[Trigger Warning: Sexual Abuse]
I’ll admit it: I’m not exactly on the up and up on internet geekdom. I’m mildly versed in things like Sherlock, Doctor Who, and The Hunger Games because my Tumblr dash is a never ending fount of gifs and character analyses (or just keysmashing). Thanks to MadameAce, however, I have been constantly checking ‘That Guy With the Glasses’ for their reviews and where as I do have my biases towards which commentator I watch there are some things that just catch my attention. So when the two fellow of the ‘Weekly Manga Recap’ podcast did a review (found here) of a manga called Bitter Virgin, I had to check it out.
Going into the review I had the lowest expectations possible. Look at the title: it sounds like a story about some angry otaku that hates women because he can’t get a relationship. Luckily, this was not the case in the slightest. It turns out that while this work of Kei Kusunoki has somewhat stereotypical characters, this bittersweet slice of life story is extremely progressive and realistic on portraying a young girl dealing with the loss of her innocence.
The audience sees events happen through two characters: Daisuke Suwa and Hinako Aikawa. Daisuke is a bit of a playboy who has dreams of leaving his Podunk town behind and heading for the big city, getting into a university, and living that player life. His first trait the audience really sees is that he sees no distinction in the girls around him, saying that he would date all of them with no issue. All of them except for Hinako. Pettily, this is because he tried charming the girl before, but she pulled away from him as if was on fire (come on, man. Get over it). However, this changes one day when he takes refuge in a church—from one of his fangirls, no less—and overhears Hinako in the confessional. Rather, he pretends to be a priest as Hinako pours her heart out to him.
After hearing this and reassuring her, he takes it upon himself to watch out for her. Somewhere along the way, he falls in love with her. Outside of that, he outlives his usefulness. A point that the podcasters bring up is that Daisuke is one of those types that know the right thing to say at the right time. While this is true sometimes, I find that it’s largely false. A lot of what Daisuke says only agitates the people around him and causes them—Hinako in particular—to feel somewhat uncomfortable. Of course, this fits in with the realism of the series. Given the situation, there is no ‘right thing’ to say, so it grasping at straws hoping to not get the short one.
Enough about Daisuke, let’s talk about the ladies of the series of which there are three main ones.
First, and the least interesting, is Kazuki Ibuse. She likes Daisuke. Really likes Daisuke, so much so that she resorts to stalking Hinako around the school armed with scissors so she can kill her if Daisuke ends up dating the poor girl. Except for one moment, Kazuki is a one dimensional character only placed in there to give an overt hurdle to Hinako and Daisuke’s relationship. I think that Kazuki’s character really could have worked a lot better if she wasn’t so exaggerated. Yes, there are girls like that but this series already has enough drama. Adding that level or obsession to an otherwise realistic story disrupts the tone.
Then we have Daisuke’s childhood friend, Yuzu. She’s a strong woman with strong beliefs that sometime cause her to make horrible mistakes in the heat of the moment. She also is in love with Daisuke—and has been for most of her life—but takes the route of not saying anything and supporting him from the background. She tries to get Daisuke to shape up and be a better person and goes out of her way to help out Hinako (especially where Kazuki is concerned) but her love causes Yuzu to expose Hinako’s secret at the worst possible time. For which she has to deal with Hinako’s shattered ego, Daisuke’s disgust, and the regret, pity, and disgust she feels.
Of course, the most interesting character is Hinako herself. For a girl with so much sorrow, she doesn’t ever show it. All she wants is to fade into the background and not be bothered with again so she takes on the persona of the quiet girl. This is not to say she is unsociable; she has a group of female friends that she hangs out with. One of the defining moments of her character for me happened early on in the series, the first chapter even. When she confesses to the “priest”, she tearfully asks that even though she gave her child up for adoption, would it be alright for her to celebrate its birthday. She is a girl that, despite her pain, feels so deeply and refuses to shut herself off from the world: that sort of strength is extremely admirable. Throughout the series, she deals with hard questions such as “am I still valuable as a person” and “can I ever love again”? But she always seeks the answers within herself rather than relying completely on the people around her. It would have been so simple to have Daisuke become her savior figure, but he never does. In fact, even when he reveals what he knows, she reacts poorly and doesn’t feel supported by him at all because he went behind her back. Even though society views her as dirty and tainted, she knows what she wants and will continue to go after it until she finds it even if she has to leave.
The reason this series is so realistic is that the author has some first-hand insight into the situation. Kusunoki, prior to Bitter Virgin, suffered through her own miscarriage and knows how society’s perception of a woman can change with such an event. She said that she inserted her own experiences in the manga and that writing it was a therapeutic move on her end. For the subject matter, it’s not graphic but it shows enough that the audience knows exactly what is going on. This series pulls no punches and it hits hard, but I would highly recommend reading it if you can find it.