A story that wonderfully depicts the emotions of a overweight woman with low self-esteem surrounded within the harsh environment of slim and good-looking women. She then decides to lose weight after getting dumped by her lover. The consequences and side-effects are explored further after the "achievement." Is it what she really wished for?
Shibou to Iu Na no Fuku wo Kite was published in English as In Clothes Called Fat by Vertical Inc. on July 22, 2014. The English version was nominated for the 2015 Eisner Award for Best U.S. Edition of International Material—Asia. It will also be published in Spanish by Ponent Mon.
It seems that today’s society is obsessed with physical appearance and self-indulgence. People often judge others on their appearance; basing their treatment of others on attraction rather than a standard of human decency. Likewise, people are obsessed with the pursuit of their own happiness, to the point that they disregard the happiness of others and ignore the ugly realities of their situation in order to preserve their own self-satisfaction. This is the viewpoint taken by Moyoco Anno’s manga In Clothes Called Fat, the story of a fat woman living in modern Japan and her attempt at weight loss. It is an unflinching and harsh examination of the superficiality of physical appearance, and the extents of what a person is willing to put themselves through to attain even a semblance of happiness.
The story follows Noko Hanazawa, a plump office worker who eats away her anxiety. She binge eats whenever the stress in her life becomes too much for her to handle; a coping mechanism of sorts. “Eat to become stronger” she tells herself as she munches all her problems to the back of her mind. She’s self-conscious about her girth, but she isn’t too bothered by it. She’s satisfied with the few friends she has at work and her boyfriend of 8 years. However, things start to fall apart when she finds out that her boyfriend is sleeping with one of her co-workers, and a sequence of unfortunate events turn her personal and professional life upside down. What follows is a rollercoaster of misguided determination and insecurity, as Noko struggles to lose weight and get her life back in order.
In Clothes Called Fat is not a comfortable read, largely because the subject matter will hit close to home for a lot of readers. Like Noko, most people have their self-image connected to their physical appearance, at least to a certain extent. People have low self-confidence if they are constantly being told that they are fat or ugly or in some way physically undesirable, or if they perceive themselves in such a manner. This makes Noko very easy to sympathize with; especially when her life really goes south, dragging her deeper into a pit of insecurity and dissatisfaction. Her negative evaluation of herself and her constant need for the approval of others, namely her boyfriend, are as heartbreaking and relatable as they are self-destructive. In her desperate attempt to lose weight and win back her boyfriend, Noko overlooks or ignores the harm she is doing to herself. She even turns a blind-eye to the fact that her boyfriend is cheating on her until it becomes too apparent to ignore. By mid-way through the book Noko has lost a substantial amount of weight, but she’s no better off for it; ultimately trading one eating disorder for another.
However, Noko is not the only character that gets attention in the story, nor is she the only one with issues. Noko’s boyfriend, Saitou, has a rather unhealthy relationship with women. He seeks out beautiful and self-assured women whom he cheats on Noko with, but he’s also intimidated by such women and always comes back to Noko, whom he believes will love him unconditionally. Essentially, he is using his relationship with Noko to avoid confronting his own insecurities. The clear antagonist of the story, Noko’s co-worker Mayumi, is a manipulative sadist. Not only does she harass Noko for being overweight, she abuses Saitou when they have sex. Yet it is implied that even her actions stem from some sort of dissatisfaction; a compulsory need to put down others in order to feel superior. Two other girls who work with Noko seem to be friendly with her at times, but more often than not follow Mayumi in order to keep their own social standing. Later in the story, there are a few of Noko’s male colleagues who lament their place in society and pointlessly waste their days away. Every character in the story is dissatisfied about something in their lives, and Anno uses them to deliver broad, open-ended statements on society which don’t put the blame in any one place.
The art of In Clothes Called Fat is distinctive and attractive, and Anno doesn’t hold back depicting the human physique, making the manga decidedly for older readers. The art is somewhat similar to that of Kyoko Okazaki, whom Anno worked under for a time, and other Josei manga yet has a distinct flavor of its own. Most female leads in manga are drawn attractively, so the atypically fat and only marginally attractive Noko makes for a unique heroine. The images of Noko observing herself in the nude and her alarming change in appearance as she loses weight are the manga’s most striking images, along with the graphic sex scenes.
In Clothes Called Fat is not something everyone will want to read, but it absolutely deserves to be read. Admittedly, the story is not flawless, there are some extraneous plot threads and some characters that are frankly unnecessary. It also isn’t a very comforting read; even though Noko comes to a conclusion about her body by the end, it isn’t necessarily an affirming one. That said, this is a maturely told story which covers a very serious and very real issue. It examines eating disorders not only through a physical standpoint, but a through a psychological and a sociological angle as well. It is a painfully human tale of personal perception, and a disarmingly sharp critique of society’s superficial standard of beauty. read more
Sooo Shibou to Iu no Fuku o Kite is dealing with psycological themes, mostly about being overweight and how others treat you about that. That is the problem in the main character's eyes, at least. Her real problem is in her psycology and her low self-esteem something she doesn't mean to understand, being pushed around and made fun of since her early years.
There are many women nowadays that can really sympathize with the protagonist and maybe this manga is just a way of showing to one that weigh isn't really all one is about!
If there is a manga that really establishes Anno Moyoco as the spiritual successor to Okazaki Kyoko, it is certainly In Clothes Called Fat. The subject matter, the darkness of human nature, and even the composition of scenes are reminiscent of her former employer--and yet very much all her own. Anno's art is richer and more detailed than Okazaki's, giving it a more polished look while still capturing the free spirit encompassed by the "sketch-like" style. It has clear influences from a great women's manga creator, but also it's obvious that Anno learned a lot and built on that knowledge, particularly when it comes to constructing the main character.
Noko is that woman that lives inside of many of us. She can't quite figure out where she fits in the world, so when she finds one place that feels comfortable, she attaches herself to it, refusing to let go. Additionally, she has inexplicable and yet completely familiar relationship with food. For those who don't eat to the point of compulsion, it may be difficult to really identify with Noko's feeling that eating will make her feel better, fill her time, or make her stronger. However, for those who struggle with the same issues, it will be familiar (perhaps to the point of being a bit of a binge trigger)--and just as frustrating as facing it yourself. There isn't a reason for Noko's compulsive eating. She wasn't abused or stressed as a child. Her friend mentions that she was always bigger than most girls. It's just the way she is. At this point in her life she is facing some adversity due to her weight, but the story suggests that her girth came first. It's hard to explain to others the compulsion to eat, particularly when there isn't a "valid" excuse for it. That even when full your body just yearns for a particular flavor or even a specific mouth movement is incomprehensible to those who lack those urges. Anno does a good job creating a character that embodies that type of compulsive eater. Sometimes she's eating due to depression or stress, but it's also just a part of who she is, for better or for worse.
While Noko's eating issues are well-constructed, her overarching personality and those of other characters are a bit lacking in depth. They end up being caricatures, even if she does insert interesting motives and/or details to their lives. This might just be the result of the story being told in just 262 pages, but I do wish we could have better understood certain characters, particularly Mayumi and Tabata.
The art has a certain simplicity to it, and is reminiscent of 90s josei style, but at the same time avoids looking sloppy or cartoonish in its simplistic execution. Anno's art looks consistently professional, even with the series being one of her earlier endeavors. In fact, if it weren't for looking at the copyright information, I never would have guessed that the series was 17 years old. Aside from the lack of the prominence of mobile phones, all elements of the story hold very much true in 2014 as they did in 1997. In fact, I thought it was a throwback to that era not a product of the era until well after I finished reading it (and honestly, until I began working on this paragraph). That also explains the particularly noticeable comparisons to Okazaki's works as the timing was much closer to when Anno worked as her assistant.
Overall, In Clothes Called Fat is another excellent entry into both josei manga as well as the oeuvre of Anno Moyoco. Its story of a young woman adrift in her life and struggling to find happiness (fat or not) is one that can speak to a lot of readers. While it has its weaknesses, particularly in overall depth of characters, it's still an engaging read that is difficult to put down. If you're fond compelling stories with flawed characters, In Clothes Called Fat should not be missed.read more