So I recently read a manga one-shot by the name of Bakemono Recchan. Independently surreal and uncomfortably familiar, anyone with even the slightest knowledge of Manga authors will probably be able to guess who made it. Yep, it’s Inio Asano. A writer well know for gravitating towards psychological themes, his works have served as reflective commentary on societal structures as well as more intimate explorations of human behavior. His works can be rightly messy, other times painful and at least a little bit disorientating. So given his predisposition for complex layering, you shouldn’t be surprised to hear that at one chapter with 45 pages, Bakemono Recchan left me thoroughly impressed.
Yes!- that is a panel from the manga and without contest its defining feature. For a story line that is otherwise tired and unrewarding by established trends in the high school setting, this one visual deviation instantly draws attention, puzzling anyone as to what purpose such a mystifying element has in an otherwise ‘human’ world. The easy answer is that a monster amidst a crowd of normality is not to be taken literally. The mystical power of metaphors!
But what is it alluding to exactly?
This is the question I want to explore, because for such a brief snapshot of another world, Bakemono Recchan can be seen as a direct parallel to contemporary society.
Racial Identity and those who would seek to deny it.
I must admit, this was not the initial reaction the manga gave me. In truth I first mistook it for an inane battle cry akin to anti-political correctness rhetoric, calling on people to “tell it like it is”, a phrase which is often utilized as a weapon to belittle and undermine individuals own gender identity, mental health and sexuality. The heavy pressure behind each panel screamed for characters to just ‘call her what she is!’, terms which could easily be mistaken for a jab at trans or non-binary folks by those well versed in exclusionary tactics.
Yet, upon reexamination, I find myself unveiling a much more topical and sensitive perspective to the aforementioned issue. That issue would be the prevalence in ‘White Feminism’ to miss the crucial underpinning of racial identity in relation to the individual & collective experience of those it denotes. One relevant & sincere but inexplicably harmful saying being:
It’s targeted as a way for hopeful progressives to vocalize their disdain for everyday racism and take a position of solidarity against the notion that a persons race lessens their self-worth. A noble concept that is blatantly considering the problem of racism through a narrow window. Not ‘seeing colour’ is a statement that simply goes hand in hand with ignoring the role race has in issues that are also gendered; in the foundation of a person of colour’s character, in equating colour to being negative, not to mention how this further harms understanding of the conversation and is just outright disingenuous.
The point being, racial colour blindness evolves into yet another form of implicit racism. So with that figured out, I can explain how Bakemono Recchan navigates the subject with naked honesty.
Throughout the manga, we see all but our faithful protagonist refuse to acknowledge the appearance of the so called ‘monster’ girl. “Recchan’s super moe!” they cry, “Don’t let others judge you!” a young girl proclaims, “You can do it!” they enthusiastically cheer at the sports festival. Displays of support and compassion litter each panel, driving home the ever sentimental message that who you are is irrelevant; it’s your actions and not your looks that define you. It’s a message anyone can appreciate at a distance. The idea that we as empathetic creatures should not judge people for the way we look is an intoxicating notion, as it speaks to a world seemingly without discrimination. But such attitudes are dangerously idealistic. The problem of being that person who “doesn’t see colour” or sentiments of a similar nature is cleanly encapsulated in this brief exchange between two of Recchan’s classmates.
Our protagonist here is right. The hypocrisy is clear as day. In their pursuit to ignore the concerns of appearance, they have developed an environment that downplays the attributes that comprise who Recchan is as a person. They claim not to see her monstrous features as society would define it, yet the reason they lap so much attention on her is because of her abnormality. They claim not to care for labels, yet they define her as “cute”, attaching a metric value on the basis of her appearance. By ignoring the differences between them under the pretense of being inclusive, they fail to address the experience of being the ‘monster girl’, ultimately benefiting themselves exclusively in a self-masturbatory exercise of moral righteousness.
This comes to a climax on the relay track, as Recchan’s true form can no longer be ignored; a result of her efforts to live up to the standard (read: white normality) her peers had set. Herein they are forced to confront the truths they had previously worked hard to ignore, leaving their blatant discomfort hanging out in the open for the world (and more precisely- Recchan) to see. Clearly their masquerade of social equality, like many before them, had its limits. They kept the show going so long as it was convenient for them, so when they could no longer ignore reality- the insincerity, or rather ignorance, of their misguided delusions came to bear.
This is why the closing shot of our protagonist screaming “you monster!” has such a powerful effect on Recchan. It’s the first occasion in this entire story that someone, anyone, acknowledges that yes– she is different. Being a ‘monster’ is a part of her identity, in fact it’s inseparable from what makes her who she is. Everyone that refused to see colour were in actuality refusing to see Recchan for what she believes herself to be. Identifying as a monster may not afford her any comforts but it is how she must navigate life, which is much easier to do when people are conscious of that fact.
While this comparison might appear to correlate ‘monstrosity’ with ‘blackness’ and other ethnic minorities, such a stark contrast instead illustrates the despairing ‘otherness’applied to PoC when placed in a white dominated space. For Bakemono Recchan this extreme distinction was sadly necessary, because while we may wish it to be otherwise, it is easier for people to accept how a monster would experience the world differently rather than a person of colour.
Thanks for reading. If you have any comments, suggestions, questions or further insight let me know!