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Interview: My Broken Mariko Creator Waka Hirako

by Lynzee Loveridge,

Centering on Tomoyo Shiino as she deals with the fallout of the abrupt loss of her best friend Mariko, MY BROKEN MARIKO offers a poignant and unflinching exploration of suicide and its devastating impact on those left in its wake. With Yen Press' recent release of the digital and hardcover editions of the manga, Anime News Network had the opportunity to interview creator Waka Hirako and discuss the inspirations and themes behind her award-winning work. Many thanks to Jenny McKeon for her help in translating the interview.

Can you discuss the process that led to creating My Broken Mariko? Was it a story you had thought about creating for a while or did it come about another way?

I didn't always plan to make this specific story on these particular subjects, but I always intended to make a story that touched on these themes eventually.

The fundamental inspiration for “My Broken Mariko” came from my mother, who is a survivor of abuse.

She sometimes told me about her experiences with the physical and emotional abuse she was subjected to by both of her parents. Her experience with abuse had an immeasurably large effect on her entire life; as I was caught up in the storm that she carried within her, I witnessed the resulting rough patches, turmoil, and hardships up close while she raised me.

Throughout my life, I wondered how I could ever dispel the outrage, sadness, and helplessness I often felt when my mother told me about her experiences. “If only I could have been her mother instead…” “I wish I could've at least been her friend when she was a kid…” “Why can't I do anything about her past?” “Who should I direct my hatred toward about this, and how?” And so, I ended up having the protagonist of this story act out just a few of those thoughts and feelings in my place.

In addition, when I started drawing this story, there were reports on the news every day about an incident in Japan in which a six-year-old girl died due to her mother's abuse. Such heartbreaking incidents still occur everywhere to this day, and there are countless victims whose stories are never reported at all. I never knew what to do when I learned such painful facts, so I hoped that perhaps I could begin to confront that situation in the form of this manga, or at least continue to think about it.

As someone that has experienced the loss of a close friend, Shii-chan's feelings felt very real. How similar are Shii-chan's feelings to your own or did you consult with someone to capture those emotions accurately?

Rather than doing additional research, I drew the story while reliving the feelings and emotions that were already in my heart, and mixing those with my imagination.

Most of Shii-chan's emotions were drawn directly from my own. So in a way, I think it depicts a very specific experience.

Shii-chan seems to be feeling many different emotions about the passing of her friend; love, grief, anger, guilt, and even fear. While Shii-chan couldn't save Mariko, what do you envision could have helped Mariko?

I think there are many paths that might have led to help for Mariko, such as therapy, proper treatment from a specialist, societal support, and so on; however, no one can say for sure what might have saved her.

In some respects, even Mariko herself might not have known what she needed. She was suffering with trauma and flashbacks, and tormented by self-loathing and depression. Since she herself couldn't fully control her emotions and actions, she was caught in a vicious cycle, and couldn't turn to others for help or advice because she felt it was all her own fault; eventually, she must have gotten too exhausted to think about continuing to live with the burdens she couldn't fully carry on her own.

If someone had been able to free Mariko of the idea that it was all her fault sooner, if she was able to put down some of the heavy burdens she'd been forced to carry, perhaps the outcome would have been a little different.

What could the people around her have done for her? What role could society have played to help, and how? There are no answers to these questions, but I think it's necessary to continue thinking about them nonetheless.

How would you describe being "haunted" by a person?

Perhaps something like “being unable to forget them”, “having one's emotions held captive”, or “continuing to think about them” would be an appropriate description.

I think there are many different ways to interpret it.

My apologies if this isn't how the question was intended.

What do you imagine is written in Mariko's final letter?

I don't know whether the letter from Mariko that Shii-chan received in the end was a suicide note or not, but personally I imagine it may have included something like: “It's thanks to you that I was able to go on living as long as I did, Shii-chan.”

Thank you to Yen Press for organizing this interview and to Waka Hirako for her heartfelt answers.

If you or anyone you know is suicidal or having suicidal thoughts, please reach out to a suicide prevention organization in your country. In Japan, the TELL LifeLine service is available at 03-5774-0992, and an English counseling service is available at 03-4550-1146. In the United States, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available at 1-800-273-8255. In Canada, Crisis Services Canada is available at 1-833-456-4566.


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