Let's kick things off with what is indisputably one of the biggest manga titles of the year. This title not only made a splash with manga fans, but with the LBGTQ community as well. As we speak, it's currently popping up on more than a few Best of Comics lists (and will likely appear on many more before the month ends). So what was it about this title that spoke to so many?
MY LESBIAN EXPERIENCE WITH LONELINESS (Sabishisugite Rezu Fuzoku Ikimashita Repo), by Nagata Kabi. First published in 2016 and first published in North America in 2017.
This autobiographical tale covers the author's descent into depression and anxiety issues when life after high-school leaves her feeling adrift and desperate for the approval of others. After a lot of rumination and lifestyle changes, she decides that perhaps part of the problem is that she craves physical affection but has never had sex. So, she hires a lesbian escort to help her take care of things. Is this act the solution to her problems or just the beginning of another personal revelation?
There's a couple reasons that I believe explain why My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness is making such mark outside of manga circles. Some of it may have to do with its origins as a webcomic and thus removed to some degree from the conventions of everyday manga. Another reason may be that this sort of raw, confessional sort of story is something that we seldom see outside of the western independent comic scene. The biggest reason of all may just be the fact that Kabi's experiences may be more universal than a lot of people would like to admit.
Despite what the title may suggest, this is not so much a story about coming out as it is a story about coping with mental illness. That's not to say that she doesn't struggle with coming to terms with her orientation and even her gender to a degree, but the majority of the book is about her trying (and occasionally succeeding) to cope with her depression and anxiety issues. True to life, there is no singular cause to her misfortune. At any given time, it may be triggered by her underemployment, her parents' nitpicking and lack of affection, or just her latest attempts to clearly define just what she wants and needs. It tends to manifest in different ways, be it in self-harm, in eating disorders, or just a general lack of hygiene.
Also true to life, she finds that there is no singular solution to her problems. Sometime, relief comes in the form of taking a long walk or in the kind words of encouragement from an interview. Sometimes her self-reflection leads her to a realization which allows her to stabilize her life to some degree and find a new focus. Sometimes it comes from doing something bold like hiring a female escort and going to a love hotel. These highs and lows aren't structured like a tidy three-arc plot but instead in the way life tends to work: an endless cycles of emotional ups and downs, where each new moment of clarity brings new challenges to overcome. Therein lies the inspirational quality of her story.
As a cis, straight, and (as far as I'm aware of) neurotypical woman, I'm fully aware that my life is not all that much like Kabi's. Even then, I could still relate to her struggle to find and keep work and empathize with depressive moments. Her struggles are ones that a lot of young people are dealing with and can sympathize with. In that sense, My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness is a universal work and that is why it's managed to reach so many western readers.
Something else that helps to make My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness so approachable is the art. It would easy enough to dismiss as merely cute, considering that she tends to draw herself as a somewhat squiggly bobblehead of a girl and her expressions tend to be big and manic regardless of mood. Between this and her choice to use a soft, soothing shade of pink for accent, it's like she was purposefully choosing a style which helped to take the edge off of the content of the book, be it the heavy emotional turmoil or the later sexual encounters.
Looking over it again for review, I really appreciate the little details she added, things like the detail of the cityscapes, her use of hatching for both shadow and effect, the humor she brought to her visual similes. I was also impressed with her composition. Every page is made up of the same four panels, but it never looks nor feels boring because she finds ways to frame herself that are varied and engaging but not so much as to distract from her words. It's a combination that works well and it's easy to see how this managed to become such a breakout hit even in the vast, porn-filled world of pixiv.
I'm so glad that Seven Seas took a risk with My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness. It's rare to find a manga that deals with such frank subject matter in a way that is messy, endearing, and even hopeful. It's already paving the way for more confessional webmanga to come our way (including its own sequel) and it's a book that any discerning manga reader needs to check out for themselves.
This book is published by Seven Seas. It is currently in print.
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