Author: Kabi Nagata (translated from Japanese by Jocelyne Allen)
Publish Date: June 2017
Publisher: Seven Seas Entertainment (Macmillan)
Catalog ID: ISBN: 978-1626926035
by Gladys Ochoa
(The following manga this review covers contains suicidal ideation, gaslighting, self-harm, eating disorder, and is of a sexual nature.)
Depression, hopelessness, loneliness, isolation. Nagata Kabi expresses them in vivid detail throughout the manga My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness. The manga is about her life after high school, the harsh reality of transitioning into adulthood. Trying to find a place of acceptance, she goes through various part-time jobs to create a feeling of normalcy, only for her parents to dismiss her. Without the stability of high school, and without the validation of her family, she falls deeper into her anxiety and depression.
The author doesn’t shy away from her emotions. She depicts herself as a paranoid human with wide eyes and unkept hair. The characterization is humorous and yet fitting, not distracting from the material of the manga. One can still feel compassion and can relate to her without distancing ourselves from seeing a “caricature”. Her reactions are exaggerated, with the inclusion of traditional manga iconography of using vertical lines for despair, air bubbles for exhaustion and multiple tears for being upset. These aid in the story by sharing with the reader her current emotional state without having to describe it. She uses humor to cope with various situations including her first escort encounter, providing a “cushion” to what would otherwise be an intense moment. The uses of metaphors are also included for complex feelings, in one instance comparing the struggle of having anxiety and sexual pleasure as a balancer, where one emotion overrides the other.
Although most are never mentioned by name it is clear through the pages that there is anxiety, catastrophic thoughts, self-harm, dependency, gaslighting and eating disorders in her life. The anxiety growing with each page from her lack of acceptance. She battles her inner critic, formed from her parents to be the perfect daughter. Nagata struggles to perform up to her parents’ expectations, always falling short. Her quest to please them leads to constant rejection, the rejection defining her for a period of her life and causing stasis.
Nagata has trouble accepting kindness and rewards, going so far as rejecting a slice of cake. She is a people pleaser always aiming for parental recognition. Her entire being, defined by her parents, disallows her to enjoy life to the point of developing an eating disorder. At last, during one event, she discovers the emotional wall she had built up for survival. She self identifies her needs as a person to be recognized, to be touched, and to be loved.
She begins her manga journey to report the one incident that gives her the strength to let go of her need for pleasing her parents. To be her authentic self, she gains the confidence to write this graphic novel, slowly overcoming her lesbian experience with loneliness.
Editor’s note: My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness won two 2018 Harvey Awards (Best Manga and, oddly, Best European Book)
Gladys Ochoa is the Museum Associate at the Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco, CA. She enjoys reading Graphic Novels, Comics, Zines, Manga and Webcomics. Her latest creative endeavor “Ribbons of Thought” (on Tapas and Webtoons) is about a hamster and chihuahua finding healing through stories about anxiety and depression.