self.
Yet Nagata takes an odd turn here and decides to document her experiences in manga form, putting a magnifying glass up to every one of her imperfections and anxieties. It seems an unlikely decision for someone so admittedly lacking in communication skills, but for Nagata it is about understanding and control. In My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness, Nagata attempts an objective and honest look at her own life, and is allowed insight that she did not have at the time. Her state of mind can be analyzed, her failures recognized, and her past set in stone before memories fade into idealized fragments. Her past becomes a project she can observe from above, an experiment she can tinker with and attempt to make a better future. And through sharing this straightforward and blemished story to the world she comes to another realization – truly connecting with others requires honesty. Attempting to present an ideal version of herself to the world resulted in a rift of communication and misunderstanding, but by putting every scar on display she is able to understand and connect with others in an intimate way.
In Nitori Shuichi’s life the lines are often blurred – fiction and reality, external and internal, male and female. As a transgender woman, she is quite literally crossing boundaries, and this duality is exhausting. Juggling separate identities between school, family, and friends (those who know and those who don’t) leads to a crisis of self. Just who is she? A common experience among transgender people is the problem of speaking of their pasts, the most obvious issue being that of pronouns. Do I speak of myself as the gender everyone knew me or as my own identity? For a group so often leading double lives it can be difficult to reconcile who you are with how to tell your own story. In Wandering Son, writing plays a crucial role in exploring and managing these identities. Gender-bending stage plays are a reoccurring motif through the story, and serve as a safe space for Nitori to experiment. Often serving as both writer and actor, she is for a short time able to allow her true identity to emerge. For the rest of the cast these plays are pure fiction, but for Nitori they are truth, an indulgent bit of authorial self-insert. Apart from stage plays, journals and exchange diaries are often used as a place for self-expression. Through these writings, Nitori is able to present her authentic self and connect with others who understand her position.
While family and friends may think they know her, they are lacking the much needed context that would deepen their understanding. Throughout the series, Nitori’s self-expression is continually stifled. Her family, the school administration, and eventually her own body betraying her through puberty – there is a constant gulf of understanding between the internal and external. Lacking adequate support, or even language, writing is not only the best way for Nitori to express herself, it is the only way.
After a failed two-year stint in university, Mae Borowski has returned home to the town of Possum Springs that she has always known. Yet while some things have remained the same, her home is not the one she remembers leaving. Businesses have come and gone, old relationships have crumbled, and Mae is left adrift in her life with nothing solid to latch onto. Small town atmosphere is an essential component in Night in the Woods, with all of its quirks and idiosyncrasies. The decline and loss of purpose Possum Springs faces is mirrored in Mae’s own life.
We learn that she is keeping a journal on the orders of her doctor (it is suggested that Mae suffers from any number of mental health issues), and it is through this that we are given the biggest insight into her thoughts. Despite Mae describing her doctor as a quack journal keeping is a common practice for improving mental health and she dutifully follows orders. The smallest experiences of daily life are recorded side by side with fantastic daydreams or mysterious happenings around town. The act of recording her life is a way for Mae to ground herself and find stability. As a player, you’re encouraged to search around town and talk to its residents on a daily basis in hopes of getting an amusing new journal entry. Yet for Mae, this sense of routine is an important part of combating depression. By reforging her relationships she can reconnect and find her place in the world. By documenting she attempts to recognize the real and the fantastic, and avoids slipping into a disassociative state. In keeping a journal of her life, Mae reminds herself that she exists, and has significance. Mundane events such as band practice or eating pizza are just as worthy of a journal entry as finding a mysterious severed arm, they both serve as physical proof of her own life.