I really want to say that I love this series because I can relate to Kabi-sensei's struggles, but I think it's more correct to say that Kabi-sensei made me relate to her struggles. I felt myself empathizing with Kabi-sensei while reading her earlier work, My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness, feeling sorry for her as she described her depression, anxiety, and sexuality.
But with My Solo Exchange Diary, it was so much more intense. This series isn't at all structured like My Lesbian Experience, which had a well-defined beginning, middle, and end all centered around her lesbian experience. In fact, My Solo Exchange Diary doesn't have much
structure at all, reading like random entries in Kabi-sensei's diary: a chaotic whirlpool of emotions that sometimes contradict themselves as Kabi-sensei tries desperately to rationalize her own depression.
Not all of the chapters are good, and not all of the chapters are interesting. But because of that, it doesn't feel at all fake, and the most extreme moments come out of nowhere and hit like a truck. In a raw and open display of her own fragile mental health, Kabi-sensei meticulously describes and analyzes all the details in one day, and then suddenly snaps, spending only one page glossing over an episode of serious self-harm and self-hatred. A particularly shocking point in chapter 18 made me put down the book... I felt like I needed time to process all of the thoughts that Kabi-sensei was expressing.
And to make things even more direct, the audience actually affects the series: Kabi-sensei talks at length about how the success of My Lesbian Experience and even earlier chapters of this series affected her personal life, perpetuating her anxiety and self-harming. In some sense, by buying the volumes and even writing this review, I've become part of the mad cycle of Kabi-sensei's life... and I even felt guilty reading some of these chapters.
In similar "suffering" manga series like Welcome to the NHK, Tokyo Tarareba Girls, and Chikan Otoko, the appeal is in watching a loser claw themselves up to redemption, and then feeling not so bad about your own problems. My Solo Exchange Diary has a lot of this, but I think its true value is teaching how depression, anxiety, etc. can feel like, and how to understand these issues if you have them. I know that's a pitiful way to advertise a series (if I had read this review, it wouldn't have convinced me), but I hope that everyone gives My Solo Exchange Diary a chance, because I think it's a series that *needs* to be read.
My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness is, well, very clearly about being a lesbian and being lonely. My Solo Exchange Diary is a less straightforward of a title, but its theme still becomes apparent pretty quickly.
My Solo Exchange Diary is about your mom.
It’s about all the things you have to hide from her. It’s about trying to come to terms with how she raised you. It’s about trying and failing to escape her unceasing mental and physical gravity. It’s about looking for substitutes for her seemingly uncaring warmth. It’s about being a family disgrace in so many different ways.
Peppered throughout are the mangaka’s reflections on depression,
motivation, separation, and self-harm. It’s pretty potent stuff, and her melty two-tone artwork puts an air of cuteness on top of all this suffering.
I'm not sure if I'd call it warmful, but reading this manga does make me feel a little better about myself.
Where do I begin? As someone who could relate with many aspects of this manga, it is impossible for me to find anything bad to say about it.
The mangaka is entirely open and honest about how events in her life have shaped her into the person she is now. She is well aware of her "faults" and the ways in which her subconscious have led to her actions in life.
While telling this often sad, yet also inspirational, story the mangaka finds ways to make me laugh and find so much enjoyment in her unique art style.
I look forward to more content from
Nagata Kabi as I feel personally enveloped in her own story and I hope to see her life improve from here as she has gained a great amount of support from those who have read her works.