Farewell to My Alter – Nio Nakatani Short Story Collection Review
Nio Nakatani returns after her hit yuri manga Bloom Into You with this collection of short stories and one-shots, offering fans a unique insight into some of her self-published work and those featured in the Éclair anthology.
There are nine individual stories in this book, and although each is completely different in setting, tone, and characters, they all tend to revolve around examining the human condition, identity, ideals and staying true to yourself through fragile relationships. These themes will be recognisable to fans, and I’m pleased to say that for the most part Nakatani continues to pull them off extremely well in surprisingly short page counts.
For example, my favourite story turned out to be Comm-ear-ication, an 8-page one-shot that on the face of things is just a funny little tale about a fox girl and a human girl both being fascinated (and a little bit turned on!) by each other’s ears, yet is actually a lot deeper than that, as it shows how certain races of animal people find themselves ostracised in places where they don’t usual live and that they struggle to form meaningful relationships.
Meanwhile, Tear-Flavoured Escargot shows us that trying to change yourself may not be all that productive if you completely lose your sense of identity, as a high school girl who is normally a bit of a cry-baby finds her sadness being eaten by some kind of snail monster. The only way to get those feelings back is to eat the snail, but the girl is unsure if she wants to go back to her old self. It falls to her friend to try to show her the repercussions of her change in personality and why it’s better to be true to who you really are.
As well as enjoying the depth in the writing, I also liked how quite a few take on a more fantastical angle, as it’s clear she’s tried to play around with different genres and ideas. The Hero Saves the World Three Times therefore comes out quite unexpectedly as her take on the isekai genre, but still manages to tackle those core ideas with a plot twist that I found very refreshing. She also attempts a piece criticising technology and how it makes people blind to others in I Am Custom-Made, and although I found this one to be rather understated, I still liked the little twist at the end which changes the meaning of the core conversation.
It’s also refreshing to see that some of the stories get dark in places, as the three larger ones in this book tackle some of our darker emotions in surprising ways. The title work, Farewell to My Alter, centres on the story of two identical twin girls who use the fact that they look the same to mess people about, seemingly unaware of the hurt and confusion they cause, particularly when they both fall in love with the same boy. Happiness in the Shape of a Scar shocked me the most with its themes of jealousy and the need for control, as it depicts the guilt a girl feels for a classmate that she always imagines hurting so that she can’t play piano anymore, which suddenly comes true when that classmate breaks her fingers in a freak accident. Meanwhile, I Want to be Kind, a story written especially for this book, examines the feelings of a boy who doesn’t really feel anything when a student at his school commits suicide.
All three of them were fascinating and enjoyable to read in their own ways despite some of their darker themes, and I think Nakatani gets the emotions in each of them across well, creating realistic and believable characters that you can empathise with.
The only story that I didn’t really enjoy so much was Always in Profile, which despite hitting themes like those in I Am Custom-Made, with a schoolgirl being blinded by her favourite idol so much that she doesn’t see the adoration of her friend, it felt a bit too shallow and lacked the detail and depth in the characters that the others have.
Visually, every story is well drawn and is distinctively set in Nakatani’s style, with several character designs in these stories feeling very familiar; for example, you could transplant the two main characters from Happiness in the Shape of a Scar straight into Bloom Into You and they wouldn’t look out of place. Each story also comes with a brief author’s note which reveals details about the work and why and how it was written, which were very interesting to read.
The book is published by Yen Press and is available either physically or digitally. The translation by Eleanor Summers reads well and has no issues to note.
Overall, Farewell to My Alter is a fantastic way for fans of Nio Nakatani to sample some of her other work outside of Bloom Into You without having to track them down in their original publications. With this being a collection, you may not click with all nine stories, but each is at least unique and fascinating in their own way, brilliantly tackling the themes that Nakatani likes to focus on while being beautifully presented in her distinctive art style.