From the creator of Oyasumi Punpun, Inio Asano brings us a story of adolescent love, sex, and mental illness between two middle school friends. Originally published in Manga Erotics F, it was picked up for western publication by Vertical where they released all 20 chapters in one omnibus version. I honestly haven’t had to chance to check out Punpun for myself yet, but if it’s anything like A Girl on the Shore, I’m excited to see what kind of story Asano crafts and what kind of art he presents us with. After reading this manga, I almost want to say that this was what I was looking for when I went into Scum’s Wish, a gritty story about casual sex between two people who have a relationship complicated by fear and mental illness. And, while it doesn’t hold back on its displays of sex and exploration, I never felt like these scenes were there purely for our titillation rather they acted as a key component in our understanding of these two juvenile’s relationship to themselves and each other.
A Girl on the Shore follows the lives of two middle school students, Koume and Keisuke, as they develop a relationship based around casual sex and the need for something more. Koume looks to Keisuke as a rebound companion after the playboy Misaki loses interest in her, but soon finds herself enjoying their time together. Keisuke has confessed his love for Koume multiple times before, and agrees to help her get over the self-involved Misaki, but things quickly become clouded as the anniversary of his brother’s suicide fast approaches.
One of the best things about this manga is definitely the art. I was looking back over some information about Inio Asano and his art style, and there was some talk about him editing photographs in order to make more detailed backgrounds. I’m not sure if he used the same technique here, but almost all of the backgrounds I saw in this manga were highly detailed to the point where a few did make me question if they were actually photographs. The amount of detail and the almost photographic quality of the backgrounds add to the realistic feeling of the whole manga, supporting the impression that this is a story about real teenagers in the real world. In contrast, the character designs can be fairly simple especially when it comes to faces, yet I don’t think Asano really skimps out on his facial expressions. Koume and Keisuke go through many moments of high emotion and Asano manages to capture that fairly well in how much detail he chooses to add to a face.
For being 20 chapters shoved together in one volume, the manga didn’t give me a crowded feeling at all. This is probably due to how Asano chose to lay out his panels for each page giving the manga as a whole a fairly spacious feel. The page design features large panels, with no more than an average of 3 to 5 panels per page. This allows us to both see a good portion of the action but also the allows us to take in all of the vast amounts of detail put into each scene. There are also moments of full page spreads or one page splashes that serve to create a deep sense of impact, especially when characters wind up by the ocean.
As I mentioned above, the story gave me the feeling of a better Scum’s Wish with it’s focus on a more realistic relationship between two students who are at least marginally shitty people in their own ways. Koume knows of Keisuke’s attraction to her and uses him repeatedly for sex while still trying to hook up again with Misaki. She’s also someone who hides her real personality behind a mask when interacting with family and friends. Stories about public persona’s are fairly common among shoujo romances and school stories in general. We begin to see throughout the story that it is only with Keisuke that she shows who she really is and lets loose with all her desires. Keisuke has his own issues as well. Haunted by his brother’s suicide, he has become withdrawn and isolated from his classmates. The only things he seems to care about are the blog he took over from his brother and sex with Koume. He can be vindictive and depressed in equal measure. However, it’s through these faults that real characters are developed, and it’s through how these faults begin creating challenges for their lives that we see true character growth.
I hate to keep comparing to Scum’s Wish, but I think there is an important distinction to make with this series: its use of sex. I talked a bit in my previous review of Scum’s Wish about the use of sex as a tool for character development or as an important part of the story. Where that anime went wrong, I think A Girl on the Shore does quite well in incorporating sex scenes into its overall story and character understanding. It avoids picturing sex in a manner that is purely for titillation, instead showing moments that could be found in any teenager’s love life or moments that may downplay the arousal in favor of creating gritty scenes. I will also say here that this manga was printed at a time when Japan still used quite a bit of censorship in its comics, but you will see clearly scene depicting full pubic hair and genitals, uncensored. The sex itself seems to reinforce my feeling that the story revolves around two teenagers who are both bored with their lives and are trying to escape their problems, you know like normal teenagers.
A Girl on the Shore also does a pretty good job showing the effects of mental illness especially suicide. As a country with the third highest suicide rate in the world, it’s not surprising at all to come across a character who has known someone who committed suicide. While I think the discussion of mental illness could have been better, you get a pretty clear sense how Keisuke’s brother’s death has affected him. It especially becomes clearer as the anniversary of his death draws nearer, which just so happens to fall on Keisuke’s birthday. I thought the ending was kind of a cop-out in how he started to overcome that trauma, but sometimes something small to look forward to is all you need to get through depression. I won’t spoil it for you, so if you ever wind up picking this up for yourself, let me know in the comments what you thought of the manga!
Edit 8/17/17: I incorrectly noted that Japan has the highest suicide rate in the world. It is actually the third highest behind South Korea and Hungary.