Manga Monitor is a series in which I read any manga series/one-shot to completion, using it as a platform to explore themes such as, writing conventions, artistry and more. Selections are limited to manga which have finished their official release in order to allow for comprehensive discussions.
Today’s Manga Monitor is A Girl on the Shore
A Girl on the Shore is a manga by author Inio Asano, who has become somewhat popular among western reading audiences for his deep dives into physiological settings and characters. While Goodnight Punpun gets a lot of attention these days, A Girl on the Shore is both readily available and critically praised, which makes it the perfect choice for today’s discussion.
The story follows Isobe and Sato, young teenagers who commit to a friends with benefits situation in order to find some semblance of comfort in their emotionally challenged lives. This is a premise that immediately sets off alarm bells, as the requirements for emotionally detached sex is steep for adults, let alone those in the thralls of puberty.
These kids, like many, are forced to navigate the nuanced demands of their emerging sexuality at an age when both understanding and communicating needs is still a challenge. Likewise they are never taught what to value, nor to recognize potential barriers to safety and comfort, a critical flaw which causes a pool of bad experiences to spill over into their already complicated relationship.
From the earliest stages, Sato faces a confounded sexual awakening through the lopsided expectations of sexual performance as ascribed to her gender by society, and by the immaturely hedonistic partner she stumbled upon. As such her first experience is certainly not one to be envied. She is coerced into fellating her crush Misaki in a setting that is consensual only in the sense that Sato agrees to do it, though the one sided and predatory nature of this exchange reveals a darker, messier, truth.
After all, Misaki is a popular guy, he knows that much, so when a girl comes to him with a heart full of emotions that he is not prepared to reciprocate, he finds new ways to balance the scales. As a man with limited sexual education, surrounded by an abundance of sexist media and with unchecked pubertal desires, the path he goes down is unquestionably amoral but also inseparable as a symptom of the society that raised him.
This stands true for Sato as well. Her experience is not foreign, and the noticeably smooth progression to self-blame and uncertainly which follows, speaks worryingly to the commonality it bears. Though no individual guides her, the path she gravitates towards is markedly well-trodden by girls of similar age and circumstance. It is at once both upsetting and truthful.
Meanwhile Isobe must tackle the shame and guilt of fetishistic desires not deemed appropriate even for consensual relationships. Though he learns through his environment to fixate on the act of sex, this comes to clash with the unconventional way it manifested. Scat, body fluid and anal play are things which male sexuality is not eager to confront, and Isobe’s efforts to explore this ground without judgement places an undue burden on him, even if you too repulse at the very object of his fascination.
Coupling that is his occasional crossdressing, which adds an extra dimension to all his interactions with Sato. Even if it might pass by without remark, each point of fixation becomes revolutionary in nature, as the lines between exploring for pleasure or understanding become blurred. Like the case before it, this leaves a bittersweet aftertaste, for Isobe’s path concludes with minute genesis, making the seal around his closet ever tighter.
These practices and his relationship with Sato are further mired by the remnants of his brothers presence. With no healthy father figure in his life he falls to the trappings of male-coded violence, learning to extinguish feelings from the tips of his knuckles. He is a boy who constantly fights away the emotions he finds uncomfortable, yet in a show of relatable hypocrisy, is keen to condemn others for running away from their own problems.
In between all this commotion is ultimately a scenario is which two people escape themselves by projecting onto others. The fact that this is only natural of youth navigating a world they weren’t prepared for makes the undertone tenderly tragic and wistfully moving. It presents a side to the teenage social arena that we are often quick to downplay or ignore.
Whether the story of Isobe and Sato is actually common or not isn’t really the subject A Girl of the Shore wishes to debate. Rather it draws from the cannon of today’s news articles and autobiographies, weaving a tale that is unquestionably fiction, while simultaneously defined by human experience.
I love it for that. Because it means that their story is not to be taken as a defeatist recounting of their trauma, for to do so would be to miss the meaning in experience, however harrowing, and the opportunity for growth that follows.
Thanks for reading!