My Solo Exchange Diary, Vol. 1

By Nagata Kabi. Released in Japan as “Hitori Koukan Nikki” by Shogakukan, serialized in Big Comic Special. Released in North America by Seven Seas. Translated by Jocelyne Allen. Adapted by Lianne Sentar.

When we last left Nagata Kabi, she had been telling us about the experiences of her depression and the exploration of her sexuality, and how she ended up using the (sometimes very painful and raw) experiences to create a manga volume. Well, the manga was a hit. Possibly a bigger hit than the author was expecting. Now she’s being asked to do an ongoing series with a larger publisher, and being influenced by her followers on Twitter, and trying to move out of her family home. Oh yes, and still dealing with the depression and sexuality, neither of which has been made any easier by her sudden success. If My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness ended on a hopeful note, this second volume shows us that there are no easy, magical outs, and that sometimes you know exactly what needs to be done and yet can’t quite do it.

This volume focuses more on interpersonal relationships. Nagata, like most people, craves contact with others, but that’s easier said than done, and even when she gets what she wants she’s not sure how to act or react, and her emotions aren’t the ones she should be having. This extends to her family as well. She’s able to understand her mother better and realize that she is also going through many of the same things, but that does not necessarily extend towards being able to help her – Nagata wants to help herself first. Which means moving out, though she finds that’s not something to be done at the spur of the moment. And at the end of the book, she even manages to go out on a date with another girl, but this too is hampered by her depression and self-esteem, as she realizes she’s only focusing on herself and not the other person.

Again, I’ve never dealt with serious depression, but nevertheless a lot of Nagata’s monologues and advice to herself struck a chord with me. Her chapter on self-esteem and how to measure yourself against others was particularly good, and the tension and anxiety that went with “how do I tell my parents about my manga?” leapt off the page. (We do also, by the way, revisit the escort agency that Nagata went to the first time, and it’s possibly the most helpful thing to happen to her in the book – even though it’s just hugging, the physical affection alone lets her take a conceptual leap forward in terms of what she wants.) There’s a reason that Nagata’s stories got so popular, which is that she is very good at being able to take her life, her worries and anxieties, and get it down onto the page in a way that a reader will identify with it and root for her. And you want to root for her, want to see her do better, even as you read on and see everything that is pulling against that.

Essentially, if you read My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness and got something out of it, you’ll definitely want to pick this up, and I’ll be getting the next volume to see how Nagata is doing.

My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness

By Nagata Kabi. Released in Japan as “Sabishisugite Lesbian Fuzoku Ni Ikimashita Report” by East Press. Released in North America by Seven Seas. Translated by Jocelyne Allen.

This book took me by surprise several times, mot least of which is the fact that it was licensed at all. A realistic look at depression and sexuality done autobiographically, and then released first on the art board Pixiv, then by the small publisher East Press? It was not the type of story I expected to see picked up by the publishers of Monster Girl Encyclopedia. But no publisher ever quite fits its cliche, and Seven Seas decided to take a chance on this book. I’m so glad they did, and you should be as well, because this is a raw but fascinating and ultimately uplifting read for anyone. I was actually surprised at how much of it spoke to me, being that I am seemingly not the typical audience for this book, but the experiences here also hold a touch of the universal, and the way they play out is excellent.

After a brief flashforward to the event on the cover, which is mostly covered in the second half of the book, we get the author’s examination of her life after high school. She was doing art at college but dropped out, and attempts to hold down a part-time job were hampered by her issues of self-esteem, eating disorders, and a serious case of depression. This is not a lighthearted title, and we get a lot of examination of the thought process that goes into being depressed and having anxiety. It’s one of the best parts of the book – by working over everything in such detail, with the author also analyzing her own behavior at the time as she writes it, she shows us how difficult it can be to get yourself out of that hole you dig. There’s also a realization that she may not want to be the person that her parents are pushing her to be – which then leads into an examination of her sexuality.

Again, like the depression, she lays this out in a very straightforward, visible manner, showing how she didn’t even think of herself as a gender, because she didn’t want to be seen first as a woman, then as a person. This leads to her realizing that she’s more attracted to women’s bodies, and a wonderful examination of the need for affection and physical contact, beyond the bounds of sexuality. It culminates in the decision to have a session with a worker from an escort agency, so that she can experience what she’s been obsessing over. Of course, this being realistic autobiography, the experience is as awkward and difficult as you’d imagine (I liked where she expressed regret that she forgot to hug them), but things do end up more hopeful by the end of the book, with the author taking this experience and deciding to use it to create the story we’re reading, and the online reaction she gets, leaves you smiling and hoping that she finds fulfillment.

Basically, this manga may make you uncomfortable at times, but it is well worth it to see how one person can talk about such universal topics as anxiety, depression, and sexual identity on the page. Please go buy it, you won’t regret it.