25 Days of Manga, Day 8 of 25 – My Broken Mariko (Review)

Publisher: Yen Press

Author/Artist: Waka Hirako

Translator: Amanda Haley

Letterer: Abigail Backman

Genre: Fiction, Drama, Josei, Tragedy 

Rating: OT (Older Teen/16+)

Release Date: 11/10/2020

MSRB: US $18.00 / CAN $24.50 (Hardcover w/ dustjacket)

Reviewer’s Note: I received a review copy of My Broken Mariko from Yen Press in exchange for an honest review of the volume. I was not compensated for my review, nor will I be compensated post-review. This manga review contains heavy spoilers, as well as difficult topics that may be hard for readers to engage with, such as discussions of suicide, discussions of child abuse, discussions of parental rape, and discussions of emotional abuse. Please note that this review is image-free. Opinions are my own.

TW / CW: Discussions of Suicide, Death by Suicide, Depictions of Intentional Self-Harm via Cutting, Child and Childhood Abuse, Statements/Discussion of Childhood Sexual Assualt from a Parent, Parent/Child Incest, Emotional Abuse

I am crying as I write this review, but I think it’s impossible not to. Still, before we go further, I want to give a warning before we engage with today’s title.

I said above that there are trigger warnings / content warnings for suicide, death by suicide, depictions of child and childhood abuse, as well as emotional abuse. This will be the case for the contents of this review, which will include heavy spoilers and frank discussions of those topics.

Please, if you’re not in a place where this is non-triggering content, do not continue further. This is a very frank review that gets quite candid about suicide and suicidality, especially in 2020.

Statistically, according to the CDC, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death for Americans, ranking up there with conditions like Cancer, Influenza, and Diabetes. Roughly 50,000 Americans die by suicide annually. However, this is data for those who’s deaths are ruled as death by suicide. Most likely, and this is a personal belief, I think that number is higher, especially in the case of deaths that may be ruled as “cause unknown”. 

You will most likely, unfortunately, know someone who dies by suicide, at some point in your life. I myself know at least six, off the top of my head: more, if I mull things over. You will most likely know someone who’s pain and grief lead them to consider death by suicide. Some will not achieve their end and will find themselves on yet another winding road. Some will die by suicide. 

Unfortunately, you will most likely know someone who dies this way in 2020: epecially in 2020, a year that has had isolation baked in from Spring. You may already know them.

I offer all my condolences, living or deceased.

I ask you to have sympathy, regardless. I ask you to be kind and understand how someone might come to the conclusion that death by suicide is the only way to find peace of mind or heart or just an end to the pain. 

I ask that you keep those who have left us in mind as you read this review, whether they are still present or are held in your heart and memories. 

Allow me to tell you what suicide is not: cowardly or selfish. In fact, I find it incredibly cruel to use “coward” or “selfish” as a descriptor for a person who dies by suicide. In fact, the word that initially comes to mind is “hurt”. So often, people who die by suicide are hurting: they feel alone in their pain, which is all-consuming. 

Even those who have suicide attempts, or are living with suicidal ideation, are in pain: it’s just invisible and can’t be performed on command. Much like chronic pain, there’s a level of “used to this” that comes when you live with ideation or suicidality. Much like chronic pain, a 5 out of 10 becomes the norm until for some of us… it isn’t.

I carried all those thoughts into my read of My Broken Mariko, a series explicitly about death by suicide and pain. It’s impossible, I found, to disentangle these ideas from this heartbreak, heartwrenching, deep story. Now… let’s talk about My Broken Mariko.

My Broken Mariko is the story of a young woman named Mariko. It is also the story of Tomoyo Shiino, her forever friend left behind in the wake of Mariko’s death by suicide. Blindsided by the news -which she finds out via the actual news- Tomoyo feels like she’s treading water. That is, until she’s filled with determination to liberate Mariko’s ashes and take her on one last journey to finally free her from the abuse that filled Mariko’s childhood.

That summary is largely taken from the backcover, but… I don’t feel like it does this story justice. This story is so much more than that. It’s so much deeper and so much more heartfelt and just… so much more everything than that, though it’s a good place to start.

There are some intensely hurtful moments in this manga: anytime Mariko has a bruise on her face, Tomoyo calling Mariko’s father out for raping his daughter, Tomoyo thinking about texting Mariko, only to realize that won’t work. Scenes where Mariko cuts her wrists with a box cutter. Times where Mariko says, “Something bad always happens to me” and the reader must face the fact that no adult helped her. 

The criss-crossed scars on Mariko’s wrists.

There is some comedy -perhaps dark; definitely dark- in seeing Tomoyo’s rescue of Mariko’s ashes. I laughed, rather unexpectedly, as she tumbles down a hill, shoes left behind in Mariko’s childhood home, her best friend’s shattered picture and ashes clutches as she falls, unceremoniously…into a river. There’s the moment that Mariko realizes that she left her shoes behind, so she sprays down some old Doc Martens with Febreeze and heads out. There’s Mariko’s facial expressions which are hilarious and sometimes, goofily froggish in nature.

There’s even a cheeky “Suicide isn’t a crime, but littering is” sign thrown in near the end that made me laugh out loud because well… it’s right. That sign is right.

There are also intensely beautiful moments: take the beginning of chapter two, for instance, when Tomoyo opens a box of letters Mariko wrote her when they were young. There’s the moment Tomoyo realizes she knows exactly where to take Mariko for their last journey and goes dashing into the night towards their final destination. All the moments that Mariko tells Tomoyo “I love you”. The moments when Waka Hirako depicts Mariko’s ashes as her high school self, cradled in Tomoyo’s safe embrace. 

The ending.

It’s all the elements that really make My Broken Mariko such a powerful, complex story that really shows how powerful manga -and books in general- can be. Coupled with beautiful lettering and a really powerful translation… goodness me, what more can I say other than I’m grateful that I am here to read such an emotional story. 

Then there’s the fact that Mariko and Tomoyo deeply loved one another. Not in a gal pals kind of way, but in the way that I am with my partner: in a deeply, clearly romantic way. This isn’t just reading in it, or subtext: it’s just the text, and it’s a powerful part of the story. 

Even though Mariko and Tomoyo are never formally a couple, Waka Hirako didn’t cloak the fact that these are two women who love each other deeply and are inexplicably bound together. It’s clear that they want a life together. They just sadly never get to see that future because pain and trauma are real, and they make life so, so hard sometimes for the survivors who bear the weight.

A part of me desperately wishes Mariko and Tomoyo had been together: a part of me wishes that their story had been one of surviving and thriving and peace. A part of me wishes that someone had intervened, that an actual adult had stepped up to help protect Mariko more than… well, the no one who did. A big part of me wishes Mariko had never had to suffer. 

An even bigger part of me -really, my entire being- wishes that no one had to suffer like she did.

I think these feelings are going to be in my heart for a long whimle, in large part because this story was that powerful and that evocative and that impactful. Mariko and Tomoyo now hold residence in my heart, right next to all the manga girls I’ve loved and wanted to embrace.

This feels like a strange time to mention it, but there’s a short story after My Broken Mariko concludes entitled “Yiska”. Set in the 1990s, It focuses on Danton, an indigenous youth, and Tyler, a mysterious white man man who’s trying to reach a road near the America/Mexico border in what looks like either New Mexico or Arizona. I actually won’t go much further than that because I actually found this one-shot pretty interesting. It certainly made me want to read more of Waka-sensei’s work.

I’m still crying as I wrap up this review: I can’t help it because My Broken Mariko is everything and more. I never imagined reading a story that saw me as clearly as this story did, but… here we are and there’s my copy of this manga, sitting closed on my bed on top of a sprawl of Christmas cards. I have a lot of feelings coursing through me, but the biggest one, strangely is hope.

I am immensely thankful that My Broken Mariko exists. I’m thankful that I got to read it, and I hope one day, I’ll be able to re-read it. For now, it’s going on my shelves: permanently, might I add. I can’t imagine not having a copy of this beautiful, heartwrenching, hopeful story.

If you’re able, if you’re in a place where you can engage with the content of this manga, I highly suggest reading it. My Broken Mariko is a manga that I really, really think everyone should read, if only to change how you look at death by suicide and to understand the sympathy so critical to helping those who live with suicidality and suicidal ideation.

Dear reader, if you feel at the end of your rope, if you feel there is nothing left to pour into the cup of your heart, please consider reaching out for help. As I am an American with a primarily North American readership, I’ll offer up some resources, should you need support in your healing.

First is the National Suicide Hotline, which offers both English and Spanish language support: 1-800-273-8255. They also have support for the deaf and hard of hearing. Second is the resources from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). Those resource include multiple hotlines not listed in this review

Third is some resources for my BIPOC and Queer/LGBTQAI+ readers. The first comes from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and is a BIPOC-centereed list of resources, with a section for Black individuals specifically. The next is from PFLAG: this list includes a large amount of resources for queer folks of all walks of life, and extends past suicide into assault hotlines for rape and abuse. Here’s another list from NAMI with a queer-focus that hopefully, might help you should you need a pair of hands to lift you up.

I’ll end this review with this: tell your loved ones you love them today.

Ttell them this as soon as you reach the end of this review. Tell them now. Tell them like there’s no tomorrow, and there’s just now and that’s all the time you have. Tell them that you care. Hold them when you can, write them letters as often as possible, and let them know that their pain is not ugly or bad, that it can be healed and that they’re not weak or cowards or bad. Tell them that they are worthwhile simply because they are here and exist and are them.

Let them know that they’re not alone and that you care.

I think I need to text my partner right now. I miss her dearly, and want her to know that I do.

TL;DR: My Broken Mariko is a heartwrenching, heartbreaking, and soul shattering story about death, abuse, grief, and healing. It’s also a story about love and friendship and affection and continuing to live with others in mind. With a dose of comedy, a heck of a lot of heart, and a resolution that will leave you sobbing, My Broken Mariko is one of the best manga of 2020. Read with care, but if you can, please don’t pass up such an important josei title in localization and manga in general.

Read If You Like…
* Stories about queer and sapphic characters
* Stories about grief and healing
* Stories with frank looks at suicide and suicidality
* Stories about female friendship and relationships
* Josei manga

Rating: 🟊🟊🟊🟊🟊 / 5 out of 5 stars

Bingo Card: Someone On the Nice List

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