The Spring 2018 Manga Guide
My Solo Exchange Diary
What's It About?Kabi Nagata continues her raw, introspective storytelling, this time navigating independence, coming out to her parents, and her underlying desire of just being loved for who she is as a whole person. She attempts, fails, and tries again to live on her own despite her parents' objections, seeking out connections with other people even if it means accepting the loss of connection with her mother.
Is It Worth Reading?Amy McNulty
The follow-up to last year's My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness is every bit as raw and emotional as Nagata's autobiographical debut. If things seemed to wrap up just a smidge too hopeful at the end of last volume—too hopeful in the sense that Nagata experiences such depression, it'd be unrealistic for her to get over it in a flash—her “after” story is shown in more depth here, revealing someone still riddled with self-doubt and a desire for acceptance, even in the face of success.
Nagata aims for independence in stops and starts, literally moving out of her family home only to move back in again before deciding to move back out, but that just demonstrates how difficult it can be to untangle from unhealthy co-dependence. Nagata's anguish when it comes to revealing her previous manga to her family is harrowing—truly emotionally painful—to read, but a fascinating and important part of her story. The fact that no stranger's praise for her accomplishments matters in light of her parents refusing to compliment her is sad, and the fact that she can acknowledge this but still can't change the fact that they have a hold over her is an effective reminder of how self-confidence issues impact a person. Her dating experience is another memorable part of the volume, especially considering she almost gets the love life she always claimed she wanted, only to realize perhaps it's not what she wanted after all. Nagata remains a fascinating subject for a manga and a skilled storyteller, exposing herself for all to see. Her exact circumstances may be unique, but there's something universal in her story.
Nagata's art style is consistent with her debut autobiographical manga: cartoonish and cute, at odds with the heavy emotional content of the diary. The cartoonish designs do, however, allow for a variety of expressions, and though the backgrounds are minimal, the art never feels lacking when it comes to packing an emotional punch.
My Solo Exchange Diary volume 1 demonstrates that the happily-ever-after so many people crave is a matter of perspective, and not everyone is equipped equally with the mental capacity necessary to immediately accept happiness where it can be found. Knowing that Nagata continues to struggle even after succeeding provides hope for readers who face their own challenges. Since it's more of a continuation than a new, standalone series, My Solo Exchange Diary doesn't stand as well on its own, but readers who devoured My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness need to pick up this volume, if for no other reason than to know it's that happiness is a never-ending battle for many, but there are always reasons to keep putting up the good fight.
Kabi Nagata does it again, this time focusing on the inevitable backlash from her parents as she attempts to hide and eventually shares her manga My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness with them. Her newest book is just as heart-wrenching as the last, primarily focusing on her truncated relationship and desire for acceptance from her mother and how that desire is transferred onto the women she wants to date. This is built on the foundation Nagata laid out in her previous manga, where her decision to hire a female escort was at least in part due to a desire of maternal physical affection.
It's incredibly poignant and the story illustrates how individuals suffering from low self-esteem can find themselves returning to abusive, shallow relationships in the hopes of being good enough and doing enough to finally win the abuser's praise. Nagata's parents are, at least in the way they're presented in her book, completely unsupportive of her line of work, sexual expression, or basic need for independence as a 28-year-old woman. They actively sabotage her attempts to live on her own and when they finally do read her manga, reframe her experiences with loneliness, desires for familial warmth, and attraction to women around themselves. It's safe to say these are people who are not beneficial to Nagata's mental health.
That said, cutting off toxic family members, especially one's own parents, is easier said than done and is the central conflict of My Solo Exchange Diary. The book is formatted like a shared journal, except Nagata doesn't have any personal contacts that should share a journal with to begin with, so instead she writes to her future and past self. Which is pretty friggin bleak at first glance. Given all of the interpersonal issues she's attempting to navigate while having zero friends in her corner, I was wary that Nagata would succeed in essentially talking sense into herself or celebrating her own accomplishments.
The scenario is humbling and incredibly familiar for those of us who found ourselves awash in unfamiliar seas of self-discovery. There isn't always a buoy to hold on to and it becomes more apparent how alone you are as trusted family members, colleagues, and friends just sail right on by. Nagata keeps treading water though, and shows a strong sense of insight into herself and her own motivations and deficits when she begins dating. By all means she at least seems to be on the right, if rocky path, and her honesty about it all keep readers invested in her story. I want Nagata to be okay, because it means a whole lot of us will be okay, too.
My Solo Exchange Diary is a considerably more difficult read than its predecessor, My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness. That's not a comment on the quality of the book, because Nagata Kabi is just as honest and unflinching in her self-examination here as she was there. But the content is much darker in its way, and it comes without the sense of redemption, or at least discovery, that marks her first manga.
In a lot of ways, this is the aftermath book. Previously Nagata came to realize that she's a lesbian, and she also accepted that, as well as her need to be touched and loved, albeit perhaps not in a sexual way. Now she has to deal with how her family will react to that, as well as the harder lessons of growing up, which are no easier for all that she's now twenty-eight years old. With her first book published and this one in serialization, she's essentially just come out to the world…and that world includes her parents. They're not the most supportive of her, and a large part of the book is devoted to her realizing that they can't change who they are any more than she can change who she is. She has to take care of herself, because her parents aren't in a position to do so emotionally – and when she thinks about it, they haven't been for quite some time. That's a difficult realization for anyone, and for Nagata, who is coping with anxiety and depression, it feels doubly so.
While all of this does lead to her thinking more about her mother and why she is how she is, which is a major step forward, a lot of Nagata's actions are still defined by her insecurities about herself and her place in the world. She recognizes things that she needs to change, but she's not sure that she can actually change them. It's to her credit that the book isn't entirely without hope; she does successfully widen her social circle and move out on her own. But when her work is published, she (willfully) ignores the positive commentary or at least forgets about it and compulsively searches for negative responses. She draws herself at times as a woman made out of Swiss cheese, and that's a good visual for her emotional state: there are just too many holes to fill in order to be happy, and sometimes rather than try, she prods at the holes, making them larger.
Like the first book, this one is printed in black, pink, and white, and the art is minimalistic. That really works, and Nagata has a way with a single image that can really drive home what she's thinking or feeling. There's less hope to be found here than before, but it's still an important book – even if you've never felt like Swiss cheese, if you've ever tangled with an emotional state you can't quite get through, just reading this can remind you that you're not alone.
discuss this in the forum (28 posts) |
this article has been modified since it was originally posted; see change history