In a seaside town where very little happens, middle school students Keisuke Isobe and Koume Satou live a rather dull life. But when Koume's crush breaks her heart, their situation becomes quite unordinary. She starts a "no-strings-attached" relationship with Keisuke, whom she had previously rejected, both finding solace in the other in order to fill the emotional voids in their lives. However, being "friends with benefits" becomes complicated when real feelings begin to develop, as the consequences of their relationship start to take their toll on those around them and themselves.
Umibe no Onnanoko takes a harsh look at love, relationships, and the emotional price that will be paid as the result of a decision made between two teenagers.
Umibe no Onnanoko was published in English as A Girl on the Shore by Vertical Inc under the Vertical Comics imprint in a single volume on January 19, 2016. It was published in Spanish as La chica a la orilla del mar by Milky Way in early 2014.
Known for the acclaimed "Oyasumi Punpun" and "Solanin", Asano Inio has established his talent with both imagery and the written word. His stories are most noticeable for their oppressive and perpetual sense of melancholy, and "Umibe no Onnanoko" is certainly no exception.
Umibe no Onnanoko (lit. Girl of the Sea) is a brief tale of two teenagers' sexual frustration. Where most anime and manga draw the line at a simple kiss or confession, Umibe no Onnanoko starts its first chapter with a sexual encounter. There is no build-up, no confession: the two just decide to share their loneliness by having sex with one another. It is not a story based in the ideals of romance; Asano knows that the real world is not quite so innocent.
Following the experiences of Isobe and his long-term crush, Koume, the story quickly falls into one of despair and misanthropy. Koume was betrayed (a truth she does not want to admit to herself) by her previous boyfriend, used as a source of sexual pleasure rather than being loved and cherished as the kind-hearted person she is (or was). She knows that Isobe has feelings for her and soon finds herself exploiting his feelings to make herself feel like she is appreciated. She does believe another person would ever love her for her personality, so she uses the only thing she is a certain a boy would love: her body.
Unsurprisingly, things do not turn out well for the two. Isobe has his feelings betrayed and sees the girl he once loved exposed as a fake, manipulative nymphomaniac. His ideals of love and romance are destroyed in front of his eyes. He grows to hate Koume for it and devolves from an innocent boy into a depressed, hateful misanthrope. Eventually he does not even want physical intimacy with another person.
What is most appealing about the story is how natural it all feels. Everyone (well... nearly everyone) has known what it is like to be rejected or lied to by somebody they love. Sex is a natural part of an intimate relationship and sometimes it is not always a romantic experience. It can be heart-breaking, painful and even empty.
Asano uses dialogue well throughout the manga. Like its portrayal of sex, the conversations between the characters feel authentic. Teenagers curse with their friends and gossip about how big a girl's breasts are or how hot a certain boy is. There is none of the 'idiot friend' or harem set-ups common in anime. When two characters talk to one another, it feels like something a real person would say. This allows the reader to empathise with the story around them, but also brings something much more relevant: emotional resonance. There is a powerful scene where Koume asks Isobe what kind of person he doesn't hate (owing to his blatant misanthropy), and he simply responds with "Kind people." Everything the story had been buildings towards was encapsulated in those two words of text.
There is also a bit of side-story about Isobe's deceased brother, but it mainly exists to develop Isobe's character rather than simply existing as a distraction from the overlying story. The story is focused, and thankfully, given its short two-volume length. There is plenty of dialogue between background characters as well, which expresses that the world around the two main characters is alive and moving. They inhabit the world but they are not the world itself. They are just two dirty cogs cycling their way around an infinite world.
The artwork of Umibe no Onnanoko is beautiful, though that should come as no surprise given the author. Each character is given life and emotion in their facial expression, including even the background characters who appear for just one or two panels. There is no scene that feels lazy. There are even gorgeous, intoxicating scenery shots spread throughout each chapter (much like what is found in Oyasumi Punpun), though they are never there to take the reader's attention away from the story. Asano Inio is surely one of the best mangaka when it comes to putting images to paper, but he never neglects the story in favour of glitter and glamour. He conveys both the beauty and anxiety of life in his imagery.
If there is one major criticism to be had, it is that the ending feels abrupt. The characters had been steadily falling downwards and downwards, so far down that it seemed they would never be able to get out of their mess. And then they suddenly forget all their troubles and decide to live for the better. I suppose it could simply be rationalised as human beings being whimsical creatures, but it did feel lacking compared to the endings of some of Asano's other works. No doubt he could have expressed himself better.
Umibe no Onnanoko is not always a pleasant manga to read. It challenges the reader's perception of sexuality, romance and sincerity. The two main characters and the world that surrounds them are deeply flawed, imperfect existences. It is less concerned with ideals and more with providing a believable setting that the reader can understand and empathise with. All human beings need a healthy dose of escapism from time to time, but stories such as this are just as necessary.
It will not change anyone's beliefs, and while it is hardly a 'fun time', it is difficult to come out of reading Umibe no Onnanoko without the feeling that something a little bit more meaningful was gained.read more
Umibe No Onnanoko is quite possibly the worst piece of literature that my hands have touched in the past decade.
Now to be fair, I knew absolutely nothing about this manga prior to buying it. Perhaps I should have done my research. When the first sex scene came by I was surprised because, again, I knew literally nothing about the manga. But it was fine. Sex scenes aren't that bad right? I'm sure they have meaning. Oh look another sex scene. And another one. Another one. Another one. Dj khaled can't save me here this book is literally sex and bad story telling.
The actual story is quite ridiculous and while the characters hold resemblance to what real teenagers feel at certain times- how they act as a whole is entirely exaggerated and unrealistic. You'd think that the author is a dinosaur based on their interpretation of teenager relationships. Yeah yeah, maybe I was the only teenager in highschool to not have sex every 5 minutes, but to be fair their rampant sexual behavior isn't the only problem. These kids are assholes to each other and its a wonder why any of them interact with each other.
The only reason I recommend you to pick up this manga is if you want to watch teenagers have sex. Well.. that's actually a pretty sketchy reason to pick this one up. I found no redeeming qualities in this book- no deep symbolism (wow people get sexually frustrated 2deep4me) and in general this was a bad and awkward read.
This is basically porn- bad story and characters but okay sex scenes. read more
To a certain extent, all great artists are broken, in that finding something deficient in the material world, they seek to envelop themselves in the gaudy film of imagination. One of the traits of being broken is overwhelming sincerity. When loosened with the function of developing an exterior persona, comes the great gushing forth of black heinous bile, because much of life is raking through black heinous bile to find the glistening gems of Beauty and Meaning, and the Artist is the strange depraved entity who would rather seek to make Meaning and Beauty through sculpting the bile itself rather than dig like all others. Well that’s not to say that the Artist can’t dig, but that he finds interest in globbing together various blotches and shades of brown and black in his spare time rather than follow into the process of unmitigated digging.
Sincerity, as an aspect of writing, is a very strange thing to grasp, because it involves the meeting of two completely subjective solipsistic souls somehow, in all the tempest, fog and rain, seeking each other through a few slight glimpses of clarity. Perception of Truth and Falsity are unequally distributed in the whole conglomerate of humanity, which makes one person’s Catcher in the Rye become another person’s pretentious overrated pile of shit. Much less, developing a ‘style of Sincerity’ is a completely ludicrous idea, given that if we accept the vast differences between human beings, we can’t foresee how anyone could even begin to develop a style that somehow gels with a large enough percentage of souls in the world that one could call it a ‘style’ in the first place, because style implies that the form has been crystallized through a continuous development, and the ‘style’ of an author is hardly developed in a single book.
Yet somehow Inio Asano, like Salinger, like David Foster Wallace, like Chris Ware, like Robert Crumb, like Hideaki Anno and like Charlie Kaufmann, has developed a cohesive aesthetic of Sincerity. Actually it’s a testament to the universality of Modern Ennui and Alienation that so many souls could feel so dreadfully and unspeakably disjunct from their souls that enough people actually appreciate a ‘style’ of Sincerity provided it comes from the context of modernized loneliness and despair, which is where much of the above mentioned authors write from. You could never conceive of this sort of Literature or Art in the ancient times when people lived in such drastically different contexts and had such separate lives. Most likely too, anyone who has not lived in a sufficiently developed and Modernized city would not be able to understand the aesthetics of Sincerity.
But the other thing that actually makes these artists and authors, well, Great Creators, in the first place, is that while coming in from a unified context, each brings their own innovations to the table. For Salinger it’s his unnervingly witty and powerful conversational style, for Ware it’s his absolutely clean and powerful grasp of the medium of comics, for Kaufmann it’s his twisted humor, for Crumb it’s his ludicrous and great anger towards society that spills over in all his weird cartoon depictions.
Inio Asano is a grand traditionalist (like how I’m aiming for a ‘traditional’ formal analysis here instead of a philosophical or a half-prose experimental analysis) in that her works are grand based on the power of formal content alone. That’s not to say that she isn’t ‘experimental’, but that unlike Ware, who experiments with form over content, Asano’s weirdness and off-key Surrealism takes place within the context and boundaries of the work, rather than stabbing the frame in the so-famous meta-fictional techniques of the postmodernists. Umibe no Onnanoko especially, is a through and through traditional work that aims at that very old and outdated concept of Beauty in detailed and distinct representation. While Punpun may have widespread moments where Asano cartoonizes, expressionizes or satirizes with a subversion of content, the form is never really broken. Panels are still placed normally without any form of ingenuity like that of Watchmen’s symmetrical placement or that of Ware’s complete destruction and manipulation of panels altogether.
But in terms of everything inside the frame, Asano has free reign. Following the tradition of Japanese atmosphere building, the very first chapter already builds up with a series of aspect-aspect shots of different parts of a seaside town, with a gradual buildup of dialogue bubbles spaced in this sceneristic void. The shots are all profoundly empty. The first appearance of Koume is effaced by the speech bubble. Below that frame, both Koume and Isobe’s heads are cut off (chapter 1 pg 6). The beginning scene is already rife with displacement and a lack.
Of course the aesthetics of Sincerity are mainly manifest in the ‘reality’ of the interactions and the dialogue. For a novelist this is easier because novels, no matter how much people want to deny this fact, are still at the bottom all Tell and no Show. The highly conversational Literature of Salinger and Foster Wallace make use of description, rhythm and psychology to weave up a tapestry of human conflict and emotion. Asano understands this and so likes to break up her works sometimes with textual interjections. Punpun was noteworthy in that one of the textual interjections was so massive that it had to take up the whole front and back cover of Volume 9. Chris Ware is the king of manipulating image and textual interjection and can lace his works with all sorts of literariness through the rigor of his placement. Since Asano is still firmly traditional in her framing (considering too that she’s writing more for a manga magazine rather than, like Ware, making her own entire book) she can’t control it as well as Ware so she has to use it sparsely. Yet, in that chapter 1 interjection, you can almost feel the ASMR-y whispering of a young girl in your head. (“Burnt out fireworks, seaweed, a child’s hat blown off by the wind” chapter 1 pg 7 Sparseness of imagery for poetic effect is especially prevalent in Japanese literature, most notably with the very tight flash fiction and stories of Kawabata and the whole tradition of Haiku)
Asano’s poetics of Sincerity are based around two things. The first is the willingness to depict the extraneous moments and actions of life. This means that the people in an Asano manga will talk about all sorts of things completely unrelated to the current story, as well as (going by the English translation) all the strange cuttings and meanderings of real conversation. Also because her style is more detailed and realistically oriented (closer to Real than Symbol in McCloud’s Big Triangle) she can pull off all the facial nuances of her characters. So when in the first chapter Isobe tries to kiss Koume, not only do their stances alone emphasize the awkwardness, but her arms drawing backwards, and the slight upwards crease of her lip to indicate a slight displeasure, and then turning her head away to fend off his advance, are all manifested in an absolutely small 3 panel moment-moment exchange (chapter 1 pg 14). Characters also make all kinds of references to Japanese media and talk about small things.
The second is in the impressionistic framing. Like a Roeg film, Asano will not really draw a linear line of events but make a psychological landscape. So when Koume realizes she’s menstruating (chapter 1 pg 21), the frame cuts to a parallel imagined image of Isobe naked, then cuts to a first person view of her looking at her bloody underwear, then cuts to the moment where she makes her move on Isobe, but then will draw back to a different point in their ordinary class life. For Asano it’s all in the details, not just in the big moments, but in the small. So when Koume talks about a date with Misaki, Asano will cut to a small brief picture of Kashima eyeing her out of the corner of his manga (chapter 1 pg 23), and the next frame doubles as both a point of view shot of Kashima voyeuristically viewing Koume’s body, as well as a displacing Koume’s face in awkwardness when she tries to defend Misaki from her friends. Then when Kashima interjects into Koume’s talk, he’s shown upside down to emphasize his playfulness, while her frame is diminished to show her being embarrassed by his interjection, only to enlarge again when she notices Isobe is taking notice of her. Awkwardness, mood, and mental state are all manifest in the placement of the frames alone.
You could say that Umibe no Onnanoko is ‘cinematic’ but there are still things that could only be done through manga alone. So in the same way the teachers in Punpun are exaggerated comically, Asano also exaggerates Misaki with manga specific traits (chapter 1 pg 26), like onomatopoeia. Yet this is still, like Solanin, the more ‘cinematic’ of his works.
Now to get to that very dark dusky vulgar area of sexuality. When you translate the pitch perfect composition of Asano over to the sex scenes, what you get is extremely high voyeuristic sensuality. Asano mixes up the points of view and frames to really subjectivize the experience of sex in a way that makes you feel like you’re really looking straight into the base primality, awkwardness and fluttering excitement of two souls trying to unite in the physical realm. Yet she can just as easily cut back to make the moment seem like an empty endeavor, to rehighlight the theme of whether love and sexuality are distinct, or whether a person can indulge in base pleasure completely cut away from connection altogether. The whole crux of the book is the sex scenes solely because these depict the pushing and pulling away of Isobe and Koume from each other. So the first scene is awkward, while the second scene is more detachment and comical because of the location and later it vacillates between sex done out of vacuous boredom and brief enjoyment to aggressive sensuality as the emotions between the two characters also go through ups and downs. Like one of the scenes (chapter 7 page 5) completely effaces the facial expressions altogether and while the scene itself is a brief montage of parts, the real connection comes with Koume and Isobe talking idly after the moment, in a scene that floats through their closed eyes and half tired faces, dreamily floating over their bodies and then pulling backwards into a shot of the city.
Asano is a true example of how far mastery of the form can get you. How much more real your characters become when your composition is a perfect mirror with the feelings of your character. These two volumes, and all of Asano’s works, deserves to be studied by any comic artist who wants to make it out there in the world and go beyond the ordinary and the banal to create really powerful art. read more
After completing the first volume of A Gril by the Sea, (or Umibe no Onnanoko) I can say that Inio Asano has done it again. The main character of the story is a girl named Koume Sato, who experiences the ups and downs of relationships, mostly downs, with Inio brilliantly showing readers what emotions come with it. Just like every other manga by Inio Asano, reading A Girl by the Sea is an experience all its own; unique, heart tantalizing, comedic, and enjoyable. I gave this manga a 10/10 across the board because I believe that the story is excellent, the art enhances the characters by portraying beautiful scenes that fit the mood said characters, and the characters themselves are interesting and are what gives this manga, in my opinion, the qualities to become Inio's best manga, possibly surpassing oyasumi punpun in the future.(POSSIBLY) The best part about the story, art, and characters are how they are all put together perfectly by Inio, leaving it impossible for me to give this less than an overall 10/10.read more