Trigger Warning: There will be discussion of heavy topics such as self-harm, depression, child abuse and the usual uncomfortable topics that have to be brought up when mental health is discussed. Please be warned.
I’ve talked about mental health at GREAT length before on this blog. My Doki Doki Psychology Club post is probably my most researched article on this blog, and I was very comforted that I didn’t offend anybody while writing that. Today, I’m gonna be toeing the line of what’s okay and not okay to discuss in terms of mental health with this fascinating new manga, Asuperu Kanojo (Asperger’s Girl).
Yokoi Taku has trouble getting along with people, so he moved to Tokyo as soon as he graduated from high school. He now lives alone, making a living by delivering newspapers and drawing doujinshi, though people totally ignore his non-erotic works. One day, a girl named Saitou Megumi suddenly shows up at his door, claiming that she came all the way from Tottori to meet him because she’s a big fan of one of his doujinshi. It ends up that she has faced many hardships herself, and with no intention of leaving, she ends up living with him.
There will be very minor spoilers.
The portrayal of people with mental disorders is nothing new in the medium of anime and manga. Welcome to the NHK, ReLife, and 3-gatsu no Lion have given us some heartfelt and genuine portrayals of characters who have struggled because of their mental state. However, Asuperu Kanojo is unique in that it’s unflinchingly honest about the darker sides of mental health. There’s no sugarcoating the difficulties of living with someone struggling with their own mind.
I’m not an expert on mental health by any means, but I have done a lot of research and encountered some people who have struggled before with their mental well-being. Even knowing that, mental health is such a broad subject. With how varied people with a healthy mind are, those who have a cocktail of disorders might be affected differently by their environment.
Saitou’s portrayal is, if nothing else, honest. The manga makes no excuses for her impulsive outbursts or harsh observations of people and herself. Characters are understandably shocked or unsettled by her actions. Where most manga would chalk these outbursts to rudeness or ironic cold humor, her distaste for people in general is very apparent in her chats with our protagonist Yokoi Taku.
Here’s an example very early on in the manga that firmly establishes Saitou’s personality and mindset:
In basically any other manga, the character that kicks a dog for no good reason would immediately be seen as callous, cruel, or worst, a sociopath. This scene shows just how differently wired Saitou is compared to most people.
The manga does a fantastic job of explaining why Saitou did such a thing without absolving her of it. She was abused as a child and kept in a cage for her outbursts. Not just any cage, but the same cage that their dog sleeps in. In her own head, she saw the dog as a threat and didn’t like it. She didn’t think about the little girl’s feelings or that the dog wasn’t a threat at all, but acted on her first impulse because all she associates with dogs are bad memories. It’s not a failure of Saitou, it’s a failure of the people who raised her poorly, which is even worsened by her mental illness and self hatred.
On the flip side, the manga shows that despite these problems, Saitou is still very much somebody you should empathize for. She has wants and needs like anyone else, as well as fears and anxieties. It’s only her mental disorders that keep her from reacting to them in a healthy and logical way. Her brain is wired in a different way from everybody else, and she understandably suffers a lot because of it.
On the other hand our main guy, Yokoi Taku, has this complete stranger dropped into his life, along with all the baggage that entails. While Saitou is an “open book” in many respects, (she’s honest about everything to fault, after all) Yokoi is a bit more enigmatic. He knows a lot about mental health and is willing to take care of this problematic stranger, whose sole connection to him was that she enjoyed his work.
It’s almost encyclopedic how in-depth he gets into the finer points of dealing with a mentally ill person. The character of Yokoi Taku acts as a sort of mouthpiece for the author to give the reader a feel of what it would be like to live with someone struggling with a mental illness. If nothing else, it gives the reader a clearer perspective on how much patience and compassion you have to have to do such a thing every single day.
What helps this manga palatable despite the heavy subject matter is the surprising amount of heart it can show to our flawed characters. We get moments of levity and even short periods of genuine improvement for both characters, which make the heavy moments all the more upsetting when they happen.
Asuperu Kanojo was only recently translated by scanlators. It has 76 chapters in Japanese and is still ongoing while English translations have made at least two volumes worth (equal to 15 chapters). I HIGHLY recommend you guys give it some love. I feel like we have a story on the same emotional depths of Oyasumi Punpun and Flowers of Evil on our hands here, and I’m quite excited to be depressed again.