Confession: this is my first time reading Moyoco Anno. I have seen (and lusted for) her Sakuran, and I remember Hataraki Man being very popular when I spent a semester in Japan back in 2007, but I didn’t really pay attention to her name until In Clothes Called Fat came out. I don’t read josei very often – which perhaps should change – but I discovered Okazaki Kyoko in college, and was completely into her short work, “River’s Edge”. I was drawn to In Clothes Called Fat because the description made me think of Okazaki Kyoko’s Helter Skelter, another of my favourites. Sure enough, a quick look at this title on GoodReads showed other reviews calling Moyoco Anno a “spiritual successor” of Okazaki Kyoko.
Like Okazaki’s Helter Skelter, this manga is bleak, and harsh. There is no happy or hopeful ending. Noko, the main character, loses weight, but she never does stand up for herself or learn to see beyond her body as a source of happiness. At the beginning of the manga the hurtful, casual comments from Noko’s colleagues keeps battering her self-esteem. It isn’t just the other women – portrayed as slender and beautiful – but also the male co-workers that call her “pig”, and the boss that assumes every mistake at work must be hers, while the beautiful Mayumi is treated like “a superior human being”. Noko does have a boyfriend of eight years, and when her colleagues find out, Mayumi promptly seduces him, and the bullying Noko experiences at work escalates. While Noko started out not seeming to mind the fact that she’s fat, the bullying she encounters at work, added to the fact that her boyfriend is cheating on her, makes her think that her life would be better – and happier – if she were thin. Despite the treatment she gets due to her weight, no one else wants her to get thin, however: Mayumi, her colleague, needs Noko to remain fat and an outlet for her power trips; Saito, her boyfriend, only likes Fat!Noko because he can only be with girls that no other guys would desire; Mr. Fujimoto, an old man Noko sleeps with in a moment of desperation, fetishes her fat body.
While I appreciate the narrative on body image and how we perceive beauty, and would recommend it (with caution, as it’s definitely not for the easily disturbed, and meant for an adult audience), I didn’t like the depiction of Noko as a fat person who gorges on food all the time (I’m aware that this is a psychological problem, but I’m tired of fat characters in fiction being written this way). In fact, I found all the characters utterly unlikable and unsympathetic. This reaction is different from when I read Okazaki Kyoko’s Helter Skelter (which is also a narrative on societal pressures on women to look beautiful), where I sympathised with Ririko despite all the horrible things she does. As another character observed, while Noko believes that her life would change if only she was beautiful, “her soul is obese”. The same could be said about the other characters, though, whatever their physical appearance. Each harbours a secret ugliness, and like Noko, Mayumi and Saito are confronted with the part of themselves that they would rather not see. This is where I think this manga excels, along with the little moments that show what life is like for Noko as a fat woman – such as when Mayumi berates her for wearing a worn-out, unfashionable bra, not realising how difficult it is for a woman of Noko’s size to find one that fits at all (let alone a cute one!), and a scene where a slimmed-down Noko expresses surprise at being smiled at by sales staff while trying to buy clothes. And while none of the characters seem to grow within this book, I do find this manga wonderfully disturbing and complex and most importantly, a very good read.
~ originally posted on Weebly