Helen and Krystallina check out Kabi Nagata's autobiographical manga, one about Kabi's depression, anxiety, and identity, and coming to understand herself.
Title: My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness (Sabishisugite Rezu Fūzoku Ikimashita Report)
Genre: Autobiography, Yuri
Publisher: East Press (JP), Seven Seas (US)
Creator: Nagata Kabi
Originally published on: Pixiv
Translation: Jocelyne Allen
Release Date: June 6, 2017
A review copy was provided by Seven Seas.
Helen: I am neither a lesbian nor afraid of my loneliness, but My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness still described me better than many others have tried.
Nagata Kabi’s life is many things and while her lesbian identity is an important aspect of that, it is not the only aspect of her life and I hope that people don’t see this title and walk away because they aren’t lesbians. Rather, it was coming to understand her sexuality that helped Kabi sort out other pieces of her life, things and mindsets that felt perfectly normal and fine but in hindsight were not, and this ties her autobiographical story into the rare, natural-feeling character arc.
One thing I do have in common with Kabi is that I have some depression and anxiety, something which can be remarkably hard to figure out! My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness is the best “this is how depression and anxiety can make you feel” story I’ve ever seen. Kabi has a real knack for clearly articulating what and why she felt things at various points over the years. It is not one thing that drove her to loneliness but many little things (quite a few of which are societal pressures and sometimes society doesn’t like to admit its flaws) that resulted in her becoming quite frankly, a mess.
But one more thing Kabi was able to do was understand herself. She mentions seeing a therapist but she was able to work out on her own that she needed to go down that path and continues to pull herself back together again and again. I only found out I had depression recently and a large part of why was because I thought that was normal, having to pull yourself back together to this extent was what everyone did, that depression was something so great that a person couldn’t do it on their own.
I do advocate for getting help with depression 100% by the way, but in many ways I think Kabi’s portrayal of her mental state shows a subtler kind of depression, as odd as it sounds, than I’m used to seeing (and one her own parents certainly couldn’t). It shows how depression can lurk unseen, only to lunge and come back, something which can be hard to explain. Most importantly, My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness shows that “it gets better”, that slowly she is able to put various pieces of her life together and live the life that she wants, something which I think is ultimately everyone’s goal.
Despite sinking to some dark depths (I would give the book trigger warnings for self-harm, anorexia and binging, depression, and possibly suicidal thoughts) My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness is a story with a lot of hope in the end.
Helen’s Rating: 5 out of 5
Krystallina: My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness is not just a biography, which is a rarity in the manga genre, but an autobiography — one that deals with mature, serious subjects, and not a comedic look at everyday life.
In other words, this manga is pretty much alone in the sea of manga releases. That alone should get your attention.
My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness is in essence an extended therapy session or support group meeting. Kabi narrates about how she ends up calling a lesbian escort service after 28 years of no romantic experience. The art essentially plays second fiddle to the story. (It’s a minimalist style, so don’t expect artbook quality pictures.) The author never reveals if she’s been actually diagnosed with anything, but there’s little doubt that she has been seeing therapists for a reason… or rather reasons:
- Cutting herself
- Eating disorder
- Low self-esteem
- Issues with parents
For those of us who aren’t suffering from chemical imbalances or bad learned behaviors, it will seem like Kabi had several chances to change the direction of her life. But even knowing what a “normal” person should do doesn’t actually solve the underlying issue. That’s what makes treating mental illnesses so difficult, and it’s this struggle that so many people will relate to.
The parents — particularly the mother — are no doubt the real mystery in Kabi’s story. And for me, that’s the most disappointing part of the manga. Kabi freely shares how she started realizing her preferences for women instead of men and admits doing “the worst thing ever” to her mom, but I was left wishing for a volume two, a My Daughter’s Unseen Experience with Loneliness or My Graduation from Loneliness version. The manga ends with Kabi taking her first steps toward independence (and a bonus story about her second time), but has she ever revealed to her parents what she writes about? How did her parents not see some of the red flags of her life, or did they really think they were being truly supportive in letting their daughter keep her earnings while only working part time? Do they feel differently now that they know her feelings, and has she ever worked up the courage to go on a proper date with someone? I mean, I know obviously her personal story is yet unfinished, but inquiring minds want to know!
I also found it interesting that the manga is two-toned, pink and black on white paper. I imagine this was done on purpose, but even if not, then there is whole other aspect that any psychology-focused critical analysis would love to go into. Seven Seas rates this for older teens, and it’s probably only because of its simplistic style. Sex is obviously discussed and shown right from the get-go, so the manga is probably not something I’d recommend you bring to grandma’s house this summer. I do adore all the visual analogies Kabi uses to describe her feelings, like her two selves and the concept of her mother being this large pillow-like thing. It helps those of us who don’t really understand mental illness get an inside look at her feelings besides just telling us.
I’m sure a lot of manga readers will love to read a real story about a Japanese woman who goes against the society’s social norms, but I do think the psychological aspect is actually the bigger focus. Since Kabi never starts a real woman x woman relationship, My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness is not a “yuri in the real world”-type story. This is an engaging introspective into someone’s life, and while not perfect, neither are people. And that’s what makes life and this story so interesting.