animefringe august 2003 / feature
Animefringe Coverage:
The Manga After-School Special: Confidential Confessions

One of the more unpleasant aspects of contemporary Japanese society has been its tendency to keep girls and women from discussing and dealing with very harsh issues that they go through in their lives. From prostitution to drugs, from rape to suicide, today's Japanese teenage girl has a world of insanity facing her, and worse, keeping face in these situations is a driving force that keeps open and frank discussion from occurring.

It's time for a cliché phrase: The times, they are a-changin'. More frequently each year, women are not keeping as quiet as they once did. As time has progressed women of varying ages are more able to come forth and report rape incidents, just as women are finally given training to deal with sexual harassment situations, from the office to the insides of crowded trains.

Within this atmosphere of increased discussion of the problems that girls and women have in society, a new manga work has been published that specifically deals with all these skeletons. Reiko Momochi's various manga pieces on the trials of different teenage girls, being released by TOKYOPOP as a series entitled Confidential Confessions, explore some very harsh issues with realistic circumstances and results. Each story revolves around a different girl and her unique situations, so while there is no continuity or large over-arching storylines, it gives the opportunity of anyone able to pick up a random volume and get into the lives of these girls without any previous exposure to Momochi's work.

The first volume released by TOKYOPOP contains two self-contained stories, the first story dealing with suicide and cutting in a piece entitled The Door a brilliant story that honestly tackles the issue of depression, suicide, and self-mutilation. The tale revolves around Manatsu, who is a 10th grader attending an excellent school. Every day she gets to hang out in karaoke boxes and party with her friends, her social calendar is constantly full and all the girls around her make sure she's included in all of their adventures. Despite all of this, Manatsu couldn't be more miserable. While others look upon her as a popular and carefree girl, a deeper examination reveals an extremely lonely girl who can never quite connect with anyone she spends time with. Rather, she is constantly taken advantage of by the girls around her, her mother can't deal with being a divorcee and heaps far too many expectations on her daughter. Each day, she fantasizes about leaving the world behind, these thoughts being her only comfort in each journey into pain.

To deal with her problems, Manatsu escapes to cutting, going as far as to keep a diary of all her scabs, each cut going deeper and longer than the last. Soon, however, she finds solace in another suicide-bound girl, nicknamed "Asparagus Girl" based on how skinny her arms and legs were. Asparagus Girl is constantly bullied by a gang of girls, just as Manatsu is being taken advantage of by her friends. Together, the two explore the thrills of cutting, and spend countless hours plotting and discussing their eventual suicide. For the two of them, their fates are already sealed. Determined to have full responsibilities over their own deaths, the girls go as far as prostitution in order to fund their possible deaths. The tale ends with a mixture of happiness and complete despair. Momochi pulls no stops in the story, doesn't fabricate some happy ending. The tale is honest, if dramatic, and would surprise people used to how most shoujo manga stories are structured.

The second, shorter story in this collection involves a homeless teen prostitute who finds solace in the company of a street musician in Mistakes. Satsuki comes from a broken family. A deadbeat father left her mother too depressed for words, leaving her to work at night and be unavailable to her daughter. Discovering the teen party lines that bring together businessmen and high school girls, Satsuki begins a string of tricks and leaves home, living off her own wits, from meal to meal, and place to place. Initially, Satsuki is not depressed about this state of affairs, instead reflecting a more jaded view on the world and her place in it.

However, a chance meeting with a public guitarist at a local park puts Satsuki back on a road out of homelessness and prostitution. Young Ryoichi puts up Satsuki in his small apartment, without expecting or demanding any sort of sexual favors in return. This initial kindness blossoms into more, and Satsuki finds herself falling in love. Soon, however, Satsuki is arrested and put in jail. Yet even in these harsh circumstances, the kindness she learns from Ryoichi helps her to go forward, bringing her closer to realizing how important and special she herself is.

Sadly, these short stories are all we see of these charming characters. However, the other stories in line to be published by TOKYOPOP are still enticing. The 2nd volume of this series deals with the sexual harassment a high school student receives from one of the teachers on staff at the school, and how she eventually deals with this harsh issue. The 3rd volume will concern itself with the throes of drug addiction. The total run of Confidential Confessions is six volumes, each discussing a different aspect of being a woman in Japan today.

These stories do serve as a sort of after-school special of the manga world, but maintain much closer ties to reality than the old specials we all grew up on. Sociologically, Momochi's works are a great set of manga to read through, but they are still very entertaining, filled with enough drama to choke even the most hardcore of shoujo fans. Confidential Confessions is something thus far unseen in the American manga scene; not only fans of shoujo, but all those looking for gritty, dark, and honest stories need look no further, Momochi delivers, and beautifully so.