Some topics can be very hard to discuss through normal means of conversation or even writing. It can be difficult to really capture the full meaning behind these events and emotions that can be too turbulent or confusing to straighten out in our minds and process. However, what I love about the comics medium is its ability to combine two different ways of expressing ourselves into something that is easy to digest and understand. Difficult topics become easier to express as the visuals and written medium give two different avenues in which to affect the reader’s mind and consciousness. We’ve seen so many of these topics discussed and praised for being told as comics, from March (the retelling of the civil rights movement and the march on Washington) to Fun Home (a memoir about being and coming out as gay). My Broken Mariko is similar in this respect as it tries to tackle some of life’s most difficult topics like suicide, grief, self-harm, abuse, child sexual abuse, and love. It’s a tough short comic to get through, but the way the art and story-telling combine within its pages helps cement my feeling that this comic is one of the best as what it aimed to do. However, it is certainly not for everyone, so if you have issues reading about any of the topics discussed above, I would skip over this one or at least tread lightly.
My Broken Mariko follows Tomoyo Shiino who find out suddenly through the news that one of her best friends has died, has in fact jumped off a four story building and committed suicide. Shiino had been Mariko’s best friend throughout her life, even as her friend faced abuse at home, depression, and self-harm. She became Mariko’s life-line in a world of pain and abuse, and her death struck her as a surprise. Now in a world of grief, Shiino goes to retrieve Mariko’s ashes from the people who never cared for her and take them somewhere she has always wanted to go. It’s a story of love, loss, and the journey to overcoming grief. Published by Yen Press, this short, one-volume manga has already received a ton of praise, but I can’t help heaping more on it here.
Trigger Warning: abuse, self-harm, suicide, sexual abuse, depression
Waka Hirako has a special way with her art and storytelling. While reading through this manga, I got distinct FLCL vibes from the art style. It’s super expressive both in the facial features and in the body movements. The way that she sets up even the opening scene is sure to draw in the readers. We are introduced to our main character and the plot from the very first page, as we see Shiino caught slurping noodles while staring at the news. She’s caught in this moment, frozen in time as she digests what’s going on. The “camera” pulls out and then zooms in and around for an upward-facing shot on the next page, really capturing us with the kind of unsettled feeling, the uneven ground Shiino must feel like she’s standing on right now. Hirako has done a great job in just these two pages to introduce us to the plot and reaction of the main character by using her art and story-telling abilities in tandem.
My Broken Mariko has an abundance of great scenes like this, where Hirako puts her artistic abilities on show for her readers and really creates pages and scenes that draw you in with its clear and powerful emotions and expressive qualities. Just five pages later, we see evidence of this in the scene where Shiino decides to retrieve (aka rob) Mariko’s ashes from her father and step-mother who never cared for her. We see her make her way into her apartment and search for something, then she pulls out a knife, and the panel zooms in on her face, distorting it, as she makes the resolution to do this last thing for her best friend. We can see through Hirako’s art the determination in Shiino’s eyes as she holds the knife up in front of her. The panel’s background becomes pure black and the shading around Shiino becomes highly contrasted to really make her expression pop out on the page. It’s this kind of intersection between art and narrative that really makes this manga live up to the praise being given all over the internet.
In a way I wonder if Hirako’s particular style of art was a way to lighten up some of the heavy material she was discussing. I’m trying to imagine what a similar manga would feel like with a more serious and neater style, and I’m not sure I would enjoy it as much. The very expressive nature of Shiino’s reactions and interactions with others adds another layer onto the story that I think in a way shields us from dropping completely into the depth of depression and serious nature of the topics explored. There are times when the pages switch to a more realistic art style as Shiino remembers moments of her past with Mariko, and the contrast between those and the crazy expressiveness of the other pages makes for a more poignant discussion in my eyes.
Anime News Network has a great interview with Waka Hirako on the creation of this manga. I think it helps explain a lot of what is going on in the story and the author’s motivation to write it. Hirako reveals that she wrote this manga as a way to deal with and express the feelings she has surrounding her mother telling her stories about her own experiences with abuse when she was a child. The “what if…?” questions that arise from these stories were causing some troubling feelings for her and she needed some way to express and deal with them. The story of Mariko and Shiino acted as a way to act out some of these what if’s, like what if I was her mother instead of her real one, or what if she had someone there for her. I really think this is just further evidence of how helpful the comics medium can be to process and express real-life events and emotions in a constructive fashion. It seems like Hirako was dealing with a lot when processing her mother’s abuse, and chose this as her outlet.
The story is tough to get through, but in the end I think it’s rewarding. The process of grief is a long one, and while I don’t necessarily believe in the “5 Stages of Grief” theory, I do think everyone has their own way to process their feelings of loss and overcome them. Shiino’s involved making sure her best friend was finally rescued from the horrible living conditions she lived in and visited a place she had always wanted to go for a final time. If that meant neglecting her job and traveling for hours on a bus to get there, then so be it. The journey itself became the release that Shiino needed in the end, as evidenced by Mariko’s ashes dissipating into the air in a cloud of sparkles.
My Broken Mariko is a moving and emotional look into what it’s like to lose someone you love to suicide, to feel like you weren’t there for them when they really needed you, and to find a way to process that grief. It is definitely not something you go into unprepared for the kind of emotions presented, but it will in the end leave you with a very bittersweet feeling. I hope you all consider picking up a copy for yourselves, and if you already have, let me know what you thought in the comments below.
~~Thanks for Reading!~~
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