Tuesday, June 26, 2018

MANGA: My Solo Exchange Diary Vol. 1 - review

"My Solo Exchange Diary Vol. 1" is the worthy sequel to the amazing manga "My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness" by Nagata Kabi. "My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness" is simply one of the greatest LQBTQ focused manga ever and transcends the manga genre as an autobiographical essay on depression (which is really its larger focus). "My Solo Exchange Diary Vol. 1" is the first volume of autobiography following her break-out success. The second volume is already available for pre-order on Amazon. Needless to say, I've pre-ordered volume 2 already!

"My Solo Exchange Diary Vol. 1" picks up the author's life just as "My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness" is getting ready for publication and the ensuing notoriety, feedback, and implications for her family (given the details of that time in her life) as it is finally published. Again we work with Nagata Kabi as she struggles to move her life forward through her ongoing depression. She takes baby steps, both forward and backward, but ultimately inching forward. There is some amazing stuff as she works through her relationship with her mother and we get some nice insight into her mom's character. I can't quite read her dad, whose comments we mostly get through her mother's lens. I get the sense that maybe he's more okay with things than we're led to believe. We also get hints that Kabi is starting to come out of her shell through massive effort on her part. She's just so endearing whether she is crying, with friends, on her mother's lap, moving between multiple apartments and her parent's home, etc...  You can't help but root for Kabi both in the manga and in real life.

As for the presentation and printing, the book is lovely. The black, white and pink color scheme is perfect for the mood (keeping some heavy subject matter from feeling too dark), the printing quality excellent, and her art continues to be both cute and painful in all the right ways. The translation is effortless and never feels like a translation at all. The feel and pacing of this book is subtlety different than "My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness" in that it's more episodic, like the diary it is, and maybe a little bit less raw than the original book. That is by no means a slight, and if "My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness" didn't exist for comparison, this would be a ground-breaking book in its own right. However, it doesn't quite rise up to the power, grace, humor, sadness, and humanity of the first volume, if only because it isn't breaking the same new ground.

I give this manga a strong 8/10 ("highly recommended") and consider it essential reading for anyone who suffers from depression, for anyone looking for a unique LGBTQ narrative, or for anyone that loves brilliant autobiography. It balances humor, depression, self-hatred, affection, kindness, family dynamics, character growth, etc... and being autobiographical it carries a weight and power that it might not have had otherwise. For those unfamiliar, it is certainly not the type of manga typically provided to the American market. I'm so thankful we're getting more diversity of style and voice being translated. This is a gem and highly worth your time. I can't wait for volume 2.

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