My Alcoholic Escape from Reality

By Nagata Kabi. Released in Japan as “Genjitsu Touhi Shitetara Boroboro ni Natta Hanashi ” by East Press, serialized in Matogrosso. Released in North America by Seven Seas. Translated by Jocelyne Allen. Adapted by Lianne Sentar.

If you have read the previous volumes of Nagata Kabi’s biographical examination of her past struggles, seeing the title and the cover art for this new book probably makes you think “Oh no.” But yes, once again life is not as simple as it seems, and recovery can be a path you walk on that might just lead you to a different wrong path. After dealing with mental and emotional struggles in My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness and My Solo Exchange Diary, and resolving to stop writing memoir-style manga (as she worries it makes her family and friends upset, which it does to an extent), a combination of adjusting to a lot of new medication and a lack of inspiration for fictional manga ideas have led her to stop by the ten bars that are between her house and the nearest station. The result? After intense stomach pain, she goes to the hospital to find she has acute pancreatitis – her reading is TEN TIMES what it should be. And so… she’s admitted to the hospital.

This takes place over a more compressed period of time than the previous volumes, focused very specifically on this point in her life. As you can imagine, a lot of it makes for uncomfortable reading, and going cold turkey on alcohol and fatty foods proves to be far more challenging than anyone can imagine. There’s also some excellent examination of medications and painkillers – the side effects that they can cause, the differences between them, and the depressing realization that some of these may need to be taken for the rest of her life. The hospital staff are very nice, but also seem to be nice in that “I am not personally involved with you” way, so it can come across ass a bit callous at times. There’s also a great discussion of alcoholism just before she’s discharged, as the doctor talking to her notes “Japanese people see alcohol as alcohol” – in other words, not as a drug, or something that could lead to alcoholism.

The other great part of this book is showing us Nagata Kabi’s determination to create new work, and how this can get so frustrating that, well, she can end up drinking herself into the hospital. Good things are happening to her – while there, she finds out that My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness won the Harvey Award – but this does not necessarily translate into ongoing creativity, as she has four partially completed projects with four different publishers, none of which are nearing completion. She’s also feeling tremendous guilt over how others are seeing her memoirs – not just her family, but a manga that she enjoys reading where the protagonist is told “don’t write about our life”. The trouble is… that’s what she excels at. A manga friend of hers urges her to stop pushing her brain to do things it doesn’t want to do and continue writing autobiographical memoirs. Even if it can be painful for all involved.

This is hopefully not the last we see from the author – a new memoir was just published in Japan three months ago. As with other books by this author, it can be difficult to read. But I enjoyed its look at struggling to accept that the body can crumble just as much as the mind can, and that recovery can be just as hard.

My Solo Exchange Diary, Vol. 2

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.

By the end of this volume, the author has decided that she’s ending this diary, at least for public consumption. While this volume was also very good, I do think that may be for the best, as we are once again reminded that the life of a real person can cause more emotional pain that the life of, say, a 16-year-old girl in a girls’ private school. Apparently the last volume (the first Solo Exchange Diary) was not as popular with folks in Japan, particularly the last chapter, and that hit Kabi-san pretty hard. This final volume is much like the other two – some really good realizations and a few tentative steps forward, but also quite a few steps backward. The cover shows us two sides of Kabi-san talking with each other, the first being the one that’s resorted to alcohol, the other being the one who cuts herself. This remains a gripping but uneasy read.

At the start of the book she finds herself returning to live with her parents for a bit, and coming to terms with the fact that her mother is not her, and doesn’t deal with things the same way that she does. Her grandparents also get to see that she’s published two books, and carefully praise her for the publication while avoiding the content, which is very true to life. There are shots of the day-to-day life that the two had which I quite enjoyed. Unfortunately, in this volume Kabi-san also starts drinking beer. A lot. To the point where she’s wetting her bed by accident in the mornings. So much of the second half of the book takes place in the hospital, where she checks herself in so that she can deal with this. There are communication problems with the doctors and nurses, and at one point she’s cutting herself again. I find the fact that she’s putting this all out there on the page amazing.

At the end of the book, she’s out of the hospital, creating original manga, and realizing that the business of being “Nagata Kabi” is too much, which is likely the main reason why the Diary is ending. The best part, though, is that we get to see the original manga she created (it ran in Hibana magazine), and it’s really good. The story of two young people who are “rebelling against society” in a very literal way, it’s cute, clever and emotionally bruising all at the same time. The story is complete as is, but it does make me want to read more of Kabi’s original creations. As for her own life, I thank and applaud her for showing it to us, for good and ill, and I hope that the diary can continue in private even if it doesn’t in public. I felt it was an excellent read, and would also recommend it to anyone else who is dealing witd depression or other inner turmoil.

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.