Shimeji Simulation is lots of fun

Volume 1 via Amazon.jp

I’ve been reading and translating Shimeji Simulation, the new-ish 4-koma comedy manga from Tsukumizu, the author of (my absolute favorite!) Girl’s Last Tour. It tells the story of Shijima, a mopey former hikikomori with shimeji mushrooms growing from her head as she befriends Majime, another high school girl with a strange head ornament. The manga follows the same existential, pess-optimistic mood and surreal-but-direct art style of Tsukumizu’s previous work, on display right away on page two of chapter one with visual reference to Girl’s Last Tour (the fish!, and later surprises):

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When does Girls’ Last Tour take place? …and why it might not matter

No computer, no screenshots — I got a scan!

[computer still broken, so a short phone ramble]

When does Girls’ Last Tour (Shoujo Shuumatsu Ryokou) take place? I googled the question and found no answer on the first few result pages. So, while re-reading the manga through a surprise digital detox sprung on me by a broken computer, I thought I could provide an answer:

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Details in Girls’ Last Tour: Kanazawa’s view of life and maturity

[content warning: attempted suicide in fiction]

‘like a puff ‘a smoke

[As a heads up, I am assuming some familiarity with the material. Also, I wrote this between a Japanese print edition of the manga, an English Kindle edition, and the relevant episode from the anime so I’ve mixed up the sourcing on the quotes — some come from the English manga, some from the anime subtitles, and some from my own translation of the Japanese. Sorry to any source sticklers, but they should be interchangeable!]

In chapter 7 of the manga Girls’ Last Tour (Shoujo Shuumatsu Ryokou, also episode 3 of the anime) the map-maker Kanazawa gives one of the series’ few outside, adult observations of the two lead girls. While Chii and Yuu work to fill up the gas tanks for their Kettenkrad vehicle, along with an extra barrel to take them farther through the ruined city, Kanazawa glances up from his maps and notices how unexpectedly clever the girls are at surviving the apocalypse:

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Can Nanako speak? It shouldn’t matter. A quiet victory for mutism representation in Senryu Shoujo

Senryu Shoujo’s mute protagonist Nanako on the cover of the volume one manga

[I had selective mutism growing up, but that anecdotal experience should not determine the strength of my argument. So, I’ll also give an academic-adjacent reading recommendation as my main source, Selective Mutism in Our Own Words: Experiences in Childhood and Adulthood by Carl Sutton and Cheryl Forrester. It’s an excellent book both for its readable first-person accounts of the condition and for its rigorous literature review and references to guide further research. I have also consulted with a professional speech-language pathologist friend to assist me with a mock “diagnosis” of Nanako’s silence and increase the clarity of my writing about communication disorders. A thousand thanks for her expertise!]

I don’t read much manga because I can’t stand the dominant publishing model: chapters trickled out in pulp-periodical magazines, collected and resold into volumes when they reach some arbitrary mass that continues to expand anyway because the incentive to sell another volume discourages writers from hitting real resolutions or, often, even moving the plot forward (I hear a whisper on the breeze, ~Nisekoi~). So, despite the common refrain that “the manga was better,” I like to stick to anime if only because seeing “(ongoing)” attached to a double-digit volume list makes me doze off before even starting. I’ve picked up a few manga for series that have impressed me beyond expectation, but only if they’re short, they’re serious, and they’re over.

I broke my usual habits then when I bought the manga for Senryu Shoujo, a spring 2019 anime series that, despite some initial enjoyment, impressed me so little that I haven’t bothered to finish it. With a bland high-school-slice-of-life 4-panel format, it’s got nothing serious to consider, at nine volumes, it’s too long to finish (especially without an official translation… I’ve limped along in Japanese*), and, ugh, it’s (ongoing). But even if I didn’t much enjoy either the anime or the manga (I only read the first four volumes as a compromise with my sanity), I do think that Senryu Shoujo did something well worth praising: its depiction of communication difficulties, specifically, the mutism of its lead protagonist, Nanako Yukishiro.

* [Note: in the absence of an official English edition, I have provided my own amateurish translations]

But despite the centrality of mutism to Senryu Shoujo‘s entire premise, the relative silence on the issue online has surprised me — maybe just a footnote here, a brief mention in regards to social anxiety here, and an abundance of misguided terms like “shy,” “introverted,” or “non-verbal” scattered around various reviews, impressions, and discussion threads. Otherwise, most viewers just seem to treat it like a cute gimmick. But in an odd way, I take that lack of focus on Nanako’s mutism as a quiet victory for disability representation in anime; Senryu Shoujo has managed to tell a story about living with a rare condition that impedes communication without, it seems, most viewers even noticing the difference.

In this post, I will try to define the disorder that prevents Nanako from speaking, because her almost total reticence goes beyond a mere personality trait like shyness or introversion. Then, I’ll return to the question of disability representation in fiction by discussing how I think Senryu Shoujo excels compared to other media depicting similar communication challenges.

So, first…

Can Nanako Speak?

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Escaping time with Girls’ Last Tour: a close look at the chapter “Bath”

Nice

[This is a direct continuation of my post from last week …and maybe just an excuse to practice translating Japanese. For the purposes of this essay, I want to maintain a narrow focus on a single, critical chapter early in the series, so I’ll assume some familiarity with Girls’ Last Tour. I love it though, so I might write more later.]

Huh, I really did just need to wait a few more days for warmth. After the freezing, drizzly graduation ceremonies last week, winter and spring seem to have settled their miserable transition just in time to enjoy the vernal equinox, a public holiday in Japan. Three days ago, I had to defrost my windshield for the last time during a sub-zero morning before work. But on my way home today, the thermometer on my car hit 26 degrees Celsius while soaking up sunlight in a low-albedo asphalt parking lot …not the real outside temperature, but the automatic AC turned on! I guess winter’s finally dead then. It’s warm!

In last week’s post, I commiserated with the despairing heroine Mio from Izumi Kyoka’s short story “One Day in Spring.” Mio suffers from time consciousness. She could tolerate the misery of winter as long as she felt that she could not escape it. But when spring fluttered along and invited her to take a hopeful glimpse at a warm paradise, she could no longer bear her suffering. She treats hope like a sickness which steals away her ability to enjoy the present pleasures of the spring day while she ruminates on an uncertain future. Will she reach her paradise, and if so, when? For those last few days of winter, I felt much the same way: spring had tempted me with a little warmth, but it was still too cold now. I just had to wait, but hope made me impatient…

But now that my mood’s improved with the weather this week, I thought that I should look at a more positive portrayal of a warm paradise from the “Bath” chapter in Girls’ Last Tour (Shoujo Shuumatsu Ryokou; anime episode 2; manga volume 1, chapter 3). It’s a perfect encapsulation of the whole series’ style. As the manga’s author (pen name: Tsukumizu) describes it in this interview, “[Bath] condenses the appeal of Girls’ Last Tour into one story.” The sisters Chii and Yuu travel across a frozen, post-apocalyptic wasteland, find an abandoned power station still producing hot water, and enjoy a break from their aimless journey with a nice bath.

But beyond calming effect of the simple slice-of-life adventure, Girls’ Last Tour asks light philosophical questions about how to best enjoy life. It comes to a counter-intuitive answer: abandon hope. Like Mio, Girls’ Last Tour perhaps sees hope as something more harmful than good. Hope looks to a better future, but an excessive focus on that future can limit enjoyment of the present and the ability to cope with suffering. Mio cannot suppress her anxious fretting over time and dies for it. But Girls’ Last Tour has a much more positive solution: try to stop thinking and embrace “hopelessness” (in Yuu’s words), if only for a little while. It’s an appeal to escape time consciousness and focus on the present. As Tsukumizu puts in an address to her fans: “whilst going about your day, I would like you to notice the virtues in everyday life.”

[Some quick housekeeping notes: I’ll refer to the manga for quotes as a matter of convenience, since I have the book in front of me right now. Because the anime script lifts lines almost word-for-word from the manga for the “Bath” chapter, they should have identical interpretations anyway. With that said though, I sometimes don’t like manga’s official English translation from Yen Press (I think the anime subtitles have much more subtle translations of the same lines), so I’ve produced my own as some just-for-fun language practice. It resembles both the manga and anime official translations — with some of my own colloquialisms — so I hope it will suffice.]

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