Me, Myself, and I: Sexual Politics Inside Mari’s Body-swap Narrative

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When it comes to depicting adolescent struggles with sexuality, Oshimi Shuuzou is by no means a stranger with the sexually-charged Flowers of Evil laying waste to youthful idealism and schema precariously constructed, les fleurs du mal flourishing amidst the vestiges of innocence. His marked cynicism suffusing traditionalist narratives is something to be commended, and the same can certainly be said for his take on the body-swap genre and all of its established conventions. Ostensibly Boku wa Mari no Naka or Inside Mari appears to be yet another bawdy offering running the orthodox gamut, a relatively light-hearted piece about what girls and boys are made of. Isao is a NEET, days filled with video games and masturbation blurring into one. Having long since dropped out of university, the only ray of light in the darkness that is his life would be the angelic Mari. Admiring her from a distance through stalking allows Isao to momentarily forget how much of a failure he has become, and expects nothing to change… That is, until Mari turns around with an enigmatic smile and Isao wakes up in her body.

It’s a set-up which does little to destabilize the genre’s turgid whiff of homogeneity, all fidgeting in girls’ locker rooms and groping others a display of routine titillation. But true to Oshimi’s contemptuous model Inside Mari quickly takes on disturbing connotations as boundaries blur, challenging the genre and all its expected conceits once Isao peers into Mari’s impervious psyche.

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From the Stars Back to Our Cities, Where We’ve Never Felt So Small: Kakukaku Shikajika

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Autobiographical effort of Higashimura Akiko, a mangaka celebrated for her sassy and stylish romps about the modern girl, caught many off guard through turning her gaze inward with the profoundly cathartic Kakukaku Shikajika. It is a work far removed from the effortless extravagance of Higashimura’s usual fare starring models flitting about sipping cocktails and quirky mavericks living on the fringes of society, instead introducing Hayashi Akiko, a slovenly teenager ambling through the sleepy coastal village of Miyazaki in the early ’90s. Head firmly in the clouds and elevated beyond by shoujo whimsies, what drags her back down to earth with a resounding crash is Hidaka Kenzou – an eccentric art teacher in the community. Hidaka openly criticizes Hayashi’s skills as soon as she steps into his classroom, appalled that such an amateurish individual could possibly have their sights set on attending an arts university the following year. As Hayashi quickly comes to learn Hidaka is quite the character, whacking students with a bamboo sword like it’s going out of style, unleashing mercilessly caustic jibes on young and old alike. It’s chaotic, and you’d never think that someone as frivolous like Hayashi would stay…

Kakukaku isn’t merely a charming origin story documenting the rise of one of the most prolific female mangaka in contemporary times, instead an achingly remorseful reflection on lived experiences and deep regrets harboured. Every time she purchases a beer after fighting against a deadline, every time she sees fruit in the supermarket, every time she returns to her childhood home and sees a vase, regret’s shadow lies long and heavy.

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Isolate, Slow Faults: My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness

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If one were to sift through any bestseller list devoted to manga they would find a litany of expected titles gracing its lofty heights, yet last summer an autobiographical one-shot like no other gained traction, swiftly finding its way onto twitter timelines of those who would not otherwise consider themselves to be fans of otaku media. Catching countless purveyors off guard with its striking cover, they took to Amazon leading to over a hundred reviews being published within a reasonably short time frame. Through taking a cursory glance at the reviews I found a number of sobering sentiments, reviewers drawing attention to their own lived experiences – a rarity where this medium is concerned. It was only later I learned the history behind Nagata Kabi’s Sabishisugite Lesbian Fuuzoku ni Ikimashita Report, or The Private Report on My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness. Originally self-published on Pixiv and garnering over five million views, it wasn’t long before it gained a cult following due to Nagata’s achingly raw delineations on her mental health, interpersonal struggles, and sexuality; the physical edition placing third in 2017’s Kono Manga ga Sugoi!’s female category as a testament to its enduring impact. It has even been licensed for a western release courtesy of Seven Seas, slated to be released in June this year.

But to understand why My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness has turned into something of a cultural phenomenon, despite spanning less than 150 pages in total, it is worth exploring the profound weight of the sociocultural context suffusing Nagata’s highly personal narrative which it feels as if a generation have found themselves closely mirrored by. Despite the western sphere’s uphill struggle with validating mental health issues, contemporary Japanese society continues to eschew the notion, perceiving mental ministrations as something to be kept shut tightly behind closed doors and contained deep within the confines of the individual’s mind. With its collectivist society placing an emphasis on the family as a harmonious unit above all, pressures bloom in the shade.

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