When I first came across Battan’s work earlier this year, it was love at first sight. I fell hard and fast, and so, like a totally normal person and definitely not an art stalker, I immediately ordered all of their other work. It took a while to make its slow journey across the ocean, though, and then another little while for me to have some time in my reading schedule to dig into any of those books. I have basically double the reading to do for work this year now that I am teaching a translation course. (Did you know I am teaching a translation course? I am! If you are bilingual and looking for some exciting translation times, you can sign up for the next semester!)
On top of all the books I have to read to translate into English all the manga and novels that you love, I’ve also been reading a whole schwack of translation theory and truly random articles about home renovation and neuroscience and so much more to find just the right texts to torture my students with. (I’m sorry, translation students! But you are doing great!) So the time I’ve had to devote to the pursuit of pure reading pleasure has shrunk dramatically, but I cannot live on purpose-based reading alone. And so after meeting a tight deadline and feeling relatively free since the next deadline is still far enough in the future that I don’t need to feel anxious about it yet, I wallowed in the beauty of Battan’s work finally.
The cover of Kakeochi Girl promises yuri delights, and the pages inside don’t disappoint. But it’s not the yuri I was expecting. This one’s more along the lines of Otona ni Natte mo, except the husband character is way more awful and the married lady’s situation is a bit more dire. The whole thing kicks off with a flashback to high school, fond memories of Maki’s first love, Midori, an adorable cat-eyed girl with wild energy that complements Maki’s bookish quiet very nicely. But this relationship is the one seen in so many girl-on-girl books, students at a girls’ school sneaking kisses in the hallways before graduating and moving on to the world of heterosexuality. Well, one of them at least.
Ten years later, Maki hasn’t seen Midori since that fateful graduation day, and she wonders if she’ll ever find a girl to fall in love with for real. We all know where this is going. Of course, she runs into Midori again, at the optometry clinic where she works part time while she goes to grad school. Midori is as electric and cute as ever, and Maki is instantly under her spell again. Midori really seems to be trying to rekindle their old magic, grabbing Maki’s hand and even planting the cutest smooch on her. And then Midori drops the bomb: she’s getting married.
The first part of the book is a mix of this present-day confusion and memories of their past relationship. It’s sweet, but also feels a bit like that thing straight women do when they are hanging out with a lesbian and start gaying it up, like they’re trying on a sexual identity for the afternoon. Which could be an interesting manga story, so I was going along with it. But then we meet the fiancé, and the story takes on a distinctly different tone. I hate this guy. Battan tries to make him sympathetic in a way, or at least give us an understanding of his motivation and why he acts the way he does, with flashbacks to his own past and the beginnings of his relationship with Midori. But I have no sympathy for this humongous jerk, and if the story doesn’t end with Midori running far away from him, I will set something on fire.
It’s a credit to Battan’s enormous talent that her character could provoke such strong feelings in me. Everyone in the book is real and fleshed out, and there are some excellent facial expressions and sidelong glances that convey everything about the interiority of that character in that moment. Everyone’s actions make total sense in the context of who they are, even if you want to slap some of them sometimes. The relationships depicted are intricate and difficult in adult ways, and the story feels like a graduation of sorts from the high school yuri story. The feelings might still be there, but everything is so much more complicated now.
And the art! Ugh, I love Battan’s style so much. Everyone is so cute! So many perfect noses! The motion of every single head of hair! Pacing and panelling are also perfect. Battan knows just the right moments to linger on to further their story and makes excellent use of close-ups to really immerse us in their characters and everything they’re feeling. I want more of all of it. Yes, I’m just gushing now. I would tell you to go and read it immediately, but I have to add a quick caveat to that: this book features domestic violence, both mental and physical. So don’t go read it right now if that is a thing you definitely do not want to see. Instead, grab this wonderful book of short stories. You can enjoy all the beautiful art and perfect noses without any of the bad stuff!