PDF Vitamin: PDF

by Keiko Suenobu

Trigger warnings: bullying, mentions of suicide, rape, and eating disorders.

Ooh, another Keiko Suenobu manga. I swear, I can’t help it. She’s just really good at emotional shoujo that never feels pandering or over the top, and I always find something to enjoy in her manga. Vitamin is only a one-shot, which usually frustrate me because they almost never end conclusively or follow up on story elements that are introduced. I knew that going in, this was only one volume, only a handful of chapters. So no need for vitriol, right?

Sawako is a popular girl at school who is dating an absolute dick called Kouta Arii. He admits that he’s only with her for the sex, and doesn’t care about Sawako’s feelings or her worries about keeping this aspect of their relationship private. He essentially rapes her twice, once in the stairwell leading up to her apartment’s front door, and another time in a classroom, where a more unscrupulous student catches them and slanders Sawako, yet Kouta seems to get off scot-free. When Sawako angrily messages Kouta, he breaks up with her via text message and stops answering her calls, even getting his classmates to turn Sawako away at the door if she comes to his classroom to ask what the hell is wrong with him.

In Sawako’s own class, she is immediately ostracised as a ‘dirty, easy slut’, has her desk vandalised and her head shoved down a toilet, has her cell-phone almost destroyed, and one student even buys a box of three-dozen condoms just to dump on Sawako’s desk just to make a point about how much sex she presumably has, because, you know, it’s always the girl who gets demonised for having sex, and the male’s behaviour never comes into the equation at all.

Devastated, Sawako withdraws from school and starts studying at home. Her mother isn’t happy with her, but Sawako has to promise that she’ll graduate and start attending a good high school. Sawako starts suffering from panic attacks at the mere notion of getting up and going to school, and has to start taking stomach medicine after the stress starts to make her physically sick. So, she starts to draw manga as her form of therapy, and turns out to have a talent for it, even winning a magazine competition and vowing to write a whole comic about her experience to highlight the issue of bullying in schools.

Following a crisis of confidence when her former ‘friends’ write a letter of apology but turn out to have just been luring her back into school to bully her some more, Sawako takes several more weeks off and then cuts her hair short, arriving back at the school during graduation week. When her classmates try bullying her again, she brings up that she’s sought legal counselling and that everything is being sent towards the high schools of every kid in the class who bullied her. Check. Mate.

I’m starting to wonder if Keiko Suenobu can write anything but manga about bullying. I know that in Japan, the bullying we’re talking about is particularly horrendous — being ignored by your entire class, assaulted, having a bucket of water tipped over you in the toilets, etc. Bullying shows up in LIFE, it shows up in The Limit, it shows up in this, and it even shows up in Happy Tomorrow, a collection of short stories that outright starts with a junior high schooler whose ‘friends’ start to bully her once the boy they have a crush on starts walking home from school with her. I mean, I’m all for highlighting the issue, but sometimes it just seems a bit much. You know how I said in LIFE that I kind of drifted away from it after it just became “Manami and Katsumi find more and more ways to bully Ayumu?” Hell, I tell people to watch the J-drama of LIFE instead of committing to all 20 volumes of the manga, seeing as it just goes on and bloody on. The J-drama at least had the decency to wrap itself up in 11 episodes.

I hate to say this, but the bullying in Vitamin does sometimes come across as a bit over the top. I mean, never enough that it makes your eyes roll, but just enough that your inner cynic tells you that this scandal would have blown over after the few months Sawako took off. Also, is it a prerequisite in every single Keiko Suenobu manga that there’s a teacher who just doesn’t give a crap about the welfare of their individual students? I’m quite sure teachers get fired or at least reprimanded for that kind of inaction, in any bloody country in the world.

So, about the short length of Vitamin… It kind of works and it kind of doesn’t. Thankfully it’s not drawn out over 20 volumes like LIFE, but it is a wee bit too short to have much substance. I don’t know, I just felt that there could have been more dense plotting. I mean, LIFE did actually focus on more (i.e., teacher politics, the reactions of the parents involved, what makes people become bullies, etc.) in three or four chapters than Vitamin does in its entire one bound volume.

Verdict: 3.5/5

(This review is also available on my blog: http://nessasky.wordpress.com/2014/08...)

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