(Review originally published January 18, 2019)
We as writers, as creators, are fragile creatures.
We often are mentally set apart because our minds venture far away from the status quo whether that be the American dream of working until our hard labors bear moderate fruit or the Japanese ideal of being a respectable and productive member of society. We are divided from the world by our imaginations and our need to share the worlds in a bid to give meaning to what makes us different and most importantly, share what we love.
We want to make everyone feel what we feel.
Some of us have it come easily. Some of us can’t quite grasp it. All of us work tirelessly until our eyes are stressed by the fluorescent lights and our wrists are crippled by carpal tunnel. Some of us get there. Some of us are still trying. None of us ever stop.
However, we all come to that point and time where the resistance is so very strong and we’re either sulking in the idea that we’re not as great as we think we are or why anyone hasn’t recognized out greatness. Most of the time it’s both.
We sit at the precipice surrounded by rejection letters, thinking maybe we should consider a “real job” or worse, those publishing houses/editors/agents are so out of touch they wouldn’t know what talent was. In between that are those who recognize that while this is who we are and who we will always be but are unable to get past the wall of resistance that prevents them from being who they know they are. This is not writer’s block. This is not a lack of ideas.
This… is fear of success…
This… is fear of failure…
This is fear of the unknown
Welcome Back, Everyone!
Today we’re going to unpack the beautiful, yet mildly disturbing mystery written by the great NisiOisiN called Imperfect girl. Written for the 10th anniversary of NisiOisiN’s amazing career and adapted to a Manga by Mitsuru Hattori.
I started reading this when it was initially published and found myself captured immediately. I ended up preordering each subsequent volume as they became available and never looked back. This powerful story is the type of creative rumination on being a writer I think is overlooked but so common among the writing community and I hope to entice you to recognize its beautiful and often too-close-to-home relationship between writer and reader and the wonderful things it could bring.
The Elusive NisiOisiN
Let’s start with the most elusive motherfucker since bigfoot.
NisioisiN, born Nisio Ishin, is the hottest thing in Japanese Light Novels and he’s only 37. He was first published when he was 20 years old and soon as he hit the ground running, he never stopped. This man not only won the coveted Mephisto Award for his first novel, but he was only the 23rd person to ever do it. He challenged himself to write one novel per month until he wrote a 12-novel series just because he knew he could! This series would be published one volume per month and titled Katanagatari!
But I think we in the anime world all best know him for the critically acclaimed and true test of anime binging skills, the Monogatari series Staring Koyomi Araragi. I have watched every anime in this series and think it’s the best thing since someone made pizza Lunchables.
NisiOisin is a veritable writing Spartan and will probably tell you right off the bat that he still believes he’s written nothing of note. But most importantly, he is a true author in that no one – not even himself – can imagine him being anything else. And this is made the most apparent in the story of Imperfect Girl.
U the Incomplete
Imperfect Girl is the story of a writer well into his career recounting the singular moment, or shall we say the incident in which he stopped being an amateur and turned pro. It’s the 10th anniversary of his career (wink-wink-nudge-nudge whistle) and he decides in a state of whimsy to finally write down the bizarre incident with his 20-year-old self and the enigmatic fourth grader he calls U, who held him hostage in her foyer closet.
It begins with the Author witnessing U’s friend be tragically run over by a dump truck, severing her head, but unfortunately, this is not the strangest thing he saw. U, who is panicking, pauses pragmatically to save and turn off her game as well as tuck it safely back in her bag before showing any form of reaction. The author – curious but unconcerned – let the moment pass out of sight and out of mind until he becomes the victim of an adorable yet disturbingly elaborate kidnapping staged by this tiny girl. Once trapped at her house, the author realizes there is so much wrong and so much tragic about U to the point that they both realize they are facing the wall that needs to be broken down before it breaks them both.
And only one of them can accomplish this… because the other is nothing but a little girl.
“Just One Thing”
In reading Imperfect Girl, you are surprisingly confronted by so many things common in the writing community, especially the very real feeling of “Otherness” that comes with wanting to be a creative of any type. The way the Author goes along with the kidnapping simply because they don’t take their kidnapper seriously and she’s only holding a boxcutter, resonates very much with the way a writer goes through life believing they can put an end to it at any point. Whether that be a job they someday want to quit to pursue their writing dreams or obligations they feel they could say no to at any time so they always say yes and leave writing at the door. After a while, we become a slave to those things and are barred from creation right up until there is a barrier between us and what we desire and that is to write.
This is a form of escapism and it’s symbolized in the Author’s willingness to submit to imprisonment. He even admits as he’s locked in the closet that he is using his imprisonment to escape the fear that maybe he would never be a writer or worse that he would transition into a real author. The unknown territory. As long as he remained trapped in this situation, these “excuses”, he would never have to face that wall and never have to break it down.
This bit of dependency he develops on his captivity with U is what prevents, or rather delays him in realizing that U is not just a little girl, but one being abused and that her behavior towards him is a learned one. It is only when he contemplates what’s happening, when leaves the closet to understand something – or rather, someone outside himself, is when his perspective broadens, and he sees the wall for what it is and how U has become a personification of that wall. He recognizes his cowardice, his reluctance to break from his comfort zone, take control, and realize that this is not about him, that this is about U.
Paralleled, it was no longer about him and what he thought of himself as an author, but rather what he – this often othered person – could do with his writing. You could even go so far as to say that U not only personified the unknown territory but also the personification of the author’s muse in that she is starved, abused, and confined by the rules and routine of normal society. U is presented as a highly intelligent, obedient child, but also one with great imagination and a desire to be part of the world around her but cannot because of the wall.
U is at a point where she feels overwhelmed trying to comply with the rules that she cannot get over the wall. With the Author finally coming out of the closet, finally greeting her – his wall and his muse – at the door he recognizes his need for self-care as an author and that is his need to tell stories. Now that he knows that it’s no longer about him, he knows that he himself cannot save U. He cannot change her situation. He cannot adopt her or take her away from the empty house. However, there is something that he can give her. Something that only he can give her and that is stories.
Which is what he does.
He tucks U’s weary body in, and he saves her the only way he knows how. By giving her stories. Real stories outside of the confines of fairytales and picture-perfect societies.
When you get to the epilogue of the story, you feel warm and realize this is why we as writers tell our stories. They are to entertain, educate, offer escape, and relief. But most importantly, they are there to save.
We Were Always Writers
This is why I find Imperfect Girl a beautiful and deep tale that I think every creator should read, especially authors. It highlights and reminds us why we’re doing this. That when we’re facing the wall that comes between us whether success or failure be on the other side, we shouldn’t let it cow us. We should remind ourselves that it’s not just about us. When we write these stories, we are doing something that only we can do.
We were writers when we first picked up the pen and we’ve been writers ever since and no other person can do what we do.
We bring the torrential rains. We bring the shimmering sunsets. We bring the memories of mom and dad telling us stories. We bring the history of forgotten worlds that everyone has left behind in the dust. We bring the future of worlds we have yet to create. But most importantly, we bring daybreak. We bring the sun shining over the hills after the night has been unkind.
We save and no one can save someone the way we can.
A simple act of sharing one of our many worlds and one of our many peoples with one child, teen, or adult can change everything for that person and this is not a romanticization but a proven fact. Every reader has the book that saved them in some way and only a writer could have given that to them.
We can only be writers.
Yes, we can get a regular job. We can become productive members of society. We can get that normal life that’s coveted by the time we’re 30.
But in the end, we glance at the pen or the keyboard and our fingers itch because this is something only we can do.
Imperfect Girl – dark and macabre as it is – is the example and the tale that a lot of us either already have or are waiting to find in which we realize no matter what, we were always authors… and sometimes just being that, is enough to change an entire world for someone.
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One thought on “A Love Letter to Storytelling – Imperfect Girl by NisioisiN”
Enjoyed the review, sounds like a really intriguing manga
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