Fumi Fumiko has been a Brain favourite ever since Bokura no Hentai, which I wrote about almost ten years ago, and wow. I’ve been doing this a long time. And with any other artist I love, two books in one month would be a delicious treat. But when I saw that Fumi had two new series with volumes one out in September, I was somewhat trepidatious. Her work has always skirted the edge of traumatic in a variety of ways, but her last series Ai to Noroi was apparently so upsetting to me that I didn’t even write about it. (I only realized that I didn’t write about it when looking up Fumi to write this post. I have blocked the pain out.) Make no mistake, that series is *a lot* and made extra traumatic by the fact that it is semi-autobiographical. Which I just… I still can’t quite process that. This sets her alongside Kabi Nagata in my heart, where I wish for their happiness and health and a seriously skilled therapist to lead them to that better place.
As traumatic as it is, though, Ai to Noroi is an amazing work where Fumi takes risks not only in terms of the storytelling, but also in her art style with dreamy watercolour-style Copics, angry blacks, and unrestrained brush strokes. So of course, I wanted to keep reading whatever she put out next. But I also wanted to protect my fragile heart (I am a delicate flower). So two new books in one month seemed like two books too many. Especially since the tagline to one of them is “Why did she have to die?” The publisher might as well have been waving a red flag and shouting, “Trauma ahead!”
Surprisingly, however, neither Our Reality Show nor Futsu no Onna no Ko ni Modoritai are particularly traumatic in these first volumes. And there is a strange and interesting overlap in their subject matter. Fumi’s always been thematically interested in the disconnect between the self we present and the self we are inside, but she goes hard on that in both of these volumes with one featuring an aspiring actor and the other a “graduated” idol. It’s like she’s looking at two extremes of the same phenomenon in these two very different stories, which made me feel like they deserved to be considered together to maybe distill some kind of thematic whole.
While these books are not about trauma in the way Ai to Noroi is, I do want to take a moment to mention that one of them involves discussion of suicide. Nothing explicit or graphic, but if you need to not read about that, then may I suggest revisiting the wonderfully bonkers Eve no Musuko-tachi?
Our Reality Show starts off with Yanagi at work in the cracker factory. No, for real. He makes sembei. And really likes it. He is a cog in a machine and happy for the routine and structure it provides him. His character honestly reminds me of Keiko in Conbini Ningen. He just wants to make sembei and fulfill the role he has taken in society. His hobby—or maybe it’s more appropriate to call it self-soothing since it really does seem to perform that function for him—is baking sweets.
His childhood friend, Ichika, meanwhile could not be more different. She’s outgoing and beautiful, the daughter of a famous actor, and wants to be an actor herself. So she gets herself cast in a reality TV show along the lines of Terrace House. This is filled with the usual drama manufactured in these kinds of shows, and Yanagi watches each episode on his phone, giving advice to the onscreen Ichika to stay away from this guy or that.
And then he finds out on social media that she killed herself. This does not gel at all with the Ichika he saw just the week before and before he even has the chance to really process it, he wakes up in her body. Several months earlier. Yes, this is a body-swap, time-travel murder (maybe?) mystery. Didn’t see that coming, did you? Neither did I. It’s wild and honestly amazing how Fumi uses this setup to investigate the nature of fame and celebrity.
Futsu no Onna no Ko ni Modoritai comes at the problem from the other side. Nanami made all her dreams come true at the age of twelve when she was accepted into a popular idol group. She performed with them for thirteen years, her small stature making her seem like an eternal teenager. Until it was time for her to graduate and she found herself unmoored. The only thing she’d ever wanted to do was behind her and not by choice. She spends three years playing video games in the idol dorm, still on the payroll to ostensibly train up-and-coming members of the girl group but never doing anything remotely resembling work. So the boss fires her, and she moves back to her country home with her family of many, many women. There are no men in her world.
She finds a kind of peace in reconnecting with her family and her rural roots, but still longs to be an idol again. A local high schooler finds her sobbing in an abandoned building one night and walks her home, thinking she’s just a lost little kid, since she really does look like she’s about twelve years old. And the brusque kindness of this boy gets Nanami thinking about who she is now, what she is outside of a popular entertainer.
It’s interesting to me that Fumi is writing both of these series at the same time for reasons that are hard to express. While Reality seems like an action-packed premise, it’s mostly about the relationships the characters have with each other and Yanagi trying to understand Ichika from inside her skin. And Futsu no Onna is a real slow burn with Nanami reexamining herself and her formative experiences to come to some kind of understanding about who she is now that she’s no longer standing on the stage of Nippon Budokan. I’m very concerned that it will lead to a 28-year-old woman romantically involved with a 17-year-old, but less upset than I would normally be about such a pairing because the 28-year-old in question has never been romantically involved with anyone (such is the price one pays to be an idol) and has never even considered a relationship, so she probably has the emotional maturity of a 17-year-old.
Still, both series promise to be relatively untraumatic as they poke at these questions of self, and I honestly can never get enough of Fumi’s gentle lines and perfect pacing. I still cried reading both of them, though. But maybe I’m just a crier.