Trigger Warning: Self Harm, Sexual Assault
“You should read this, I think you’ll like it,” they said.
For the past three weeks, I’ve been keeping the manga I’ve wanted to review on the backburner because of extenuating circumstances. When I was suggested this manga, I didn’t think that I’d do a review on it, but after reading it I couldn’t hold back. My manga tastes are eclectic and it’s hard to pin down a series that I’ll actually like or stick with. Bless their little hearts for trying, but I just didn’t like Onani Master Kurosawa. Which is a shame, because I really adore the art style. I just can’t get past how reprehensible the main character is and how the audience is supposed to feel sorry for him. [Spoiler Alert]
Let me start by explaining something: onani means masturbation. This is a series about some dude masturbating. A lot. It’s not a hentai, but if exploring the inner psyche of a chronic masturbator doesn’t’ interest you, you’re probably not going to like this series as this is the medium by which the audience is exposed to Kurosawa’s social issues. To Ise Katsura’s credit, they do paint a realistic image of a descent into isolation and a good view into school bullying, but I almost wish this series focused on someone else, but we’ll talk about that when we get there.
In the nicest of terms, Kurosawa is a creep. A creep in an “I am worried for the welfare of his female classmates” kind of way. Outwardly, he’s normal, even good looking, but extremely reserved and comes off as flippant towards his other classmates’ attempted friendship. Every day after class he heads to the third floor girl’s bathroom and jacks off, then leaves. Besides going to the girl’s bathroom—which I can almost forgive because he makes sure there’s no one around first—there isn’t anything wrong with this. For a middle school-er of any gender, masturbation can begin to be a way of stress relief and if it’s not hurting anyone, then it’s fine. However, at the start of the next semester where we’re exposed to how his mind works is when I start having issues.
It’s normal to have a certain fixation for a masturbation fantasy, but as Kurosawa starts his new semester, we’re revealed a bit further into his mindset and it’s kind of scary. I don’t think there’s anything normal about considering a fixation a “target” and with the way Katsura draws Kurosawa, with bags under his eyes and a shaded face, the only thing going through my mind is “this kid’s a sexual predator”. He never makes an actual move on a girl, but it’s a seriously skeevy feeling.
Perhaps I should rephrase: he never makes a physical move on a girl. Later on in the series, he gets caught doing his business in the girl’s washroom by Aya Kitahara, a mousey looking girl who is often bullied. From that moment on, she blackmails him into harassing not only the girls that bullied her, but other popular girls as well. And he does this by jacking off into their personal belongings. It’s gross and uncomfortable to read about. The most uncomfortable one by far to me was when he did it in some girl’s clarinet: that’s going beyond invasive. During these attacks, he’s completely unfeeling and impassive. He finds that his life has no meaning and only sticks around with Kitahara’s demands because of some feeling that they’re the same type of person: someone on the outskirts of society. He is eventually knocked out of this by the remembrance of the friendship he once had with a couple of his classmates.
In the turning point of the story is when Kurosawa decides that he wants to regain his ties to the outside world, that he does actually want to interact with other people. To do this, he must sever ties with Kitahara’s blackmail. He does so by admitting his crimes in front of the entire class. As expected, for this he gets bullied, beat-up, and ignored but for him this is just a trial he has to endure and that it will eventually pass.
Don’t get me wrong, admitting his problems is a good character development moment for Kurosawa, but the reactions of some characters is what makes me feel disgusted with the story in general. Case in point, the teacher. From him, we basically get a “boys will be boys, but you admitted it. Yay!” response. He doesn’t punish Kurosawa. He doesn’t even really want to call his parents but only does so because the parents of his victims want to face him. What the hell kind of teacher would completely ignore the trauma of the other students? I can understand the teacher being concerned for Kurosawa due to the bullying he’s receiving, but it’s not like he had it coming. You don’t even know if the teacher made any effort to comfort the victimized girls. It just comes off as really wrong.
Another character I have an issue with is his friend, Takigawa. He used to have a crush on her, but was devastated when she started going out with his other “friend” (more like “the guy who tries really hard to be his friend”), Nagaoka. Kitahara asks him to do his business and he does it in her textbooks. That’s how he gets over his jealousy. However, it’s also because of Takigawa’s wish that they can all be friends again that he finally admits to his wrong doings. However, after he admits it and she processes it, they meet later in the library with her telling him that she forgives him. This is all fine and good and she can forgive him if she wants to, but the way the manga makes it come off is as if she was required to forgive him for the betterment of society. This may have to do with Japan’s focus on social togetherness and the usual ignoring of the individual, but it just rubbed me the wrong way. If some guy did that to me, he’d have to not only apologize, but wait longer than a couple months for me to forgive him. Ugh.
Now, I said earlier that I thought the series would be better if it focused on someone else and so help me but I really do think this series would benefit more from seeing things from Kitahara’s perspective. A girl so broken down by bullying that she resorts to using this guy as a means to get back at her aggressors, I want to know how she feels about this. Especially about going after the girls who haven’t really done anything to her. I can’t accept that it’s so black and white with her: she can’t just be glad at everything being done secretly to her whims. That would be such a discredit to her character. And after she finally breaks and slits her wrist with a wood chisel and switches schools, I want to see how she holes herself off from the world and why she breaks that seclusion for Kurosawa (who is now crushing on one of her bullies). She’s just a much more interesting character to me and seeing this from a conflicted female’s point of view may… I don’t want to say solve, but maybe alleviate some of the issues this manga has.
As it stands, this manga comes off as a sociopath’s wet dream. Although Katsura doesn’t endorse their character’s behaviors, it does seem like they’re coming off as “you’ll have to endure some hardships, but eventually it’ll be okay!” There are no long lasting consequences for Kurosawa besides some name calling, and that’s where this series fails. I don’t feel sorry for Kurosawa because he did it to himself. I don’t feel glad for his redemption because he didn’t lose anything and there weren’t any stakes. This series seems to take place in a perfect world made for Kurosawa and that’s boring. Also somewhat offensive to me as a female. Parts of this series are entertaining and heartbreaking, but I came from it more disgruntled and disgusted.