2014 has been a good year for Moyoco Anno, between Vertical publishing more of her one-shot works and Crunchyroll putting up those along with a few of her other works on their manga reader. While the work I'm looking at today is another one volume wonder from her and the good folks at Vertical, it is about as stark of a contrast to Insufficient Direction as one could get.
IN CLOTHES CALLED FAT (Shibo to Iu Nano Fuku o Kite), by Moyoco Anno. First published in 1996, and first published in North America in 2014.
Noko is miserable. She's insecure, passive, and has a bad tendency to overeat to compensate for her negative feelings. She has a long-term boyfriend, but he uses her more as a crutch than like a proper partner. Things only get worse when Noko's coworker Mayuri sets her sights on her. Mayuri is a sadistic bully, and for her Noko is the perfect target. Mayuri's poison words and actions cause Noko's insecurity to grow, and Noko becomes more and more convinced that the answer to all her problems is to lose weight by any means possible.
This story is harsh and raw, far more so than anything else I've read by Anno. It's an unflinching portrait of a deeply damaged woman caught in a tragic spiral as well as the two people who drag her down. It offers no easy answers or happy endings for anyone involved. It's also one of the most brilliant works I've read since starting this blog.
While Noko is very much the focus and viewpoint of the story, it's also just as much of a portrait of Noko's boyfriend Sato and the malicious Mayuri. While Anno is fairly sympathetic to Noko's suffering, she doesn't shy away from portraying her faults either. She makes it clear that Noko's problems mostly stem from Noko's need to fill the emotional void in her life, be it with Sato, with food, or with weight loss. As long as that void remains, no amount of junk food nor weight loss will ever make her happy, and that the void will only grow stronger and deeper as Noko's life falls apart around her. That same void is also what feeds her eating disorders, as they shift from emotionally-triggered overeating to bulimia, and these are portrayed in a vivid and horrifying manner. It's so vivid that those who have struggled with eating disorders in the past may find this too intense and triggering. To Anno, Noko is less the victim of circumstance than she is the victim of a self-inflicted cycle, one that's fueled just as much by Noko's own mind as it by those around her.
Sato and Mayuri get a similar treatment from Anno - critical, but not necessarily judgmental. Sato is shown to also be weak-willed and passive, using Noko as a crutch for his fragile ego. He views himself as noble because he's willing to sleep with Noko in spite of her heaviness. He uses that fact to not only justify cheating on her, but also as a way to absolve himself of his sins. After all, no matter what he does, Noko has always taken him back, so he can continue to paint himself as a good guy instead of as the asshole he truly is. Mayuri is...well, she's something else entirely. She's an out and out sadist, the kind of person who can only find happiness in the suffering of others. She views fat people as weak and stupid, the perfect targets for her hate, and Noko is the most perfect target of all. Mayuri's bullying becomes an obsession for her, as every psychotic thing Mayuri makes is done to spite Noko. She sleeps with Sato, even subjecting him to sadomasochistic torture to make Noko miserable. She insults her to her face, sets up her up to look bad before their bosses, and even goes so far as to frame Noko for embezzlement. She would almost be cartoonishly evil if it wasn't made clear over time that Mayuri's actions are fueled by her own emotional void. She simply chooses to spit that negativity outward towards others instead of trying to fill it.
In many ways this feels closer to the works of Anno's mentor Kyoko Okazaki than it does to Anno's later works. It's got that same sort of rough and brutally honest tone, which are used to highlight some of the bitter truths and hypocrisy that young women must face in the modern world. While those qualities can make this a difficult story to read, it's those same qualities which make In Clothes Called Fat so brilliant and still so very relevant.
While the art style is fairly consistent with Anno's later works, it lacks some of the polish she brought to those same works. That's not a slight against it, though. If anything, it fits the story's tone to a T and makes the Okazaki likeness all the stronger.
While most of the cast sticks to the bobbleheaded, sharp-eyed model that Anno so often uses, Noko stands out. We see her go up and down in weight drastically over the course of the book, and it's notable that Noko is far prettier in the beginning with her folds and round face than she is near the end as a skinny, haggard mess of a person. Anno is also excellent at using the characters' body language to speak volumes about their moods and outlooks, just through things like their eyes or their stance. Backgrounds are rare, and instead these characters seem to drift through black and white voids that echo their emotional states. Even the paneling is uncomfortably close at time, scrutinizing the cast just as much as the writing does. The art may be a little rough, but it's a perfect match to the content and tone of the story.
This will never be anyone's pleasure reading, but In Clothes Called Fat is definitely the sort of manga that anyone who considers themselves a fan should read. It pulls no punches with its cast or its subject matter, but it's all the more powerful and meaningful for doing so.
This book is published by Vertical. It is currently in print.
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