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by Rebecca Silverman,

That's My Atypical Girl

GN 1

That's My Atypical Girl GN 1
Yokoi's a struggling manga artist who mostly makes money from his porn doujinshi and his paper route. He does create original works, but they're not popular – which is part of what surprises him when a young woman shows up at his door, claiming to be a fan. Saito is odd, and clearly doesn't seem to understand social norms or to view the world the same way most people do, and Yokoi isn't quite sure what to do with her. Should he make her leave? Or is she maybe looking for someone who can understand the ways in which she's different?

That's My Atypical Girl is a bit difficult to review. In part that's because my own lived experience does not involve Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), but also because of the way that ASD is presented in the manga. The original title of the series is Asper Kanojo, with “asper” being short for Asperger Syndrome, a form of autism. That designation was removed from use in the U.S. per the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders' fifth edition (DSM-V) in 2013, but it is still in use in other countries and remains in the International Classification of Diseases (ICD)'s eleventh edition as of 2021, so the title shouldn't ring any warning bells. The story follows two people, manga artist Yokoi and his fan Saito, both of whom may be on the autism spectrum; without understanding that, it can come off as very unsettling, and even with the knowledge, it's very intense.

The story begins when Yokoi answers his door one day to find a young woman standing there. She says that she's a fan of his original works (as opposed to his porn doujinshi), and that she's come to meet him. When Yokoi asks how she knew his address, she mentions that she looked at the backgrounds of pictures he posted to Instagram and pieced together his Tokyo address from that – and that she's come from Tottori on an overnight bus to see him. Immediately Yokoi wonders what's going on with this woman, because that's not “normal” by most social standards, and in fact could constitute stalking. Still, flattered by her obvious love of his work, he allows her to come in, noting that she doesn't do normal polite things like ask if she can enter his home or engage in other social niceties. As time passes and Saito doesn't leave, she tells him that she hasn't bought her bus ticket home, and Yokoi realizes that she means to just stay with him.

Clinically, these behaviors can indicate ASD and some of its most common co-morbidities. Saito, as she eventually introduces herself, has no real understanding of social behavior, which is evident from her self-invitation to Yokoi's home to her obsessive behaviors and how the artist depicts her unsettling stare, the story's interpretation of a flat affect. But other elements of her character tend towards harmful myths about ASD, such as her violent reactions to some things. When a dog approaches her outside, she kicks it (and informs Yokoi that she must wipe her boots for forty-five minutes if they touch a dog); when a child at a bathhouse bumps into her, she trips him and then punches his mother. There is no specific link between ASD and violence, and when it does occur, it's more typically someone nonverbal attempting to communicate. Since Saito is verbal, we could posit that her reactions are the result of her abusive family; her father, we learn, used to lock her in a dog cage and she hates her brother to the point where she has a teddy bear she pummels because it looks like him. If this is the case, however, the story doesn't quite go far enough to establish the root causes of her behavior, presenting her actions as simply part of the bundle of other odd behaviors.

In part, this may be a deliberate decision in order to show how Yokoi realizes that he's not entirely comfortable just putting her on a bus and sending her back home, and also to showcase the way that people who don't understand ASD, or any neurodivergence, can react negatively to someone they see as “bad.” We certainly see that when the mothers of the little boy at the bathhouse and the girl with her dog look at Saito; the bathhouse mother flat-out calls her a freak and says that there's something wrong with her. Since this is precisely the reaction that neurodivergent people can get (or grow up getting), both it and the way that Yokoi makes an attempt to react differently regardless of how uncomfortable she makes him do need to be shown in the book; that violence was the choice of method is less wonderful.

Yokoi really does try to meet Saito where she lives. She does make him upset and uncomfortable throughout the volume, especially when she cuts herself in the night and when she stares at him unrelentingly. But he also knows what to say to help her cope, talking her through a panic attack and giving her a mantra for when she starts to feel overwhelmed. Since Yokoi mentions that, unlike Saito, he's uncomfortable looking people in the eye, he may have an ASD adjacent disorder, possibly anxiety/panic, that allows him to understand where she's coming from a bit better than most people. And we do get the feeling that Yokoi is the ally Saito has needed all her life. It's just too bad that she so clearly pushed this on him, although she doesn't realize that she did.

That's My Atypical Girl makes us ask the question of what constitutes good representation. It never uses the words “autism” or “Asperger's” in the story, and it does lean a bit towards less good stereotypes about the autism spectrum. But it's also one of the few titles to feature a neurodivergent main character. We have to weigh those two elements against each other and decide if things come down more on the positive or the negative.

Overall : C+
Story : C+
Art : C+

+ Does provide representation for neurodivergency, Yokoi is very supportive.
Never uses actual words for what Saito may have, leans into some negative stereotypes about ASD.

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Production Info:
Story: Sōhachi Hagimoto
Art: Renji Morita
Licensed by: Kodansha Comics

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