Friday, August 01, 2014

Book-A-Day 2014 #213: In Clothes Called Fat by Moyoco Anno

There are at least three Moyoco Annos -- and those are just the ones I know of. There's the creator of the friendly, happy little-girl manga Sugar Sugar Rune, about best friend witches and their competition for the crystal hearts of human boys. There's the self-mocking otaku of Insufficient Direction, the autobiographical account of her marriage to noted anime director Hideaki Anno. And the Anno I think shows up most often is the whip-smart, completely un-romantic author of stories about women whose desires and fears and circumstances get the worst of them, like Sakuran.

In Clothes Called Fat is from that last Moyoco Anno, a chilly contemporary story of one young woman and her unhealthy obsessions and neuroses. It's one of the earliest Anno stories to have made it into English translation, originally published in 2002 in a weekly newsmagazine for women, Shukan Josei. (Another sign of how different Japan is from the US -- first, that a major weekly runs comics to begin with, and second, that said major magazine is basically named Manager Woman.)

Noko Hanazawa is a young office lady -- she seems to still be in her twenties -- just outside of the gaggle of gossiping, cruel young women in this particular (and unnamed) office. She's the fat one: sometimes indulged and brought along on evening outings, sometimes mocked, never taken seriously. She's mousy and unsure and insecure and unassertive, and she binge-eats when she gets stressed or unhappy, which is all the time. Her boyfriend, Saito, is similarly neurotic: he stays with her, even though he's handsome and moving ahead in the world, because he's been so browbeaten by his horrible mother that he thinks he only "deserves" a fat girl.

(There's plenty of self-loathing to go around in In Clothes Called Fat; no one is happy with themselves in this book.)

Noko is occasionally tormented by Mayumi Tachibana, the office queen bee, who is also having, only semi-secretly, an affair with Saito -- almost entirely to spite Noko. There's not a lot of external action in this book; it's about people and their deeply dysfunctional relationships, and about how Noko spirals out of control, binge-eating and then turning to purging when her self-loathing turns on her weight.

Anno's eye is relentless: Noko is ostensibly our heroine, but she doesn't get much sympathy from the narrative -- sad little passive doormat that she is. Anno's art is quick and expressive, without extraneous detail, a little bit like fashion illustration. And her book has little in common with most of the youth-oriented manga that gets translated for the US market: it's much closer to the lacerating pseudo-autobiography of the '90s alternative cartoonists (Joe Matt or Chester Brown) or the later wave of webcartoonists (particularly Julia Wertz). In Clothes Called Fat is not for everyone: it's full of nudity and tawdry betrayal and horribly ordinary lives. But, for the right reader, it's a bolt of truth and insight.

Book-A-Day 2014 Introduction and Index

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