by Moyoco Anno
published by Vertical; $16.95 US
Vertical has recently brought several of Moyoco Anno’s manga to our shores, including the historical portrait Sakuran: Blossoms Wild and the biography-inspired comedy Insufficient Direction. Previously, we’ve seen the dark comedy of a woman looking for happiness in Happy Mania, the magical kids of Sugar Sugar Rune, and the savage comments on beauty and popularity of Flowers and Bees.
It was reading that last one that made me realize why it is that, while I appreciate Anno’s work, I don’t love it. It’s because she’s so cruel to her characters. Everyone in her books suffers, often due to their own refusal to honestly realize their flaws. That’s uncomfortable. And yet, at least all these books are available here. I doubt a revealing story aimed at women like In Clothes Called Fat would otherwise have made it to English, without a creator with a significant amount of name recognition here, which would be a shame.
Every woman can relate to obsessing over weight and eating, since so much value is put on appearance. In Clothes Called Fat is the story of Noko, a fat woman (although the way she’s drawn makes it clear that “fat” is in part cultural; if the story was told here, she’d be much larger) who uses food to handle stress and loneliness. The first few pages establish the character — she hates her body, feeling like she’s “wearing a leotard of flesh”, but keeps eating, because that’s a moment when she’s not thinking about her size and how other women denigrate her for it. In psych-speak, she’s swallowing her feelings, along with a lot of food.
Anno’s art style normally features slender women who resemble fashion illustrations, with exaggerated, overly made up features. Those women here are the villains, those who casually make Noko feel worthless. That they are external voices for her internal worries only make it worse. She already knows that guys don’t find her attractive.
She does have a boyfriend. They’ve been together for several years, but his motives for being with her are as abusive as her co-workers, and she eventually finds out he’s cheating on her. In Clothes Called Fat is an authentic, raw portrait of what it’s like not to fit in and hate yourself, although don’t come into it expecting redemption or a positive outcome. That’s the American take, where we expect Noko to just get some willpower, stand up for herself, lose the weight, and find a better guy.
Instead, events bleakly spiral into the increasingly outrageous, with paid dating, a weight-loss clinic, criminal co-workers, banishment, paranoid plots, and a very lost, self-loathing central figure. The most interesting visual change, to me, is how accurately Anno draws a bulimic Noko — she thinks skinny = pretty, but her face is haunted, with bags under her eyes, demonstrating that starving yourself is no solution. As with several other of Vertical’s recent josei manga releases, this is for adults only, given the drawings of naked women used to drive home the subject. (The publisher provided a review copy.)