Josei manga, or manga for an adult female audience, is still rare in the US. My Broken Mariko by Waka Hirako is special not just for being that rarity but also in its unique story and tone. It's an explosive wail of grief and pain with madcap humour and raw emotion.
Editor's Note: Adding a trigger warning to this review as we talk about the aftermath of physical and sexual abuse and suicide. Proceed with caution and be safe.
Tomoyo Shiino is a hot mess. She smokes incessantly, has a short fuse, and doesn't seem to care that she's single. When she gets news that her best friend from high school, Mariko, has committed suicide, that sends her right over the edge. Having supported Mariko through years of depression due to her father's horrific abuse, Tomoyo bursts into Mariko's apartment, attacks her scumbag father, and makes off with Mariko's ashes, screaming he doesn't deserve to have them.
Tomoyo takes a train with Mariko's ashes to the seaside, reminiscing about their teenage years when she supported Mariko through all the physical and sexual abuse at the hands of her father. There are no life lessons she learns here. There's just her acting out, having some madcap encounters with some surprisingly patient and kind people along the way, with some action provided by a mugger and a man who gives her a hand. It's a raw, self-destructive howl of grief and rage with a bit of slapstick thrown in.
In an interview with Forbes, Waka Hirako said her mother's history of abuse inspired her. It shows the Japanese attitude towards victims of abuse, which is to support them where possible. What's frustrating is there is never any talk of prosecuting the abusers to make sure they never do it again. In the story, Mariko's abuser, her father, is left alone to continue to abuse her into adulthood until she finally commits suicide. This indicates a wider societal problem – there is no talk of holding the abusers to account, only passively supporting the victims with sympathy and friendship. That is a common trait in fiction – it fails to address the problem altogether. But that is a wider social issue that a single manga won't solve. As it is, My Broken Mariko is a sad, angry, funny story about how a woman copes with being the one who failed to save her friend. It falls into the same category as recent TV shows like Fleabag and I May Destroy You, only without addressing the social implications of the issue at hand.