Reviewby Mercedez Clewis,
My Alcoholic Escape from Reality
Nagata Kabi's life is spiraling, and hasn't quite stopped: now, she turns to drinking morning, noon, afternoon, and night in order to soothe the bittersweet taste of an unfulfilled life. Yet when she suffers an unbearably painful stomach ache, Nagata heads to a clinic where she is diagnosed with pancreatitis and is immediately hospitalized. Naturally, she catalogues her time away from home and in a hospital bed, all while trying to find her way back to stability in the wake of her breakdown.
Being a fan of Nagata Kabi is a complicated thing. You're witnessing a creative pour her heart out, while also desperately wanting her to get help. On the other hand, putting pen to paper is Nagata's chosen method of therapy, which is something so intensely relatable as a writer and journalist who frequently pens articles that contain a piece of my heart almost every time. Readers who enjoyed My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness know that this is a lot of the appeal of a creator as candid as Nagata; however, it's also some of the difficulty that comes with navigating her newest entry.
My Alcoholic Escape from Reality (hereafter Alcoholic Escape) is an autobiographical story about Nagata's alcoholism, decaying mental and physical health, the stress of addiction and how it affects well, everything. I think that's important to admit from the start because while Alcoholic Escape is amazing, it also hurts in this really peculiar way. I love the way Nagata writes and illustrates – she's inspired me to be more open about my own struggles with mental illness, abuse, and general mental health. But Alcoholic Escape is also the kind of volume that makes you want her to stop. Read on for complicated feelings? Read on for complicated feelings.
The standalone volume starts in media res with Nagata's hospitalization due to her alcoholism and subsequent diagnosis of pancreatitis. From there, Nagata documents her days filled with frustration and bland rice porridge, a trip to get her ADHD meds, her struggles with writing about her life and how it affects her mother, the monotony of staying in bed all day and being kept awake from pain at night. This culminates in Nagata Kabi's release and return to society and the liminal space of existing in the wake of addiction. It's well, poignant seems a bit trite, but really, that's the only word that comes to mind: poignant, and at times, achingly understandable.
But Alcoholic Escape is not only about addiction: it's about the aftermath, about coping with life changes and even finding joy in little moments like discovering foods she can eat, the small delights of non-alcoholic beer and fish paste products, and Nagata finding her feet as she finally decides to draw the manga itself. I think at the end of the day, a core message of Alcoholic Escape is that there's joy in the smallest victories, even if there's a lot of hurt that comes before, and unfortunately after.
In terms of translation, this is some of Jocelyn Allen's best work. Allen really captures the intimacy that Nagata writes with, giving voice to Nagata's most intimate thoughts and effectively conveying the intense loneliness suffused in Alcoholic Escape. It helps that Allen is joined by Karis Page and Gwen Silver on the lettering and retouch, both of whom execute excellent, high-quality work. Really, credit should be given to the entire team: this volume of Nagata Kabi's work is one of 2021's finest manga, and should be recommended at every chance, trigger warnings in mind.
Perhaps it's because 2022 will be my 30th birthday, or because I lived in Japan from 2016-2020 and witnessed just how much my feminine colleagues drank, but Alcoholic Escape hit like truck. It's certainly not a pleasant read: rarely are Nagata's stories easily digestible, and part of that is because they're chronicling the life of an actual human, as opposed to fictional characters. When you close the covers, there's this realization that somewhere in Japan, Nagata Kabi exists and is going about her day. There's a sense that I'm breaking through a parasocial relationship (mind you, I still don't know her) to see a person who, like me, has struggled. There's this intimacy that permeates every moment you spend with her as a reader, and closing the book feels like I'm pulling the curtain back from a peek into a person's life after getting to swim through their memories. And while there's lots of genuinely relatable humor, there's also a lot of tangible pain here on these pages, all illustrated in Nagata Kabi's evocative, unique art style, with a slick persimmon orange screentone that adds a certain oomph to this volume.
My Alcoholic Escape from Reality is utterly relatable, whether or not you're living with alcoholism or any form of addiction. It reads especially poignant in a year like 2021 where vices are readily available and more tempting than ever, and offers a peculiar comfort in a world filled with tragedy, heartache, and uncertainty. Yet there's a lot of joy tucked into Alcoholic Escape, joy that, as I look towards a third year with the pandemic, offers hope, even though the volume ends with an open ending.
Yet, isn't that just how life goes? Nagata Kabi's story is far from done and leaves me hungry for more, even though I also desperately want to give her a blanket and assurance that she's trying her hardest. I suppose, in the end, that's what My Alcoholic Escape from Reality is. It's just like she says on the final page of the volume: “I hope we'll meet again at the next opportunity. I'm only ending this tale.”
Overall : A+
Story : A+
Art : A
+ A thoughtful look into mental illness and addiction in Japan; Engaging monologues from the creator; Stylish, unique art style with a pleasant orange screentone; Excellent translation and lettering
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