Saturday, April 2, 2022

My Wandering Warrior Existence (Manga review)

This is an impossibly hard review to write. What is the proper balance between writing an honest personal review of a work of art, respecting both the person and the effort they took at creating the work, and any attempt to critique a work that is also a memoir and not pure fiction? Those are easy questions to answer when the reviewer unequivocally enjoys the work. However, it can feel icky when the reviewer doesn't enjoy the memoir as much. I don't ever want to judge another person. But should I comment on the craft behind telling the story? 
    Today, the memoir in question is "My Wandering Warrior Existence" by Nagata Kabi (Seven Seas), the fifth memoir manga in her series that began with her seminal, brilliant, heart-breaking, affecting manga "My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness."
    Essentially, "My Wandering Warrior Existence" suffers in relation to the extraordinary "My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness." In fact, I've felt that each volume since that first one has been one of diminishing returns. That doesn't mean they haven't been good, or powerful, but with each one maybe a little bit less so. Maybe it's that the freshness and uniqueness of "My Lesbian Experience" simply couldn't be recreated now that it was in the world - after all it was so unlike anything before it, but all her works after invariably must contain reflections of it. Or maybe it really is that the subsequent volumes simply aren't quite as excellent. But for whatever reason, "My Wandering Warrior Existence" feels like the slightest of the five volumes so far. 
    It is, of course, quite good actually. Her rough art has amazing charms. And her writing about herself is brutally honest. But on the whole, "My Wandering Warrior Existence" isn't necessarily as memorable or profound as the prior works. And yet of course, every reader is bound to connect with different things differently, so maybe for some, this will be your favorite so far. However, it began to feel less important to me as her story shifts from some of the more desperate, dark, and harrowing places in the previous volumes. This volume mostly focuses on Kabi's attempts to begin dating, or thinks about beginning to date, and for the most part doesn't mine the levels of desperation, illness, and pain of the prior volumes that gave them their gravitas and import as literature. 
    That being said, there is one very complex and personal thing that Kabi brings up in this volume. I won't spoil it, but it could also be quite tough for some readers and she does provide a trigger warning and the page numbers to skip through. Purely as a reader, I felt it quite difficult how Kabi reveals this truly horrific and major personal information but then also moves on from it very quickly and never returns to it. This is her truth and her life and her processing laid bare before us, so maybe this is really what it felt like to her and she was able to just move on. But at the same time, I wished she had either explored the implications of this in her life more thoroughly and what the healing process was like (or wasn't like)...or maybe hadn't brought it up at all. In some ways, this event could be seen as making everything in the prior four volumes make sense. And Kabi starts to talk about it with that level of significance but just as suddenly as this revelation is made, she moves on saying maybe it really isn't the cause of all her challenges after all. Huh? 
    I certainly don't expect anyone to expose themselves so openly and personally if they don't want to, but then why bring it up at all just to deny that it has any role in the larger life story she's telling through this manga series? I suspect because it does have a bigger role than she is ready to explore publicly right now (or maybe even admit to herself). 
    As a reader though it left me feeling badly. An analog for the feelings that this approach evoked in me might be similar to when your partner says they cheated on you years ago but felt horrible keeping the secret - they unburden themselves at your expense (BTW this has never actually happened to me, my [very few] ex's are all good people). Like, what are you supposed to do with this information now? You were happy a minute ago, thinking everything is fine. But after sharing, they get to feel better (no more guilt) and now you feel worse. I know that that is not at all a fair comparison to make. Kabi has no need to justify how much or what she does with anything she reveals in her work. But it was my honest emotional reaction to how this event is handled so briefly in this work, for better or worse. It left me feeling burdened with its enormity with no recourse.
    Other than this brief section, which occurs roughly halfway through the volume over the course of a couple pages, there are episodes about wedding photos, dating apps, grandchildren, and a lot of research about relationships. These are fine, occasionally humorous, sometimes a bit didactic, but often feeling more like filler. Which makes the volume feel like filler, i.e. just not up to par with some of the prior volumes. But let's say hypothetically there were to be a few more stunning volumes after this one, then if one were to read all of them together, the stories here might work in that larger arc. But as a self-contained volume about her thoughts on dating, it just didn't quite come together as cohesively (or as importantly) as the prior volumes.
    Is it good? Should you buy it? Did you like her other stuff and want to keep supporting her as a creator? It was okay and I will certainly keep buying new volumes from her as they come out. As I said in the beginning, I feel very icky trying to write a review of a memoir, because that is that person's life. And who am I to judge another person's life? But as a reviewer, I can look at the art of putting that story on the page, and in this case, "My Wandering Warrior Existence" didn't work as well for me as her prior volumes. The explosive freshness of "My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness" may simply not be a fair comparison for any other works by her. Yet it exists and can't be ignored. 


Please legitimately purchase or borrow manga and anime. Never read scanlations or watch fansubs. Those rob the creators of the income they need to survive and reduce the chance of manga and anime being legitimately released in English.

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