For about a decade and her debuts in Garô, Nananan Kiriko has built a body of work around silent suffering, rejected love, uneasy relationship, painting the portrait of modern young women in the making, who try to remain strong in spite of solitude or sadness.
So don’t let yourself be misled by the pinkish cover nor the title with its reference to a namby-pamby doll) — which is confirmed right awway by the first page, a splash of dark pink … bearing this uncompromising sentence : “Thus, one can really see us as strawberry shortcakes. Cute, fragile, sweet. Think again, jerk.”
strawberry shortcakes is Nananan Kiriko’s second long narrative after blue, and weaves the stories of four young women in a large city that is probably Tôkyô — four journeys marked by solitude and silence, four stories in search for love.
There Tôko, illustrator who lives as a recluse and hides her bulimy ; her roommate, the flighty Chihiro who wants to be loved at all price to stop thinking about the countryside that she misses ; Rika who keeps repeating “I want to be in love” live a mantra ; and finally, Akiyo the “hotel girl” who sells her body, but resorts to pretenses and little lies to keep meeting Kikuchi that she secretly loves.
Four modern young women, strong in appareance, that each holds onto what she can to lure away the pain of passing days — a goldfish, the oft-postponed housekeeping, or more simply keeping on hurting the person closest — such as the strange relationship between Tôko and Chihiro, midway between support and wounding : “I hated you … I’m going to miss you.”
To lead this, this fragile and uncluttered line, aerial and precise, far from the usual fare of the “josei” production — be it Sakurazawa Erika, Minami Q-ta or even Yamada Naitô. The narration lingers on silences and attitudes, and the succession of oblong panels taking all the width of the page, reinforces the impression of intimacy — but it is more the way the narration is paced with wide stretches devoid of drawings, leaving place to the internal monologue, that allows us discovering the real suffering of those characters. An internal monologue that moves in uncertain steps, build of progressive realizations, slight touches, and wanderings too.
Echoing the page opening this book, another full pink page marks the half-way point of this story, suggesting a pause, taking a breath in what is a slow trip downhill. And blurting out, without pity : “… and it carries on”. It becomes quickly obvious that the story will not reach an easy ending, no miraculous meeting — but life goes on, things (and people) change, and lacking a “happy end”, at least those four stories will get a “new start”.
Hailed by the promotional banner of the Japanese edtion as “a girls’ stories masterpiece”, strawberry shortcakes explores with an undeniable mastery the recurring themes of Nananan Kiriko that were already presents in her short stories collections : absence, solitude and break-ups. Another subtle and touching page to add to an impeccable bibliography.