Bokura no Hentai—The End: Fumiko Fumi

IMG_5794So it had to end. Everything that begins ends, except Crest of the Royal Family. That series will outlive us all. But Fumiko Fumi is not writing an epic, time-travelling drama featuring pharaohs and American heiresses, and so her tale is not one that can continue through the ages. And of course, I knew that when I started reading Bokura no Hentai, but it didn’t really hit me until I saw the final volume sitting on the shelf. I stared at it for a minute, in slight disbelief, even though I saw Fumi tweet about the last chapter. But perhaps it came too soon; I couldn’t bring myself to read it. Volume 10 languished in the pile of books I brought back with me from this last trip to Japan. What if it’s terrible? I asked myself. What if it’s too beautiful and I cry all the tears? Clearly, I could not be trusted to read this volume on public transit.

And for a series I have enjoyed/thought about this much, I decided that the best thing to do was to go back and read the whole thing from the beginning. After all, I read the first volume in 2012; my brain could do with a refresher on the details. And maybe reading it all in one go, I’d find some new insights into the whole saga of Marika, Yui, and Palow. I’m not sure how much insight I gained, but it was a pleasure to read an entire series from start to finish without interruption. Reading it all in one go really made me realize how seamless it is, how Fumi was thinking ten volumes ahead right from the start. Well, maybe nine. The last volume isn’t quite everything it could have been.

This is where I remind you that I am talking about the last book in this series and everything leading up to that last book, so there are things that will be spoiled for you if you are deeply invested in being surprised by twists and turns of story. That said, this story has always been about the characters (as stories generally are), so even knowing this or that detail of the plot in advance will not ruin your enjoyment of the series. Unless, of course, you are the aforementioned person deeply invested in being surprised by plot. I should also take this opportunity to remind you that this story deals with some sensitive subject matter of a sexual nature, including some sexual violence, so you might want to avert your eyes if that is not a thing you want to read about.

Scan 3And now this is where I tell you I was disappointed in volume ten. Honestly, I should have expected it from the cover. From the last four covers, in fact. Volume ten depicts our three protagonists laughing like they have never ever had more fun, while volumes seven through nine show each of them individually, enjoying the same laughter. Laughter like a promise: everything will work out. But in volumes seven through nine, everything wasn’t exactly working out. Or rather, it was working out, but maybe not how everyone wanted it too. Which is basically what adolescence is.

Fumi surrounds Marika with enough supportive characters that her transition at first appears relatively painless. She starts going to school as a girl, and the other girls in her class coo over her, saying she’s always been too cute to be a boy. But Fumi doesn’t stray that far from reality. Marika might be in her protective bubble of friends, but when she steps slightly out of it, she is forced to confront the hatefulness of the world at large. And even though that hate is mild compared to what actual trans people face every day, it feels real. Marika’s pain feels real. Her isolation on their grade nine trip to Okinawa feels real.Scan 19

Her school might be doing their best to accept and accommodate her, but she still has to stay in a separate room with her teacher when all her classmates are staying together in two big rooms, one for girls and one for boys. The decision to have Marika stay with their teacher is never actually discussed, like the other moments when Marika faces discrimination of some kind. We see her in the moment, reacting, living her life. Fumi tackles issues of identity from the side like this, letting us see the actual situation, letting us see these characters she’s been so careful and thoughtful in building simply react to that situation and take from that what we will.

Like Palow coming to terms with the sexual assault he suffered as a child. The whole thing happens very naturally, with him gradually realizing what actually happened to him, who did it, and what it did to him, how it influences how he acts now. He’s not all happy-go-lucky by the end of the process, but he’s hopeful. He feels like maybe he’ll actually be able to have a meaningful relationship with his friends and with Ryo in particular. And once Ryo’s mom is taken away and he is free to drop the charade of pretending to be his dead sister for her, he is forced to figure out who he is again. He’s spent so long pretending to be Yui, being ignored by his own mother, that he is deeply uncertain of his own identity. Fumi lets us watch as he gingerly picks his way forward, reaching out to those shreds of his own self that remain. With the help of his fellow cross-dressers, of course.Scan 20

And this is the core of the story. These three boys, lost and alone in their own individual ways, manage to find each other, to hold onto each other, and somehow get through this difficult time. They support each other, hurt each other, push each other down, pull each other forward. And somehow, they come out on the other side. Not necessarily happily, but they make it. They’re still alive. They’ll be happy one of these days. That’s the promise that volume nine seemed to end on. Not just for Marika, Palow, and Ryo, but for all the supporting characters. And then volume ten happened.

I am not a fan of epilogues in general. I don’t know why an artist would feel compelled to tell the reader, “and they all lived happily ever after.” It’s so unnecessary. Let the work stand on its own. Don’t guide readers to the pat conclusion you want to force on your characters. And while the epilogue here isn’t quite as infuriating as the last volumes of IS, it still had me rolling my eyes. Fumi time skips ahead to Marika’s graduation and gives us a peek at what everyone is doing in the future as a grown-up. It goes without saying that they are all doing well, all happy, and most importantly, still friends as adults. Volume ten pushes into the relentless optimistic territory mined so well by IS. And I still don’t like it. For a story as nuanced and thoughtful as this one has been, it feels forced and trite. And it’s frustrating because I feel like the perfect, natural ending to the story comes at the end of the school trip to Okinawa on that note of uncertain hopefulness that’s basically been the foundation of the entire series.Scan 5

I wanted more. I’ve come to expect more from Fumi as a creator after reading Bokura and so many of her other books. I feel like she’s not afraid to shy away from untidiness, unpleasant endings. And I didn’t want Bokura to end unpleasantly, just honestly. That said, I still bawled my eyes out. I am such a sucker for a happy ending, however forced.   

8 thoughts on “Bokura no Hentai—The End: Fumiko Fumi

  1. I was morbidly curious to read the rest of the volumes after reading your review. At some point, I stopped reading this title, only hoping to reach its end because at one point, this story was far painful to read. Not because it was bad but because I felt Fumi really pushed the emotions of her three kids. It was painful to see them go through dark emotions at such an early age and so I put it down in hopes that it’ll reach to some point of happiness. And you’re right, the ending was wrapped up in such a way that it was rushed which was a bit of a let down only because the process of getting there was long and arduous. Yes, it was a beautiful ending. Like a present wrapped so beautifully that it disguises a ruined present.

    I hoped for more. As the darker cousin of Wandering Son, I kind of wanted a ruined ending. Or maybe I wanted a genuinely happy ending for everyone where they found people who genuinely loved them for who they are and were. A part of me wanted a better resolution for Palow and Ryo. Maybe they get together. Or maybe Marika accepts Ryo’s affection. Or maybe they have a lovely polyamorous life. I honestly don’t know what would be the ‘genuinely’ happy ending because after all they went through, I guess, the ending Fumi chose was most mature and appropriate.

    • The story is a painful one. You’re so right, Fumi really digs deep into this kids and brings up some difficult stuff. Which was why I felt let down by the ending. I wanted them to be happy, but I felt like that pat ending, the easy happiness she simply handed them betrayed the story up to that point. She handled these difficult feelings and issues so honestly and sensitively, I wanted the same thing from the ending.

      And I honestly do think the end of the school trip to Okinawa was a better ending, something more faithful to the series up to that point. It was hopeful, but it also acknowledged the uncertainty of the future these kids faced. I like how you characterize the ending as beautiful wrapping hiding the ruined present within. I wanted exactly what you wanted: a genuine ending. I don’t need Palow and Ryo to fall in love and get married. I don’t need Marika to give up on Palow. The weird, horrible, wonderful thing about life is that all these kinds of feelings can live together within us. And Fumi really acknowledged and depicted this kind of complexity throughout the series. So to reduce it all in the end to “everyone gets what they want, and they’re all happy”, it’s so utterly disappointing and false. Fumi’s talked about how she used to hate these characters, but grew to love them by the end. And I wonder if falling in love with them didn’t actually push her in the direction of a happier ending than was warranted by the actual story.

  2. How is it possible that a manga with cute and simple drawing can present complicated emotions so effortlessly like that? The subject matter is tricky and sometimes Fumi seems to simplify some things so that the story can move on but wow, I am honestly overwhelmed. The feeling is completely different from mangakas like Asano Inio whom I have always felt a bit phony (sorry if you’re a fan). Fumi feels genuine. I just finished volume six and so far I really really like it.

    Since I haven’t reached the final book, I cannot comment much about the epilogue, but sometimes authors can be clumsy at tying up their endings. Some epilogues are tragic and completely baffling, especially if they don’t fit the tone of the stories. I know it’s disappointing, but I usually just ignore them.

    • I know! I’m always surprised at the complex emotional states Fumi can depict with her effortless round lines. I’m glad you’re also enjoying the series. Do let me know what you think when you finish it. I’m interested in your take on the epilogue.

      I totally get what you’re saying about how authors can be clumsy with their endings, but every time it happens, I’m so disappointed. And all the more so because I love this series so much. (Also, I am a fan of Asano, but I hear what you’re saying.)

      • You were not wrong when you said the ending was inconsistent with the whole tone of the book. I have to say though that I saw it coming. Nearing the end, it seems to me that Fumi gradually changed the atmosphere of the story into a more positive one, to the point that it’s almost like a complete 180 degree turn although not quite. I feel that it’s been her intention to end the series that way. I am slightly disappointed but not surprised.

      • Yeah, that ending was clear a mile away. Or at least from the beginning of the last book. Fumi did shift in the last couple of volumes toward a more optimistic tone. And like you, I was not surprised by it. This is still manga by popular consensus (given the magazine format with the reader surveys), and everyone loves a happy ending. But like you, I was disappointed. I wanted something less pat and truer to the characters.

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