I have been crushing on Bokura no Hentai since it came out, basically, but for some reason, it never occurred to me to explore other things by author Fumiko Fumi, although that is normally the first thing I do when I find some book I love. Generally, the second the last page is turned, I am out the door and back at the bookstore looking for every other thing that author has written. But I’ve had a peculiar resistance within me when it came to Fumi, one I’m not sure I can explain since I don’t really understand it. I think I had this sort of fear that Bokura was a fluke, that the nuanced story of constructing identity and gender was a one-off and that all her other work would be panty shots and fan service or something. I have no idea why this fear lay in my heart. Maybe simply because I love Bokura enough that any hint of fan service in any work by the same artist would tarnish the whole thing for me? Whatever it was, I have walked by Fumi books in the bookstore on more than one occasion.
But this time, cover and title were too intriguing to let my worry about ruining another work get in the way. And then there’s the cover blurb: “Her first month of working at a funeral home. And she falls in love with an older coworker who keeps telling her he’s going to kill her.” Uh, okay. Much like with the whole “Is it BL? Is it yuri?” on the cover of the first Bokura, I was intrigued enough to plunk down my six hundred yen and see what the whole thing was about. And it is about a lot. For real. This is the book that wipes away any concerns I had about Fumi’s work. I will be reading everything I can get my hands on from now on.
For one thing, the title! Obviously, when the protagonist is a girl working in a funeral home, the whole “you’re going to die” part of memento mori is front and center, but Fumi does some really delightful word dancing to connect the title to the story in a bunch of different ways. And as much as I would love to translate this into English, I would never be able to capture all these little connections because the words are necessarily different in English. Like the “mori” is actually spelled with the kanji for “woods”, and an important part of the story is very connected to the woods. Other title plays would be easier to translate, like the main character’s name is Meno, but she accidentally misspells her own name on her name tag and becomes “Meme” to everyone in the funeral home.
As in Bokura, Fumi’s art is soft and rounded and reminiscent of Takako Shimura, but it’s more minimalist here. And the softness of her lines nicely contrasts with the edges in the story. Meno (aka Meme) starts work at a funeral home, not because her life’s dream is to see the dead off on their journey, but because she doesn’t really know what else to do. She’s pretty indifferent to everything; the world lacks color for her. Except when she is getting all BDSM with her lover. And this is where you really see a thematic connection with Bokura. Not that BDSM is the same as cross-dressing or being transgender, just that Fumi seems interested in exploring identities that lie outside the mainstream of society. And in Memento, there’s a crossover of those identities with Meme who works in a funeral home—definitely not mainstream—and also has a non-mainstream and often maligned sexuality. And like Bokura, she doesn’t find happiness despite this “weirdness”, but rather because of it.
There could be a little more of a reality brought to it, like safe words and things. But Fumi definitely draws the character in a respectful way and depicts Meme’s sexuality as a choice she makes rather than something she is forced into by some dude. And there is a bit of a warm fuzzy feel to the whole thing. But I’m willing to be forgiving because overall, the book is so spot on with the complexities of human relationships and sexualities. Not to mention the way Fumi handles the deaths Meme has to deal with at the funeral home. I read the majority of this on a long train ride to pick up the TCAF crew for Kaigai Manga Festa fun (it was so fun! I met Naoto Yamakawa! I got Natsume Ono sake!), and I kept having to bury my face in the book because of the many feels I was feeling. I was giggling, tearing up, biting my nails. The giggling probably made me seem the most unstable to my fellow train riders? I don’t know. I should take a poll: Do tears or giggles from a stranger on the train make you more uncomfortable?
Basically, what I’m saying is read this one in the comfort of your own home where you can giggle and cry to your heart’s content. But read it. Don’t be afraid of being disappointed. You won’t be. Also, the frontispieces for this one are so lovely. I couldn’t squeeze that in anywhere else, but seriously, they’re beautiful. I want posters of all of them.
(As always, apologies for the terrible photos of pages while I’m in Japan. One day, I will get a scanner for when I am living here.)