With a name like My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness you’d expect that this book would appeal to a fairly limited audience. However Nagata Kabi’s autobiographical manga, originally self-published via popular Japanese art website Pixv, took the internet by storm – offering far more than simply the LGBT or Yuri themes that its title suggests. Instead the book takes its rather unique premise and tackles a number of difficult subjects, offering an experience that many have praised for describing mental health far better than others that have tried. For many it will be relatable, but for others it presents an opportunity to gain a better understanding of what it’s like to suffer from these issues.
Its story follows a 28-year-old Kabi as she prepares to lose her virginity to a lesbian escort in a Japanese love hotel, flashing back to her teenage years and the path that led her to make the decision to do this. Her story is far from a happy one, tackling depression, self-harm and the ideals her parents project onto her as well as coming to terms with both her identity and sexuality.
Straight from the get-go it’s abundantly clear that My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness isn’t going to be one to sugar-coat its subject matter. So if eating disorders, self-harm, anxiety, suicidal thoughts or the even idea of eating an unprepared packet of instant noodles (which when described is far grimmer than you might think) are difficult topics for you then consider this a warning. But it’s this honest depiction that makes Kabi’s story so approachable. While the idea of using an escort as the first step towards understanding sexuality and overcoming depression may be unique to her, the thoughts and feelings she describes are not. With the sheer amount of factors that contribute towards Kabi’s mental state you don’t need to be gay or depressed to relate with her on at least some level. It’s incredible that such a depiction came from a country where its population are usually more reserved about such things.
The rawness of Kabi’s emotions are also reflected in her artwork, depicting herself as this sketchy cartoonish avatar with all flaws on show rather than embellishing it behind lavishly drawn characters and flowery scenery. This aesthetic combined with the use of pink for shading (kudos to Seven Seas for retaining that) give the book a really unique feel – one that makes it feel less like a published manga and more along the lines of an illustrated journal shared in the hopes of helping others.
It isn’t all completely grim though, as Kabi is careful to inject some level of humour into her story to keep things from getting too weighed down. As crucial as her experience with the escort is she is still able to recognise the absurdity of it and have fun with it where appropriate. In its mission to break down the misconceptions and romanticisation when it comes to sex it also targets the myths romance and yaoi fiction perpetuate. Similarly Kabi’s over-exaggerated mannerisms and reactions show that she’s able to inject personality into her experiences in hindsight. Calling it a “fun” read would definitely be overdoing it, but the occasional humour is just another facet to a book that’s as educational as it is honest.
If there was one thing that had to be wrong with My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness it’s that it may leave you wanting more. With how engrossing the book is it’s very easy to breeze through the one volume in no time at all, and its ending leaves you wanting to know what Kabi went onto after she began to accept who she is. But at the same time its brevity is also part of its charm – making it a title you’ll want to pick up again and again. But in some ways where Kabi goes after this seems inconsequential – the extra chapter she provides reveals that things are getting better for her even if she still doesn’t have all the answers (and that’s perfectly okay), making this seemingly abrupt finish ideal as the point where this chapter of her life ends and a new one begins. Seven Seas have also confirmed that they will be releasing her follow-up manga My Solo Exchange Diary in 2018, so thankfully her story isn't over quite yet.
My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness is engaging but often difficult read, so will undoubtedly stir up emotions in anyone who’s ever been in a similar situation. But at the same time the book is so much more than that, and for those fortunate to say they’ve never felt the same it contextualises it in a way those suffering from these issues often struggle to put into words. And despite the dark subject matter the book is ultimately one of hope – with Kabi coming through these experiences to realise that a “normal” life is exactly what you make of it. Surely that’s a message that everyone can relate to.