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Long Read. Spoilers later with clear warnings in subtitles.
I don’t really review manga here, but today I’m making an exception.
Firstly, I’d like to thank Irina for reviewing this manga on her own blog, as I’m not sure I would ever have found it without her review: Hiro to Yoru no Oishii Jikan – A Surprisingly Frank Look at Anorexia. So, uh, thanks! (and I really hope it isn’t treading on your toes to post this so quickly after you, but I had so much to say about it and some of it’s fairly personal, so I hope that’s OK? I don’t really know much about blogging etiquette… but I don’t think all this would fit in a comment…)
Oishii Jikan is a fairly short manga, as they go. It’s two volumes, thirteen chapters. You can get through it all in one evening. It’s short, but for me it was a sucker punch, and to read it all in one go would have been quite difficult.
The plot is bittersweet and follows a few days and evenings in the lives of Mahiru (a catering student), and Yoruko (a novelist). When Yoruko determines to look after Mahiru after his remaining family abandons him, new tensions arise as she is forced to confront her eating disorder.
I don’t have a job (unfortunately), so I still read it over the course of a single day, but I had to stop to take breaks. I think if you’ve ever struggled with a serious eating disorder, or are close to someone who has, then you might experience the same thing.
However, as someone who has struggled with anorexia, I would describe this as an extremely cathartic read. I would recommend it.
I adore the art style of this manga. It’s a personal bug bear of mine that so many manga infantilise women through how they’re drawn. In fact, I wrote a whole essay about at uni, it bothers me that much. That’s why I love when something like JoJo’s Bizarre Adventures, or Ergo Proxy comes along and draws women like REAL. ADULT. WOMEN.
Women have chins too. I like to see them.
Maybe I should dig up that old essay and post it here… Yes… maybe I will…
Other than lady chins, which admittedly might be more of a me-problem, the art style is decidedly beautiful and had me craving iced coffee enough to make one of my own. I’m even thinking of making muffins later today—it’s given me the cooking vibes!
There are some aspects where the plot goes a bit skewiff, and I find the relationship between Mahiru and Yoruko to be an interesting one. No-one is quite sure where Mahiru and Yoruko stand with one another. Their relationship exists in a liminal space—it lives between the boundaries of other relationship labels, never quite one or the other.
Sometimes, Yoruko adopts a motherly persona and contemplates how she feels about it. Sometimes, Mahiru appears to search for memories of his mother in Yoruko, but he doesn’t really seem to want to fully acknowledge that. Mahiru’s friends all seem to think that he fancies the older woman, Yoruko, and while Mahiru often blushes in her presence, it’s never certain whether he really sees her as relationship material for someone his age.
The two live in a constant awareness of what they could become, and how society would perceive them, and by both knowing and ignoring this, they continue to live together in a stranger situation that never acquiesces to anything. They’re more than friends, less than lovers, but too awkward for family. And that’s where the manga ends.
And that’s just fine, because while Oishii Jikan does deal with relationships and how people see one another, age gap relationships are not the central premise for this tale.
I previously mentioned that I struggled with anorexia. I’m a lot better than I used to be and have even outgrown my cosplays from those days… which is both a shame and a very positive sign.
For me, Oishii Jikan was a cathartic read because through reading it, I acknowledged how far I’ve come. In some chapters, I was reliving some of my most difficult moments with the disorder, but overall this manga is about hope and determination, and I remembered the moments where things got easier for me, just as they did for Yoruko.
My struggle never got as bad as Yoruko’s, or at least, I don’t think it did. I never lied to anyone about what I was eating, so my struggle with food was never something that distanced me from other people. On the other hand, no-one ever confronted me about my difficulties. It just wasn’t mentioned, and in that respect, I guess I did feel quite lonely with it.
I have strong memories of spending hours at the dinner table, pushing myself to take another bite. It was hard. I ate a little over a long period of time, and because I was still ‘eating’, people didn’t really think the word ‘anorexia’ around me.
Yoruko’s disorder is much further along the line. She can’t eat, even if she wants to. While I did have days like that, it wasn’t my norm, but seeing Yoruko’s attempts to force herself to eat reminded me of my daily struggle to not totally succumb to the illness.
It doesn’t help that I’m similar to Yoruko in almost every way. I don’t smoke, but I have a similar look, temperament, lifestyle (who needs bras, anyway?!), and am an aspiring novelist. Reading Oishii Jikan was like being forced to witness my most difficult years in this situation.
You don’t ever fully recover from an eating disorder. I still have bad days, sometimes a week or two. Even typing this review dragged back some of the old feelings—I often eat slowly while I write, but with this one, I felt like I was forgetting how to swallow, and that my taste buds had turned off. I remembered a little too vividly the feeling of food tasting like nothing, though it’s clearly well-seasoned and dripping with fat.
On the other hand, the vast majority of my days aren’t like this anymore, and that’s what I mean by recovery. Eating is not the same struggle it used to be, and I’m so thankful for that. Of course, I often think about how I ended up here, and there’s no straight answer.
I think Oishii Jikan filled in a blank for me.
My recovery followed a similar path to Yoruko’s, but without the weird age gap (thank god). I started living with the man who is now my husband when I moved to uni, and my appetite grew not long after that.
I’ve spent a long time trying to pin down what the turning point was, and never really concluded anything. You can’t fix anorexia with logic. I knew that I had to eat more, so I would sit with a small plate of food for hours, slowly putting it in my mouth. Chewing. Trying to swallow. Struggling. I think regaining control over my eating habits helped—the ability to choose when and where and what.
But this manga has brought something else to my attention. I’m not sure it was just the autonomy I had gained. After all, I still have bad days, and they tend to surface when I’m left on my own. I think that what helped me get past my disorder was something to do with connecting my eating habits with the warmth I felt around my partner. My partner really loves food and cooking, and I guess his optimism was as intoxicating.
I’ve gotten a lot of friends to watch shows and read books that interest me just by being open about my feelings, and for an anorexic, I think that being around someone you care about who openly loves food, without pressure or expectation… it makes you want to feel that way too. It made me want to engage in eating with love. And I hadn’t thought about it that way before Oishii Jikan, but I’m now certain that it was a huge part of my recovery, and I’m so thankful to this manga for bringing it to light, and letting me remember how it felt to want to enjoy eating again after over a decade of struggle.
I genuinely cried at these pages:
These three pages awoke something in me that I had forgotten, and I had to go and sit away from my computer for a while after reading them.
I don’t think it’s good to ascribe your ‘cure’ to a person or relationship–after all, they can be fickle things, but I’m hopeful that even if I were left on my own again, I wouldn’t slip back so far into my old habits.
And that concludes my review on this manga. If you too are struggling with anorexia, then keep trying your best. Aim for different experiences to help you reconnect food to things that you enjoy, and don’t hurt yourself too much about your bad days. Much like depression, having a plan for those bad days can go a long way in helping you to stay afloat. If you’re feeling particularly low, don’t force yourself to eat difficult things, but do make time for meals and congratulate yourself for anything that you can achieve. It’s worth it in the end, I promise.